The English Military in the 15th Century

Armies of England in the 15th century were raised by contract between the king and powerful military leaders. Each leader was responsible for paying his troops and the king agreed to pay the leaders back at a later date. Just like continental armies, there was often a royal guard, in England’s case this usually consisted of archers. The “lance” was the administration unit that often drew up detailed ordinances covering the hundreds of details vital to the operation and organization of an army.

england, military, 15th century, poitier, crecy, agincourtEngland was one of the great military powers and English soldiers attracted considerable attention both for their prowess as well as their self-confidence and, at times, arrogance. During the “crusade” against the Moors in Spain in 1486, one year after the end of the Wars of the Roses, a Spanish observer described the English veterans serving under Earl Rivers as “… men who had been hardened in certain civil wars which had raged in their country. They were huge feeders and deep carousers, often unruly and noisy in their wassail. Though from a remote and somewhat barbarous island they yet believe themselves to be the most perfect men on earth.”

The Venetian Ambassador in 1498 noted that “The English are great lovers of themselves, and of everything belonging to them. They think that there are no other men than themselves and no other world but England, and whenever they see a handsome foreigner they say that ‘he looks like an Englishman’…

“Although they attend Mass every day and say many paternosters in public… they always hear Mass on Sunday and in their parish church, and give liberal alms…

“They have a very high reputation in arms; and from the great fear that the French entertain of them, one must believe it to be justly acquired.”

english longbowmenThe English reputation for prowess in war was certainly not unwarranted in the 15th century. The victories of that century and indeed the previous, showed that grim resolve, fighting spirit, and a national tradition of martial practice among those high and low, often gave the stalwart English an edge in battle even when seemingly hopelessly outnumbered. English losses in the 15th century are certainly overshadowed by such decisive victories as Crecy, Poitier and of course Agincourt as one of the most famous.

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