Okay, Clever Clogs: Medieval Combat the Trebian View

Picture (c) Mike Ingram

Having torn into Tom Lewis' book, I suppose I should pick up on his plea to talk about his conclusions not the mess that is the historical analysis. This really warrants a full post, rather than a protracted comments discussion. So, what does old clever-clogs Trebian think, having rubbished someone else? Put up or shut up time, I guess.

Firstly I'd have to say that the realities of medieval combat is a really hard subject to be specific about. Plus the "medieval period" is a long time. So lets stick to what I know best: The Wars of the Roses. 

Secondly, you'll have noted that I haven't written a book on the subject. There's some reasons for this. The main one is that I've got a colleague that really should write one and probably has the outline in his head already. If I was to do it, I'd be pinching his ideas, and that's not ideal. Then there's the lack of solid evidence that gets me out of "interesting article" territory to full blown book.

So what comes next will have pointers to why I think what I think, but it ain't footnoted, and it's mostly guess work.

I'll look at four things:

  1. Archers & what they're for.
  2. How main battle lines fight
  3. How big Wars of the Roses armies are
  4. Routs, and how many dead bodies we end up with (plus who they'll probably be)

Ah! The longbow! The weapon that has (or used to have) almost fetish status amongst the English as the most lethal missile weapon until the introduction of the MG42*. English archers made up about 50% of an English army, probably, and were in demand in Europe. Kings sign treaties guaranteeing to supply archers. Well, who wouldn't want one, seeing as you can drill a hole through 2" of case hardened steel at the range of half a mile? Or something like that.

Or not.

My view is that longbow men, in the opening stages of a battle, formed the front ranks of each side's main battle line. They open up with some long range, speculative shooting, designed to irritate and distract the enemy. It will also cause casualties amongst supporting troops, and possibly baggage animals and so on (this is described by others as "galling" shooting). Once the armies advance - and ideally you want to be standing still, having made your enemy advance towards you - you get down to direct, aimed shooting which can, if lucky, kill or wound a man in plate. As the melee troops close, the archers drop back behind or to the wings, and become more lightly armed melee troops. I'd call them medium infantry or light heavies in wargaming terms, as they're wearing sallets/helmets/jacks.

Why do I think this?
  • I attended a talk by Toby Capwell that suggests this was the case.
  • Videos of people shooting long bows at plate show it can't be penetrated at long range, but only by direct, flat trajectory shooting at up to 30 yards.
  • My colleague, Phil Steele, has convincingly used contemporary art to show this type of deployment, in a couple of talks I have attended.
  • It seems to be what is happening at Towton.
  • At Edgcote, one side is provoked into attacking by archery, despite being well equipped as they don't have any bowmen.
I don't have enough to put together a chapter in a book to state this all with complete confidence (also I'm hoping Phil will do so at some point), but I do have enough to pull apart most other interpretations.

Main Battle Lines and How They Fight
Yes, the big unknown. Even more so than archery. Really confusing, isn't it. First we're told armour is really heavy and you have to be winched onto a horse, next minute there are videos of re-enactors doing forward rolls and completing assault courses. I think that the plated foot soldier was an efficient and effective fighting machine, and is probably the key to victory. They're the best equipped men, and they're the army's leaders. With them gone, no one is going to hang around for long. They most likely fought mainly with a poleaxe. Supporting infantry, other than archers, would have varying degrees of protective equipment - brigandine and helmet at least - and be equipped with a bill/halberd or a spear. Then everyone has a sword as a sidearm, and a decent dagger. Men may also, especially if they're the armoured guys, have some other sidearm of choice, like a short hafted hammer, or a mace, or an axe.

What they're not doing, once the battle proper starts, is mostly fighting on horseback. Mounted combat does happen at the start of several battles, - Northampton and Towton for sure, and Edgcote the night before. There may be others. You have to have horses around or the other side can act as if you haven't, and so get greater tactical opportunities and flexibility. The threat of cavalry means that infantry, unless in defences (very few stakes in the WotR) must close up to avoid being ridden down, regardless of how many archers there are about.

So I reckon we have plated guys in the front rank or two of a deployment that is, at most, eight ranks deep and wants to be as wide as possible, so its flanks aren't turned. Depth of formations and reserves aren't a big deal, and aren't planned for (more "turning up late" than careful deployment of reserves, in my view, as deciding factors). The men are standing shoulder to shoulder, and are fighting with the points of any weapons they've got, mostly. The cutting, bladed part of the poleaxe is what is needed when formations break down and open up. What you need - hence the high number of spears in the Royal Armoury - is a pointy stick to keep people at a distance. What makes a real difference is big, powerful, men capable of making a big impact. Like Sir Richard Herbert, cutting his way through the enemy twice. Or great, big, 6' 4"  Edward IV wielding his poleaxe over his head like a Viking berserker intimidating his opponents, splitting helmets, and encouraging his colleagues.

Many battles are short - Northampton is 30 minutes, supposedly - or are made up of many linked shorter actions. In some way armies separate and re-attack. We can see that at Edgcote. This is easier to do if you are fighting shoulder to shoulder with spear/pole point, when you can step back in relative safety. It is then possible to perform passage of lines, of a sort, or have men rotate and rest. I do not think that there are wide gaps in the lines between men, with people performing Tom Lewis' re-enactors two-step. I do not think men fought at top intensity for 2 hours in full kit, or even in a jack**. You only have to watch a physical sport, such as Rugby, to realise what a toll that takes on men. It simply can't happen.

Why do I think this?
  • The close up formations are what we see in contemporary pictures, as are lots of spears
  • Based on what happens in later periods to open order formations when attacked by cavalry, I see no reason for it not to apply here***. I don't think a single arrow brings down a horse. Cavalry aren't charging blocks of infantry because they'll get "galled" by archery, and they won't be able to break into dense infantry formations. Standing apart to wave a poleaxe from side to side is asking for trouble.
  • There are drawings by Holbein, of landsknechts fighting (see below). Okay, it isn't exactly the same, but the guys with halberds are embedded in the fray, they're all close up and they're stabbing or cutting over head.
  • I've been and watched re-enactments with all that's going on, and I'm not convinced (I said why on the previous post, mainly because no one is getting killed).
  • The source evidence we have - such as it is - points this way.
Again, not enough to make a proper book out of, but that's where my head is at.

How Big Are Armies in the Wars of the Roses?
Simple answer, not as big as commonly thought, and not as big as the chroniclers say. I had a lot to say on this subject in the Edgcote book, as I tried to work out the sizes of the armies there. Basically there are constraints caused by the way the armies are raised, how they are supplied, how quickly they are formed and the fact that a single countries resources are being split. Looking at the ratio of armies to population size and so on means they're not likely to be bigger than 10,000 on either side (looking later, at battles in the Jacobite risings with much bigger population sizes and resources campaigns are resolved by armies of 6-9,000 at most, same with the ECW). The numbers for Towton are absolute garbage, and the constant recycling of the "biggest and bloodiest battle" myth only insults the intelligence and indicates the complete lack of critical faculties in this respect. Tom Lewis is right on this, and he makes a whole range of comparisons that I'd say are valid, when looking at the Towton numbers.

Why do I think this?
  • See comments in above paragraph re population
  • Get a copy of "Edgcote 1469 - Re-evaluating the evidence" so I don't have to repeat myself
  • The big armies don't fit in the landscape where we know the fighting takes place.
There's not enough here to make a full book, without also doing a full battles in Britain book, and i'm not up for that.

Routs and Dead Bodies
Tom Lewis makes a lot of de-bunking the casualty numbers at Towton, and his commentary is workmanlike and helpful. Killing lots of people in the days pre automated weaponry is really hard (there's a terrible story about the executions after the siege of Nanking in the Taiping Rebellion where they had to organise the captives and give executioners time outs, and replace weapons because they got blunt if you want to know how hard it is to kill 10s of thousands of people with swords and axes).

I think that we have hard fought battles until one side caves then runs. I don't think anyone would dispute that. The routing side will probably see the rears ranks of more lightly armoured men break off and flee first because they know things are going badly and will want to make the most of their opportunities to escape. Armoured men will be trapped at the front and whether for this reason or reasons of honour, or the encumbrance of the armour will find it hard to flee. They will be forced to the ground and hacked up or made to surrender. At Edgcote we have high levels of casualties amongst Welsh nobility either because they couldn't get away, or because they fought a rear guard action to protect the rest of the army. Generally in battles many we know are captured, because we know they are executed afterwards, which you can only really do to a prisoner.

Most casualties occur in the mounted pursuit, and at any choke points. Fleeing men with throw away weapons and anything else that can chuck like helmets. Taking off armour is harder. That means you move faster, but of course you can't really fight back (Lewis disputes this). That's not a problem as all you need to do is run faster than the man next to you. Pursuit may go on for miles, but being caught in pursuit may only mean injury not death.

Even so, I don't see how there's thousands of dead. Towton, it is claimed, saw 20%+ casualties. That's a lot of men and quite hard to do, even on horseback chasing unarmed men. Plus, where are the bodies? We don't have them anywhere. The Towton "mass graves" don't contain hundreds of bodies.

Why do I think this?
  • See comments above!
  • I've tried to run in a reproduction steel helmet with a pole weapon. It's really annoying. The helmet bounces around and is really heavy, literally making it awkward to put your head down and run. I'd chuck it away at the earliest opportunity if fleeing.
  • There just isn't any evidence for anything else that makes sense.
Again, as with numbers, the opportunities to write a book about this will run into problems of evidence. You just have to look at the landscape and think critically about what is being said, whilst all the time not chucking out evidence because you don't understand it.

Anyway, that's what I think.

*I may be exaggerating a bit
** Tom Lewis' numbers for fighting at top intensity are meaningless, as he's only talking to people in plate. What if his 13 minute average only goes up to 20 minutes for a man in a jack? There's no control sample in his data set.
*** Another thing re-enactors really can't do is work out what happens in the infantry/cavalry interface. We don't have enough horses, and the horses are too damn expensive to shoot a musket at or stick with a pike. Don't quote police horses at me - again no one is trying to kill anybody, in the main.


  1. Having stirred the pot with your book review, seeing your perspective response on WotR combat provides a reasoned baseline for your critique. Since I only see the discussion from responses to your original review and miss all of the FB discussions, only a portion of these discussions are available to me. I would enjoy reading the direction and tenor of the FB discourses, though.

    Putting aside the review, itself, and return to wargaming, how does one accurately (or at least reasonably) model this on the wargaming table?

    Here are a few (possibly naive) questions that pop into my mind:

    Do you agree with the manner in which the rules we have been using to refight WotR battles models this combat? Yeah, this might open up Pandora's Box.

    If the Battle formation is deployed upon as wide a frontage as possible to prevent flanking by the enemy, how do the archers retire to the wings when their job is done? Is there space on the flanks and time to make this maneuver before hand-to-hand fighting commences?

    How prevalent and easy to execute was passage of lines between the various lines within a Battle or Ward especially in the heat of battle?

    If the main melee line of plated MAA is deployed to fight shoulder-to-shoulder, how is a much larger body of archers able to retire back through it?

    How is a second melee line able to pass forward through a heavily armored and close-order melee line (or vice versa)? A heavily-armored melee line in shoulder-to-shoulder formation would seem to present a solid wall of armor. Would such a passage of line disrupt the plated infantry? In battle, is this maneuver even possible without disrupting the entire formation?

    I think this is enough for now...

    1. Don't know, is the main answer. I don't think RL has got the rules we use completely right. I don't like archers being used as pin cushions to protect the men behind, for example.

      I think battles closed up as the lines neared each other, so may have been more open at the start, so shrinking in from either end, or simply doubling files by the second line stepping forwards. Plus there's a difference between voluntarily allowing troops to pass through and cavalry or the enemy trying to force their way in.

      My ideas aren't perfect, and I'm well aware that landsknechts paid men to fight in the front ranks especially, so I don't know how keen I'd be as a rear rank man if I was being asked to rotate with a guy who is paid extra to stand in front of me.

    2. I am with Jonathan on these questions. If you are up for it, would you comment on how well or poorly the published rulesets you are aware of cope? I am very aware that DBA and A&MW, my default rules for the period, give fun games but reflect very little of what you have been talking about.

    3. You will note I have no medieval rules in my product catalogue! I have an AMW derivative set, that focuses on leaders encouraging troops and resupply groups archers and so on. They worked okay.

      It is not a period I wargame a lot. Phil liked the results we got with Hail Caesar when we were touring a game before COVID. I was less keen, and reckon we got believable outcomes more by luck than judgment. With current levels of knowledge I reckon you need to focus on outcomes rather than detailed simulation. DBA certainly does that, and AMW gives you a slog fest which works okay. For mounted mediaeval combat battles I like Basic Impetus, without the missile troop machine guns. I haven't tried Billhooks, so I can't comment on the current hot set of rules. They're skirmish anyway, so perhaps not the best place to start for big battles.

      For toe to toe infantry slogs you might do worse than modifying Dux Bellorum.

  2. Good thoughts there.

    Re penetration of plate by arrows. There's been recent research on this (see Bret Devereaux' ACOUP blog) that demonstrates (I'm not saying proves) that longbow arrows don't penetrate a bloke in plate, except where the plate isn't. So, firing at guys in plate is very much miss and miss (couldn't resist, sorry). Ok, maybe it's speculative.

    Arrows vs horses. A horse stuck with an arrow is not a happy horse - unless extraordinarily well trained, a horse is not going to want to keep fighting if it's wounded. So, you don't have to kill a horse to stop it. Horses really don't like being on the end of pointy things or sharp things. And they don't much like surprises, either.

    Organisation of battle lines. Let's start by debunking any myth that these guys didn't know how to organise - medieval armies are not mobs. They knew how to fight, and they knew how to form up. Vegetius (at least) was read a lot, and he tells you quite a lot about how to do it. Admittedly, we don't have the detail of deployments, but let's just presume that the guys knew how to do passage of lines. It's a standard concept. It would generally involve having greater gaps between men so that others (archers, for example) can go through. Then you close up before melee, and a standard method to do that would be doubling up from 2nd rank. Archers will prefer to, and are more effective, when they shoot directly, rather than arced, so probably in front of the melee troops. Then pass back through the melee line early enough to give the line time to double-up. Alternatively, they'll shoot from the flanks and retire, or switch to swords. That's my guess anyway.

    Question: how much full plate was there around? Bearing in mind the cost, is it likely that you'll have enough full plate guys to man the front 2 ranks? I don't know the answer, but it seems a bit unlikely. Do we know?

    1. I don't think we are in disagreement on most of that. I'm sure there are accounts of horses continuing to move after being hit (I recall an account of one with a dozen musket balls in it, but couldn't say where).

      As to the amount of plate....well, if armies are smaller, like I suggest, then it is easier to have a higher proportion so equipped. But just don't think we know.

    2. I agree that we basically agree!

      I found your comments on reenactment interesting. I think I've heard of some groups testing formations and various movements of bodies of troops, albeit relatively small (not sure where from though). It would be interesting to look at that type of information, not re actual combat, but for example passage of lines, changing front, and so on. Does anyone know of video links to this type of stuff, I wonder?

    3. I know that our local group did some formation/mixed group tests with Mike Ingram, and were surprised by the results in terms of how effective a Lance was, fighting together. I'm not convinced as still no one is getting killed, longbows aren't being used properly and there's no heavy cavalry. Plus, as you say, the numbers are too small. I'm not aware of any videos of people trying this out.

      You can do passage of lines, and drill exercises and it's useful as far as it goes, again there are issues with passage of lines in the face of the enemy. My experience is that you'd want to back off in order to do it.

      The main thing I learnt from re-enactment was that in close order bodies it's best if everyone is doing the same thing at the same time. The fashion for multi-part models enabling you to have figures with arms and weapons pointing all over the place is very irritating, and almost certainly completely wrong. If designers want variety in their figures they should alter their height whilst keeping weapon (and shield) sizes constant.

  3. No serious disagreement here; just a point of detail.

    Vegetius does describe archers and other light infantry passing back through the intervals between soldiers in the main battle line, then the main battle line doubling up rapidly. The only way this doubling up rapidly can work, I think, is for each even-numbered line to step forward into the intervals between the ranks of the odd-numbered lines. With training, I suspect this would not be a difficult manoeuvre, but you'd need to do it before the enemy can close. Backing off, I also suspect, would be a bad idea, especially in the face of the enemy, as it would be much more difficult for the whole line to execute - and a retrograde move in the face of the enemy seems bad to me.

    Also, shaking out from close order for melee back to a line with intervals would be a forward movement, because going forward enables the guys keeping alignment to see more easily what's going on.

    1. Everyone who could had read Vegetius, so they were probably trying to do something like that. Being open-ish to allow archers to retire, but able to close up quickly when threatened or want to attack is what is needed. I was talking about backing off in respect of full passage of lines, as in the rear ranks completely replacing the rear ranks. I think you can go backwards - very slowly - if you are sufficiently close ordered and you have a big forest of points stick out forwards. But I don't know.

  4. With regard effect on horses, at the Military Tattoo held at Olympia many years ago, I watched a charge by the Blues & Royals. One horse in front rank stumbled &went down taking the two horses and riders behind down as well.

    1. It is obvious that if a horse goes down it's going to create problems - the Grand National shows that most years - but they must have worked out how to deal with it.

  5. Nice summary Graham. I think it pretty much agrees with most of what I've picked up over the years. I'm probably less of an enthusiast for the Mike Loades short range flat shooting approach to longbows (and am very sceptical about the "artistic evidence" - book depictions of battle tended to be very constrained by space and artistic convention) though I think you have caught the balance pretty well. Certainly, I think the balance is shifting away from the longbow superman, shooting 15 rounds a minute for extended periods and smashing through the best Milanese plate at several hundred yards.

    1. I would say that in respect of the artistic evidence that there is an issue with compression of space, but that the images are remarkably consistent AND, it should be recalled, are often prepared for patrons who would have fought and knew what they were looking at, so as commissioned pieces I'd tend to lean towards their accuracy rather than their errors (there are similar arguments about Welsh poetry being reliable as a source). Where the art supports the other contemporary evidence or is consistent with it, I'm a fan.

      On the archery it is true that practice at the butts was all shorter distance and aimed, so that's what archers trained for. The shooting arrows in the air against people in armour isn't that effective (I've heard people argue that they come down faster once you've shot them up than they do travelling straight. I checked with a physicist: that's rubbish), so if you want to punch a hole at all, then flat and aimed is the ideal. Aerial shooting is used to provoke the enemy, as I suggested.

    2. If you follow an artistic convention, you get consistent images. As most manuscript art consists of a skirmish between two armies of a dozen or so men in no real formation (though granted archers are usually at or near the front) its not really a good basis to reconstruct from, IMO. Incidentally, I'm not suggesting shooting arrows into the air (except in the galling technique described) was a usual thing at all. Just that the idea of only shooting at short range when you have a weapon that could carry a livery arrow over 200 yards seems unnecessarily restrictive. What you wouldn't do is shoot a lot of arrows at anything unless you knew they were going to have an effect, cos you didn't have many. And that would lead us to what an arrowstorm was and even if it actually existed outside a literary flourish :)

      I did like your discussion on polearms. I think there is a whole set of questions about the role of confidence and training with polearms. If you gave me a bill, I'd poke with it because I can keep the enemy back. Give it to a confident trained fighter and they'd have the nerve to expose themselves for the overhead strike, with bloody effect.

    3. Have to disagree with you on a number of things. We're not just talking manuscript art, but all contemporary art. Paintings depict large collections of men if formation. Capwell uses them in his talks, as has our own Phil Steele, and they clearly show big bodies of men, with spears and archers. It isn't a few dozen. The important thing with the art, as well as the Welsh poetry, as I said above is that it was prepared for a patron who knows what it is supposed to look like, and which his contemporaries will also know what it is supposed to look like. If it's rubbish, when your social peers come to visit your prize artwork will be the subject of ridicule. In the case of the artwork I'm going with the historians I have met and spoken to who also understand art.

      There are circumstances where an arrow is shot at longer range than 30 yards. Edgcote doesn't make sense if it isn't done as Redesdale's men couldn't hit Pembroke's on the hill top if they're only shooting at 30 yards. Dropping arrows in a galling fashion on the enemy to provoke them certainly works there.

      The question then comes down to how many arrows you have and re-supply. That seems to turn for me on how many your can shoot, aimed, in the time it takes a plated man to cover 30 yards (be good if someone had a number for that), allowing for the archer to fall back through the formation, having done shooting. If the answer is, for example, 4-6, then if you have a sheaf of 24 arrows you can happily blaze away with a dozen or so, and still end up with a reserve supply when you've fallen back. Or better still, if you have supply dumps at the back of your formation, you can pick up more whilst the big men are hitting each other.

    4. There is a good video of Richard Holmes walking over a ploughed field in full armour as part of his Agincourt War Walks tv programme. Admittedly he's not in his prime and used to this, but it does show you how slowly relativelt speaking an armoured man moved and that's on his own and not bunched up with his 'mates'. So an archer could get off quite a few well aimed shots at him, moving back all the time only stopping to lose his arrow. Even is they didn't hit the mark, they would ricochet all over the place and make a hell of a lot of noise, which would be very disorientating. I've shot at metal targets and they make one hell of a din!

      Years ago I worked with a Medieval re-enactor who was an archer and at the end of the day, the foot soldiers wanted the archers to shoot an arrow storm over their heads just to experience it. Apparently they all ducked at the same time due to the noise!

    5. There's a video of a bloke in armour doing and assault course, and one of Toby Capwell running through a wood. Both are moving at a decent pace, comparable to modern infantry in full kit. The video I've seen of arrows hitting armour show them splintering and making a sort of shrapnel. There's evidence of the introduction of an inverted gutter no the breast plate that stops arrows sliding upwards. If you haven't watched it, here's the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBxdTkddHaE . The idea of the archer as a skirmisher screen moving backwards is interesting, but I don't know what the actual evidence is for that. Obviously if both sides have archers then that's a different matter.

      The evidence on people ducking because of noise overhead is consistent, I think, as we have reports of it in the Napoleonic Wars. I don't know what that tells is

  6. I think your summary is a good one.

    Late last year I was asked to take part in an international look at the period which will be published shortly. My bit was on warfare in Ireland, specifically the native Irish military response to the colony and to English royal expeditions. I had to get my head around how both sides fought and why some tactics were favoured above others.

    If I’d had your summary in front of me then it would have saved me a lot of reading.

    I’m keen on using the evidence that can be gleaned from the work of such court poets. It was a high-status profession and there were rules governing the compositions and activities of the practitioners.

    Your Edgcote book demonstrated just how helpful this sort of material can be and how perilous it can be to ignore it.

    1. Email me at the address in the rules and I'll send you something that may interest you.

  7. An interesting read for sure and sort of sums up why I struggle to enjoy Ancients or Medieval wargames, as there is so little reliable evidence for us to know what really went on. A few points that might be of interest:

    I've done quite a bit of field archery with a very experienced longbow chap who has his own course in Wales. 'Galling' shooting is only good at dense targets at range, which even when stationary are quite hard to hit, talk less of moving. However when a target is say at 30 years or so an experienced archer can pretty easily hit where he's aiming at, so joints etc are obvious points that if they may not penetrate, may do enough damage to prevent the joints from moving properly. Note an experienced archer was expected to be able to hit a running rabbit everytime, but can't remember the distance off the top of my head.

    Beware pictures of battles, as the artists were never there and so it's all pretty much artistic licence to make the picture look good!

    Again with field archery we used to shoot at full size animals made of foam that was similar in density to a body. Even with my relatively light bow a good shot would go in some 6" - 12", so imagine a horse or yourself trying to move with about a 3/8" (9mm) wooden dowel stuck in you! That's assuming it didn't kill it outright of course.

    1. I agree with your comments on the archery, plus I quite like Toby Capwell's videos that show what happens when you hit plate with arrows.

      Thanks for the comment on the paintings, but we may have to disagree on that subject. Our group has been talking and looking at contemporary pictures and art for quite a while now, and I'm afraid I don't agree that it is all "artistic licence" and I can't say for sure that no artist ever saw his subject. See my comments on Anthony Clipsom's longer remarks above.

  8. I suspect we'll not settle this one to our satisfaction in this format. I would be interested at some point to see the art evidence in a format where you can unpack the evidence more fully, so I hope you do write it up sometime.

    I'm not sure I've seen any figures for how quickly a man in full plate can move, though plenty suggest it isn't particularly slower than a a fully kitted soldier of later eras. Clifford Rogers uses napoleonic march rates to estimate that the French at Agincourt could cover 450 yds in 15 minutes, for what its worth, which would give 1 minute for 30yds. A sixteenth century military archer was expected to deliver at least six arrows in a minute in a controlled manner but not necessarily to prepare for combat or redeploy to behind a fighting line in that time.

    1. I've heard Phil Steele go over the art evidence in a couple of talks, and Toby Capwell too, as I've said above, and I've found them convincing. One of the issues with it seems to me to be that it doesn't fit in with what re-enactors want it to tell them. One of the biggest objectors to its usage as evidence locally is a re-enactor, but he thinks arrows come down faster than they are shot from a bow and his basic grasp of physics isn't great either. I'll think about posting some screen grabs from Toby's talk in due course. Phil is talking to the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society about how battles were fought in the WotR on 29th July. If you are in striking range of Northampton we should be meeting publicly by then, if you are interested.

      I think about 4-6 arrows in the last approach sounds plausible. If you had two ranks delivering that sort of shower then the sound of it must have been something, and they must have advanced through a veritable cloud of wooden splinters and arrowheads.

    2. Thanks for the invite. Alas, I'm rarely in Northants these days (pretty much funerals only).

      Like you, I think you need to be cautious about re-enactor evidence. I have some more time for some of the stuff the "warbow" community produce, and Tod's experiments of course, but mainly text based for me.

    3. You need to use all the resources you can get, and see if they support each other. The issue with all forms of reenactment is that no one is getting killed.

  9. Tim Sutherland believes that the Towton bodies were initially buried on the field and moved to consecrated ground later. Personally I'd not go too far down the revisionist route when it comes to numbers. Towton was a bloodbath and remembered in these parts long after and with good reason. Indeed Richard III organised reburial of Towton dead at Saxton church which does back up that theory.

    I pretty much agree with everything else you said, though I struggle to see how archers withdraw to the flanks. Going back through their men at arms, billmen, spearmen etc seems more probable and they could certainly fight in melee if required as they would be likely be carrying swords, mauls and targes, handy at least for finishing off enemy wounded as the line pushed forward. As an aside that's what made WOTR a useless "competition army". Lots of points spent on archers who spend the second half of the game stood behind melee troops and doing nothing much. Fortunately I have both sides so I can play historical games, so much more fun.

    1. I'm aware of Tim's theories on the bodies, and they're not very likely. Evidence is (an experience from people who have worked on battlefields) is that bodies are buried near to the action. Bodies are heavy and it's an unpleasant job. The Richard III reburial is unlikely to have been large scale, again think of the amount of manpower needed to dig up and more thousands of bodies.

      Towton may have been a blood bath by the standards of the day, which would mean 2,000+ bodies. That's a lot in armies that at maximum were 10,000 strong. I sat on a panel with Anne Curry, Matt Bennett and Sophie Ambler at the last Battlefield Trust conference discussing numbers at medieval battles, and no one who understands the size of English medieval armies believes the historic numbers for Towton.By all means don't go down the revisionist route, just bear in mind that medieval chroniclers based their assessment of numbers on biblical descriptions of battles, not on someone counting the bodies. Towton with suggestions of 40,000 a side doesn't stack up with the size of the English population and the military capacity of the Kingdom. The latter number is about 20,000, based on men available and what could be paid for which gives us about 10,000 a side maximum. If you relied on chronicler numbers, then the largest armies ever assembled would have been those for the Edgcote campaign as only a third get to the battlefield, and that's 40-60,000 a side, which would make the total armies assembled close on 250,000 in total. Nonsense, isn't it?

      The problem is that the numbers don't fit on the battlefield, and if you go with the chroniclers and try to ram them in you distort what happened as you try to make them fit. I'd also take issue with your contention that it was remembered in the North for long afterwards. "Yorke Felde" as it was known, together with "Ferybryge" pop up in a the Croyland Chronicle and Warkworth's, but don't appear at all in the Beverley Corporation Records. Coventry raised 100 men for the "felde yn the North" the same as they were asked for to go to Edgcote.

      Yorkshire does have the biggest battle in English history. It's just it isn't Towton. It's Marston Moor.

    2. The disposal of the dead after medieval battles was done in a variety of ways, depending on who the dead were, their rank, whether they were local and who did the burying. And whether it was important to get the dead off the fields so you could work them (waste and commons could see dead bodies left for quite some time and collected up under clerical supervision years later, especially if they weren't local). So, explanations about lack of skeletons = lack of dead need to be advanced cautiously. In the Towton case, as there was a memorial chapel, some effort may have been made to move at least some bodies to near proximity , though I'd expect it it to have been built where at least some of the bodies were. This doesn't really say much in terms of numbers at the battle, mind, as we have very few remains at all. Graham's arguments from space, population and logistics are probably a better guide than bodies in this case (as for many medieval battles).


Post a comment