The Soldier in later Medieval England

Did you ancestor serve in the garrisons of Normandy 1415-1450?


Once Harfleur was taken by Henry V in mid-September 1415 he installed a garrison of 300 men-at-arms and 900 archers. Although we do not have a muster roll at this point, we do have one for the first few months of 1416 (TNA E 101/47/39). There are several others for the years which followed. All of these have been put into the Normandy garrison database. You might find it interesting to compare with the names of those serving in the 1415 expeditionary army which are in the Muster database.

Henry invaded Normandy again in August 1417. By the beginning of 1419, after a six-month siege of Rouen, virtually the whole duchy was in his hands. He installed English garrisons as he advanced. Unfortunately we do not have many surviving muster rolls for his conquests. They were administered by a mixture of English and local practices. After Henry’s death on 31 August 1422, the duchy of Normandy was reabsorbed into the rest of the kingdom of France by virtue of the terms which Henry had reached with the French in May 1420 – the treaty of Troyes.

This is one of the most amazing treaties of all time. It made Henry V heir to Charles VI as king of France. As it happened Henry predeceased Charles, so it was the nine-month-old son of Henry and Charles’s daughter, Katherine, who ended up as king of England and king of France. He was even crowned king of France in Paris in December 1431. Of course, not everyone accepted the treaty of Troyes. In 1429 Charles VI’s son, the Dauphin Charles, managed to have himself crowned king with the help of Joan of Arc. In 1435 he was reconciled with the Burgundians who had supported the English since 1419, and in 1449-53 he managed to drive the English out of France altogether save for their toe-hold in Calais.

What is important from the point of view of our database is that after the treaty of Troyes the English ruled France using French institutions and practices. This included military organisation. As a result the archives for the garrisons and other military activities in support of Henry VI as king of France are all French. They are to be found in the archives of the chambre des comptes which was the French equivalent of the Exchequer. The vast majority of the surviving material relates to Normandy under English rule but there are sources for garrisons and actions outside Normandy too.

The English were driven out but the archives of their rule remained in France, as part of the archives of the French crown. Over the centuries they have suffered many vicissitudes, a fire in 1737, removal of documents by antiquarians, the French Revolution etc etc. They have been broken up and reassembled, and are now in at least 14 different repositories worldwide. Some still come on the market from time to time. The majority are still in France, divided between the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, the Archives Nationales in Paris and the various Archives Départementales, such as at Rouen. But in the mid nineteenth century, some were bought by the British Museum (now Library).

In the Reference column you will therefore find many different archival repositories. But the materials they contain are essentially the same. In the areas they ruled, the English simply followed French practices, although they developed them further. Soldiers in garrisons mustered four times a year. In addition, from the mid 1420s there was a quarterly counter-roll for each garrison listing entries and exits of soldiers, temporary absences, gains of war, etc. The personal retinues of the commanders, and the retinues of officials such as the baillis (roughly equivalent to sheriffs in England) and the masters of the ordnance, also mustered at least four times a year. When troops were assembled in the field for particular campaigns (such as for the siege of Orleans in 1428-9), they would muster more frequently (weekly or fortnightly during the action).

What is important to remember is that the troops based in Normandy and other areas of France would be reinforced from time to time by new armies from England (names of troops in expeditionary armies are in the Muster database).

There is a vast amount of material surviving. We have put on the Normandy garrison database as many names as we have found so far. We have not been able to include all the subsidiary information which is sometimes there, such as the nationality of the troops. There were soldiers from other countries, and from Normandy and France itself, although the majority were English (sometimes Welsh are also so identified). This must have been quite an experience for Englishmen, often serving overseas for many years and (based on other evidence we have in the French archives) often integrating with the local population.

Please let us know if you think your ancestor is amongst them.

You might find interesting the career of Sir John Cressy, one of the Soldier profiles on the web site. He had a long service in defence of Henry VI’s French crown, and was so proud of it that his captaincies were mentioned on his tomb in Dodford Church (Northants).

Further reading

C.T. Allmand, Lancastrian Normandy. The History of a Medieval Occupation (OUP, 1983)

J. Barker, Conquest. The English Kingdom of France (Little, Brown, 2009)

A. Curry, Essential Histories. The Hundred Years War. (Osprey Books, 2002).

A. Curry, The Hundred Years War, Second edition (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2003).

A. Curry, ‘The nationality of men-at-arms serving in English armies in Normandy and the ‘pays de conquête’, 1415-1450: a preliminary study’, Reading Medieval Studies, 18 (1992), pp. 135-163. (available on-line, De Re militari web site)

A. Curry, ‘The English army in the fifteenth century’, in Arms, Armies and Fortifications in the Hundred Years War, ed. A. Curry and M. Hughes (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1994), pp. 39-68. (E book?)

A. Curry, ‘Isolated or integrated? The English soldier in Lancastrian Normandy’, in Courts and Regions of Medieval Europe, ed. S. Rees Jones, R. Marks and A.J. Minnis (York Medieval Press, 2000), pp. 191-210.




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