The Companye represent a retained household of 15th Century Soldiers. They are primarily a pioneer company, and operate in mixed “lances” of men at arms, archers and handgunners.
Weapons typically used at this point in the fifteenth century were Bills; Spears; Poll Axes; Longswords and Sword and Bucklers. For an interesting article by the Companye historian on The Sword & Dagger see here.
Although we portray an English fighting unit, we aim to base some of our strategies on the 15th century principles laid down by England’s Burgundian allies.
The Burgundian Way of War and its relationship to English armies
By Mike Ingram, Harrington Companye Master of the Rolls.
Towards the end of the Hundred Years War, the French kings issued ordinances (ordonnances) which established standing armies in which units were permanently embodied, based, and organized into formations of set size. Men in these units signed a contract which kept them in the service of the unit for periods of one year or longer. The first such French ordinance was issued by King Charles VII at the general parliament of Orléans in 1439, and was meant to raise a body of troops to crush the devastating incursions of the Armagnacs.
Eventually more ordinances would set the general guidelines for the organization of companies of gendarmes, the troops in which were accordingly called the gendarmes d’ordonnance. Each of the 15 gendarme companies was to be of 100 “lances”, each “lance” composed of six mounted men—a noble heavy armoured horseman, a more lightly armed fellow combatant (coutillier), a page (a non-combatant) and three mounted archers meant as infantry support. The archers were intended to ride to battle and dismount to shoot with their bows, and did so until late in the fifteenth century, when they took to fighting on horseback This organization was provisional, however, and one of the mounted archers was commonly replaced by another non-combatant, a servant (valet).
The lance had also been a standard unit of measure in Italy since 1433 or earlier. When the Burgundian duke Charles the Bold wished to establish an army to stand up to this royal French threat, he emulated the French ordonnance army, raising his own force of gendarmes in ordonnance companies starting informally in 1470, officially establishing these by means of an ordonnance issued in 1471, and refining the companies in further ordonnances issued in 1472, 1473 and 1476. These created twelve ordonnance companies, for a total of 1,200 gendarmes.
Like French companies, the Burgundian gendarmes d’ordonnance companies were also composed of 100 “lances”, and were similarly raised and garrisoned, but were organized differently, being split into four squadrons (escadres), each of four chambres of six lances each. Each Burgundian lance still contained the six mounted men, but also included three purely infantry soldiers—a crossbowman, a handgunner and a pikeman, who in practice fought in their own formations on the battlefield. There was a twenty-fifth lance in the escadre, that of the squadron commander (chef d’escadre). Each Compagnie also had civilian support personel; clerks, trumpeters, musicians, surgeons, cooks, miners, carpenters, stonemasons, blacksmiths, farriers, armourers, brigandiners, barrel makers, rope makers, saddlers, waggoners, merchants, washerwomen, etc.
The ordonnances also give a tantalizing glimpse as to how they trained and fought. The ordinance of 1473 says:
Furthermore, my lord [the duke] ordains that, in order that the said troops, may be better trained and exercised in the use of arms and better practiced and instructed when something happens, when they are in garrison, or have time and leisure to do this, the captains of the squadrons and the chambres are from time to time to take some of their men-at-arms out in the fields, sometimes partly, sometimes fully armed, to practice charging with the lance, keeping in close formation while charging, how to charge briskly, to defend their ensigns, to withdraw on command, and to rally, each helping the other, when so ordered, and how to withstand a charge. In like manner they are to exercise the archers and their horses, to get them used to dismounting and drawing their bows. They must learn how to attach their horses together by their bridles and make them walk forwards directly behind them, attaching the horses of three archers by their bridles saddle-bow of the page of whose man-at-arms they belong; also to march briskly forwards and to fire without breaking rank. The pikemen must be made to advance in close formation in front of the said archers, kneel at a sign from them, holding their pikes lowered to the level of a horse’s back to that the archers can fire over the said pikemen as if over a wall. Thus, if the pikemen see that the enemy is breaking rank, they will be near enough to charge them in good order according to their instructions. The archers must also learn to place themselves back to back in double defense, or in a square or circle, always with the pikemen outside them to withstand the charge of the enemy horse and their horses with the pages enclosed in their midst. The conducteurs can begin by introducing this way of doing things to small groups and when one of these groups is practiced and instructed, they can take out others. While doing this, the conducteurs are to keep an eye on all their people every day so that none will dare absent themselves or be without horse and armour, because they will not be sure on which day the conducteurs will want to take them out on exercises. Thus each will be constrained to learn to do his duty.
Striving to find the perfect army, the ordonnances were frequently modified:
The Ordinance of Abbeville 31st July 1471.
Charles recruited 1,250 lances and the ordinance set each lance at one man-at-arms, one mounted valet, one coustillier, three mounted archers, one crossbowman, one handgunner and one pikeman. This gave a total of 10,000 men which were formed into Ordonnance Companies. Each company was to consist of 100 lances commanded by a Conducteur (after the Italian Condottiere) or Captain. Eight of these captains were nominated in 1471. The company was further divided into units of 10 lances commanded by a Desenier (possibly from the French dessiner, to draw up, designate). This 10 lance unit was again split into a group of 6 lances commanded by the Desenier himself, and a 4 lance unit commanded by Chef de Chambre (Head of the
The Ordinance at Bohain en Vermandois 13th November 1472.
Here the eight Ordonnance Captains nominated in 1471 were added to by five others, thus bringing the number of companies up to thirteen. However, the first company was almost certainly formed from the Ducal Guard from the outset leaving 1,200 men-at-arms with three horses, giving 1,200 valets and 1,200 coustiliers. Added to these were 3,000 mounted archers, 600 mounted crossbowmen, 2,000 pikemen, 1,000 foot archers and 600 handgunners. These were formed into a further twelve companies.
The Ordinance at St Maxmin de Treves October 1473.
At this ordinance the companies were reorganised copying the Italian system. The company was still commanded by the Conducteur, but was now divided into four squadrons of 25 lances, each commanded by a Chef d’Escadre (squadron leader). The squadron was then further divided into four Chambres of 6 lances, each commanded by a Chef de Chambre. The odd missing lance was probably still commanded by the Chef d’Escadre. The composition of the lance was as stipulated in the 1472 ordinance. However, further to this we see the first Italian mercenary company raised by the Comte de Campobasso, a Neopolitan Condottiere.
The Burgundian ordonnances even went so far as to list what each type of soldier should wear:
Full harness, war horse with chanfrain and war saddle. Lance or polaxe if fighting on foot, bastard sword, mace or war hammer, dagger. Shoes, hoes, shirt, doublet, belt, hat and jacket. These should all be of best quality materials
The hommes d’armes were heavy cavalry. Primarily still deployed on horse rather than the English tactic of fighting dismounted. Full harness, war horse with chanfrain and war saddle. Lance or polaxe if fighting on foot, bastard sword, mace or war hammer, dagger. Shoes, hoes, shirt, doublet, belt, hat and jacket. These should all be of better quality materials than the basic clothes
The main function of the valet was to support the hommes d’armes and coustiliers, not all valets seem to have had armour. Sallet, bevor or maille standard, brigandine and maille shirt or back and breast and plate arm harness, gauntlets, leg harness Light lance or guisarme (bill) if fighting on foot, bastard sword, dagger. Shoes, hoes, shirt, doublet, belt, hat and jacket. These should all be of better quality materials than the basic
Deployed as light cavalry, although they were sometimes used to increase the ranks of the hommes d’armes, or as heavy infantry assigned to defend the archers. Sallet, bevor or maille standard, brigandine and maille shirt or cuirass, plate arm harness, gauntlets, plate leg harness. Light lance or guisarme (bill or glaive) if fighting on foot, bastard sword, dagger
Sallet (with or without visor), maille standard, brigandine, padded jack (mounted archers should also have; thigh boots, horse and saddle). Bow and quiver, lead hammer, bastard sword, dagger
Sallet, bevor or maille standard, brigandine over padded jack, leg harness.
Crossbow and quiver, bastard sword, dagger.
Sallet and bevor, breast plate over sleeved maille shirt.
Handgun, falchion, buckler, dagger
Sallet, breast plate over padded jack.
Pike, arming sword, buckler, dagger
There were strong political ties between England and Burgundy with Richard and Edward’s sister married to Charles the Bold. Over 2000 English archers served in the Burgundian field army at anyone time. In 1465, Sir John Howard sent his son Thomas along with other English gentlemen to serve a military apprenticeship with Charles. Thomas Everingham and Sir John Middleton both served with distinction against the French in Charles army before returning to England to take up key military posts. It is therefore not surprising that Burgundian chronicler, Phillipe de Commynes says that Burgundian tactics were heavily influenced by those of the English, and no doubt vice
As to English use of the ‘lance, in 1475, as part of Edward IV’s proposed invasion of France, which according to chroniclers, was the largest English army ever assembled, it is recorded that Lord Hastings raised 40 Lances and 300 archers; Sir Ralph Hastings, 8 Lances and 100 archers; Lord Grey of Codnor, 10 Lances and 155 archers. The same document also mentions Sir Simon Mountfort supplying 5 spears and 60 archers. Clearly there is a distinction between, spear and lance. A number of historians have taken the lance to be a single Man At Arms, however, bearing in mind the above, and that it is very unlikely that someone with the power and prominence of Hastings would only take 40 MAA with him on such an important campaign. So the lance must mean a group of men, not an individual. However, it may only be an admin unit and not a tactical one. Continental chroniclers only ever comment on two differences in English armies, the first is the quality and quantity of the archers, the second, that the Men at Arms fought on foot. If there were any other significant differences, surely they would remark upon it?
Although something that we have to consider of course is the make up of the respective armies. The Burgundian’s had a professional full time standing army, the English relied on a mixture of livery men and men raised by ‘Commissions of Array’. Generally, medieval tactics followed classical Roman theories written by Vegetius in his book Epitoma rei militaris, and no self respecting fifteenth century magnate would be without a copy. In 1410, Christine de Pizan, wrote her own version of the book, The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry, making comments as to warfare in her time. And in 1460, Lord Beaumont had his own version commissioned called Knyghthode and Bataile which presented it in ballad format. This he presented to Margaret of Anjou shortly before the battle of Northampton. None explicitly state how a formation should be arrayed except the normal distances between ranks is 3ft and 7ft between files.
Another question that all this brings, is how many billmen were in an army? The Burgundian’s seem to have a large number of spearmen which are separate from the bill armed men. It also implies that they fought in different ways. It seems that a bill was between five and six feet long and used more like an axe (born out by the painting below) and the spears were traditional stabbing weapons, which on the continent at least, were used to fend off cavalry.
About the Author
Mike Ingram is a military historian, lecturer and battlefield guide. He has a Masters degree from the University of Birmingham, is a member of the Guild of Battlefield Guides and the Battlefield Trust, and regularly lectures on the Wars of the Roses.
Christine de Pizan, The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry
Vegetius, Epitoma rei militaris,
Philippe Contamine, War in the Middle Ages
Nicholas Michael, The Armies of Medieval Burgundy
Anthony Goodman, The Wars of the Roses
Andrew W. Boardman, The Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses