D. J. B. Trim

title.none: Bell, War and the Soldier (D. J. B. Trim)

identifier.other: baj9928.0611.011 06.11.11

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: D. J. B. Trim, Newbold College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Bell, Adrian R. War and the Soldier in the Fourteenth Century. Series: Warfare in History, vol. 20. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2004. Pp. xiv, 256. $90.00 (hb) ISBN 1-84383-103-1 ISBN-13 978-1-84383-103-7. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.11.11

Bell, Adrian R. War and the Soldier in the Fourteenth Century. Series: Warfare in History, vol. 20. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2004. Pp. xiv, 256. $90.00 (hb) ISBN 1-84383-103-1 ISBN-13 978-1-84383-103-7. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

D. J. B. Trim
Newbold College

This is an important book but it is necessary to clarify what it is about, and thus why it is important, because the title is potentially misleading. It will suggest, at least to many prospective readers, a broad synthesis of the soldier's experience of warfare, campaigning and combat from enlistment to demobilization (if not retirement), across the fourteenth century and across several countries. Such a book would be welcome, but that Dr Bell has not written such a book should only leave one frustrated with publishers who seek larger readerships by mistitling books, rather than distracted from the significance of what has been achieved.

This is in fact a study of the career patterns of English soldiers in the second half of the fourteenth century, based on allying the power of computing to meticulous research in archival records, especially of the retinues that comprised English armies in this period. However, analysis of the men who made up retinues provides a lens that brings into greater focus a range of other issues. War and the Soldier in the Fourteenth Century sheds light on an obscure period of the Hundred Years' War; it demonstrates what a career soldier's career was like (here the title does accurately indicate content); it provides a valuable perspective on the organisation of retinues and military affinities; and it has an interesting angle on politics in the reign of Richard II. Bell does not always bring these issues into as sharp a focus as one might like, or fully answer the questions his work poses, but his findings and insights are significant and so, too, is his methodology, utilizing computerized data management--an approach which could and should be applied more widely. For all these reasons, his is an important book that deserves a wide readership.

Bell explores the "relatively neglected" (1) period of the Hundred Years' War between 1369-99. This was a period of considerable military activity and its neglect by Anglophone scholars reflects not that this was a time of peace, but that it was a time when English fortunes in France declined, no great battles were fought, and no army was led to the Continent by an English king. English expeditionary forces still engaged with foreign forces, however, in Gascony and Aquitaine, Brittany, Portugal, Flanders, Scotland, Castile, Ireland, and in raids on the French coast. There were seventeen foreign expeditions in these thirty-one years (usefully tabulated on page 10), not counting the crusading contingents of the Earl of Derby and John Beaufort in 1390 and 1396. Bell concentrates on two expeditionary forces in particular, those led by Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, in attacks on French shipping and coasts in 1387 and 1388. These were not without tactical successes, but seem to have been regarded by the English at the time as not particularly successful. Nevertheless, it is important to be reminded that English warmaking was about more than English kings winning battlefield victories in France; chevauchées and coastal raids were more typical.

The crucial point, though, about Arundel's expeditions is that complete muster rolls survive for them, retinue by retinue, recording all the men-at-arms and archers who served in them by name: over 5,600 names in all. The rolls' potential as sources is perhaps unparalleled and has been well recognized for some time--but so has the magnitude of the work required to analyze them. Computer technology now makes feasible the recording and analysis of muster rolls, but historians are perhaps old-fashioned creatures and few of us are as au fait with information technology as we ought to be. Bell not only realized the possibilities, he then followed through. Having recorded all the names on the muster rolls, he has identified many of them, located them in a wider context from other records, and linked them all in a relational database. This is an heroic achievement of both scholarship and information management: many readers will realize and value the long hours of dusty archival work involved in the former, but the complexity of the latter task also needs to be appreciated. Bell deserves the highest praise for his work in data capture and analysis.

Interpretation of the data, however, poses a different set of challenges. One approach is to extract via database analysis the information (particularly statistics) latent in the sources and analyze them. Bell does follow this approach and the result is, for the military historian, full of interest. There are, for example, detailed breakdowns of all the retinues, providing statistics of relative strengths and the ratio of archers to men-at-arms; statistics for casualties and mortality; and percentages of soldiers (knights, esquires and archers) who continued with the same captains or who changed retinues. Another approach is to seek to examine military career patterns, and Bell attempts this. A necessary step to such analysis, however, is a prosopography of the soldiers, filling out their careers before and after their participation in Arundel's expeditions, in order to establish not only military career patterns, but also the extent to which military service shaped, or was shaped by, membership of affinities or political considerations. My feeling is that Bell to some extent became trapped in this necessary intermediary phase; a large part of War and the Soldier is made up of detailed biographical studies. These case studies are the least original part of this book, being based largely on fairly standard printed sources, and broader trends do not emerge as clearly as they might. Bell's extraction and analysis of statistical patterns is not only more innovative it was also, to me, the more interesting part of this book and I for one would have welcomed more (though it has to be said that much of Bell's data is conveyed in his text and often tabulated, so that to some extent the reader can interpret for him or herself).

However, while the case studies are dense, some significant points do emerge. Bell's findings do not substantially modify the recent scholarly picture of late-medieval English armies, but his detailed evidence confirms and, in some respects, amplifies it. For instance, although leaders like Arundel built up their expeditionary forces from career soldiers who were widely experienced, such men were distinctly a minority. It is striking, for example, that only 19 per cent of the men who served under Arundel in 1387 did so in 1388, and that only 13 per cent of the 1388 force had served in 1387 (98-101). Only 22 per cent even of the men considered in case studies had served on multiple expeditions (222-23). Thus, the hard core of career warriors had to be supplemented by more irregular soldiers. One interesting question, then, is whether the two different groups were recruited on different bases; this is not really explored. A question which is explored is whether the retinues that served Arundel in 1387-88 constituted a Fitzalan affinity. I felt Bell's conceptual framework was shaky, lacking a clear means to differentiate between different types of subaltern relationship to Arundel: that 56 per cent of the soldiers considered in the case studies had "a connection" to Arundel is interesting but only takes us so far, since a range of different types of connection were clearly involved. However, it is evident that a goodly proportion of Arundel's soldiers were either tenants on his Sussex lands or had other connections with him. Bell concludes that "key figures in Arundel's retinue were well known to him and counted upon as loyal supporters" (176). This in turn naturally leads him to address questions about the relationship of affinity connections to political, as well as military, loyalties, for Arundel was, of course, not just a leader of military expeditions abroad. He was deeply involved in resistance to Richard II, as a result of which he was executed in 1397. Bell correlates the men in the muster rolls with the lists of men who sued for pardons in 1398. But the surviving evidence is tenuous and I am skeptical whether, because a man received a pardon in 1397-8 and had served with Arundel in 1387-88, there is a causal connection between the two. In the end it remains unclear whether being a member of a military affinity also implied political loyalty. Questions also remain about why many soldiers served a particular captain or magnate, or supported a particular side in a political dispute. Bell's evidence opens the possibility that, instead of Arundel's affinity including men who later switched from the Lords Appellant to the king (for whatever reasons), it may in 1387-88 have included Riccardians who served Arundel only because they were career soldiers for whom his expeditions were the only game in town. Thus, retinues, instead of groupings of loyal followers, might simply have been collections of career soldiers seeking a campaign's employment. But this brings us back to the point that the majority of men in Arundel's expeditions seem not to have been career soldiers at all. Perhaps affinity connections were the more likely source for knights and for those of the rank-and-file for whom soldiering was a periodic activity rather than an occupation.

I hope that the reservations expressed above do not leave any reader in doubt that this is a significant contribution to scholarship, if at times more for its data than its conclusions. War and the Soldier in the Fourteenth Century is an essential source for any scholar working on the organization of military expeditions, on soldiers and their experiences, on retinues and affinities, or on the English gentry and nobility and their political relationships. I hope, too, that Dr Bell develops still further the material he has extracted with such scholarly care and look forward to his future work on these subjects.