3 Armies, Size of

Armies, Size of

   Aside from the fantastically large estimates of contemporary chroniclers and commentators, little evidence survives to support the realistic calculation of the size of WARS OF THE ROSES armies. However, the pay records for English armies sent to FRANCE in the fifteenth century are more plentiful and do permit historians to make educated guesses as to the sizes of most civil war forces. English claims for the numbers engaged were disbelieved even in the fifteenth century. In 1461, the Milanese ambassador in BURGUNDY confessed to his master, Francesco Sforza, duke of Milan, that he was ashamed to speak of the huge numbers of men (about 300,000) who were reported to have participated in the recent campaign and Battle of ST. ALBANS. Such numbers, observed the ambassador, resembled “the figures of bakers” (Gillingham, p. 43). For the Battle of TOWTON in March 1461, the bishop of Salisbury, writing one week after the battle, and the LONDON merchant who likely wrote Gregory’s Chronicle (see London Chronicles) both claimed that EDWARD IV’s army numbered 200,000. Because all accounts of Towton agree that the Lancastrian force was larger than Edward’s, accepting the chronicle figures means accepting that almost a half million men fought at Towton. For these numbers to be accurate, almost every adult fighting man in mid-fifteenth-century England—perhaps 600,000 out of an estimated total population of less than 3 million—must have been present at the battle.Given the size and extent of contemporary problems of supply and transport, such figures are clearly incredible (see Armies, Supplying of).
   Although few such documents exist for Wars of the Roses armies, the surviving pay records of various other fifteenth-century military forces allow for more believable size estimates. For instance, the accounts of the Exchequer, the ancient royal financial office, show that Edward IV transported 11,500 fighting men to France in 1475. In 1415, when Henry V crossed the Channel to launch the Agincourt campaign, he took with him an army of about 9,000. The largest English army of the century was the force of 20,000 men with which Richard, duke of Gloucester (see Richard III, King of England), invaded SCOTLAND in 1482. Because no English king or commander had the full military resources of the realm at his disposal during the civil wars, the armies of the Wars of the Roses are unlikely to have exceeded the 1482 force in size.A reasonable estimate is that the largest armies at the largest battles, such as the Battles of St. Albans (1461), BARNET, and TEWKESBURY, did not number more than 10,000 to 15,000 men. At most other battles, and especially later in the wars, when enthusiasm for actively taking sides waned among the PEERAGE and GENTRY, the armies may have been half or less this size. The one possible exception is the Battle of Towton, for which exact figures are elusive, but which clearly was the largest, longest, and bloodiest battle of the conflict. One possible way to explain chronicle figures is to make a distinction between fighting men and the large numbers of noncombatants who supported them. Besides its ARCHERS and MEN-AT-ARMS, a fifteenth-century army might include chaplains, grooms, bakers, carpenters, physicians, fletchers, and servants and hangers-on (both male and female) of all kinds. If such noncombatants were counted as part of the army, an actual fighting force of 10,000 could be a much larger aggregation of human beings. The counting of noncombatants may explain why, for instance, the force with which Edward IV left Burgundy in March 1471 was given as 2,000 in the HISTORY OF THE ARRIVAL OF EDWARD IV, the official Yorkist account of the invasion, but was recorded as 1,200 in Jean de Waurin’s RECUEIL DES CRONIQUES ET ANCHIENNES ISTORIES DE LA GRANT BRETAIGNE.
   See also Armies, Recruiting of; Battles, Nature of; Casualties; Commons and the Wars of the Roses; Military Campaigns, Duration of
   Further Reading:
   - Boardman, Andrew W., The Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1998);
   - Gillingham, John, The Wars of the Roses (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981);
   - Goodman, Anthony, The Wars of the Roses (New York: Dorset Press, 1981); Ross, Charles, The Wars of the Roses (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1987).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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