Harbingers were a special corps of men who rode before an army on the march and arranged for the billeting, or lodging, of the troops.
   Harbingers generally came under the command of the army’s marshal, the officer responsible for keeping the troops well fed and supplied. Because the WARS OF THE ROSES were civil wars, harbingers usually had to maintain friendly relations with the local people on whom troops were billeted while also providing suitable accommodations for the men. Uncomfortable sleeping quarters could damage army morale, and quarrels over who got choice billets could destroy an army’s cohesion and seriously divide its leadership. The Yorkists lost the Battle of EDGECOTE in 1469 largely because EDWARD IV’s commanders, William HERBERT, earl of Pembroke, and Humphrey STAFFORD, earl of Devon, argued over lodging the night before. When Devon led most of the ARCHERS to distant billets, Pembroke had mainly footmen when he was confronted next day by the ROBIN OF REDESDALE insurgents.
   Harbingers could also act as foragers and information gatherers, since they often made first contact with the enemy force by clashing with its harbingers. Because encountering opposing harbingers could reveal a foe’s location and direction, commanders sometimes ordered their own harbingers to ride away from the army’s line of march, thereby deceiving the enemy as to the army’s position and the commander’s intentions. Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, used this tactic during his coup attempt in 1470, as did Edmund BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, the Lancastrian commander during the western campaign in 1471. In an effort to reach the Severn fords before Edward IV, Somerset sent harbingers southeast from Bristol when the army moved north. Although Edward eventually caught and defeated his enemies at the Battle of TEWKESBURY, the ploy almost delayed the king sufficiently to allow MARGARET OF ANJOU’s army to reach WALES.
   See also Armies, Supplying 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).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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