Armies, Supplying of

   Supplying a fifteenth-century army with food, clothing, and other necessary items was a difficult task that often limited the size of the force, affected its mobility, and influenced the strategy of its leaders. Three different methods were employed, usually in combination, to supply WARS OF THE ROSES armies—the troops carried their own supplies, purchased supplies from merchants accompanying the army, or lived off the land.
   Records for the armies EDWARD IV raised in the early 1480s to invade SCOTLAND indicate that huge quantities of mutton, bacon, beef (on the hoof), fish, grain, beans, and salt were collected at Newcastle, the army’s base. Large numbers of carts and horses were gathered to carry the food and such cooking supplies as kettles, ladles, and dishes, as well as such other necessary tools and equipment as axes, shovels, and sickles. Although most civil war armies were half or less the size of the 20,000- man force that Richard, duke of Gloucester (see Richard III, King of England), led northward in 1482, they still required lengthy wagon trains even to carry only a few days’ worth of supplies. Thus, even for brief campaigns—and most during the Wars of the Roses lasted for only days or weeks—troops quickly exhausted their food reserve and had to turn for supplies to merchants following the army or to foraging in their area of operations. Merchants and their vital supply trains could limit movement, especially when their numbers were added to the already large number of noncombatants who accompanied an army—servants (male and female), fletchers, carpenters, grooms, physicians, chaplains, cooks and bakers, and general laborers. The presence of merchants also required that a troop of soldiers—a contemporary military manual suggests no less than 400—be deployed to protect them and their wares.
   In a civil war, the practice of living off the country posed serious political risks. Taking supplies from the people of the countryside, even upon promise of payment, could easily degenerate into looting and turn friendly or neutral towns or regions into hostile territories disposed to favor the other side. The plundering that characterized the southward march of MARGARET OF ANJOU’s army in 1461 cost the Lancastrians much support in LONDON and southern England and gave a boost to Yorkist PROPAGANDA. Because only London, with perhaps 40,000 inhabitants, was larger than an army of 10,000, living off the land also limited movement into sparsely populated areas and encouraged operations near a larger town or in a richer agricultural area. Speed of movement was also affected by the problem of supply. In March 1470, Edward IV marched quickly northward to quell the uprisings instigated by Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick. However, before engaging the rebels, Edward had to spend four days in York collecting supplies; the food his troops carried with them had been exhausted on the march, and Warwick’s men, through their own foraging, had exhausted the supplies available in the countryside. The problem of supplying a large army in the field may have been the main reason civil war commanders tended to seek rather than avoid battle, so as to quickly end campaigns and disband armies.
   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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