Men-at-Arms

   Expected to practice the use of arms from an early age, male members of the landowning PEERAGE and GENTRY families of England comprised the ranks of the men-at-arms, a general term for those soldiers in civil war armies who had the greatest training, experience, and equipage for war. Most battles during the WARS OF THE ROSES were decided by the outcome of hand-to-hand combat between dismounted men-at-arms.
   Men-at-arms and their RETAINERS—the only component of most armies that could be considered professional—were almost always only a small portion of any civil war force, which might also contain ARTILLERY units and troops of ARCHERS, foreign MERCENARIES, town and county militias, and tenants of landed noblemen (see Armies, Recruiting of). Men-at-arms fought in contingents led by the nobleman or knight who had retained them—William HASTINGS, Lord Hastings, recruited forty men-at-arms for EDWARD IV’s invasion of FRANCE in 1475—or as part of the corps of knights or household servants of the king. In his grand cavalry charge at the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD in 1485, RICHARD III was accompanied into combat by his loyal retinue of men-at-arms. By the Wars of the Roses, English men-atarms usually fought on foot, both to improve morale by standing with their men and to make themselves smaller targets for archers (see Generalship). Because they were generally encased in full ARMOR and their horses were tethered far to the rear, men-at-arms were often less able to escape a lost battle than other soldiers. Especially among the wealthier nobility and gentry, many men-at-arms in rich harness, such as Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, at the Battle of BARNET in 1471, were slain and plundered by common soldiers who caught them as they fled the field. To the extent allowed by their financial means, men-at-arms entered combat wearing plate armor and wielding the heavy maces, battle-axes, and other WEAPONRY designed to crush the newer, stronger type of armor. Often deployed in lines behind ranks of archers, whose volleys usually opened a fight, contingents of men-at-arms, supported by other more lightly armored foot soldiers, engaged in close combat that usually decided the battle (see Battles, Nature of). Because men-at-arms formed the seasoned core of most civil war armies, a preponderance of such experienced troops could overcome an overall inferiority of numbers. For instance, Edward IV’s victories at the Battle of MORTIMER’S CROSS in 1461 and the Battle of TEWKESBURY in 1471 are in part ascribed to his superiority on both fields in trained men-at-arms.
   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 (London: Thames and Hudson, 1987).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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