Mercenaries

   Most English armies during the WARS OF THE ROSES contained at least a small contingent of paid troops recruited outside England, or a company of soldiers supplied by a foreign ally. Besides offering an alternative source of manpower when armies had to be raised quickly, such mercenary forces also provided commanders with specialists in particular military skills, such as the use of handguns or crossbows, which were more highly developed on the continent than in England. Foreign mercenaries fought on many English battlefields. The Lancastrian army at the Battle of MORTIMER’S CROSS in 1461 contained Breton, Welsh, and Irish troops. Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, probably had a troop of Burgundian handgunners at the Battle of ST.ALBANS in February 1461, as did EDWARD IV at the Battle of TOWTON a month later. Scottish troops accompanied the army of Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU on its MARCH ON LONDON in early 1461, and fought for the Lancastrian queen, along with French and Welsh mercenaries, at the subsequent Battles of St. Albans and Towton. Between 1461 and 1464, the Lancastrian leadership, then in exile in SCOTLAND, employed Scottish troops on numerous raids into northern England. Through the 1462 CHINON AGREEMENT with LOUIS XI, Queen Margaret obtained the services of Pierre de BRÉZÉ and a troop of French mercenaries, while Edward IV returned to England in 1471 leading a Burgundian force supplied by Duke CHARLES. The army that Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond (see Henry VII, King of England), led at the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD in 1485 contained French, Scottish, and Welsh contingents, while the army of Yorkist rebels that Henry faced two years later at the Battle of STOKE included many German and Irish mercenaries (see Simnel, Lambert). The use and size of foreign mercenary forces increased as the wars progressed and English enthusiasm for the struggle declined. Also, defeat in England and the subsequent need to survive in and return from a foreign country, a situation faced by the Lancastrians in 1461 and the Yorkists in 1470 and 1485, gave new urgency to the need for raising foreign mercenaries. However, during a civil war, when a king or claimant to the throne required good relations with the people he sought to rule, the use of mercenaries was problematic. Because they were foreigners, thought to be more interested in opportunities for plunder than in the political success of their employers, mercenaries often inspired fear among the populace. The Lancastrian cause suffered from the panic that Queen Margaret’s Scottish (and northern English) troops caused in LONDON and southern England in February 1461. Margaret’s later willingness to surrender BERWICK and CALAIS for Scottish and French troops proved to be a great PROPAGANDA boon for the Yorkists, almost canceling out the benefits the queen derived from obtaining the mercenaries. In his MEMOIRS, Philippe de Commines described the French troops who accompanied Richmond to England in 1485 as “the loosest and most profligate persons . . . that could be found” (Boardman, p. 90), and the earl threatened harsh penalties for any soldier who committed theft or violence. Although important in battle, foreign mercenaries, if unruly or uncontrolled, were a serious detriment on the march.
   The employment of foreign mercenaries also turned the Wars of the Roses into extensions of non-English conflicts. In 1471, French assistance for the house of LANCASTER during the READEPTION of HENRY VI elicited Burgundian aid for the house of YORK from the personally Lancastrian duke of BURGUNDY. The age-old alliance between FRANCE and Scotland, combined with the generally anti-French stance of the Yorkists, meant that Scottish assistance went more often to the Lancastrians, while the generally proYorkist feeling in IRELAND brought many Irish troops into Yorkist armies. However, mercenary forces of many nationalities fought on both sides during the civil wars.
   See also Armies, Recruiting 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 (London: Thames and Hudson, 1987).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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