Billmen - myth?

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Jim
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Post by Jim »

Fox wrote:We use almost no period words or contexts.

We know what we mean when we say billman; what else matters?

The term I've heard used the most for billmen, folks with spears, pollaxes, halberds etc etc is "Poles", as in "Poles to the front, skirmishers at the back" or somesuch command.
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Post by gregory23b »

Fox

"We use almost no period words or contexts. "

oh right

Sallet
pavise
harness
kirtle
hose
doublet
points
brigandine
jack
breech
girdle
manchet
coffin
etc etc


we use LOADS of period words, any of use in the various periods we reenact use a shed load of jargon from them, I am pretty sure you have used a few of them yourself. The average bod would not have a clue what most of those words meant.


""...or contexts. ""

So what is the point of what we are doing then? just accept the situation unquestioningly? it makes threads like this somewhat pointless if that is the case.


"We know what we mean when we say billman; what else matters?"

Well for a start, 'billman' or what they were is the nutty bit in our teeth, ie the term itself is misleading and has become lore and law to some, it is a self creating situation.

It was just a thought, in the same way that someone seeing a man in harness might assume they are a 'knight' just be cause they are looking like what a knight is 'supposed' to look like. We would not accept that as a description because 'we know' that not everyone who wore harness was a knight, far from it.

As a 'billman' is as far as we are aware a non-existent term, yet used with rigidity to portray a man with a bill acting in a 'bill block' using 'bill drill', it might make sense to remove the biggest stumbling block.

I thought this thread was an attempt to address that.
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Post by Ghost »

As a 'billman' is as far as we are aware a non-existent term, yet used with rigidity to portray a man with a bill acting in a 'bill block' using 'bill drill', it might make sense to remove the biggest stumbling block.
if billman is a non-existent term why is it written in muster rolls - we may debate the definition of billmen/bylmen but the term is contemporary

Muster for Natland

• Thomas Macareth, horse harnes and a bowe.
• Edward Macareth, horse harnes and a bowe. (With 7 more.)

Bylmen within the same:

• Thomas Waryner, horse harnes and a byll.
• Thomas Syll, horse harnes and a byll. (With 11 more.)
• Foytmen, with some harnes, others none;
• Thomas Spence; a jak, a sallet, and a bowe
• Rowlland Myles; harnes, and a bowe
• Hew Hodson, a bowe.
• Bryan Hyggyn, a bowe
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Post by Fox »

gregory23b wrote:Fox

"We use almost no period words or contexts. "

oh right

Sallet
pavise
harness
kirtle
hose
doublet
points
brigandine
jack
breech
girdle
manchet
coffin
etc etc
Sorry, badly expressed.
I meant "We use almost no period words or contexts completely accurately"

We (and professional historians too, BTB) use (and misuse) those words with a modern meaning/context that is not 100% equivelent to the ones used at the time.
Actually it's more confusing than that because words mean different things (sometimes subtely different, sometimes radically different) at different dates or in different places.

Under those circumstances it seems perfectly reasonable to for us to use modern accepted meanings, on the understanding that if we see the same words in period documents they may require translation to modern terms, dependant on time or place. To do otherwise would require us to create a whole modern vocabulary for each medieval word.

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Post by gregory23b »

"if billman is a non-existent term why is it written in muster rolls"


It is written one that we know of, in an 18thc transcript of an earlier muster roll.

It is not known if the transcript is a literal or liberal one, hence its shakey validity.

If it is a literal transcript then we have one possible use of the term.

The term does not seem to appear anywhere else in primary documentation.

That aside, the other related issue is whether it is a term of description, ie a generic term or an actual term for a type of soldier, there seems to be no evidence for that either.

We use 'billman' as a catch all and also a specific term of man and unit, of which there seems to be scant evidence for.


For what it is worth I would have thought the term billman to be eminently 'logical', in the same way that archer is used, to denote a type of soldier, but it seems not to be the case, as bills are but one form of commonly used pole arm, whereas there seems to be only one form of bow in use and as part of statute law, bills and pole arms are not.

What we need is contemporary sources, then we are away at least in terms of one description.


"Under those circumstances it seems perfectly reasonable to for us to use modern accepted meanings, on the understanding that if we see the same words in period documents they may require translation to modern terms, dependant on time or place. To do otherwise would require us to create a whole modern vocabulary for each medieval word."

I don't have a problem with that in principle and would agree in respects of common ground, but in this case the term billman is the problem in itself, by using it, reinforces our own accepted mythology, a lot of use use terms and have no real idea of what they mean.

Maybe we have made bills more prominent than they were in relation to the other weapons used.
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Post by Fox »

gregory23b wrote:We use 'billman' as a catch all and also a specific term of man and unit, of which there seems to be scant evidence for.
...
Maybe we have made bills more prominent than they were in relation to the other weapons used.
....in that we have too many pure infantry and not enough archers. I think we all agree with that.

If you're querying the simple use of foot troops equipped with polearms as a basic method of providing support to archers I'd be interested what your understanding of some of the battles chronicled between Crecy and Floden is? [Admittedly not all those chronicles are 100% contemporary with events, but they're are generally contemporary within that time frame.]

I'd also be interested by what you mean when you say "scant evidence".
Plenty of primary evidence for bills and other pole weapons in the archeological evidence for a start.

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Post by gregory23b »

To add fuel to the name fire

" a1500 Parton.(1) (Add 35288) 4141: Hys bylle, The wyche some men do a gleyue calle."


a bill that some people call a glaive.



"I'd also be interested by what you mean when you say "scant evidence".
Plenty of primary evidence for bills and other pole weapons in the archeological evidence for a start."

For the idea of bill blocks or billmen as units, as opposed to men with pole arms.

I am talking about the man, not the weapon.

Where is the evidence for units of bills? what is the tactical breakdown of say a WOTR army? it does not appear to be archers, MAA then 'bill men'.

Not scant evidence for the use of bills, far from it, loads of reference.

"If you're querying the simple use of foot troops equipped with polearms"

Not the simple use, the apparent ordered drilled ranks of 'billmen' rather than as you say men with pole arms who support the other troops.
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Post by Fox »

I think MAA are billman (as well as some other troops too).

Generally there is no specific reference to "billmen" in descriptions of soldiers mustered; I think they're all just called MAA or similar.

And thank you for illustrating my more general point about the use of certain words with your "bill, sometimes known as a glaive" example.

You're questioning the use of "ordered drilled ranks of 'billmen'". I would question that too, and I would say generally that protrayal is limited to the WotR Fed type households; who also wide usely identical liveries, which I think we can show would not be as common as depicted.

The idea of billman fighting as groups of similarly equipped soldiers in close formation I think is believable though.

I draw that conclusion from my understanding of the equipment in archeological finds, and how it's best used (supported by evidence of similar troop types from earlier and later periods). And also from read descriptions of battles.

I'd also use some of the continental evidence to support what we're saying, because of all countries the UK has the best reasons for using those sort of tactics, because of the widespread use of the longbow and the limited use cavalry. This also matches in with the details recorded for Crecy at the start of the era and our persistence with "bill" when the rest of europe is moving to longer "pike" (and we're back to Flodden).

It's the most likely putting together of the pieces that we have.
In order to portray something else, I'd want to see evidence that pointed away from the concept of the "bill block".

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Post by gregory23b »

"The idea of billman fighting as groups of similarly equipped soldiers in close formation I think is believable though. "

Yes, as you say mixed arms of pole arm users and in some cases not even pole arms but mauls etc.


"And thank you for illustrating my more general point about the use of certain words with your "bill, sometimes known as a glaive" example."

That is but one, you see descriptions where the whole array of pole arms are trotted out as being in use by various miscreants.

I find the rigidity of terminology in our modern pigeon hole minds to be a stumbling block, or a chock to our wheels if you will.
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Post by Fox »

As ever, old friend, I think we're aguing the same side of the argument.

I don't think when re-enactors say Billman, they mean a bloke with a polearm which specifcally has a verticle spike and side hook, they mean a more general style of infantry with polearms between 6ft & 8ft.

Your quote shows that, even more historically, the terms for weapons were used interchangably.

In terms of other types of weapons used by man at arms, I think the evidence that there is would indicate men in harness use poleaxs and other short poled weapons.

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Post by gregory23b »

I didn't actually think we were in opposition, this is a discussion, rather than a point of principle or belief even.

"I don't think when re-enactors say Billman, they mean a bloke with a polearm which specifcally has a verticle spike and side hook, they mean a more general style of infantry with polearms between 6ft & 8ft. "

I don't share that view though, otherwise you would not be seeing the 'bill blocks' or references to 'I am an indentured bill man'.

"Your quote shows that, even more historically, the terms for weapons were used interchangably."

Something that I maintain an have done for a while, we are reliant on a narrow description, it helps us get along, we need muskets rather than 'gonnes' bills rather than pole arms or spears even, the broader less easy to pin down terminology of the past, esp english with its foreign stuff, and bill to glaive is a good one for that
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Post by Dave B »

You know, I think I've lost track of this one a little. For the sake of the hard of thinking, could you bullit point what you think should be done differently.
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Post by Colin Middleton »

I'm certain that the two of you are argusing from the same position again :roll: :)


I'm afraid to say that I am of the oppinion (especially as this debate rumbles on) that Man-At-Arms is the correct term and probably covers both the knights and the 'scum with sticks', as people fighting with pole-arms on foot (the cavelry being considered separatley).

I'm also comming round the the view of groups of men with 'bills' (in the general use) clustered around the knight (or other captain) who brought them, fighting in a loose ordered melee. It seems to fit with the fragments that are floating about and what little we know of the medieval English mindset.
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Post by Fox »

gregory23b wrote:I don't share that view though, otherwise you would not be seeing the 'bill blocks' or references to 'I am an indentured bill man'.
My experience of re-enactment "bill blocks" is that they contain a range of pole weapons.

If you're going beyond that to suggest that close order units of predominantly pole weapons are not supported by the evidence, I would disagree and say that at very least they are suggested by the evidence (as I said in my post before last).

I've never heard anyone say 'I am an indentured bill man' and if they did I don't understand why that would preclude the understanding they meant "I am an infantry man with a polearm." (leaving the indentured bit aside, which is a whole conversation in itself).

I think Colin's language isn't helpful either; it's worth noting that the top end of soldiery was pretty well rewarded, and it could allow ordinary people to become moderately wealthy and rise in social status.
Today's terms don't hold well, but I would estimate that we would see the semi-proffesional soldiers as being middle class, if not upper-middleclass.

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Post by gregory23b »

"I'm certain that the two of you are argusing from the same position again Rolling Eyes Smile"

we are not arguing against each other, certainly not in this case.
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Post by Fox »

Dave B wrote:You know, I think I've lost track of this one a little. For the sake of the hard of thinking, could you bullit point what you think should be done differently.
We've agreed (I think) there are not enough archers, particularly of the sort who then become infantry.
I must admit if I was starting a new unit (or even if we get people in the current group who are inclined in that direction) I might look to creating skirmishing archers (people dressed as archers, with old broken and then repaired bows slung across thier backs, lightly armoured and suitably armed).

I think we agree there is adequate proof for a reasonable number of infantry armed with polearms, what re-enactors generally refer to as a billman.

I think we've agreed that bill and billman (as we use them) should mean polearm and polearm infantry respectively. I think thats the general understanding in re-enactment; I think Jorge is saying not so much.

I think we've been querying the concept of the drilled, ordered bill unit you sometimes see presented. Personally I'd lean away from it, but I don't think we can be entirely sure either way.

We may or may not be debating the concept of a unit of predominantly pole weapons in close formation, the "bill block". Personally I think it's pretty clear thats what there was, I think others are less convinced.

Is that a good synopsis of where we're at?

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Post by Fox »

gregory23b wrote:"I'm certain that the two of you are argusing from the same position again Rolling Eyes Smile"

we are not arguing against each other, certainly not in this case.
As ever, Jorge and I are looking in the same direction. We may be debating which road is actually the best one to reach our agreed destination.

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Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

I'd still prefer the term "spears" myself. If I could I'd like to use phrases like "men of the Household" or "men of the array", but that's just me being Hollywood. (Sounds good doesn't it "Men o' the Array to the fore-archers to the rear!") 8)
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Post by gregory23b »

I think I would concur with spears as the general and more period catch all, it of course would be no more enlightening to the public without explanation, but then bills are not exactly common fare for the either.

"As ever, Jorge and I are looking in the same direction. We may be debating which road is actually the best one to reach our agreed destination."

Yes, except I don't know where this is headed, the journey is interesting all on its own.

I personally would like to see more experimentation, ie interpretation of the little we know and some intelligent guesswork, rather than slavish adherence to reenactment policy and accepted practices. I accept we need a 'safe' ie understandable system, but we do not exactly push the boundaries.

It might be nice to see some comparative play on the same day, ie combined arms with 'spears' and more archers mucking in, I think that is a major keystone here, we are playing according to the way our hobby works in reality, which is not anyone's fault, just evolution.

Interesting stuff all the same.

It might be nice to see some more primary evidence and ideas from other quarters.
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Post by Dave B »

I've always suspected that the way 15thC 'bill groups' organise themselves has a lot to do with the number of civil war castoffs involved in the early days of medieval battle reenactment.
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Post by Fox »

Dave B wrote:the number of civil war castoffs involved in the early days of medieval battle reenactment.
[citation needed]

[EDIT: Now provided, thanks Jorge.]
Last edited by Fox on Mon Jun 23, 2008 11:02 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by gregory23b »

Certainly old WCo drill was almost all ECWs based, in the main due to quite a few of our old members being ECWS.

'Port, shoulder, advance' <bill> are all ECWS period drill and basic forms for pole arms users, the moves if not the commands were in use at Tewks 06.
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Post by Dave B »

I blame the sealed knot!
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Post by Fox »

gregory23b wrote:the moves if not the commands were in use at Tewks 06.
I'm guessing by the key Fed Households, neh?

Should I mention "shortberead tin" livery again? :wink:

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Post by Allan Harley »

OK I'm lost

The debate is:
1: What do you call close quarter fighting troops?
2: Did they exist as a separate body
3: They should just wander around, under some sort of leader, and had no form of structure?
4: Did they have any form of instruction/order system?

All of which are difficult

I like Marcus's idea - Spears to the fore! sounds good if a bit Hollywood
Archers had to practice by law does that mean others (who weren't archers) didn't have too?

Possible changes, personally coming round to the idea of "feedmen" , household (or indentured) men and Levy - as an easy way to differentiate styles of "households"

We are talking of an age of major change within warfare for the whole of Europe and so far these arguments point to England being a backwater with no forward thinking relying on ideas that were outdated at the start of the Hundred Years war - this I find difficult to believe.
If only for those men who as soldiers served various rulers throughout the continent, and therefore would have a merchantable skill on return.


And yes you should mention Shortbread tin liveries ????

Unit id's whether flags (nice from a distance but not good for the individual) down to field signs ( a flower, coloured cloth, painted shield - Constantine; were used in antiquity and after the late middle ages common practice)

Leave a livery off and see how often you get stabbed by your own side

Experimental archaeology involves what we know from the past from whatever sources plus common sense - you do your Braveheart charge against a formed unit (and I would prefer archers plus spears) and see what happens - thats why most larger scale households form up now. because the system works.

ONE major point we need lots more archers please

Now discuss :twisted:
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Post by Allan Harley »

PS there is too much emphasis placed on "bill blocks" and not enough on true combined formations
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Post by Colin Middleton »

I don't like the term 'spears' as it seems to get aplied to mounted troops a lot. It's also sometimes synonimous with the 'lance', which I beleive to be associated with a mounted 'knight' with a number of infantry suporters.

What do you mean by "shortbread tin liveries"?

I do recall suqring up with a man at Tewkesbury and to psych myself up for the attack cried "A York, a York", to which he replied "Yer! Do you know where there's some Lancastrians?" :D
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Post by steve stanley »

gregory23b wrote: I personally would like to see more experimentation, ie interpretation of the little we know and some intelligent guesswork, rather than slavish adherence to reenactment policy and accepted practices. I accept we need a 'safe' ie understandable system, but we do not exactly push the boundaries.
I suggested something like this in a different Era,& was told it would change the fundamental nature of the society........Yes,I thought...That's the point........Didn't get far.........
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Post by Dave B »

Colin Middleton wrote:What do you mean by "shortbread tin liveries"?
I think Fox might be suggesting that the WOTR Fed housholds mostly tend towards matching hose, coats, the full 9 yards. And whilst that level of kit clearly is authentic for 'elite' troups, it might be more authentic overall if a small number of people portrayed the well funded household troups and a larger portion had just bends, or even roughly made bends or fieldsign.

I'm trying to put that as neutraly as possible.
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Post by Fox »

"shortbread tin" refers to the idea of perfect soldiers in idenitical unform, as seen on short bread tins, chocolate boxes and other victorian artwork of later period soldiers.

IMO, there are, in many of our depictions, too many household units in full identical liveries.

While this kind of "uniform" almost certainly existed, but I don't believe the evidence supports it as wide scale use of it that we have.

The majority of troops (as far as I can tell) should be bannered, badged, and/or bended.

Something similar, I would speculate, is true for the use of pole weapons.
I completely agree with Alan that you'd be naive to assume that as the weapons evolve over the 14th & 15thC (and they do), that the tactics do not.
At the same time, I suspect weapons drill, as I sometimes see it portrayed, probably is inappropriate; although I allow that a small number of more professional soldiers could have been trained that way.

I mean no disrepect to groups who fall into either of those catergories. I think the evidence is far from clear. It's simply my interpretation; and has a level hypocricy, since I run a group in which infantry outnumber archers 5 or 6 to one, and gunners outnumber archers by about 3 to 1.

If it mattered that much, I should be running a unit of skirmishing archers.
[bad Fox, bad Fox]. Perhaps if I were to do it all over again.....

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