Women at war

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Honourius III
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Women at war

Post by Honourius III »

Hi All
I’ve been reading Arrowstorm by Richard Wadge, A well researched book, and well worth reading.
Forgive me if I’m bringing up an old discussion but I find this bit fascinating.
He states on page 46 regarding the muster records of 1457 at Bridport. 197 men and four women and to bring their own bows and weapons, salets and jacks, ect.
This brings up several questions in my mind.
1. Was it unusual for women to go into battle during the Wars of the roses?
2. What poundage bows did they have? Surely to get past a muster role and go into battle these women would not have been allowed to go on unless they were shooting very heavy bows, 120lb+.
3. Did they go on wearing a dress? I doubt it! They must surely been wearing the same protection as the men.
4. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, If she offered her favours would you decline, saying “not tonight luv’, I’ve got a headache”. When she can pull at least 120lb bow?

Ben Rodgers
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Post by Ben Rodgers »

I doubt women could have pulled 120LBs (I'm not sexist) but to pull 120LB requires training and there is no evidence to suggest women trained to the same degree as a man. However there is evidence of women fighting especially in the gentry society Margaret Paston undoubtly defended her home at Caistor, I dont think women would have fought on the main battle however should they need to defend themselves at the baggage train they I sure they would have had some know how of wielding a weapon such as the bow, and finally if she offered her favours and could pull a 120LB I dont think you had much say on the matter.
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behanner
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Post by behanner »

The Bridport muster roll isn't actually a muster it is an array.
It isn't a list of soldiers but an assesment of military capability. So households headed by women are listed because they have arms and armour availible.

Pretty much all of England was arrayed and assesed.

Marcus Woodhouse
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Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

And had to do a stint serving on the walls or pay a male substitute to take their place.
Move along, nothing here to see.
OSTENDE MIHI PECUNIAM!

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Fox
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Post by Fox »

Ben Rodgers wrote:However there is evidence of women fighting especially in the gentry society Margaret Paston undoubtly defended her home at Caistor
While she may have organised the defense of her home, I'm not sure there's any evidence for actually using a weapon of any sort.

There certainly are records of women who did pick up arms during defences, but I don't think your example is provinancable.
behanner wrote:The Bridport muster roll... etc, etc.
Marcus Woodhouse wrote:And had to do a stint serving on the walls or pay a male substitute to take their place.
Is enough known about this document to be certain about either of those explanations?
I'm inclinded to agree with behanner's explanation, but I've never seen any evidence to back it up directly, only an inference from other more general knowledge.

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Colin Middleton
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Post by Colin Middleton »

I thought that we normally did this discussion in the autumn.

Honourius, this kind of question crops up every year or so, so if you search the forum, you'll find loads of replies to it. I think that we've pretty much done it to death, but I keep hoping that a new fragment of information will pop up.

I generally take the policy that women didn't fight in battles (though they may be on the field, unarmed), but may be involved in seiges and other defensive conflicts. Those who turn up at Bridgeport are not necessarily going to be doing any fighting, it's more like an audit (as behanner said). I'd also be inclined to see the medieval reaction to a woman in man's clothes to be something like the modern reaction to a woman walking down the street topless; generally not acceptable.
Colin

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Sir Thomas Hylton
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Post by Sir Thomas Hylton »

I know & understand what convention says, but cannot accept for one moment a woman would be on the field without any form of defense. cannot accept any woman would be there in harms way without some sort of impliment to use as a weapon, even if its simply a kitchen knife of bollack knife.

Of course the argument for women carrying arms in history will run & run.

What's the modern convention, find three examples of someting & it can be taken as proof. I'm sure three example of women fighting in the field can be found with ease, but even then doubt it would be accepted as the norm for obvious & good reasons.

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behanner
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Post by behanner »

Fox wrote:
behanner wrote:The Bridport muster roll... etc, etc.
Is enough known about this document to be certain about either of those explanations?
I'm inclinded to agree with behanner's explanation, but I've never seen any evidence to back it up directly, only an inference from other more general knowledge.
I actually was working on this topic, not Bridport but the 1457 array this last spring in school before I failed to finish my degree.
Without looking through Bridport records I can't say with certainty but all circumstantial evidence fits the 1457 array. In 1453 Parliament came up with a plan that designated so many archers per county, an array was to be made of all able bodied men and their equiptment for each county to determine how to best to require each locality (hundred, town, city) to draw the archers from for the campaign. The array did not happen in 1453 it was not until the French made some serious raids in 1457 that the array was put into affect inorder to prepare for the expedition to France. The array happened, the campaign didn't and unrest ends up with Edward IV on the throne. The French Expedition of 1475 uses this same plan because Parliament had already approved it. As I've seen no mentions of arrays they must have used the 1457 arrays when preparing for the 1475 campaign. Theoretically copies of these arrays were sent to the central government.

The Bridport roll is completely consistent with these arrays but it could also have been the town doing its own array. For example Coventry did this in 1450 for its own defense, and also arrayed in 1457. The 1450 Coventry array is in the Leet Book where as the 1457 one is mentioned but as it was a national government thing it appears to have not been copied. So it is possible that Bridport decided to do an array itself, it may be possible to determine that depending on what other records from Bridport exist or by trying to date the list more accurately. But by and large it is unimportant. The list is very face value. These people owned or had in their household these pieces of military equiptment.

Muster lists rarely list equiptment in this period. They may list people as archers or just list their names. The muster list of the men Lord Grey of Codnor took to Ireland in the 1470s lists names with circles and crosses next to them and that is it.

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