Medieval London’s Military History

This section details some of the contributions that the city of London made to support the English crown’s military campaigns. During the late-thirteenth and fourteenth-centuries, Londoners were often called upon to contribute soldiers, ships, money and supplies for campaigns against Scotland and France. The details of these efforts were often recorded by the city, in their Letter Books and Plea and Memoranda Rolls.

Letter from the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, with news of the defeat of the Scots at the Battle of Falkirk, 22nd July, 1298

On Saturday the Feast of St. Peter’s Chains (August 1st), there came a messenger from Sir Walter de Langestone, Bishop of Coventre and Lychfeld, and Treasurer to our Lord the King of England, bringing a letter from the said Bishop to the Mayor, and Alderman, and Barons, of London, in these words:

“To his dear friends, the Mayor and the Barons of London, Walter, by the grace of God, Bishop of Chester (1), greeting and true friendship. Because we well know that you willingly will hear good tidings of our Lord the King and of his affairs in Scotland, we give you to understand that on the Monday next before the Feast of Saint James (July 25th), there came tidings unto the Lord the King where he was staying, six leagues beyond Edeneburg, that the Scots were approaching directly towards him. As soon as he had heard this, he moved with his host towards the parts where the Scots were; and on the morrow the King arrived in good time, and found his enemies prepared to give battle. And so they engaged, and, by the grace of God, his enemies were soon discomfited, and fled: but nevertheless, there were slain of the enemy in the day’s fight 200 men-at-arms, and 20,000 of their foot-soldiers; wherefore we do hope that affairs yonder will go well from henceforth, by the aid of our Lord. Unto God (we commend you). Written at Acun, on Sunday after the feast of St. James, in the 26th year of our Lord, the King Edward.”

And so the said messenger was given by the hands of the Chamberlain the sum of 26 shillings by order of the Mayor, John le Blunt, and of John de Canterbury, Thomas Romeyn, Nicholas de Farndone, Nicholas Pyckot, William de Betoine, and John de Donestaple, the then Chamberlain, Aldermen.

Notes: 1) The Bishop of Lichfield and Convetry often used this name.

Originally in Letter Book C, folio 23, in Norman French

Requisition for the supply of Arbalesters and arms at Berwick upon Tweed (1314)

Be it remembered, that our Lord the King sent a certain writ of his, as to choosing arbalesters for defence of the town of Berwick, and as to buying armour for their use; as also, for payment of their wages: as to which, allowance was to be made to the said Mayor and citizens on repayment of a sum of 400 pounds lent to our Lord the King. Of which writ the tenor is as follows:

“Edward, by the grace of God, etc., to the Mayor and Sheriffs of London, greeting. Whereas for the defence of our town of Berwick upon Tweed we have need just now of arbalesters, men powerful of defence, we do command you, and strictly enjoin, that in our city aforesaid you will cause to be chosen 300 arbalesters, men powerful for defence, if so many you can find, and if so many you cannot find, then as many as you can find; and that you cause each of them be provided with haketons, bacinets, colerettes, arbalesters, and quarrels, at our charges; and cause carriage to be found for the arms of the men aforesaid to the said town of Berwick, that so they may be ready and prepared with such arms on the Feast of St. Nicholas (December 6th) next ensuing, at the very latest, to set out herefrom, at our own charges, for the town of Berwick aforesaid, there in defence of that town to abide. And as to the number of the said arbalesters, and the cost of the said arms, and the carriage thereof, you are by your letters distinctly and openly to inform us, for as to the same, by the Treasurer and Chamberlain of our Exchequer we will cause you to be satisfied, without delay. Witness myself, at Northampton, the 21st day of November, in the eight year of our reign.”

Also, another writ as to the same:

“Edward, etc., to the mayor and Sheriffs of London, greeting. Whereas (after reciting verbatim the preceding writ), – you by your letters would distinctly and openly inform us. And whereas you have signified unto us that, by virtue of our mandate aforesaid, you have caused 120 men to be chosen for arbalesters in the city aforesaid, and each of such men to be provided with haketons, bacinets, colerettes, arbalests, and quarrels; and that the said arms, and carriage thereof, amount to 178 l. 3s. 4d.; we do command you deliver unto John de Luka, whom we have appointed to escort the said arbalesters and their arms to the town of Berwick aforesaid, the same arbalesters, together with their arms, by indenture thereon between you and the said John to be made. And this you are in no way to omit. Witness myself, at Berkampstede, the 4th day of December, in the eight year of our reign.”

By reason of this writ, and by precept of Sir John de Sanhale, Chancellor, and Walter de Norwich, the King’s Treasurer, there were delivered to the aforesaid John de Luka as well the equipment as the wages of the arbalesters aforesaid, by indenture made thereon.

Originally in the City of London Letter Book D, folio 165, in Latin

Collection of 1200 marks, for sending one hundred horsemen and as many foot-soldiers into Scotland (1334)

Be it remembered, that on Monday next after the Feast of the Apostles Simon and Jude (October 28th), in the eight year of the reign of King Edward, after the conquest the Third, there met together in the Guildhall of London, Reynald de Conduit, the Mayor, the Aldermen, the Sheriffs, and a great multitude of citizens of the same city; where it was agreed that 1000 marks should be raised for finding men-at-arms, to aid our Lord the King in his approaching war with Scotland, and that those moneys should be raised according to the form and manner of the last fifteenth granted unto the King: and hereupon, bills were sent to each of the Aldermen of the city aforesaid, in the forms as follows:

“Cause to assemble the good folk of your Ward, and that they choose tow, three or four, of themselves, to assess and levy in the said Ward 100 (blank) for the men-at-arms who are to go to our Lord the King, in aid of his war against Scotland; that so they may have the same moneys at the Guildhall, on Saturday the morrow of St. Martin (November 11th), at the latest; on pain of losing as much as they may forfeit unto our Lord the King, and to the City; in such a manner that the poor may not be aggrieved thereby.”

Afterwards, on the Tuesday next ensuing after the Feast of St. Martin, in the year aforesaid, the said Mayor caused the Aldermen to be convened there, and the more powerful and better citizens of the same city; to which meeting came John de Pulteneye, John de Grantham, John de Ferstone, Gregory de Nortone, Henry Darcy, William de Caustone, Henry de Combemartyn, John de Oxenford, Richard de Rothinge, John de Kyngestone, Anketin de Gisors, Andrew Aubry and Richard Lacer, Aldermen, and an immense number of citizens; where, for the honour of the city aforesaid, it was ordered that 100 men-at-arms, horsemen, and as many foot; should be sent to our Lord the King, in aid of his war aforesaid; and that an increase of the assessment of the said 1000 marks should be made proportionably throughout the Wards, to the extent of 200 marks, for the pay and expenses of Edmund Flambard, the leader of the same men, and for gowns, lances, and standards, and for the wage of a minstrel, as set forth below. Of which increase Ralph de Uptone and Richard de Berkinge were chosen as receivers, and Richard de Lacer, Simon Fraunceis and Thomas de Chetyndone, receivers of the 1000 marks before mentioned. Who accordingly received the said moneys, and delivered the same, as set forth in the rolls of the receipts.

And further, inquisition was made by the Mayor how and in what manner the rebels and opponents of the said assessment ought to be punished and distrained; to which the Alderman and Commonalty aforesaid made answer, by distress, sequestrations, and all other means of coercion whatsoever, seeing that the business stood in need of such great haste. After this, the men were selected by Edmund Flambard, Simon de Stapleford, and John Amys; and then they were again chosen and surveyed by the Mayor and Aldermen; whereupon, each man-at-arms received ten marks and his gowns, – the same being for himself and his groom, – and his horse, for going to the King and returning, and staying 40 days after coming to him.”

[The following section lists the names of the 100 men-at-arms chosen, along with 100 foot soldiers.]

And be it known, that all the persons whose names are before written were sworn in manner as follows:

“You shall swear that well and loyally you will serve our Lord the King, and the City of London, in the expedition against Scotland; and will be obedient and attentive to your leaders and governors, and will take nought of any one against their will; and for that which you shall buy you shall readily pay; and you shall loyally remain with our Lord (the King) for 40 days after you shall come to him, and been entered on the roll of the Constable, at the wage which you have received from the said city; and that you shall not withdraw yourself, or absent yourself, without warning and leave from your said leaders and governors; so help you God, etc.”

The accounts of the receivers:

“To Reynald atte More, in part payment of a present sent to the Earl of Chester(1) and other children of the King, at the Feast of the Nativity (2) in the same year, 7 pounds. To 99 arned horsemen, 10 marks each. To a certain minstrel who rode with them, 100 shillings. For 14 pieces of cloth bought for the gowns of the said men, 32 pounds, 13 shillings, 4 pence. For shearing the same cloth, 16 shillings, 3 pence. For green hoods bought, 115 shillings. For making such hoods, 22 shillings. For eight pieces of cloth of Candlewykstrete, with the shearing thereof, for gowns for one hundred foot-soldiers, 16 pounds, eight pence. To John de Cologne, for making such gowns, 11 pounds, 15 shillings, eight pence. For 107 pennons and 6 standards, 4 pounds, 5 shillings. For lances….. And to a certain man called ‘Quadeville’, who went into Normandy and Brabant, to espy as to certain rumours that prevailed in those parts, 40 shillings. To a certain man, who went to Dunstaple with letters of the City, and for wine given to the tailors, 14 shillings, 2 pence. Given as a courtesy to the hundred foot-soldiers, by assent of the Aldermen, 10 pounds. For a present made to our Lord the Earl of Chester, and the other children of the King, who were at the Tower, 14 pounds.”


1) Edward the Black Prince

2) Christmas

Originally in Letter Book E, folio 1 and 2, in Latin and Norman French

Payments made to the men sent by the City to aid the King in his war with France (1338)

Paid to 40 men-at-arms for their arms and wages, 60 pounds. Paid to the 60 archers, for their wages, bows and arrows, and other necessaries, 30 pounds. Paid to the men-at-arms and archers aforesaid, as a courtesy, by order of the Mayor and Aldermen, 10 pounds. Paid to William Hauteyn, the centenar, and to William Maleseurs, for their trouble in selecting the said 100 men, by precept of the Mayor and Aldermen, 40 shillings. For the purchase of 346 ½ ells of red and green cloth, for gowns, 22 pounds, 19 shillings, 9 pence. For buying 70 ells of blanket for their hoods, 4 pounds, 7 shillings, 6 pence. For making such gowns and hoods, 4 pounds, 7 shillings, 6 pence. For making such gowns and hoods, 100 shillings. Paid to Nicholas de Abyndone, serjeant, for escorting the said men to our Lord the King at Ipswich, 4 marks. For buying a standard, flag and trumpet, and for carriage of arms, 11 shillings. Total, 137 pounds, 11 shillings, 7 pence.

Letter of Edward, Prince of Wales, announcing his victory at Poitiers, 1356

Letter of Edward, Prince of Wales, sent to the Mayor, Aldermen, and Commonalty, of the City of London, as to the battle fought near Poitiers:

Very dear and much beloved. As concerning news in the parts where we are, know that since the time when we certified unto our most dread lord and father, the King, that it was our purpose to ride forth against the enemies in the parts in france, we took our road through the country of Peregord and of Lymosyn, and straight on towards Bourges in Veinne, where we expected to have found the King’s son, the Count of Poitiers; and the sovereign cause for our going towards these parts was, that we expected to have had the news of our said lord and father, the King, as to his passage; and seeing that we did not find the said Count there, or any other great force, we turned towards [the river] Loire, and commanded our people to ride forth and reconnoiter if we could find a passage anywhere: the which people met the enemy, and had to enter into conflict, so that some of the said enemies were killed or taken; and the prisoners so taken said that the King of france had sent Grismotoun, who was in that company, to obtain for him certain news of us, and of our force; and the said king, for the same purpose, had sent in another direction the Sieur de Creon, Messire Busigaut, the Mareschal de Clermont, and others. And the same prisoners declared that the King had made up his mind for certain to fight with us, at whatever time we should be on the road towards Tours, he meeting us in the direction of Orleans.

And on the morrow, where we were posted, there came news that the said Sieur de Creon and Busigaut were in a castle very near to our quarters; and we determined to go there, and so came and took up quarters around them; and we agreed to assault the said place, the which was gained by us by force, and was quite full of their people, both prisoners and slain, and also some of ours were killed there; but the said Sieurs de Creon and Bursigaud withdrew themselves into a strong tower which was there, and which occupied us five days before it was taken; and there they surrendered. And there we were certified that all the bridges upon the river Loire were broken down, and that we could nowhere find a passage; whereupon, we took our road straight towards Tours; and there we remained four days before the city, in which were the Count d’Anjou and the Mareschal de Clermount, with a great force of troops. And upon our departing from thence, we took the road so as to pass certain dangers by water, and with the intention of meeting with our most dear cousin, the Duke of Lancaster, of whom we had had certain news, that he would make haste to draw towards us. At which time the Cardinal de Peregort came to us at Monbezon, three leagues from Tours, where he spoke to us fully as to matters touching a truce and peace. Upon which parley we made answer to him, that peace we had no power to make, and that we would not intermeddle, therewith, without the command and the wishes of the King, our most dear lord and father; nor yet as to a truce were we at that time of opinion that it would be the best thing for us to assent thereto, for there we were more fully certified that the King has prepared in every way to fight with us.

Whereupon, we withdrew ourselves from thence towards Chastel Heraud by passage over the stream of he Vivane; where we remained four days, waiting to know for greater cer–tainty of him. And the King came with his force to Chaveny, five leagues from us, to pass the same river; it the direction of Poitiers. And thereupon, we determined to hasten towards him, upon the road along which he would have to pass, as to have a fight with him; but his battalions had passed we had come to the place where we intended to meet him, save a part only of their people, about 700 men-at-arms who engaged with ours; and there mere taken the Counts de Sousseire and de Junhy, the Sieur de Chastillon, a great number of others being both taken and slain, both on their side and ours. And then our people pursued them as far as Chaveny, full three leagues further; for which reason we were obliged that day to take up our quarters as near to that place as we could, that we might collect our men. And on the morrow we took our road straight towards the King, and sent out our scouts, who find him with his army; [and he] set himself in battle array at one league from Poitiers, in the fields; and we went as near to him as we could take up our post, we ourselves on foot and in battle array, and ready to fight with him.

Where came the said Cardinal, requesting, very earnestly for a little respite, that so there might parley together certain persons of either side, and so attempt to bring about certain understanding and good peace; the which he undertook that would bring about to a good end. Whereupon, we took counsel, and granted him his request; upon which, there were ordered certain persons of the one side and the other, to treat upon this matter; which treating was of no effect. And then the said Cardinal wished to obtain a truce, by way of putting off the battle at his pleasure; to which truce we would not assent. And the French asked that certain knights on the one side and the other should take equal shares, so that the battle might not in any manner fail: and in such manner was that day delayed; and the battalions on the one side and the other remained all night, each one in its place, and until the morrow, about half Prime [half past seven A.M.]; and as to some troops that were between the said main armies, neither would give any advantage in commencing the attack upon the other. And for default of victuals, as well as for other reasons, it was agreed that we should take our way, flanking them in such manner that if they wished for battle or to draw towards us; in a place that was not very much to our disadvantage, we should be the first; and so forthwith it was done. Whereupon battle was joined, on the Eve of the day before St. Matthew [September 21]; and, God be praised for it, the enemy was discomfited and the King was taken, and his son; and a great number of other great people were both taken and slain; as our very dear Bachelor Messire Neele Loereng, our chamberlain, the bearer Hereof, who has very full knowledge thereon, will know how more fully to inform and show you, as we are not able to write to you; to whom you do give full faith and credence; and may Our Lord have you in His keeping. Given under our Privy Seal, at Burdeaux, the 22nd day of October.

Receipt of the ransom of a Knight of Burgundy, by a citizen of London, on behalf of an English Knight (1356)

Know all persons who these letters shall see or hear, that I, Simon de Worsted, mercer and citizen of London, do acknowledge that I have received, the day of the making hereof, in the name and behalf of Messire William de Welesby, Knight, of England, from Messire Thomas de Voudenay, Knight, of the Duchy of Burgundy, by the hands of Turel Gauscoin, merchant of Lucca, 300 golden florins of Florence, and a goblet with covercle, of silver, and a ring of gold without stone; in the which the said Messire Thomas was bound unto the said Messire William for his ransom, from the time that he was taken prisoner at the Battle of Poitiers, where the King of France was taken. In the which 300 florins of gold, goblet with covercle, of silver, and ring of gold, and of his said ransom, I do, by these my letters, for ever acquit. In witness of the truth whereof, to these letters I have set my seal, in the presence of Henry Pykard, Mayor of the City of London, Thomas Dolsely and Richard de Notyngham, Sheriffs of London, and Roger de Depham, Recorder of the same of the city, witnesses hereunto, especially called and required. Given at London, in England, on the Eve of Christmas, in the year of Grace, 1356

Originally from the City of London Letter Book G, folio 58 in Norman French.

London sends a letter to Edward III, relating their contributions to England’s military, 1357

In April of 1357, the Mayor and Aldermen of London sent a petition to Edward III, asking for certain favours in regards to trade and preservation of the city’s liberties. To justify these requests, the city detailed some of their efforts to support Edward III in his wars.

Whereas the good folk of the City had been charged for taxes and tallages above all others in the Commons, and whereas they had lent the King at Durghdreit [Dordrecht] more than £60 000, and many merchants were in arrear and many had delivered more wool than was due owing to the difference between the standard weight at Durghdreit and in England, to their great loss; and whereas they had lent for the King’s use at one time £5,000, and, at another £2,000, which had not been repaid; and whereas they had lent for the King’s use when before Calais and elsewhere the sum of £40 000, paying the same to Walter of Chiriton and his companions on the security of two patents in the Chancery sealed with the great Seal, and at divers other times more than £30 000, which had not been repaid; and whereas they had been greater charges than others of the Commons in respect of the King’s expeditions to Scotland, Gascony, Brabant, Flanders, Brittany, and France, as well as the siege of Calais, and against the Spaniards in providing men-at-arms, archers, and ships in aid of the war; and whereas carriages, victuals, and merchandise, both within the City and without, have been taken by divers purveyors without payment, contrary to the liberties of the City; and whereas by reason of death of the richer inhabitants of the City at the time of the pestilence [the Black Death in 1348-49], and their property having fallen into the hand of the Holy Church, the City had become impoverished and more than one-third of it empty; they pray to take these matters into consideration, as also the manner in which the City had been at all times loyally kept and the peace preserved, thus setting an example to the whole realm.

From Letter Book G, folio 60.

Delivery of a barge, provided by the City to sere under the King, together with the rigging and tackle thereof, to William Martlesham, its master (1373)

This indenture, made on the 29th day of July, in the 47th year, etc., witnesseth that John Piel, Mayor, the Alderemen, and the Commonalty, of the City of London, have handed over and delivered, on the day of the making hereof, their barge, called ‘The Paul of London’, fully rigged, together with rigging and tackle thereof, unto William Martlesham, mariner, of the said city, and Master of the said barge, that is to say; – one mast with three topcastelles, 8 couples of new hedropes, 3 forstiez, and 2 couples of backstiez, 2 girdinez, 3 cranelynz, 2 upties, 2 pollanges, one seylyerde for the barge, one sail with 2 bonettes, 2 shetes, 2 thurgwals, 2 bowelynes, 2 stechynges, 2 trusses, 2 yerderopes, one rakke, and the rigging pertaining to the mast; 6 new cables, 5 anchors for the barge, one wyndyngrope, 2 haucers for boyropes, 2 touropes, 3 werpropes, 2 ketels for the barge, 60 teeldes, 16 skaltrowes, 2 roostrees, one grapenel, one cheyne of 16 fanthom, 2 waterfyles, 80 ores for the barge, 2 wyndyngbailles, 4 tables with trestles, 4 napes for the same, 5 dozen aguls for the barge, 40 pounds of filace, 2 dozen shovels, one dozen skopes; 2 great tankards, bound with iron; six pottz tankards; two boring bits; 4 sketfates; 20 poleybes; 2 wyndyng poleys; 2 skeyenes of potelwyne; 50 new palettes, stuffed; one pair of plates; 50 cloves of taleghwode, 20 chains of iron; 400 sheaves of arrows, with a tun; one beyl; 2 buttes of iron for one ketel; one trevyt; 2 bukeetes, with 2 beiles; one stremer; 3 standards; 16 baners; 2 boyes of corkille; one coler for the steyes; 2 brass pots; 2 hatchets; 2 hammers; one eschele; and 100 bords called ‘waynskott’; and 80 pavyz; 30 yards of large bever; also, 200 dartes; also, 30 launces; also, 4000 quarels for arblast. Also, one boat for the same barge, with one mast, 4 couples of hedrope, one foresteye, one couple of baksteye, one uptye with 2 haliers, 2 yerdropes, one sail, 2 shettes, 2 thurghwalis, one bowelyne, one ankyr for the boat, one cable for the boat, 30 ores, one daviot, for the same boat: – the same to serve under our Lord the King in this present expedition upon the sea; he safely to keep and conduct the same, and, after the said expedition, to bring back and redeliver such barge and boat, and all the things aforesaid, unto the Mayor and Commonalty of the said city, for the time being, by reasonable account thereof; and to answer and make satisfaction for all that has been lost therefrom by his default, within 40 days next after such his return. The which thing well and loyally to do in form aforesaid, he, the same William Martlesham, Master of the said barge, binds himself, his heirs, and his executors, and all his goods, moveable and immoveable, wherever, they may be found, on this side of the sea or beyond, to the Mayor and Commonalty aforesaid, and to their successors, hereby. And for the greater certainty of doing so, John Maykyn, shipman, and Robert Hulle, shipman, have become sureties for the said William, master of the barge aforesaid;…


All words in italics are the original words of the text. T.H.Riley gives theses definitions for the following words:

topcastlles – platforms around the mast, from which to throw darts and missles at the enemy

hedropes – headropes

forsitiez – forestays

backstiez – backstays

girdinez – possibly main gear, or jear

cranelynz – crane-lines

upties – probably some kind of rope

pollanges – probably pulleys or blocks

seylyerde – sailyard

bonettes – bonnet, an additional slip laced to the foot of a sail

sheets – sheets, or sail ropes

bowelynes – bowlines

trusses – ropes for keeping the center of a yard to the mast

yerdropes – yard ropes

rakke – rack

wyndyngrope – winding rope

haucers – halsers

boyropes – buoy ropes

touropes – to-ropes

werpropes – warp-ropes

ketels – kettles

roostrees – perhaps crosstree

grapenel – grapnel, chain

ores – oars

wyndyngbailles – winding balls, perhaps some portion of the windlass

napes – tablecloths

aguls – probably sail needles

filace – string or thread

skopes – scoops

pottz tankards – tankards used to drink from

sketfates – vats

poleynes – pulleys

wyndyng poleys – winding pulleys

skeynes of poletwyne – skeins of pull-twyne, probably thin string

palettes – pallets

plates –armour plates

taleghwode – tailwood, long faggots

huche – hutch, a box or case

beyl – bail, probably for bearing up the tilt over the boat

buttes – butts, iron supports for either side of a kettle on the hearth

trevyt – trivet

bukettes – buckets with bails or circular handles

stremer – streamer, an ensign or pennon

baners – banners

boyes of corkille – buoys of cork

coler for the steyes – colour for the stays

eschele – scaling ladder

bords called waynskott – boards called wainscot, used in boarding the enemy’s ship

pavysz – large shields

bever – beaver, perhaps used to bandage wounds

quarels – square-headed arrows for crossbows

hedrope – head rope

foresteye – forestay

baksteye – backstay

uptye – uptie

hailers – haulyards

yerderopes – yardropes

zeylyerde – sailyard

shettes – sheets

daviot – davit

Originally from Letter Book G, fol. 304 in Norman French

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