The 7 Ways Medieval English Soldiers Were Recruited For Battle

Recruiting a soldier for battle is not the easiest task one can have, especially in the medieval ages. In a period where most were concerned with farming their land, someone would be needed to give out a call to action, and recruit. There were multiple different ways in which the soldiers were recruited (apart from the ones below), but these are the ones that caught our attention the most.

1. Royal Commissioners

The process of recruiting through royal commissioners went along these lines. A person of higher value in the kingdom would appoint a commissioner, a commissioner who would later go to different regions of the land and call to arms.

These special commissioners did not go to random lands to force the villagers to fight for them, the recruitment areas were strategically chosen. In most cases the commissioners went to regions that had successful a recruitment in the past, or to regions where people were owed due to existing obligations.

Royal commissioners were used by Edward I in his campaigns in France, Wales and Scotland. He needed more troops and he saw this as a way to gain more of them.

2. Paid Service

In the 11th century as well as after it, receiving a paid service was a common way to recruit troops. In those days any form of payment was well received. By today’s standards it would seem degrading to be offered such a low pay to risk your own life, but most would accept it if they have to provide for somebody. In the following centuries a better form of payment was made, payment through contracts.

3. Written Contracts

Another form of recruitment that was used by Edward I was where written contracts were used. In these contracts multiple things would be defined, some of which were the terms of service, length of service, and the reward for serving. In a way this helped the soldiers mentally because they knew that they had a contract which stated that they are going to get paid. The first army to ever go to a battle was the one of Edward III, the grandson of Edward I. His troops were sent to Scotland, but apart from them, multiple soldiers with contracts were sent to Gascony as well.

Now you might be saying to yourself “Can’t you just make a fraudulent copy and reek the benefits that way?”, the short answer is no.
There was a system behind the process of handing out contracts, a process which involved writing out the contract three times on the same sheet, and latter separating them with irregular, jagged cuts, that were similar to pointed teeth (Hence the reason why contracts were called indentures, which derives from the French word “teeth”). When all of the separate pieces would be brought back together, they should all match, thus exposing any fraudulent copies.

An example of what a contract would look like in the late middle ages.

4. Feudal Obligations

If you lived off of somebodies land, you would have to return the favor for doing so. One interesting way on how kings recruited armies was through feudal obligations, this is where gentry and lords who owed the favors to the king, had to serve as knights and men at arms to return the favor. The lords who received land (from the king in most cases) owed him a favor, and the people who lived off of the lord’s land had to provide equipment, and some had to fight alongside their lord. In a way this is a recruitment through favors.

The Feudalism pyramid

5. Volunteers

Apart from anybody who did it for favors, or for monetary rewards, there were people who went to battle out of their own pockets. Of course the reason to volunteer differentiated from one soldier to another, but one strong reason might be the sense of loyalty towards the king.

Some even brought multiple men alongside them, and covered their expenses. Some volunteers didn’t want to receive funds from the king in order to not damage their pride, or reputation. Some volunteered to not seem as traitors or cowards… The reasons differentiated from one soldier to another.

6. Mercenaries

These troops were extensively used in the 11th and 12th centuries, when a king would find it hard to figure out who is loyal to him in midst of a civil war. One example of this are the mercenaries who served King John. These war hardened soldiers were most often recruited from the Low Countries, which was a region subjected to invasions by neighbors.

These troops mostly cared about the monetary rewards that followed, and were not afraid to strike the same people that were once loyal to the king. Because these troops were used to suppress rebellions they became unpopular. They were later expelled from the country under the terms of Magna Carta.  However, their popularity rose again during the Hundred Years War, where England was a known employer and supplier of mercenaries.

7. The Royal Household

Men who came from the royal household were one of noble background. In most cases they came from well known aristocratic families who wanted to ensure the favor of the king, or from from less prominent families who were willing to gain the favor of the king in order to advance themselves through the social ranks. The mounted knights that came from these families were a vital part in many battles, Henry I could provide a large number of loyal men this way.

These knights were the closes thing that the kingdom had to a standing army.

Flag of John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster

Source: The Oxford Illustrated History of the British Army

Leave a Reply