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ENGLISH ARCHER c.1450

An extract from Armies of the Middle Ages, Volume 1
by Ian Heath



18.      ENGLISH ARCHER c.1450

The first use of the red cross of St George on a white background as a ‘national’ field sign appears to date to Edward III’s Articles of War of the mid-14th century. Geoffrey le Baker records of the Black Prince’s 1355 campaign that ‘a proclamation was issued throughout the army that everyone was to bear the arms of St George’. Later, on the occasion of his Scottish expedition of 1385, Richard II’s ordinances stated that ‘everyman of whatever estate, condition or nation he may be, so (long as) he be of our party, shall bear a large sign of the arms of St George before and another behind.’ Of particular relevance is the point that men of other nations, i.e., allied contingents, were also expected to adopt the English field sign, and the fact that they did so is borne out, for example, by descriptions of the Battle of St Aubin in 1488, where not only the English but their Breton allies too, under the Duc d’Orléans, wore white tunics with red crosses.

The figure portrayed here comes from the ‘St Albans Chronicle’, wherein most (but not all) of the English infantry wear such surcoats. This appears to be the earliest of the many 15th century mss. which actually show the uniform of red cross on white. French mss., such as the ‘Vigiles’ and ‘Chroniques de Charles VII’, continue to depict English soldiers wearing surcoats of all kinds of colours, though still almost invariably with the red cross on the breast and back, though smaller than shown here. One early French edition of Froissart’s chronicles, however, shows the English wearing cross-adorned surcoats similar in style to that worn here except that they are, interestingly, of an unbleached linen colour rather than white.

[References 'Chronique de Charles VII' by Jean Chartier, 1470-1480AD, Bibliothèque nationale de France MS. Français 2691
and 'Les Vigiles de Charles VII' by Martial d'Auverne, 1484AD, Bibliothèque nationale de France MS. Français 5054]



Next: 19. ENGLISH LIVERIED RETAINER, 15th CENTURY, in Armies of the Middle Ages, volume 1 by Ian Heath