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


Armed peasants probably appeared relatively frequently in continental armies during the Hundred Years' War. Though they are only rarely recorded by contemporary chroniclers, who are more interested in the activities of the men-at-arms, they nevertheless must have provided large numbers of men for many French armies, particularly those mustered through the arrière-ban. As much as 20% of the French army at Agincourt, for instance, may have been made up of peasant levies, and it was some 600 armed peasants from Agincourt and Hesdin under 3 local knights who were responsible for the pillaging of the English camp that led to the massacre of the French prisoners.

Many of those summoned for such military service were probably armed with a knife and a short bow or spear, though freebooting brigand types, such as the band led by Guillaume Lalouette and Le Grand Ferré in the mid-14th century, were probably better armed. Monstrelet describes a band of marauding peasants at Rouen in 1418 as equipped with 'old jacks and haubergeons, with decayed battle-axes, half-lances with mallets at their end, and other poor armour'. This would seem to accord well with what we know of 14th century armed peasants too; for instance, the French 'Jacquerie' of 1357 (who, Froissart tells us, were at first 'without any armour saving staves and knives') were named from their jacques, while the Parisian 'Maillotins' of 1382 were similarly named after their maillets-de-fer or mauls, such as that carried here.

Their counterparts in England, Wat Tyler's mob of 1381, predictably included many longbowmen with swords and axes for secondary armament, but many of these were men who had seen war service in France, as was also the case with Jack Cade's rebels in 1450.

Next: 58 & 59. PAGES in Armies of the Middle Ages, Volume 1 by Ian Heath