How to look for records of... Medieval and early modern soldiers

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1. Why use this guide?

Use the advice in this guide to find records of individual soldiers from the medieval and early modern periods. The guide covers records from the 12th to the 17th centuries, including the Civil War.

2. The nature of the records

Records of soldiers from these periods contain few personal details and many are written in Latin, with others in French or English.

There was no formal system for recording the service of soldiers during the medieval period and even for the Civil War there are no individual military service records.

Many of the earlier records relate to knights, the obligation to become a knight and the fees paid for so doing.

3. Military service in the medieval and early modern periods

Military service for most of the medieval period was based on land ownership. This feudal system determined that all holders of a certain amount of land were obliged to accept knighthood and do military service for their feudal overlord, either in person or by raising forces. An individual could, however, avoid military service through payment of a fine know as scutage which raised revenue that was usually used for hiring mercenaries.

During the early 14th century the contractual system gradually replaced the feudal system as a means of raising armies. This was based on contracts or ‘indentures’ and commissions, such as commissions of array and commissions to muster, whereby appointed lords or officials were authorised to raise forces in the name of the king.

Before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642, there was still no regular standing army; forces were raised for specific purposes and then disbanded.

4. Land holders and military service: knights’ fees, scutage and serjeanty

In the absence of any formal or individual service records, some of the best sources for details of where, when and why an individual served in some kind of military capacity can be found in the records of knights’ fees, scutage, serjeanty and the like. Further record series containing similar documents are listed in section 5 and section 6.

Record series or part series Examples of relevant subject areas Dates Published finding aids
C 47/1/1-19 Returns of landholders who should be knights and inquisitions into scutage 1256-1377
C 54 Respites from knights’ fees 1204- Calendar of Close Rolls, 1227-1509
C 55 Writs of respite from knighthood, 1256-1258; writs of respite from assizes for those in the king’s service in Scotland, 1302-1304 1243-1434 Calendar of various Chancery Rolls
C 65 Proceedings in Parliament relating to military service and operations 1327-
C 72 Enrolments of relief from scutage through service or compounding (payment of a fee) 1214-1328 Calendar of various Chancery Rolls (covering scutage rolls, 1285-1324)
C 81 Warrants issued by military commanders 1230-1485
C 82 Warrants issued by military commanders 1485-1714
C 145 Miscellaneous inquisitions including details of serjeanties, scutages and other services, and also returns of the names and possessions of those implicated in Simon de Montfort’s rebellion 1218-1485
DL 40 Returns of knights’ fees in the Duchy of Lancaster c1154-c1649
DL 42 Enrolments of payments of fines for respite of homage in the Duchy of Lancaster c1200-
E 179 Includes scutages in the “Divers counties and miscellaneous” list; knights’ fees c1190-c1690 See Feudal Aids in section 10
E 36/1-15 Certificates of musters; transcripts and other documents relating to knights’ fees c1272-
E 164/5-6 Aids and knights’ fees 1301-1302 See Book of Fees in section 10
E 198 Contains documents relating to serjeanties and knights’ fees 1166-1649 See Book of Fees in section 10
E 370/1/1-2/27 A survey resulting from an attempt to raise one man-at-war from each town in the country (the Nomina Villarum, 1315-1316) and rolls of serjeanties (1250-1251) See Book of Fees and Parliamentary Writs and Writs of Military Summons in section 10
E 403 Enrolments for wages paid out of the Lower Exchequer to soldiers and non-combatant professionals (e.g. carpenters, clerks, masons etc.)
Extracts published and translated in Issues of the Exchequer, Henry III to Henry VI, ed. F. Devon (Record Commission, 1847)
E 404 Warrants for indentures for war and also for knights’ fees and wages in war c1184-c1575
SC 1 May include material relating to military service c1154-c1547

5. Military service in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and overseas

The following record series contain documents relating to wars fought beyond English borders but may also contain documents relating to military service within England. There may also be accounts referencing soldiers who served in foreign territories amongst the series listed in section 4, section 6 and section 7.

Record series or part series Examples of relevant subject areas Dates Published finding aids
C 47/6 Cases in the Court of Chivalry include testimonies of military service by soldiers acting as deponents to one of the parties in a case N H Nicholas, De controversia in curia militari inter Ricardum Le Scrope et Robertum Grosvenor milites (2 vols.) – transcript of the Scrope vs Grosvenor court case in 1386 and biographical information on soldiers acting as deponents in the case
C 47/10/1 Indentures for war relating to service in Ireland 1273
C 64 Commissions of array in France 1200-1204, 1417-1422 Deputy Keeper’s Reports 41 & 42 (covering Norman rolls, 1417-1422)
C 76 Military matters of the English Crown’s possessions in France 1234-1675 Calendar of Treaty Rolls (2 vols for 1234-1325 & 1337-1339)
C 77 Conquest of Wales by Edward I 1276-1295 Calendar of Various Chancery Rolls (covering Welsh Rolls, 1277-1294)
C 71 Enrolments relating to preparations for war with Scotland, including summons for military service and precepts (orders or commands) for the levying of troops 1290-1516
E 30 Agreements with overseas rulers regarding the supply of English troops for their use; agreements for the recruitment of foreign knights to serve in the English army 1103-1624
E 39 War in Scotland and Edward I’s attempt to control and employ Scottish nobles 1174-1586
E 101 Accounts of military expenditure including wages and garrisons 1211-1805 List and Index Society 35
E 358 The Agincourt Roll (E 358/6), showing expenses and payments made to those who fought there 1307-1558
E 403 Enrolments for wages paid out of the Lower Exchequer to soldiers and non-combatant professionals (e.g. carpenters, clerks, masons etc.)
Extracts published and translated in Issues of the Exchequer, Henry III to Henry VI, ed. F. Devon (Record Commission, 1847)

6. Raising and mustering troops: indentures and commissions

Many of the ‘indentures for war’ between the monarch and the nobility are preserved in Chancery and Exchequer records; those between lesser figures are unlikely to be found at The National Archives, but may be found in other collections. As commissions were issued by the Crown they should have been enrolled in Chancery and can be found in several of the Chancery enrolment series. Further record series containing similar documents are listed in section 4 and section 5.

Record series or part series Examples of relevant subject areas Dates Published finding aids
C 47/2/1-63 Returns of commissions of array and liability to military service c1216-c1422
C 47/5/1-11 The Marshalsea Rolls, the returns from medieval musters of ‘the king’s host’ 1213-1322
C 66 Commissions of muster and array 1201- Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1216-1582
E 101 Wages for knights and men-at-war and indentures for war c1154-c1830

7. Accounts of the Army

These accounts include wages and payments made to soldiers as well as accounts for military equipment and hardware.

Record series or part series Examples of relevant subject areas Dates Published finding aids
AO 3 Accounts of Elizabethan paymasters to the forces 1539-
E 36/1-15 Accounts of the Army, Navy and Ordnance 1350-1542
E 101 Accounts of the Army and Navy 1211-1805
E 364 Administrative accounts of the Army and Navy 1354-1458

8. The medieval soldiers’ database 1369-1453

You can search for a soldier by name, commander or document reference in the medieval soldiers’ database which covers the period between the resumption of the Hundred Years War in 1369 and its end in 1453. To search by National Archives’ document reference use the following format: TNA_E101_46_36.

This database was compiled by staff from the University of Southampton and the International Capital Market Association Centre in Reading, using documents held at The National Archives.

The following series of records were used to compile the database (which can be used as a name index to these series):

  • the muster rolls in E 101
  • protections for war service and appointment of attorneys in the Treaty Rolls in C 76
  • the Gascon Rolls in C 61 (for intended military service in Gascony)
  • the Scotch Rolls in C 71, (for intended military service in Scotland)

9. Civil War and Interregnum soldiers 1642-1660

9.1 General

There are numerous references within documents at The National Archives to soldiers who fought in the Civil Wars and during the Interregnum, most notably in:

However, there is very little material on rank and file Royalists soldiers.

9.2 Royalist officers

The document series listed in the table below contain references to Royalist officers (documents on ordinary soldiers are very scarce and hard to find). There are additional published and printed search resources available at The National Archives’ site in Kew, some of which may also help you to locate soldiers, and these are listed in section 10.2. Commissions granted to junior officers by commanding officers are less easy to trace, although may sometimes be found in the private papers of local gentry families which may have been deposited in a local record office.

Record series or part series Relevant documents Dates
C 115/64 no 5625 and C 115/71 no 6514-6516 A few examples of commissions granted by Prince Rupert and Prince Maurice 1644-1645
SP 29/159 no 45 A list of royalist officers of the rank of major and above c1663
SP 29/68 ff 42-107 A List of Officers Claiming to the Sixty Thousand Pounds (a list of over 5000 officers who lay claim to a portion of the fund set up after the Restoration to reward loyalty to the Crown) 1663

9.3 Parliamentary officers and soldiers

There are no comprehensive lists of officers in the parliamentary forces. Some may be found, along with ordinary soldiers, in the many warrants, accounts and muster rolls relating to the payment of soldiers and accounts of garrisons in SP especially SP 28 which is not included in the published Calendars. Most are not listed in detail. There are additional published and printed search resources available at The National Archives site in Kew, and these are listed in section 10.2.

Record series or part series Relevant documents Dates
SP 28/1A-125 Musters; warrants issued by army committees, military commanders and so on 1642-1660
SP 28/126-147 Army accounts of military officers, garrisons and regiments detailing pay and suchlike, sometimes including certificates and testimonials providing information on where and when soldiers, but particularly officers, served. Some of these documents reveal the names of all the men who served in a particular regiment 1642-1663
SP 28/265 A muster of the 55 officers and men of Captain Giles Hicke’s cavalry troop plus a separate list of ‘distressed widowes whose husbands were slaine in the service’ 1645-1646
SP 28/219-251 Accounts and papers of the county committees; may contain payments made to local county forces (arranged by county) 1640-1674
E 315/5-6 Some certified accounts of soldiers, including private soldiers, claiming arrears of pay, mainly for service 1642-1647, and these may give brief service histories 1596-1602
E 121 Debentures containing thousands of names of officers and men who had served in the parliamentary forces (arranged by county) 1649-1659
E 101 Accounts likely to record payments made to officers c1154-
E 351 Accounts likely to record payments made to officers 1500-
WO 47, WO 49, WO 54, WO 55 Ordnance related payments c1568-

9.4 The Scots Army

Muster rolls for the Scots Army in England in January 1646, arranged by regiment and company, are in SP 41/2. There is no name index.

9.5 Legal actions

Some court and legal records reveal references to individual soldiers, including the following:

Record series Relevant subject area Dates
E 134 The financial effects of quartering soldiers on local communities c1650-c1680
E 113 Taxes and monies raised by both sides during the Civil War c1660-c1685
SP 24 Parliamentary soldiers and officials protected against legal liability for acts committed during the Civil War 1647-1656

10. Additional finding aids: published and printed sources

The following published and printed sources, all available at The National Archives in Kew, provide assistance in searching the records:

10.1 General

  • Book of Fees, 1198-1293 (also known as Liber Feodorum and Testa de Nevil); contains information on knights fees, scutages, tenancies-in-chief and so on
  • Calendar of Documents in the Public Record Office relating to Scotland, 1108-1509, J Bain ed
  • Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, 1171-1307
  • Calendar of Miscellaneous Inquisitions, 1219-1422
  • Feudal Aids (6 volumes for 1284-1431); arranged topographically and lists baronies, honours, fees and so on
  • Parliamentary Writs and Writs of Military Summons (11 volumes); includes the Nomina Villarum
  • Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council, 1386-1542
  • Rotuli Parliamentorum, 1278-1503; includes transcripts and an index of the Parliament rolls
  • N H Nicholas, De controversia in curia militari inter Ricardum Le Scrope et Robertum Grosvenor milites: rege Ricardo Secundo, MCCCLXXXV-MCCCXC e recordis in Turre Londinensi asservatis (2 volumes) (London, 1832)

10.2 Civil War

  • M Bennet, ‘All embarqued in one bottom: an introduction to sources for soldiers, administrators and civilians in civil war Britain and Ireland’, Genealogists’ Magazine, vol 25 no 18, pp 305-315
  • WH Black (ed) Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6 (1837); for commissions granted by the king to raise regiments and appoint senior officers
  • Calendar for Committee for Compounding with Delinquents; especially good for Royalist officers
  • The Calendars of State Papers Domestic and Foreign for Charles I’s reign and the Interregnum
  • The Calendars of State Papers Domestic for Charles II’s reign; contain numerous petitions for rewards or favours from former royalists (mainly officers)
  • CH Firth and G Davies, The Regimental History of Cromwell’s Army (1940); contains numerous references to individuals
  • I Gentles, The New Model Army (Blackwell, 1992); contains numerous references to individuals
  • A Laurence, Parliamentary Army Chaplains 1642-1651 (Royal Historical Society, 1990); includes a biographical list of army chaplains
  • PR Newman, Royalist Officers in England and Wales, 1642-1660: A Biographical Dictionary (London, 1981)
  • PR Newman, ‘The Royalist Officers Corps 1642-1660’, Historical Journal, 26 (1983); covering rank of major and above
  • E Peacock, Army Lists of the Rounheads and Cavaliers (1863)
  • RR Temple ‘The Original Officer List of the New Model Army’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 59 (1986); features a list of officers in the New Model Army in March 1645

For Parliamentary soldiers serving in Ireland see Fifteenth Report of the Irish Record Commission (1825) and Calendars of State Papers Ireland.

11. Further reading

Some or all of the recommended publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives’ Bookshop. Alternatively, search The National Archives’ Library to see what is available to consult at Kew.

GE Aylmer and JS Morrill, The English Civil War and Interregnum: Sources for Local Historians (1979)

Andrew Ayton, Knights and Warhorses under Edward III: Military Service and the English Aristocracy under Edward III (Woodbridge, 1999)

A Bell, War and the Soldier in the Fourteenth Century (Woodbridge, 2004)

M Jones and S Walker (eds), Private Indentures for Life Service in Peace and War 1278-1476 (Royal Historical Society Camden Miscellany vol XXXII pp1-190, 1994)

Roger B Manning, An Apprenticeship in Arms: The Origins of the British Army 1585- 1702 (2006)

PR Newman, ‘The 1663 List of Indigent Royalist Officers’, Historical Journal, 30 (1987); in which the value of ‘A List of Officers Claiming to the Sixty Thousand Pounds’ is discussed (see section 9.2)

M Prestwich, War, Politics and Finance under Edward I (London, 1972), and Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages: The English Experience (Yale, 1999)

David Simpkin, The English Aristocracy at War: From the Welsh Wars of Edward I to the Battle of Bannockburn (Woodbridge, 2008)

Guide reference: Military Records Information 1