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The University of Southampton
Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Culture

Was your ancestor a social climbing soldier in the Hundred Years War?

Published: 21 July 2009

250,000 medieval soldier service records have been published online, following research by historians from the University Southampton and the University of Reading . The information offers a unique insight into social mobility in the ranks of England's first professional army.

The data is an invaluable resource for genealogists and people interested in social, political and military history. It contains 250,000 service records of soldiers who saw active duty in the latter phases of the Hundred Years War (1369-1453) and has been published as part of the Medieval Soldier research project .

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council , Professor Anne Curry from the University of Southampton and Professor Adrian Bell , Senior Lecturer at the ICMA Centre, Henley Business School at the University of Reading have analysed historic sources such as muster rolls records in the National Archives at Kew and the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris (for records of English garrisons in France). The resulting medieval soldier database enables people to search for soldiers by surname, rank or year of service.
Professor Anne Curry says,
" I have been collecting this data for over 30 years. It's brilliant to see it in the public domain thanks to the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council "

Using resources such as the proceedings of the Court of Chivalry, the researchers have also been able to build a picture of career progression and class mobility through what they believe are the origins of England's first professional army, creating complex profiles of individual soldiers. The database includes, for example, the names of many archers who served with Henry V at Agincourt.

The researchers have been able to identify where individual soldiers fought and for how long; who advanced in rank as a result of military success; which campaigns they fought in; what they were paid; who was off work sick; who was knighted; how much they received in ransoms; who was the most modest; the youngest or even who rode the furthest. Examples include Thomas, Lord Despencer, who began his career in arms at just 12 years old in 1385 or Thomas Gloucester, esquire, who fought at Agincourt, and whose career can be traced over a 43 year period from Prussia to Jerusalem.

Volunteers have played a large part in helping to build profiles of individual medieval soldiers. David Judd, volunteer, says,
" The project has given me a feel for my medieval ancestors, who I had an inkling may have been Men at Arms or Archers but never had the evidence to prove it. With the soldier database I now have the evidence and material with which to research and add to my knowledge of my early medieval family. It is absolutely fascinating to learn more about the detail of my medieval ancestors who must have lived through very troubled times ."
The online searchable resource, freely available for public use, is accessible at:
The Medieval Soldier database

  • The Fifteenth Century Conference (2-4th of September, 2010) will be using the same material looking at the English solider in the 15th Century, taking the story to Bosworth and beyond.

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