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The University of Southampton

The Soldier in Later Medieval England

Research by Professor Anne Curry at the University of Southampton into the Battle of Agincourt, and on the late medieval soldier more generally, has enriched popular understanding and enjoyment of history, and has challenged widely held beliefs.

Henry V’s victory of 1415, Agincourt, is one of the most famous battles of all time. It occupies a special place in English consciousness. Several misconceptions have arisen from post-medieval re-writings of the event, including the most famous cultural depiction of the battle, Shakespeare’s 1599 play Henry V. Specifically, it has been widely accepted that the English army was severely outnumbered by the French. It has also been commonly believed that ‘professional’ soldiery did not emerge until the early modern period.

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Anne Curry, Professor of Medieval History at the University of Southampton since 2004 and currently Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, was the first historian to analyse critically all the available sources for Agincourt. Her book, Agincourt. A New History (Tempus Publishing, 2005), provided a new interpretation of what happened on that fateful day (25 October, 1415). Her work on the financial records of both the English and French crowns revealed that the discrepancy in size between the armies was much less than commonly believed, indicating that the French army was about 12,000 strong and the English army 9,000.

Her book included a listing of the English soldiers known to be on the campaign. The author Bernard Cornwal took an archer from this list to be the hero of his 2008 novel Azincourt. An article on her work also appeared in the University of Southampton’s New Boundaries magazine, which was used by a Pearson Key Stage 3 National Curriculum online learning unit. Year 7s were asked to “read this article in which Anne Curry suggests that the English were not heavily outnumbered. Now, in your own words, write a paragraph explaining ‘Why the English victory at Agincourt is a myth.”

In 2006 a three-year research grant to Professor Curry of £500,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) made possible the collection of all the names of soldiers serving the English crown between 1369 and 1453, 250,000 in all. These were presented on-line ( The web site received over 3.4 million hits in the three months after its launch in July 2009 and even in 2013 was reaching 3,000 hits a day, with users from 124 countries across every continent. The site is used by historians and genealogists as well as academics and students and has been adopted by to provide a larger resource for the public.

Anne Curry’s database of soldiers this constitutes the largest assemblage of searchable online medieval personal data. Using this material, Anne and her team revealed that professionalization in the soldiery increased between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. There was career progression and family traditions of service, much as in the modern army. Soldiers served under a range of captains and in many different theatres, and came from all parts of England. This confirmed, as Curry had already claimed in her Agincourt study, that the dominance of Welsh archers was a myth. Foreign soldiers also served the English crown. Anne’s research has transformed our understanding of the late medieval military community, revealing a level of organisational and social sophistication in English royal armies previously held to be the creation of the early modern period.

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Staff MemberPrimary Position
Anne CurryEmeritus Professor of Medieval History
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