October 29, 2009

Robert de Fishlake

David Simpkins has written a short biography of an archer called Robert de Fishlake for the database of English soldiers in the Hundred Years War. Robert de Fishlake is an important man because he is one of the few English archers that we know much about in the period. English archers were one of the great weapons of the medieval English King's army- they were largely responsible for the victory at Agincourt most famously. What Simpkins illustrates through his biography of Fishlake, through the use of a record in the Court of Chivalry in 1410 and the use of muster rolls from 1381, 1387, 1388 and 1404. Fishlake testified in the court of Chivalry that his service in arms began in 1378 when he was 16. Therefore we can guess that he was an archer in 1378 as that is the rank he held in 1381, he also served in different retinues in the late 1380s. By 1404 he had been promoted to become a man of arms and by 1408-10 was sufficiently high in status to testify in the court of chivalry.

Simpkins draws out two conclusions from his evidence. The first is that there was a kind of career ladder for men who went to war- they would progress from archer to man at arms and some of them maybe further up the ladder. Fishlake demonstrates the way that war could become a means to social advancement in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Secondly Simpkins finds plenty of other Fishlakes serving around the same time- a Hugh Fishlake who served earlier in the 1370s, a John Fishlake who went to Agincourt with King Henry V. The idea that there were socially mobile military families is not implausible: but to find one and to demonstrate through court and muster records that at least one member did secure profit from war, starting low and finishing middling is important. There is a further aspect to this which I think is worth noting: Fishlake was summoned to the court of chivalry because he had served the Hastings Family from the 1380s onwards, but he had also fought with the Earl of Arundel's retinue and Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Norfolk's retinue. This suggests that when a man's lord was not fighting or not involved, an enterprising soldier might find another commander to take him to war and to profit.

Perhaps rather than imagining 14th Century warfare as the clash of retinues or patriotic soldiers, we should remember that many on all sides would have been military entrepreuneurs, out to support their patrons and their country, but also crucially themselves.


James Higham said...

at least one member did secure profit from war, starting low and finishing middling

I'd like to see more on this too.

Gracchi said...

Unfortunately its all I know James. I'm sure there are more Fishlakes around in the hundred years war- but proving that is beyond my competence or knowledge