Creating a Beauchamp Pageant Archer - Part 1 - By Nik Gaukroger

An English archer as illustrated in the Beauchamp Pageant

This is the first part of a short series of articles on how I am going about creating the look of a well-equipped archer of the Wars of the Roses period based on contemporary images and information. This is very much a project in progress, and will no doubt involve many alterations over time as more information comes to light and I find out how it all works in use.

After many years of attending numerous LRP events in fundamentally late medieval clothing and armour I have finally been persuaded to give living history/re-enactment a try thanks to Ashley Barber of Armour Services Historical kindly inviting a number of us LRPers to his event at Bodiam Castle. Now whilst some will no doubt think of that as a rather odd thing (LRP is orcs, magic, and the like isn’t it?), I would like to point out that over recent years I have been involved with a number of people and groups who have been undertaking LRP with an historical basis and high kit standards inspired by groups such as the Company of St. George. In fact recently one of the LRP groups I am involved with (called Cabot’s Company) was invited to be part of a Tudor joust event at the Tower of London which I think says a lot about what some LRP kit standards are like. So in many ways a transition to quality living history was quite natural.

However, despite having a good basic kit for a Wars of the Roses period look, my kit had definitely been acquired with LRP in mind rather than a strict period portrayal and so additional items were, and in many cases still are, required and they all needed to come together as a coherent and logical whole.

Firstly there was the decision of what sort of role I wanted to portray. Although it is often mentioned it is well worth repeating that it is all too easy to rush off and buy or make loads of bits of kit that appeal to you, but that just ends up with a rather unfocused and disparate look rather than something which fits what we understand about the period we are portraying. I think it goes without saying that the usual example of this amongst reenactors is the person with high status armour (because we all love nice armour don’t we) but where the rest of their kit is more typical of a common man. This was one pit I was determined to avoid. So what to portray …

In many ways it was easier to decide what I didn’t want to portray, and that in turn led logically on to what I did. I didn’t want to portray somebody of high or high-ish status. I made this decision for a couple of reasons. Firstly, as I pretty much have to buy all the kit (my practical skills being a bit limited) my budget just doesn’t stretch to being able to buy all the right clothing, armour, and other kit that would be needed to convincingly portray such a person. Secondly, I think there are far too many reenactors in kit (well, armour mainly see the point above) which is for the higher status types and there is a greater need for something closer to the more typical Wars of the Roses soldier.

However, all that said, I do like my armour, and so after ruling out the upper end of the scale I needed to identify something a bit further down where I could wear a reasonable amount of armour but still be representative. Fortunately the answer was easily found within the pages of the Beauchamp Pageant supported by entries in the Howard Household Books.

The former provides a number useful images of soldiers in battle dated from about the reign of Richard III and showing contemporary fashions and armour. Here are a couple of battle scenes for example:

Archers in battles from the Beauchamp Pageant

We see archers to the fore in these drawings, a number of whom are depicted in a fairly substantial amount of armour although well short of the men-at-arms also depicted. It is these well-equipped archers upon whom I am basing my portrayal. They are wearing what appears to be a brigandine as their main body defence along with the almost ubiquitous sallet, some of which are of the visored variety. These main items of armour are supplemented by a mail standard and mail skirt in all cases, and with mail sleeves to the elbow or, in one case, possibly splints (a.k.a. “jack chains”) as arm armour. None have any armour on their legs. This equipment is consistent with that of a number of archers detailed in the Howard Household Books for the 1481/2 expeditions against the Scots commanded by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in which Lord Howard commanded the naval contingents. These archers are listed with fairly standard armour of brigandine, sallet, splints, mail standard and a “gusset”. Where a brigandine is not specified a “gestron” is, which is believed to be a cloth covered mail armour, and as it replaces the brigandine it must be body armour fulfilling the same function. What the “gusset” may be is not clear, however, as these archers have splints for their arms it is possible that the “gusset” is a mail skirt or similar.

Looking back at the Beauchamp Pageant illustrations it is sometimes suggested that the mail shown is a shirt (or haubergeon), however, I would suggest that it may equally represent two mail garments as shown in this Pisanello illustration from the mid-15th century.

Whilst this drawing is of a man-at-arms, it is, in my view, equally plausible that this arrangement of mal could be worn by men of any rank if they had substantial body armour such as a brigandine as a way of cutting down a bit of weight. Some support for this is given by other illustrations in the Beauchamp Pageant which show men with just mail half-sleeves and no mail skirt. I am also assuming that the cut out section at the back is repeated at the front, I can see no reason why it would not be.

Warwick's men in livery from the Beauchamp Pageant

Based on this reasoning I have chosen to have a mail “crop-top” and skirt to wear with a brigandine as opposed to a haubergeon.

Other pointers for the depiction to be taken from the illustrations are the bracers on the left forearm, that a (one handed) sword and buckler are normal, and that low cut shoes rather than boots are usually worn although one soldier in the first battle illustration does have boots that come to the knee. Also, as is still usual at the time, arrows are carried pushed through the belt – although other depictions from the period also show arrow bags being used so that is also a possibility as an option.

And so on to kitting out. In this article I will look at the armour, and move on to other items in a subsequent piece.

For the armour I already had a brigandine and sallet from my LRPing. The former if from Armour Services Historical who, in my view, supply the best reproductions of this style of armour that you can currently get – mind you, they are not cheap and mine cost £800 after a bit of a discount. The style of brigandine is not that depicted in the Beauchamp Pageant, however, it is a contemporary style.

Nik's Brigandine from ASH

You will see that I went for one without fancy rivets which has coincidentally worked out well for keeping the portrayal consistent with the status I am looking for.

The sallet came from Ryall Armouries and whilst not based on a specific example has similarities with the “Durham Sallet” in the Tower Armouries.

Again the piece has no decoration and indeed is not polished having a “forge black” finish which would probably be relatively common amongst the lower ranks – polishing takes time (and would need to be done regularly) that they would need to spend on other activities and unlike nobles would not be ion the position to pay people to do it for them.

So with the two main items sorted with existing kit it was time to move onto the mail. Again I had some of this with my existing LRP kit – a standard and skirt – however, the standard was of the butted-mail variety and so not up to the level of accuracy I was aiming for, and the skirt whilst of riveted mail I was unhappy with. Basically, the latter was a relatively unshaped item that I had needed to split to wear and thus had a gap at the back. The combination of these two factors consigned it to being sold to part finance better kit.

As it turns out getting a better mail skirt proved rather straight forward. Alex Kay had been searching for a good mail skirt and had found a supplier in India (New Friends Handicrafts) who were willing and able to make one to his specific instructions. After having a chance to see the finished item at Wrest Park it was obvious that Alex had got a suitable product and so I ordered one as well. As you can see from the following pictures the skirt has good shape, 360 degree coverage and does not “gap” when you stride forward.

You may also notice that like the Beauchamp Pageant illustrations above the skirt comes to a point at the centre front. This was an accidental benefit of the way the skirt is made, but it appears to match the illustrations well as if you look closely at them there does appear to be a vertical line suggesting the split in the skirt is at the front which is how I have worn it.

Next I moved onto the mail “crop-top”. Once again I used an Indian supplier, in this case a company called All Best Stuff. They had been recommended to me by a friend who had used them and who said their quality was pretty much equal to any UK supplier and that they were cheaper. As it turned out a few friends were also interested in some mail and we discovered that they were happy to offer a discount on multiple items. Delivery time quoted was good and they kept to it. For the crop top I emailed them what I wanted, supplied them with some measurements and they sent the results. They didn’t quite supply what I had asked for though - they hadn’t cut out the mid-section of the front and back of the top, however, it was an easy job to do that and I gained 2 useful pieces of mail that I used elsewhere.

Lastly there was the standard and for this I bought a stock item from New Friends handicrafts. This piece does include a bit of compromise in that the links are all of one size (8mm) rather than having smaller links at least around the neck, however, the cost consideration was a factor here. That said, as the Howard Household Books occasionally mention a mail standard of “best” it indicates that quality would vary and so mine is clearly not “of best”. As is often the case with cheaper items you have to do a bit of work on them, and the standard is no exception. The buckles supplied are cheap modern ones and need replacing with ones that are period.

So I now have the armour I wanted. I’ll deal with other items in a later article.

Nik Gaukroger