31. The Alnwick Muster Roll

31. The Alnwick Muster Roll

The Alnwick Muster Roll1 is one of the most important contemporary documents in the North East of England linked to the Battle of Flodden.

It is highly likely that the bowmen named on the Alnwick Muster Roll are the very men who were present not six months earlier with Sir William Percy on the field of battle at Flodden, and who survived to fight again.

The Battle of Flodden occurred on the 9th September 1513, at which time Henry Percy, ‘The Magnificent’, was the 5th Earl of Northumberland. Henry VIII was still fresh on the English throne and had determined to spend his late father’s bulging coffers on re-establishing the English claim to France.

For the past decade, there had been an unaccustomed period of peace between England and Scotland, following the marriage of Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s elder sister, to King James IV of Scotland. Henry’s invasion of France, however, provoked Scotland into action on the borders again, in support of her ‘Auld Ally’.

The 5th Earl of Northumberland was absent in France with King Henry VIII at the time of the Battle of Flodden and there is some confusion over which of his retainers were with him. In early June 1513, he had embarked for Calais, and had advanced to Terouenne to besiege it. The great Annalist of the Percy Family, Edward Barrington de Fonblanque, describes the force which the Earl took with him:2 380 of his immediate tenants from Leckonfield, Nafferton, Semer, Hundemanby, Wressel, Catton, Pocklington and Craven and 143 others under other knights from Scarborough and elsewhere – that is, his Yorkshire tenantry. In the Exchequer rolls he is described as ‘Grand Captain of his own retinue’.3

The siege of Terouenne led to the ‘Battle of the Spurs’ (so called because the French were so eager to flee the battle field, that they were liberal in their use of the spurs). A large relieving force of the flower of the French chivalry was completely routed. This time, the 5th Earl of Northumberland is described by De Fonblanque4 as ‘commanding the Skowrers and Forriders – Northumberland Men on light geldings’, who took a prominent part in the pursuit, which ended in the dispersal of the relieving army and the capture of a large number of prisoners, many of high rank. There is an obvious discrepancy here between the earlier account of the Earl’s retinue made up of Yorkshire men alone, and this reference to ‘Northumberland Men’, though De Fonblanque gives no source for this quotation.

31 Figure 3 Alnwick Muster RollThe Alnwick Muster Roll. Alnwick Castle, Sy: W.I.9A manuscript in the College of Arms5 describes in great detail the Earl’s clothing for this foray, occupying seven closely written pages enumerating such items as doublets, riding coats of velvet and satin, embroidered in gold and silver, 25 pairs of boots, shoes and slippers, and 14 hats of different colours! His epithet, ‘The Magnificent’, was not undeserved. The list also describes items of uniform for the Earl’s retinue, such as 60 ostrich feathers for use of the captains and gentlemen.

Hall’s Chronicle mentions the Earl’s retinue as follows: ‘The lordes and gentilmen so well armed and so richly apparreled in clothes of gold, and of silver, and velvetts of sundry colours pounsed and embrodered, and all petie captains in satin and damaske of white and green, and yomen in cloth of the same colours.’6 This was as much a display of fashion and wealth as it was a military expedition.

Meanwhile, the Earl of Surrey had been left behind to guard England, disgruntled that he had missed out on the French expedition. Growing political tensions with Scotland were manifested in the murder of a Scottish Warden of the March by ‘The Bastard Heron’ and the English refusal to hand over the guilty party, as well as the death of a Scottish naval captain, Andrew Barton, described by the English as a pirate. The English invasion of France dealt the final blow to the Anglo-Scottish peace and also offered a tempting opportunity; King James believed that the cream of the English fighting force was absent in France and is reported to have said that there was ‘nothing left in England but millers and mass priests’.7

Surrey proved him wrong, commanding ‘all lords spirituall and temporal with knights and others who had tenants or the command of towns, to enumerate the men under each who could be horsed and harnessed at an hour’s notice and ordered them to attend upon himself ’.8

Representing the 5th Earl of Northumberland at the Battle of Flodden was his younger brother, Sir William Percy, who fought in the left wing of the English army under the charge of his father-in-law, the 70-year-old Sir Marmaduke Constable of Flamburgh. With Sir William was a large number of the retainers of his brother, the Earl,9 most likely the Northumberland tenantry, including the archers from the Alnwick Muster Roll.

The Alnwick Muster Roll comprises three thin and long sheets of paper stitched together to form a roll, approx 14cm by 120cm. It was hitherto hiding within a very miscellaneous section of the Syon catalogue, listed only as follows: ‘Sy: W.I.9 – February 1514. The names of the Earl of Northumberland’s tenants who mustered before him this month’. This is slightly misleading, as a transcript of the title on the document itself reveals:

‘The names of all my lordes tenantes within the Countie of Northumberland that hath mustered before my said lordes Commyssioners ther in the monyth of February the vth year of our soveraing Lord kynge henry the viij th as to sey Bowys as herafter folowith.’

The Earl himself was not present, but instead his Commisioners undertook the muster, which comprises only the bowmen from amongst the tenantry. In total, the muster roll lists the names of 71 bowmen.

To offer some context, in the 1530s, the Percy Estates in Northumberland could raise 1967 men under the Constable of Alnwick, and the 5th Earl’s retinue from Yorkshire mustered at Newcastle in 1523, totalling 762 men.10 This 1514 muster roll records just the archers from parts of the two baronies of Alnwick and Warkworth (and does not include other of the Earl’s baronies and Lordships in Northumberland, such as Prudhoe and Corbridge).

To examine the contents of the muster roll, the first two townships of Alnwick and Houghton serve as an excellent illustration of the whole. They are transcribed as follows:

31 Figure 4 Jack of Plate © Royal Armouries DI 2011 0443Jack of Plate, English, about 1560 (II.27) © Royal Armouries DI 2011-0443

John horton bowe horsse Jack and Splent[es]
henry noblet Bowe Jack Splent[es] & sallet
William Atkynson in lykewyse Henry fferrow in lykewyse
Thomas hogeson Bowe Jack and Splent[es]
Edmu[n]de Sadler in lykewyse
Thomas mason in lykewyse
Edward Davyson Bowe Jack splent[es] & sallet
John Peyg Bowe Jack and Splent[es]
John Trowgwhyt in lykewyse
Will[ia]m Gordon in lykewyse
George Stanton Bowe horsse Jack and splent[es]
Rob[er]t Story Bowe and Jack
Roger Stanton Bowe horsse Jack & splent[es]
John Anderson Bowe and Jack
S[um]ma xv


John Alleyn Bowe and Jack
Will[ia]m Thewe Bowe nage Jack splent[es] & stel bonet
John Dauson Bowe nage splent[es] & sallet
Edmu[n]d Elder Bowe nage Jack & sallet
Thomas Loke Bowe Jacke splent[es] and sallet
Thomas Arnold Bowe nage Jack splent[es] & stelbonet
S[um]ma vj

These archers seem to bear out the description given by Robert White in his 1859 account: ‘Many of the Archers wore the brigantine or jack...with his bow cased in coarse cloth and a sheaf of arrows. Beside the dagger and sword, on the hilt of which was usually a small buckler, he often had a leaden mell which he bore at his back, and so as the bow was useless in close combat, such a hammer was often as fatal as the great bill.’ He also noted that ‘White was the prevailing hue of the whole army’.11 This makes an interesting contrast with the rich colours and fabrics of the 5th Earl’s men over in France.

The ‘Jack’, worn by the majority of the bowmen listed comes from the Old French “Jacque”, which is defined in the dictionary as ‘a sleeveless tunic or jacket usually of quilted leather and later frequently plated with iron for protection in battle.’12 George MacDonald Fraser in his classic work ‘The Steel Bonnets’ also describes the jack, as used by the border reivers: ‘ a quilted coat of stout leather sewn with plates of metal or horn for added protection. Far lighter than armour and almost as effective against cuts and thrusts.’13

Many of the men also own ‘splentes’. The dictionary defines ‘splents’ or ‘splints’ as (via Middle low German – Splente): ‘Any of the plates or strips of overlapping metal making up a section of mediaeval armour, especially either of a pair of armour plates for protecting the elbows.’14

31 Figure 5 sallet helmetSallet Helmet(Photograph by Colin MacConnachie)The next frequently occurring item of equipment is the ‘sallet’, or as the Longhoughton men call it, ‘stel bonet’. George MacDonald Fraser describes this eponymous helmet as follows: ‘On his head the rider wore the steel bonnet, which in the early part of the 16th century was usually the salade hat, basically a metal bowl with or without a peak...These head pieces, many of which would be home-made by local smiths, were gradually replaced in Elizabethan times by the morion, with its curved brim, comb and occasional ear-pieces.’15 Robert Clephan describes sallads or sallets in the following terms: ‘visored sallads, with a peak behind and slits for vision appear in the reign of Henry VI. This sort of helm is in several varieties, and a simple form was in use among the rank and file, especially by archers.’16 The name ‘sallad’ is thought to come from French ‘salade’, via Spanish ‘celada’ from the Italian ‘celata’, believed to represent the Latin ‘caelata galea’ – ‘a helmet ornamented with engraving’,17 though the English rank and file version of the sallet would not tend to have any ornamentation.

Lastly, several of the men of Houghton are listed with a ‘nage’, the meaning of which was betrayed by the position of ‘nage’ in the list, as it always features in the position where ‘horse’ features in the list for the men of Alnwick. The dictionary lists a Northern and Scottish variant of ‘nag’: nage or naig (the latter suggests the likely pronunciation with a hard ‘g’). This is defined as ‘a small riding horse or pony’. There are attested examples of its usage in 1464 and 1532, the latter from ‘Wills at York’: ‘unto my moder a bay nage’.18

‘Nag’ here does not have the derogatory connotations that the modern word now carries. The word is used to differentiate the border pony from a steed. George Macdonald Fraser describes border ponies, called hobblers or hobbys, as ‘small and active and trained to cross the most difficult and boggy country and to get over where ...footmen would scarce dare to follow’.19 The hobblers were ideal for border reiving across inhospitable terrain, but could also be used to good effect in warfare between nations. It was perhaps the use of such nags which enabled the ‘encircling march’, the tactic used by the Earl of Surrey to outflank the Scots at Flodden. Gerard Leather describes some of the terrain around the battlefield: ‘The ground in front of him [Lord Howard] was boggy, in fact it was the western end of the Pallinsburn Bog, which was, generally speaking, impassable to troops, except by a small bridge known as Branx Brigg further to the East.’20

This covers the equipment mentioned in the muster roll, but what of the identities of the bowmen, many of whose surnames are still recognisable in the locality today? What sort of tenant would be making up the ‘rank and file’ archers of the Earl’s retinue?

The fourteenth century witnessed ordinances and acts of parliament commanding Englishmen to ‘spend their Sundays and holidays, not in pointless amusements such as football, bowls, tennis and dice, but in shooting at the butts’.21 Henry VII and Henry VIII reinforced this promotion of the longbow with statutes ‘banning the possession of crossbows and handguns by the lower orders; they promoted it with further statutes ordering every householder to keep bows, not only for himself, but for his servants and children, and commanding every adolescent and adult male to use them’.22

These bowmen tenants on the roll would be well practised archers, with the means to supply their own armour and equipment and sometimes their own horse or nag as well. These are not peasants.

31 Figure 6 The Red Book of Alnwick‘The Red Book of Alnwick’ Alnwick Castle, Sy: A.I.2There is a further wonderful survival in the Duke of Northumberland’s Archives: ‘The Red Book of Alnwick’23 (so-called because of its red leather binding). The 6th Earl of Northumberland died in 1537, heavily in debt, and forfeited his estates to the Crown. In 1540/41, Crown Commissioners came to value the estate and composed this rental, which compares the rental from 1474 (also in the archives) with the rents being paid for the same land in 1540-1541. It is interesting to note that the rents payable had not increased at all in nearly 70 years.

The first entry in the rental is translated as follows:

‘1474: Matthew Bell holds one burgage in bondgaite extra turrim [i.e. ‘Bondgate Without’] per annum 8d – 1541: John Anderson holds this burgage per annum 8d’

John Anderson is the last man listed in the muster roll list of Alnwick men, with his bow and jack. There is no way of knowing whether this is the same John Anderson, who is listed as a burgage-holder in 1541, nearly thirty years later. Burgage holders were certainly not the lowest rung of society, owning sizeable plots of land within town centres. It is interesting to note in passing the fourth entry on the page, where there is no 1541 value noted because in the intervening years: ‘Super hoc burgagium murum ville edificatus est’ – the town wall had been built upon this burgage plot.

31 Figure 7 First page of the Red Book of AlnwickFirst page of the ‘Red Book of Alnwick’
In the Red Book, there are also mentions of a Robert Storey,24 William Atkynson25 and Henry Ferrer,26 all of whom are listed as burgage holders (in some cases owning more than one burgage plot). All three names match names within the Muster Roll’s list of Alnwick bowmen in 1514. Noblets also occur throughout the Red Book of Alnwick in both the 1474 and 1540 rentals, but none has the Christian name ‘Henry’.27 It is not possible to conclude firmly that the bowmen in 1514 were burgage holders of Alnwick, but it is tempting to link them to their namesakes in the rentals, who would at the least have been related to them.

There are still questions to be answered for which the evidence may not survive. Were these 71 bowmen the same men who had fought at Flodden under the command of Sir William Percy, or were they in fact the Northumberland men on light geldings, the ‘Skowrers and Forriders’, with the 5th Earl at Terouenne? What was the reason for the muster to be called in February 1514? Was this a roll call to examine who had survived Flodden, or was there the threat of further fighting in the aftermath of the battle? We may never know the answers, but this muster roll gives us a rare glimpse into the way of life in northern England in the early 16th century.

As a footnote to this paper, it was interesting to spot in the Antiquarian papers of Sir David Smith (Commissioner to the 2nd Duke of Northumberland in the early 19th century), under his entry for Flodden, the following newspaper cutting.28

The article notes the ‘Mussel Sale’. This was the grand sale in 1765 of the antiquities accumulated by Ebenezer Mussel, an eighteenth century Justice active in the Hackney Petty Sessions, who died in 1764. Little is known of Ebenezer Mussel beyond the fact that he was a great collector of peculiar antiquarian pieces, including buildings and archaeological finds.

Amongst the items is listed the purchases made by the First Duchess of Northumberland:

‘Queen Elizabeth’s gloves, knife and fork, workbag, pincushion, and toothpick; Mary Queen of Scots hair-cap; Oliver Cromwell’s night cap, camp pillow, silk sash, tobacco stopper; and King Charle II’s night cap’. The article records that the Duchess paid £2, 12s for all these items.29

The third item listed, however, is the ‘sword of James IV of Scotland, taken at Floddenfield’. If the fancy had taken the First Duchess in 1765, this sword might have taken pride of place in a Flodden exhibition at Alnwick Castle marking the 500th anniversary of the battle.


  1. The Archives of the Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle (henceforth: ‘Alnwick Castle’), Sy:W.I.9. I acknowledge with thanks the help of Linda Bankier, Berwick Archivist, who first spotted the muster roll in the catalogue and provided digital images and a transcription of it.
  2. Edward Barrington De Fonblanque, Annals of the House of Percy, Volume I, (London, 1887) p. 335ff.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. College of Arms, L8, f54ff
  6. Ibid.
  7. A.G. Bradley, ‘The Romance of Northumberland’ (4th edn, 1923), p375ff.
  8. Robert White, ‘The Battle of Flodden’, From Archaeologia Aeliana, Vol iii (new series), 1859, reprinted in book form, p9.
  9. Ibid. p18.
  10. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Edited by H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford University Press, 2004), Volume 43, p716. (Entry for 5th Earl of Northumberland).
  11. Robert White, ‘The Battle of Flodden’, From Archaeologia Aeliana, Vol iii (new series), 1859, reprinted in book form, p12.
  12. The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, Complete Text Reproduced Micrographically (Oxford University Press, 1979)
  13. George MacDonald Fraser, ‘The Steel Bonnets, The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers’, (Harper Collins, 1995), p86.
  14. The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, Complete Text Reproduced Micrographically (Oxford University Press, 1979)
  15. George MacDonald Fraser, ‘The Steel Bonnets, The Story of the Anglo-Scottis Border Reivers’, (Harper Collins, 1995), p86.
  16. Robert Coltman Clephan, ‘The Defensive armour and weapons and engines of war of Mediaeval Times and of the Renaissance’ (1900, London)
  17. The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, Complete Text Reproduced Micrographically (Oxford University Press, 1979).
  18. The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, Complete Text Reproduced Micrographically (Oxford University Press, 1979)
  19. George MacDonald Fraser, ‘The Steel Bonnets, The Story of the Anglo-Scottis Border Reivers’, (Harper Collins, 1995), p86
  20. Gerard F T Leather, ‘New Light on Floddon’(Berwick, 1937), p52
  21. Matthew Strickland and Robert Hardy, ‘The Great Warbow: from Hastings to the Mary Rose’, (Stroud, 2005), p199.
  22. Steven Gunn, ‘Archery Practice in Tudor England’ from ‘Past and Present’, (The Past and Present Society, Oxford, Nov 2010), p1.
  23. Alnwick Castle: Sy: A.I.2
  24. Alnwick Castle, Sy:A.I.2, pp9-11
  25. Ibid, p15.
  26. 26 Ibid, p16
  27. The Account roll for 1508-9 (Alnwick Castle, Sy: C.III.4b) was also searched without finding any matching names.
  28. Alnwick Castle, From DNP: MS 187A/49
  29. The items are listed in the the First Duchess’ catalogue of ‘Antiquities, Historical Curiosity’s, Miscellaneous Ditto, Manuscripts, Japan Porcelain Glass etc.’ This is a volume in the Duchess’ own hand, compiled c1770. (Alnwick Castle, DNP: MS 125). The items are recorded under ‘Historical Curiosity’s’ [sic], and the provenance is recorded as ‘Mussel sale’.