Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Assize of Arms

In the early Middle Ages, Britain was a collection of territories, each with its own leader(s), which formed a loose confederacy at times of national trouble. When William of Normandy conquered in 1066, he put the whole land under one rule, maintained by his lieutenants and supporters in positions of authority over chunks of real estate. This was the start of the feudal system.

While the king might keep troops near him, there was for a long time no standing army that could be applied immediately to a military conflict. In the 11th and 12th centuries, countries in Western Europe still relied on raising armies by calling for volunteers and paying men to fight. Often these men came from other lands. After Henry II had to put down a 1373-4 rebellion by bringing in Brabançon soldiers, and seeing the distrust of his English subjects for their presence—not to mention their dislike of the extra taxes required to pay for the king's mercenaries—he created the Assize of Arms in 1181.

The purpose of the Assize was to make certain there would be sufficient local military support for a campaign. It outlined the responsibilities of his subjects to have the proper arms and armor and to bring them when called upon. Some of its 12 provisions were:
1. Each knight must have a hauberk (armor covering at least neck and shoulders), helmet, shield and lance.
2. Each freeman (worth at least 16 marks) must have hauberk, helmet, shield and lance. Each freeman of 10 marks worth must have a light hauberk, iron cap and lance.
4. Every man must swear an oath that they will have these arms and carry them for King Henry.
5. If you die, your arms go to your son; if he is too young, his guardian must use them or find a suitable person until the son comes of age.
7. No Jew should have arms, but should sell them to someone who can use them in the king's service.
8. No one may sell, trade, or carry away these arms so that they leave England.
10. If any man does not have arms in accordance with this order, the king shall take not only his goods and land, but also his life and limbs.
The Assize enabled Henry II and his successors to save themselves the cost of maintaining a standing army. Moreover, an army could be called up and assembled within a matter of days with requiring extraordinary taxation. It was very useful for King Henry two years later, when he had to go to war against a rebellion by his son and heir, King Henry.

But that's a story for another day.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post, but I think you mean the rebellion of 1173–74 (instead of 1373-4).