Prof. Richard Abels for HH381War in the Middle Ages


Medieval Logistics

based on Michael Prestwich, Armies and Warfare (Yale U. Press, 1999); supplemented with material from Christopher Allmand, Hundred Years War (Cambridge U. Press, 1988); Philippe Contamine, War in the Middle Ages (Blackwell Publ., 1984);  B.S. Bachrach, “Logistics in Pre-Crusade Europe,” in Feeding Mars, ed. J. Lynn (Westview Press, 1993); John H. Pryor, “Modelling Bohemond’s march to Thessalonike,” in Logistics of Warfare in the Ages of the Crusades, ed. J.H. Pryor (Ashgate Press, 2006); and David Bachrach, “Medieval Logistics during the Reign of Edward I of England,” War in History 13 (2006):423-40.


Conventional view: not until end of Thirty Years War (1618-48) proper attention paid to question of supply. In 1640s French calculated needs of troops and established contracts with merchants and a system of magazines (supply depots). Well-organized baggage trains carried sufficient reserves for an army on the march. Soldiers assured regular supply of basic provisions.


BUT more recent research has shown the conventional view to be wrong. Elements of a military victualing system were in place in England by 1300. This included: 1) nation-wide system for collecting foodstuffs. 2) victualing bases for supplying field armies and garrisons, and 3) a well-developed planning system to assess needs. Edward I created a sophisticated and efficient supply system for his field armies and garrisons in Wales and Scotland between 1294 and 1307 based on the royal prerogative of purveyance. Edward I would send royal order to officials in the localities (mainly sheriffs) requiring them to gather a specified number of horses, carts, and food supplies by means of compulsory sales. Those supplies would then be transported to depots. This system, however, was unpopular and abandoned after Edward I’s death. The system that initially replaced it was one in which the king summoned merchants to meet the army with supplies; soldiers remained responsible for purchasing food. During the Hundred Years War, because the war was fought in France, the English returned to a policy of living off land as part of strategy of attrition. The Crown, however, was responsible for transporting troops to France, supplying replacement arrows and bows for archers, and replacing the horses of men-at-arms lost in the king’s service.


GENERAL POINT: king/commanders did NOT supply free provisions for their troops. A king or some other military commander felt obliged only to meet the needs of his own household and castle garrisons (as part payment of wages). Victuals collected by Crown were sold to soldiers (often at profit) or given in lieu of wages. Whether serving out of obligation (feudal service or communal service) or for wages, soldier was expected to provide himself twith food and drink. But commanders also realized that supply problems could become major sources of indiscipline and lead to starvation and defeat.



Food for medieval armies: bread (staple) supplemented by pottage from beans, peas, and oatmeal. Grain was poorly milled with hand-mills; grit left in flour, resulting in worn down teeth (seen in skeletal remains). Soldiers also ate some meat, fresh in it came from cattle rounded up by foragers but more often salted/dried fish and meat that could be carried by the army without spoiling.


Drink: wine and (for English) beer preferred. Local water sources could not be relied upon because of fear of dysentery.


Case 1: William, Duke of Normandy’s supply requirements, 4 Aug to 4 Sept 1066

(based on Bernard Bachrach, “Logistics in Pre-Crusade Europe,” in Feeding Mars, ed. John A. Lynn, Boulder, CO: Westview, 1993, pp.72-73)


Force size in port of Dives (c. 280 acres) awaiting transport: approx. 14,000 persons, 2-3,000 horses

Food and drink requirements, per day:

            For men:         28 tons unmilled wheat grain for bread

                                    14,000 gallons of clean fresh water

            For horses:     12-18 tons of grain + 13-20 tons of hay + 4-5 tons straw

                                    20-30,000 gallons of fresh water

(horses produced approximately 2-3,000,000 pounds of horse manure in a month which needed to be carted away from camp)



Case 2: Edward I (Scottish wars, 1296-8)

Based on records of supplies for Edward I’s garrisons of Scottish castles: 20 men required one quarter of wheat a week (quarter=8 bushels=450 lbs in weight), two of malt, and quantities of meat and fish. Horses required a peck of oats every night [peck=2 gallons=quarter bushel=14lbs).

     Caloric value of garrison’s diet= approx 5000 calories.

Army of 30,000 men would require approx 4500-5000 quarters of grain a week (around 800 tons). 5000 horses about 2,000 quarters of grain a week (around 500 tons).

     Edward I demanded 100,000 quarters of wheat be gathered for his troops in Gascony in 1296. Exchequer showed that 63,200 quarters were actually collected.


Kings needed to have sufficient supplies at least for royal household. Edward I’s household during Scottish wars required 10 quarters of wheat a day and equal quality of malt to make ale. From April to Sept (six months) household troops consumed also 1500 oxen, 3000 sheet, 1200 pigs, and 400 bacons. Royal horses required 3000 quarters of oats.


Case 3: Edward III’s fleet in 1330s

1330s: needs of 4000 men in fleet for a four month period: 5400 quarters of wheat, 8250 quarters of barley, 2400 of beans and peas, 60 turns of ale, 1300 bacons, 45 lasts of herring, 32,000 stockfish, and 9000 stones of cheese.


Agricultural context

Data for crop yields for wheat in England from 1250-1650 suggest that in the late Middle Ages on average an acre of arable would produce 11-13 bushels of wheat or about 30 bushels of barley (a less desirable grain to eat, but used in the making of ale). The 63,200 quarters collected by order of Edward I in 1296 represents the total yield of approximately 42,000 acres of land. Similarly, 5,800 acres of land were needed to supply the wheat and barley for the 4,000 men in Edward III’s fleet during a four month period in the 1330s.


Carrying capacities (from John Pryor, “Modelling Bohemond’s march to Thessalonike,” in Logistics of Warfare in the Age of the Crusades, ed. Pryor, 2006)

A model knight’s troop in 12th century would have consisted of, at a minimum, the knight, his squire, a groom, and three footmen. The knight, squire, and groom would be on riding horses (each carrying about 40kg of supplies); the knight’s war horse (destrier) would be led by the knight, carrying around 40kg for its own consumption; there would also have been at least two pack horses to carry supplies (each carrying about 100 kgs) . The foot soldiers would have carried about 25 kgs each. A troop of this size would have had a carrying capacity of 395 kg, and the daily consumption rate would have been 6kg of human food and 16.8 kgs of dry fodder. The troops could not march more than 17-18 days without resupplying. The horses would have grazed rather than carrying all the hay they needed. Each horse would have needed 10-12 pounds per day of dried hay, or about 25 pounds of grass. 25 horses would have required about an acre of grassland to graze upon each day. In addition to pack animals, a noble retinue would have to have had wagons to carry armor, weapons, tent poles and canvas, tools, etc., as well as food. The maximum load capacity of a cart in the twelfth century was about 500-600 kilograms. Carts also required draught animals, usually two horse or oxen. The number of carts in an army is important because carts both slowed the rate of march and greatly extended the army’s line of march. 




METHODS OF COLLECTION OF SUPPLIES: 1) Living off the land (foraging—could be used only for offensive campaigns in enemy territory): used throughout the Middle Ages; 2)Crown supplies victuals through local officials collecting from localities; 2) magnates and men organize own provisioning systems; 3) merchants could be encouraged to support armies; 4) living off land.


1. Foraging (throughout middle ages). Living off the land, pillaging, extortion of supplies from locals. This was the general mechanism for supplying troops under the Vegetian Strategy. It was the method of supply used by English troops in France during the Hundred Years War.


2. Soldiers required to bring supplies (used from the early Middle Ages on). A letter dated 806 from Charlemagne summoning Abbot Fulrad of Saint Wandrille for military service in Saxony sheds light on how Charlemagne supplied his armies. The abbot was required to bring his “full quota of men, well-armed and equipped,” to the assembly point at Strassfurt on 18 June. Bernard Bachrach calculates that the Abbey of Saint Wandrille would have owed a contingent of 850 men from its 4,278 manses (on a basis of one man for each five manses). Charlemagne required that each soldier was to bring with him weapons, gear, food, and clothing. Each horseman was to be armed with a shield, lance, sword, dagger, bow, and quiver with arrows. The abbot was to bring in his carts sufficient supplies of food for three months of campaigning, dating from the muster at Strassfurt, and arms and clothing for a half year. In addition, the abbot was required to carry in his carts various tools “of which the army has need”: axes, planes, augers, boards, spades, and iron shovels. For the duration of the 800 kilometer march through Frankish lands from Saint Wandrille to Strassfurt, the abbot’s men were to take nothing but “fodder, food, and water,” from Charlemagne’s subjects. On the basis of a minimum caloric requirement of two kilograms of unmilled wheat per man, the stipulated three months of food supplies would have amounted to about 75 tons of grain, which would have required about 150 ox carts, drawn by 300 oxen. An additional 15 carts would have been needed to haul the other supplies. The line of march would have extended at least two kilometers and more likely five or six kilometers.  Given that the march between Saint Wandrille and Strassfurt would have taken two months, the abbot was actually required to supply his troops with seven months of provisions. Most likely, the abbot and his men consumed what they brought from Saint Wandrille on the journey and purchased supplies along the way so that they would arrive with the required food for three months of campaigning.

In the High Middle Ages, barons and nobles summoned to join a king’s or their lord’s host would have looked quite similar, although most contingents would have numbered anywhere from six men with four or five horses (knight, squire, groom, and three footmen) for the contingent of an individual knight to a few hundred men in the case of barons. As in the case of Abbot Fulrad, royal vassals summoned to fulfill their feudal obligation were required to bring sufficient supplies for the forty or sixty days of owed service. A king was only responsible for feeding his household troops out of his own pocket; the same was true for a duke, count, earl, baron, or knight banneret. The other soldiers were responsible for feeding themselves, which often meant purchasing food and supplies from their lords. Provisions for paid soldiers, whether stipendiary or mercenary troops, came out of their pay.


***3. Prise and purveyance (used from late twelfth century in England, culminating in national system under Edward I, c. 1295). This was the most administratively sophisticated supply system used by medieval rulers and reflects the rising power of centralized government in England in the thirteenth century. Prise and purveyance were prerogative rights of Crown of compulsory purchase of goods. The tendency under the Angevin kings (Henry II, Richard I, and John, 1189-1216) was to take goods without prompt payment, which led to an article in Magna Carta  (1215) prohibiting such practices. The system was revived by King Edward I (1272-1307), and used both for his conquests of Wales and Scotland and for his extensive castle-building program in Wales. Edward’s system was Prise/purveyance was hated by property holders because the system was rife with corruption. The most common complaint was extortion of money or goods. The second most common complaint was against the illegal seizure of foodstuffs and goods.


4. Merchants (fourteenth century in England): hostility to purveyance led to increased reliance on merchants for army supplies in the fourteenth century, particularly for campaigns in Scotland and Wales.  King would summon merchants to follow the army with all the goods they could provide, or meet the army at specified places with goods. Increasingly, Crown placed burden of supplies on individual initiative of commanders and magnates.



Supply of arms:  a regular supply of arms was increasingly important in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In England, soldiers raised by commissions of array (conscription) were required to come adequately armed (with bow, arrows, and extra wing feathers) by the locality they represented. But during Hundred Years War both French and English Crowns also needed to provide weapons to replace lost and broken bows and replenish supplies of arrows.  The English King’s Privy Wardrobe was tasked with purchasing, storing and distributing arms to armies, garrisons, and ships. Records show that in 1360, the Keeper of the King’s Arms stored 11,000 bows and 23,600 sheaves of arrows in the Tower of London.

     Other essentials stored included tents, saddles, crossbows and bolts, shields, lances, heavy siege-engines, and, in the late 14th and 15th centuries, cannons. The last was very expensive and in England and France the costs were borne by the crown. In the 15th century English and French kings established offices of state to handle the founding and deployment of artillery trains.




1. 1066: Harold before Hastings: Domesday Book, William I’s great inquest into England’s lands, resources and royal dues, affords a tantalizing glimpse of some of the institutions and customs that underlay this system. In it are a few scattered references to military obligations owed the Crown in the `Time of King Edward’ (1066). Some of these are clearly fiscal, involving the render of money, weapons, ships and horses for the defense of the kingdom. Despite regional differences in military customs and obligations, what emerges from a study of Domesday Book is the sense that Harold had at his disposal a central and local administration capable of rationally and systematically exploiting the wealth of its subjects to raise, arm and provision royal armies and fleets. The precociously bureaucratic character of the late Anglo-Saxon state is reflected in the manner in which the king supported his military household. All lords were obliged to feed and maintain their followers and dependents, and the king was no different in this. Edward the Confessor acquitted this obligation, at least in part, through regular imposts upon the burgesses of a number of towns. Some towns had a choice of responding to a royal summons to a military expedition by sending a quota of warrior-representatives based upon an assessment of tax liability (`hides’) or providing, instead, a specified sum of money for stipendiary troops. In Berkshire, certainly, and perhaps throughout the hidated shires, one soldier (miles) was owed from every five hides. Each soldier was required to bring with him 20 shillings, i.e. 240 pennies, for his two months of campaigning. Given that a man could be fed for a pence, what was required was an endowment far exceeding their subsistence rations. Since the money was to be given to the soldier rather than the king or his agents, we are not dealing with a hidden ‘tax’ but with a custom intended to guarantee `quality’ troops. That the troops were required to come with cash rather than specified supplies implies that the king and his agents would arrange for markets in which they could buy provisions and weapons as needed. That the king’s armies were accompanied by extensive baggage trains is hinted at by the obligation of some boroughs to `find’ horses for expeditions, and by the standard cartage obligation of landowners below the status of thegn.

          Duke William of Normandy faced an extraordinary logistical challenge in supplying his soldiers during the month that they were in port at Dives (4 August to 4 September 1066). He had to provision perhaps as many as 14,000 men and 2-3,000 horses. Prior to this he had to assemble a fleet of 700 ships for transport across the Channel. Some of these ships were bought or obtained on loan, but the sources agree that William had to build many of the vessels. The precise method that William used to gather the necessary supplies is unknown, but it is probable that individual soldiers or their lords would purchase food from the Duke William or the merchants he summoned.


2. Edward I: Welsh Wars (1277, 1282-4, and 1294-5) and Scottish Wars (1296-1307).


First Welsh War 1277. King Edward I inherited from his father Henry III a provisioning system for the itinerating royal household. The Crown used its prerogative of purveyance (see above) to requisition food and other supplies from the localities where the king held court. Carts and horses owned by the Crown were largely used to transport supplies to the royal court. If these proved inadequate, local officials would requisition carts and horses from property owners. Church lands, however, were exempted. When King Llewelyn ap Gruffud refused to recognize him as his overlord, King Edward I invaded Wales in 1277 with 800 knights and approximately 15,500 infantry, the majority of which, about 9,000, were recruited in southern Wales. The king used two complementary systems to supply his troops during this brief campaign: 1) expansion of the purveyance system for supplying the royal households: royal officials were dispatched to the counties with orders to purchase supplies and carts and to arrange for them to be transported to the army. Churchmen, however, could not be forced to sell carts or supplies; 2) merchants were encouraged to bring supplies directly to the army. To facilitate the latter, sheriffs were ordered to close local markets and send merchants to the army. The Crown issued issue letters of protection to the merchants guaranteeing their safe passage to the army. The total cost to the Crown for this campaign was £23,000 (income from royal lands came to £14,000 per annum).


            Second Welsh War, 1282-4. King Edward I used the same two (supposedly) complementary systems of purveyance and merchants to supply this much larger campaign. The total number of troops was about 20,000 (including 6,000 Welshmen and about 1,300 crossbowmen from Gascony). The total cost of the war was about £150,000. The dual system that had worked well in 1277 ran into problems in 1282-4. Sheriffs encountered difficulties in requisitioning the supplies and carts specified in the royal orders they received. The main problem was that merchants owned most of the known carts, and these merchants had been ordered to meet the army in Wales. Some sheriffs solved the problem of transportation by ignoring the royal safe passage issued to the merchants and seizing their carts to transport the supplies they were required to send to the Crown.


            Scottish Wars, 1296-1307. The problems encountered in the Welsh wars led to abandoning the use of merchants and rely instead on a more comprehensive system of purveyance with sheriffs largely responsible for requisitioning and transporting supplies. Each sheriff would receive a royal order requiring them to purchase a specified amount of supplies. In December 1302, for instance, sheriffs of nine counties were tasked with sending to the king’s army 19,300 quarters of grain, beans, peas, and salt, with a total weight of 4,900 tons. Royal magazines were established on the Scottish border and in Scotland. The need for carts led to local officials being ordered to maintain lists of carts and draught animals within their jurisdiction. The Church’s exemption from purveyance was ended as well, and Churchmen were required to contribute funds for the war. The system could work because the administrative sophistication of the English state in the late thirteenth century, in which the Crown controlled the localities through royal officials such as sheriffs and in which royal orders and all financial exactions were carefully recorded and the records preserved. The system, however, tolerated or even encouraged corruption and abuses. The price for supplies and carts was set by the Crown below market value. There was no bargaining. Payment for the requisitioned supplies, moreover, was slow.  Landowners sought ways to evade the sheriffs’ demands for foodstuff and carts, and the easiest way was to bribe the sheriff or his agents to give the landowner a pass.


NOTE: The purveyance system was efficient in obtaining supplies for Edward’s field forces and castle garrisons, but it proved extremely unpopular. The Scottish Wars proved to be the high-point of English logistics in the Middle Ages. Because of Edward I’s power and military successes, he was successful in imposing this burden on landowners throughout England, but his son Edward II was forced to abandon the purveyance system and return to the use of merchants to supply his armies. King Edward III used the merchant system to provision his army during the Scottish campaign of 1327. The result was that soldiers were forced to purchase food well above market prices, which led to discontent in the ranks.




Cost of war rose under Edward I.

First Welsh war cost: £23,000

1282-3:           £150,000

1294-8 (costs of campaigns in Wales, Flanders, Gascony): £750,000


Cost of campaigns during Hundred Years War

Edward III’s unsuccessful campaigns in the Low Countries, 1338-40: £400,000

Wages for soldiers alone in 1359-60: £133,000

Costs of war, 1369-75: £670,000


Royal revenues to pay for war:

“Ordinary revenues” p.a..       £30,000

Extraordinary revenues: taxes (direct and indirect), loans, purveyance

Direct taxes granted by Parliament (Commons): assessed as percentage of moveable wealth

1212: John’s “thirteenth” = £60,000

1294-7: £190,000

1337-40: £100,000


Attempts to introduce poll taxes in 1370s failed and led to Peasants Revolt in 1381


Clerical income taxes:

1294-7: £130,000

1337-40: £40,000


Indirect taxes (customs taxes: wool subsidies, tunnage on wine)

1350s: £90,000 p.a.



Edward I borrowed £392,000 from Riccardi of Lucca (bankrupted in 1294)

Edward III borrowed £103,000 from Bardi and £71,000 from Peruzzi families of Florence. Bankrupted both in 1340s when EdIII defaulted on loans.


Dutch lenders 1337-40: £400,000  cf. costs of war: £410,000