Once again, I have been rambling around the internet, seeking information about livery colours. In the process I came upon the following site, which has an abundance of interesting information about many aspects of the medieval period.
The link deals with one area of interest, but the main site covers a lot more. One passage on this page particularly caught my attention, because it mentions livery colours and badges, and describes why the Lancastrians lost the Battle of Barnet. Yes, we all know Barnet was to do with confusing Edward IV’s Sun in Splendour with the Earl of Oxford’s Star, but I found this extract particularly clear and interesting.
Here is the passage, which I have broken up into smaller paragraphs, to make it easier to read:-
“Referring to the Black Book of Edward IV – it’s drawn from his own household accounts, so the limits to the retainers allowed are the limits Edward himself set. Remember that Edward had only managed to get, hold, then regain the throne by force-of-arms but he was very well aware that the nobles had their own retainers and that it was possible to lose the throne again. Warwick had a huge number of retainers, well into the hundreds. The limitations on the numbers of retainers were an attempt to control the issue of lords having private armies as large as they could afford and attacking each other if they disagreed with something.
“As for colours – lords had their own livery. For example, the House of York, in the person of the Duke of York (father to Edward IV and Richard III) used murray (a sort of deep burgundy-red) and blue. There might also be a sigil and a coat-of-arms. Richard III’s personal emblem was the White Boar, but his brother Edward’s was the “Sunne in Splendor” – a sort of star-burst. The lord himself would use his colours and his sigil. His employed retainers – the men employed directly by himself to be his armsmen – would probably wear his colours – so for example, a heavy padded jacket made up of four sections of cloth in two of the lord’s colours, with the diagonal-opposites being in matching colours. They would also likely wear his sigil (eg White Boar) sewn onto their breast. During battle, they would start grouped together under a banner displaying the colours and/or the sigil.
“However, over time, the lower lords didn’t always have a standing army – it was expensive. So they would either hire professional arms-men when they needed them or they would gather (volunteers or strong-armed) peasants in from the villages they controlled. These peasants would have an arming/padded jack (heavyly padded jacket) if they were lucky. They would be very unlikely to have the lord’s colours. So in a small skirmish between two small lords, you have your two sigil banners and other than that, very little way of telling who fought for whom. In larger battles, you might have a mix of peasants in their own gear/mercs who might have put the sigil on for ease and would have decent gear/liveried retainers. Where your higher lord needs back-up (perhaps to bring his own strength up to a level required by HIS higher lord), he will send to the lower lords to provide their men. So you have groups of peasants under their manorial lord’s banner standing in larger groups headed by the liveried retainers of the upper lord under HIS banner with the upper lord’s own peasants in the mix.
“Most Middle Ages battles were bloody messes, in part because of the difficulty in determining friend and foe. Not helped by confusion over banners: at the Battle of Barnet (wars of the Roses) in poor weather, the Earl of Oxford’s men (Lancastrian) attacked the men of Lord Hastings (York) and chased them off the field. In the time it took Oxford to get his men back under control, the battle-line veered around. As he returned, he unknowingly came up behind his own side, right behind the position held by John Montagu. Montagu’s men mistook Oxford’s banner of a “streaming star” for Edward IV’s “Sunne in Splendor” and attacked Oxford. As Montagu had been on Edward’s side at one point, Oxford’s men assumed Montagu had turned sides again. They called “treason” and panic spread through the Lancastrian side. Edward attacked, Montagu was killed and the Lancastrians were utterly defeated, including the death of Montagu’s older brother the famous Earl of Warwick.
“This defeat, with the deaths of the two brothers, led almost directly to the following defeat of the Lancastrian Prince Edward and the death of Henry VI, leaving the future Henry VII as the only Lancastrian with any chance of the throne. So the fact that English troops fought without any ready identifiers, and the fact that knowing your enemy very often relied on whether or not you recognised their badge, had a very large bearing on the rulership of England. Had Edward IV lost at Barnet, Henry VI would probably have been put back on the throne and Henry VII would perhaps never have ruled, as Henry VI had a son and heir.”
Did the House of York, founded by Edmund of Langley, first duke of York, have distinctive livery colors? Perhaps this is an unusual question to ask, because I’ve always been under the impression that those colors were murrey and blue.
In their text Heraldry, published in 1993, Rouge Croix Pursuivant Henry Bedingfeld and Lancaster Herald Peter Gwynn-Jones, both of the Royal College of Arms, write that blue and murrey were the livery colours of the house of York. They support this statement with illustrations of the arms granted to Isabella Mylberry, illegitimate daughter of Edward IV and those of her husband, John Awdeley. The battle standard of Richard, duke of Gloucester, also shows the blue and murrey livery colors along with his well-known personal device of the blanc sanglier.
However, as someone pointed out to me in a discussion group recently, Langley’s grandson, the third duke of York, was observed to have been employing a different set of livery colors in 1459. According to the Gregory Chronicle, quoted in Arthur Gerald Fox-Davies’ Heraldic Badges, duke Richard was observed to be using white and blue livery colors: “duke of York came owte of Yrlonde (Ireland) and londyd at the Redde Clyffe in Loncaschyre and hys lyvery was whyte and brewe and brawderyd above with fetyrlockys [fetterlocks].”
Now, this is very curious, given that the same text by Fox-Davies states that blue and white were the livery colors associated with the House of Lancaster, beginning with John of Gaunt, his son Henry of Bolingbroke (later Henry IV) and his grandson Henry of Monmouth (later Henry V). Blue and white are also the colors of the bordure surrounding the arms of the illegimate children of Gaunt, later legitimized, and given the family surname Beaufort.
So why would Richard, third duke of York, employ the well-known livery colors of the very House he was attempting to displace from the throne in 1459-1460?
I can think of three possible explanations, none authoritative, but offered here as an invitation for further discussion and exploration:
Possibility # 1 – The chronicler had actually seen York using the colors of the Lordship of Ireland
Richard held the title of Lieutenant of Ireland, a position he acquired in the late 1440s. In effect, he was King Henry’s top deputy there, and would have been acting on the king’s behalf. (Kings of England at this time held the title Lord of Ireland.) The banner of the Lord of Ireland consisted of three gold crowns on a blue field with a white border. Richard could have used the king’s livery while he was in Ireland, as he was giving service to Henry VI while employed in that role. That could explain the blue and white colors. Perhaps the chronicler mistook the crowns for fetterlocks – this wouldn’t be the first or last time someone would confuse a device; see, e.g., the Battle of Barnet when soldiers mistook Oxford’s streaming mullet device for Edward’s sun in splendor.
Possibility # 2 – York was using a modified livery
Duke Richard found himself in Ireland in 1459 following the Yorkist disaster at Ludford Bridge, when troops from Calais abandoned his cause, leaving the duke and his family defenseless against the assembled Lancastrians. There was not much time to prepare for this expedition, as they were facing assured defeat. So the duke fled to Ireland, where he still held the Lieutenancy and was a popular leader, while his eldest son Edward fled to Calais (along with the earls of Warwick and Salisbury) and his wife and younger sons were taken into protective custody. It would seem unlikely that he had given any thought at this time of hauling his own personal livery over to Ireland under such duress; moreover, his retainers in Ireland would already have their standard uniforms. Perhaps when duke Richard embarked for England later in 1459 and landed in Redcliffe, Cheshire, what the Gregory chronicler observed was a modified livery adopted by the Yorkist leader. Certainly, by this time, Richard was displaying the undifferenced royal arms of England, and calling himself the rightful king of England. The incorporation of fetterlocks (a well-known and established Yorkist device) into the blue and white livery would add further symbolism to underscore his claim.
Possibility # 3 – Duke Richard had always used blue and white as his livery colors
Looking further into the use of murrey and blue livery, I noticed that there is a paucity of evidence to support its use prior to the reign of Edward IV. Although the Royal heralds quoted above make the blanket assertion that it was the “Yorkist livery”, all they point to are the arms of Edward IV’s illegitimate daughter. So, perhaps the murrey and blue livery was a creation of Edward IV, to distinguish himself from his Lancastrian predecessors. It does rather fit in with what we know about the personalities of father and son. The father, duke Richard, was part of the “old guard” and a reluctant rebel, at best – at least until the very last months of his life. Perhaps he viewed his service to King Henry as required by chivalric traditions, and used the king’s livery colors for practically his entire life. His son, Edward, grew up in a different environment, when loyalties were already quite tattered and frayed. The murrey and blue livery would symbolize a Yorkist house with distinctive symbolism divorced from the Lancastrians. In other words, the murrey and blue were new livery colors for a new regime.