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How do historians find out information about medieval armies?

Original muster rolls & indentures are primary sources of information about past events. Watch Professor Anne Curry talk about how historians use them
DAN SPENCER: Hello. I’m here with Anne at the National Archives looking at a selection of documents from the period. Could you say a little bit about these documents?
ANNE CURRY: Indeed so. And I think we should be very grateful to the National Archives for getting out so many for us. It’s really quite a splendid array here. And, of course, anybody can come and see these. They’re not closed at all. The problem, of course, for most people is that they are not in English. Most of what we have in front of us here is in Anglo-Norman. But we also have some materials of the Exchequer in Latin. They’re pretty robust. Nearly everything in front of us here is made from parchment, and that was made from the skin of sheep that was sort of stretched and scraped down.
And the fact they’ve survived for 600 years.They’re in pretty good condition here and that they are pretty robust. But we need to handle them with care particularly when they are rolled up and they have seals. Modern archival practise doesn’t think that wearing gloves is a good idea. Research has suggested that more dirt comes off from the gloves than from the fingers, and so the National Archives don’t require us to wear gloves for this process. But as you can see we really have some fascinating things here. The documents in all sorts of different formats here and also some archived bags in which materials were stored in the Middle Ages. That one there, the small bag there, is particularly interesting.
We’re going to be featuring a knight called Sir Thomas Erpingham, who led a retinue of 20 men-at-arms and 60 archers in the campaign. That was his post-campaign account bag, rather like a folder on a computer. And you can just about pick out Erpingham down in the bottom corner there. So that would’ve been hung on a peg in the Exchequer for reference purposes. But I know you’ve been here quite a lot of times, Dan, for your doctoral research. So presumably you’ve found similar cataloguing aides and also looked at some of a similar sort of document to this.
DAN SPENCER: Well yes, as you well know Anne, I’ve been here numerous occasions. And it’s amazing having a connection with the actual documents themselves. It’s amazing to think that they’ve survived 5, 600 years. I think you get a real sense of the period through being able to touch these documents and handle them, and read them in the original language.
ANNE CURRY: Absolutely. And so even if they’ve been stuck into a book, as these here have been and they’re by type. Nonetheless, you get some feel of the original documents themselves.
In this video, filmed at the National Archives, Anne and Dan introduce some of the documents historians use to find out about Henry V’s campaign in France.
They consider the kinds of documents that survive from the Agincourt campaign, what these documents are made of and how they were used. They explore what we can learn from them and how it feels to work with original documents like this.
One of the thrilling aspects of being a historian is having the chance to handle and look at original documents which are centuries old. What kinds of challenges do you think there are in working with ancient archive materials? And what kinds of opportunities?
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