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Military Indentures

By the time of Edward III's death in 1377, most English troops serving on the continent were raised primarily by indenture, that is, by contract of service. Contracts designed to cover strictly military service were known as indentures of war.

An indenture usually covered the conditions under which service was to be performed, the strength and types of forces to be raised (after 1340 the majority of indentures referred only to men-at-arms and archers; the latter often expected to be mounted), provision for review musters before, after, and/or during service, the length of service, the location of service, the rates of pay, and the shares allowed in any plunder or ransoms. Sometimes inducements to enlist were offered, such as pardons for criminal offenses or monetary bonuses. Very occasionally the customary pay rates were increased by half, or even doubled, to make service even more attractive.

Indentures usually were written for a year or a specific campaign and were often broken into periods of a quarter-year. There frequently was a clause that allowed the indentured man to extend his period of service under the same terms.

Indentured troops were normally paid a quarter-year in advance. It was often specified that if pay fell more than a half-year (sometimes only a quarter-year) in arrears, the contract was annulled. A retainer drew pay as did a common mercenary, but the retainer received "livery" from his lord. This could include his food and drink. By the time of Edward III's death in 1377, most liveried men received clothing, arms, and armor as well. Soldiers who were not retainers were expected to live, clothe, and equip themselves from their pay. Deductions were taken from the pay of those who missed muster or arrived without all of the proper equipment.

The pay rates were traditional and remained nearly unchanged during the period of the Hundred Years War. Compare them with that of a ploughman (a common skilled laborer) who did well if he earned £2 or £3 a year (384 to 586d.) The archer on campaign has a pro rata annual wage equivalent of £4 11s 3d and that is without plunder and ransom shares.

The spoils of war were without a doubt part of the attraction of military service. Spoils fell into two categories, plunder and ransom. Plunder could come from the battlefield through the stripping of bodies, a potentially lucrative source since the nobility liked to advertise their status by wearing their valuables. Plunder could also be taken from the enemy's baggage train and any captured towns. Ranson came from captives. Prisoners could be forced to pay to be released, and the price of the prisoner's freedom was split among his captors. Typically, one third went to the man (or men) who actually captured the prisoner, one third to his/their captain, and one third to the army commander. The captor(s) forfeited his/their share if caught cheating; for example, by conducting private negotiations or by not abiding by the expected code regarding the keeping of prisoners.

The lure of plunder was a great temptation and a constant discipline problem for armies. War regulations usually demanded the death of any man crying "havoc" (the signal that the enemy was beaten and looting could begin) before the commander in chief authorized it.