A commission of array was a written grant of authority from the king to certain named individuals (commissioners) to gather all able-bodied men within a particular town or shire for military service, usually to resist foreign invasion or quell internal rebellion. The issuance of commissions of array was one of the chief methods for recruiting armies during the WARS OFTHE ROSES.
Under the Statute of Winchester, promulgated by Edward I in 1285, all men between the ages of sixteen and sixty who were fit to bear arms could be summoned annually for forty days of military service. Twice each year, royal commissioners, who were usually members of the GENTRY, were given authority under their commissions of array to inspect and report on the military readiness of the county or town in their charge. In times of military emergency, the commissioners mustered these local levies for service with the royal army. During the Wars of the Roses, the party in power used commissions of array to call men to perform their public duty to provide military service to the king, even if they lived in a region dominated by a nobleman then in rebellion against the monarch, and even if they were RETAINERS or tenants of a magnate or noble family supporting the opposition party.
Because the Wars of the Roses forced men to choose whether to obey a royal commission or the summons of an opposing magnate to whom they were attached, or, after 1461, whether to obey the commission of the Lancastrian or the Yorkist monarch, the operation of commissions of array became extremely complicated. For instance, in 1460, Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, having been recently declared heir to the throne by the Act of ACCORD, was governing the realm in the name of HENRY VI. To counter increasing Lancastrian activity in Yorkshire, the duke issued a commission of array to John NEVILLE, Lord Neville, who was to gather troops from York’s northern estates for a forthcoming campaign in the region. Neville raised the men as ordered, but then marched them into the Lancastrian encampment at Pontefract, where most became part of the army that defeated and killed York at the Battle of WAKEFIELD on 30 December. Those of Neville’s recruits who did not fight with the Lancastrian army probably returned home and so were also lost to York, whose campaign was troubled from the start by lack of manpower. How Neville’s men made the decision to fight against rather than for York is uncertain. Loyalty to Henry VI, local pride, Lancastrian PROPAGANDA, Neville’s presence, York’s absence, and the respect accorded a royal commissioner probably all played a part. Thanks to the clash of loyalties engendered by civil war, recruitment by commissions of array became very haphazard during the Wars of the Roses.
Further Reading: Boardman, Andrew W., The Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1998); Hicks, Michael, Bastard Feudalism (London: Longman, 1995).