Military history

The Livery and Maintenance System

At the end of the Hundred Years War with France (1337–1453) large numbers of professional soldiers returned to England. Many of these men were organized into private armies by the great barons, and to these armies flocked many of the yeomen and lesser gentry who needed the protection of the barons against the injustices common at that time of unrest. These yeomen and gentry entered into a contract known as Livery and Maintenance, whereby they undertook to wear the baron’s livery, i.e. a tunic in his livery colours and bearing his badge, and fight for him in time of need, while in return they would receive his protection whenever they needed it.



By 1453 the administration of justice had largely collapsed and the barons were settling their quarrels by direct action—private wars—against each other, while the rivalry between the Houses of York and Lancaster led to the Wars of the Roses (1455–85). The armies of these wars were formed mostly from the private armies of the great barons, the Livery and Maintenance men, and contract troops, that is troops raised for the Crown by contract with the king’s nobles, usually a set number of men for a year’s service and at an agreed wage.


The fashion for badges rose to its zenith with these large private armies of the 15th century, but badges had been used to a lesser degree in the previous century, and by royalty and a few great lords since the earliest days of heraldry. However, the badge may be said to have come into general use in the reign of Edward III, risen to its greatest importance in the 15th century, and gone out of use in the reign of Henry VIII.


The seal of the great Beauchamp family, Earls of Warwick, showing shield, surcoat and trapper all bearing the family arms (Gules, a fess between six cross crosslets or) and the distinctive swan’s head crest.

These badges were never of any fixed form, nor was there any fixed manner of usage, as with coats of arms. Also, unlike arms, they were never worn by the owner; rather they were his mark of ownership, and were therefore stamped on his belongings and worn as a sign of allegiance by his servants, dependants and retainers, who had no arms of their own and no right to bear the arms of their lord. If a lord was powerful enough to lead a party in the State, then adherents of his party might also wear his badge, and colours. (This is the origin of modern political party colours.) Such badges were generally but not always different to the charges borne on the lord’s coat of arms.

Badges were originally granted by the sovereign only to those heads of great families who could field a large force of men. Such great lords normally had the right to bear a standard granted by the king at the same time, for the badge was used on the livery colours to form a standard. At the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, for example, Thomas, Lord Berkeley, had 200 retainers and was entitled to use a badge to distinguish them. Anthony Bek, Bishop of Durham, raised 80 men for the siege of Caerlaverock castle in 1300 and his banner is blazoned on the Caerlaverock Roll. Lord Talbot raised 1,800 men from the Shropshire hills for the expedition against Harfleur and the battle of Agincourt; and Edward, Duke of York and Aumerle, cousin to Henry V, raised no less than 4,000 men for the same expedition from the great Yorkist holdings of the Plantagenets.

However, by the 15th century the badge had risen to such popularity and was so necessary for the identification of troops in battle, that all commanders, no matter how small their following, began to adopt badges. Thus in the late 15th century Sir John Ferrers, who had a retinue of only two lances (one of whom was himself) and fifteen archers, had his own badge.

Because these badges were widely displayed on property, flags and liveries, they were far more widely known amongst the common people than the coats of arms of the lords, which were only displayed on a lord’s person, his lance pennon and banner. In battle a lord’s retainers and followers wore his badge on their clothes and rallied round a standard bearing that same badge, and consequently, unlike heraldry, the badge was a method of identification which was recognized and understood by the masses.

The badge is variously described as being worn on the sleeve or shoulder, but by the time of the Wars of the Roses it was more frequently worn on the breast.

After the Wars of the Roses a new class of nobles rose from the lower ranks to replace the great number of nobles killed in the wars. At the same time heraldry appears to have begun its decline, and almost all badges were transformed into crests. By the time of Henry VIII the crest and the badge had come to be regarded as synonymous. The decline in importance of the badge is, of course, directly linked to the creation of the standing army, which was begun in the reign of Henry VIII, for with the creation of this army the principal use of the badge—on the livery of retainers as a distinguishing mark of allegiance—came to an end.

Possibly the oldest badge is that of Geoffrey of Anjou, father of Henry II, who used the broom-plant or planta genista—the origin of the name Plantagenet. The rose came to English royal heraldry via Eleanor of Provence, queen of Henry III, and was chosen as a badge by their heir, Edward I, who used a golden rose. His brother Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Lancaster, had a red rose and this became the badge of the Earls and Dukes of Lancaster, and of the three kings of that house—Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI. It was also the badge of the Beaufort family, descendants of the illegitimate son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. When Richard, Duke of York, claimed the throne in 1460 he chose a white rose as his badge, and this became the badge of his son, Edward IV, and of the Yorkist forces. Edward IV in fact placed the white rose on a sun, another Yorkist badge, and it was the confusion between this badge and the silver star of de Vere, Earl of Oxford, which cost the Lancastrians the battle of Barnet in 1471, an example of the importance of distinctive badges at that time.

Edward III had as a badge a sun bursting through clouds, Fig 56, and Richard II used both the planta genista and the sun burst, and added a personal badge of a white hart, Fig 57. Edward III also used an ostrich feather as a badge, Fig 58, which was probably derived from the arms of his wife, Philippa of Hainault. One or more ostrich feathers were used as badges by all of Edward’s son, but notably by the Black Prince, who had three white feathers; and it was probably the use of this badge on a black shield and of a black surcoat to match which gave rise to the name Black Prince. From this sprang the famous Prince of Wales badge of three feathers encircled by a coronet, used by the Heir Apparent since Tudor times. Henry V used as badges the antelope, Fig 59, and the swan,Fig 61, which were derived from his mother’s family the Bohuns, and a cresset or beacon, Fig 60.


A miniature of Sir Geoffrey Luterell taken from the Luterell Psalter, written around 1340, illustrating the placing of charges on the right side of the trapper. Compare trapper, ailette, horse crest, helmet crest and pennon with the shield and saddle arçons, where the martlets all face the dexter and the bend is not sinister.


Tudor badges on the gates of Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey, including the crowned portcullis of the Beauforts; entwined white and red roses of the Houses of York and Lancaster; crowned marguerites for Henry’s mother (Lady Margaret Beaufort); and the falcon and fetterlock of the House of York; all interspersed with the fleurs-de-lys of France and lions of England.

Royal badges became numerous under the Tudors but rarely occur after that period (1485–1603). Henry Tudor’s badges included the red rose of Lancaster and the Beaufort portcullis, Fig 62. The Beauforts were excluded from the royal succession but, after his victory at Bosworth Field, Henry had the ban lifted by an Act of Parliament and the portcullis crowned became one of his badges as Henry VII. He also united the red and white roses into the Tudor rose when he married Elizabeth of York. The Tudor rose is found in two distinct forms; a rose divided vertically or, more commonly, a double rose with the outer petals red and the inner ones white, or vice versa.

No official records of the badges used by the king’s subjects were kept until late in the reign of Henry VIII, by which time their use was rapidly declining, and therefore it is notpossible to compile a complete list. Our only sources for the earlier badges are therefore standards and guidons, or monumental work in places such as Westminster Abbey. The bear and ragged staff of the Earls of Warwick, and the swan of the Earls and Dukes of Buckingham, will be familiar to many readers, but it is hoped the illustrations of badges accompanying this section will provide examples which are new to some. Figs 62–73 are taken from a broadsheet published in 1449, Figs 74–79 from a manuscript of the reign of Edward IV (1461–83).

Badges occurred in European countries, although their use never became so widespread or so important as in England, and therefore a small selection of the more famous badges of France and Italy has been included; Figs 80–85.

Because they were not bound by the rules of heraldry, badges were not truly hereditary, although there are a number of well-known cases of the same badge being used by generation after generation. In these cases it is believed that marks of cadency were used to distinguish between the badges of father and sons. For example, Humphrey Talbot, son of John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury (whose badge is shown in Fig 69) had as a badge a talbot or hound with a mullet on its shoulder. Differencing by tincture, as with the roses of Edward I and his brother Edmund, may have been another method of denoting cadency. Sons also occasionally adopted a slightly different form of their father’s badge. Other examples of differencing by cadency marks and other means may be found in the list of liveries and badges below.


Liveries were the forerunners of military uniforms, and the term livery means those distinguishing marks on the dress of individuals which marked them out as servants, retainers or followers of certain knights. In addition to this distinctive mark, the tunics of these men were usually of a distinctive or uniform colour or colours. Sometimes these tunics were of the principal tincture or tinctures of the arms of the leader, but livery colours were not necessarily derived from coats of arms: retainers of the house of Percy, for example, wore three stripes of russet, or and tenné with the blue lion rampant of the family arms on their shoulders as a badge. However, where the arms did provide the colours, the tincture of the field normally determined the colour of the tunic, and that of the principal charge on the field determined the colour of the edging and sometimes, on the more elaborate tunics, the lining.


(56) Edward III: a golden sun bursting through white (shaded) cloud. (57) Richard II: white hart with gold chain and crown. (58) Edward III: white feather with gold quill and rear faces of scroll. (59) Henry V: white antelope with gold crown and chain. (60) Henry V: beacon with red flames. (61) Henry V: white swan with gold crown and chain. (62) Henry VII: portcullis. (63) John, Duke of Bedford: golden tree stump. (64) Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester: white duck with gold crown and chains. (65) de la Pole, Dukes of Suffolk: white bollard with gold strap and ring. (66) Mowbray, Dukes of Norfolk: a lion. (67) Holland, Dukes of Exeter: a beacon on a mound.

Some modern writers believe that where two tinctures are listed as the colours, then the livery was divided per pale, half the coat being in each colour. There is no contemporary confirmation of this theory: in fact, in contemporary manuscripts listing colours, the liveries are frequently described as being of one colour and embroidered in the second, or divided into four stripes. Presumably tunics were only per pale, or indeed quartered, if the lord so wished it, and particularly if the field of his arms was thus divided.

The liveries of the English sovereigns during the medieval period were as follows:

The Planlagenet kings: Henry II, Richard I, John, Henry III, Edward I, and Edward II—white and red. Edward III—blue and red. Richard II—white and green.

The Lancastrian kings: Henry IV, V and VI—white and blue.

The Yorkist kings: Edward IV and Richard III—blue and murrey.

The Tudor kings: Henry VII and VIII—white and green.

A select list of liveries and badges worn by retainers of knights during the 1300–1550 period is given below. Names are listed under title, not family name; i.e. Shrewsbury, Earl of, not Talbot. Many of the knights listed had more than one badge: for space reasons only their first badge has been given:

Abergavenny, Lord of (Geo. Neville): Vt & Arg. A double staple interlaced, Arg & or.

Arundel, Earl of (Thos. FitzAlan): Az & G. A branch of oak vert, fructed or.

Audley, Sir John: Or & gu. A moor’s head in profile proper, filleted round the temples, charged with a crescent for difference.

Berners, Lord (Bourchier): Or & vt. The Bourchier knot.

Brown, Sir Westyn: Gu. A lion’s gamb erect and erased argent, winged sable.

Buckingham, Duke of (Edward Stafford): Gu & s. Stafford knot.

Carew, Sir William, of Devon: Four stripes s & or. A falcon collared and jessed gules, bells on neck and legs or.

Cholmondeley, Sir Richard: Gu. A helmet per pale or and argent, charged with five torteaux.

Clifford, Sir Henry: Argent. A wyvern’s wings endorsed gules.

Constable, Sir Marmaduke, of Everingham, Yorks: Gules. Ancient three-masted ship headed with a dragon’s head and sailed furled or, charged with a crescent sable.

Conyers, Lord of, Co. Durham: Arg. A lion passant azure.

Cornewall, Sir Thos.: Arg. A lion passant gules, ducally crowned and semé of bezants.

Curzon, Lord (Robert): Or & gu. A wolf’s head erased gules.

Darcy, Thomas, Lord: Vt. An heraldic tiger argent.

Dorset, Marquess of (Thos. Grey): Arg. & pink. A unicorn ermine, armed, unguled, maned and tufted or.

Ferrers, Lord: Arg. & gu. A greyhound courant argent, ducally gorged or.

Ferrers, Sir Edward: Vt. A unicorn courant ermine, charged on the shoulder with a crescent sable.

FitzUryan, Sir Rees ap Thomas: Arg. A raven sable standing on a turf vert.

FitzUryan, Sir Griffith ap Rees: Gu & az. A quatrefoil slipped argent, leaved vert, charged with a raven sable.

Foljambe, Sir Godfrey, of Walton, Derby: Four stripes gu. & arg. A Chatloupe passant quarterly or and sable, armed or.

Grey, Lord, of Codnor: Az & arg. A badger and crown argent and or.

Gulford, Sir Henry: Arg & s. A ragged staff inflamed, charged with a mullet sable.

Gulford, Master: Four stripes wavy az & arg. A ragged staff inflamed at top and sides all proper.

Hastings, Lord: Purp & az. A bull’s head erased sable, ducally gorged and armed.

Howth, Lord (The Lord Howth of Irland): Four stripes arg & gu. A wolf statant of a dark tawny, with fins along back and belly and upon hind legs ‘of a water colour’.

Kent, Earl of (William Neville, Lord Fauconberg): Arg & az. A fish-hook.

Kent, Earl of (Geo. Grey): Gu. In 1475 a black ragged staff.

Kirkham, Sir John, of Blakedon, Devon: Gu. A lion’s head erased argent.

Lancaster, Duke of (Henry): Arg & az. A red rose crowned.

Leicester, Earl of (Robert Dudley): Or & az. A ragged staff argent.

Massyngberd, Sir Thos. of Gunby, Lines: Four stripes gu & or. Two arrows in saltire argent.

Norfolk, Duke of (John Mowbray): Az & tawny. A white lion.

Norfolk, Duke of (Thos. Howard): Arg & gu. A silver sallet.

Northumberland, Earl of (Henry Percy): Three stripes russet, or and tawny. A blue lion passant.

Northumberland, Duke of (John Dudley): Sable with argent and gules embroidery. A bear argent, muzzled gules, collar and chain or, supporting a ragged staff of the first.

Norton, Sir John: Gu. A greyhound’s head erased in front of two wings erect all or.

Paston, Sir William, of Paston, Norfolk: Gu. A circular chain or.

Pierpoint, Sir William: Four stripes purp. & arg. A lion passant sable grasping in dexter paw a cinquefoil or.









Raynsforth, Sir John: Four stripes or & gu. A greyhound courant russet, plain collared or.

Richmond & Somerset, Duke of (Henry Fitzroy, natural son of Henry VIII): Three stripes arg, az & or. A lion passant guardant, ducally gorged and chained.

Roos, Lord (Geo. Manners): Az & or. A bull’s head erased gules, armed, ducally gorged and chained or.

Scrope, The Lord: Arg. A Cornish chough.

Seymour, Sir John: Gu. A leopard’s head or.

Shrewsbury, Earl of (John Talbot): Gu & s. A talbot dog argent.

Somerset, Duke of (John Beaufort): Bendy gu, vt & arg. An ostrich feather erect argent, the quill componé argent and azure.

Somerset, Duke of (Edward Seymour): Or & gu. A phoenix.

Stourton, Lord of, in Wiltshire: Arg & s. A gold sledge.

Suffolk, Duke of (William de la Pole): Az & or. A bollard argent with chain or.

Tyler, Sir William: Four stripes arg & az. A crescent, and issuant therefrom a cross patée fitche gules.

Vaughan, Sir Hugh, of Lytylton: Four stripes or & vt. A fish-head erased and erect or, ‘ingullant’ of a spear’s head argent.

Vernon, Sir Henry: Arg & or. A fret sable.

Warwick, Earl of Salisbury and (Richard Nevill): Gu (1458).

White ragged staff.

Willoughby, Lord: Arg & gu. A moor’s head full faced, the tongue hanging out.

Wiltshire: Earl of (Henry): S & gu. A Stafford knot charged with a crescent gules for difference.

Zouche, John, son and heir of Lord Zouche: S & purp. On the branch of a tree or, sprouting vert, an eagle rising argent, gorged with a label of three points.

Zouche, John, of Codnor: Gu & vt. On the stump of a tree or, branching vert, a falcon, wings elevated argent, charged on the breast with a crescent gules. (Also the badger and crown argent and or of Lord Grey of Codnor.)

The Wars of the Roses virtually extinguished the Livery and Maintenance system—the greater part of the baronage was dead and the whole country was sick of war—and under the strong rule of Henry Tudor (1485–1509) such private armies were at last made illegal. Nevertheless the system of raising an army in time of need by calling on nobles to supply men was retained, and so therefore were many of the individual liveries of these lords. Under this contract system, nobles were obliged to supply men by the hundred, depending on their status: gentlemen or ordinary knights had to supply two men, and a squire one man.

As early as 1345 Parliament had enacted that troops raised for the French wars were to be dressed in a uniform manner, and eleven years later, at the battle of Poitiers, the army of the Black Prince did in fact wear a uniform of green and white—the livery colours adopted by the next king (Richard II) and subsequently used by Henry VII and Henry VIII. By the late 14th century the red cross of St George on a white background, first adopted for the crusades, was the recognized badge of the English soldier, worn either as a coat or as a distinctive part of a coat, and by the time of Agincourt Henry V had ordained that ‘every man, of what estate or condition, that be of our partie, beare a bande of Seinte George sufficient large’ upon his clothes (on the chest and back). Nobles, bannerets and knights also wore their jupons bearing the family arms, and there are many references to them putting these on at the king’s or other leaders’ command just before a battle was joined, and taking them off immediately after the battle. Some form of ‘uniform’ was obviously desirable in the battles now being fought.

By 1501 the 300-strong Yeomen of the Guard (archers of the King’s Bodyguard, formed in 1485 by Henry Tudor) were dressed in the Tudor livery colours of white and green in vertical stripes, embroidered on chest and back with a red rose within a vine wreath. This coat would have been the ordinary horseman’s coat of the period, probably sleeveless and close fitting but with a wide skirt. Under Henry VIII (1509–47) these Yeomen still wore white and green for the 1514 campaign in France, but are shown to have worn at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520 a red tunic with black bars at the edges and on the arms, with the rose surmounted by a crown in gold on chest and back. Hose and doublets were white. (The Field of the Cloth of Gold painting was finished circa1538 and in fact the Tudor rose remained uncrowned until 1527 or possibly later.) Red gradually replaced the white and green as dress uniform for ceremonial occasions, but the white and green tunics persisted for everyday use until about 1530.

Similarly the various companies of the English army of the 16th century and the shire and city levies (or trained bands) now wore some form of ‘uniform’, basically still their lord’s (or captain’s—often the same thing) livery colours and badge. Thus in 1554 the men of the Earl of Pembroke wore blue coats with a green dragon badge; the men-at-arms of the Marquess of Winchester had embroidered coats of red and white in about 1570; while those of the Earl of Suffolk in 1597 had. blue coats faced with sea-green taffeta, with feathers of the same colours and ‘many chains of gold’. Even in the early 17th century such livery uniforms persisted: in 1603 the men of the Earl of Norwich wore blue livery coats with white doublets, hats and feathers, and those of the Earl of Nottingham in 1605 had cloaks of orange-tawny, edged with silver and blue lace. This earl’s trumpeters wore orange damask clothing, with cloaks of the same colour.


(68) de Vere, Earls of Oxford. (69) Talbot, Earls of Shrewsbury. (70) Neville, Earls of Warwick. (71) FitzAlan, Earls of Arundel. (72) Courtenay, Earls of Devon. (73) Richard, Duke of York: a golden fetterlock. (74) Scales, Earl Rivers.(75) Earls of Douglas. (76) Lord Scrope of Bolton. (77) Lord Grey of Codnor. (78) Sir Ralph Hastings. (79) Sir John Astley.

In the trained bands some attempt was also made to wear a distinguishing dress in battle. In 1513 the men of Canterbury wore the chough, from the city’s coat of arms, on their chest and back. In 1522 the men of Shrewsbury were issued with coats bearing leopards’ heads. The soldiers raised by the City of London in 1539 had white coats bearing the arms of the city on front and back, and in 1542 the cavalry raised by Coventry had an elephant badge on their coats. The men of Norwich in 1543 wore a blue coat edged and decorated with red and, for the first time on record, their hose was also regulated: all red for the right leg, blue with a broad red stripe for the left leg.

In 1544 Henry VIII is portrayed landing in France wearing over his armour a tunic of white and gold with a red cross in the centre, and apparently the traditional red cross of St George on a white background was now usually worn together with the company’s badge, either with the badge set somewhere on a white tunic bearing the red cross, or the red cross on a white background set on part of the company’s coat. However, in 1556 the men of Reading were still wearing blue coats with red crosses, their hose being in various colours, so true ‘national’ uniform does not appear to have been adopted at this date. In fact, although all men of each county now wore one distinctive livery, the various counties were still dressed in different ‘uniforms’, and some of the counties even went so far as to vary that ‘uniform’ from year to year.

Red and blue were the predominant colours of these county liveries—red was also a usual colour for English military headgear in the 16th century—and these two colours remained the most popular in the latter half of the century.

All these examples illustrate early attempts to identify troops in battle by means of uniform dress. However, at this stage only the tunic or livery was normally affected; hats and hose of various hues were worn by men within the same companies, and there was not yet any such thing as a universal uniform or a national colour for coats.

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