It is usually suggested that military uniform - mass issue of uniformly coloured clothing to soldiers - began in Europe in the 17th century. We have enough earlier evidence of regular and occasional issues on a large scale to challenge that idea. Where we do find reference to soldiers' clothing it is often in the colours of their employer, lord, captain or country. Entire armies wore national liveries and badges, and some town contingents wore uniform clothing from head to foot. There are countless records; here are a few examples:

In 1295 English recruits from Norfolk wore white coats costing 3 shillings each. In 1300 the men ol'Tournai wore red with a silver castle on breast and back. In 1385 an order was issued that all Scottish soldiers and their French allies were to wear a white St Andrew's cross on breast and back, on a black patch if the surcoat was white. In 1416 crossbowmen from Amiens sent to Abbeville to fight the English wore green and white.

Frequently the arms and armour that each man was expected to possess were exactly laid down, and even if these demands were seldom met it can be argued that at times medieval soldiers must have looked as roughly 'uniform' as their 17th century descendants during the Thirty Years War.

The term 'livery' covered everything given to those who served a lord in exchange for their keep, but livery 'clothing' (a specific 15th century term) was an essential part of such payment. From the swarming entourage of the Lord Chancellor of England to the humblest knight's humblest servant, they were given clothes and badges of a quality and colour that showed their position in the hierarchy, whom they served and whose protection they enjoyed. At the highest level the quality of the cloth and furs used were jealously guarded signs of privilege; at the lowest, the minimum necessary to clothe a man without shaming his master.

Usually the colours and badges were associated with a lord's family or coat of arms, but they could be an individual choice to mark some special occasion such as a marriage or bereavement, or simply because they were the only colours available at the time. In a royal household a positive shower of colourful clothes descended from on high, advertising the king's prosperity and generosity, and 15th century wardrobe accounts list in great detail the cloths and colours. For instance, in 1434/35 King Henry VI of England issued liveries which were predominantly green in summer, hut his highest officials wore murray, sanguine and violet. His sergeant-at-arms wore murray and 'good striped Salisbury cloth'. Many of the humbler servants wore a mixture of 'musterdevilers' (a mixed grey-blue) and striped cloth.

Naturally, those closest to a prince received the richest liveries, but for exceptionally important occasions special clothing would be given to much of the court. For example, for the reception of the Emperor Charles IV in 1378, Philip Duke of Burgundy (1364-1404) gave his household black and grey clothing; in 1384, green to welcome the king of France, and red and blue to impress the English negotiators at the talks at Boulogne; in 1385, red for a marriage at Cambrai; in 1389, red and white for the reception of the king once more at Dijon; in 1395. black; green and white for a noble marriage in 1402, and so on.

Liveries were also given to men and woman injured or grown sick in royal service. In 1349 one John de Pasterhaye was awarded 2 pence per day for life and a robe annually 'because he was maimed in the king's service', as was John Helmeswell in 1346.

Great dukes like Philip the Good and Charles the Bold of Burgundy dressed their officers and bodyguards in jewelled helmets, cloth of gold, silver and gold badges and sumptuous gowns. For a meeting with the Emperor in 1473 Charles gave new robes and rich clothing to 1.003 members of his household. His captain of archers received blue velvet for his 'jaequecte' and white damask for his

Gerry Embleton

(Above) A tough veteran captain in Charles the Bold's Burgundian service, wearing a heavily embroidered version of the ducal livery as laid down in the Abbeville Ordinance, 31 July 1471. (Photo Gerry Embleton)

pourpoint, and 110 of 'my lord's guard of men-at-arms' received paletots (livery jackets) and mantles of cloth of gold, cloth of silver and silk and blue velvet, and pourpoints of crimson satin. The Duke of Berry, a vastly wealthy patron of the arts, even had gay clothing issued to villagers so that they might make a pleasing spectacle as he passed by...

Important political and military leaders like the Duke of Warwick made clear statements about their great power when they moved around the country with armed retainers at their backs. In January 1458 he attended the great council of Westminster attended by 600 men in red coats embroidered with his ragged staff badge on breast and back: in an age without mass media, what better way to announce 'Warwick is here"?

Private armies like these could be an unruly nuisance and a threat to law, order and peace. Kings and great dukes who achieved strong central governments eventually passed laws banning the wearing of livery badges and colours other than their own, and at the end of the 15th century Henry VII all but stamped out private armies in England.

Badges, worn extensively by the 15th century military, were also given in their thousands to civilian supporters (or to attract them) on important occasions. For Richard II's coronation 26.000 fustian boar badges were handed out - half embroidered, half painted.

As for (mounted) spearmen, they are only good to ride before the footmen and eat and drink up their victuals, and many more such fine things they do. You must hold me excused for the exceptions, but I say the best; for in foot soldiers is all the trust.

Gregory's Chronicle, Battle of St Albans, 1461

(Right) Simple bi-coloured livery was frequently adopted by town contingents - in this case the black and white of Fribourg, ally to Berne in the Burgundian wars, cl476. Livery colours were also used on equipment; in 1475 a 6(X)-strong contingent from the imperial city of L├╝beck wore coats halved red and white, and their 27 wagons were painted in the same colours. (Photo John Howe)

(Below) One of the English Duke of Warwick's archers who fought at Towton, 29 March 1461. wearing the duke's livery over a light jack and his own clothes. (Photo Gerry Embleton) (Opposite top) A soldier serving the Graf von Thierstein. owner of the castle of Haute Koenigsbourg in present-day Alsace, wears the Thierstein arms on a shield on his breast and a bi-coloured livery jacket. This is not an important castle; the post is a comfortable one and suits this soldier's relaxed ways. He is something of a traveller - note the pilgrim badges in his hat - and turns to soldiering when there is nothing better to do. (Photo Gerry Embleton)

17th Century Livery UniformsPaletot Medieval
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