Hello, I have a question regarding the Tudor military, specifically the officers, that I was wondering if anyone could help me with?
I am completing an assignment on the progression of the military ordinances of the English army, mainly focusing on the Hundred Years War period. However, for purposes of charting their progression over a longer period and having something to compare, I am extending the analysis to briefly consider the early Tudors; more specifically up to Henry VIII's campaign to France in 1513. I am much more familiar with the military of the medieval period and have been learning about the Tudor developments on the job as it were, and the one thing that is frustrating me is the use of the term "petty-captain".
Almost every book or article I have read mentions them somewhere, usually referencing a muster roll or some other archival source, yet nowhere have I seen anyone actually explicitly state what one was. Why were some officers "petty" captains, as opposed to normal captains? Was it due to the size of their company, their experience, their status/nobility? Did a company have a captain and then also an under-officer, similar to a vintenar or some equivalent, who was called the petty-captain?
No books I have looked at so far have clarified the matter, nor has many hours scouring J-stor, ProjectMUSE or google. Any advice anyone could provide to clarify this matter in any way whatsoever would be greatly appreciated, whether its an answer or just a suggestion for another book/article to try. This is for university work, so please don't hesitate to refer me to academic journals, monologues or theses etc.
Thank you in advance for your time and any suggestions you may be able to offer.
All the best, Drew.
I don't know about the difference between petty and normal officers. The most I can do is refer you to someone who might - Dr. Neil Younger.
You might want to start with his doctoral thesis.
N.Younger, ‘War and the counties: the Elizabethan lord lieutenancy, 1585-1603’, unpublished PhD thesis (University of Birmingham, 2006),
Best of luck
Sir Charles Oman discusses the petty captain briefly in his The Art of War in the Sixteenth Century, and I found some miscellaneous references online. Professional soldiers were organized in companies (regiments with "colonels" came later) led by a "great captain" (usually abbreviated to "captain) and the "petty captain." The petty captain was, in Oman's words, simply the captain's "senior subaltern" - a subaltern being a junior officer, so the petty captain would be the "senior junior officer." Charles Cruickshank, in his Army Royal: Henry VIII's Invasion of France refers to the rank as "second-in-command of a company."
Later, in Elizabeth's reign, the petty captain became the "lieutenant-captain," abbreviated to "lieutenant" - an officer we are more familiar with. Cruickshank cautions that back in Henry's reign, "lieutenant" meant specifically the king's deputy; under Elizabeth, we also see the post of "lord lieutenant," a governmental position quite distinct from the military lieutenants. "Vintenars" are equated with corporals in the sources I looked at, so the petty captain would outrank them.
It could be that the petty captain's duties were the same as the later lieutenant's - but the exact nature of those duties I could not track down. Cruickshank mentions a petty captain at Tournai assigned to guard the treasury money (The English Occupation of Tournai, 1513-1519). An odd footnote in a translation of Xenophon I looked at stated that lieutenants in Oliver Cromwell's army were positioned at the rear of the soldiery, so possibly Tudor petty captains followed the same practice (or perhaps it was an innovation of Cromwell).
I mentioned regiment and colonel above, because in these later military formations the colonel raised and paid the regiment, but the lieutenant-colonel - again, the "senior junior officer" - actually issued the commands. I don't think this was the case with Tudor companies led by a captain and petty captain - I think the petty captain was simply the captain's deputy, but it would need more investigation to be sure.
Regarding the petty captain's typical origins, it may be instructive to read how Cruickshank describes the "great" captains: "the 'captain' might be anything from a great magnate with hundreds of retainers to a man selected by a borough to lead their contribution of 100 citizens or fewer, or a gentleman with a mere handful of followers." This could point to the petty captain being affiliated in some way with the captain, perhaps in a patron-client relationship, but a novice captain might have looked for someone with actual experience.
Thanks so much for the replies, they have been helpful. I'm a bit wary of Cruickshank because I fundamentally disagree with some of the things he writes. Due to his previous work on the world wars, he tends to compare all his tudor work to modern armies and invariably then decides that the tudor military was hopeless and describes successful battles as 'the luck of the rank amateur' etc.
This is why I am wary of the a petty-captain became a lieutenant argument. We shouldn't be working backwards and trying to make a petty-captain fit the roles we are now familiar with, we should try to see how his role originated and then developed into what we recognise now. Nonetheless, Cruickshank's work on the campaign of 1513 was useful for details, I will see if I can track down a copy of his occupation of Tournai book.
I am fairly sure from examining the ordinances that petty-captains, at the turn of the century, lead small groups of men independently, on behalf of their captains. eg, if a captain retained 150 men, he may lead 100 of them, and appoint a petty-captain to lead the remaining 50 on his behalf. Then as the century progressed and recruitment shifted towards a militia system, and all companies were recruited in hundreds, the petty-captain was absorbed into the unit and functioned as a petty officer, as he no longer had to lead extra men that made a captains retinue too unwieldy.
Thank you again, does anyone have any further thoughts? best, Drew.
Interesting and valuable comment on Cruickshank! This is why I like this blog so much - you learn not to take the "experts" at face value and get to read well-researched opinions that challenge the accepted wisdom.
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