At last a use for the internet

Shakespeare’s Henry V was a “history play”. At the time the play was written, the events it showed were already over a hundred and fifty years in the past.

Now, anyone with access to the web can go one better than Shakespeare, whose detailed knowledge of the period must have been a bit limited (Well, OK, you can only better Shakespeare in certain specified ways. Nobody’s managed to get the monkeys to tap out the Complete Works yet. )

You can find out the names and jobs of the individual men in Henry V’s armies just by searching on The Soldier in Later Medieval England databases. Plus, you can learn any number of other details about medieval soldiers – such as the archers in the Earl of Arundel’s service.

There are now 250,000 medieval service records online, in a pilot project covering the period from 1369 to 1453.

You can have hours of history nerd fun with this, such as trying to guess which were the most common late medieval peasant surnames.

(Smiths are pretty rare, for instance, although maybe my search-criteron spelling was too specific. There are a mere half a dozen Taylors. Even FitzWilliams seem to greatly outnumber Smiths. There are many more chaps with the Archer surname, suggesting a possible failure of imagination by the clerks who kept these records.)

People with a less frivolous interest in local or family history can search on surnames or dates or leaders and extend their knowledge, rather than their enjoyment of trivia.

There are bits of the database that I can’t work out what to do with, especially the column labelled membrane which has entries like “m4d”

According to the BBC

The website is the product of a research project by Professor Anne Curry of the University of Southampton and Dr Adrian Bell of the University of Reading.

Bravo, respect to them and everyone who worked on it.