Eating Medieval: Armies on the March

What did the troops eat on the campaign trail?  It is believed the Scots of Niall's time--the time of Robert the Bruce--traveled light, each carrying his own bag of oats or grain to make himself oatcakes or bannocks.  Food was no doubt also bought--or, of course, sometimes simply taken--from the farms, villages, and towns through which an army passed.

Most sources speak more to English armies, which did not travel as lightly as many of the Scots did,  However, those sources give us some insight into how the men in the armies of the time lived. From Signora Leonora de Liliaceae at Serve it Forth, a great resource on medieval cooking, we get this recipe:

Beer Bread 
6 to 8 cups hard white flour
2 cups brown ale sediment as leavening agent (barm)
3 cups barley and malt mash from a beer batch
3 cups rolled oats 

Combine mash and oats with 5 cups of flour. Add the sediment and combine well, stirring in one direction to develop gluten. Turn out dough onto a heavily floured board and knead, drawing in approximately another 3 cups of flour. It will have the consistency of a heavy biscuit dough. 
Shape into a smooth ball and place in a lightly oiled large stainless bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm, humid place until about double in bulk, about two hours. 
Punch down and divide into four loaves. Place loaves in lightly oiled bread pans, cover and let rise in a warm, humid place for about one hour. 
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and bake loaves for approximately one hour. 
I have also successfully baked this bread in a cast iron baker over an open fire, and in a wood-fired granite oven.
When I figure out where to acquire brown ale sediment, I plan on making this over my own firepit in my back yard and posting the results here.

From Serve it Forth and The Scriptorium, we also get lists of what the English armies carried with them.

To feed a medieval army was a colossal undertaking, an army needed food in industrial quantities. Just how much they needed can be calculated from an example in the 15th century writings of Christine de Pisan who listed the following provisions for a garrison of 600 men for 6 months: 
60 tons of wheat, one third baked into biscuit the remainder ground into flour, 40 tons of beans, 2 tons of peas, 120 pipes of wine, 2 pipes vinegar, 1 pipe of oil, 1 ton of salt, 1 pipe of salted butter, 10-12lbs of rice, 50lbs spices, ginger, pepper, etc., 15lbs almonds, 2lbs of saffron, 2 quarters of mustard seed, 100 oxen live or salted, 100-120 fletches of bacon, 160 sheep, as much poultry "as men will", 1000 eels (presumably smoked or dried) and 25 barrels of herrings. 
It is recorded that in 1431 78 men-at-arms and 284 foot soldiers took with them a reserve of cereal for six weeks, 90 beeves (beef cattle), 90 quintels (hundredweight which at this time was 100lbs) of dried meat, 9 quintels of lard, 1200 cheeses, 80 dried cod, 2 large and 73 small barrels of Austrian wine, 138 small barrels of beer, plus vinegar, vegetable oil, pepper etc.
Regional produce affected the diet but every kind of salted, dried and smoked meat and fish, usually listed and including cod, skate, eels, pickled herrings and pilchards, were common. 
Fish, along with eggs and cheese replaced meat on fasting days which were observed by all levels of the army. The diet was often enlivened with raisins, dried apples and pears, onions, garlic, oil and practically anything else that grew, flew, ran or hopped.


In Robert Hardy's impeccably researched book, Longbow, he quotes an order given by Edward III, king of England: "The county of Lincoln, in Crecy year, sent to William de Kelleseye, the king's receiver of victuals at Boston and Hull, 552 1/2 quarters of flour at 3 shillings or 4 shillings a quarter, packed in 87 tuns, 300 quarters of oats, 135 carcasses of salt pork, 213 carcasses of sheep, 32 sides of beef, 12 weys of cheese (312 stones) and 100 quarters of peas and beans."

Signora Leonora goes on to say that the oats would likely have been cooked into some sort of frumenty porridge.  

Closer to home (home being Scotland in the early 1300s), Professor Richard Abels provides this look at what Edward I fed his own army--which would have been on average much larger than the Bruce's armies.

Case 2: Edward I (Scottish wars, 1296-8)
Based on records of supplies for Edward I’s garrisons of Scottish castles: 20 men required one quarter of wheat a week (quarter=8 bushels=450 lbs in weight), two of malt, and quantities of meat and fish. Horses required a peck of oats every night [peck=2 gallons=quarter bushel=14lbs). 
Caloric value of garrison’s diet= approx 5000 calories. 
Army of 30,000 men would require approx 4500-5000 quarters of grain a week (around 800 tons). 5000 horses about 2,000 quarters of grain a week (around 500 tons). 
Edward I demanded 100,000 quarters of wheat be gathered for his troops in Gascony in 1296. Exchequer showed that 63,200 quarters were actually collected.
 Kings needed to have sufficient supplies at least for royal household. Edward I’s household during Scottish wars required 10 quarters of wheat a day and equal quality of malt to make ale. From April to Sept (six months) household troops consumed also 1500 oxen, 3000 sheet, 1200 pigs, and 400 bacons. Royal horses required 3000 quarters of oats.

Makes feeding my nine kids look easy!

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