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MUSTER ROLLS 

 

Compulsory military service was by no means an invention of the 20th century.  Records in the National Archives go back to the 13th century and beyond. The 1285 Statute of Winchester stated that all men aged between 15 and 60 had to equip themselves with weapons and armour according to their means for use in the defence of their parish; this ranged from scythes and knives for the poorest  to horses and armour for the richest.

 

The names of those liable for service were recorded, together with their weapons, on parchment rolls which were sent on to the Exchequer or the Privy Council;  sadly, not all early Muster Rolls have survived. At first,  Muster Rolls contained the names of civilians who could be called upon in time of war or insurrection but from about 1730 to 1898 when the system was abandoned, Muster Rolls contained the names of serving soldiers and other regimental details.

 

Their use to the family historian lies in the listing of male names and in the nature of the weapon each man had to provide which, in turn, can indicate the status of an ancestor. However, the lists did not include every man in the parish - for example men with injuries or chronic illnesses and single men (who were freer to move around) were often omitted and it is estimated that one third of all males, for one reason or another, were not included on the Rolls.

 

If the need arose, the men named were expected to defend all the area inside the boundary of their Hundred with sub-units looking after each parish. This was not a force which went anywhere else to fight as an army does - it was a purely local defence force commanded by members of the local gentry.

 

Extracted from The Gentleman's Magazine of 1830: "Notices of Tavistock"

(The date of the Muster Roll referred to below is not known but it would seem to be in the early years of the English Civil War)

 

"There remains in the parish chest of Tavistock, the muster roll of Sir Nicholas Slanning, who was remarkable for his zeal in the royal cause during the civil war, and who, having joined the forces of the West under Sir Bevil Grenville, was present at the battle of Lansdowne, near Bath, and perished in the same year, 1643, at the assault of Bristol. Slannings muster roll is thus entitled:

Stannary of Tavistock

A perfect Muster Roll, containing the several Hundreds, parishes and  hamlets, together with the officers and soldiers within the same.

Officers:

Sir Nicholas Slanning - Lieutenant Colonel:

Joseph Drake Esq. Captain-Lieutenant:

John Jacobs, gent. Ensign"

Names of 4 sergeants and 8 corporals follow.

Hundred of Roborough

Walkhampton - 12 names

Whitchurch - 13 names

Tamerton Foliot- 3 names

Sampford Spiney - 6 names

Wilsworthy Hamlet: - 3 names

Buckland Monachorum - 29 names

Peter Tavy - 7 names

West Tavistock - 8 names

Hundred of Tavistock

Tavistock Town - 24 names

Hundred of Lifton

Lifton and Virginstowe - 3 names

Sourton - 6 names

Mary Tavy - 9 names

Lidford - 3 names

Lew Trenchard - 1 name

Broadwood Widger - 2 names

Lamerton - 4 names

Bridestow - 10 names

Okehampoton - 2 names

Coryton - 3 names

Bratton Clovelly - 6 names

Hundred of Black Torrington

North Lew - 2 names

The list is signed as follows:

"Seen and confirmed by us under our hands and seals - Nicholas Slanning, Edward Yarde and Joseph Drake."

The total of this force is 156, of which about two-thirds are specified as armed with muskets, and the remainder with pikes.

At the back of the Roll are the following notes of interest to the military antiquary:

"Horse defensive arms are a back, breast and pot, pistol proof; offensive, a sword and a case of pistols, their barrel not under 14 inches in length: horse furniture - a great saddle or pad with burrs and straps to affix the holster."

"Foot men's arms: Musket (barrel not under three feet - the gauge of the bore for 12 bullets (new) but the old way 14 to the pound; a collar of bandoliers with a sword."

"Pykeman's Arms: A pyke (or pike) of ash not under 16 foot, head and foot included, with back, breast and head piece and sword; half a pound of powder, 3 yards of match and half a pound of bullets."

 

 

 
 
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