The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names




from Peter Saul


 This article was originally published in the December 2009 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society


I very recently found a web site “The Soldier in later Medieval England: An exciting new AHRC research project”, at This is well worth a look, as you may find some of your earliest ancestors listed in documents at the TNA. The advantages of this web site are that it is freely available, does not require irritating logins and passwords, and is outstandingly easy to use. It is a great credit to its authors Dr. Adrian Bell of the ICMA centre and Professor Anne Curry of the University of Southampton and their co-workers.


My first thought was to look up Sauls on the site, i.e. were any active as soldiers in the period covered, 1369 to 1453. My earliest reasonably proven ancestor was born in 1601, so there is still a large time gap, but it is worth a try.


A search for the surname Saul gave two responses:-



although this could well be the same individual, i.e. once on a muster roll and then again on a “sick” roll. The year 1415 was that of Agincourt, so there was a possibility of a Saul at Agincourt! I contacted Dr. Bell on details of the search approach, and in addition to answering my questions he mentioned that the records show that William returned home sick - probably after or during the siege of Harfleur. The King, Henry V, had sailed for France on 11th August 1415 with 2000 men-at-arms and 6000 archers and cannon, horses and provisions. About half of the archers were mounted, contrary to the usual image of archers as infantry. In size, this might be better characterized as a raid in strength rather than a full-scale invasion, although various sources state that 1500 ships were required. That seems unlikely at 6 men per ship. They landed 3 miles from Harfleur on the 14th, unopposed, and then besieged the town, both by land and sea. On land, the area was marshy, and dysentery due to contaminated drinking supplies was widespread. This produced a total of 2000 casualties, including men sent home by royal licence. It appears that William may have been one of these. Strangely, it appears that the officers may have been more affected than the archers, and a number of lords and earls died. The town surrendered on 22nd September, so was not sacked. The town was garrisoned with 1193 troops of all ranks, and then Henry set off on the march to Calais with less than 6000 in his army. He had issued a proclamation in London and other large towns that free houses and other advantages were available to anyone wishing to settle in Harfleur. On the march, of course, the battle of Agincourt took place, on 25th October, where the French forces, estimated variously at 40,000 to 50,000, although possibly fewer, were defeated. Large numbers of prisoners were taken, of all ranks, but Henry’s baggage train was captured. Perceiving a danger, he ordered all captives to be killed, save only the highest ranks. We would perceive this as a war crime today, but it happened in those days. The “cries of protest” made were due to the loss of possible ransoms! French casualties were 1500 knights and 4,000 to 5,000 men-at-arms. English losses were possibly a few tens, probably below 300. This suggests that almost all the action on the English side was by the archers.


Returning to William Saul, I have looked at the Patent Rolls at: with no success; there are no entries for the dates of the campaign. I did find a Nicholas Saule, who was granted 40/- as a retainer, but that didn’t seem much in the many years covered by the rolls. Nevertheless, this is an interesting source and again freely available.


Many other searches are possible on “The Soldier in later Medieval England” site, including first name, surname, status, military rank, captain’s name, commander, year, activity and reference. The only ranks shown are Man-at-arms and Archer, where Man-at-arms included Dukes. Status included Knight, Esquire, Duke, down to Yeoman/Valettus. Yeoman was roughly a small landowner during most of this period, although it seems to have been quite widely applied in the roll. Valettus, mostly in this Yeoman/Valettus combination I have found defined as “groom, yeoman, journeyman”, although in the context of Chaucer, only some 60 years earlier, it appears to have referred to something like the present definition of valet.


I then extended the search to the other names in the Sole Society. There were no Solleys at all. Sewells were well represented, with four or five distinct individuals, three being men-at-arms. One was listed in 1439, still in Acquitaine



All three variants of Soul, Soule and Soull were recorded once each, and all in the 1377-78 expedition, although two could well be the same person, possibly before and after promotion to Esquire.



There were four Soles, with one man-at-arms - see 3rd image on page 46. Of these entries, the most interesting to us is the first, 'Baskyn de la Sole' in the database. Dr Bell, who read over this article, identified him as also known as Bertrand de la Salle.  He was a Gascon mercenary and notorious one at that!  He probably fought in the free companies, campaigned in Italy and besieged the Pope in Avignon at different times.  He also is listed in the database under Sale. In 1387 he was shown as Esquire, and always as Man-At-Arms. This information strongly links the names Salle, Sale (almost certainly misspelled Salle) and Sole, and by only a small stretch from Salle (or Sole) to Saul, as in the known Norfolk Sauls.



The Salle surname occurred 6 times, with 2 Man-At-Arms and four Archers. Interestingly, none were “de la” Salles. This may not be very significant, although the De La Salles still existed in that form into the Victorian era, and still do in France; a search showed at least one Bertrand De La Salle still extant.


There were 43 entries for Sale, including Baskyn above. Of these, many appeared to be repeated, e.g. 14 entries for Geoffrey Sale, although with changes to captain and commander; he finally, in 1381 made it to esquire. Other first names were Henry, John, William, Thomas, Gilbert, Richard, Simon and Robert. Of these, there were interesting entries such as John de Sale, and John of Sale, possibly one individual, but shown with a different captain. This suggests two roots for the Sale name – literally from Sale, in Cheshire, and from the surname Salle.


Other interesting searches yielded surprising information. At least half of the surnames took their modern form; I suspect that I have met people with most of those names. Others were more archaic forms, but often still recognisable, while some were variants that must have died out.


One issue still not resolved is where William Saul came from. It could be argued that, as his Captain was Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, he may have been William (of) Saul. The lists include “de” as an option, very rarely noted. Alternatively, was he an Oxford/Banbury Saul, a Norfolk Saul, or an Arnside Saul?


Research continues!   n


1 E.F. Jacob, “The Fifteenth Century” 1399-1485, The Oxford History of England, p. 148.

2 Based on a search for “Harfleur” in the web site quoted. This was the number shown as Garrison, and may well have included many of the sick.

3 I took this figure from ref. 1. Other reports of the time suggested that the English were outnumbered 30:1. This suggests 180,000, impossible odds for armies roughly equally equipped and trained, and with no special advantages other than the longbow.


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