Taylor, Sarah (2019) War, death and burial? A historical investigation into the disposal of the dead at English battles fought in Britain, 1401-1685. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This thesis examines the documentary evidence for what happened to the bodies of those killed in battle. It focuses on battles fought by the English in Britain between 1401 and 1685AD and is the first large-scale historical investigation of this topic to be conducted. The main aim is to establish where and how the bodies were disposed of, whilst also considering what factors affected how the dead were treated and whether the Reformation led to any changes in practice. The study is conducted primarily through the examination of contemporary and near-contemporary battle accounts. It also draws on archaeology to explore whether a better historical understanding of battle disposal practices has any implications for the interpretation of battle burials (and vice versa).

Most battle accounts show little interest in the fate of the dead. Where they mention the topic, they indicate that the dead were buried on the battlefield or in churches and churchyards. Men of the elite were more likely to be taken for a church burial than lower status individuals. Some of the former were buried in churches near to the battlefield whereas others were taken substantial distances for burial on their homelands. The evidence indicates that, as expected, the Reformation did affect how contemporaries interacted with the dead in the years after a battle, as there were no longer attempts to intercede for the dead or to ensure that they were buried in consecrated ground. Surprisingly, however, there was no evidence that the Reformation led to any change in what happened to the dead immediately after a battle, as there is little evidence that people in the late medieval, pre-Reformation period tried to give the dead an immediate Christian burial.

These results have helped to develop a research agenda for both history and archaeology. Thus, future historical research could consider a wider geographical and temporal scope, in order to look for further evidence of the changes in practice that resulted from the Reformation and when these occurred. It will also be important to study conflicts where major cultural differences existed between armies, such as the various Anglo-Irish wars, to see how this affected disposal practices. Further archaeological research could involve the radiocarbon dating of church burials with weapon trauma, as a way of developing understanding for how far the battle dead were taken for burial.

FINAL THESIS - TURNER, SARAH.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (9MB) | Preview


Downloads per month over past year

Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email