The Dark Ages: The time of King Arthur. Guest Post by Mary Anne Yarde

August 28, 2018 by Mercedes Rochelle | 5 Comments | Filed in General Topics

Source: Wikipedia

In 1846 William John Thoms, a British writer, penned a letter to The Athenaeum, a British Magazine. In this letter, he talked about “popular antiquities.” But instead of calling it by its common name, he used a new term — folklore.

What did Thoms mean by this new word? Well, let’s break it down. The word folk referred to the rural poor who were for the most part illiterate. Lore means instruction. So folklore means to instruct the poor. But we understand it as verbal storytelling. Forget the wheel  — I think storytelling is what sets us apart. We need stories, we always have and we always will.

The Dark Ages is, I think, one of the most fascinating eras in history. However, it does not come without challenges. This was an era where very little was recorded in Britain. There are only a handful of primary written sources. Unfortunately, these sources are not very reliable. They talk of great kings and terrible battles, but something is missing from them. Something important. And that something is authenticity. The Dark Ages is the time of the bards. It is the time of myths and legends. It is a period like no other. If the Dark Ages had a welcoming sign it would say this:

“Welcome to the land of folklore. Welcome to the land of King Arthur.”

Throughout the years there have been many arguments put forward as to who King Arthur was, what he did, and how he died. England, Scotland, Wales, Brittany and France claim Arthur as their own. Even The Roman Empire had a famous military commander who went by the name of Lucius Artorius Castus. There are so many possibilities. There are so many Arthurs. Over time, these different Arthurs became one. The Roman Artorious gave us the knights. The other countries who have claimed Arthur as their own, gave us the legend.

Source: Wikipedia

We are told that Arthur and his knights cared, for the most part, about the people they represented. Arthur was a good king, the like of which has never been seen before or after. He was the perfect tool for spreading a type of patriotic propaganda and was used to great effect in the centuries that were to follow. Arthur was someone you would want to fight by your side. However, he also gave ordinary people a sense of belonging and hope. He is, after all, as T.H. White so elegantly put it, The Once and Future King. If we believe in the legend, then we are assured that if Britain’s sovereignty is ever threatened, Arthur and his knights will ride again. A wonderful and heartfelt promise. A beautiful prophecy. However, there is another side to these heroic stories. A darker side. Some stories paint Arthur in an altogether different light. Arthur is no hero. He is no friend of the Church. He is no friend to anyone apart from himself. He is arrogant and cruel. Likewise, history tells us that the Roman military commander, Lucius Artorius Castus, chose Rome over his Sarmatian Knights. He betrayed them and watched as Rome slaughtered them all. It is not quite the picture one has in mind when we think of Arthur, is it? It is an interesting paradox and one I find incredibly fascinating.

But putting that aside, Arthur, to many people is a hero. Someone to inspire to. This was certainly true for Edward III. Edward was determined that his reign was going to be as spectacular as Arthur’s was. He believed in the stories of Arthur and his Knights. He had even started to have his very own Round Table built at Windsor Castle. He also founded The Order of the Garter— which is still the highest order of chivalry that the Queen can bestow. Arthur, whether fictional or not, influenced kings.

So how do we separate fact from fiction?

In our search for Arthur, we are digging up folklore, and that is not the same as excavating relics. We have the same problem now as Geoffrey of Monmouth did back in the 12th Century when he compiled The History of the Kings of Briton. His book is now considered a ‘national myth,’ but for centuries his book was considered to be factually correct. So where did Monmouth get these facts? He borrowed from the works of Gildas, Nennuis, Bede, and The Annals of Wales. There was also that mysterious ancient manuscript that he borrowed from Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford. Monmouth then borrowed from the bardic oral tradition. In other words, he listened to the stories of the bards. Add to the mix his own imagination and Monmouth was onto a winner. Those who were critical of his work were brushed aside and ignored. Monmouth made Britain glorious, and he gave us not Arthur the general, but Arthur the King. And what a king he was.

So is Arthur a great lie that for over a thousand years we have all believed in? Should we be taking the Arthurian history books from the historical section and moving them to sit next to George R. R. Martin’s, Game of Thrones? No. I don’t think so. In this instance, folklore has shaped our nation. We should not dismiss folklore out of hand just because it is not an exact science. We should embrace it because when you do, it becomes easier to see the influence these ‘stories’ have had on historical events.

The Du Lac Prophecy

(Book 4 of The Du Lac Chronicles)
By Mary Anne Yarde

Two Prophesies. Two noble Households. One throne.

 Distrust and greed threaten to destroy the House of du Lac. Mordred Pendragon strengthens his hold on Brittany and the surrounding kingdoms while Alan, Mordred’s cousin, embarks on a desperate quest to find Arthur’s lost knights. Without the knights and the relics they hold in trust, they cannot defeat Arthur’s only son – but finding the knights is only half of the battle. Convincing them to fight on the side of the Du Lac’s, their sworn enemy, will not be easy.

 If Alden, King of Cerniw, cannot bring unity there will be no need for Arthur’s knights. With Budic threatening to invade Alden’s Kingdom, Merton putting love before duty, and Garren disappearing to goodness knows where, what hope does Alden have? If Alden cannot get his House in order, Mordred will destroy them all.

BUY LINKS: 

Amazon US
https://www.amazon.com/Du-Lac-Prophecy-Book-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B07GDS3HPJ

Amazon UK
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07GDS3HPJ/

Amazon CA
https://www.amazon.ca/Du-Lac-Prophecy-Book-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B07GDS3HPJ/

 

Author Bio:
Mary Anne Yarde is the multi award-winning author of the International Bestselling series — The Du Lac Chronicles.

Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury — the fabled Isle of Avalon — was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were a part of her childhood.

Media Links:

Website/Blog: https://maryanneyarde.blogspot.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/maryanneyarde/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/maryanneyarde

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Mary-Anne-Yarde/e/B01C1WFATA/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15018472.Mary_Anne_Yarde

Book Review: Nobility of Later Medieval England by K.B. McFarlane

August 12, 2018 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in Book Reviews

I found another jewel! Author K.B. McFarlane was universally extolled by his fellow historians for his exhaustive scholarship on late Medieval England, but he met an untimely death by stroke in 1966, leaving most of his work unpublished. Fortunately, he gave many lectures and wrote many papers that were gathered by his associates and published complete with footnotes they researched to support the text. We are assured that these essays were not written for publication (he didn’t publish most of his work) and therefore not polished, but I found them quite readable. The amount if information was incredible to me; he discussed—in detail—many topics I only “sort of” understood. The eight sections are as follows:

  1. The English Nobility 1290-1536 (sub-sections include Nobility and War, the Land, the Family, Expenditure, Service and Maintenance, Continuity)
  2. Extinction and Recruitment
  3. The Wars of the Roses and the Financial Position of the Higher Nobility
  4. The Beauchamps and the Staffords
  5. Landlord versus Minister and Tenant
  6. The Education of the Nobility
  7. Had Edward I a ‘Policy’ towards the Earls?
  8. The English Nobility in the Later Middle Ages

This may sound a little dry, but this is the kind of book where you will learn “why” things happened as well as “what”. For instance, he goes into great detail about inheritance and primogeniture. It is a big theme in this book that most great families failed to produce direct heirs to continue the line: “I do not mean they were sterile; in each generation there were as a rule large numbers of children; but few reached manhood, fewer still had male children of their own.” In this quote he is actually referring to the cadet branches; the the same thing applies to the direct heirs. “In 1300 there were 136 families whose head had by then received at least one personal writ of summons to Parliament from Edward I and whose issue can be traced… Of the original 136 only 16 were still represented by a male in 1500.” The rest “had been interrupted by the intervention of an heiress or of several coheiresses”.

When the heirs are female, there is a strong possibility that the estates will be broken up by marriage, and her portion will go to the husband (prime example Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick—Kingmaker—who married into the Beauchamp inheritance). This is one way that great families increased their wealth—at the expense of other families. Also, if the head of the family arranged for the estate to be broken up between younger sons or daughters they went to great lengths to protect the inheritance; this is where we get to entails. “The intention (of the Statute of Westminster the Second 1285) was to ensure that should a man grant lands to his younger sons, or to his daughters in free marriage, these should not be alienated by them until after the third generation; if the line failed before a third heir (i.e. the fourth generation) had entered, then the estate was to revert to the head of the family.” This is just the beginning; it gets more complicated from there! We learn about the many types of inheritances, wills, escheats, extinctions, feoffees, entails, etc. In the end, it all boils down to this: “With minor exceptions the law governing the inheritance of a fief was simple and unambiguous: primogeniture among males, equal shares between females, a son always preferred to a daughter, a daughter to a brother or other collateral (kin).” Of course, as he goes on to say, “It was thus essential that its proprietor, if not childless, should have at least one son or, failing sons, not more than one daughter. Those were difficult conditions to fulfil.”  There is a lot to digest here, and I’m sure it will take another reading or two before I’ve absorbed most of it. It’s a great addition to my library.

Tostig Godwineson: Was he really a traitor?

August 6, 2018 by Mercedes Rochelle | 1 Comment | Filed in General Topics

Battle of Stamford Bridge by Peter Nicolai Arbo (Source: Wikiart)

Tostig reminds me, in a way, of Judas Iscariot, the perennial traitor. No matter what his motivations, our villain’s reputation is blackened forever by future generations. But like Judas, Tostig had his reasons for what he did, and once in a while a closer look might serve to mitigate the circumstances. This is why I chose to write THE SONS OF GODWINE and FATAL RIVALRY in first person. I don’t think there is any better way to interpret what is going on inside his head.

I think that from the first, Tostig grew up in the shadow of his older brother. They were only a couple of years apart, but it’s widely accepted that Harold was his mother’s favorite. And Swegn was his father’s favorite. Still, if you can believe Editha’s Monk of St. Bertin who wrote the Life of King Edward (Vita Edwardi Regis), Tostig was every bit the heroic figure that Harold was: “Both had the advantage of distinctly handsome and graceful persons, similar in strength as we gather; and both were equally brave…And Earl Tostig himself was endowed with very great and prudent restraint—although he was occasionally a little over-zealous in attacking evil—and with bold and inflexible constancy of mind…And to sum up their characters for our readers, no age and no province has reared two mortals of such worth at the same time.” As this book was completed after 1066—and before the death of Queen Editha—it’s hard to reconcile this description of Tostig with the traitor everyone loves to hate. Throughout his life, Tostig was apparently Edith’s favorite—and the king’s, as well. When Tostig was forced to go into exile, King Edward parted with him most reluctantly and loaded him with gifts.

Tostig really didn’t come into his own, so to speak, until 1055 when he was made Earl of Northumbria. By then, Harold had been an earl since c.1045. As we know, the Northumbrians were a tempestuous bunch and apparently old Siward, Dane though he was, ruled with an iron fist. Tostig was both an outsider and a southerner, and it’s amazing that he even lasted ten years. He was criticized for his own harsh rule, but the real trouble didn’t start until taxes were raised precipitously in 1065.

So what went wrong between the two brothers? By all accounts, relations between Harold and Tostig were civil until the Northumbrian rebellion of 1065. But I think there were other factors at play that might have caused stress between them. What about the Welsh campaign of 1063? Historians tell us that it was a joint invasion between Harold (who came by sea) and Tostig (who came overland). They met somewhere around the island of Anglesey and pushed south, driving everyone before them until they captured and decapitated Gruffydd ap Llewelyn. Many historians laud Harold’s genius and point to this successful venture, but who gives Tostig any credit? I can’t see how there was much plunder to be had, and indeed, it is suggested that the infamous tax hike was needed to pay for this campaign.

There’s another possible reason to explain the new taxes. Historian Peter Rex (Harold II, The Doomed Saxon King) suggests that reform in the royal household in the 1060s extended to “a move, possibly inspired by Earl Harold, to require that the north pay more towards the upkeep if its own government.” Since the Witan was dominated by Harold, it “would explain why Tostig blamed Harold for the revolt and accused him of conspiring against him.”

The Northumbrian rebellion precipitated a crisis in more ways than one. While Tostig was in the south hunting with the king, his disgruntled thegns banded together and totally wiped out more than 200 of the earl’s housecarls, raided his treasury, murdered his supporters, and declared Morcar, son of Aelfgar, to be their new earl. They then proceeded to march south, devastating Tostig’s lands on their way to confront King Edward with their demands. Harold was brought in to mediate, but the rebels declared they would never take Tostig back, putting Harold in an impossible position. Negotiations went back and forth as the rebels became more and more unmanageable. King Edward wanted to raise the fyrd and chastise the offenders, but Harold urged restraint, considering the time of year (October) and the difficulty of forcing Tostig’s rule on unwilling subjects.

And what of Tostig through all this? He must have chafed while his brother negotiated for him, and when it was clear that Harold was not going to support him, he flew into a rage and accused his brother of fomenting the rebellion. As the Vita Edwardi Regis said, “But Harold, rather too generous with oaths (alas!), cleared this charge too with oaths.” I doubt that Tostig believed him, especially as things went from bad to worse and the king was eventually obliged to accept the rebels’ terms. Not only did Tostig lose his earldom, the rebels insisted that he be outlawed from the county. Was that the best his brother could do for him?

King Edward took the loss of royal authority very badly, and he soon fell into a decline that precipitated his death two months later. By then, Tostig was long gone, nursing his wounded pride and probably contemplating the means by which he would return. I imagine he had every reason to assume that King Edward would find a way to bring him back. The king’s death must have been a terrible blow; Tostig may not even have realized he was ill. Once Harold took the crown, did Tostig assume his brother would finally help him? That was less certain, and once his brother married the sister of Earl Morcar, his hopes must have been dashed altogether.

Battle of Fulford (Source: dariusz-bufnal-imaging-battles.blogspot.com)

So in reality, Tostig only had one option open to him: the same option taken by his father and his own brother in 1052—the option used successfully at least twice by Aelfgar, Morcar’s father. He would have to recover his earldom by force of arms. This was almost to be expected, and I don’t know why Harold was surprised when it happened. Was the new king so obsessed with Duke William that he forgot to consider Tostig’s claim? Or did he simply underestimate his little brother? Assuredly, Tostig’s aborted invasion in May of 1066 was easily repulsed; perhaps Harold thought he had dealt with this nuisance once and for all. Alas for him and all of England, he was sorely mistaken. Harald Hardrada and Tostig’s invasion of the north drew the king and his indispensable housecarls away from the coast they had guarded so rigorously. If only Harold could have found a way to compensate Tostig for his lost earldom, perhaps things would have been much different when William the Bastard landed unopposed at Pevensey.

The King’s Wardrobe, Great Wardrobe, Privy Wardrobe, Chamber Wardrobe

July 27, 2018 by Mercedes Rochelle | 3 Comments | Filed in General Topics

Jewel Tower, Westminster c.1365. Photo by lonpicman, Wikipieda

As my title suggests, the king’s wardrobe was actually broken into four parts. Each part had its own officer, separate function, and different location. And surprisingly, their names aren’t always intuitive.

The WARDROBE, was the most important and expensive of the four. It was responsible for the king and his household’s expenses, such as food and drink, coal, wood, candles, etc. as well as oats and litter for the horses and daily wages. Incidental expenses for the household such as medicine, ink-horns and parchments were included, as well as gifts, robes, hunting expenses, and the cost of entertaining foreign ambassadors. For the last several years of King Edward III’s reign and the first half of Richard II’s reign, Wardrobe expenses hovered between £18,000. But after Queen Anne’s death in 1395, when Richard was accused of excessive extravagance and especially when he employed his 300 Cheshire archers as bodyguards, his expenditure swelled to over £37,000. Ironically, even though this was a bone of contention, King Henry IV continued this huge spending spree, allegedly because he preferred to maintain a large and extravagant domestic establishment. Eventually he had to bow to the complaints of Parliament, and managed to bring his annual expenses down to about £19,000.

The GREAT WARDROBE was responsible for cloth, furs, and linen. These were for robes (sometimes part of an annuity, as well as robes for tournaments, marriages, funerals, anniversaries, chapel vestments, trappings for royal horses), wall hangings, coverings—even garters. Just to give an example of how costly certain events could prove, “for Princess Joan’s funeral (mother of the king) in 1885, the keeper had to provide special mourning robes for four earls, ten bannerets, fifty-four knights, forty-eight clerks, 161 esquires and sergeants, 157 valets, eighteen minstrels, a further 320 lesser servants of the king” (see “The Royal Household and the King’s Affinity” by Charles Given-Wilson). No sewing machines; they must have needed a whole army of seamstresses.

The Great Wardrobe was also divided into four sub-departments, headed by a tailor, armorer, pavilioner, and embroiderer. It was housed next to Baynard’s Castle between St. Paul’s and the Thames; this house was purchased by Edward III in 1360 and remained in use until the great fire of 1666. As in the Wardrobe expenses, there was a huge escalation of costs from the early part of Richard’s reign (averaging about £3,000-£3,500 a year) to £8,000 at the end of his reign. This is attributed to his great love of finery.

The PRIVY WARDROBE was essentially dedicated to arms and armor and was located in the Tower of London. Although the stock of weaponry was impressive (among the 1396 inventory it contained 796 basinets, 2328 bows, 1392 coats of mail, 11,300 quarrels, 14,280 arrows), this was the least expensive of the four household departments. This is because the sheriffs were expected to provide most of the weaponry, deducting the costs from their annual payments to the exchequer. When members of the king’s household were sent out on military duties, they were usually equipped from the Privy Wardrobe.

The CHAMBER, as you would expect, was the king’s personal wealth. This included his jewels and plate, which were sometimes used as pledges for loans. How was the Chamber money accrued? Income from the king’s personal estates, fines, wardships, ransoms (remember the French King John?), licenses, traitors’ chattels, dowries (800,000 francs in 1396 for little Princess Isabella) among other sources. Money was passed back and forth between the Chamber and the exchequer; not only was the Chamber given annual installments, but there were times the king would deposit large sums in the exchequer. According to Given-Wilson, “between 1368 and 1377, Edward in fact transferred a total of more than £160,000 of his personal wealth, from the chamber, the Tower hoard, and the ransom installments which continued to accrue, into the exchequer, the vast majority of which was spent on military needs”. Since the Chamber money was the king’s business and nobody else’s, there are no official accounts for historians. Nonetheless, Edward must have collected quite a hoard, for in 1365-66 he erected the Jewel Tower (pictured) in the Palace of Westminster which was surrounded by a moat.

As you may suspect, this post concerns the reigns of Edward III, Richard II and Henry IV as described by Chris Given-Wilson. If you are interested in the early development of the Wardrobe, I heartily recommend T.F. Tout who has written four volumes on the subject entitled “Chapters in the Administrative History of Mediaeval England” which have recently been reprinted. Both of these historians have contributed greatly to our knowledge of the period.

What is Bastard Feudalism?

June 20, 2018 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in General Topics, Richard II

Roland pledges fealty to Charlemagne. Source: Wikipedia

Bastard Feudalism is a term I kept bumping into during my recent research into the fourteenth century. I finally had to stop and investigate. Just what is it, and how does it differ from feudalism as I’ve always known it? It turns out that this was originally used in the Victorian era; the term “bastard feudalism” was derogatory—implying a corruption of feudalism, debased and degenerate. But as time went on, historians came to define it more as a term implying a superficial imitation of the original social order, though different in its essence.

Just to review, Feudalism was brought to England with the Norman Conquest. Like everything else, I’m sure the Anglo-Saxons had a hard time making the adjustment, but the concept of Feudalism was harshly efficient. The king owned everything, and the system is based on land tenure (coming from the French word tenir—to keep), the relationship between the tenant and the lord. The king chose to lease out portions of his kingdom to loyal barons; in return they offered military service, paid rent, and served on the royal council. They had complete control of their Manor, as it was often called; they meted out local justice, minted coins, and collected taxes. The Baron, in turn, divided up a portion of his Manor among his knights, who agreed to offer protection and military service when called upon. The knights lorded it over their villeins, or serfs, who owed them service and provisions. This went on pretty much until the Black Death disrupted the abundance of available workers on the Manor and created a situation where cash was becoming more important than labor.

The term “bastard feudalism” was coined in 1885 by historian Charles Plummer, when he needed a term to define the changing relationship between lord and vassal in the two centuries after the death of Edward I. Slowly but surely, the tenurial bond gave way to a social tie depending on a personal contract. Mutual benefit became the keyword. Although military service was important, the relationship between master and retainer became more of a matter of reciprocal services; the lord offered patronage and contracted to protect and defend his vassal in court—maintenance—as well as in combat. He would pay his retainer an annuity, or a fee for specific services rendered; he would often feed and house his annuitant. The retainer was usually expected to contract for life, but by no means was this universal and the indenture was not expected to be binding on the heirs of either party. By the end of the fourteenth century, according to K.B. McFarlane (England in the Fifteenth Century, Collected Essays), there is “evidence to suggest that under the Lancastrians less permanent forms of contract were coming into favor.” Stipends were paid to household officers and servants, civil servants, surgeons, chaplains, falconers, cooks, and even minstrels.

When it came to the lesser gentry, ties between them and the great lords often followed their feudal connections. According to Simon Walker (The Lancastrian Affinity 1351-1399), “bastard feudal loyalties were often the legitimate heirs of fully feudal ties. Precisely how often is rather more difficult to say. By the late fourteenth century, territorial proximity was usually more important than tenurial dependence in creating links between the magnates and the country gentry… it was the expectation of such additional fiscal benefits, not the mere possession of land, that bound the duke’s tenants more closely to his service.” At the same time, if a man owned several manors scattered throughout the country, McFarlane tells us “by this date tenurial relations were so interwoven that a man with several manors could scarcely avoid holding them of nearly as many lords.” If there was a potential conflict, one can only assume the vassal went with the lord who had the most to offer.

By Lancaster’s time, it was not at all unusual for a retainer to collect fees from more than one master for specific duties; think of today’s lawyers, accountants, or estate managers. This could very well be of benefit to both parties; the retainer could make money from several sources, and the magnate could stay informed. Simon Walker tells us, when Gaunt paid annuities to some of King Richard’s chamber-knights: “the king’s household was a center of gossip and accusations against the duke and it was by having his own men there that Gaunt was best able to thwart the efforts of his enemies.” It sounds a lot like spying to me, but if everyone agreed on the arrangement, I suppose it was routine.

From what I can gather, the whole concept of “bastard feudalism” is fluid; not every historian uses it, nor do we find an easy definition. It does make sense that cash was a strong incentive. It was a precious commodity and major magnates like John of Gaunt—not to mention the king—still represented a powerful influence.

 

 

What was the Marshalsea court?

April 16, 2018 by Mercedes Rochelle | 2 Comments | Filed in General Topics, Richard II

Mâcon, Bibl. mun., ms. 1, f. 211

Today when we hear about the Marshalsea we think of the infamous 19th century Southwark prison with all its associated tortures. But come back with me to the 14th century and you’ll see that the word has a totally different meaning—at first, anyway. Originally, the marshalsea (not capitalized—also known as the avenary) was the largest department of the household, in charge of taking care of the horses: feeding, grooming, and stabling. At the same time, the Marshal was a great officer of the royal and noble household, who functioned as the enforcer—the policeman, if you will—and the jailer. Where the Marshalsea (capitalized) came into play was in relation to the court of the verge (or the court of the steward and Marshal of the household). The steward presided over the court of the verge and the Marshal enforced its will.

The Marshalsea court can be traced back to the second half of Edward I’s reign; it was the legal arm of the household. In practice it tried cases involving servants of the crown, whether sinning or sinned against: theft, debts, contracts, acts against the royal dignity, and trespassing—anything short of murder. This involved activity that took place within the verge, which was a twelve mile radius from the king’s presence. If anyone refused to cooperate with the king’s servants—such as Purveyors—they could be tried at the Marshalsea court. Interfering with Purveyors was one of the bigger offenses. Their job was to gather supplies for the itinerant court, such as food, wood for heating, oats and hay for the horses, etc. and these purchases were almost always a bone of contention. They rarely paid in cash; instead, they often gave the long-suffering supplier a note to be cashed at the exchequer—when the funds were available, that is. The supplier could wait months to get paid, if he got paid at all. But if that long-suffering merchant refused to contribute,  the penalty could be severe. At the same time, the steward investigated complaints of extortionate behavior by the king’s servitors, though one can only wonder how often they decided in favor of the offended party.

Cases tried in the Marshalsea court were exempted from the common law courts; it became a separate tribunal, free from the technicalities and costs of traditional courts. Because of the itinerant nature of the king’s household, cases had to be tried quickly. Pleas of trespass and debt concerning outsiders often reverted back to the common law courts if the king moved on, taking the verge with him. Within the verge local officials were forbidden to trespass on the duties of the king’s officers; at the same time, they were found guilty of “contempt of the king” if they permitted the escape of suspected felons. There were plenty of conflicts between the local municipalities who wanted to try their own cases and who temporarily fell within the verge, and the government which didn’t always mind the boundaries.

Needless to say, the Londoners were often within the influence of the Marshalsea since the king was frequently in or near the city. Criminals were known to have crossed the Thames to Southwark to avoid punishment, since they could not be brought before the city authorities when the Marshalsea was present. The government tried to extend the Marshalsea’s jurisdiction into the city of London, but this was violently resisted and eventually dropped. Nonetheless, many formal protests were raised in successive Parliaments well into Henry IV’s reign. In 1373 Edward III ordered a building 40 feet long and 30 feet wide to be constructed “in the high street” for his own convenience, to hold pleas, keep prisoners, and hold other king’s courts.  It was one of the first of London’s symbols of oppression to suffer the wrath of the Peasant’s Revolt, though it was rebuilt the following year. The king’s sergeant-at-arms and keeper of the Marshalsea, Richard Imworth, was brutally murdered by the rebels two days after they destroyed the prison.

As time went on, reportedly by 1430, the Marshalsea became known as a debtor’s prison, and was notorious by the 18th century, when it was rebuilt about 130 yards south of its original site. You can learn all about it from Charles Dickens whose father was imprisoned there in 1824.

 

What was the Verge?

March 2, 2018 by Mercedes Rochelle | 3 Comments | Filed in General Topics

     Bodleian ms 264 106r

In a broad sense, from the time of Henry II (and before, probably) until the 15th century, the royal court was itinerant. There was no home base as we think of it; the king often spent a few days or a couple of weeks in one place. He rarely lingered more than a couple of months. Travel, or “removing” was a part of life. But because the king took most of his household with him, it was quite a venture: “the household included many hundreds of horses, and a massive store of baggage: crockery and cutlery, hangings, furnishings, clothes and weaponry, wax, wine and storage vessels, parchment and quills, weights, measures, and so on.” (See The Royal Household and the King’s Affinity by Chris Given-Wilson.) What this entailed was sending ahead a whole crew of harbingers to find lodging and purveyors to purchase food and drink, oats and fodder for the horses, etc. This put a huge strain on local neighborhoods through which the court passed, for the appetite of the household was often much greater than the local towns could accommodate. Because the locals were obliged to cooperate—even though the purveyors usually didn’t carry any money with them and wrote medieval IOUs to be cashed at the exchequer—there had to be a parameter within which the mandatory purveyance operated. And this was the verge, defined as a 12-mile radius from the presence of the king; when he king moved, the verge moved along with him.

Whenever possible, the purveyors would buy in bulk at ports and markets throughout the country. If the items were perishable, they naturally had to work the local markets. Purveyors were universally hated, partly because of delayed payments, and partly because the merchants were paid less than market value for their goods. According to Given-Wilson, “There were nine purveying offices in the household: the pantry, or bakehouse, for corn and bread; the buttery, for wine and beer; the kitchen, for all food not covered by other offices; the poultery, for poultry, game-birds, and eggs; the stables (or avenary, or marshalsea) for hay, oats and litter for the horses; the saucery, for salt and whatever was needed for sauces; the hall and chamber, for coal and wood for heating and rushes; the scullery, for crockery, cutlery, storage vessels, and coal and wood for cooking; and the spicery, for spices, wax, soap, parchment, and quills.” Before 1362—when the “great statute of purveyors” was enacted to regulate the problems—one purveyor after another would come knocking on an unfortunate’s door. Oh, and local carts and beasts were requisitioned to transport the goods, usually without payment.

  Source: Wikimedia

You can imagine what kind of unrest this caused! Furthermore, if anyone refused to cooperate with the king’s servants, they could be brought up before the court of the verge (also known as the Marshalsea court) which was the legal arm of the household. Sometimes the Marshalsea dealt with offenses within the household such as pleas of debt or disagreements between members; often it reviewed offenses between a member of the household and someone outside of it. Sometimes it dealt with trespassers within the verge (with force and arms) or levied fines against those who used false measures. Assaults, thefts, and transgressions, if committed within the verge, were tried, sometimes with juries. Apparently murders were outside of its jurisdiction.

As the fourteenth century drew on, the king tended to stay closer and closer to London, which made the city almost perpetually within the verge. Apparently the Marshalsea claimed precedence over London’s common law (reminds me of the Church), and criminals often crossed the Thames to Southwark to evade punishment. In 1373 Edward III ordered a prison to be built in Southwark for his own convenience, known as the Marshalsea prison.  It was one of the first London buildings to suffer the wrath of the Peasant’s Revolt. The infamous Marshalsea of Charles Dickens’ time was a different prison altogether, and much more notorious than its namesake.

King Richard’s Household: the Retinue

January 8, 2018 by Mercedes Rochelle | 3 Comments | Filed in Book Reviews, Richard II

British Library: MS Harley 4205 f.6V

My interest in “The Royal Household and the King’s Affinity: Service, Politics and Finance in England 1360-1413” by Chris Given-Wilson goes way beyond what I can discuss in a book review. In Part One I talked about the king’s servants, from the lowest page to the great officers. When we move on to the chapters about the king’s affinity—or his retinue, for lack of a better word—we learn about the different layers of intimates: courtiers, knights, retainers, and so on. Some of them received annuities (the chamber knights) and some of them were only called upon in case of specific need and were paid accordingly.

The chamber knights were intimates of the king and were often sent away on special missions (as ambassadors, for instance, or in Burley’s case to negotiate his marriage). At the start of Richard’s reign there were about ten chamber knights, mostly left over from the Black Prince’s household; the most famous of them were also victims of the Appellants in 1388: Simon Burley and John Beauchamp of Holt. Two others were beheaded and three more were ordered to leave court. In the ’90s a new generation of intimates formed around the king—closer to his age—and by the end of Richard’s reign he had about 18 chamber knights in service. According to the author, “they actually had regular duties at court, either in the chamber or in the hall, and that they were obliged to remain at court for certain periods of each year (perhaps this was organized on a rotational basis, perhaps it was as other duties allowed, but certainly some of them would have been with the king all the time).” Chamber knights were rewarded with “temporary grants such as wardships, the custody of royal lands or castles (with attached fees), life annuities, and salaried posts in the king’s gift.” This was not a path to great landed wealth, though Richard did reward them whenever he could.

The author thinks about the royal affinity in terms of concentric circles around the king. The inner circle, most of the time, controlled access to the king—much to the annoyance of those who thought they deserved better. The king’s intimates—aside from chamber knights—were great officers of state, royal councilors, great magnates (in his favor), esquires of the chamber, and clerks of the royal chapel. Included among his inner circle were the bachelerii—or bachelors—”a distinct group of retainers in whom their lord reposed a special trust”. Some (perhaps all) were indeed chamber knights, but not all of them are recorded as receiving fees and robes. Perhaps they were just close personal friends; it’s difficult to say for certain. The second circle “may be defined as those who were bound to the king by ties of service, and by the fact that he paid them a regular wage…and expected them to serve him on a regular basis.” These included department officials, sergeants-at-arms, and lesser clerks; the majority of the household of 400-700 total belonged to this circle. The third (and outer) circle included those called upon for specific needs as mentioned above: the king’s knights, the king’s esquires, archers, and yeomen. They mostly did not live at the court and were called up as required, but here too there were layers of service. You had the bannerets (a superior rank of knight with a personal retinue of up to 20 men; he received 4s a day wages on campaign), simple knights (who received 2s a day on campaign), and esquires.

The king’s knights were the military men who mostly received annuities, “who were not of the royal household but who were attached to the person of the king”. After the episode with the Appellants, Richard started retaining knights for life; he realized that “he wanted to be sure of a loyal core of followers in a crisis” which was sorely lacking in 1387. In the last couple of years of his reign during his “second tyranny” he surrounded himself with the turbulent Cheshire archers, thus contributing greatly to the costs of the exchequer and wreaking havoc with the locals. In the same time frame he started retaining squires for life as well, in somewhat greater numbers; they were about half as expensive to maintain as knights.

So the king’s knights were among his lay courtiers. But not to be overlooked were his clerical courtiers, those of the king’s chapel, numbering up to 50 at any one time. The clerics were the ones who did the departmental work, i.e. clerks of the chancery, clerks of the exchequer, the privy seal office, the marshalsea, the chapel, etc. The clerical position was often a stepping-stone to higher religious posts, and they usually held prebends or canonries outside of the court from which they received the bulk of their livings. Many went on to be bishops; in fact, “by the end of the reign Richard had secured bishoprics for so many of his household clerks that the episcopacy must almost have come to resemble an extension of the household.” It is interesting that in his last few years, “the number of clerks among the king’s closest companions and advisors was considerably greater than the number of chamber knights”. They were to become a thorn in the side for Henry IV, many going so far as to assist the rebels in 1400.

It was contemporary opinion that Richard was much too impressionable and influenced by his “evil councilors”. It was the purpose of the Lords Appellant to remove his inner circle so they themselves could exert some influence over the king. They certainly succeeded in eliminating (one way or the other) more than 40 people from his household, but they fell short of their ultimate goal once he reached his majority and took control of the government in 1389.

Book Review for GODWINE KINGMAKER by E. Thomas Behr, Ph.D., author of Blood Brothers: Courage and Treachery on the Shores of Tripoli

December 20, 2017 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in Book Reviews, Earl Godwine of Wessex

A wonderfully executed, richly-developed historical novel!

Readers who enjoy tightly written, compelling story-telling with deeply engaging characters are in for a real treat with Mercedes Rochelle’s Godwine Kingmaker: Part One of The Last Great Saxon Earls. This is historical fiction in the grand tradition of Hope Muntz’s The Golden Warrior and Mary Stewart’s and T. H. White’s Arthurian sagas.

Godwine, an18-year-old Saxon sheepherder, accidentally meets and then befriends a marauding Danish nobleman whom he finds lost and wandering in the thick forest near his Wiltshire home. That friendship changes forever not only Godwine’s life, but the history of England as well.
Mercedes Rochelle takes us back into the dim past, almost before recorded history, when the nation we now know as England was being forged in the fiery crucible of war and treachery. Six hundred years before, invading Saxons had overrun England when the Roman Empire collapsed. Now the Saxons had gone from being conquerors to conquered as incessant waves of ferocious Danes and Norwegian Vikings attacked, plundered, and eventually settled in England, carving out a new kingdom for themselves in blood.

Godwine’s father, Wulfnoth, Thegn of Sussex, former commander of the Saxon King Aethelred’s fleet. had been wrongly betrayed and disgraced. Absent a father’s influence, Godwine’s ambition causes him to pledge his loyalty to his new Danish friend, Ulf, and to Ulf’s lord, the Danish king Canute the Great. Through his skill in war and politics, Godwine rises steadily in authority. Within 20 years he has become Earl of Wessex, one of the richest and most powerful men in England. Lacking royal blood, he cannot aspire to the kingship. But he does dream of the time when one of his fiercely competitive sons, Swegn, Harold, or Tostig, might unite England under a Saxon king.

In Godwine Kingmaker, the past becomes alive. Rochelle lets you walk around London and Winchester a thousand years ago. And for many readers, this is our distant past. Here’s the account of the Winter Solstice celebration that has now become our Christmas.

Inside the great hall … the carved Jul log was sprinkled with mead and decorated with dry sprigs of pine and cones. As it was lit, musicians plucked the strings of their harps and started the singing. Soon the hall was echoing with laughter … the children filled their shoes with straw, carrots, and sugar lumps and set them out by the fire to feed Odin’s flying eight-legged horse Sleipnir. … In return, Odin wold leave the children small gifts and sweets as a reward.

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King Richard’s Household: The Servants

December 13, 2017 by Mercedes Rochelle | 5 Comments | Filed in Book Reviews, General Topics, Richard II

The more I research, the better I understand that what goes on behind the scenes is just as important as the high-profile episodes defining a king’s reign. So naturally, I was thrilled to discover “The Royal Household and the King’s Affinity: Service, Politics and Finance in England 1360-1413” by Chris Given-Wilson; this book brought me as close to the 14th century court as a layperson could hope to get. I’m highlighting the book’s major components, for there is a lot to learn here and I’d like to emphasize the parts that I found critical to my understanding. The author tells us that the king’s permanent staff numbered between 400-700 members, though when you add in the servants of the senior household officers, the foreign dignitaries with their staff, guests and hangers-on, the number of people at court could easily have surpassed 1000. That’s a lot of mouths to feed! 

Bear in mind that in this period the king did not have a permanent address. King Richard tended to use residences within thirty miles of London, and he would typically stay in one place for maybe two weeks up to two months. Favored palaces were Windsor, Ethan and Sheen. Other royal houses included Havering, King’s Langley, Clarendon, Easthamstead, Woodstock, Henley-on-the-Heath, Kennigton and Berkhamstead. Richard also favored spending a few nights along the way at religious houses—at the monasteries’ expense; perhaps this gave the Exchequer some breathing space! All this moving around meant his household servants considered travel, or “removing”, as a regular part of everyday life. But when you add up all that went with the move—”many hundreds of horses, and a massive store of baggage: crockery and cutlery, hangings, furnishings, clothes and weaponry, wax, wine and storage vessels, parchment and quills, weights, measures, and so on”—the concept is staggering to the modern mind.

As laid out in the reign of King Stephen, the household was divided up into five main departments as depicted below.There were changes along the way, but I found this chart to be most helpful (before the mid-14th century, the Chancellor had detached itself from the chamber and kept a separate office). In Richard II’s time, the five chief officers of the household were the Steward, the Chamberlain, the Controller, the Keeper of the Wardrobe (or treasurer), and the Cofferer. The Steward was responsible “for the efficient running, discipline, and general organization” of the king’s household. The Chamberlain had overall charge of the chamber; he controlled written and personal access to the king. Both of these officers were the king’s close personal friends, and both were probably of equal status. Naturally they were incredibly powerful, but often contemporaries believed that they abused their position to enrich themselves and gave bad advice to the king; Sir Simon Burley, John Beauchamp of Holt, and William le Scrope paid for their royal influence with their lives. The Controller(s) kept the accounts and was responsible for “supervising purveyance, harbinging, (see below) and eating arrangements in the hall”. The Keeper of the Wardrobe was responsible to the Exchequer for all monies that passed through the household. The Cofferer was the deputy to the Keeper, and held the keys to the money box.

Each great office had its lesser servants: “they were not just ‘valets’ or ‘garcons’ but ‘valets of the buttery’ or ‘garcons of the sumpterhorses’ and so forth.” Each job was departmentalized, apparently with little cross-over. “By far the largest department of the household was the marshalsea, or avenary (to be distinguished from the Marshalsea Court) which throughout this period employed at least 100 valets and grooms, and sometimes nearer 200.”

Most of the household servants traveled with the king, though a large group went ahead to prepare the way. The 30-40 harbingers‘ job was to requisition lodgings for everyone; the nine purveyors commandeered supplies within the verge (12 mile radius from the king’s actual presence). “Then came the king himself, preceded by his thirty sergeants-at-arms and twenty-four foot-archers marching in solemn procession, surrounded by his knights, esquires and clerks as well as any other friends or guests who happened to be staying at court, and followed by all the remaining servants of the household, driving and pulling the horses and carts which carried the massive baggage-store.” With luck, the itinerary was planned several weeks or months in advance or else the king would have to lower his standard of living. 

The purveyors had a particularly difficult job, for their activities were almost always a bone of contention. They rarely paid in cash; instead, they often gave the long-suffering supplier a note to be cashed at the exchequer—when the funds were available, that is. The supplier could wait months to get paid, if he got paid at all. And what are the purveying offices? “The Pantry, or bakehouse, for corn and bread; the Buttery, for wine and beer; the Kitchen, for all food not covered by other offices; the Poultery, for poultry, game-birds, and eggs; the Stables (or avenary, or marshalsea), for hay, oats and litter for the horses; the Saucery, for salt and whatever was needed for sauces; the Hall and Chamber, for coal and wood for heating, and rushes; the Scullery, for crockery, cutlery, storage vessels, and coal and wood for cooking; and the Spicery, for spices, wax, soap, parchment, and quills.”

It’s hard to get our hands around the everyday living arrangements of the king’s servants, but the author likened the king’s residence to the “upstairs and downstairs”. The chamber was the upstairs (quite literally) and the hall was the downstairs (where the servants congregated). The king would descend to the hall and feast communally during banquets and ceremonial occasions, but for the rest of the time he would be secluded in his chamber with his intimates. Edward III had taken to building private apartments for his high-ranking officers and guests. As for the bottom end of the household, “meals were served in the hall in two shifts…it was forbidden to remove food from the hall.” It seems pretty certain that the servants slept anywhere they could: “those who did not sleep in the hall probably distributed themselves around the passageways and vestibules, huddled in winter around the great fireplaces, lying on their straw mats (pallets) which may have been single or double.” Four sergeants-at-arms slept outside the king’s door and a further 26 slept in the hall. “No member of the household staff was to keep a wife or other woman at court”, though prostitutes were regularly ejected.

The king’s affinity embraces his great officers of state, magnates, clerks of the royal chapel, councilors, knights, servants, retainers, and other followers. In the next post I’ll concentrate on the many layers of knights in the king’s affinity and their assorted duties.