Announcing A KING UNDER SIEGE New Release

AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER!    Release Date Jan 5, 2019
BOOK BLURB: Richard II found himself under siege not once, but twice in his minority. Crowned king at age ten, he was only fourteen when the Peasants’ Revolt terrorized London. But he proved himself every bit the Plantagenet successor, facing Wat Tyler and the rebels when all seemed lost. Alas, his triumph was short-lived, and for the next ten years he struggled to assert himself against his uncles and increasingly hostile nobles. Just like in the days of his great-grandfather Edward II, vengeful magnates strove to separate him from his friends and advisors, and even threatened to depose him if he refused to do their bidding. The Lords Appellant, as they came to be known, purged the royal household with the help of the Merciless Parliament. They murdered his closest allies, leaving the King alone and defenseless. He would never forget his humiliation at the hands of his subjects. Richard’s inability to protect his adherents would haunt him for the rest of his life, and he vowed that next time, retribution would be his.

Richard II has proved to be one of the most enigmatic kings in the Middle Ages. Just like that other Richard (III, as we know him) his reputation was demolished by the person that usurped him. Historians are destined to muddle through documents that have been altered or written by hostile chroniclers. They must search for missing records and interpret passages written by survivors anxious to curry favor with the new king—or at least escape censure. It doesn’t help that there is such a wide range of conflicting opinions about him.

Like many of us, I first learned about Richard II from Shakespeare. Even though I knew nothing about him, I was totally moved during the prison scene when he bemoaned the fate of kings—and I never recovered! But his story goes way beyond the events of this play; in fact, Shakespeare only covered the last year of Richard’s life. We know nothing about what led up to the famous scene between Bolingbroke and Mowbray, where their trial by combat was interrupted by the king and they were sent into exile. Once I did my research, I was astounded at how complicated Richard’s life really was. His 22-year reign can be divided up into two parts: the 12 years of his minority and the ten years of his majority—each of which are brought to a tragic climax. Hence, it will take me two books to cover his story. As you might guess from the book blurb, volume two will be called THE KING’S RETRIBUTION.

Richard II and Primogeniture

British Library: MS Harley 4205 f.6V

At first glance, one might not question the law of succession in England during the Middle Ages, but in reality the rules were open to interpretation, which is one reason the Wars of the Roses were fought with such intensity. As far back as King John, we see the youngest brother of a previous king mount the throne rather than the son of an elder brother (Arthur of Brittany—son of Geoffrey—should have ruled if the tradition of primogeniture were followed). Even Edward I, after the death of his three eldest sons, declared an order of succession that included his daughters. When it was Richard II’s turn, the issue was far from settled.

In 1376, Edward the Black Prince was dying. His child Richard, who was himself the second son (the first son Edward had died two years previously), was only nine years old. The Black Prince took nothing for granted, and on his deathbed he asked both his father and his brother John of Gaunt to swear an oath to protect Richard and uphold his inheritance. Even this precaution didn’t guarantee Richard’s patrimony, and Edward III felt obliged to create an entail that ordered the succession along traditional male lines. This meant that the Mortimers, descendants of Gaunt’s deceased elder brother Lionel (through his only daughter Philippa) were excluded. It also meant that John of Gaunt was next in line after Richard, and after him, Henry of Bolingbroke.

By this time, Edward III was an enfeebled old man and Gaunt had already started attending Parliament in his name. At this stage of his life, John of Gaunt was an overbearing, arrogant bully and he was incredibly unpopular. There were great fears—probably unfounded—that he would usurp the throne from his nephew; most historians believe that because of this, Edward III’s entail was not publicized. Presumably only the inner family and the great officers knew about its existence. After all, why inflame the public unnecessarily? If Richard were to sire an heir, the whole entail would be moot.


So the ten year-old Richard was crowned king; nobody wanted to take a chance on a less-than-secure regency. But this was not the end of the story. In the short run, of course, there was no reason to give the succession much thought. Richard married at age fifteen and his queen was only a year older than him. But after five or six years of infertility, it was beginning to look like there might be a problem. Queen Anne’s untimely death after twelve years of marriage and Richard’s subsequent espousal to the 8 year-old Isabella of France made it obvious that a child could not be expected for a long time—possibly never.

Many people, including our primary chroniclers of the period, took it for granted that the Mortimers were next in line for the throne. But Richard made no effort to show favor to Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March, nor did he make reference him to him as heir except possibly once in 1385 or 1386 (historians are not in agreement on this). When threatened with deposition, Richard could well have declared Roger his successor, a political ploy to remind his opponents that a 12 year-old would not rule any better than him. Although the Earl of March was well liked by the general population, after 1394 he seemed to have lost political clout. He moved to Ireland, where he served as Lieutenant mostly for the rest of his life. Roger was killed in a skirmish in 1398, leaving behind a seven year-old son. This effectively removed the Mortimers as candidates—for the time being—but they were destined to come back and haunt Henry IV in the rebellions of 1403 and 1405. (Also, their bloodline descended to Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York on his mother’s side.)

But even this wasn’t the end of the story. Richard was antagonistic toward John of Gaunt and this ill-will was transferred to his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke, especially after Henry joined the Lords Appellant and nearly cost him his throne in 1388. After the Appellant crisis, when Gaunt returned from Portugal, Richard received him joyfully back into the country; he had finally discovered that Gaunt’s presence was the only factor that kept his rebellious magnates at bay. In this time frame, by all indications, he restored Edward III’s entail and treated Gaunt as his heir—at least for the next five years.

John of Gaunt with his coat of arms attributed to Lucas Cornelisz de Kock source: Wikipedia

But this favor did not extend to Bolingbroke. In 1394, as Richard was planning his expedition to Ireland, Gaunt petitioned Parliament to appoint Bolingbroke as Keeper of the realm. The Keeper was traditionally the heir to the throne, so Gaunt was fishing for a commitment. He couldn’t serve as Keeper himself because he was due to leave for the Aquitaine, so naturally Henry—next in line according to the entail—would take his place. However the Earl of March raised a strong objection, for he felt that he was heir apparent (it is possible he did not know about Edward III’s entail). Richard told them both to be silent and instead decided that his uncle Edmund of Langley, Duke of York (Gaunt’s younger brother) would be Keeper in his absence.

This was a whole new turn of events! Suddenly Gaunt was out and Edmund was in. From that point on, relations between Richard and the House of Lancaster began to sour. The King showered favors on his cousin, York’s son Edward, and created him Duke of Aumale. Whether Richard had intended to make York his heir, as Ian Mortimer concluded, remains speculation. If this was the case, it’s puzzling that Edmund defected to Bolingbroke, thus giving up his own—and his son’s—potential claim to the throne. Perhaps he had no inclination to be king; he was thought by many to be an indolent, irresolute fellow. Nonetheless, it was Edmund of Langley who fathered the House of York which proved so formidable in the Wars of the Roses.

Richard found it useful to keep everyone in suspense about the succession and never did proclaim a definite heir, though for the last several years he favored his fair-weather cousin Edward Duke of Aumale. When Bolingbroke invaded England, Aumale eventually went over to his side. That was the end of Edward’s possible aspirations!

After Richard’s usurpation, Henry IV chose to justify his claim—not by force of arms, but by citing his double descent from Henry III (through Edward III on his father’s side and Edmund “Crouchback”—younger son of Henry—on his mother’s side). Nonetheless, the Lancastrian line petered out in two generations, leaving the country ripe for a dynastic struggle—precipitated, many say, by the murder of the last true Plantagenet king.

In the end, could it be said that Richard II was usurped by his natural heir? He certainly wouldn’t have thought so! His reckless decision to disinherit Bolingbroke showed all the characteristics of personal enmity. Many historians think he was only waiting for Gaunt to drop dead before confiscating the Lancastrian inheritance and eliminating Henry’s influence forever. But he reckoned without his own unpopularity, and without Bolingbroke’s courage and decision. It’s ironic that the one person he strove so carefully to eliminate from the succession turned out to be the very man who destroyed his rule, his life, and his reputation.



Bennett, Michael, Edward III’s Entail and the Succession to the Crown, 1376-1471, from “The English Historical Review, Vol. 113, no. 452 (June 1998), pp.580-609

Given-Wilson, Charles, Richard II, Edward II, and the Lancastrian Inheritance, from “The English Historical Review, Vol. 1009, No. 432 (June, 1994), pp.553-571

Mortimer, Ian, Richard II amd the Succession to the Crown, from “History”, Vol. 91, No. 3 (303) (July 2006), pp. 320-326


Book Review: The Royal Bastards of Medieval England by Chris Given-Wilson & Alice Curteis

I found this book to be surprisingly diverting and helpful. The paper book cover shows that famous romantic painting of the two princes in the Tower by John Everett Millias, so I was half-expecting yet another repetition of arguments pro and con about Richard III’s involvement with their murder. In actuality, the princes are given a nod, but the true subjects of this book are shown sorely-needed attention as they are often glossed over in histories despite the fact that many of them were quite influential. For instance, I knew all about the Beauforts (John of Gaunt’s bastards who were later legitimized), but didn’t really give much credit to Henry VII’s great-grandfather, John Beaufort, as the head of the Tudor dynasty (on the maternal side). Without Beaufort’s royal blood, Henry might not have dared an attempt at the throne. Other royal bastards, such as Geoffrey Plantagenet (son of Henry II), and Robert of Gloucester (son of Henry I), were key actors in major events and given their own chapters.

The structure of this book gives us an explanation of how important (or at times unimportant) legitimacy was viewed throughout the middle ages. An extremely long introduction gives a good overview of marriage, divorce, and the Catholic Church’s views throughout this period, which is more than helpful. Consider this: since the twelfth century, “the church was teaching not only that the consent of the man and the woman was the vital prerequisite for any marriage, but also that that consent of any other person—parent, lord or whatever—was unnecessary. Among the aristocracy and royalty, it is only in modern times that this idea has really gained acceptance: parentally arranged marriages have remained common among the upper classes right through to the twentieth century…Even for the elite, the doctrine of consent did have one crucial result: if a man and a woman did flout the wishes of their parents or guardians and get married, perhaps secretly, and if it was then proven in a church court that they had both consented to the marriage, the marriage remained valid in the eyes of the church…” I can’t help but think of the secret marriage between Joan, the Fair maid of Kent and Thomas Holland which fell into this category.

Especially in the early days after William the Bastard made his mark on history, bastards could fare just as well as their luckier brothers (short of inheritance). Geoffrey Plantagenet is the only son of Henry II that stuck with him all the way to the end, even when all his legitimate brothers rebelled. He ended up as Bishop of Lincoln (hotly contested), archbishop of York (also hotly contested) and chancellor of England, though when Henry II died his career took a downward spiral. He was in constant conflict with his brothers and died in exile, a bitter man. After Edward III’s time, illegitimacy began to take on more political overtones, and accusations got bantered about that could potentially add strength to the opposition party. Even Richard II was accused of being a bastard (because his mother’s secret marriage ruined her reputation). It was thought that Prince Edward, son of the unstable Henry VI, was the illegitimate son of Queen Margaret, which added fuel to the Wars of the Roses fire. George, Duke of Clarence was executed after accusing his brother Edward IV of being a bastard. And of course the Princes in the Tower were removed from the royal inheritance by their uncle Richard III.

On the other hand, by the time of Henry VIII (whose father was stained by the curse of illegitimacy on both sides of his family) it looked like the pendulum might swing the other way; if Henry FitzRoy had lived past his teenaged years, it was commonly thought he might be declared heir. And in 1685, the popular son of Charles II, James Duke of Monmouth, made a serious grab at the crown, only to be defeated in battle at Sedgemoor and beheaded two days later. “He was the last royal bastard in England to entertain such ambitions. It is one of those perverse ironies of our history that neither Henry I, who fathered more bastards than any other English king, nor Charles II, who ran him a close second, was able to pass his crown to a legitimate son.” Nonetheless, it makes for great reading!

Inheritance in Medieval England

Source: Wikipedia: Genealogical roll of the kings of England. 1300-1308. Royal 14 B VI Membrane 7 From Henry III to Edward III

Cut-and-dried? Not on your life. Primogeniture, or the “law” governing inheritance, even in its basic form could prove elusive to the most determined lawyer. “Primogeniture among males, equal shares between females, a son always preferred to a daughter, a daughter to a brother or other collateral. For the fief to retain its coherence, it was thus essential that its proprietor, if not childless, should have at least one son or, failing sons, not more than one daughter.” (see K.B. McFarlane’s “The Nobility of Later Medieval England”). Easier said than done! Sorting out the details got messy very quickly.

According to McFarlane, approximately 25% of all noble families failed in the direct male line in every generation. So according to the laws of inheritance, any daughters would be next in line, even if there was a male nephew, for instance, or a surviving brother, known as collateral heirs. When the inheritance went to an heiress, the line would be passed to her husband—an unfortunate outcome, needless to say. A famous example of this was the Beauchamp inheritance. When in 1446 the Earl of Warwick died with no male heir, his lands and title passed on to his daughter who died in infancy; after that the earldom passed on to his full sister, married to Richard Neville who was already Earl of Salisbury—and later known as the Kingmaker. If there were multiple daughters, they would split the inheritance. In the case of Richard Neville, he had no sons—only two daughters, the elder married to George Duke of Clarence and the younger to Richard Duke of Gloucester, the future Richard III. George became next Earl of Warwick through Isabella, then was executed, passing the title to his son Edward Plantagenet. Imprisoned in the Tower of London at age 10, Edward spent the rest of his life there and was executed in 1499, at which point the line became extinct.

If the father had a big family, naturally he would want to take care of younger sons and daughters, notwithstanding the legends of the younger son driven from home to seek his fortune. In the case of royalty, the younger sons often were often made earls, or dukes—and married to an heiress, if possible. And of course there was sometimes a situation where a younger son was preferred over the direct heir. What was a man to do? What’s important to the study of primogeniture is to know that property could not be devised by a will, as we know it today. According to McFarlane, “If a landowner died, his heir inherited; if he wanted to benefit his younger children he had to do it in his own lifetime.” Most people did not want to divest themselves of their lands à la King Lear, so this was not a common option.

Clever aristocrats soon found a way around this restriction: the estate tail. What happened here is that the grantor would surrender his fief as a “conditional gift” to his king, his immediate lord, or a group of friends. Then he would receive it back “on terms different from those governing ordinary inheritance”. He no longer owned the fief in “fee simple” (by definition unconditional); he held it in “fee tail”. This way he could cut out the direct heir, or possibly his daughter in favor of collateral heirs (or any other situation—even bastardy). If women were excluded altogether, or at least until all male descendants were extinct, this estate was called “tail male” or “entail”. The entail was irrevocable and perpetual, even if the principal changed his mind before he died. No one could alter it. However, in the legal interest of the direct heir, entails usually reverted back to the head of the family if there was a total failure of male heirs in the cadet branches after three generations.

Slightly more adaptable was another legal device known as the use.  A man would grant his lands, “or any part of them, to a number of his friends, usually called his feoffees, to hold to his use as long as he lived and to dispose of when he was dead in accordance with his last will.” (McFarlane)  For all intents-and-purposes the grantor was now a tenant for life rather than owner of the estate. The use had the added advantage that an underaged lord who inherited was not subject to a wardship in his minority—hence, it was a bit of a tax dodge, since wardships had a monetary value. A disadvantage was that the feofees had to be trusted implicitly; if they acted fraudulently or in disobedience, there was little established recourse for the wronged party.

By the end of the fourteenth century, “tail male” became ingrained and extended to earldoms as well. An added bonus, by the way, is that an estate held in “fee tail” could not be forfeited for treason. Ultimately this new freedom to bequeath land had its own consequences: too many unsustainable cadet branches weakened the line. Primogeniture reasserted itself around 1500, though many permutations continued to exist.

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

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.


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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.

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

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?

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:

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

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?

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?

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.