Spear or Lance?

I’ve just written a scene in my current work in progress in which the hero defends the heroine against an attack by outlaws. In my novel all the soldiers on the hero’s side are using spears, but, even as I was writing it, I was wondering about the differences between spears and lances, if any. I know it won’t matter in the least to my readers. It’s a romance and they’ll be happy that the hero finally has the chance to show his lady what he’s made of. I was interested, though, so I pulled a few books off the shelves to see what they had to say.

You’ll know what a lance is from all those films and documentaries that show knights jousting in the lists. The lance is the long pole with a point that they carry underarm as they thunder towards one another on huge horses. The underarm hold is known as couching. In a joust the object is to hit the opponent, break the lance or push the opponent off his horse and points are awarded for each of these. Killing the opponent was not a goal, although that often happened. If you’ve watched Wolf Hall or read Bring up the Bodies, you’ll know that there was a half hour or so when it looked as if Henry VIII had been killed in a joust.

In a battle, or any kind of fight, killing the opponent, or maiming him, was most definitely the point. Not only did the lance in these circumstances have a point, but it had a sharp metal tip as well. The idea of this wasn’t to penetrate an opponent’s armour, but to get into the places where the armour was jointed or where the body was only protected by mail, such as the neck, the armpit and the groin.

You may wonder why they were using spears and not swords. Both were used in a fight, as you can see in the illustration at the top of the post. It depended on the circumstances and the person. The lance was the weapon of the mounted soldier. It was made of ash and was about fourteen feet long. Since it was quite thin, it was easy to break and wasn’t much use in a mêlée. The spear was the weapon of a foot soldier and they were about five feet long, although they look much longer in some of the medieval illustrations.

Surprisingly, the lance was the mounted soldier’s primary weapon. Once it broke, which must surely have been very early in the battle, he moved on to other weapons, such as the sword, the mace or the flail.

In the final quarter of the fourteenth century the lance rest was developed. It was a ledge on the soldier’s breast plate that allowed his body, rather than his arm, to take the shock of the impact. I imagine that the force of the impact could break an arm, although none of the sources says this. It could definitely take the lance out of his hand or throw him from his horse. It could also bring them both to a complete stop, which wasn’t good if the success of your charge depended on you getting past your enemy. It was all about timing and overlooking the natural inclination of both horse and rider to shy away from the target. Both had to be well-trained. In Knight, Robert Jones says that using a lance “… tested courage, skill and physical strength in equal measure.” I certainly wouldn’t want to face a fully armoured knight charging towards me with just fourteen feet of tree in one hand and the reins of my horse in the other.

In a battle or fight, the horse was often the initial target rather than the rider. An injured horse might fall on its rider and remove them from the fight. You had to be good to kill a horse with a single thrust of a lance which, of course, my hero manages to do, although I might have to rewrite that bit, since he’s on foot at that point.

I’ve learned that I’ve got a bit of rewriting to do if I want the details to be correct. Fortunately, my hero can still be suitably heroic and I’ll have a better idea of what’s going through his mind during the fight. We’ll have to wait and see whether or not his lady will be impressed.

Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages by Michael Prestwich
European Arms and Armour by Tobias Capwell
Knight by Robert Jones

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Hundred Years War, Medieval Warfare

Pardon Recipients

I read some time ago that some men were pardoned for serious crimes if they served in one of Edward III’s armies during the Hundred Years War and I wondered how it worked. Fortunately Henry of Lancaster’s Expedition to Aquitaine, 1345-46, the book I’m reading at the moment, has some answers.

I first came across this when I was reading about the Folville gang. They were basically gangsters who kidnapped people for ransoms and weren’t above the odd murder, rape and theft in the 1320s and 1330s. They were pursued all over the country and eventually caught, or killed. Some of them were pardoned by Roger Mortimer, acting in the name of Edward III, on condition that they fight against Mortimer’s enemies in England. Crime had become a way of life, however, and they returned to their former ways. They were so successful that people were afraid to testify against them when they were caught and tried.

It seems strange that a man could receive a pardon for such serious crimes, but it would be a win-win for the king and the criminal. There was, of course, no benefit to the victims.

It was a benefit to the king because the pardon recipient paid his own costs of serving in the army for a year. If the man was a knight that would save the king at least £36 10s per annum, more if the man lost a horse or two in the course of a campaign, as the king paid compensation for horses killed in his service. Even if the pardoned man was an archer the king saved £9 2s 6d.  Edward III was constantly in debt at the beginning of the Hundred Years War and needed to save as much money as he could.

The pardon recipient, of course, received his pardon. It also gave him the chance of what we would call rehabilitation. Eustace Folville, for example, was knighted by Edward III for his services in the war during the early 1340s. As the leader of the Folville gang, Eustace had spent two decades terrorising, robbing and murdering Edward’s subjects. He was also used to commanding men and making both strategic and tactical decisions, exactly the skills needed in a soldier.

As I’ve written before, there was always the chance for soldiers in successful armies to take home plenty of booty and the campaigns of 1345 to 1346 in both the southwest of France under Lancaster and the north under Edward III were particularly successful in that regard. That might also have helped these men to decide to seek a pardon.

There was more to it for the pardon recipient, however, than paying his costs for a year. These men were outlaws and the king needed some means to make sure that they didn’t just jump ship when they reached France. The pardon recipient also had to find someone to guarantee their good behaviour. The guarantor presumably stood to lose something if the pardoned man didn’t behave. I can’t help thinking that men like the Folville gang could probably have found a guarantor simply by threatening them, or a member of their family, with physical harm. In Eustace’s case, however, it seems that he and some of his men had already decided that their lives of crime had come to an end. This doubtless had something to do with the fact that they were fast approaching middle age in the 1340s. Unlike most members of his gang, Eustace died a peaceful death the year after he fought at Crécy.

The members of Lancaster’s retinue are listed in the book. There were a surprisingly large number of pardon recipients. There were five men from Northamptonshire who had been found guilty of murder and two men from Somerset who had also been found guilty of murder. What I found interesting is that in two cases two men with the same surname had killed (or been found guilty of killing, which isn’t the same thing) a man. Although it’s possible that the men had been killed during the course of robberies, something that wasn’t that unusual in the fourteenth century, I also wonder if the victims had not done something dreadful to a member of the family, and their death was an act of revenge. I don’t know. The only information in the book is their names, their county of origin and the names of their victims.

Henry of Lancaster’s Expedition to Aquitaine, 1345-46 by Nicholas A. Gribit

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Hundred Years War, Medieval Crime and Law, Medieval Kings, Medieval Warfare

Rates of Pay for Medieval Soldiers

Medieval Indenture

If we think about it at all we probably think that medieval armies were feudal and unpaid, that is that the soldiers were in an army because they owed a certain number of days service to their lords. This would be true for some times in some places in medieval Europe and there are stories of men who took their retinues home halfway through a siege because they’d given their required number of days of service. In England under Edward III, however, that had mostly ceased to be the case, and soldiers and their captains were paid.

They served under a contract called an indenture, which I wrote about here.

In the book I’m reading at the moment, Henry of Lancaster’s Expedition to Aquitaine, 1345-46, the indenture between Edward III and Lancaster requiring the latter to go to Aquitaine in 1345 is given in full in Anglo-Norman and modern English. It’s very specific about what Henry of Lancaster is to do and how much he is to be paid to do it. He was to go to Aquitaine as the king’s lieutenant and take 500 men-at-arms, 1,000 archers (500 mounted and 500 on foot) and 500 Welsh archers on foot. He also had to leave Southampton on 14th May and stay in Aquitaine for six months.

The indenture set out how the earl was to be paid and how horses were to be assessed for compensation should they be killed. It also covered what was to happen about ransoms and booty taken in the course of the campaign. For the avoidance of doubt, should there have been any, the indenture made it clear that what was to happen to anything that the earl received that wasn’t connected with the campaign, which was as well, since his father died while he was in Aquitaine and he inherited money and properties in England.

The earl, of course, had similar indentures with each of his bannerets and knights and esquires, some of whom, in turn, had indentures with the soldiers they employed in their retinues.

Lancaster’s campaign was well-documented and there are extant records of the men who went with him in his retinue. I’ve looked and there are no Mundays on the list, which is not surprising as Lancaster’s men came mostly from places where he had properties such as Cheshire, Nottinghamshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire. My ancestors were in Hampshire, but there were certainly Mundays at Agincourt for which there are also extensive records about the ordinary soldiers.

What I really wanted to cover in this post is the sums paid to the soldiers. I always use the daily rate for a skilled labourer (4d) as an illustration of how much things cost in the fourteenth century, but not everyone was a skilled labourer. Some men earned more, others earned less. For those earning less, serving in a retinue during the Hundred Years War wasn’t just a useful way to earn a good daily rate of pay, provided you lived to spend it, but there was always the chance of a share in booty or a ransom.

Lancaster’s indenture didn’t just set out how much money he was to receive, but also the daily rates for his men. The earl had 6s 8d per day, a banneret 4s, a knight 2s, an esquire 12d, a mounted archer 6d, a foot soldier 2d. There were 12 pennies (d) to a shilling (s). As you can see, if you were an unskilled labourer, the daily rate for a foot soldier might make it worth the risk to go to war.

Henry of Lancaster’s Expedition to Aquitaine, 1345-46 by Nicholas A. Gribit

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Hundred Years War, Medieval Warfare

Henry Grosmont

Kenilworth Castle, one of Henry Grosmont’s properties

I don’t often write about individuals on this blog, but I’ve just started reading Henry of Lancaster’s Expedition to Aquitaine, 1345 – 1346: Military Service and Professionalism n the Hundred Years War by Nicholas A. Gribit and Henry of Lancaster is really interesting. He has stuck in my mind over the years mostly because he wrote a book about his spiritual life.

Henry was a great-grandson of Henry III and second cousin to Edward III. He’s known as Henry Grosmont (probably the place of his birth in (possibly) 1310) to differentiate him from his father, also Henry. I feel the Percy family could have learned a lesson here. He was a grandfather of Henry IV.

His family (in the form of his uncle Thomas and his father) had opposed Edward II in the 1320s and Thomas was executed after a failed rebellion in 1322. It was Henry’s father, who had succeeded his brother as earl of Lancaster, who captured Edward II in 1326. He handed him over to Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer who had invaded England that year in the name of Edward III. The earl was loyal to the young king, though and, in 1330, he helped Edward stage a coup against Isabella and Mortimer.

Henry Grosmont followed his father’s lead in supporting Edward III and became very close to the king. At some point before the middle of 1330 he married Isabella, the daughter of a close friend of his father. They had two daughters: Maud and Blanche. Blanche later married John of Gaunt, one of Edward III’s sons, and became the mother of Henry Bolingbroke, later Henry IV. Chaucer wrote his Book of the Duchess about her after her death.

Henry was knighted in 1330. He was close in age to Edward III. They had similar tastes, enjoying tournaments and romance literature, particularly the stories about King Arthur and the Round Table. It seems that Henry inherited the Plantagenet good looks. Like Edward III, he was tall and blonde.

In 1337 Henry was made earl of Derby. He is one of those annoying historical figures who had so many titles that it’s hard to remember that it’s him that people are writing about. At various times he was the earl of Derby, Lincoln, Leicester and Lancaster and then the duke of Lancaster. His father died while he was on campaign in Aquitaine and in Jonathan’s Sumption’s book Trial by Battle he’s referred to as Derby for several pages and then he’s Lancaster. When I was reading it I had to keep reminding myself that they were the same man.

In 1340 Henry allowed himself to be held as one of the hostages for the king’s debts in Brussels. He must have known how unlikely it was that the king would be able to redeem his debts and in the end he had to pay his own ransom.

Edward III trusted him and twice made him his lieutenant in Scotland. In 1344 he was made co-lieutenant in Aquitaine, the part of France that Edward III held as duke. Henry was an experienced soldier, by then having fought against the Scots and the French in various important battles and sieges. He had even fought in the naval battle at Sluys in 1340. Not only was he a soldier, but he was also a diplomat. He negotiated at least one peace tray and one marriage alliance, a further example of the king’s trust in him.

In 1345 he led the successful campaign in Aquitaine that had the French armies in chaos, which proved to be a sign of how things were going to go for the next few years in the Hundred Years War.  During the campaign Henry, and many of his men, became very wealthy from the ransoms they received for captured Frenchmen. He’s said to have made £50,000 from men captured in one day when the English army took a French camp at Auberoche by surprise. To put this in context, Edward III’s annual income didn’t always reach £50,000. For more context, it would be worth several tens of millions today.

Henry became earl of Lancaster in 1345. When Henry’s uncle was executed much of the family’s lands were forfeit, but Henry managed to recover most of them over the years. By the time he died he was the king’s second wealthiest subject. The wealthiest was Edward of Woodstock, the king’s heir.

He was the second knight admitted to the Order of the Garter by Edward III in 1348. The first was Edward of Woodstock.

In 1351 he was made duke of Lancaster, become the second English duke. I’m sure you can guess by now who the first one was. It was indeed Edward of Woodstock who was made Duke of Cornwall in 1337. Henry was also given the power to run the county of Lancashire with little reference to the crown, another sign of Edward III’s trust, since this power and wealth would have made the duke a formidable enemy. Had Edward been able to foresee the future in which his grandson, Richard II, was deposed by Henry’s grandson, Henry Bolingbroke, he would undoubtedly have made a different decision.

Henry wrote Le Livre de Seyntz Medicines (The Book of Holy Medicines) in 1354. It’s both a memoir and a devotional book. In it he writes about his sins and his penances. One of his sins was lack of chastity and it’s interesting that a fourteenth-century man of his rank acknowledged that it was a sin. I wonder what his wife made of his confessions. Even in an age of general belief Henry was remarkable for his piety and his devotion to the Virgin Mary.

He said that he didn’t learn to write until quite late in his life. This doesn’t mean that he didn’t receive an education or wasn’t able to read, it just means that had a scrivener to write for him. It wasn’t unusual for a man of his class not to be able to write. Training to be a knight didn’t include writing lessons.

His final campaign (the one in which Chaucer was taken prisoner) was the siege of Rheims in 1359 and he was one of the negotiators of the Treaty of Brétigny, which brought the first part of the Hundred Years War to an end. He died the following year, possibly from plague.

Trial by Battle by Jonathan Sumption
Henry Of Lancaster’s Expedition to Aquitaine, 1345 – 1346 by Nicholas A. Gribit

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Hundred Years War, Medieval Kings

Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel by Frances and Joseph Gies – A Review

Published: 1995
Pages: 368

Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel is one of a series of books written about the Middle Ages by Frances and Joseph Gies. Some of the others are about daily life in a village, a town and a castle. This one, however, has a much broader perspective. The subtitle is Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages, but it’s more even than that.

The book opens with a survey of the technology that was available in Europe at the beginning of the Middle Ages, mostly left by the Romans, and there’s also a visit to China to look at what was available there. The Chinese were more advanced technologically than the Romans in many areas and much of what the Romans left behind them was allowed to fall into disuse.

Eventually information started coming from China and, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the translations of works by Greek scientists arrived in Europe via the Muslim world. By then there had already been many advances in Europe, mostly to do with water in the form of improvements to ships and waterwheels. The book finishes in the fifteenth century with Columbus, Leonardo da Vinci and Gutenberg.

I’ve enjoyed all the books I’ve read by Frances and Joseph Gies and this one was no different. It’s a very good overview of medieval technology and it made me want to go away and find out more about a few things. Their books are easy to read and full of interesting facts. There are several black and white illustrations.

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Filed under Book Review

Chaucer’s Franklin

This week I’m returning to another occasional series. This time it’s the one based on things I’ve found interesting or confusing in The Canterbury Tales. Today, it’s one of the pilgrims: the Franklin.

In The Canterbury Tales the Franklin is a symbol of the upward mobility that was a feature of the late fourteenth century. Franklin was a term used for a man of free birth. He wasn’t a serf, but he was still someone who held and worked land on a manor, even if that work was done by men he employed. The exact social status of Chaucer’s Franklin isn’t clear and has been argued about for decades. He might have been a member of the gentry, or, more likely, he might be someone who made a lot of money that enabled him to move among the gentry. The term ‘franklin’ covered a lot of possibilities. This franklin seems to have been fairly wealthy, or he at least gave the appearance of being wealthy.

He had a permanent table set up in his hall. Usually, tables were just a board on some trestles and they were taken down between meals. The implication is that the Franklin was always ready to eat, or, to put a more charitable interpretation on it, to give food to the poor who came to his door for alms.

Franklins held land, but were not generally well-off. In the poll tax of 1379 they were supposed to pay 6s 8d or half of that depending on the size of their estate. Some franklins seem to have paid even less than the lower amount, but most paid 3s 4d. Very few paid 6s 8d. It would be interesting to know how much poll tax Chaucer’s Franklin paid.

Franklins held land, but weren’t noble. There’s a very large gap between a serf and a noble and a franklin could, in theory, be anywhere in it. He could have been a step up from a serf or a member of the gentry.

Like Chaucer, the Franklin was a justice of the peace and (briefly in Chaucer’s case) a knight of the shire, or Member of Parliament. It’s possible that he was the lord of a manor. He might even have been a lawyer, as he was accompanying the Serjeant of Law. Then, as now, there was serious money to be made as a lawyer. People were very litigious in fourteenth-century England.

Wealth didn’t have much to do with freedom or serfdom. A serf could be wealthy and a freeman could be poor. A rich serf was more important in a village than a poor freeman. A serf, or villein, owed labour services to his lord of the manor and he had to pay fines or fees to that lord at various stages of his life. He would be tried in the lord’s manorial court for any misdemeanours or crimes. Freemen were simply free from most obligations to the lord of the manor. They had to pay homage to the lord for their land since no one, except the king, owned land, and they paid rent in money to the lord of the manor. They were not subject to manorial courts.

Given all this ambiguity, it’s no surprise that scholars haven’t been able to pin the Franklin down.

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer edited by Jill Mann
A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Christopher Corèdon and Ann Williams
A Social History of England ed. Rosemary Horrox and W. Mark Ormrod
The English Manor c.1200 – c.1500 by Mark Bailey

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Life

Medieval Carpenters

Bradford on Avon Tithe Barn Exterior

We’re back with medieval crafts and trades this week, looking at carpenters. There have always been carpenters. Two thousand years ago, Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, was a carpenter and there were carpenters two thousand years before him. Their craft remained unchanged for centuries. We know that carpentry improved by leaps and bounds in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, though, mainly because so many examples of their work, in the shape of barns, like the one above, survive. The carpenter’s work isn’t obvious from the outside, but once you’re inside you look up and see this:

Bradford on Avon Tithe Barn Cruck Roof

I could fill this post with photographs of cruck rooves, but I won’t, as carpenters did far more. Since wood is a natural material, however, other examples of their work are much rarer.

Almost every village and manor had a carpenter. Carpenters provided their own tools, even if they were working on someone else’s site. Their main tools were saws, axes and augers ( a tool for boring holes in wood).

When I think of carpenters, I tend to think of them in domestic settings, mainly because they provided the furnishings for a house: the stools, chairs, tables, chests, beds, cupboards and cradles. As we have seen, though, they were also involved in the building of a house: working on the roof, the ceilings, the floors, gates and doors.

Their work was also important in agriculture. Here they worked closely with smiths to make tools, such as ploughs, spades, hoes, axes and sickles. Smiths made nails. Iron was expensive, though, and a carpenter had a number of choices for fastenings before he had to use nails.

It took both of smiths and carpenters to make saws, hammers, exes and knives. Some tools, like the axe, were fairly easy to make, others, like the saw, required a lot of precision on the part of the smith.

Still in the countryside, they built watermills and windmills that ground grain to enable people to make bread.

Carpenters even had a military use. They built trebuchets and other catapult weapons as well as the protective housings used to provide cover when armies attacked castles during sieges. Working with smiths again, they also made weapons such as pikes.

Carpenters might not have invented the technology that people in the fourteenth century depended on, but they built it. They built the wheels used on building sites of castles and cathedrals to life stones from the ground to the heights of the building. They made ladders and scaffolding for the other craftsmen to use.

As you can tell, there’s not a lot of information available about carpenters and they haven’t left that many examples of their craft behind them. I leave you with a rare example of their work that was dug up in Winchester.

Toilet seat

Making a Living in the Middle Ages by Christopher Dyer
Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel by Frances and Joseph Gies

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Buildings, Medieval Life

Medieval Bills of Exchange

Last week there was a question in the comments from Ellen Hawley who wanted to know how the innkeepers who stored and organised the transport of goods on behalf of merchants were paid by those merchants. I touched on this subject a bit when we were looking at how ransoms for prisoners of war were paid, but there is more to be said on the subject.

Banking in the fourteenth century was fairly sophisticated, even if two Florentine banks had gone bust lending money to Edward I and Edward III. Italian banks and Italian merchants were the most advanced in their business dealings, but we have to go back to the Templars in twelfth-century France to understand where the idea of how to make payments over large distances and in different currencies without physically moving lots of money arose.

Moving large amounts of coins was rarely a good idea in the Middle Ages. It was incredibly difficult to protect a train of slow-moving pack animals or carts from robbers and bandits. Even small amounts of money were vulnerable, as Chaucer discovered when he was robbed on three separate occasions when he was carrying money to pay men working for Richard II. This is not to say that real money and jewels weren’t transported around Europe and the East because they were. In 1328 a large amount of money was sent from the papal court in Avignon to Lombardy to pay the army there. There was a guard of 150 cavalry, but they were attacked and half the money was stolen and some of the cavalry were captured by the bandits and had to be ransomed.

Since it was so risky, another way had to be found to make payments across large distances. Somewhat surprisingly, we have to go back to the Templars and the Crusades. Although the Templars were active in protecting pilgrims and fighting in the Crusades in the holy Land, in England, France and Italy one of their primary functions was providing secure storage for important documents and precious objects. Although monasteries in general were fairly secure, the Templars were soldiers as well as monks. If I had to give my precious objects to someone, I think I’d prefer them to be in the care of men who were able to fight to protect them, rather than simply rely on the strength of monastery walls and doors.

The Crusades, however, meant that wealthy men needed to be able to access some of their money while they were in the East.  Not only did they have to feed the soldiers in their retinue, but they also had to replace lost or damaged equipment and horses. They also had to live in a certain style.

Fortunately, the Templars could help them. The Templars had preceptories all over Europe and in the East. A preceptory was a headquarters. Temple in London is where the English one was located and Le Temple is where the French equivalent was built in Paris. These were built like fortresses and were very secure. Wealthy men could deposit money in one of them and receive a letter of credit allowing him to receive the same amount in the local currency (less administration charges and interest) at any preceptory in Europe or in the Holy Land. This meant, of course, that the Templars made a profit on the transactions.

The records kept by the Templars were very thorough and everyone trusted them, with good reason. They even had a treasure ship off the coast of the Holy Land from which kings and nobles could make emergency withdrawals whilst on campaign. They were also able to make loans.

Since men from across Europe were involved in the Crusades, it’s not a surprise that the Templars became involved in the activities of Italian merchants and bankers who were interested in trade across Europe and in the East.

By the beginning of the fourteenth century, however, the Templar’s great wealth proved too tempting and Philippe IV of France destroyed the order in that country. The Florentine bankers had learned what they needed to do to fill the gap and came up with bills of exchange.

Bills of exchange allowed a person in one country to pay someone in a different country and in a different currency. They were also a form of loan on which interest was charged. Since charging interest was illegal, it was usually hidden in the administration fees, commission and exchange rates. Money didn’t have to be transferred just between branches of the same bank, but could also be transferred between different banks. The banks were not banks as we know them today. As far as I can discover, the only banks were Italian, but they operated all over Europe.

Bills of exchange weren’t always practicable. Sometimes the rate of exchange in one place made it too costly to buy a bill of exchange and silver, gold or precious stones had to be transported from one place to the other, because, despite the cost and risks involved, it was the cheaper option.

Bills of exchange weren’t just used by merchants, but also by people on business for the papal court. Men in the service of the kings also used them. Bills of exchange could only be used between locations that had more or less equal amounts of money in the branches of the bank. If the difference between them was too great, coins would have to be transported from one place to the other.

It wasn’t a perfect system, but it allowed innkeepers in France to be paid in their local currency by a merchant in England.

The Templars: History and Myth
by Michael Haag
Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel by Joseph Gies and Frances Gies
Power and Profit by Peter Spufford

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Commerce, Medieval Monks, Thirteenth Century, Twelfth Century

Medieval Innkeepers

The Wool House, Southampton

Some time ago I started an intermittent series about trades and occupations in the Middle Ages. I reallised that it has been several months since I added anything, so it’s probably about time we looked at another one. Innkeepers managed establishments whose purpose was to provide accommodation, food and drink to the people and animals who stayed in them. People in the Middle Ages travelled much more than we tend to think. Pilgrims, merchants, clerics and messengers were all on the roads, but so were men who transported goods from place to place and people who just had business in another town. They all needed somewhere to stay and they all hoped that they would stay in an inn run by a reputable man. As we shall see, innkeepers were not all made from the same cloth. Some were little better than criminals and others were entrusted with important commissions.

The best-known medieval innkeeper is probably Harry Bailly, the man from whose inn the pilgrims set off at the beginning of The Canterbury Tales. He’s a cheerful man who strives to keep the peace between the pilgrims and tries to manage the story-telling contest that gives rise to the various stories.

Not all innkeepers were as respectable as him, however. Some inns were not places where the Wife of Bath or the Prioress would want to find themselves. These were inns in which illegal gambling took place and a man who lost could find himself literally losing the shirt off his back, as well as all his other possessions if he lost beyond his ability to pay.

Inns themselves varied tremendously and could be large stone buildings built for the purpose with accommodation on an upper floor and stabling in the yard or a small room added to a tavern. We’re not really interested in taverns for this post, but we might come back to them later.

Inns were everywhere. They were in towns to provide accommodation for those who attended the markets and near pilgrimage sites to provide accommodation for pilgrims. They were also in places that people might travel to in order to petition the king or important and powerful clerics.

Accommodation was important to travellers. If there was no space for them in an inn or a monastery, they had to sleep outside the town, which might not be safe or particularly comfortable. Not that sleeping in an inn was always comfortable. Some inns had two rooms, one for men and one for women, but travellers generally shared one room with the innkeeper and his family.

As well as in towns there were also inns along all the trade routes and it’s the owners of some of these establishments who were at the top of the innkeeping trade. These innkeepers stored goods that came in bulk from one direction and were broken up into smaller quantities to be sent on in the other. They acted as agents of the merchants who owned the goods. Innkeepers organised the onward transport of goods where the method of transport changed. Goods might arrive by river and go on by road, either in carts or on pack animals and it was often innkeepers who took responsibility for this.

It wasn’t always possible for merchants to accompany their goods all the way from the place of production to the final market, possibly a thousand or more miles away, especially if the route passed through several countries and required different modes of transport. They were unlikely to have all the contacts necessary. They could, however, have a relationship with three or four reliable innkeepers wherever the method of transport changed. If, for example, an English merchant was sending goods to Italy, he might send an employee with them by sea to Bordeaux and on as far inland as the ship could sail. This would be Libourne on the Dordogne. Once there the cargo would be put into the care of an innkeeper and the employee would return to England with the ship and a different cargo.

The innkeeper, meanwhile, would weigh the goods, usually packed in bulk at this point. Then he would break the cargo down so that it could be transported overland by cart or pack animal. He stored it until he had arranged for a carrier to take it on the next stage of its journey, in this instance Montpellier in the south of France. He paid the carrier for the journey and his job was done.

The carrier delivered it to another innkeeper in Montpellier who took it in, weighed it and paid another carrier to take it to Aigues Mortes in Provence. From Aigues Mortes it went by galley to Porto Pisano in Tuscany. The innkeeper in Aigues Mortes paid for men and small boats to take the goods to the galley and that’s where his responsibility ended.

The English merchant only had to pay the innkeepers and he needed no local knowledge to transport his goods across four different countries with three or four different languages. He didn’t even have to think about how to prepare his goods for the different types of transport.

Innkeepers were prepared to store goods for some time, especially those in ports who had to wait for ships to arrive that were going in the right direction. Even inland innkeepers, however, might have to wait until a carrier with enough animals or carts turned up. They also had to pay tolls and deal with officials who would weigh the goods and tax them.

In order to operate as warehouses, inns needed to be large, like the warehouse at the top of the post, and secure. This, along with the necessity of paying carriers up front, meant that innkeepers had to be wealthy men. These were probably not men like Chaucer’s innkeeper, but men who had already made money elsewhere. Some of them were priests and lawyers, some were even nobles. However rich they were to start with, providing this kind of service made them much richer.

A Social History of England ed. by Rosemary Horrox and W. Mark Ormrod
Power and Profit by Peter Spufford

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Commerce, Medieval Life

Medieval Ransoms Part 4

I wrote in last week’s post that some prisoners of war were able to keep servants and horses. Not surprisingly the prisoner would pay for this. Other things for which he had to pay are a bit more unexpected.

The first thing he had to pay for was his accommodation: his food and his lodgings. In effect, he was paying for his own prison. The cost of this varied according to the status of the prisoner. In the fifteenth century this could be 20 shillings a day for a nobleman. You will recall that our skilled labourer from the fourteenth century earned 4d (pennies) a day. There were 12d to a shilling, so that would be 60 days of labour for one day’s accommodation. More usually, for much lower status prisoners, the fee was 4 or 5 shillings a week. Still out of reach for our labourer, but men of his class weren’t taken prisoner; they were killed.

This wasn’t the last of it. If the captor decided to take his prisoner with him as he travelled between his manors or for other reasons, the prisoner had to pay for his horse (plus its feed and accommodation). If he needed an escort, which he might if he were a high status noble, he had to pay for that too. Often a safe-conduct was required to allow him to travel within what was enemy territory. Guess who had to pay for that? This could cost the prisoner between 9 shillings and 26 shillings.

He even had to pay for the messenger to go to his friends and family to tell them about the ransom and make arrangements for it to be paid. This might not be a minor expense if the messenger had to travel some distance or search for the person he’d been sent to. There’s an example of a messenger who worked in this way for a noble for most of a year. This cost the noble £140.

These were the expenses a prisoner could count on if all went well. If there were any problems, there would be more. If a prisoner had been injured when he was captured, for example or he became ill later, there were medical expenses to be paid.

All these costs were added at the end of the prisoner’s captivity, so they often came as a bit of a shock. There were even court cases in which prisoners claimed that the size of the additional expenses were unfair.

It’s beginning to look as if my protagonist’s ransom will be the least of his worries. He’s got to send a messenger to his brother who is a journey of at least two weeks away. I happen to know that the brother isn’t where he’s supposed to be, so the messenger can easily be away for two months and more looking for him. That could cost Geoffrey £28 for the messenger and £2 for his accommodation. Instead of his ransom being £175, it’s now £205 and he no longer knows how it’s going to be paid.

Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years War by Rémy Ambühl

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:




Filed under Hundred Years War, Medieval Life