Telling The Time In the Middle Ages

447px-Abbot_Richard_Wallingford

In the fourteenth century there were no appointments for which you had to be on time. No one had to meet their manager at 10.00 a.m. or needed to get to the hospital for a 9.20 a.m. slot. The only thing you could really be late for was mass.

This isn’t to say that telling the time was unimportant. The medieval day was strictly ordered. Church bells sounded out the canonical hours and, provided you weren’t on a journey, you would rarely be beyond the limit of hearing them. I can hear the chimes of bells which are over a mile away from my house. In the silence of the medieval world, the sound would be heard from much further away.

Whilst the hours of daylight could be divided with some accuracy, no one really had any idea what time it was after dark. If you woke up in the winter you had no way of telling whether it was three hours after you had gone to bed or nine.

The fourteenth century saw many changes with regard to telling the time, but they built on what had gone before. The first known mechanical clock, powered by water, was made in China towards the end of the eleventh century. It was two centuries before a similar device appeared in Europe.

I used to think that European clocks were developed to help monks keep to the liturgical hours, but they had been managing perfectly well without elaborate timepieces for centuries. It was astronomers who needed the (relative) accuracy that clocks could give them, for tracking the movement of the planets. Water driven clocks were not enough and a weight-driven clock was developed in the second quarter of the fourteenth century.

Early clocks had no face or hands and did not ring bells. They alerted a bell ringer to the need to pull the bellrope. In 1335 a clock was built in Milan which rang the bell itself. These clocks were encased in large metal frames and housed in towers. Once they were capable of striking the bell themselves the bell could be struck every hour, even though there was no agreement about how long an hour was.

Edward III installed clocks in his palaces in the 1350s and 1360s. They were the first working mechanical clocks in England.

Clocks were made by blacksmiths. By 1370 there were at least thirty in Europe, but timekeeping was a secondary concern for all of them.  They were astronomical clocks, usually showing the phases of the moon and other important astronomical events.

It was not unusual for these clocks to gain or lose many minutes in one day, but it was not a problem. For most people the days were still divided into twelve long hours of daylight in the summer and twelve short hours in the winter, with the length of the hour varying constantly over the course of a year.

The measurement of time was governed by local conditions. In some places the day started at midnight, in others at midday, in others at sunrise (the most common) and others at sunset. Of course, this was only confusing if you travelled from place to place. If you stayed put, you and all your neighbours used the same system.

Gradually the length of an hour became more regulated, as the day was divided into twenty-four equal parts – in towns at least. Mechanical clocks led to this, in part.

Everyone told the time by looking at where buildings or trees cast their shadows. As clocks spread, it became normal for people to have two ways of talking about time. There was clock time and solar time. They started saying ‘of the clock’ (o’clock) to differentiate between the two.

The divisions of the day established by the church were those used by everyone. Most people got up at daybreak, which was prime, or the first hour. The third hour, terce, was about halfway between daybreak and noon. Sext, or noon, was the sixth hour. The ninth hour, nones, was about halfway bewteen noon and sunset. Vespers was the twelfth hour, or sunset. Church bells were rung at these times. Even if the timing of the bells differed from village to village, they regulated daily life for everyone who could hear them.

Sources:

The Senses in Late Medieval England – C.M. Woolgar

Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel – Frances and Joseph Gies

The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England – Ian Mortimer

A Social History of England 1200 – 1500 – ed. Rosemary Horrox and W. Mark Ormrod

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The Monk’s Tale

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Today the second book in The Soldiers of Fortune series is published. The Monk’s Tale is about the youngest Montfort brother. Mark is reunited with his brothers on the eve of the Battle of Poitiers, having run away from the monastery where he was supposed to make his vows as a monk. In Bordeaux he learns to enjoy things which were denied him before. Readers of The Heir’s Tale will already know that Mark runs away again almost as soon as he sets foot back in England. You can find out why and what happens to him in his own story.

The cover is the work of the wonder Cathy Helms from Avalon Graphics.

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A Bed Is Not Just For Sleeping

Athelstan

A few weeks ago I read Beds and Chambers in Late Medieval England by Hollie L.S. Morgan. It was illuminating on many counts, especially on the, sometimes unexpected, uses of a bed and bedchamber.

Religion affected everything in the fourteenth century, despite the perceived failure of the church during the Black Death. It’s not surprising, therefore, that there should be a religious aspect to the bed, to waking and sleeping, and to the bedchamber.

For many, the bed was a place where one meditated and encountered God. The chamber was not necessarily a private place, nor, for that matter, was the bed. Few people had bedchambers and those who did rarely occupied them alone. In rooms like the solar we visited last week the lord would sleep with his family. This might not just be his wife and his children, but possibly a widowed mother or an unmarried sister, or more. Despite this, it was here that people expected to meet God as individuals.  It’s not clear what those without a bed or a bedchamber were supposed to do.

Apart from active meditation, there was also the expectation that God could and would speak to someone who was sleeping. The Bible is full of stories of God speaking through dreams or to sleepers. There was another side to sleeping, however. God was not the only one who could come to you while you slept. When you were asleep you were no longer in control of your thoughts and that might open you up to the devil’s influence. On the whole, the night was more to be feared than welcomed. It was a dangerous time.

It was the part of the day beloved of ghosts and demons, who could do harm to anyone coming across them. Then, as now, Christian teaching spoke of the contrast between light (good) and dark (bad). Beings and people who were abroad in the dark, who might even consider the darkness their natural environment, were not usually out to do good.

The night was not only full of spiritual dangers, there were physical dangers too. Your enemy, or a criminal, could creep into your chamber at night and harm you or kill you, since you would not know they were there if you were asleep and you would not be able to protect yourself. Even if you woke, there was probably little you could do. Unless your attacker brought a light with him, or a fire still burned in the bedchamber, you were in darkness. You couldn’t just flick a light switch or strike a match to see him. You had to find or make fire in order to light a candle. The odds were not in your favour.

There was a very real fear that you could go to sleep at night and not wake up in the morning. It was, therefore, sensible to pray for protection before you slept and to give thanks when you woke.

 

Since the bed was a place for praying and meeting God, it was also a place where other devotional activities took place. It is probable that those who were wealthy enough to own devotional books read them in the bedchamber, although they could also read them aloud to the household in the hall. Devotional reading included commentaries on the Bible, sermons, psalters (books of Psalms), works of the Church Fathers and breviaries. A breviary is a book containing all the readings from the Bible and prayers for each liturgical season and each part of the day. It could be used in communal worship in a chapel or a church, but also in private worship in the bedchamber.

 

Sources:

Beds and Chambers in Late Medieval England by Hollie L.S. Morgan

The Time Traveller’s Guide to the Medieval England by Ian Mortimer

 

 

 

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The Solar Revisited

The solar, Stokesay Castle (2)

The solar, Stokesay Castle

Some time ago I wrote about medieval solars in a rather general way, but I visited Stokesay Castle in Shropshire during the summer and now have a few photographs of a medieval solar. Stokesay is really a house with ideas above its station, but it shows, in many ways, how the living spaces of the wealthy functioned in the fourteenth century.

Although a seventeenth-century owner of the house covered the room with the wood panelling that was fashionable at the time, the elements of the medieval room can still be seen.

The solar was designed to be a comfortable room. There’s a fireplace to keep it warm and windows to let in light. The fireplace in the photograph is also from the seventeenth century, but there was a fireplace there in the fourteenth century. It was here that the lord of the manor and his family spent most of their time. The lord’s bed would be here and he would conduct his business here.

Whilst most people slept on the floor or on sacks filled with straw, the bed of the lord of the manor would be something that we would recognise as a bed today. A fairly substantial mattress would have rested on a wooden bed frame. He would have had pillows and sheets and blankets. A canopy would have hung from the ceiling and the curtains attached to it would be drawn around the bed to provide both privacy and warmth.

The solar, Stokesay Castle

The solar, Stokesay Castle

Chairs were almost as rare as beds, but the lord of the manor probably had one in his solar. Cushions would have made it comfortable, and it would have been brightly painted.

Solars were built at the opposite end of the hall to the kitchens so that they were out of the way of any unpleasant odours. Bear in mind that there were no fridges to preserve food and whole animals might be used for a meal. In the summer the kitchen was probably not a good place to be. Being at the other end of the house also meant that there was less risk to the solar and its inhabitants if the kitchen burned down, which was not an unusual occurrence.

They were also built on the first floor as a sign of the status of their occupants. In addition, it enabled the inhabitants of the room to look down into the hall to see what was going on there.  Here’s one of the windows looking from the solar.

Window from solar to hall Stokesay Castle

View from the solar into the hall, Stokesay Castle

Here are both windows seen from the hall.

Windows at the rear of the hall, Stokesay Castle

Windows from the solar, Stokesay Castle

The rest of the household spent a lot of their time in the hall, even sleeping there, so the windows provided a means of seeing or hearing what was going on.

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The Battle of Poitiers – what happened next?

Schlacht bei Poitiers / aus: Froissart - Battle of Poitiers / from: Froissart - Bataille de Poitiers / De: Froissart

The battle of Poitiers is the event which changes everything for the four Montfort brothers in The Soldiers of Fortune series, especially for Ancelin in The Heir’s Tale. I’ve written about the battle itself before, but today I want to look at some of the after-effects of the battle.

It took place on 19th September 1356, so the anniversary was just a few days ago.

The battle established Edward of Woodstock, also known as the Black Prince, as a great soldier. His reputation began ten years earlier at Crécy, where he was in nominal command of one of the sections of Edward III’s army. Whether the command was nominal or not, he proved his skill as a soldier as well as his bravery on that occasion.

By the time he fought the battle outside the town of Poitiers in Aquitaine, he had been leading raids against France for a little over a year. The raids had formed a cohesive unit out of various English and Gascon retinues and Edward led a tired and hungry, but effective, army against a greater French force. In this battle he also showed his skill as a strategist. Thereafter he was known as one of the greatest soldiers in Europe.

During the battle, the king of France, Jean II, was captured and many French nobles and their allies were killed or taken prisoner.  Jean II was not much of a soldier and had little control over his army, wasting the advantages he had of a fresher and larger army. He was taken to England, where he was held hostage for ransom by Edward III. Interestingly, at this time, Edward III had another king as hostage, his brother-in-law, David II of Scotland.

The ransom demanded for Jean II and other French prisoners was £500,000, an incredible amount. It was five or six times more than Edward III’s annual income. France was the wealthier country of the two, but this amount would still be several times Jean II’s own income.

The capture of Jean II left his son Charles in charge of France. Charles was the first heir to the French crown to have the title ‘Dauphin’. He inherited the province of the Dauphiné in south-east France from his grandfather and this included the title, which means dolphin. It was originally a nickname, because the coat of arms of the province depicted a dolphin. Just in case you’re thinking it was a strange thing to have on a coat of arms, animals had meaning in heraldry and the dolphin symbolises swiftness, diligence, salvation, charity, and love.  After 1350 each heir to the French crown was given the title ‘Dauphin’. At the time of the battle Charles was 18. As Charles V, he later earned the sobriquet ‘the Wise’, but he showed very little wisdom in his youth.

After 1356 there was, in theory, peace, but the cessation of hostilities meant that there were many soldiers on both sides with nothing to do. A large number of them carried on doing what they did best and they roamed the French countryside demanding protection money from towns and villages, wreaking havoc where they were denied.

By 1358 the French peasantry had had enough. The French nobility had failed spectacularly at Poitiers, increasing the threat of an invasion from England. The Dauphin’s government couldn’t protect them from marauding mercenaries. Taxes and grain prices were increasing. The final straw came when the Dauphin’s soldiers blockaded Paris and commandeered food and supplies without payment. The peasants were being robbed by the very people who were supposed to protect them and they rose up against them.

The revolt began on 28th May in different parts of the country and spread quickly. From an English point of view, this was a vindication of Edward III’s policy of conducting raids from Gascony in 1355 and 1356, the aim of which was to demonstrate that the French king could not protect his people and to cause as much destruction as possible in order to increase the financial burden on Jean II by reducing tax revenues available to him. The Dauphin was increasingly unpopular, as he failed to bring order to the chaos into which France was descending. The revolt (the Jacquerie) was brief, only lasting a fortnight, but it was very violent.

The ransom for Jean II was agreed in the Treaty of Brétigny, sealed on 8th May 1360, and the king was allowed to return to France. Several French nobles took his place as hostages, including his second son, Louis d’Anjou. In the treaty Edward III agreed to give up his claim to the French crown. In return he would receive the king’s ransom as well as complete sovereignty over the French territories he had inherited (instead of being a vassal of the king of France) and any territories he had conquered.

Little of the ransom was paid and, when it looked as if he was going to be in captivity for longer than he had thought, Louis d’Anjou escaped in July 1363. As soon as he heard what his son had done, Jean II returned to England, where he died less than a year later, thus depriving Edward III of his ransom.

Hostilities broke out again in 1369.

 

Sources:

The Hundred Years War: A People’s History – David Green

Trial by Fire: The Hundred Years War, Volume 2 – Jonathan Sumption

TheHeirsTale-WEB

Available from Amazon

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Dissolution of Marriage

Boxgrove Priory

Boxgrove Priory

Painful though it is for someone whose novels always have a Happy Ever After ending (I don’t think I’m giving anything away there), I have to conclude the short series on betrothal and marriage with a post on the dissolution of marriages.

Whilst it was normal for a marriage to continue until one of the parties died, marriages could end in a variety of ways.

An acceptable end to a marriage was for both parties to agree to enter the religious life. The husband would become a monk and the wife a nun. Things were obviously less satisfactory if only one of them wanted this. They were even less satisfactory if one of them (the husband) used it as a means of shutting the other away. This was usually done so that a mistress could be installed in the wife’s place, often in the hope of being able to marry the mistress later. Since the husband concerned had to be fairly powerful to achieve this, it was not something to be feared by all women.

What we would call a separation could also take place, but it was not necessarily straightforward. These would usually occur because of adultery or cruelty. Except for the very poorest, a marriage would involve a transfer of property. The bride’s family would have provided a dowry, which was given to the groom. If she and her husband no longer wished to live together, some arrangement had to be made about the dowry. Should the whole thing be returned to the bride’s family? Should the groom keep part of it? If the dowry was a cow, for example, should any offspring go to the bride’s family? Should any go to her children? Clearly, a third party would have to make a decision and this could be expensive. Sometimes the separation was less formal, but either way, neither party could marry again. Marriage was indissoluble. They might not be living together, but they were still married to one another.

There was only one option for a man who wished to marry again. It was usually the man who wanted to follow this course and it would be because he wanted an heir, or, in the case of Phillippe II of France, because something (unknown) went terribly wrong on the wedding night. In order for another marriage to take place the existing marriage had to be annulled, which meant both parties would be single again, as if the marriage had not taken place.

Marriages could be annulled for very few reasons. The marriage might be annulled because it was not valid in the first place. This would apply where the marriage was bigamous or where one of the couple was too young to marry. For poorer people, bigamy was the most common reason for an annulment. Among the aristocracy the most frequently used reason was consanguinity, i.e. the couple were so closely related to one another that their marriage was really incest. Eleanor of Aquitaine requested an annulment of her marriage to Louis VII of France for this reason. This was originally opposed by her husband, but he gave way after they had a second daughter. They had been married for fifteen years and there were no sons. Shortly after the annulment was granted by the pope, Eleanor married the future Henry II, to whom she was just as closely related.

 

I’ve been asked, more than once, to reveal my sources, as it were.  I shall try to remember to do so. Here they are for this post:

Unmarriages by Ruth Mazo Karras

Life in a Medieval Village by Frances and Joseph Gies

 

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New Release

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Today is the anniversary of the battle of Poitiers, which took place in 1356. Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince, led an English and Gascon army against a larger French force and won.

This is the event which proves to be the turning point in the lives of the four brothers in my new historical romance series The Soldiers of Fortune, and this seemed to be an appropriate day to announce that the first book in the series, The Heir’s Tale, is available for pre-order and will be released on 29th September, closely followed by the other three books in the series.

Four brothers – one battle that changes everything

When Ancelin Montfort returns to England with the body of his brother after the battle of Poitiers, his only thought is to see the woman he has loved since he was a boy. Unfortunately, she is his brother’s widow and he is already betrothed. The knowledge that he is now his father’s heir weighs heavily on Ancelin, and his intended wife is part of that burden.

Emma was betrothed to Ancelin shortly before he went to France. There has been no communication between them for almost two years and the man who has returned from war is not the cheerful man who left her.

Days before their wedding is due to take place, Ancelin comes to believe that Emma has betrayed him. He has a choice. Should he believe and marry the woman he loves or the woman his father has chosen as his wife?

The cover is the work of the amazing Cathy Helms from Avalon Graphics.

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Papal Dispensations

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In one of the Soldiers of Fortune stories a couple needs a papal dispensation in order to marry. This is because they’re too closely related to marry in the normal course of things. There were rules about consanguinity which were fairly closely observed by monarchs and the nobility, who would not want anyone to question the validity of a marriage and, by implication, the legitimacy of any heirs. These rules were probably more or less ignored by everyone else.

A papal dispensation is permission from the pope for someone to do something contrary to canon law. Its best-known use relates to marriage, where it can permit a marriage which would not otherwise be allowed or dissolve a marriage.

Probably the most famous papal dispensation was one that wasn’t granted. Henry VIII requested one to enable him to put aside his wife, Katherine of Aragon, and marry Anne Boleyn. Since he had already requested, and received, one in order to marry Katherine, he was on a bit of a losing wicket from the start. Henry had needed a dispensation to marry Katherine because she was his brother’s widow, which meant that their marriage would be incestuous. Katherine said that her marriage to Prince Arthur had not been consummated and the pope allowed Henry and Katherine to marry.

There were prohibitions against marriages considered incestuous and the rules of consanguinity also covered people who were only related by marriage. Hence, if Katherine’s marriage to Arthur had been ruled valid, Katherine and Henry would have been related to the first degree, that is, they would have been considered brother and sister.

The prohibited degrees of consanguinity varied throughout the Middle Ages. Before 1215, when the Fourth Lateran Council clarified the issue, marriage between sixth cousins was prohibited. Who is your sixth cousin? It’s someone who shares a great-great-great-great-great-grandparent with you, or someone who was married to someone who shared a great-great-great-great-great-grandparent with you. You can see how it might be difficult to know who your sixth cousin was. If you lived in a small village, you could almost guarantee that you were related to everyone else more closely than that.

In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council decreed that the fourth degree of consanguinity was the closest at which a marriage could be permitted. This meant that marriage between a couple who shared a great-grandparent was not permitted. Brother and sister are related in the first degree, first cousins in the second, second cousins in the third and so on. An infringement of this rule was considered incest.

If you were a noble, however, you might be able to persuade the pope that your close relationship to your intended wife was not such an impediment. Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince, needed a papal dispensation to marry Joan of Kent. His great-grandfather, Edward I, was her grandfather, which meant that they were first cousins once removed. They married secretly some weeks before the dispensation was requested in the hope of forcing the pope’s hand. The pope gave his permission and Joan’s third marriage reinforced her reputation of marital irregularity.

 

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Medieval marriage

Bologna_marriage_women

In many romance novels there is a wedding near the end and, spoiler alert, mine tend not to be any different. The weddings in my novels, however, are not big affairs with the bride in white attended by bridesmaids, and the groom attended by his best friend. They don’t even take place inside a church.

One of the things I learned early in my reading about life in the Middle Ages is that a wedding wasn’t always what I thought it should be. I wrote a short post a few weeks ago about church porches, where weddings often took place. They were, however, just as likely to take place in a house or in a wood. Most of the weddings in my novels take place in church porches, but one takes place in a wood and one inside a solar.

What constituted a marriage in the Middle Ages? It was a civil contract between the two people involved. This didn’t mean that there couldn’t be affection or even romantic love between them, but that was rarely the reason for marrying. Marriage was often about property or security.

There were two ways to achieve a valid marriage. We looked at the future intent way last week. If a couple meant to be married immediately they only had to say to one another “I take you, name, as my husband/wife”, or something similar. Regardless of whether the marriage was immediate or deferred, the consent of both parties was necessary.

The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 decreed that a wedding must be in public and that the bride must have a dowry, but there did not need to be any witnesses, nor did there need to be clergy present. Often even these simple requirements were not met. Once again, Joan of Kent is our example. She married in secret without the knowledge of her mother or anyone else who was responsible for her, which obviously meant she had no dowry. Yet this marriage was, eventually, declared valid by the pope. All that was really necessary for a marriage to take place were the words spoken by the man and the woman.

According to a fascinating book I read recently, Beds and Chambers in Late Medieval England by Hollie L. S. Morgan, marriage vows were often made in bed. You can see how easy it would be for either party to deny that such a wedding had taken place, or for one of them to claim that it had when it had not.

Marriages without witnesses did not always end well. It would often turn out that one or other party was already married, or had pretended to marry the other party, in order to entice them into bed. Sometimes a woman who became pregnant would claim that the father had married her when he had not.

Clandestine marriages, i.e. those without witnesses, were forbidden by the Fourth Lateran Council. The prohibition was widely ignored. Despite its best efforts, the church found it impossible to control where and how couples made their vows.

If you were a villein getting married would often involve paying a fee (or merchet) to the lord of the manor. It was only payable if the bride had a dowry.

Weddings were supposed to take place at the door of the church or in the church porch, because it was the most public place in the village. The man often gave the woman a ring as a token of the dower that he would provide for her. The dower was the property he gave to his wife to provide for her after his death, but she would only have it for her lifetime. Her children could not inherit it. Sometimes there was a nuptial mass after the exchange of vows. Then there was usually a feast.

Premarital sex was condemned in public, but accepted in private. Many marriages, in villages at least, did not take place until the woman was pregnant, thus demonstrating the couple’s fertility.

The church had a struggle as it tried to control marriage. The New Testament declared that marriage is second-best to celibacy and turning it into a sacrament was an uphill task. It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that the Catholic Church required its members to be married by a priest in front of witnesses. In Protestant England the law changed at the beginning of the seventeenth century, so that a priest or a magistrate was required to make a marriage legal.

 

 

 

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Medieval Betrothals

1300_1320ManesseCodex_hawking

In this second post relating to the Soldiers of Fortune series of novels I’m looking at betrothals. A betrothal was sometimes a precursor to marriage, but it was not necessary to enable a marriage to take place. What did and did not constitute a marriage in the fourteenth century is a different topic, but they could be secret or public. A betrothal was always a public act.

There were, generally speaking, two ways to marry. One was by present consent and the other by future consent. The latter was a betrothal. The vows made in a betrothal were such that the couple said that they intended to marry and would be married if they consummated that intention physically. When that consummation took place (weeks, months, years later) they were married. Sometimes there was another ceremony after the betrothal and before the consummation, but that was rare.

A betrothal was not a religious ceremony.

Both children and adults could be betrothed. Although it was more usual for a child to be betrothed to another child, a child was sometimes betrothed to an adult.

Children became adults at a much younger age than they do today. We saw last week that men were not considered too young to lead an army at fifteen and sixteen, and boys and girls came of age much younger than they do now.

A marriage was not supposed to be consummated until the woman was capable of bearing a child and the couple might wait for some time after that. Some did not. Joan of Kent maintained that she consummated her clandestine marriage to Thomas Holland at the age of twelve. When she was married to William Montague later that year, the unwilling bride and her new husband lived apart, because she was considered too young to consummate the marriage. It’s believed that Edward II, who married Isabella of France when she was 12, waited two or three years before consummating their marriage.

Fourteen was the acceptable age for cohabitation for a woman.  She was considered to be in her prime child-bearing years in her late teens and early twenties.

Marriages were often used by aristocratic families to cement alliances as parents betrothed their children to one another. Betrothals could be, and were, broken. Loyalties changed and someone who was seen as an ally one day could be an enemy the next.

 

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