Medieval Sanctuary

Church Porch at Boxgrove Priory

Church Porch, Boxgrove Priory

I had almost finished writing a post about outlaws when I realised that it wouldn’t make sense if I didn’t also write about sanctuary. The post was already quite long, so I didn’t want to do it within the post.The dastardly deeds of medieval outlaws will have to wait until next week.

Sanctuary was the protection provided to a person fleeing arrest for committing a serious crime, that is, one with the death penalty. There were, sadly, a large number of crimes in that category. The criminal could take refuge inside a church for up to forty days. This meant, in theory, that he (or she) was safe from those trying to arrest him for that period. In practice that protection was often illusory, especially in more remote areas. In order for the sanctuary to be valid, the person claiming it had to confess their crime to a witness.

It was only a temporary respite, however. As soon as he left sanctuary he could be hanged, unless he promised to leave the country. He was supposed to go to the nearest port and take ship. If he managed to evade his enemies’ revenge on the way, he probably took another name and went to live in another part of the country, or become an outlaw, if he wasn’t one already.

Once the person was inside the church the pursuers had to set a guard to make sure that he did not escape. They were not permitted to starve him out, and he was supposed to be allowed to leave the church to relieve himself and return.

You can probably see many ways in which this could go wrong for the person inside the church. People were often physically removed from the church and killed. If, for some reason, they could not be removed from the church, they could be denied food. Should they survive the forty days they could be killed on leaving the church. If that didn’t happen, they could be killed on their way to the coast. The odds were very much against them surviving to become an outlaw, or anything else.

Sometimes the crime was so bad that the person responsible was refused sanctuary. Isabella de Bury killed a priest in 1320 and the bishop of London said that the church would not shelter her. She was taken from the church where she had sought sanctuary and hanged.

Sources:

Medieval Lives by Terry Jones

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

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Paying Homage in the Middle Ages

Homage_d'Edouard_III

My current work in progress is a novella in which the hero has to pay homage to Edward III. Although I had a basic idea of what this meant, I didn’t know the details and a reader would want details.

Homage was paid by a man to his lord for land. The vassal knelt before the (usually) seated king with his hands joined together as if praying (or begging) and the king put his hands around them.  The vassal was granted land, which he held from the king. He did not own it. Technically he held it only for as long as he provided the services to the king which he promised during his act of homage. The vassal became a tenant-in-chief. The services he promised to provide were usually military support to the king. If the land was given into the care of the church, the bishop or abbot was to provide the service of prayers and charity.  In theory at least, if those services were not provided, the king could take back the land and give it to someone else.

The vassal was unlikely to be able to manage all the land that he had been given, so he would share it out amongst his own followers, who went through a similar process in that they swore to provide a service of some kind to him. This might be military service or it might be labour.

At the bottom of the chain the agricultural service owed to a lord of the manor was gradually replaced by rent in the fourteenth century, especially after the Black Death. Some men still owed field service to their lords, but freemen increasingly paid rent. Field service entailed working in the fields of the demesne – the part of the estate which was for the direct use of the lord of the manor. Some of the men who worked there were paid by the lord of the manor, but some paid for the use of the land they held from him with their labour.

One of the causes of discontent for Edward I, Edward II and Edward III was that they had to pay homage to the king of France. According to a treaty made by Henry III he was the lord from whom they held the duchy of Aquitaine. Part of the homage was promising not to bear arms against the king of France, which put them in a difficult position when he encroached on their territory, or when Edward III decided to assert his claim to the French crown.

On 6th June 1329 Edward III paid homage to Philippe VI, king of France, for Aquitaine. This event is depicted in the image at the top of the page. In 1325 he had done the same to Charles IV, on behalf of his father, Edward II, but Charles had been his uncle. The direct line of Capet monarchs ended with Charles IV. Through his mother, Queen Isabella, Edward III was the only living legitimate grandson of Philippe IV and had, he thought, a valid claim to the French crown. Instead, Philippe de Valois became king.  Philippe VI  had to go back to his grandfather, Philippe III, in order to make his claim, while Edward III’s claim was through his own grandfather, Philippe IV, son of Philippe III. It was later said that the homage paid by Edward III was not real homage, because Philippe VI was merely the son of a count and a king could not pay homage to someone of lower rank.

When Edward of Woodstock (later known as the Black Prince), heir of Edward III, was made Prince of Aquitaine in 1362, he expected the nobles of Aquitaine to pay homage to him, but not all of them were willing to do so. Many of them believed that they should only pay homage to a king and others refused to pay homage to anyone, maintaining that they did not hold their lands in their own right and not from any lord.

The act of paying homage was not supposed to be private, but public. There should be witnesses to the exact promises made. A thirteenth-century legal treatise known as Bracton has a template for a tenant paying homage to his lord:

[The tenant] ought to place both his hands between the two hands of his lord, by which there is symbolised protection, defence and warranty on the part of the lord and subjection and reverence on that of the tenant, and say these words: I become your man with respect to the tenement which I hold of you… and I will bear you fealty in life and limb and earthly honour… saving the faith owed the lord king and his heirs.

 

Sources

Edward the Black Prince: Power in Medieval Europe – David Green

The Oxford Illustrated History of Medieval England – ed. Nigel Saul

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

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Medieval Weights and Measures

market

I’m sorry, but there is really no way to make this interesting.  In my novels the characters talk about how far they’ve travelled, how much things weigh and how much ale is left in a barrel. In order to do this convincingly, they can’t talk about kilometres, kilogrammes and litres. It turns out that they can talk about feet, yards and miles, though, which is a relief.

Measurements were starting to become standardised in the fourteenth century. Weights were supposed to be standardised to what was used in Winchester, but many towns retained their local weights and measures. I can see that there might have been some very great misunderstandings when people from different parts of the country had dealings with one another.

These are the most common medieval weights and measures:

Distance

Furlong – the length of a furrow of a field ploughed by a team of eight oxen. It was forty perches or 220 yards. This was the long side of the acre. The other side was 22 yards.

League – approximately three miles.

Mile – there were officially two different miles. One was the statute mile and the other was the Old French mile, which is 1.25 statute miles. There were also, of course, local miles of varying lengths. The length of a mile wasn’t fixed formally until the end of the sixteenth century.

Rod/perch/pole – five and a half yards.

Length

Ell – used for measuring cloth. It was usually forty-five inches, but could be twenty-seven inches for Flemish cloth. The ruler used for measuring cloth was known as an ell-wand.

Foot – twelve inches.

Inch – the French word for inch will help us here. It’s ‘pouce’, which also means thumb. An inch was the width of an adult thumb.

Yard – three feet, but originally the length of an outstretched arm. Henry I is supposed to have used his own arm as the standard.

Weight

Bushel – eight gallons.

Chaldron – 36 bushels.

Hundredweight – 112lb except in Devon, where it was 120lb.

Pound (lb) – 16 ounces (oz), except in Devon, where it was 18oz.

Quarter (or core) – eight bushels. It was used for weighing grain.

Stone – 14lb, except in Devon, where it was 16lb.

Liquids

Gallon – varied depending on whether it was ale or wine being measured.

Hogshead – sixty-three wine gallons, fifty-two-and-a-half ale gallons. In London it was usually forty-eight ale gallons.

Area

Acre – the amount of land a team of 8 oxen can plough in a day.

Ploughland – the amount of land a team of 8 oxen can plough in a year.

Both of these will clearly vary greatly across the country. An acre in Norfolk will be larger than an acre in Yorkshire or Devon simply because Norfolk is flatter and easier to plough. Edward I tried, and failed, to standardise the size of an acre.

Rood – quarter of an acre.

You’ll have noticed that some of these measurements are almost meaningless. It’s all very well knowing that a bushel is eight gallons, but what was a gallon?

Apart from allowing my characters to discuss their journeys and the amount of land they hold, why is this important? Imagine you’re a merchant travelling from one market to another to sell your wares. You need to know what the units of measurement are in the towns you visit regularly. You will be accused of short-changing your customers if their expectations of what a bushel is exceed what you give them.

 

Sources:

The Time Traveller’s Guide to the Fourteenth Century – Ian Mortimer

A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases – Christopher Corèdon with Ann Williams

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Release Day – The Mercenary’s Tale

TheMercenarysTale-WEB

The fourth book in the Soldiers of Fortune series is published today. Aymer Montfort became a mercenary after the Battle of Poitiers. Ten years later he decides to return home and make his peace with his brothers. On the way he rescues a beggar and agrees to escort her to Oxford.

Melissant de la Chapelle’s father was attacked and killed in Calais, leaving her penniless and without protection. She is grateful for Aymer’s kindness, but saddened by the distance he keeps between them.  As they reveal their secrets to one another they discover that they are not prepared for what awaits them in England.

It can be purchased here.

 

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Tournaments in the Fourteenth Century

Medieval-Jousting-Tournaments

Last week we had a brief look at tournaments in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Today we’re moving on to the fourteenth century and the particular use Edward III made of them.

In the thirteenth century there might have been up to three thousand men in a mêlée and the mêlée itself would have covered a large area. In the fourteenth century tournaments took place in more confined spaces. Sometimes a wooden castle would be built, with one team attacking it and one team defending.

Since a tournament was often a celebration, there would be dancing, feasting and drinking as well. Tournaments usually took place over three days, with the participants being introduced and paraded on the first day, jousting on the second and the tournament itself on the final day. There were judges, and prizes were awarded to those who had distinguished themselves. It’s not clear how they managed to judge a mêlée end even the scoring systems for jousts varied. Generally, the highest score was given for unhorsing an opponent. The next highest score was for breaking a lance on an opponent and the lowest for striking the opponent’s helmet. The knights usually had three runs at one another.

Tournaments were not as profitable as they had been. The knights could no longer capture and ransom one another. There were still prizes in the fourteenth century, but they were of fairly low value.

Tournaments could be opportunities for settling scores. In 1307 Piers Gaveston, Edward II’s favourite, held a tournament to celebrate his marriage. Showing up with three times the number of men he had said he would bring, he defeated everyone else. A similar thing happened a few weeks later at a tournament to celebrate Edward II’s marriage to Isabella of France. Realising that this meant that he was widely hated among the aristocracy, Gaveston asked the king to cancel a third tournament intended to form part of the coronation festivities.

Edward III became king in 1327 when he was fourteen years old. He enjoyed tournaments and used them strategically to show that he was not like his father, who had been deposed, but like his grandfather, Edward I, who had participated in many tournaments in his youth and had been a great warrior. As a young man, he often appeared at tournaments as a simple knight, showing his solidarity with other knights.

He held tournaments all over the country – Derby, Warwick, Northampton, Pembroke, Oxford, Canterbury, Hereford. Although they were more often held in summer, they could be held at any time of the year. There were tournaments to celebrate Christmas, others to celebrate the knighting of nobles, and others to celebrate the betrothals and marriages of his children.

Edward held at least 35 tournaments in England between 1327 and 1357, using them to gain support for his wars against the Scots and the French. He often celebrated the conclusion of a successful campaign with a tournament. He fought in them himself, often in the company of his sons.

One of the last old-fashioned mêlées was held to celebrate the wedding of Edward III and Philippa in 1328 in York. Cavalry charges became increasingly rare in fourteenth-century warfare. Battles were increasingly dominated by men fighting on foot, rather than on horseback, so mêlées were becoming irrelevant as a means of training knights.

Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer, the de facto rulers of England for the first three years of Edward III’s reign, often prohibited tournaments for fear of an armed uprising against them, but they put on four tournaments leading up to Edward III’s marriage to Philippa of Hainault in 1328.

Also in 1328 Mortimer used a tournament to demonstrate that he was more important and powerful than the king. He dressed as King Arthur, in a not very subtle attempt to suggest that he was descended from the Dark Ages leader. Edward III was given the role of Sir Lionel, one of Arthur’s lesser knights. Throughout the event Mortimer took precedence over the king. Mortimer was executed for treason two years later. The king often fought in later tournaments under the name Sir Lionel.

Edward III’s first London tournament was at Cheapside in September 1331.  Queen Philippa and her ladies were almost killed when their viewing stand collapsed. The king, a young man with a quick temper, wanted to kill the carpenters who had erected it, but Queen Philippa begged him to show mercy, which he did.

In the same year, Edward was saved from almost certain death by changing horses during a tournament. The horse he had been riding bolted soon afterwards and almost drowned the knight who had taken the king’s place by plunging into a river.

A tournament at Northampton in 1342 was a bit of a disaster, as many nobles were injured and horses were killed. Lord Beaumont died. On the whole there were few fatalities at the king’s tournaments. This one was an exception.

In 1344 Edward III called on 500 noble women and wives of the aldermen of London to attend a tournament in London. There was a huge banquet for the women in the hall of the castle. Only two men joined them. The Prince of Wales and the earls and barons ate in tents. I’m not sure where the king was, perhaps he ate with his son. During the tournament, the king and 19 knights fought against anyone who wished to take them on for three days.

The king gave tournaments in June 1348 to celebrate Queen Philippa’s churching after the birth of their sixth son. French nobles captured during the Crécy campaign of 1346 were allowed to take part.

A tournament was held at Windsor on St George’s day (23rd April) 1349 to celebrate the founding of the Knights of the Order of the Garter. The garter knights were divided into two groups. One side was led by Thomas Holland and the other by William Montague, both of whom believed that they were married to Joan of Kent at the time. Joan was present at the tournament.

A series of tournaments were held after the Prince of Wales’ return to England following his victory at the Battle of Poitiers starting in the autumn of 1357 at Smithfield. Edward III used the event to display his French and Scottish prisoners, including the two kings.

Sometimes the participants wore fancy dress to fight. In 1359 Edward III, his sons and some of their friends dressed as the mayor and aldermen of London for a tournament.

In March 1363 the Prince of Wales held a huge tournament to celebrate the churching of Joan of Kent after the birth of their son, Edward, in Angoulême in Aquitaine. His second son, Richard II, also gave tournaments, attending the feast of one in Smithfield in his full regalia, including his crown. This is probably the only tournament in which he took part, although he held many.

In 1382 William Montague, earl of Salisbury and second husband of Joan of Kent, killed his son in a tournament. Somewhat ironically, William had come into the earldom when his father died in 1344 from wounds he had received in a tournament.

The king was not the only one to put on tournaments; his nobles also organised them. Edward III only tended to ban a tournament when it clashed with one of his own.

Edward III turned tournaments into great spectacles. He dressed his ‘team’ alike and, when he wanted to hide his identity as a participant, they all wore masks.

There were few tournaments while the Hundred Years War was actively being fought. Edward III gave up taking part in his fifties and there were fewer tournaments after that.

Probably the most well-known joust of the fourteenth century took place in 1390 just outside Calais. Calais was a French town held by the English for two hundred years. Three French knights, including Boucicaut who recorded his training regime for posterity, said that they would fight anyone who would accept their challenge. About 100 English knights accepted. Against all expectations, the French knights won, although two of them were so badly bruised that they had to rest for a week.

As you know, there’s little I like more than videos of armour-clad men rushing around to prove how flexible and light medieval armour could be. Here’s one of a chap demonstrating that Boucicaut’s unlikely-sounding training regimen was perfectly possible.

 

 

Sources:

Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages – Michael Prestwich

England in the Reign of Edward III – Scott L Waugh

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

Knight – Michael Prestwich

Edward Prince of Wales and Aquitaine – Richard Barber

Edward III and the Triumph of England – Richard Barber (This book contains a chronological list of Edward III’s tournaments)

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Introduction to Medieval Tournaments

Crécy_-_Grandes_Chroniques_de_France

A couple of years ago I had a vague idea of writing a novel about a man who made money from tournaments. It didn’t come to anything, even though I read somewhere that adultery was so rife as to be the norm at such events.  Tournaments have come up again in my reading recently, so I thought I should learn more about them.

I have more than enough information for one blogpost, so this will be an introduction and another post will deal with tournaments in the fourteenth century.

There’s a very good chance that you’re not thinking about tournaments as you read this, but jousting. They’re not the same thing. Some tournaments did feature jousts, but a joust on its own was not a tournament.  Jousting is what you’ll have seen in films – two heavily-armoured knights on huge horses charging at one another on horses. They’re usually separated by a long fence. This last was a Spanish invention and wasn’t used in England until long after the fourteenth century. The English generally trusted their own ability to keep their horses running in a straight line towards an opponent without the help of a partition. Sometimes jousts included knights fighting on foot with different types of weapons.  It was the charging horses, however, which provided the greatest entertainment.

Tournaments began with a very serious purpose, which was to enable knights to practise warfare when there wasn’t a war. They fought in teams against one another. Men could be captured and ransomed, just as they could in a war. Some knights, among them William Marshal,  made a very good living from tournaments.

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries tournaments were mini battles. Two different types developed in the thirteenth century. The tournament á l’outrance was like a real battle and men were often killed. A tournament á la plaisance was more of a chivalric festival and was a bit safer.

The mêlée was the main event of a tournament. It was used to train knights to work together in a cavalry charge. They had to be able to keep formation when facing the enemy and this was the safest way to train them. Safety was, however, relative. Both sides charged at one another and fought until one side won. They were huge events and at least one had about 3,000 participants.

Injuries were common. Some men did not want to take part because of the risk of injury. If they were going to be injured, they preferred it to be in a real fight. There were many, on the other hand, who would rather be fighting in a tournament than fighting in Scotland, and Edward I restricted tournaments in an effort to raise a large enough army to take on the Scots. He had been a keen participant in tournaments in his youth, but they had to go when they conflicted with his ambitions.

Jousting was not quite as dangerous as a mêlée, but death or serious injury were still possibilities. Being knocked from a horse at speed was often fatal. Participants were usually bruised or had bones broken. Jousts became popular in the thirteenth century and eventually dominated tournaments.

Since tournaments were gathering places for men trained to fight, they could provide the opportunity for men to plot rebellion. They were suppressed by Henry III and Edward II for that reason. Unlike his father, Edward I, and his son, Edward III, Edward II was not in the least enthusiastic about tournaments. It was one of the many things which made those around him doubt his suitability to be king. Edward III knew how to use tournaments both to impress his nobles and to tie them to him with bonds of loyalty and friendship, as we’ll see next week.

Here is a video to show you how exciting jousting must have been. There are videos of mêlées, but they’re usually quite small and the men (and women) fight on foot. They’re also incredibly violent.

Sources:

England in the Reign of Edward III – Scott L Waugh

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

Knight – Michael Prestwich

Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages – Michael Prestwich

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The Knight’s Tale

TheKnightsTale-WEB

Today the third book in The Soldiers of Fortune series is released.

Stephen is the third surviving Montfort brother. Wounded in the Battle of Poitiers, he decides to remain in Gascony with his friend and captain, Roger de Calais. When the Black Prince sends them on a mission, Stephen discovers that he feels more for his captain than friendship. Roger of Calais is not what she appears to be, however, and admitting their love for one another could lead to death for both of them.

Their story can be purchased here.

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

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Beekeeping In The Middle Ages

800px-27-alimenti,_miele,_Taccuino_Sanitatis,_Casanatense_4182.

Last week Robyn, from Big Dreams for a Tiny Garden, asked a question in the comments section about honey in the Middle Ages and I had to admit that I have avoided tackling the subject. Not because I’m afraid of bees; I’m not and I love seeing them in the garden.  It’s because, if I think too much about them, I might be tempted to get a hive and turn out to be very allergic to bee stings.

Despite all this, bees and their products do deserve a post of their own, so here it is.

In the fourteenth century bees were kept in skeps – upside-down conical baskets with a small hole allowing bees to enter and exit. Skeps were usually kept in a sheltered place, since bees don’t like bad weather. As a means of keeping bees, skeps were far from perfect as they could not be examined for wax or honey without disturbing the bees.

Bees produce two things much in demand in the fourteenth century – honey and wax. You might think that honey was the more important of the two, but you’d be wrong.

Until sufficient sugar cane could be grown outside of the eastern Mediterranean to make it affordable for most people, honey was the main source of sweetness in food. Wax was the more valuable product, however, and theft of skeps was a perpetual problem. They were small enough to be portable and there were usually several of them kept together.

Honey was extracted from the wax by pressing it. The wax had to be washed to remove any remaining honey before it could be put to one of its many uses.

Honey was a versatile product. Its most important use was as a food flavouring. It was used to flavour ale and to add sweetness to the porridge with which many people started the day. This is certainly my favourite use for honey. Honey has antiseptic properties and was used to help wounds heal. This use of honey is definitely going to make an appearance in one of my novels. It was used in bread making and was also rubbed onto horse’s legs when they were sick.

Wax was much more important than honey. Both were imported into England as well as harvested here, but it wasn’t worth transporting honey long distances, because merchants could not make as much money from it as they could from wax.

The most obvious use for wax was for candles. Beeswax gives a pure and odourless light. This was particularly important in monasteries and churches. Monasteries kept bees in order to collect wax for candles, but they could not always collect enough. Wax was imported into England to meet the demand for wax candles by royalty, monasteries and nobles. Most of it was imported into London. Edward I bought a large amount of imported wax from John of London, a merchant living in Southampton.

Like honey, wax had medicinal uses and was included in a remedy for an abscess in the throat, amongst other things.

Pilgrims left wax images at shrines they visited as a sign of gratitude or as a reflection of their prayers.  Wax could be shaped as something relevant to the saint or to show the reason for pilgrimage.

The king and his nobles had another use for wax. They mixed it with a resin, melted it and attached it to documents, then they put their seals into it to show their agreement to whatever was in the document.

Seal of Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester and Hertford c 1218 to 1230

Wax was imported from Spain and Eastern Europe, mainly from Russia. Some also came from North Africa. The main African centre was Béjaïa, whose name gave the French their word for candle – bougie. France imported greater quantities of wax than England.

 

Sources:

Power and Profit: The Merchant in Medieval Europe – by Peter Spufford

The Medieval Cookbook – Maggie Black

Medieval Southampton – Colin Platt

The Medieval Cook – Bridget Ann Henisch

Tudor Monastery Farm – Ruth Goodman, Peter Ginn, Tom Pinfold

The Time-Traveller’s Guide to the Fourteenth Century – Ian Mortimer

 

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Winter Pottage

leeks

I know that it’s not quite winter, but I thought I’d make my winter pottage before I use up all my leeks. They’re the only winter vegetable I have in my garden.

As with the summer pottage I’m assuming that I have garlic and onions available. The leeks and sage are from my garden. I’m also using marrowfat peas. I grew peas in the summer and did let some stay in the pods to dry. There weren’t very many, though, because who can resist eating fresh peas from the pod? For the pottage I used marrowfat peas from the supermarket. I also added barley (again from the supermarket) to give the pottage a bit of body.

The peas were soaked overnight. A medieval housewife would have had to soak her barley as well, but mine just needed washing. I boiled some water with an onion and some garlic. I added the peas, barley and sage for half an hour, then added the leeks for ten minutes. All of this would have taken longer over an open fire.

Pottage

If you kept pigs in the fourteenth century you would be killing one about now. Most of the meat would be salted to last the winter, but you might add a bit to the pottage. It might not necessarily be a part of the pig that you’re familiar with. I’m a vegetarian, so it’s not something I’m going to try.

You might also have a carrot or two to add to the pot. Carrots don’t grow terribly well in the clay pit that passes for my garden, but they would have added some flavour.

Talking of flavour, it wasn’t too bad. I ate it all without feeling the need to add salt or pepper. I probably made it more interesting than it would have been in a fourteenth-century home by adding two things to give it bulk and texture – the peas and the barley. As always, I can only guess at the quantities that would have been available. It was probably less than I used, since I don’t have to make my ingredients stretch for another six or seven months until next year’s crops start to grow.

Chickens

What else can you eat at this time of year? Three out of our four chickens are laying at the moment. Medieval chickens were probably not such prolific producers of eggs as our modern hybrids, but a medieval housewife probably had more than four chickens. She probably had a cockerel as well. Spare eggs could be sold at market or swapped for food that the family didn’t grow.

 

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Travelling In The Middle Ages

knights1

 

In most of my novels there’s a journey. It might be a short one from the coast to the north of Hampshire, or it might be a long one, from Bordeaux to Southampton. It’s a common misconception about the Middle Ages that people were stuck in their villages or towns and were unaware of what was going on elsewhere, but that was not the case.

It’s true that some people never travelled further than the local market and others didn’t have the opportunity to travel. Villeins, for example, were tied to their lord’s manor and could not leave it without his permission, but freemen could go, more or less, wherever they wanted. For various reasons, many people in the fourteenth century travelled far and wide.

For ordinary people, the most common reasons for travelling were to visit a shrine or to fight. Many were satisfied with visiting a fairly local shrine, but others ventured further afield to Walsingham and Canterbury. Those who could afford it could go abroad to Compostela, Rome or Jerusalem. Going on a pilgrimage was popular and there was a widely-held belief that more than a few pilgrims were merely tourists, wanting to see more of the world than their small part of it.

Armies travelled. Recruits gathered at a local mustering place then moved off to join the rest of the army to go north to fight the Scots, or south to fight the French.

It was said after Edward III’s military victories in Normandy in 1346 that every house in England received something from the treasures taken during the campaign. Whilst this is obviously an exaggeration to show how successful the campaign had been, many ships were needed to carry back what had been taken and most of the 15,000 or so men who had gone to France would have returned with some physical item and stories about what France was like.

Travellers brought back tales of the places they had visited. With few forms of entertainment, men and women who could bring new stories from different places were popular.

Travel was far more common among people higher up the social scale. The king and his court were almost constantly on the move. This was a practical necessity, as the size of the court meant that local resources would be consumed quickly. The king had many properties of his own, but he could also visit his nobles. Such a visit was not always welcome, however, as it would always be costly to the host. It was unusual for the king to stay more than three weeks in any one place.

Nobles usually had estates spread out around the country which they might visit from time to time. Like the king, they would not travel light.

When the parliament met it was attended by members of the nobility, senior clerics, knights and burgesses, about four hundred men, plus their retinues and servants, all of them travelling across the country. Accommodating them was a large strain on some of the smaller towns and it became increasingly common for the parliament to meet in Westminster where it was easier to find places for them to lodge.  Many nobles and bishops had their own accommodation in London.

Others with religious business travelled around England. Archbishops and bishops went to and from Avignon, where the pope was, and visited places within their dioceses. Clerics travelled widely about their masters’ business. There were also many itinerant preachers teaching things people would not hear in their own parish church.

Travelling was not something to be undertaken lightly. A long-distance journey needed preparation – and companions. It was not safe to travel alone. The roads were beset by bandits. Often these were soldiers who had no trade to return to during the lulls in fighting against the Scots and the French.

There were no maps, or rather the purpose of a map was not to assist a traveller. People used itineraries instead. An itinerary listed the places between your starting point and your destination. If you were lucky, you could travel with someone who had some experience of at least the initial part of the route.  If you were not, you would have to ask the inhabitants of the town you were in how to get to the next place. Rivers were often helpful. If you followed a major river you were bound to come to a market town.

The main roads mostly followed the Roman roads. When these had deteriorated to the point of being unusable, the ‘new’ roads ran next to them. These connected towns which had been important in Roman times, but many towns which had become important by the fourteenth century had not existed then. The main roads were mainly kept in good repair by order of the king, who needed them to get himself and his armies around the kingdom. Other roads were often very poor and could be blocked unexpectedly.

Someone on foot and in a hurry could travel fifteen to twenty miles a day in good conditions. If the weather was bad or the roads were poor, that might become six to eight miles. A cart might manage twelve miles a day, less in winter. A man on horseback might travel twenty to twenty-five miles a day, if he had to use the same horse for the whole journey. Rich men and officials could change horses and managed thirty to forty miles a day.

The distance covered in a day would depend on the number of hours of daylight, the time of the year, the weather and where the next inn was. If the next inn was five miles away and it was mid-afternoon in winter, there was little point trying to get to it. Travellers and animals had to eat and rest, and that took time.

The king’s highways were supposed to be cleared either side for 200 feet. This was to deny cover to the brigands who preyed on travellers.

Sometimes there were waymarks to show routes through woods, but these could easily be moved to lead travellers into the hands of waiting bandits.

Roads were not the only routes across the country. The major rivers were used extensively. Most goods were transported by boat. It was far cheaper to send goods by water than by road. It cost more to send wine fifty miles in a cart than it did to send it nearly one thousand miles from Bordeaux to London by sea. Boats had flat bottoms which meant that more stretches of river were navigable than they are today.

No matter where you were going, travelling beyond the bounds of your town or village was always an adventure.

 

Sources

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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