Category Archives: Fourteenth Century

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

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.

Available now:




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.

Available now:




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.

Available now:




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.

Available now:




Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Commerce, Medieval Life

Medieval Ransoms Part 3

This post is less about ransoms as such than the conditions under which medieval prisoners of war were kept whilst waiting for their ransoms to be paid. Fragglerocking asked last week if they were kept in prisons. Sometimes they were, but mostly they weren’t. This could have something to do with the status of the prisoner, or with the ability of the captor to pay for secure accommodation.

During the fourteenth century, there really weren’t that many places to keep prisoners. Criminals were usually kept in town gates whilst awaiting trial. There were always guards there to check on people coming in and going out of the town who might have to pay a toll, so they could also keep an eye on the prisoners. As you can see from the photograph of Southampton’s town gate above, though, there wasn’t room to keep many prisoners. It didn’t fit well with the chivalric code, either, to treat men who had been captured in a battle like common criminals. Then there was the problem of status. You might want to keep a man who was a servant or a minor knight in a place like this, but you wouldn’t want to keep a knight from whom you were hoping to receive a large ransom here. Some men did, though, in the hope of extracting an even larger ransom from them. Generally speaking, though, the higher status a prisoner had, the better his accommodation.

Town gates weren’t the only places with prisons; some castles also had them, like this one at Portchester Castle.

The Prison, Portchester Castle

As you can see, it’s little more than a pit. Sadly none of the children in the castle that day got down there to give you an idea of scale, but it’s small. It’s probably about six feet wide by eight or ten feet long, which would be reasonably comfortable for one man, but there might be more than one prisoner to be kept. The pit is certainly secure (although prisoners managed to escape from both town gates and castles, mainly because they weren’t kept in good repair or because they bribed their keepers), but it’s not somewhere you’d want to keep an honoured prisoner, especially if there was the possibility that you might be his prisoner in a few years.

Unless you were the holder of the castle, accommodating your prisoner there or in the town gate was expensive, especially if their captivity was lengthy. We looked at some of the reasons why it could take a while for a ransom to be paid last week.

Captured knights were often left in the hands of other people in prisons like these, but many were kept in their captors’ own homes. Not only were landholders very mobile, moving frequently between their properties, but fighting was probably continuing elsewhere. Someone might be prepared to take one or more prisoner with him from place to place, but he wouldn’t want to take them somewhere where they could provide assistance to their own side, either by escaping or by acting as spies.

Some knights were allowed quite a bit of freedom within the bounds of their captivity. They were allowed to move freely within the building where they were kept and some were allowed to walk around outside, with a guard, of course. Some were even allowed their own servants and horses. At least one man was allowed to have his wife with him.

I don’t know yet how my protagonist, Geoffrey, will spend his captivity. It will, I think, suit his personality to spend his first weeks in the castle in close confinement, but that won’t help at all with building the relationship that will be at the centre of the novel.

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 Fourteenth Century, Hundred Years War, Medieval Buildings, Medieval Warfare

Medieval Ransoms Part 2

The French attempt to recapture Calais

I wrote in last week’s post that the male protagonist in a novel that I’m plotting at the moment has valued his ransom at £175. Being English, Geoffrey and his brother have calculated their worth in pounds sterling, but they’re in France and ransoms there would be paid in French gold coins. Geoffrey’s captor would make his calculation in livres tournois, the currency used in France. The coins were made of gold, silver or a silver-copper alloy, depending on the value of the coin.

The silver coins were the most important for most people, as they were used to pay taxes, wages and rents. The silver-copper alloy coins were used for everyday expenses, such as shopping. Ransoms, though, were usually paid in gold.

One livre tournois was worth much less than one pound sterling. There were six livres tournois to one pound sterling, so Geoffrey’s ransom as he has calculated it would be 1,050 livres tournois.

Then as now, however, the exchange rate wasn’t the only element of the transaction.

Once Geoffrey’s ransom is agreed with his captor, he has a problem. Although he has enough wealth to pay the ransom he has calculated, he doesn’t have enough gold. There might be some gold coins in the booty he’s taken, but most of the coins will be silver. The rest of his booty might be valuable (or not so valuable) objects that he has taken in raids and he might be able to persuade his captor to take some of these in lieu of coins. If he’s unlucky, his captor will expect him to hand over 1,050 gold coins.

Geoffrey’s next problem is that there aren’t that many gold coins in circulation. Most people have never even seen a gold coin, let alone owned one, so he has to find someone who has gold coins … lots of them. There’s a chance that some of his friends or relatives will sell him gold coins, especially if they’ve managed to get ransoms from the French prisoners they captured during the battle, but they’re unlikely to have all that he needs. Florentine bankers are a good source of gold coins, but they will charge him a fee to change the coins and it won’t be a small one. He will need to sell some of his possessions and get in touch with a representative of a Florentine bank.

Once Geoffrey has sold anything that he needs to sell to ensure that he has the necessary coins, something that might take some time, he now has to get them to Florence and the bank in Florence has to get the gold coins to him. In theory. In practice it was far too dangerous to transport large sums of money that far. Fortunately, banking in the fourteenth century was far more sophisticated than that and bills of exchange were often used instead of physical money.

I’ve written about Geoffrey having coins and precious objects, but, of course, he doesn’t have them with him. They are, he hopes, safely in Bordeaux with his brother. Whilst some captors would allow their prisoners to leave their captivity in order to raise their ransoms, there’s a risk that some of them will simply go home as soon as they’re released. Geoffrey, though, doesn’t need to leave the castle where he’s being held. All he needs to do, is to send a messenger to his brother, who shouldn’t be too far away.

Geoffrey assumes that his brother has also survived the battle and has returned with the English army to Bordeaux, so we will too. The brother is the one who will contact their family and friends to try and exchange silver coins for gold coins. He will also sell anything he needs to get more silver coins. Eventually he will deposit the coins with a representative of the bank he or Geoffrey has chosen in Bordeaux and the banker will send a bill of exchange to a representative near to where Geoffrey is being held. This representative will then pay the gold coins to Geoffrey’s captor, assuming that they have sufficient gold coins in that part of France. As it was for so many, it’s beginning to look as if Geoffrey’s captivity will be a lengthy one.

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.

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Hundred Years War, Medieval Commerce, Medieval Life

Ransoms in the Hundred Years War

This week I’ve been working on the plot of a novel in which the male protagonist is one of the few English knights taken prisoner at the battle of Poitiers. I reached the part of the story where he and his captor are negotiating his ransom and thought that it would be interesting to work out what a prisoner like him would have been worth.

Geoffrey, his name at the moment, is the second son of the second son of an earl. With his older brother, he serves in the retinue of his cousin, who is the current earl. He has taken some booty whilst on chevauchée with the Black Prince, so he’s not entirely without financial resources. He and his brother have decided what they think they’re each worth if either of them has to pay a ransom for the other and they have the funds to cover this.

Calculating a ransom could be a complicated business and fortunes could be made and lost, depending on the prisoner’s ability to pay. There could also be arguments about who had taken someone prisoner. Legal cases could go on for years to sort this kind of thing out, even for prisoners who weren’t really worth very much, but the man who has captured Geoffrey has taken his sword, so there can be no questions later.

In addition to a ransom, the prisoner, or his friends or family, had to pay for his accommodation and food. It was, therefore, in his best interests, to ensure that the ransom was paid as quickly as possible. Costs could mount up quickly over the months and years (possibly) that a man was held while he was raising the money to pay his ransom. The figures that I have, from Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years War, relate to ransoms demanded by the English for their French prisoners, since there were many more of these after the battle of Poitiers. This is the kind of information that would have guided Geoffrey and his brother when they decided how much they might have to pay for their freedom if they were captured.

The first category of prisoner is rather shocking, as it covers earls, counts and bishops. I suppose a king might take a bishop to war with him and I know that a bishop did lead an army against the Scots when they raided the north of England while Edward III was in France, but it’s still a bit of a surprise that bishops were taken prisoner and ransomed. They were not supposed to fight and non-combatants weren’t supposed to be captured. Men of this rank were worth between £2,000 and £8,000. This is an eye-wateringly large amount. As always, I’ll remind you that a skilled labourer earned about 4d a day. For those of you not familiar with the workings of pounds, shillings and pence that’s 120,000 days of labour for the lower ransom. If our skilled labourer worked every single day, it would take him 330 years to earn that amount. Fortunately, earls, counts and bishops were usually fabulously wealthy. Even so, a ransom of this size would put a serious dent in that wealth.

Men in the next category, barons, could expect to pay a much lower ransom. They were worth £500, or 30,000 days of labour. Knights and esquires were worth between £50 and £500. Other high-status servants were valued at £50 or less. Eight years of labour.

In 1360 a ransom of £16 was paid for Geoffrey Chaucer, who was captured by the French while he was out foraging. This was still 960 days worth of labour and clearly impossible for even an important and trusted servant like Chaucer to raise. Four years earlier he had been a page and it’s unlikely that his position in Lionel of Antwerp’s retinue was much more than that. Fortunately for him, the ransom was paid by the king, which makes me wonder whether Chaucer really was foraging or doing something entirely different on the king’s behalf.

Although he has no land, my Geoffrey has rich relatives and a name that his captor recognises, so he can expect his ransom to be more than that for other knights of similar wealth. His only hope for a quick release is that his captor won’t be too greedy, because Geoffrey knows that there’s no hope of any help from his cousin. I think he might have valued himself at about £175.

Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years War by Rémy Ambühl
The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer by Derek Pearsall

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

Mercenary versus Condottiero

John Hawkwood

It’s not often that I go into my local and the barman greets me with “what’s the difference between a mercenary and a condottiero?”, but since Greg asked, I thought about it and said that I thought a mercenary was someone who sold himself to the highest bidder, but a condottiero was someone who was part of a group that sold itself to the highest bidder in Italy. Then I thought about it a bit more. We bandied some names about. I mentioned John Hawkwood, the famous fourteenth-century mercenary who is celebrated by a painting in Florence Cathedral. He mentioned Richard I’s head mercenary and right hand man, Mercadier, who is said to have avenged the king’s death by murdering the man who had killed him, before being assassinated in turn by a mercenary employed by King John.

As it turns out, my initial answer was incorrect. According to, the great Italian online dictionary and encyclopaedia, a condottiero was the leader of a group of mercenaries. John Hawkwood was, therefore, both a mercenary and a condottiero.

Mercenaries have a bad reputation today and it wasn’t much better in the fourteenth century, at least among the people they terrorised for money. Among knights, however, it was different. Being a mercenary was a perfectly respectable way to make a living. What else was a knight supposed to do when he wasn’t required by his king? Geoffroi de Charny, who wrote the book on chivalry, said that it was a good way for a knight to gain experience.

Most knights didn’t come from a noble background and didn’t have a large sum of money to fall back on during the very long periods when wars weren’t being fought. Although the name the Hundred Years War implies that war was being waged continuously, it wasn’t. There were treaties that meant that there was a peace of sorts for several years at a time and there were other times when Edward III simply couldn’t afford to take an army to France. A professional knight had no other skills than fighting. He had trained hard to become a knight and he had many expenses once he became one. Apart from his armour and his arms, he had to have horses and he had to have servants who needed to be fed and clothed. A pause in the fighting in France meant that he was no longer being paid, but his expenses continued. Some men banded together to hold local towns to ransom, but others decided to go to Italy where there was very good money to be made.

Italy wasn’t a single state in the fourteenth century: it was many, often small, states based around cities. In the north and centre of Italy those states were almost constantly at war. The large states overpowered the small states, who employed mercenaries to fight back on their behalf. The large states fought one another by proxy, employing mercenaries. Even the papacy employed mercenaries, whilst at the same time deploring their activities. There were fortunes to be made here, even for men who didn’t end up leading their own company of mercenaries.

Italy’s situation was a bit of a vicious circle. The fighting had been going on for some time, making Italy so unsafe that Clement V decided in 1309 that it would be sensible set up the papal court in Avignon. The fact that he was French played no part in this decision, allegedly. Most European armies employed a few mercenaries, so it wasn’t unusual that some English and German mercenaries went to join Italian armies. I’ve been to Italy and fallen in love with it, so I can easily believe that these northern Europeans did the same and encouraged others to join them, until the numbers of mercenaries in Italy became a real problem. They formed themselves into armies called companies and the city states found that they either had to employ them or have them as their enemies.

A mercenary company in Italy was a business. It made contracts with its clients, necessitating the employment of lawyers, usually Italian. It had full-time accountants who were responsible for collecting the fees and dividing them up among the members of the company. The condottiero, of course, received the largest share. The company also employed women to do the washing, cooking and, as my source puts it, provide other services.

Being a condottiero was far from safe, even when they weren’t fighting. Some were assassinated by their own men, who had ambitions to lead the company themselves. Others were assassinated by a former employer they had abandoned when they received a better offer. A few, like John Hawkwood, managed to grow old. He lived into his seventies, having served a single employer, Florence, for several years. Some condottieri even became heads of states: Biordo Michelotti became lord of Perugia, but he was ultimately assassinated.

English mercenaries did rather well in Italy. They had a reputation for being very loud (how little times change) and being able to shout was useful for frightening the opposition, apparently. Loud music was also used. I’m beginning to suspect that my neighbours are descended from mercenaries. English mercenaries also had the useful ability to travel long distances, sometimes overnight, which some of them probably learned whilst on chevauchée with Edward of Woodstock (the Black Prince) in the south-west of France in the 1350s. This meant that they could appear somewhere long before they were expected and take the enemy by surprise.

At the end of the fourteenth century there was very little work for English knights in France. The young Richard II preferred peace and his uncle, John of Gaunt, was nowhere near the soldier Richard’s father had been. It wasn’t until the time of John of Gaunt’s grandson, Henry V, that English knights were needed in France again. Most English knights in Italy remained loyal to their king and John Hawkwood even had it written into his contracts that he wouldn’t fight against England’s allies.

Knight by Michael Prestwich
Hawkwood by Frances Stonor Saunders

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 Fourteenth Century, Hundred Years War, Medieval Warfare