Category Archives: Medieval Kings

A Knight of the Garter

The Round Table, Great Hall, Winchester

It’s not often that something that happened in the fourteenth century causes controversy in the twenty-first, but that’s exactly what happened this year when the New Year’s Honours List was announced. A word of explanation for those not in the UK. There are two Honours Lists every year, one announced in January and one in June, on the Queen’s official birthday. Another word of explanation. The Queen, like me, was born in April. Her official birthday celebrates the date of her coronation.

The Honours Lists name people who have been awarded honours, that is they become things such as a Companion of Honour, a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, an Officer of the British Empire, a Member of the Order of the British Empire and so on. As you can tell from the word ‘empire’, the honours originated some time ago. Recipients are nominated by the government, but many are nominated by members of the public. They’re usually awarded in recognition of the recipients’ services to a specific area. This year one of the awards went to the Chief Medical Officer for England for services to public health. Others were for services to cycling and sailing, for services to drama, for services to the food supply chain, for services to glaciology and climate change research and for services to literature. I hope you’re starting to get the picture.

It is not with these honours that this year’s controversy arises, however, but with the Queen’s decision to admit ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair to the Order of the Garter. A petition was immediately set up to ask the government to rescind the award, showing that the signatories hadn’t done much research. The government can do nothing about it, since the award is entirely within the Queen’s gift.

The Order of the Garter is one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. It only ever has twenty-four members plus the monarch and the Prince of Wales, if there is one. At the moment it doesn’t even have twenty-four members. Now we’re ready for the history.

The order was instituted by Edward III in 1348 (possibly 1349) after the Black Death arrived in England. Edward was good at uniting those who served him and fought beside him, and the Order of the Garter was very successful in this regard. He had a keen interest in King Arthur and a previous attempt to create an order of chivalry had focused on the Round Table. The Round Table pictured above was not King Arthur’s, but was created at the behest of Edward III’s grandfather, Edward I, probably to be used for feasting during a tournament in Winchester held to celebrate the conquest of Wales.

The founding members of the order were chosen, according to what you believe, either because of their acts on the battlefield or because they were originally the members of two tournament teams, one made up of members of the king’s household and his friends and the other made up of members of the household of the Prince of Wales and his friends. I suspect that it was a mixture of both. Either way, rank wasn’t important at first. One of the founding members was the Prince of Wales’s standard-bearer at the battle of Crécy, who probably saved his life there. Another founding member was Henry Grosmont, second cousin to the king, whose preparation to go and fight in southwest France we learned about here. Not all of them were English, either. Jean de Grailly was a Gascon, Eustace d’Ambrecicourt was a Picard and Henry Eam was Dutch.

Although the original members were knights, the requirements of the order were mainly religious. If they were in Windsor, they had to hear Mass in the Garter Chapel and they were to celebrate the feast of St George together. Sometimes this celebration included a tournament.

A great deal of trust arose between these men that was lacking among the leaders of most of the armies they faced. Many of them were friends and they spent a lot of time together. This enabled them to make decisions when on campaign in the knowledge that they would be supported by one another, and was probably one of the reasons why English armies were so successful in the first few years of the Hundred Years War.

Then, as now, a new member could only be admitted after the death of an existing member, something that happened to three of the original members within a year or so, probably due to the Black Death.

The order was founded at Windsor Castle, birthplace of Edward III. Legend had it that the castle had been built by King Arthur, although this legend is unlikely to predate 1348.

Sources:
A Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris
The Black Prince by Michael Jones
Edward III by W. Mark Ormrod

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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Jews in Medieval England

This post arose out of a conversation I had with Shaunn Munn in the comments this week and is by way of a correction to what I wrote there. Strictly speaking, this post isn’t about the fourteenth century, but what happened at the end of the thirteenth century meant that the English, unlike the rest of Europe, were unable to blame the Jews when the Black Death arrived in 1348.

Jews first came to England in the second half of the eleventh century in the wake of William the Conqueror. Since Christians were forbidden to charge interest on loans and Jews were prohibited from taking most other professions, many, although by no means all, Jews in England were moneylenders. The prohibition against charging interest on loans is in the Old Testament, but Jewish teaching was that, while a Jew couldn’t charge interest on a loan to another Jew, they could do so on on a loan to a non-Jew.

The English and their kings, like everyone else in Christian Europe at this time, were anti-semitic and this was supported, even encouraged, by the church. Rulers were charged by the pope with the task of protecting the Jews in their territories, though, since it was believed that the conversion of the Jews was a pre-requisite for the return of Christ to take place.

There was an advantage to this protection for an English king. The Jews, unlike the rest of his subjects, could be taxed at whatever rate and whenever he wanted. When a Jew died, all his property went to the crown. The king’s protection didn’t always mean very much, though. Richard I and Henry III were particularly poor and, as we shall see, Edward I actively persecuted them. I don’t think it’s an accident that the first and the last were crusaders. Henry III was simply incompetent.

Feelings of anti-semitism were nurtured by people who owed a lot of money to the moneylenders and there were riots and massacres in York, Lynn, Bury St. Edmunds and Lincoln. There was even a riot in London on the day of Richard I’s coronation. Then there was the Blood Libel, which I always thought originated in Eastern Europe, but turns out to be an English invention. The first known instance of this took place in 1144 in Norwich. A twelve-year-old boy was found dead from dreadful wounds a few days before Easter just outside the town. The Jewish community, which had only been in the town a few years, was accused of torturing him, crucifying him and finally killing him. This became a common accusation when boys were found killed around Eastertide, with it later being said that the boys’ blood was collected to be used in the matzos made for the Passover meal.

Let’s look in a bit more detail at the events that led up to the expulsion of the Jews from England. By the end of the thirteenth century, there were about five thousand Jews in England out of an overall population of three to four million. In 1275 Edward I forbad the Jews to lend money. He said they could be merchants instead, but made it difficult for them by forbidding them to live anywhere other than in the towns that were part of his personal estate. They were also prohibited from living in the same parts of the towns as Christians. In addition he made them wear 3 inch by 6 inch pieces of yellow felt on their clothes to identify them. Moneylending continued, although the agreements between borrower and lender were often disguised as trading contracts between merchants.

In 1278 all the Jews in England were accused of coin-clipping, the practice of shaving bits of silver from coins and melting it down for other uses, thus reducing the value of the English currency and making it less trusted by those who used it. Most of the adult male Jews in the country were taken to London and tried. 269, about half of them, were found guilty and hanged.

By 1280 Edward I had changed his approach and he tried to convert the English Jews. He ordered them to attend sermons given by Dominican friars. As you might expect, this order was largely ignored. I find this an odd thing for a pious man to do. It’s as if he was trying to bring about the Second Coming of Christ by his own efforts, almost as if he were forcing God’s hand.

In 1290 he expelled the Jews from England. He wasn’t the first king to expel Jews from his lands, but he was the first to be powerful enough to be able to expel them from a whole country. For some men it was a pious act to expel Jews from their lands before going on crusade and Edward I was a pious man. In 1287 he decided to go on a second crusade and expelled the Jews from Aquitaine, a part of France of which he was the duke.

These expulsions were popular with wealthy subjects who were indebted to Jewish moneylenders, since their debts were effectively wiped out, but they cost the ruler money, because they were no longer able to tax the Jews at will. Edward I could only afford to expel the Jews from England if he could tax his wealthier subjects. This additional taxation was agreed and on 18th July 1290 the Jews were given until 1st November to leave. It was the most popular thing Edward I ever did.

Sources:
The Story of the Jews by Simon Schama
A Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris

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:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

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Filed under Medieval Commerce, Medieval Kings, Medieval Life, Thirteenth Century

Pardon Recipients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:
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.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

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

Sources:
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.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

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Medieval Staples

The French attempt to recapture Calais

To my immense shame, I have often come across the word ‘staple’ when reading about the Middle Ages and not bothered to find out what it really means. I knew it had something to do with merchants and trade, but I didn’t know the details. Today I’m putting that right.

A staple was, essentially, the only town through which a certain commodity could be imported or exported. There were some in England and some were on the continent. The practice was begun by Edward I in Dordrecht.

The main commodity for which this was important was wool, England’s largest export, but there were also wine staples. The wool staple was introduced in 1313 by Edward II. All wool had to be exported through a single continental port. Initially it was St. Omer, then Antwerp and then Bruges. Eventually it was Calais. The port chosen depended on the king’s political and diplomatic goals at the time.

The staple gave an advantage to English merchants, as foreign merchants couldn’t buy wool directly from the producers. All wool for export had to be taken to a staple town and sold to authorised merchants who then sold it abroad. It was also a way of making it easier for the government to collect duty, as only a limited number of people had the right to export certain goods.

In 1354 the Statute of Staples listed the staple towns in England and Ireland. They were Bristol, Canterbury, Chichester, Cork, Drogheda, Dublin, Exeter, Lincoln, London, Newcastle, Norwich, Waterford, Winchester and York.  At first I was surprised not to see Southampton on the list, but the combined blows of the French raid in 1338 and the Black Death in 1348 had almost destroyed the town by this point. Much later it was made the staple for various metals.

Calais became a staple town in 1363 which it remained until it fell to the French in 1558. In Calais there were twenty-six merchants permitted to trade in wool. The intention of the English government was to make Calais financially self-sufficient instead of being a drain on the country’s finances. Calais was a town in France held by the English after a year-long siege in 1346/47. As you can see from the picture at the top of the post, the French wanted it back and defending the town from them cost money. In theory, giving the town the wool staple would increase trade within Calais and, therefore, duty, which could be used to reduce the financial burden on England. The theory was good, but the practice wasn’t. Making Calais a staple town had a negative impact on the wool trade from which it took some time to recover.

England wasn’t the only country to use staples. Scotland used them and there were also staple ports on the Danube and the Rhein. They were unpopular and powerful foreign merchants often petitioned against them. Sometimes they ignored them entirely and took their goods to non-staple ports where, presumably, local merchants were happy enough to break the law.

Sources:
Power and Profit by Peter Spufford
A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Chistopher Corédon and Ann Williams
England in the Reign of Edward III by Scott L. Waugh
Making a Living in the Middle Ages by Christopher Dyer

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:

TheHeirsTale-WEB
TheHeirsTale-WEB

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Southampton Castle

Drum Towers, Gate of Southampton Castle

Within the small medieval town there was a small castle. Nothing is left of it today, save the remains of two gates, a wall and a vault. It stood on the western side of the town on top of an artificial mound. The original castle was probably an early Norman wooden fort within a stockade and a ditch. By the end of the twelfth century the wooden stockade had been replaced by a stone wall. It’s possible that the wooden fort wasn’t replaced until the end of the thirteenth century.

The castle belonged to the king and was run by his governors or constables. It wasn’t a royal residence in the way that Windsor or Eltham were, but it was a handy place for a king to stay if he was about to visit or invade France, for example. Henry V in particular, started most of his expeditions to France from here. In 1415, just before setting out on the campaign that was to take him to Agincourt, he wrote a letter addressed from the castle. Elizabeth I also wrote a letter from there when she was in residence.

In the twelfth century, Henry II and Richard I spent a lot of money on the castle, but John outdid them both. His main building efforts took place from 1204 to 1209, rendered even more urgent when he lost Normandy in 1206 and the threat of invasion from France increased. He also kept a fleet of galleys in Southampton, just in case.

His son Henry III set a levy on wine imported into the town. If a ship was carrying twenty or more tuns of wine, two tuns went into the king’s store in the castle. If the ship carried between ten and twenty tuns, one tun went into the store. In theory, this meant that the king would always have enough wine.

The castle was often allowed to fall into near ruin and it proved useless in assisting the town to defend itself against French raiders in 1338. Although Edward II had ordered repairs towards the end of his reign, he doesn’t appear to have provided the funds to enable them to be carried out. As we shall see when we get on to the walls, the raid, in which much of his property stored in the town was destroyed, focused the attention of his son, Edward III, on the town and its lack of defences. He also neglected the castle, though.

The garrison varied in size over the years, but was usually made up of five knights and their attendant soldiers. In 1369, when Edward III renewed the war with France, there were only eight squires and two archers, which was increased to forty-seven men-at-arms, thirty-nine hobelars and one hundred and seventy-two archers. The town couldn’t really support that many soldiers, though, and the number was quickly reduced again.

By 1378 the keep had disappeared entirely and a new stone one was built by Sir John Arundel, the Keeper of the Castle. It was believed at the time that there was a good chance the French would invade. Richard II was only 12 and the two countries had been at war on and off for forty years. Since 1369 it had been very much on and history had shown that Southampton was very much a target.

The new keep was by all accounts very fine. The castle mound was about 200 feet in diameter. The keep was cylindrical and had four turrets. The castle also had a barbican, two inner gates with portcullises and a twelve-foot ditch. The stone came from Portland, Purbeck and the Isle of Wight, all fairly close by sea. The building work was completed in 1388, just as Richard II’s uncles began to think about negotiating an end to the war.

The earl of Cambridge and Lord Scrope, two of the plotters involved in the Southampton Plot against Henry V in 1415 were kept prisoner in the castle before their trials. Both were found guilty and executed.

The war with France ended and the castle was no longer really necessary. If it had been easy to neglect it when it was needed, it was even easier when it wasn’t needed. By the time James I became king, it was no longer fit to receive royal guests. During the Civil War some of the stones were removed to maintain the town walls. What was left was used to build a castle in the Gothic style in 1804. This was the castle that Jane Austen knew when she lived in Castle Square. It lasted less than fourteen years and the mound itself was removed in 1822. Today there’s modern housing where the castle used to be.

It has left some traces, though. These arches formed the foundations of the northern wall of the bailey. They were mostly buried in an earthen bank and the wall proper started just above the arches. You can see the line where better quality stone was used for the part of the wall that was visible.

Just around the corner are the remains of the drum towers by the main gate into the castle. The towers were built in the late fourteenth century and were over twenty feet high. They were only discovered in 1961.

On the other side of the castle is the Watergate. It opened onto Castle Quay to which goods coming to the castle by water were delivered. Castle Quay belonged to the king and there’s a Norman vault on the other side of the wall where his wines were stored along with weapons for the soldiers in the garrison. Unfortunately, the vault is closed at the moment. There are quite a few medieval vaults in the town and I hope to be able to visit some of them in the summer.

Sources:
Historic Buildings of Southampton by Philip Peberdy
Collected Essays on Southampton edited by J B Morgan and Philip Peberdy
Medieval Southampton by Colin Platt

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:

TheHeirsTale-WEB
TheHeirsTale-WEB

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Geoffroi de Charny in December 1349

I said last week that we’d look at Geoffroi de Charny’s attempt to take back Calais two years after it had surrendered to Edward III. Before we get to the story I wanted to set the scene a bit. There are four main characters in this story: de Charny, Edward III, Edward of Woodstock and Aimeric of Pavia. At the time de Charny was at least 43 years old, Edward III was 37 and Edward of Woodstock, his oldest son and heir, was 19. I have no idea how old Aimeric was. I include this detail to show what was expected of young heirs to kingdoms in the Middle Ages. Edward of Woodstock had already proved himself in battle at the age of 16 and was about to prove himself again.

The other important point is that in 1349 Europe was still in the grip of the Black Death. I can’t emphasise enough how little what we’ve gone through in the last few months has resembled the Black Death. I know that people have made the comparison, but even the number of deaths in the First World War combined with deaths from Spanish flu a hundred years ago don’t come close. During the three years of the Black Death, somewhere between a third and a half of the population of Europe died and they died horribly. Despite that and the fear in which people must have lived, life seems to have gone on fairly normally, as we shall see.

After a long siege, the French town of Calais had surrendered to the English in 1347. Most of those who lived in the town and survived the siege were allowed to leave and Edward III filled the town with English merchants and soldiers. It was incredibly useful for a king who was expecting to continue to wage war on French soil to have a port in France just over 30 miles from the English coast. This, of course, presented a huge problem to the French king. Fortunately, de Charny had a plan for getting Calais back which didn’t involve besieging it.

There are different versions of the story, mainly told by people who weren’t there, but we’ll look at the story as told by Geoffrey le Baker, an English chronicler. According to him, Aimeric Pavia, a Lombard mercenary, was the governor of Calais. De Charny bribed him to open the gates to let in some French soldiers. Aimeric was greedy, but not stupid, and he wrote to Edward III, explaining about the plot, obviously hoping to be in good standing with both sides.

Edward III wasn’t stupid either and he decided to go to Calais himself. He took his oldest son and a few other men. (Other versions say that the news reached the king on Christmas Eve and he took his household knights and the retinues of some of the lords who were celebrating Christmas with him.) Le Baker says that they entered the town secretly, which they might have done, but he also says that they managed to build a false wall behind which they hid and they also sawed through parts of the drawbridge so that it would collapse if a heavy stone were thrown down on it, all without anyone noticing, which seems unlikely.

On 31st December, De Charny went with fourteen men into the castle, through the gate opened by Aimeric, on the day before the raid was to take place. Their task was to check that everything was as it should be and to pay Aimeric part of his money. Despite checking the castle thoroughly, they noticed nothing wrong. Again, I’m not sure how fifteen Frenchmen could stroll around a castle held by an English garrison without someone noticing, but apparently they did.

The next morning they raised French standards around the castle and opened the gates. The English garrison attacked them, despite the efforts of those who were in on the plan to trap the French inside the castle.

By this point the king and his men had been in hiding for three days. One of them was hiding near the drawbridge and he dropped the huge stone onto it, trapping the soldiers inside the castle. They were swiftly defeated by the king and his men when they emerged from their hiding place.

The French forces who had remained outside retreated, realising that the plan had failed. The king took 16 of the men he had brought with him and 16 archers from Calais, who didn’t know him, and chased after the French.

He attacked a force of 800 men. When the French realised how few men were pursuing them, they turned and fought. The king revealed his identity to the archers and le Baker points out that he positioned his meagre forces wisely. He doesn’t say, for obvious reasons, how lacking in wisdom the king was to chase after the French with so few men.

The king and his men managed to kill or capture many of the French soldiers, but they were facing overwhelming odds and it was obvious that they were going to lose. In true Boys’ Own Adventure style, however, Edward of Woodstock arrived with reinforcements just in time and rescued his father.

Le Baker tells us that 1,000 French knights with 600 men-at-arms and 3,000 foot soldiers had tried to take the castle. It would certainly have needed a large force, so perhaps it’s not an exaggeration. More than 200 French men-at-arms were killed and about 30 men were captured for ransom, Geoffroi de Charny and his son among them. Many French soldiers drowned in the marsh.

There are some incorrect details in le Baker’s account. Aimeric wasn’t the governor of Calais. During the siege of Calais he had been employed by the French. After the siege he changed sides and became master of the royal galleys and crossbowmen. In 1349 he was part of the English garrison at Calais and was in command of one of the gate-towers, which was why it was easy for him to let the French in.

As we learned last week, Aimeric enjoyed his bribe and the pension given to him by the king for a very short time before de Charny tortured and killed him. This whole episode wasn’t de Charny’s finest hour. Not only was he captured, but he was also wounded in his failed attempt to retake the town. Fortunately for him, the king who had provided soldiers to support his plan died while de Charny was a captive in England. The new king paid part of de Charny’s ransom. De Charny even managed to put a good gloss on the murder of Aimeric, since he made it clear that he was avenging an act of personal betrayal.

Next week we’ll have a look at another aspect of de Charny’s life.

Sources:
Life and Campaigns of the Black Prince by Richard Barber
Edward, Prince of Wales and Aquitaine by Richard Barber
Trial by Fire by Jonathan Sumption
The Black Prince by Michael Jones

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

Available now:

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Medieval Heraldry

I mentioned a while ago that I’m reading The Canterbury Tales and there are many things in them that are worth writing about here. In the first tale, that of the knight, two young men are identified on a battlefield because they’re wearing devices on their clothing. Chaucer, who had fought (and been taken prisoner) in the Hundred Years War, would have known this detail. It’s probably not too fanciful to imagine that his own value as a prisoner was recognised due to the livery he was wearing when he was captured. He went to France in the retinue of Lionel of Antwerp, a son of Edward III, and it was the king himself who paid Chaucer’s ransom.

As armour developed and covered a knight’s body, including his face, identifying him in battle became more difficult. Devices were created so that those around the knight would know who he was, which was useful both for his own men and o for the knight who would be identified to the other side as someone worth capturing for ransom rather than killing. Devices were shown on shields, banners and surcoats (open-sided tunics worn over armour, as shown in the picture above). They were also appliquéd onto banners, for those who had the right to bear them.

Originally arms were very simple e.g. the three lions of England, the fleur-de-lys of France, the three leopards of Anjou. There were also chevrons, bends, crosses and eagles. They were made in bright colours: red, blue, white and yellow. For the king, gold, silver and silk would be used. Subtle differences in colour could lead to confusion, however.

 When they were inherited by more than one son, the arms had to be changed to identify that son, so devices were quartered as sons took the devices of both their parents. Hence Edward III had three lions from his father as well as the fleur-de-lys from his mother, to show his claim to the French crown.

Heraldry was also useful in jousts so the audience would know who the competitors were. By the fourteenth century it was a sport and everyone liked to be able to identify the participants. Their identities were known because of what they were wearing, but also because the heralds would announce their names. The heralds at tournaments had to know how to identify foreign participants as well. It wasn’t just heralds who were supposed to be able to identify coats of arms, though. It was knowledge that every knight needed to have.

Arms were displayed everywhere: on silver, on the walls of halls, on embroidered vestments given to churches, on church windows, on church walls, on tombs and monuments. They appeared on the knight’s surcoat, his horse’s trappings and his shield. They were on tiles, wall paintings, seals, in manuscripts, on caskets, chests and plate. It was a way of showing that someone was a member of the elite.

Heraldic devices were originally personal, but became hereditary by the twelfth century. They changed from being a way to identify someone to being a sign of lineage, family honour and pride: a way of maintaining an identity. Heroic actions done by previous holders of the arms were attached to the arms themselves, increasing the reputation of the man currently holding them. Some people adopted the arms of the local nobility into their own to share a little of their glory. In Cheshire some families included the wheatsheaf that was used by the early of Chester.

In a battle, soldiers were identified by the arms of their lord. They were in small retinues, with each retinue leader answerable to a more important lord. It was vital for order that a coat of arms should not be used by more than one lord. At the beginning of fourteenth century notes and drawings started to be made about the arms being used so that the heralds could keep track of them.

Disputes about duplications of arms arose after the battle of Crécy at the siege of Calais. If the two knights bearing the same arms weren’t in the same army, it didn’t really matter if they had the same arms. Armies tended to be regional, so an army gathered to fight the Scots would come from the north and it wouldn’t matter if someone in Yorkshire had the same arms as someone in Hampshire, because they wouldn’t usually be called to serve together. There could only be confusion when both were fighting in the same army, which happened during Edward III’s war with France.

There was a court in fourteenth century specifically for trying cases of misappropriation of heraldic devices – the Court of Chivalry. It also dealt with questions about ransoms for men taken prisoner in France. In 1386 Geoffrey Chaucer was called before this court to give evidence in the dispute between Sir Richard Scrope and Sir Robert Grosvenor. They were cousins and Chaucer said that he had seen both using the same coat of arms at Rettel. This was near Rheims where Chaucer had gone as part of Lionel of Antwerp’s retinue in 1360 in Edward III’s campaign to be crowned king of France. It was also where Chaucer was taken prisoner. The case lasted from 1385 to 1390 and was decided in favour of Sir Richard. Of the two he was the most distinguished, having served Edward III with distinction on his French campaigns. He had also been Richard II’s chancellor.

It’s no wonder that, when he came to write his Canterbury Tales, Chaucer remembered how important a coat of arms could be. Sadly, the two knights in his tale didn’t enjoy the happy ending that Chaucer himself had.

Sources:
Tournaments by Richard Barber and Juliet Barker
The Knight and Chivalry by Richard Barber
Edward III and the Triumph of England by Richard Barber
A Social History of England ed Rosemary Horrox and W. Mark Ormrod
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.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB
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The Road to Crécy by Marilyn Livingstone and Morgen Witzel – A Review

Crecy

The Road to Crécy is almost a step by step account of the Crécy campaign from the moment Edward III set foot in Normandy on 12 July 1346  up to the immediate aftermath of the battle on 26 August.  The first chapter includes some background as to how the invasion came to take place and what its aims might have been, and the second describes the types of soldiers he took with him. Thereafter we’re marching with them across the north of France.

No one is quite sure whether Paris was Edward’s real goal,  or whether he intended to meet up with another English army further south. Either way, Edward and his army spent six weeks marauding through France, narrowly escaping being trapped and wiped out more than once. He came to within 20 miles of Paris then turned northeast, managing to cross the Seine without being seen by the larger French army which was shadowing the English army on the other side of the river. Most of the bridges had been destroyed or were heavily guarded. This wasn’t the last time the English were trapped on the wrong side of a river. A few days before the battle, the French pinned them down between the River Somme and the sea. Once again Edward’s men crossed a river against the odds and were able to choose the location of the battle.

Those are the bare bones of the campaign. Livingstone and Witzel fill in the gaps with details about who was in the army; what kinds of soldiers there were; how they were armed; what happened at each town or settlement they came to; and, most interesting of all to me, what the king ate on most days. One of my favourite aspects of the book is the account of the supplies taken to France. The army didn’t travel lightly, not did it expect to live off the land, although there was a lot of pillaging, especially towards the end when supplies were running low.

I love detail and this book gave me that. Livingstone and Witsel have pieced together a coherent narrative of events from various contemporary sources, most of which focus on the battle itself. I’m sure this made it more difficult to work out the logistics of the journey to Crécy.

As you would expect from a book about a military campaign, there are many maps and these are very useful. Less useful are the photographs. They’re all in black and white and are not terribly clear. It’s not always obvious why they’ve been included.

This is a very good book if you want to understand everything that was involved in a medieval campaign. I found it both interesting and useful.

 

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:

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Edward II: The Unconventional King by Kathryn Warner – A Review

I couldn’t make up my mind where to post my review of Edward II: An Unconventional King. In the end, I decided that it should go on my book blog, but I also wanted to make it available here.

The Retired Reader

Edward II

Published 13th October 2014

In other reading, I’ve read a couple of biographies this year. This is unusual for me, but I’m back on familiar territory with this one. I’m a student of the fourteenth century and my other blog, A Writer’s Perspective, is devoted to it.

Edward II is an unusual biography of a medieval monarch in that it sticks to the facts. Warner does not bother with impressing on the reader what the king ‘must have been feeling or thinking’, although there’s a bit of this towards the end. Instead she lays out his itinerary as he travelled across the country. Gifts that he made to friends and family are listed. His attendance and non-attendance at parliaments are recorded.

She is quite firm about the things we will never know and these are usually the things that interest most people about Edward II. Were he and Piers Gaveston…

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