Category Archives: Thirteenth Century

An English Tradition

These last few days we’ve seen a lot of things done in the traditional way in this country. For most of us, it’s the first time we’ve experienced them, even though they date back centuries. On Sunday I participated in one of them when I went to hear the Accession Proclamation being read. There was really no need, as I, along with millions of others, had watched it being read at St James’s Palace on live television the day before. Everyone who watched on Saturday had known since Thursday afternoon that we had a new king, so why did it have to be read out in public all over the country?

The simple answer is that it’s always been done in this way. Not with mayors dressed in their finery and uniformed men carrying maces, though. I’m afraid I have no idea what the paddle thing was about. Sorry. The chap carrying it didn’t seem to know, either. All of the costumes and pageantry are fairly modern, as is some of the wording in the Proclamation, but the format and the practice date back centuries.

Before Saturday the only people who had seen and heard an Accession Proclamation read out at St James’s Palace, were those who were in the courtyard at the time. No one was surprised that Charles III became King on Thursday; he’s been heir to the throne for seventy years and the succession takes place immediately on the death of the monarch, but that hasn’t always been the case.

There used to be a gap between the death of one monarch and the accession of the next, because it was the coronation that made the monarch. The gap could be weeks or months long and was sometimes a period of instability. Worse, the person who was eventually crowned wasn’t necessarily the person the previous monarch, or the country as a whole, had expected it to be.

It wasn’t until the mid-thirteenth century that this changed. When Henry III’s oldest son left England to join the Eighth Crusade in 1270, Henry was in his sixties and there was every chance that he would not live to see his son return. There was probably an equal chance that his son would not return, but that’s another matter. Henry’s reign had been long and turbulent and it was possible that, in the months it would take the news of his death to reach his son and for his son to return and be crowned, someone else might try to take his place. Before the crusader left, he was named as Henry’s heir and it was declared that he would become king on the death of his father rather than on the day he was crowned. The day after Henry died Edward I was proclaimed king in Westminster Hall. At Henry’s funeral all the magnates swore allegiance to him and when the messengers carrying the news of Henry’s death finally caught up with Edward they greeted him as king. It took him two years to return to England, where he was later crowned.

I thought it would be interesting to see how the news of the deaths and accessions of kings was treated in the fourteenth century. It proved to be quite interesting. When Edward I died in 1307 he was on his way to fight the Scots. The army could literally see Scotland at the time. His death was, therefore kept secret for fear of bringing an attack on a leaderless and, possibly, mourning army. It wasn’t until after Edward II had arrived at Burgh by Sands to see his father’s body that the news was made public and he was proclaimed king in Carlisle Castle.

This was an accession that had been expected. Edward I was in his late sixties and Edward II was his oldest surviving son. This wasn’t the case for Edward II. Twenty years later, aged only 43, he abdicated in favour of his fourteen-year-old heir. In reality he was deposed, having been accused and found guilty of not being able to reign. As with Edward II and Edward I, the transition was immediate and Edward III became king the moment his father abdicated. Also like his grandfather and father, he didn’t know that he was king until after the event. Four days after the abdication in Kenilworth Castle the proclamation was made in London that Edward III was now king. It took several weeks for the news to spread through all of his kingdom.

Fifty years later Edward was succeeded by his grandson, Richard of Bordeaux. Whilst I can find a lot of information about Edward III’s funeral and Richard II’s coronation (only eleven days apart), there is nothing in my books about Richard’s accession proclamation, but I’m pretty sure that it happened in much the same way that his grandfather’s had.

Like his great-grandfather, Richard was eventually deposed. He refused to abdicate, because he had been anointed king and he saw it as his duty to continue as king. I can’t find anything about Henry IV’s accession proclamation either, which is a shame, because he was not the next in line and, having deprived both Richard and Richard’s true heir of the kingdom, it would be interesting to know what it said and how it was received. The passage from one king to the other was, however, seamless. A parliament called in the name of Richard II was dissolved on one day and the same men were summoned to meet in the name of Henry IV the next day.

In the days before newspapers, radio, television and the internet, word of mouth was the only way of knowing that one monarch had died and another had taken their place. It seems odd that, with all our modern means of communication, we still have the Proclamation read out in towns across the country, but it was good to be there and say, for the first time in my life, God save the King.

Sources:
Edward I by Marc Morris
Edward II The Man by Stephen Spinks
Edward III by W. Mark Ormrod
Richard II by Nigel Saul

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

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Kings, Thirteenth Century

Knight’s Fee

I’ve often come across the term ‘knight’s fee’ in my reading and not known what it meant, so this week I decided to do some reading in order to find out. You’re probably already wondering how the picture of peasants working in a field above has anything to do with knights. I hope all will become clear.

Knight’s fee is a term that applied mainly in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and was the amount of land that came with the obligation of military service. All land in England was held, in theory at least, by the king. William the Conqueror gave large chunks of it to his tenants-in-chief in return for military service. The tenants-in-chief, in turn, gave bits of land to men further down the chain who owed them military service. This obligation was inherited and confirmed by their descendants. The military service was up to forty days a year, which is why you’ll occasionally read about men returning home on the forty-first day. This service was unpaid. It was, of course, the king’s option to pay for more. The knight wasn’t obligated to accept, but it probably wasn’t a wise move to turn the king down.

These knights should not be thought of in the same way as the knights who trained for war since childhood and went off to fight in armour on the backs of magnificent horses, although some of them were that sort of knight. Many of them turned down the opportunity to become a knight of this kind, as the costs were too high. They were, rather, the lowest level of the landholding classes and were sometimes not much wealthier than the peasants who worked their land.

These men usually had one manor from which they had to raise enough money to look after their family and meet their military obligation. Fairly quickly this requirement to go to war themselves was replaced by a tax or fine known as scutage. Henry II collected it as a tax every four years; under other kings it was simply a way in which the landowner could pay for a knight to fight in his stead, either by hiring a knight himself or paying the money to the king.. These men would not all have been trained knights, so paying the king so that he could employ trained soldiers was probably a good option for many of them.

Even in the twelfth century there was no realistic expectation that the tenants-in-chief would be able to call on as many knights as their landholdings indicated should be available. The knights themselves must rarely have performed military service as they might have been too old, too young, too ill or disabled. Scutage, the tax or fine, allowed them to pay for someone else to go in their place.

Towards the end of the twelfth century the size of a manor sufficient to require a knight’s fee was five hides. A hide was generally considered to be 120 acres, but in this context it was usually understood as an amount of money rather than the size of the land itself. A hide was the area that would support a family for a year or that could be ploughed by a team of eight oxen. Both measures would indicate different amounts of land in different parts of the country, since a family could live for a year on a smaller piece of land in an area where the soil was good than they could where it was poor. The hide was a taxation tool more than anything else.

Around 1300 there were about 1,100 to 1,500 knights who technically owed the knight’s fee. By the start of the Hundred Years War in 1327 the vast majority of soldiers, including knights, were paid. In 1352 Edward III stopped trying to call men for their obligatory service and all soldiers who served thereafter were paid.

Sources:
A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Christopher Corèdon and Ann Williams
A Social History of England 1200 – 1500 ed. Rosemary Horrox and W. Mark Ormrod
The English Manor by Mark Bailey
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:

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Hundred Years War, Medieval Life, Medieval Warfare, Thirteenth Century, Twelfth Century

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

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.

Sources:
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:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

Amazon

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

The Great Hall of Winchester Castle

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The Round Table, Great Hall, Winchester

During a recent trip to Winchester I visited what remains of its medieval castle. The castle was built at the highest point of the town, which was also the furthest point from the river. The only remnants of the castle these days are some stumps of walls, some vaults which are closed to the public, and the Great Hall.

You’ve probably come across the Great Hall in photographs, even if you didn’t know what it was. It’s best-known today for housing the Round Table and that’s what tourists pay to see. There’s a bit more to the Great Hall than that, but it’s what we’ll start with.

Edward I had the Round Table built, probably around 1290 for a banquet. He didn’t have it painted with the portrait of King Arthur and the names of the knights, though. The Tudor Rose in the middle of the table is a clue to the identity of the king who did have it painted: Henry VIII. King Arthur’s face was originally that of the young Henry, which must have been a bit confusing for him, since his older brother, who would have been king had he lived, was called Arthur. Over the years, various renovations have changed the features of King Arthur into those of an old man. It was only because X-rays were used during one of the more recent renovations that we have any idea of what King Arthur originally looked like. The Victorians, as is usually the case, were probably the guilty parties here.

The table is massive. It’s 18 feet in diameter and weighs 1 ton 4cwt. It was made of 121 separate pieces of oak and had 12 legs. When it was renovated in the 1970s, the wood was dated by means of dendrochronology and the youngest tree-ring they found was dated to 1219, suggesting that the trees used were felled no later than the second decade of the fourteenth century.

There’s a model of its original construction on display just outside the hall.

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Model of the Round Table, Great Hall, Winchester

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Model of the Round Table, Great Hall, Winchester

The castle itself was originally built by William the Conqueror at the end of the eleventh century.  Henry III was born there in 1207 and it was he who had the Great Hall built. A fire during the reign of his son, Edward I damaged the royal apartments so badly that they were never repaired and the royal family thereafter stayed in the palace of the Bishop of Winchester whenever they visited.

The Great Hall was used as a courtroom from the reign of Henry III off and on until 1973. Famous trials that took place there included those of the Earl of Kent (a son of Edward I) in 1330 and Sir Walter Raleigh in 1603.

The Great Hall has other delights, not least a herber garden set out in a style that would have been familiar to Edward I’s queen, Eleanor, who brought a number of plants to England from her native Castile.

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Queen Eleanor’s Garden, Great Hall, Winchester

The Victorians tried hard with their renovation. This wall, where the Round Table was hung after it was no longer needed for its original purpose, is covered with the names of the parliamentary representatives for Hampshire from 1283 to 1868. For many years, possibly centuries, there was a medieval mappa mundi on this wall.

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Great Hall, Winchester

They also made an effort with the windows. Apparently the long walls of the hall were originally painted with heraldic devices. The Victorians put devices of kings, queens, bishops and others important to the history of Hampshire in the windows. Here’s the window with the devices of Edward III, his son Edward of Woodstock, and his great friend William Montacute.

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Great Hall, Wincester

The Great Hall is well worth a visit if you’re ever in Winchester.

 

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 Castle, Medieval Buildings, Thirteenth Century, Twelfth Century

The British Museum in Thirteen Objects – Reliquary Casket of St Thomas Becket

Reliquary Casket of St Thomas Becket

Reliquary Casket of St Thomas Becket, British Museum

This is the final object of those I photographed in the British Museum and it’s my favourite. It’s a tiny reliquary, about 6¼” tall, 6″ wide and 2¾” deep. I like it for several reasons. Firstly, because it’s just beautiful. Despite its age the colours shine and sparkle. Secondly, because it’s enamelware from Limoges, which I don’t come across very often. Thirdly, because it’s about Thomas Becket, who was an important English saint in the Middle Ages.

I first became aware of the enamelware produced in Limoges when I was doing research for my novel Beloved Besieged, part of which is set in the town. My Pinterest board for the novel is full of pictures of enamelled objects made there and it’s beautiful stuff.

Enamel is a type of glass fused onto metal. The metal was usually copper, but it could be silver or gold. The metal between the pieces of enamel was gilded. This type of object was produced mainly in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. About forty similar caskets made to contain relics of Thomas Becket still survive.

Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, was killed on 29th December 1170 in his own cathedral by four knights who had been sent, or believed they had been sent, by Henry II to strike him down. Having risen from fairly humble beginnings to become Chancellor, Becket was made archbishop of Canterbury. Since it was Henry II who had raised Becket to prominence, he naturally assumed Becket would side with him in the constant struggle between medieval kings and the pope about the authority each had over the king’s subjects.

The archbishop did not support the king and was exiled. They were reconciled and the trouble began again. Hearing the king utter the infamous words, ‘Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?’ (possibly in medieval French, Norman French or even Latin, but definitely not English) the four knights rushed off to Canterbury and did their king’s bidding.

Becket was canonised in 1173. Henry II made a very public penance, and he and his descendants were very energetic in promoting the murdered archbishop as a saint. His relics were sent to churches and monasteries all over Europe in reliquaries like this one. The shrine at Canterbury drew pilgrims from many countries, becoming the fourth most visited shrine in the Middle Ages, after Jerusalem, Rome and Compostela.

Pilgrims didn’t just visit the shrine, they also bought ‘Canterbury water’. It was holy water mixed with a drop of Becket’s blood and was said to cure many illnesses and disabilities. Sold in ampoules it could be taken back home if the sick person was too ill to make the pilgrimage on their own behalf.  The monks also sold badges to pilgrims as reminders (souvenirs) of their pilgrimage.

Becket was an important saint for English pilgrims, as demonstrated by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. His pilgrims were on their way to Becket’s shrine. Many pilgrimages ended at Canterbury, but others continued on to Dover, with pilgrims crossing the English Channel in the next stage of their journey to Rome, Compostela or Jerusalem. It was not always safe enough to travel further afield, though, and many had to be satisfied with Canterbury.

The saint’s murder was a popular motif in medieval art and the British Museum also has an alabaster panel depicting it. The image on the reliquary is of two of the knights attacking Becket in front of the altar. It dates from the early thirteenth century, about 40 years after the event. At this time Limoges was part of the duchy of Aquitaine, whose dukes were the Plantagenets, which explains why so many Becket reliquaries were made there.

Henry II’s descendants took their devotion to St Thomas seriously.  They were always stopping off at Canterbury to visit his shrine. Edward III once walked from London to Canterbury as a pilgrim. In 1343 he gave a golden ship to the shrine after he had been saved from a storm. Edward of Woodstock, his eldest son, is interred there.

All my photograph does really well is show you how tiny the reliquary is. Here’s a better photograph of its front.

Sources:

Masterpieces of Medieval Art – James Robinson

The Perfect King – Ian Mortimer

 

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The British Museum in Thirteen Objects – The King’s and Queen’s Pavements

The king's pavement

The King’s Pavement, British Museum

The King’s and Queen’s Pavements were laid in Clarendon Palace, near Salisbury, in Wiltshire. The palace was originally a royal hunting lodge and Henry II and Henry III both spent a lot of money converting it into something fit to receive them for longer periods.

It was Henry III who was responsible for the pavement above. He had a circular floor laid in his private chapel around 1244. The floor was about 4m in diameter.  Up until this point tiled floors were mainly found in ecclesiastical buildings. Once the king had one, everyone wanted a decorated pavement in their houses.

The construction of the pavement was ordered on 12th March 1244. The tiles were made on-site and a kiln was built nearby to fire them.  The thin green tiles are just green tiles, but the brown tiles are inlaid with designs showing very stylised leaves and fleurs de lys. There was an inscription around the outer edge of the pavement, but no one knows what it said since most of the letters are lost and the ones that were found were not necessarily in their original location.

The chapel for which the pavement was made was on the first floor and the tiles were scattered when the building collapsed. The palace was in poor condition before the time of Elizabeth I, who had to eat somewhere else when she visited it, so unsafe had it become. It was a ruin by the eighteenth century.

The queen's pavement

The Queen’s Pavement, British Museum

The Queen’s pavement covered the ground floor of Eleanor of Provence’s personal apartments in Clarendon Palace. She was Henry III’s queen and was a bit of a trend-setter, bringing fashions from France with her. Even in those days the English were in thrall to French fashion. In her private rooms there were glazed windows and a fireplace, both of which took a long time to spread across England.

The tiles depict symbolic animals: regal lions and griffins who guarded treasure.

These are the last of my tiles from the museum.

 

Sources: Masterpieces of Medieval Art by James Robinson

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The British Museum in Thirteen Objects – Doorknocker in the Shape of a Lion’s Head

Doorknocker

Doorknocker in the shape of a lion’s head, British Museum

This object has a cumbersome name, but it’s impressive enough to deserve it. It’s about 14 inches across and dates from around 1200.

Some time ago I wrote about how the idea of sanctuary worked in English law. The doorknocker played a vital role for the criminal who wanted sanctuary, as he had to knock on the church door to gain entry. In theory, but not always in practice, the criminal could remain in the church for forty days without harm from those pursuing him. After that time he had to leave the church and take his punishment or leave England.

Most churches in the fourteenth century had knockers, but they began to be removed and melted down when the laws about sanctuary were repealed in the seventeenth century. Few church doorknockers survive now and this one is such a lovely example.

It’s bronze and was made by the sand-casting method, which means it’s unique since the mould, made of sand, straw and manure, couldn’t be used twice. Once the molten bronze had been poured into the mould it was packed with sand, where it stayed until it had cooled. It was not a quick technique, but it was a proven one, having its roots in antiquity.

No one knows which church it belonged to, but its size and value indicate that it must have been an important one.

Lions were popular forms for ecclesiastical doorknockers and other examples have survived.

Sadly the ring is not original, so no thirteenth-century criminal grabbed it and pounded on the church door in the hope of gaining time for himself.

Here is a better photograph of the doorknocker than mine.

 

Sources:

Masterpieces of Medieval Art – James Robinson

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Filed under Church, Medieval Crime and Law, Thirteenth Century

The British Museum in Thirteen Objects – A Knight on Horseback Aquamanile

Aquamanile

Knight on Horseback Aquamanile, British Museum

I’ve mentioned table etiquette in a couple of posts, here and here, and I thought it was time to talk about other things that were used at a fourteenth-century meal besides knives and hands.

The latter were generally a lot cleaner than I might have led you to believe. People washed their hands before a meal, at least in large houses. Most of the household would wash their hands before coming to the table, but the head of the household would wash his hands in front of everyone else. There was a certain amount of ceremony and ritual attached to this, especially at feasts, when a servant would bring the water and drying cloth to him.

The mounted knight in the photograph above is an aquamanile. The figurine is hollow and clean water was poured in through the hole in his helmet. The horse is not a unicorn who’s lost most of its horn. The hole in its head is a spout through which water could be poured onto the hands of the head of the, in this case rather grand, head of the household. The mounted knight was a popular shape for an aquamanile to take, but there were other forms, usually animals. These were often lions, horses and unicorns. For those of lower rank, an aquamanile could be made out of pottery. I suspect that most households simply used jugs or bowls of water.

Aquamaniles were also used by the celebrants at mass, who washed their hands before the people as part of a ritual cleansing. Like the head of a household, they were presiding at a meal. It would be interesting to know which ritual came first.

Most aquamaniles, at least of those that survive, were made of brass. The knight is made of bronze. Since I had to look it up, I can tell you what the difference is. Bronze is a copper alloy that usually has tin as the main additive, while brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. There are records of gold and silver aquamaniles, but none has survived.

The knight has lost his lance, shield and legs, but he’s still amazing. He was made, in England, for someone with a  bit of money to throw around. He’s just over a foot tall and was probably made in the last quarter of the thirteenth century.

The British Museum has photographed him from every possible angle. Some of the angles are less than dignified, but they’re all illuminating.

 

Sources:

Masterpieces of Medieval Art – James Robinson

 

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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Introduction to Medieval Tournaments

Crécy_-_Grandes_Chroniques_de_France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

England in the Reign of Edward III – Scott L Waugh

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

Knight – Michael Prestwich

Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages – Michael Prestwich

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Filed under Medieval Warfare, Thirteenth Century, Twelfth Century