Tag Archives: April Munday

Pope, Antipopes and Avignon: Part Four

Benedict XII

Benedict XII

This week’s Avignon pope was born Jacques Fournier in the 1280s. He was the son of a baker and he became pope in 1334.

Before becoming pope, he was a Cistercian monk and a member of the Inquisition. He was very active against heretics and, in 1321, during his tenure as Bishop of Pamiers, he captured Guillaume Bélibaste, the last Cathar Goodman. The Cathars were a heretical group based mainly in the south of France. Their beliefs included the existence of two deities, one good and one evil. The spiritual world was good and the physical world was carnal and corrupt. The Goodmen (or Parfaits) were the senior members of the sect and were considered pure, as far as it was possible to be whilst inhabiting flesh. The heresy had its last gasp in the village of Montaillou in the early years of the fourteenth century. Montaillou was in Fournier’s diocese and he devoted himself to destroying the Cathars, in which he succeeded. His inquisitional court interviewed many men and women (on the whole without torture) and the records of his activities there were carefully recorded and preserved. Eventually they formed the basis of Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie’s book Montaillou which was very popular in the early 80s.

Compared to the time it had taken to elect his predecessor, Benedict’s election was unbelievably fast. It took just sixteen days. It seems his election was accidental, as the first vote in a conclave tended to be a way of sounding out opinion. The man everyone assumed would be elected wanted to return to Rome, which was unpopular with the mainly French cardinals. They were still trying to work out who they should support during the first vote and voted for the candidates least likely to be successful. So many voted for Fournier that he was elected.

Benedict also wanted to return the papacy to Rome and paid for the restoration of the Lateran and St Peter’s. He was, however, persuaded that it was too dangerous to live in Rome and he agreed to stay in Avignon, beginning work on the Palais des Papes, the papal residence, in 1339.

Unlike many of the fourteenth century popes, Benedict despised luxury and nepotism. He occupied himself with creating strict constitutions for the Cistercians, Franciscans and Benedictines and he continued to be obsessed with rooting out heretics. His strengths were his intelligence and his organisational skills. He tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Edward III to establish the Inquisition in England.

One of his ambitions was to bring the war between England and France that had recently started to a halt so that their respective kings could join in a crusade to the Holy Land, but he failed. The war was to continue on and off for another hundred years and more. He also tried to make peace with Louis IV, the Holy Roman Emperor, in which he was thwarted by Philip VI, King of France. His peace-making also extended to the Franciscans.

He was mostly occupied with theological questions and corresponded with William of Occam, whom we met last week, and Meister Eckhart, a Dominican theologian who was often accused of heresy.

Although French, Benedict was not an unthinking supporter of Philip VI and relations between them were cool. Despite his intelligence, however, Benedict was not good at politics and Philip frequently outmanoeuvred him.

He died in 1342.

2 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century

Ransoms: the way to riches, the way to poverty

During the Hundred Years’ War many knights were able to go into battle fairly confident that they would survive. The ransom system meant that, should they surrender, provided the battle wasn’t being fought to the death or there had not been an order not to take prisoners by the other side, there was a good chance they would be taken prisoner and released later on payment of a ransom. This made the knights more valuable alive than dead.

The chivalric code was what made it possible for Christian knights to fight one another. Earlier the Anglo-Saxons and Norsemen killed or enslaved vanquished enemies, but this was not acceptable to the church when both sides were Christians. Often men fighting one another were related or friends and killing an opponent who surrendered in such circumstances wouldn’t always be well-received. Due to the way knights were trained they often knew one another well, having served as squires together or met at tournaments. The ransom system meant that they didn’t have to kill their friends.

Knights could still be killed, of course. It wasn’t always possible to take prisoners and prisoners who were to be ransomed had to be protected, which was often difficult in the midst of a battle. Knights were essentially killing machines. They were trained to kill and it could be quite hard to restrain them once they had started. In the heat of battle they could often carry on killing, even when the enemy was surrendering to them or retreating.

The ransom system was part of the chivalric code and it applied only to knights, not to the ordinary soldier. A knight who was captured in a battle or a siege could be expected to buy his freedom by paying a ransom, or having it paid for him. Sometimes he could be set free on parole by promising that he would not take up arms against the one who had set him free and that he would pay his ransom.

Some men became wealthy by capturing and ransoming knights. Others could become poor through paying a ransom. The ransom of Jean II, who was captured at the battle of Poitiers in 1356 almost brought France to its knees, even though half of it was never paid. Jean died in captivity after his son, who had taken his place in prison to allow his father to return to France to raise his ransom, escaped. Feeling the dishonour of his son’s action, Jean returned to England where he died a few months later.

If a man could not pay a ransom he was either kept prisoner or made to redeem his ransom in some other way. For many that meant being taken to another country. It could take a long time to raise the money required and, since a captive was considered the property of his captor, the son of the captor could inherit the captive on his father’s death.

There were laws governing how a prisoner could be captured and how he could be kept and ransomed. When a man was taken prisoner for ransom there was what amounted to a legal contract between the man captured and the man to whom he had surrendered. The captive was supposed to be taken to a place of safety and protected until the battle was over. If this didn’t happen he could consider himself no longer bound by his surrender and try to escape. He was also supposed to be well-treated by his captor. In this respect being captured by the Germans or Spanish was decidedly undesirable. They were known to keep their prisoners in chains and mistreat them, even if they expected to receive a ransom for them. The ransom itself was supposed to be within the means of the captured man to pay, although this was frequently not the case.

One of the attractions of fighting in France during the Hundred Years’ War for the English was that France was known to be full of wealthy men and many Englishmen became rich from taking prisoners, just as many Frenchmen became poor from paying for their release. For a novelist this is quite a useful device for enabling a second son without property to become rich (like Henry in The Winter Love) or penniless (like Richard in His Ransom).

8 Comments

Filed under Hundred Years War

Why the fourteenth century?

I write about romances set in fourteenth century England. What is it about that particular time that makes it such a good setting?

From the relative safety of the twenty-first century the fourteenth century looks like an interesting time in which to live. It was the time when national identities were becoming strong in Europe. England became so self-assured as a nation that it felt able to take on the most powerful nation in Europe, France, in what was to become the Hundred Years’ War.

It was the time of Edward III, possibly the greatest ruler England has ever had. His reign, one of the longest among English monarchs, stretches across the fourteenth century. The security of his reign contrasts strongly with the anarchy of the hundred years following his death.

English was in the process of becoming the national language. Although the ruling classes still spoke French, English gradually became the language of literature and law.

It was also a time of great disasters. The Black Death claimed between a half and two thirds of the population in the middle of the century and returned frequently for the rest of the century. As a result some people became more mobile and wealthier as more labourers were required than were available.

There were wars, not only in France, but in England and Scotland and border raids in the Marches. Associated with these was the development of the longbow – the superweapon of the fourteenth century. It gave English armies such a marked advantage over the French that the French developed a strategy of avoiding battle if they could.

It was the time of Gower, Langland, Chaucer and the ‘Pearl’ poet, all writing in English towards the end of the century. Literature in English started with a bang.

Wyclif began to translate the Bible into English and the century marked a change in the way that the English viewed the church and the pope, who, for most of the century, was considered to be little more than a mouthpiece for the French king.

It was a time of great change and uncertainty. Poor men could go to war and return with wealth (Henry in The Winter Love ); a Frenchman could be captured by his enemy and brought to England to work off his ransom (Richard in His Ransom) and a woman caught up in a French raid on a southern port could be rescued by a stranger (Alais in The Traitor’s Daughter). What more could a novelist want?

Leave a comment

Filed under Fourteenth Century

Hello

I write historical romance novels. They’re set either in the fourteenth century or in the Regency period. I enjoy swapping between a time when everyone had to fight for survival and a time that was equally violent, but in which those who had the means also had some respite from wondering how they were going to survive the next few months.

I live in Hampshire and grew up here. It’s the part of the world that I know best, so it features a lot in my novels. Sometimes characters are just passing through, but usually they live here or have property here.

This blog will cover a wide range of subjects. Mostly it will be about interesting things that I’ve discovered in my research or that I see around me. For example, the office building where I work is very close to the walls of medieval Southampton. There are a few relatively whole medieval buildings still to be seen and I shall be writing about them. Jane Austen lived for time in Southampton when it was a spa town and I’ll be writing about some of the places that survive that she would have known.

There will be the odd book review. I enjoy research and read a lot of books about the periods in which my stories are set. I aim to get the settings of my stories as accurate as possible, so research is important as well as fun.

There will also be reflections on the act of writing itself.

I shall be blogging a couple of times a month and I hope you’ll join me as often as you can.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized