These days we think of livery as clothing that identifies a group of people as belonging together, both in colour and design. It has its origins in the custom of a medieval lord giving food and clothing to the people who served him. Clothes would have been given once a year and wine probably at Christmas, as well as food at various times of the year.
After a time, ‘livery’ came to signify just the clothing itself and not the food. Originally the colours were russet or blue, but, after a while, the clothes became part of an identification system at courts across Europe. Clerks wore blue, knights green and squires stripes. Household servants also wore stripes. It wasn’t just lords who did this; guilds also had their own liveries to identify their members.
Wearing a man’s livery meant that you were under his protection. With greater lords, the livery included their heraldic colours, which made it easy to identify their retainers. This was both a blessing and a curse, as it meant that most people were less likely to antagonise them, although it also made them the target of the retinue of a lord who might not be on the best of terms with their lord. It also meant that they were also easily recognisable if they committed a crime whilst wearing their livery. For the lord himself there were also benefits. The more men a lord had dressed in his livery, the more powerful, important and wealthy he seemed to everyone else.
Liveried retainers must often have committed crimes or caused problems, for Parliament tried on several occasions to introduce laws in order to have more control over them during the reign of Richard II. John of Gaunt argued, however, that dealing with a lack of discipline in his household was the responsibility of the lord and not the courts.
Chaucer, as a member first of the household of the Countess of Ulster and then of her husband, Lionel of Antwerp, would have worn livery and there are records of sums of money being given to him to buy clothes.
The idea of livery also carried over to the army, where each lord had his own retinue of soldiers. In 1346 the Welsh soldiers in the retinue of Edward, Prince of Wales, wore a short white coat with a hood.
Last week we looked at religious hermits, who were allowed to leave the places in which they were based. Today we’re looking at anchorites and anchoresses, who were not allowed to wander; they had a fixed place where they lived and had to stay. When I write ‘anchorite’ in this post I also mean ‘anchoress’. I’m just too lazy to type both every time. When I write ‘anchoress’, though, I don’t also mean ‘anchorite’.
Anchorites were also known as recluses. Sometimes they were literally walled in and were not able to leave their cell. They had to have the permission of their bishop for this and he would officiate at a service, similar to the one for lepers entering a lazar house, during which they renounced the world. For both lepers and anchorites it symbolised that they were dead to the world and everyone in it.
To be walled up meant that there was no way in or out of the cell, only windows which looked out onto different parts of their, very small, world. The bishop was involved because he had to be satisfied that the anchorite’s character was such that he could survive spiritually and physically. Anchorages were usually attached to a parish church in a town, which meant that there were people around to look after them. Anchorites had one or two servants. One of them was for errands and one for protection. I’m not quite sure how that worked for anchoresses. Mother Julian of Norwich, for example, had two women, Alice and Sara. We’ll come on to Mother Julian in a moment.
A cell usually had three windows, an altar, a bed and a crucifix. Through one window the anchorite could see the altar of the church to which the cell was attached. Through the second window the servant passed food. This window connected to the servant’s quarters. Only one window looked onto the outside world. This was the parlour window (the smallest) and the anchorite could speak to visitors through it. It was small so that the anchorite could see very little and thus not be tempted by the outside world.
The three elements of the anchorite’s life were silence, prayer and mortification. In this instance, mortification means the subduing of the body’s desires. These might be for food, comfort, alcohol, sex or movement in the outside world. The requirement for silence wasn’t absolute, since the anchorite could speak to visitors and the servants. It was mental and spiritual detachment that were important rather than physical isolation.
Like the hermits who lived in their cells in a monastery, there was a sense of community among anchorites. Their servants carried verbal messages between them, so these were clearly not long and involved communications.
One of the earliest books written in English, the Ancrene Riwle, was written for anchoresses. It was written for three sisters and set out a rule of behaviour for anchoresses who were not attached to any particular order.
Probably the most famous English anchoress of the fourteenth century was Mother Julian of Norwich. She was the first woman to write a book in English. I have to add, that we know about, since books are such fragile things and someone else could have written a book that has since been lost or destroyed. Her book was Revelations of Divine Love, which was about some visions she had in 1373. All but one of them took place in a single night. She wrote them down and spent the next twenty years meditating on them. Her cell was attached to Saint Julian’s church in Norwich, and it’s possible that she took her name from the church. It’s just as likely, though, that it was her own name, since it was a common name for women at the time. Very little is known about her apart from what is in her book and what Margery Kempe included in her own writings about a visit she made to Julian.
Anchorites either had to have enough wealth to pay their own expenses or have someone who paid for them. Edward of Woodstock, later known as the Black Prince, supported an anchorite in Cornwall, of which he was the duke, who said masses for Edward’s ancestors.
It’s not often that I go into my local and the barman greets me with “what’s the difference between a mercenary and a condottiero?”, but since Greg asked, I thought about it and said that I thought a mercenary was someone who sold himself to the highest bidder, but a condottiero was someone who was part of a group that sold itself to the highest bidder in Italy. Then I thought about it a bit more. We bandied some names about. I mentioned John Hawkwood, the famous fourteenth-century mercenary who is celebrated by a painting in Florence Cathedral. He mentioned Richard I’s head mercenary and right hand man, Mercadier, who is said to have avenged the king’s death by murdering the man who had killed him, before being assassinated in turn by a mercenary employed by King John.
As it turns out, my initial answer was incorrect. According to Treccani.it, the great Italian online dictionary and encyclopaedia, a condottiero was the leader of a group of mercenaries. John Hawkwood was, therefore, both a mercenary and a condottiero.
Mercenaries have a bad reputation today and it wasn’t much better in the fourteenth century, at least among the people they terrorised for money. Among knights, however, it was different. Being a mercenary was a perfectly respectable way to make a living. What else was a knight supposed to do when he wasn’t required by his king? Geoffroi de Charny, who wrote the book on chivalry, said that it was a good way for a knight to gain experience.
Most knights didn’t come from a noble background and didn’t have a large sum of money to fall back on during the very long periods when wars weren’t being fought. Although the name the Hundred Years War implies that war was being waged continuously, it wasn’t. There were treaties that meant that there was a peace of sorts for several years at a time and there were other times when Edward III simply couldn’t afford to take an army to France. A professional knight had no other skills than fighting. He had trained hard to become a knight and he had many expenses once he became one. Apart from his armour and his arms, he had to have horses and he had to have servants who needed to be fed and clothed. A pause in the fighting in France meant that he was no longer being paid, but his expenses continued. Some men banded together to hold local towns to ransom, but others decided to go to Italy where there was very good money to be made.
Italy wasn’t a single state in the fourteenth century: it was many, often small, states based around cities. In the north and centre of Italy those states were almost constantly at war. The large states overpowered the small states, who employed mercenaries to fight back on their behalf. The large states fought one another by proxy, employing mercenaries. Even the papacy employed mercenaries, whilst at the same time deploring their activities. There were fortunes to be made here, even for men who didn’t end up leading their own company of mercenaries.
Italy’s situation was a bit of a vicious circle. The fighting had been going on for some time, making Italy so unsafe that Clement V decided in 1309 that it would be sensible set up the papal court in Avignon. The fact that he was French played no part in this decision, allegedly. Most European armies employed a few mercenaries, so it wasn’t unusual that some English and German mercenaries went to join Italian armies. I’ve been to Italy and fallen in love with it, so I can easily believe that these northern Europeans did the same and encouraged others to join them, until the numbers of mercenaries in Italy became a real problem. They formed themselves into armies called companies and the city states found that they either had to employ them or have them as their enemies.
A mercenary company in Italy was a business. It made contracts with its clients, necessitating the employment of lawyers, usually Italian. It had full-time accountants who were responsible for collecting the fees and dividing them up among the members of the company. The condottiero, of course, received the largest share. The company also employed women to do the washing, cooking and, as my source puts it, provide other services.
Being a condottiero was far from safe, even when they weren’t fighting. Some were assassinated by their own men, who had ambitions to lead the company themselves. Others were assassinated by a former employer they had abandoned when they received a better offer. A few, like John Hawkwood, managed to grow old. He lived into his seventies, having served a single employer, Florence, for several years. Some condottieri even became heads of states: Biordo Michelotti became lord of Perugia, but he was ultimately assassinated.
English mercenaries did rather well in Italy. They had a reputation for being very loud (how little times change) and being able to shout was useful for frightening the opposition, apparently. Loud music was also used. I’m beginning to suspect that my neighbours are descended from mercenaries. English mercenaries also had the useful ability to travel long distances, sometimes overnight, which some of them probably learned whilst on chevauchée with Edward of Woodstock (the Black Prince) in the south-west of France in the 1350s. This meant that they could appear somewhere long before they were expected and take the enemy by surprise.
At the end of the fourteenth century there was very little work for English knights in France. The young Richard II preferred peace and his uncle, John of Gaunt, was nowhere near the soldier Richard’s father had been. It wasn’t until the time of John of Gaunt’s grandson, Henry V, that English knights were needed in France again. Most English knights in Italy remained loyal to their king and John Hawkwood even had it written into his contracts that he wouldn’t fight against England’s allies.
Sources: Knight by Michael Prestwich Hawkwood by Frances Stonor Saunders
Last week we left Geoffroi de Charny about to join battle with the English near Poitiers. It was Monday, 19th September 1356. An army led by the king of France, Jean II, had been pursuing an English, Welsh and Gascon army led by Edward of Woodstock (better known now as the Black Prince) for some days.
For most of his career, de Charny had the good fortune not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He wasn’t, for example, at the battle of Crécy, where so many French knights and nobles were killed or taken prisoner that Philippe VI couldn’t raise an army large enough to take on Edward III at the siege of Calais a few months later. De Charny gained his reputation in siege warfare, but he was probably disappointed not to have faced the English in battle. His chance had finally come.
That morning it looked as if he still might be denied the opportunity of fighting in a battle. The prevailing opinion in the French camp was that the English army was in no state to fight and would retreat at the first opportunity, which was probably what Edward of Woodstock intended. He was at the end of a summer’s campaign of raiding in south-west France. As with many campaigns in the Hundred Years War, the objective was to show that the king of France was unable to protect his subjects, the main duty of a medieval king, and to take some booty along the way. After two years of such raids, it was a point so well made that the king had to do something.
Jean II was able to put together an impressive army made up of knights of the Order of the Star, men from the duchies and kingdoms on the eastern borders of France who owed allegiance to the French king, a large Scottish retinue and some mercenaries. They were all well-rested and well-supplied. Their main difficulty had been finding the enemy in order to engage them.
Edward of Woodstock had been leading his men in raids for two summers. It was a relatively small army and their supplies were exhausted. There had been almost nothing to eat or drink on the day before the battle. They had been avoiding the larger French army for some days and were very tired. Although they had picked a good spot for the battle and had reinforced it, the plan was still to slip away before battle could be joined.
De Charny was entrusted with the Oriflamme, the French king’s battle standard. It was a huge honour and it had been put into his hands during a religious ceremony at the abbey of St. Denis. When it was carried into a battle it was a sign that no prisoners would be taken. This was meant to scare the opposition into surrender, as most nobles didn’t expect to die in battle, but to be taken prisoner for ransom, as had happened to de Charny himself, twice. On this day, however, he could look forward to the knights of France demonstrating all the aspects of chivalry that he had written about and defeating the English.
There really could be little doubt about the outcome. The English army was about 6, 000 men strong. The French army was twice the size. The scene was set for a great French victory, except …
Except Jean II was no strategist. He was a man of great personal bravery, but he didn’t really know what to do with an army. Despite all his advantages going into this particular battle, he wasn’t a leader of men. Even had his opponent not been the greatest soldier of his time, Jean II would have struggled.
Except he French knights had not learned what de Charny had tried to teach them. Personal glory was still their main motivation and they couldn’t work together under the king or even obey him. The English and the Gascons, on the other hand, had been fighting together as a unit for months, under a commander who knew what he was doing.
Except no one had worked out a proper strategy for dealing with the English and Welsh archers. They had played an important role in defeating the French at the battle of Crécy and 10 years later the French still had no plan for opposing them. The only thing they had really thought about and prepared for (at the last minute) was the English preference for fighting on foot, which they had learned from the Scots.
In the end, the English didn’t run away, but fought. All day de Charny was in the thick of the battle holding up the king’s standard. We can’t know if he saw or understood much of what was going on around him, but he probably died, the battle standard still in his hands, before Jean II was captured by the English. He certainly didn’t live to know that more than eighty members of the Order of the Star had been killed or that more than a quarter of the army had been taken prisoner. Over two and a half thousand men from the French army died. The day that should have demonstrated the renewal of French chivalry ended in its complete defeat.
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’ OwnAdventure 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.
Men who fought together against a common enemy could become very close. Sometimes they forged partnerships and became brothers-in-arms. Although these relationships were often based on friendships, they could equally be little more than business arrangements. If they were the former, they could last for a long time, if the latter, they could last for the length of a campaign or even a single engagement.
The two men who became brothers-in-arms agreed that they would watch out for one another when they were fighting and provide help and advice when they were not. The men involved might agree to share the financial gains (or losses) arising from the campaign or engagement.
Some of the relationships between brothers-in-arms were contractual and a contract from 1421 has survived. It was between John Winter and Nicholas Molyneux. The contract sets out the assistance that they were to provide to one another. It also details what the one who remained free should do if one of them was captured. Up to a certain amount of money he was to pay the ransom demanded by the captors. If the ransom was higher than the sum agreed, he was to become the hostage of those who had captured his brother-in-arms so that the latter could go and raise the ransom from his family and friends. If both were captured, one would remain as hostage, while the other raised the ransoms. Essentially they had to do everything they could to secure the other’s release.
Where there was a true bond of friendship between the two men, it was unlikely that the agreement was written down, but the obligations would be similar.
It is believed that there was such an agreement between Edward II and Piers Gaveston. If there was, it would have been very unusual, for brothers-in-arms were supposed to be of equal status.
Hugh Calveley (d.1394) and Robert Knollys (1330 – 1407) were probably brothers-in-arms. Their arms appear on alternating sections of Calveley’s tomb (pictured above). Both were renowned soldiers in the latter half of the fourteenth century. Calveley was more or less a mercenary, joining a free company in the 1360s. He was briefly a brother-in-arms of Bertrand du Guesclin, who later commanded the French army, when both were employed by Enrique de Trastámara. Calveley changed sides when he learned that Edward of Woodstock (the Black Prince) was leading an army into Spain to fight against Enrique. Knollys’ history was just as colourful and he was also occasionally a mercenary. He was a man of low birth who rose to a high position and many nobles complained about serving under him. Knollys and Calveley served together on and off during the Hundred Years’ War. Both became wealthy by taking booty and receiving ransoms for men they had captured.
Chaucer presented a fictional view of brothers-in-arms in the Knight’s Tale. This is about Palamon and Arcite, two brothers-in-arms who are captured and kept in prison. They are presented in the tale as the epitome of knighthood and being brothers-in-arms for them is simply a part of being a knight.
Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages: The English Experience – Michael Prestwich
Knight: The Unofficial Medieval Warrior’s Manual – Michael Prestwich
Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years’ War – Rémy Ambühl
To celebrate the publication of Beloved Besieged this weekend, I’m looking at the Sack of Limoges, which is the central event of the novel. It took place on 19th September 1370 and is the event which tarnished the Black Prince’s reputation for chivalry. According to (more or less) contemporary chroniclers, he ordered the massacre of the town’s inhabitants, some 3,000 people.
In many ways his actions at Limoges were a result of what had happened in Castile in 1367. The Prince had gone into Spain to assist Don Pedro, England’s ally. Due to the part he played in the battles of Crécy and Poitiers, in which the English had been the victors, he was known as the greatest soldier of his age. Since he was the Prince of Aquitaine and was living in the principality at the time, he was the obvious choice to send south to Castile. Although he won the Battle of Nájera, the expenses of the campaign were more than the Prince could afford and, whilst waiting in Castile for the repayment of his expenses, he became ill. Don Pedro had promised more than he could deliver, however, and the Prince finally realised that he wasn’t going to get any money from him and went back over the Pyrenees.
After he returned to Aquitaine his enemies soon learned of his weakened state and began to exploit it. The Prince no longer had the energy to defend the borders of his principality against the French. To make matters worse, those who served beneath him lacked both his charismatic leadership and his experience. As a result of his losses in Spain, the Prince had to raise more taxes, which made him unpopular in Aquitaine.
Officially England and France had been at peace since October 1360, but the French began to make incursions into Aquitaine with increasing impunity after 1367. The Prince’s unpopularity and his inability to protect them against the French meant that many towns surrendered without a fight, but the surrender of the town of Limoges after a siege of a mere three days was the last straw for the Prince. Despite his failing health, he took an army across Aquitaine to Limoges, to which he laid siege.
Like most towns in that part of France, Limoges was divided into two parts, each surrounded by walls. One part held the castle and the garrison and the other (the Cité) contained the cathedral. It was the Cité which surrendered.
The state of the Cité’s walls was such that they only held against the Prince’s army for five days. The Prince’s miners built a tunnel under a tower and set a fire beneath it, bringing the tower and some of the wall down. The army then fought its way into the town.
A few reasons have been suggested for what happened next. The most obvious was that showing no mercy would send a message to other towns in Aquitaine contemplating going over to the French. Another was that the Prince knew that his failing health would not allow him to hold on to Aquitaine much longer and he vented his anger on the town. A third was that the bishop who was responsible for the surrender was a friend, godfather to one of his sons, and the Prince felt the betrayal personally. Whatever his reasons, there were rules about sieges, and the surrender of Limoges without putting up a fight meant that the Prince could exact any punishment on the town that he wished.
The Prince was so ill that he had to be carried to Limoges on a litter and did not take part in the fighting. His punishment for the town was to order its complete destruction and the death of its inhabitants. This was permitted within the rules of siege warfare.
In his ChroniclesFroissart described the slaughter of the people of the town, but he either was not aware of the rules of sieges or he chose to ignore them. He wrote about people begging on their knees for their lives and the Prince ignoring them in his anger. According to Froissart, three thousand men, women and children were massacred. Modern historians, however, believe that the number of people killed was much smaller and was probably limited to the members of the garrison left behind by the French together with a few civilians, possibly no more than 300 people. The town, however, was burnt and it was decades before it was rebuilt.
Almost as soon as he had come the Prince was gone and the army returned to the court at Angoulême. When he arrived back in Angoulême the Prince learned that his oldest son, six-year-old Edward, had died in his absence. He must have known then that there was no more that he could do in Aquitaine, for he appointed his brother, John of Gaunt, as his lieutenant and returned to England after Christmas 1370, formally renouncing his position as Prince of Aquitaine in 1372.
Whilst this blog is primarily to record my own research, I acknowledge that some of its readers might be interested in the resources I use for that research. If you’re on Goodreads you can see my library, or at least as much of it as I’ve been able to record there, as well as what I’m reading at the moment.
Today my medieval shelf contains over 100 books, which rather explains why I’m running out of space for books in the house. I’ve read few of them from cover to cover, but I’ve dipped into most of them.
Since I’ve written a number of posts about the Black Prince, or Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales and Aquitaine, I thought I’d start with some of the books that I’ve read about him.
I reviewed this book here. It’s very useful, not just because it recounts as many of the details of the Prince’s life as are known, but because it also has some interesting details about the Hundred Years’ War.
Barber has collected source material including campaign diaries, letters and Chandos Herald’s Life of the Black Prince in one place. Only one of these is written by the Prince himself. It is a letter that he wrote to his wife after the battle of Nájera. This gives useful insights into what people of the time thought about events, even if much of it was written for propaganda purposes.
This book examines aspects of the Prince’s life in relation to events or ideas in the fourteenth century. These themes include politics, the Hundred Years’ War, the Black Death and religious heresy. It’s not a particularly useful book if you’re interested in the life of the Prince, but it does have some interesting things to say about the times in which he lived.
In death, as in life, Joan of Kent is always associated with the men in her life, in this case her third and last husband. This, together with the books listed above and a couple of others, was the main source of my recent series of posts about Joan of Kent.
This is a worthy attempt at a biography of a woman about whom very little is known. There is more information available about her three husbands and her sons than there is about her, so much of this book is speculation and you might not necessarily agree with the conclusions that Lawne comes to.
Recently, on the recommendation of a fellow history blogger, Toutparmoi, I read The White Company by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s about a group of mercenaries (the eponymous White Company) who, in 1367, go to fight in Spain with the Black Prince under the command of Sir Nigel Loring, who had whole book by Doyle to himself. In reality in 1367 the White Company was led by Sir John Hawkwood and was fighting in Italy, but why should facts spoil a good story.
Long before the hero gets to Spain, something occurred in the novel that gave me pause. One of the mercenaries had come to England to recruit new soldiers and he stayed at an inn in the New Forest. When he went on his way the next day, he left all his worldly goods, which were quite substantial, in the care of the innkeeper. What a daft thing to do, I thought. They won’t be there when he gets back. But they were.
A couple of weeks after I finished the book I was reading about inns in the Middle Ages and it seemed that Doyle had done his research. Travellers did indeed leave things at inns to be retrieved later. Inns were also used by merchants to store their goods as they were transported from one place to another.
Some towns had public warehouses, where goods could be stored while their owners were elsewhere or while they were waiting for transport. Where these warehouses were not available, goods could be left in certain inns. Innkeepers would not only store goods, but could be trusted to act as part of the supply chain, sending goods on the next part of their journey.
Obviously this did not apply to all innkeepers. Some could not be trusted as far as they could be thrown, but merchants built up a network of inns all across Europe, whose owners could be trusted not to steal or cheat or collude with local officials.
These were wealthy innkeepers. They might have to hold onto the goods for some time, waiting for ships, boats, carts or horses to come through to take the goods on the next stage of the journey, and they needed capital in order to do all this. Storing and sending the goods on could involve them paying tolls and taxes, dealing with officials, and organising and paying carriers. These were often innkeepers who had either become wealthy initially in other trades or were inherently trustworthy, such as priests or notaries.
Some innkeepers acted as brokers, introducing parties who had need of one another. Others helped foreigners change money into the local currency, or other currencies if they had the means. In some towns, the inns were owned by moneychangers and coins were constantly being carried back and forth to make sure that merchants and other visitors could change currencies. Where they were not owned by moneychangers these inns would have close relationships with bankers, so that they could have available the range of currencies required.
In some places the inns were also near other ‘facilities’ required by travellers and merchants. Southwark, a town on the other side of the Thames to London, was where the roads from the Channel ports and Canterbury met before crossing the river. It was renowned for its brothels and bathhouses for centuries.
Travelling in the Middle Ages might have been more complicated than I thought.
As demonstrated by the life of Joan of Kent, clandestine marriages were not always invalid marriages, nor were they solely the province of the lower classes. Joan had two clandestine marriages: one to Thomas Holland and the other to Edward of Woodstock, the Prince of Wales. Joan’s difficulty with establishing the validity of the first shows in part why the church frowned on them and tried to stamp them out.
The church had been trying for centuries to control marriages, but all that was needed for a valid marriage was for the two people concerned to say to one another that they were married. There were other conditions, of course. They could not be too closely related, as in the case of Joan and the Prince, and they could not already be married to someone else. They did not need to be married inside a church or by a priest, nor did the marriage need to be recorded officially.
Clandestine marriages were not necessarily secret, although that was so in Joan’s case. The marriage vows themselves were often made publicly. Clandestine simply meant that there was no public betrothal and no solemnisation. The public betrothal allowed anyone who had an objection to the marriage to make it before the wedding itself took place. The church wanted couples to be married with a priest in attendance. The idea was not that the priest married them, for the couple did that themselves when they made their vows to one another. They were not even married inside the church. If the couple were having a ‘church wedding’ it took place in the church porch, with the couple only going inside if a nuptial mass was to be celebrated. If they were not getting married in front of a priest, they could be married anywhere they chose.
Clandestine marriages had the disadvantage that, most often, only the couple themselves knew that it had taken place and either of them could say that there had been no marriage (or claim that they were married to someone when they were not). It happened frequently that a woman would have sexual intercourse with a man she believed to be her husband, only to have him repudiate the marriage later, usually if she became pregnant. This was the course that Joan of Kent’s relatives urged her to take when she told them that she was married to Thomas Holland. She had been young, only twelve at the time, and impressed by an older man (he was probably about twenty-four), but Joan insisted that, not only had the marriage taken place, but that it had also been consummated. It was also not unknown for a woman whose marriage prospects were slim to claim that she was married to a man who had made no such promises.
There were many discussions in the medieval church, as well as in legal circles, about what constituted marriage. Was it the promising to one another of the two people concerned? Was it the consummation? Was it the living together after both of these? In the end it came down to the promising to one another of two people able to do so, which was why it was so difficult to eradicate clandestine marriages.