Tag Archives: Edward III

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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Paying Homage in the Middle Ages

Homage_d'Edouard_III

My current work in progress is a novella in which the hero has to pay homage to Edward III. Although I had a basic idea of what this meant, I didn’t know the details and a reader would want details.

Homage was paid by a man to his lord for land. The vassal knelt before the (usually) seated king with his hands joined together as if praying (or begging) and the king put his hands around them.  The vassal was granted land, which he held from the king. He did not own it. Technically he held it only for as long as he provided the services to the king which he promised during his act of homage. The vassal became a tenant-in-chief. The services he promised to provide were usually military support to the king. If the land was given into the care of the church, the bishop or abbot was to provide the service of prayers and charity.  In theory at least, if those services were not provided, the king could take back the land and give it to someone else.

The vassal was unlikely to be able to manage all the land that he had been given, so he would share it out amongst his own followers, who went through a similar process in that they swore to provide a service of some kind to him. This might be military service or it might be labour.

At the bottom of the chain the agricultural service owed to a lord of the manor was gradually replaced by rent in the fourteenth century, especially after the Black Death. Some men still owed field service to their lords, but freemen increasingly paid rent. Field service entailed working in the fields of the demesne – the part of the estate which was for the direct use of the lord of the manor. Some of the men who worked there were paid by the lord of the manor, but some paid for the use of the land they held from him with their labour.

One of the causes of discontent for Edward I, Edward II and Edward III was that they had to pay homage to the king of France. According to a treaty made by Henry III he was the lord from whom they held the duchy of Aquitaine. Part of the homage was promising not to bear arms against the king of France, which put them in a difficult position when he encroached on their territory, or when Edward III decided to assert his claim to the French crown.

On 6th June 1329 Edward III paid homage to Philippe VI, king of France, for Aquitaine. This event is depicted in the image at the top of the page. In 1325 he had done the same to Charles IV, on behalf of his father, Edward II, but Charles had been his uncle. The direct line of Capet monarchs ended with Charles IV. Through his mother, Queen Isabella, Edward III was the only living legitimate grandson of Philippe IV and had, he thought, a valid claim to the French crown. Instead, Philippe de Valois became king.  Philippe VI  had to go back to his grandfather, Philippe III, in order to make his claim, while Edward III’s claim was through his own grandfather, Philippe IV, son of Philippe III. It was later said that the homage paid by Edward III was not real homage, because Philippe VI was merely the son of a count and a king could not pay homage to someone of lower rank.

When Edward of Woodstock (later known as the Black Prince), heir of Edward III, was made Prince of Aquitaine in 1362, he expected the nobles of Aquitaine to pay homage to him, but not all of them were willing to do so. Many of them believed that they should only pay homage to a king and others refused to pay homage to anyone, maintaining that they did not hold their lands in their own right and not from any lord.

The act of paying homage was not supposed to be private, but public. There should be witnesses to the exact promises made. A thirteenth-century legal treatise known as Bracton has a template for a tenant paying homage to his lord:

[The tenant] ought to place both his hands between the two hands of his lord, by which there is symbolised protection, defence and warranty on the part of the lord and subjection and reverence on that of the tenant, and say these words: I become your man with respect to the tenement which I hold of you… and I will bear you fealty in life and limb and earthly honour… saving the faith owed the lord king and his heirs.

 

Sources

Edward the Black Prince: Power in Medieval Europe – David Green

The Oxford Illustrated History of Medieval England – ed. Nigel Saul

A Social History of England – ed Rosemary Horrox and W. Mark Ormrod

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Tournaments in the Fourteenth Century

Medieval-Jousting-Tournaments

Last week we had a brief look at tournaments in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Today we’re moving on to the fourteenth century and the particular use Edward III made of them.

In the thirteenth century there might have been up to three thousand men in a mêlée and the mêlée itself would have covered a large area. In the fourteenth century tournaments took place in more confined spaces. Sometimes a wooden castle would be built, with one team attacking it and one team defending.

Since a tournament was often a celebration, there would be dancing, feasting and drinking as well. Tournaments usually took place over three days, with the participants being introduced and paraded on the first day, jousting on the second and the tournament itself on the final day. There were judges, and prizes were awarded to those who had distinguished themselves. It’s not clear how they managed to judge a mêlée end even the scoring systems for jousts varied. Generally, the highest score was given for unhorsing an opponent. The next highest score was for breaking a lance on an opponent and the lowest for striking the opponent’s helmet. The knights usually had three runs at one another.

Tournaments were not as profitable as they had been. The knights could no longer capture and ransom one another. There were still prizes in the fourteenth century, but they were of fairly low value.

Tournaments could be opportunities for settling scores. In 1307 Piers Gaveston, Edward II’s favourite, held a tournament to celebrate his marriage. Showing up with three times the number of men he had said he would bring, he defeated everyone else. A similar thing happened a few weeks later at a tournament to celebrate Edward II’s marriage to Isabella of France. Realising that this meant that he was widely hated among the aristocracy, Gaveston asked the king to cancel a third tournament intended to form part of the coronation festivities.

Edward III became king in 1327 when he was fourteen years old. He enjoyed tournaments and used them strategically to show that he was not like his father, who had been deposed, but like his grandfather, Edward I, who had participated in many tournaments in his youth and had been a great warrior. As a young man, he often appeared at tournaments as a simple knight, showing his solidarity with other knights.

He held tournaments all over the country – Derby, Warwick, Northampton, Pembroke, Oxford, Canterbury, Hereford. Although they were more often held in summer, they could be held at any time of the year. There were tournaments to celebrate Christmas, others to celebrate the knighting of nobles, and others to celebrate the betrothals and marriages of his children.

Edward held at least 35 tournaments in England between 1327 and 1357, using them to gain support for his wars against the Scots and the French. He often celebrated the conclusion of a successful campaign with a tournament. He fought in them himself, often in the company of his sons.

One of the last old-fashioned mêlées was held to celebrate the wedding of Edward III and Philippa in 1328 in York. Cavalry charges became increasingly rare in fourteenth-century warfare. Battles were increasingly dominated by men fighting on foot, rather than on horseback, so mêlées were becoming irrelevant as a means of training knights.

Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer, the de facto rulers of England for the first three years of Edward III’s reign, often prohibited tournaments for fear of an armed uprising against them, but they put on four tournaments leading up to Edward III’s marriage to Philippa of Hainault in 1328.

Also in 1328 Mortimer used a tournament to demonstrate that he was more important and powerful than the king. He dressed as King Arthur, in a not very subtle attempt to suggest that he was descended from the Dark Ages leader. Edward III was given the role of Sir Lionel, one of Arthur’s lesser knights. Throughout the event Mortimer took precedence over the king. Mortimer was executed for treason two years later. The king often fought in later tournaments under the name Sir Lionel.

Edward III’s first London tournament was at Cheapside in September 1331.  Queen Philippa and her ladies were almost killed when their viewing stand collapsed. The king, a young man with a quick temper, wanted to kill the carpenters who had erected it, but Queen Philippa begged him to show mercy, which he did.

In the same year, Edward was saved from almost certain death by changing horses during a tournament. The horse he had been riding bolted soon afterwards and almost drowned the knight who had taken the king’s place by plunging into a river.

A tournament at Northampton in 1342 was a bit of a disaster, as many nobles were injured and horses were killed. Lord Beaumont died. On the whole there were few fatalities at the king’s tournaments. This one was an exception.

In 1344 Edward III called on 500 noble women and wives of the aldermen of London to attend a tournament in London. There was a huge banquet for the women in the hall of the castle. Only two men joined them. The Prince of Wales and the earls and barons ate in tents. I’m not sure where the king was, perhaps he ate with his son. During the tournament, the king and 19 knights fought against anyone who wished to take them on for three days.

The king gave tournaments in June 1348 to celebrate Queen Philippa’s churching after the birth of their sixth son. French nobles captured during the Crécy campaign of 1346 were allowed to take part.

A tournament was held at Windsor on St George’s day (23rd April) 1349 to celebrate the founding of the Knights of the Order of the Garter. The garter knights were divided into two groups. One side was led by Thomas Holland and the other by William Montague, both of whom believed that they were married to Joan of Kent at the time. Joan was present at the tournament.

A series of tournaments were held after the Prince of Wales’ return to England following his victory at the Battle of Poitiers starting in the autumn of 1357 at Smithfield. Edward III used the event to display his French and Scottish prisoners, including the two kings.

Sometimes the participants wore fancy dress to fight. In 1359 Edward III, his sons and some of their friends dressed as the mayor and aldermen of London for a tournament.

In March 1363 the Prince of Wales held a huge tournament to celebrate the churching of Joan of Kent after the birth of their son, Edward, in Angoulême in Aquitaine. His second son, Richard II, also gave tournaments, attending the feast of one in Smithfield in his full regalia, including his crown. This is probably the only tournament in which he took part, although he held many.

In 1382 William Montague, earl of Salisbury and second husband of Joan of Kent, killed his son in a tournament. Somewhat ironically, William had come into the earldom when his father died in 1344 from wounds he had received in a tournament.

The king was not the only one to put on tournaments; his nobles also organised them. Edward III only tended to ban a tournament when it clashed with one of his own.

Edward III turned tournaments into great spectacles. He dressed his ‘team’ alike and, when he wanted to hide his identity as a participant, they all wore masks.

There were few tournaments while the Hundred Years War was actively being fought. Edward III gave up taking part in his fifties and there were fewer tournaments after that.

Probably the most well-known joust of the fourteenth century took place in 1390 just outside Calais. Calais was a French town held by the English for two hundred years. Three French knights, including Boucicaut who recorded his training regime for posterity, said that they would fight anyone who would accept their challenge. About 100 English knights accepted. Against all expectations, the French knights won, although two of them were so badly bruised that they had to rest for a week.

As you know, there’s little I like more than videos of armour-clad men rushing around to prove how flexible and light medieval armour could be. Here’s one of a chap demonstrating that Boucicaut’s unlikely-sounding training regimen was perfectly possible.

 

 

Sources:

Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages – Michael Prestwich

England in the Reign of Edward III – Scott L Waugh

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

Knight – Michael Prestwich

Edward Prince of Wales and Aquitaine – Richard Barber

Edward III and the Triumph of England – Richard Barber (This book contains a chronological list of Edward III’s tournaments)

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Travelling In The Middle Ages

knights1

 

In most of my novels there’s a journey. It might be a short one from the coast to the north of Hampshire, or it might be a long one, from Bordeaux to Southampton. It’s a common misconception about the Middle Ages that people were stuck in their villages or towns and were unaware of what was going on elsewhere, but that was not the case.

It’s true that some people never travelled further than the local market and others didn’t have the opportunity to travel. Villeins, for example, were tied to their lord’s manor and could not leave it without his permission, but freemen could go, more or less, wherever they wanted. For various reasons, many people in the fourteenth century travelled far and wide.

For ordinary people, the most common reasons for travelling were to visit a shrine or to fight. Many were satisfied with visiting a fairly local shrine, but others ventured further afield to Walsingham and Canterbury. Those who could afford it could go abroad to Compostela, Rome or Jerusalem. Going on a pilgrimage was popular and there was a widely-held belief that more than a few pilgrims were merely tourists, wanting to see more of the world than their small part of it.

Armies travelled. Recruits gathered at a local mustering place then moved off to join the rest of the army to go north to fight the Scots, or south to fight the French.

It was said after Edward III’s military victories in Normandy in 1346 that every house in England received something from the treasures taken during the campaign. Whilst this is obviously an exaggeration to show how successful the campaign had been, many ships were needed to carry back what had been taken and most of the 15,000 or so men who had gone to France would have returned with some physical item and stories about what France was like.

Travellers brought back tales of the places they had visited. With few forms of entertainment, men and women who could bring new stories from different places were popular.

Travel was far more common among people higher up the social scale. The king and his court were almost constantly on the move. This was a practical necessity, as the size of the court meant that local resources would be consumed quickly. The king had many properties of his own, but he could also visit his nobles. Such a visit was not always welcome, however, as it would always be costly to the host. It was unusual for the king to stay more than three weeks in any one place.

Nobles usually had estates spread out around the country which they might visit from time to time. Like the king, they would not travel light.

When the parliament met it was attended by members of the nobility, senior clerics, knights and burgesses, about four hundred men, plus their retinues and servants, all of them travelling across the country. Accommodating them was a large strain on some of the smaller towns and it became increasingly common for the parliament to meet in Westminster where it was easier to find places for them to lodge.  Many nobles and bishops had their own accommodation in London.

Others with religious business travelled around England. Archbishops and bishops went to and from Avignon, where the pope was, and visited places within their dioceses. Clerics travelled widely about their masters’ business. There were also many itinerant preachers teaching things people would not hear in their own parish church.

Travelling was not something to be undertaken lightly. A long-distance journey needed preparation – and companions. It was not safe to travel alone. The roads were beset by bandits. Often these were soldiers who had no trade to return to during the lulls in fighting against the Scots and the French.

There were no maps, or rather the purpose of a map was not to assist a traveller. People used itineraries instead. An itinerary listed the places between your starting point and your destination. If you were lucky, you could travel with someone who had some experience of at least the initial part of the route.  If you were not, you would have to ask the inhabitants of the town you were in how to get to the next place. Rivers were often helpful. If you followed a major river you were bound to come to a market town.

The main roads mostly followed the Roman roads. When these had deteriorated to the point of being unusable, the ‘new’ roads ran next to them. These connected towns which had been important in Roman times, but many towns which had become important by the fourteenth century had not existed then. The main roads were mainly kept in good repair by order of the king, who needed them to get himself and his armies around the kingdom. Other roads were often very poor and could be blocked unexpectedly.

Someone on foot and in a hurry could travel fifteen to twenty miles a day in good conditions. If the weather was bad or the roads were poor, that might become six to eight miles. A cart might manage twelve miles a day, less in winter. A man on horseback might travel twenty to twenty-five miles a day, if he had to use the same horse for the whole journey. Rich men and officials could change horses and managed thirty to forty miles a day.

The distance covered in a day would depend on the number of hours of daylight, the time of the year, the weather and where the next inn was. If the next inn was five miles away and it was mid-afternoon in winter, there was little point trying to get to it. Travellers and animals had to eat and rest, and that took time.

The king’s highways were supposed to be cleared either side for 200 feet. This was to deny cover to the brigands who preyed on travellers.

Sometimes there were waymarks to show routes through woods, but these could easily be moved to lead travellers into the hands of waiting bandits.

Roads were not the only routes across the country. The major rivers were used extensively. Most goods were transported by boat. It was far cheaper to send goods by water than by road. It cost more to send wine fifty miles in a cart than it did to send it nearly one thousand miles from Bordeaux to London by sea. Boats had flat bottoms which meant that more stretches of river were navigable than they are today.

No matter where you were going, travelling beyond the bounds of your town or village was always an adventure.

 

Sources

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

A Social History of England 1200 – 1500 – ed. Rosemary Horrox and W. Mark Ormrod

 

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The Battle of Poitiers – what happened next?

Schlacht bei Poitiers / aus: Froissart - Battle of Poitiers / from: Froissart - Bataille de Poitiers / De: Froissart

The battle of Poitiers is the event which changes everything for the four Montfort brothers in The Soldiers of Fortune series, especially for Ancelin in The Heir’s Tale. I’ve written about the battle itself before, but today I want to look at some of the after-effects of the battle.

It took place on 19th September 1356, so the anniversary was just a few days ago.

The battle established Edward of Woodstock, also known as the Black Prince, as a great soldier. His reputation began ten years earlier at Crécy, where he was in nominal command of one of the sections of Edward III’s army. Whether the command was nominal or not, he proved his skill as a soldier as well as his bravery on that occasion.

By the time he fought the battle outside the town of Poitiers in Aquitaine, he had been leading raids against France for a little over a year. The raids had formed a cohesive unit out of various English and Gascon retinues and Edward led a tired and hungry, but effective, army against a greater French force. In this battle he also showed his skill as a strategist. Thereafter he was known as one of the greatest soldiers in Europe.

During the battle, the king of France, Jean II, was captured and many French nobles and their allies were killed or taken prisoner.  Jean II was not much of a soldier and had little control over his army, wasting the advantages he had of a fresher and larger army. He was taken to England, where he was held hostage for ransom by Edward III. Interestingly, at this time, Edward III had another king as hostage, his brother-in-law, David II of Scotland.

The ransom demanded for Jean II and other French prisoners was £500,000, an incredible amount. It was five or six times more than Edward III’s annual income. France was the wealthier country of the two, but this amount would still be several times Jean II’s own income.

The capture of Jean II left his son Charles in charge of France. Charles was the first heir to the French crown to have the title ‘Dauphin’. He inherited the province of the Dauphiné in south-east France from his grandfather and this included the title, which means dolphin. It was originally a nickname, because the coat of arms of the province depicted a dolphin. Just in case you’re thinking it was a strange thing to have on a coat of arms, animals had meaning in heraldry and the dolphin symbolises swiftness, diligence, salvation, charity, and love.  After 1350 each heir to the French crown was given the title ‘Dauphin’. At the time of the battle Charles was 18. As Charles V, he later earned the sobriquet ‘the Wise’, but he showed very little wisdom in his youth.

After 1356 there was, in theory, peace, but the cessation of hostilities meant that there were many soldiers on both sides with nothing to do. A large number of them carried on doing what they did best and they roamed the French countryside demanding protection money from towns and villages, wreaking havoc where they were denied.

By 1358 the French peasantry had had enough. The French nobility had failed spectacularly at Poitiers, increasing the threat of an invasion from England. The Dauphin’s government couldn’t protect them from marauding mercenaries. Taxes and grain prices were increasing. The final straw came when the Dauphin’s soldiers blockaded Paris and commandeered food and supplies without payment. The peasants were being robbed by the very people who were supposed to protect them and they rose up against them.

The revolt began on 28th May in different parts of the country and spread quickly. From an English point of view, this was a vindication of Edward III’s policy of conducting raids from Gascony in 1355 and 1356, the aim of which was to demonstrate that the French king could not protect his people and to cause as much destruction as possible in order to increase the financial burden on Jean II by reducing tax revenues available to him. The Dauphin was increasingly unpopular, as he failed to bring order to the chaos into which France was descending. The revolt (the Jacquerie) was brief, only lasting a fortnight, but it was very violent.

The ransom for Jean II was agreed in the Treaty of Brétigny, sealed on 8th May 1360, and the king was allowed to return to France. Several French nobles took his place as hostages, including his second son, Louis d’Anjou. In the treaty Edward III agreed to give up his claim to the French crown. In return he would receive the king’s ransom as well as complete sovereignty over the French territories he had inherited (instead of being a vassal of the king of France) and any territories he had conquered.

Little of the ransom was paid and, when it looked as if he was going to be in captivity for longer than he had thought, Louis d’Anjou escaped in July 1363. As soon as he heard what his son had done, Jean II returned to England, where he died less than a year later, thus depriving Edward III of his ransom.

Hostilities broke out again in 1369.

 

Sources:

The Hundred Years War: A People’s History – David Green

Trial by Fire: The Hundred Years War, Volume 2 – Jonathan Sumption

TheHeirsTale-WEB

Available from Amazon

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How to become a squire

The_Squire_-_Ellesmere_Chaucer

Chaucer’s squire

The first of my new series of books will be published shortly and posts for the next few weeks will relate to those books. The Soldiers of Fortune series is about four brothers whose lives are changed at the battle of Poitiers.

All four brothers were squires under their uncle William. It was perfectly normal for aristocratic boys to be sent to a relative or a friend of their parents to learn the skills necessary for adulthood.

In the twelfth century, when William Marshal was sent from his home in Wiltshire to live with his uncle in Normandy, there was little difference between squires and servants. Some went on to become knights and others remained servants. William clearly received a good education for he was close to four kings of England and served one as regent. In addition, he found fame and fortune as a competitor in tournaments.

Going away to another noble household to be taught how to be a squire was like a mixture of boarding school and an apprenticeship. The boys’ education was broad and learning how to fight, with the aim of becoming a knight, was only part of it.

They began as pages, waiting on their lord and looking after his horses and armour. These were not considered demeaning tasks, but an honour. The boys were also learning about how to put armour on, which parts of the body it protected and how to look after it. Horses were expensive and a knight was expected to have a few, so knowing how to look after them was vital.

The pages learned from the knights in the household. They listened to tales of past battles and learned to tell which coats of arms belonged to which knights. Although there were usually heralds on campaign who trained specifically to identify knights by their coats of arms, it was always useful if you could tell your friends from your enemies yourself.

The first part of their military training was probably wrestling. The boys had to learn how to move, how to balance and when to attack an opponent. This would all be very important when they moved on to training with weapons.

They learned to use a lance against a quintain, which might be no more than a target on a post, but might be a length of wood with a target at one end and a weight at the other. It would swivel when the target was hit and the rider had to keep going so that he wasn’t hit by the weight from behind.

Quintain_and_Crocuses

Not at all medieval, but illustrates how a quintain worked.

They practised riding as well as using a lance and a sword, both on foot and on horseback. They learned to hunt and to use a bow and crossbow. Neither of these was a weapon really used by knights, except when hunting, but some nobles were very accomplished with them. Richard I was a very good shot with a crossbow.

Sometimes one team of boys would fight another as they learned to fight as part of a unit. They could also attend tournaments. Edward III was fond of tournaments and used them to celebrate important events.

The boys were supposed to learn to read, but not all did. There were usually clerics around who could read for them.

Once they were trained they were squires. Some squires never became knights, particularly towards the end of the fourteenth century, when there was increasingly little difference between the two.

A squire could go on campaign at a very young age. Edward III was 14 when he first led troops (unsuccessfully) against the Scots. His son, Edward of Woodstock, was 16 when he fought at Crécy.

One of the pilgrims on the way to Canterbury in The Canterbury Tales was a squire. Chaucer’s squire was about 20 years old and the son of the knight, the highest-ranking pilgrim in the group. The young man was well-dressed and was asked to tell a tale of love, about which he was supposed to know a great deal. His tale promised to be of epic proportions, but was interrupted by another pilgrim and never finished. Chaucer had been a page and a squire and might have used himself as the model for the knight’s son.

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Medieval Crossbows

Battle_of_Crecy_(crossbowmen)

In my current work in progress two English soldiers enter a French castle and discover that the soldiers from the castle garrison are pointing crossbows at them. Surely that was right, I thought. The French used the crossbow, the devil’s own weapon (its use against Christians had been prohibited by the papacy in the twelfth century), and the English used the honest longbow.  The novel is set in 1357, more than ten years after the superiority of the longbow had been demonstrated at the battle of Crécy. Perhaps the French now used longbows, as well.

Things were, of course, not that straightforward. A crossbow was an expensive weapon and the men who were expert with them were well-rewarded. They were elite troops and no medieval king’s personal retinue was complete without them. Often they were foreign mercenaries, so that they wouldn’t get any ideas about rebelling against the king. Most of the crossbowmen used by English kings came from Gascony, in south-west France. For centuries the kings of England were Gascony’s dukes. Some kings were handy with the crossbow themselves, most notably Richard I, who, somewhat ironically, died as the result of being shot in the shoulder by a crossbow bolt. He was also reputed to be pretty accurate with the longbow.

The production of crossbows was limited to a few towns in Europe, the most famous of which was Genoa. Genoa was famed not only for the crossbows it produced, but also for the mercenaries it exported. These mercenaries were very popular with the kings of France who used them both as crossbowmen and as sailors.

Despite its elite status, the crossbow was easy to use and it did not need much skill or experience to shoot one, although it needed both to shoot one well.  A longbow was a much simpler mechanism, but required practice and skill if it was to be used effectively.

It was only in the fourteenth century that the longbow came into the ascendancy in England. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the crossbow was the main projectile weapon used by English soldiers, but in Wales, the Marches and Ireland the longbow was the preferred weapon. By the end of the thirteenth century it was beginning to predominate in the rest of the kingdom. On the Continent the crossbow continued to be the main weapon.

Using a crossbow was not very demanding physically, but using a longbow was. The crossbow was a machine which could be improved so that it would shoot with greater force or for longer distances, and it would have no impact on the man using it. Even a small improvement to a longbow meant that the archer had to be stronger, and there was a physical limit on this. When the skeletons of archers were discovered in the wreck of the Mary Rose (sunk in the Solent in 1545) they were deformed. Drawing huge bows over a long period of time had damaged their bodies.

Crossbowmen needed a lot of equipment as well as support staff. They had to wear armour, as loading a crossbow took some time, and the soldier was very exposed when he was loading it. Their armour was not necessarily plate armour. Some of them managed with aketons (padded garments), mail coats and bascinets (basic helmets).  They also needed someone to carry and hold their pavise (a large shield protecting the whole body). The man holding the pavise usually carried a spear to protect the crossbowman should the enemy come too close. This meant that they could not change position easily. Archers, on the other hand, wore hardly any armour at all and took cover behind bushes, trees and in ditches.

Crossbow bolts were shorter, thicker and heavier than arrows. This was to enable them to withstand the pressure when they were released. They travelled faster than arrows and could pierce mail.

When Edward III fought the battle of Sluys in 1340 he used both crossbowmen and archers to defeat the French. Six years later he had refined his strategy.

The first real test for the longbow against the crossbow came in August 1346 at the battle of Crécy. Philippe VI employed Genoese mercenaries. As usual, they were sent to face the enemy first and they were cut down by English and Welsh archers. In his account of the battle, written within the two years following it, Villani says that the archers fired three arrows for each bolt shot from a crossbow. Villani was a merchant based in Florence who wrote down information received from merchants who had been in northern France at the time. It is possible that his account is partially based on information from participants in the battle. When they tried to retreat, the Genoese were forced forward, trampled or killed by the cavalry behind them who believed that they had betrayed the French. Two thousand of them died, according to the chroniclers.

There are still arguments today about why the crossbowmen performed so badly. One reason was that their pavises had not arrived at the battlefield, so they were exposed to the arrows, but it’s said that the bolts they fired didn’t even reach the front line of the English army. It seems incredible that professional soldiers should fail in such a simple thing as getting the range right.

Even when the English stopped favouring the crossbow in battle, they still used it in sieges, where the speed with which bolts could be shot did not matter.  Crossbows were useful for both attackers and defenders because of the force and accuracy of the bolts.

A crossbow was also useful in hunting. It could be loaded before the beginning of the hunt so that there would be no noise to alert the hunted animal just before it was fired.

In this video the rates of fire of a crossbow and a longbow are compared.

 

References:

The Great Warbow – Matthew Strickland, Robert Hardy

Edward III and the Triumph of England – Richard Barber

The Battle of Crécy – Andrew Ayton, Philip Preston

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The Sack of Limoges

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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 Chronicles Froissart 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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King at last, or how Edward III overthrew Roger Mortimer

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King, but not ruling

Edward III’s reign officially began on 25th January 1327 following the abdication of his father, Edward II. Edward II had been forced to abdicate by his wife, Queen Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, following their invasion of England in September of the previous year.

Edward III was only thirteen when he became king and Isabella and Mortimer were the de facto rulers of England. Mortimer surrounded the king with spies so that Edward’s actions were constrained. Edward even had to agree a secret code with the pope so that the latter would know which letters purporting to come from the king really were from him.

Worrying Times

By October 1330 a few things had happened which would have made the young king worry about his personal safety. Edward II had been notoriously healthy, yet he died in September 1427 after only eight months of imprisonment and his body, contrary to custom, was not displayed before it was buried. This led many to believe that he had been murdered on Mortimer’s orders.

In March 1330 Edward III had been forced to acquiesce to the execution of his uncle, the Earl of Kent, an event so terrible and unexpected that it proved difficult to find someone willing to carry out the execution.

On 15th June 1330 Edward of Woodstock, Edward III’s first son, was born. This did not necessarily increase Edward’s immediate danger. It was not unusual for children, even the children of kings, to die very young. Of Edward’s thirteen children, four lived no more than a few of days and only six reached their twenties. If  Mortimer wanted a boy he could manipulate until he was of an age to rule in his own right, they would have to make sure they chose the right one before they disposed of Edward.

What did present an immediate danger to Edward was the rumour that his mother was pregnant. During the previous four years Mortimer had been behaving as if he were the king, even taking precedence over the king at public events. If he were to have a son by Isabella, his ambition was such that he might depose (and kill) Edward in his son’s favour. He had many supporters, so such a possibly would not have been unthinkable to a man who had already deposed a king.

The big question mark in all of this is how far Isabella would have gone along with her lover. She was close to her son and it’s difficult to imagine her agreeing either to his deposition or his murder, even if she was carrying Mortimer’s child. This in turn raises the question of how much influence she had over Mortimer by this stage.

The king takes action

Regardless of whether he thought his mother could prevent his being killed or not, Edward was sufficiently concerned to lead a few trusted men against Mortimer on the evening of 19th October 1330. Mortimer had been alerted by his spies that something was being planned, but they didn’t know the details. Mortimer did everything he could to ensure his own safety. Many of the king’s closest companions had been questioned. Edward’s supporters were not permitted to lodge in Nottingham Castle, where the king, Mortimer and Queen Isabella were staying. The castle guards were told to obey Mortimer’s orders, not those of the king, and Queen Isabella held the keys to the castle. All of these things were, of course, an insult to the king.

The king’s friends, led by William Montague, rode out of Nottingham Castle very conspicuously and re-entered the castle secretly through a small gate which had been left open for them. They joined the king, and Mortimer was arrested. Edward wanted to kill him there and then, but cooler heads prevailed and Mortimer was taken away to London where he was tried. He was hanged just over a month after his arrest.

 

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The Holy Roman Empire

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The Holy Roman Empire must have seemed very remote from England in the fourteenth century. It was centred around the many German states and would not normally have been expected to be interested in anything affecting England. This situation changed in the 1330s.

The empire lasted from 962 until Napoleon dissolved it in 1806, although many consider Charlemagne (crowned in 800) to be the first emperor. The Holy Roman Empire was considered to be a Christian extension of the Roman empire. The term ‘Holy Roman Empire’ dates only from the thirteenth century, however.

Geographically, the empire covered kingdoms and duchies in modern Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria, Switzerland, parts of eastern France, parts of western Poland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Croatia and northern Italy. The borders changed almost constantly, however, and not all of this territory was included all the time.The empire had reached its maximum size in the thirteenth century and territory was lost during the fourteenth century.

Emperors were elected and the first three Hanoverian kings of Great Britain, George I, George II and George III were electors, which meant they had a vote in the election of the emperor. Although the emperor was elected, in practice a small number of royal houses dominated the line of emperors and most emperors were descendants of earlier emperors.

The chances are that you’ve only ever heard of one emperor: Charles V, the nephew of Katherine of Aragon. In 1527, when Henry VIII was trying to divorce Katherine, her nephew captured the pope and would not allow him to grant the divorce. Charles’ son, Philip II, married Henry’s daughter Mary.

The empire did not have a capital as such, but was administered from the beginning of the fourteenth century from Aachen, which had been Charlemagne’s capital. From 1328 to 1347 it was administered from Munich and, from 1355 from Prague.

It was not unusual for the emperor to be at odds with the pope, in fact it was unusual if he was not. There was an almost constant power struggle between the popes and the emperors. Their powers were meant in some ways to be complementary, but in others to act as a balance between the temporal and the spiritual. This was rarely the case in reality. It was not until the eleventh century that the popes achieved some kind of equality. In 1077 Pope Gregory VII made the excommunicated emperor, Henry IV, wait outside the castle walls of Canossa for three days. Henry had come barefoot to ask the pope’s forgiveness. What should have been a formality, since the emperor had already humbled himself, became a battle of wills, which the pope won. The balance did not last long, however, as successive popes tried to gain more secular power and were increasingly resisted by kings and emperors. This came to a head during the ‘Babylonian Exile’ when the papacy had its capital in Avignon and came under the sway of the kings of France. Other kings (particularly Edward III) found it difficult to trust the pope when he was not impartial.

In the thirteenth century Italy was riven by division following interference in Italy by the emperor Frederick Barbarossa and his successors in the first half of the century. The Italian city states were either Guelphs (pro-papal) or Ghibellines (pro-imperial) and they continued to go to war with one another on this basis long after the political divisions meant anything.

Because the emperors could only be crowned by the pope and they were usually quarrelling with the pope, or even excommunicated, there was often a delay between their election and their coronation.

There were three emperors in the fourteenth century: Henry VII – elected 1308 (crowned 1312)-1313; Louis IV (Louis of Bavaria) – elected 1314 (crowned 1348) – 1347 and Charles IV – elected 1346 and 1349 (crowned 1355) – 1378. None of them was terribly effective as emperor.

At the beginning of the fourteenth century Philip IV of France wanted his brother to be made emperor, but the electors felt that the French king already had too much influence and Henry of Luxembourg was elected. Like his predecessors, Henry meddled in Italian affairs without really understanding them. Henry died of malaria, as did so many from northern Europe who took their armies into Italy.

Louis was allied with Italian enemies of the pope, of whom there were many after the papacy moved to Avignon and the popes became little more than puppets of the French kings. In theory the emperor could do nothing until his election had been confirmed by the pope, but Louis acted without papal authority. He gave shelter to scholars who spoke out against John XXII. In 1328 he invaded Italy and had himself crowned (not by the pope). He also installed an anti-pope in Rome. John XXII excommunicated both Louis and his pope, declaring that there was no emperor. For many years before the outbreak of the Hundred Years War the French had been encroaching on the westernmost territory of the empire and it was not a surprise that, in 1337, Edward III found a willing ally in Louis in his war against the French. Edward III was made a Vicar of the Empire, with powers to act on the emperor’s behalf.

Charles was elected while his predecessor was still alive. This is not surprising, as Louis was considered a heretic and was an excommunicate. Charles was primarily king of Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. For most of his reign he did what he could to benefit his kingdom and neglected the German states.

 

 

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