Tag Archives: Edward III

An English Tradition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Kings, Thirteenth Century

Knight’s Fee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Christopher Corèdon and Ann Williams
A Social History of England 1200 – 1500 ed. Rosemary Horrox and W. Mark Ormrod
The English Manor by Mark Bailey
Making a Living in the Middle Ages by Christopher Dyer

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

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

A Knight of the Garter

The Round Table, Great Hall, Winchester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Hundred Years War, Medieval Kings

Pardon Recipients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry of Lancaster’s Expedition to Aquitaine, 1345-46 by Nicholas A. Gribit

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

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

Rates of Pay for Medieval Soldiers

Medieval Indenture

If we think about it at all we probably think that medieval armies were feudal and unpaid, that is that the soldiers were in an army because they owed a certain number of days service to their lords. This would be true for some times in some places in medieval Europe and there are stories of men who took their retinues home halfway through a siege because they’d given their required number of days of service. In England under Edward III, however, that had mostly ceased to be the case, and soldiers and their captains were paid.

They served under a contract called an indenture, which I wrote about here.

In the book I’m reading at the moment, Henry of Lancaster’s Expedition to Aquitaine, 1345-46, the indenture between Edward III and Lancaster requiring the latter to go to Aquitaine in 1345 is given in full in Anglo-Norman and modern English. It’s very specific about what Henry of Lancaster is to do and how much he is to be paid to do it. He was to go to Aquitaine as the king’s lieutenant and take 500 men-at-arms, 1,000 archers (500 mounted and 500 on foot) and 500 Welsh archers on foot. He also had to leave Southampton on 14th May and stay in Aquitaine for six months.

The indenture set out how the earl was to be paid and how horses were to be assessed for compensation should they be killed. It also covered what was to happen about ransoms and booty taken in the course of the campaign. For the avoidance of doubt, should there have been any, the indenture made it clear that what was to happen to anything that the earl received that wasn’t connected with the campaign, which was as well, since his father died while he was in Aquitaine and he inherited money and properties in England.

The earl, of course, had similar indentures with each of his bannerets and knights and esquires, some of whom, in turn, had indentures with the soldiers they employed in their retinues.

Lancaster’s campaign was well-documented and there are extant records of the men who went with him in his retinue. I’ve looked and there are no Mundays on the list, which is not surprising as Lancaster’s men came mostly from places where he had properties such as Cheshire, Nottinghamshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire. My ancestors were in Hampshire, but there were certainly Mundays at Agincourt for which there are also extensive records about the ordinary soldiers.

What I really wanted to cover in this post is the sums paid to the soldiers. I always use the daily rate for a skilled labourer (4d) as an illustration of how much things cost in the fourteenth century, but not everyone was a skilled labourer. Some men earned more, others earned less. For those earning less, serving in a retinue during the Hundred Years War wasn’t just a useful way to earn a good daily rate of pay, provided you lived to spend it, but there was always the chance of a share in booty or a ransom.

Lancaster’s indenture didn’t just set out how much money he was to receive, but also the daily rates for his men. The earl had 6s 8d per day, a banneret 4s, a knight 2s, an esquire 12d, a mounted archer 6d, a foot soldier 2d. There were 12 pennies (d) to a shilling (s). As you can see, if you were an unskilled labourer, the daily rate for a foot soldier might make it worth the risk to go to war.

Henry of Lancaster’s Expedition to Aquitaine, 1345-46 by Nicholas A. Gribit

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

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Hundred Years War, Medieval Warfare

Henry Grosmont

Kenilworth Castle, one of Henry Grosmont’s properties

I don’t often write about individuals on this blog, but I’ve just started reading Henry of Lancaster’s Expedition to Aquitaine, 1345 – 1346: Military Service and Professionalism n the Hundred Years War by Nicholas A. Gribit and Henry of Lancaster is really interesting. He has stuck in my mind over the years mostly because he wrote a book about his spiritual life.

Henry was a great-grandson of Henry III and second cousin to Edward III. He’s known as Henry Grosmont (probably the place of his birth in (possibly) 1310) to differentiate him from his father, also Henry. I feel the Percy family could have learned a lesson here. He was a grandfather of Henry IV.

His family (in the form of his uncle Thomas and his father) had opposed Edward II in the 1320s and Thomas was executed after a failed rebellion in 1322. It was Henry’s father, who had succeeded his brother as earl of Lancaster, who captured Edward II in 1326. He handed him over to Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer who had invaded England that year in the name of Edward III. The earl was loyal to the young king, though and, in 1330, he helped Edward stage a coup against Isabella and Mortimer.

Henry Grosmont followed his father’s lead in supporting Edward III and became very close to the king. At some point before the middle of 1330 he married Isabella, the daughter of a close friend of his father. They had two daughters: Maud and Blanche. Blanche later married John of Gaunt, one of Edward III’s sons, and became the mother of Henry Bolingbroke, later Henry IV. Chaucer wrote his Book of the Duchess about her after her death.

Henry was knighted in 1330. He was close in age to Edward III. They had similar tastes, enjoying tournaments and romance literature, particularly the stories about King Arthur and the Round Table. It seems that Henry inherited the Plantagenet good looks. Like Edward III, he was tall and blonde.

In 1337 Henry was made earl of Derby. He is one of those annoying historical figures who had so many titles that it’s hard to remember that it’s him that people are writing about. At various times he was the earl of Derby, Lincoln, Leicester and Lancaster and then the duke of Lancaster. His father died while he was on campaign in Aquitaine and in Jonathan’s Sumption’s book Trial by Battle he’s referred to as Derby for several pages and then he’s Lancaster. When I was reading it I had to keep reminding myself that they were the same man.

In 1340 Henry allowed himself to be held as one of the hostages for the king’s debts in Brussels. He must have known how unlikely it was that the king would be able to redeem his debts and in the end he had to pay his own ransom.

Edward III trusted him and twice made him his lieutenant in Scotland. In 1344 he was made co-lieutenant in Aquitaine, the part of France that Edward III held as duke. Henry was an experienced soldier, by then having fought against the Scots and the French in various important battles and sieges. He had even fought in the naval battle at Sluys in 1340. Not only was he a soldier, but he was also a diplomat. He negotiated at least one peace tray and one marriage alliance, a further example of the king’s trust in him.

In 1345 he led the successful campaign in Aquitaine that had the French armies in chaos, which proved to be a sign of how things were going to go for the next few years in the Hundred Years War.  During the campaign Henry, and many of his men, became very wealthy from the ransoms they received for captured Frenchmen. He’s said to have made £50,000 from men captured in one day when the English army took a French camp at Auberoche by surprise. To put this in context, Edward III’s annual income didn’t always reach £50,000. For more context, it would be worth several tens of millions today.

Henry became earl of Lancaster in 1345. When Henry’s uncle was executed much of the family’s lands were forfeit, but Henry managed to recover most of them over the years. By the time he died he was the king’s second wealthiest subject. The wealthiest was Edward of Woodstock, the king’s heir.

He was the second knight admitted to the Order of the Garter by Edward III in 1348. The first was Edward of Woodstock.

In 1351 he was made duke of Lancaster, become the second English duke. I’m sure you can guess by now who the first one was. It was indeed Edward of Woodstock who was made Duke of Cornwall in 1337. Henry was also given the power to run the county of Lancashire with little reference to the crown, another sign of Edward III’s trust, since this power and wealth would have made the duke a formidable enemy. Had Edward been able to foresee the future in which his grandson, Richard II, was deposed by Henry’s grandson, Henry Bolingbroke, he would undoubtedly have made a different decision.

Henry wrote Le Livre de Seyntz Medicines (The Book of Holy Medicines) in 1354. It’s both a memoir and a devotional book. In it he writes about his sins and his penances. One of his sins was lack of chastity and it’s interesting that a fourteenth-century man of his rank acknowledged that it was a sin. I wonder what his wife made of his confessions. Even in an age of general belief Henry was remarkable for his piety and his devotion to the Virgin Mary.

He said that he didn’t learn to write until quite late in his life. This doesn’t mean that he didn’t receive an education or wasn’t able to read, it just means that had a scrivener to write for him. It wasn’t unusual for a man of his class not to be able to write. Training to be a knight didn’t include writing lessons.

His final campaign (the one in which Chaucer was taken prisoner) was the siege of Rheims in 1359 and he was one of the negotiators of the Treaty of Brétigny, which brought the first part of the Hundred Years War to an end. He died the following year, possibly from plague.

Trial by Battle by Jonathan Sumption
Henry Of Lancaster’s Expedition to Aquitaine, 1345 – 1346 by Nicholas A. Gribit

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

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Hundred Years War, Medieval Kings

Mercenary versus Condottiero

John Hawkwood

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.

Knight by Michael Prestwich
Hawkwood by Frances Stonor Saunders

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

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Hundred Years War, Medieval Warfare

Geoffroi de Charny in December 1349

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Black Death, Fourteenth Century, Hundred Years War, Medieval Kings, Medieval Warfare

Geoffroi de Charny

I don’t very often write posts about famous or important people in the Middle Ages these days, but Geoffroi de Charny is worth looking at for many reasons, not least because he wrote a book about chivalry: Le Livre de Chevalerie. He also had the responsibility of carrying the Oriflamme, the King of France’s personal standard, and was the first owner that can be verified of the Shroud of Turin.

De Charny’s date of birth is not known, but his mother died in 1306. He was, therefore, probably born in the first few years of the fourteenth century. Although strictly speaking noble, he came from a junior branch of a junior branch of a great family. He had no land, no money and knew no one of any influence to help him. His first wife died after 1341 and his second wife was Jeanne de Vergy with whom he had two children. She brought him land and money, but, by that time, he had already come a long way by his own efforts.

The first major campaign he fought in was in 1337, at the beginning of the Hundred Years War. He fought first in Aquitaine, where Edward III was the duke. Later, when Edward III began creating alliances in the Low Countries, de Charny went to the north east of France, where he helped defend Tournai against the English and their allies. In 1341 Edward’s military interest moved to Brittany and de Charny was sent there, only to be captured and taken to England as a prisoner. He was released and allowed to return to France to find his ransom, which he did. By the following year he had been knighted.

Possibly bored by the lack of action once he was back in Brittany, de Charny joined a crusade against the Turks in Smyrna, arriving there in June 1346. He wasn’t terribly impressed by the experience, referring to it later as almost a martyrdom. He was probably back in France late in the summer of 1346 and was sent back to Aquitaine, thus missing the battle of Crécy in which much of the French army was killed in August. After they had defeated the French at Crécy, the English besieged Calais and Philippe VI sent for de Charny, who had a bit of a reputation for breaking sieges. De Charny went to Edward III, ostensibly to negotiate an end to the siege, but in reality to assess the English fortifications. What he saw made him advise Philippe VI against trying to break the siege, not that the king had any intention of throwing his newly-gathered army against the English. The French retreated and Calais eventually surrendered to the English.

The defeat of the French at Crécy and the loss of Calais led to changes in Philippe’s court and de Charny became a member of the king’s council. Since Philippe was not in a position to fight a war at the time (partly due to the unwillingness of the French to pay taxes for an army which had failed to protect them and partly to the Black Death) de Charny was entrusted with the task of negotiating truces. He was very successful in this diplomatic role. At the same time, however, he was behind an attempt to regain Calais by bribery at the end of 1349. He was betrayed and a small force led by Edward III and his son, Edward of Woodstock, defeated the men led by de Charny, who was taken prisoner again. Once more he found himself in England.

This time he couldn’t raise his own ransom, which would have been considerably higher than the sum he had paid in 1341. The new French king paid part of it, Philippe VI having died, and invited de Charny to be a member of the new order of chivalry that he founded in 1352. The Order of the Star was based on the Order of the Garter, created by Edward III in 1349 (or 1347 or 1348). There have only ever been 24 Garter knights at any one time and the order still exists today. Jean II originally intended to appoint over 500 knights and the Order of the Star fell apart after the French defeat at the battle of Poitiers in 1356, when 80 (possibly 90) of its members were killed and the king himself was taken prisoner by the English.

Once he had taken his revenge on the man who had betrayed him at Calais, decapitating him and quartering his body, de Charny wrote, probably at the request of the king, three books on chivalry. In 1347 and from 1355 until his death de Charny was the bearer of the Oriflamme, the personal standard of the King of France, which was a great honour. It was carried at the front of the French ranks in battle. Its bearer promised not to abandon it. It was an oath that de Charny kept. At the Battle of Poitiers he was killed and fell with the banner still in his hands.

Next week we’ll have a closer look at what happened in Calais in 1349, as it’s an interesting story.

The Book of Chivalry by Geoffroi de Charny trans. Richard W. Kaeuper and Elspeth Kennedy
The Origins of the Shroud of Turin in History Today November 2014 by Charles Freeman

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

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

Medieval Heraldry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tournaments by Richard Barber and Juliet Barker
The Knight and Chivalry by Richard Barber
Edward III and the Triumph of England by Richard Barber
A Social History of England ed Rosemary Horrox and W. Mark Ormrod
The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer by Derek Pearsall

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

Available now:




Filed under Fourteenth Century, Hundred Years War, Medieval Kings, Medieval Life, Medieval Warfare