These days we think of livery as clothing that identifies a group of people as belonging together, both in colour and design. It has its origins in the custom of a medieval lord giving food and clothing to the people who served him. Clothes would have been given once a year and wine probably at Christmas, as well as food at various times of the year.
After a time, ‘livery’ came to signify just the clothing itself and not the food. Originally the colours were russet or blue, but, after a while, the clothes became part of an identification system at courts across Europe. Clerks wore blue, knights green and squires stripes. Household servants also wore stripes. It wasn’t just lords who did this; guilds also had their own liveries to identify their members.
Wearing a man’s livery meant that you were under his protection. With greater lords, the livery included their heraldic colours, which made it easy to identify their retainers. This was both a blessing and a curse, as it meant that most people were less likely to antagonise them, although it also made them the target of the retinue of a lord who might not be on the best of terms with their lord. It also meant that they were also easily recognisable if they committed a crime whilst wearing their livery. For the lord himself there were also benefits. The more men a lord had dressed in his livery, the more powerful, important and wealthy he seemed to everyone else.
Liveried retainers must often have committed crimes or caused problems, for Parliament tried on several occasions to introduce laws in order to have more control over them during the reign of Richard II. John of Gaunt argued, however, that dealing with a lack of discipline in his household was the responsibility of the lord and not the courts.
Chaucer, as a member first of the household of the Countess of Ulster and then of her husband, Lionel of Antwerp, would have worn livery and there are records of sums of money being given to him to buy clothes.
The idea of livery also carried over to the army, where each lord had his own retinue of soldiers. In 1346 the Welsh soldiers in the retinue of Edward, Prince of Wales, wore a short white coat with a hood.
It’s not often that I go into my local and the barman greets me with “what’s the difference between a mercenary and a condottiero?”, but since Greg asked, I thought about it and said that I thought a mercenary was someone who sold himself to the highest bidder, but a condottiero was someone who was part of a group that sold itself to the highest bidder in Italy. Then I thought about it a bit more. We bandied some names about. I mentioned John Hawkwood, the famous fourteenth-century mercenary who is celebrated by a painting in Florence Cathedral. He mentioned Richard I’s head mercenary and right hand man, Mercadier, who is said to have avenged the king’s death by murdering the man who had killed him, before being assassinated in turn by a mercenary employed by King John.
As it turns out, my initial answer was incorrect. According to Treccani.it, the great Italian online dictionary and encyclopaedia, a condottiero was the leader of a group of mercenaries. John Hawkwood was, therefore, both a mercenary and a condottiero.
Mercenaries have a bad reputation today and it wasn’t much better in the fourteenth century, at least among the people they terrorised for money. Among knights, however, it was different. Being a mercenary was a perfectly respectable way to make a living. What else was a knight supposed to do when he wasn’t required by his king? Geoffroi de Charny, who wrote the book on chivalry, said that it was a good way for a knight to gain experience.
Most knights didn’t come from a noble background and didn’t have a large sum of money to fall back on during the very long periods when wars weren’t being fought. Although the name the Hundred Years War implies that war was being waged continuously, it wasn’t. There were treaties that meant that there was a peace of sorts for several years at a time and there were other times when Edward III simply couldn’t afford to take an army to France. A professional knight had no other skills than fighting. He had trained hard to become a knight and he had many expenses once he became one. Apart from his armour and his arms, he had to have horses and he had to have servants who needed to be fed and clothed. A pause in the fighting in France meant that he was no longer being paid, but his expenses continued. Some men banded together to hold local towns to ransom, but others decided to go to Italy where there was very good money to be made.
Italy wasn’t a single state in the fourteenth century: it was many, often small, states based around cities. In the north and centre of Italy those states were almost constantly at war. The large states overpowered the small states, who employed mercenaries to fight back on their behalf. The large states fought one another by proxy, employing mercenaries. Even the papacy employed mercenaries, whilst at the same time deploring their activities. There were fortunes to be made here, even for men who didn’t end up leading their own company of mercenaries.
Italy’s situation was a bit of a vicious circle. The fighting had been going on for some time, making Italy so unsafe that Clement V decided in 1309 that it would be sensible set up the papal court in Avignon. The fact that he was French played no part in this decision, allegedly. Most European armies employed a few mercenaries, so it wasn’t unusual that some English and German mercenaries went to join Italian armies. I’ve been to Italy and fallen in love with it, so I can easily believe that these northern Europeans did the same and encouraged others to join them, until the numbers of mercenaries in Italy became a real problem. They formed themselves into armies called companies and the city states found that they either had to employ them or have them as their enemies.
A mercenary company in Italy was a business. It made contracts with its clients, necessitating the employment of lawyers, usually Italian. It had full-time accountants who were responsible for collecting the fees and dividing them up among the members of the company. The condottiero, of course, received the largest share. The company also employed women to do the washing, cooking and, as my source puts it, provide other services.
Being a condottiero was far from safe, even when they weren’t fighting. Some were assassinated by their own men, who had ambitions to lead the company themselves. Others were assassinated by a former employer they had abandoned when they received a better offer. A few, like John Hawkwood, managed to grow old. He lived into his seventies, having served a single employer, Florence, for several years. Some condottieri even became heads of states: Biordo Michelotti became lord of Perugia, but he was ultimately assassinated.
English mercenaries did rather well in Italy. They had a reputation for being very loud (how little times change) and being able to shout was useful for frightening the opposition, apparently. Loud music was also used. I’m beginning to suspect that my neighbours are descended from mercenaries. English mercenaries also had the useful ability to travel long distances, sometimes overnight, which some of them probably learned whilst on chevauchée with Edward of Woodstock (the Black Prince) in the south-west of France in the 1350s. This meant that they could appear somewhere long before they were expected and take the enemy by surprise.
At the end of the fourteenth century there was very little work for English knights in France. The young Richard II preferred peace and his uncle, John of Gaunt, was nowhere near the soldier Richard’s father had been. It wasn’t until the time of John of Gaunt’s grandson, Henry V, that English knights were needed in France again. Most English knights in Italy remained loyal to their king and John Hawkwood even had it written into his contracts that he wouldn’t fight against England’s allies.
Sources: Knight by Michael Prestwich Hawkwood by Frances Stonor Saunders
I said last week that we’d look at Geoffroi de Charny’s attempt to take back Calais two years after it had surrendered to Edward III. Before we get to the story I wanted to set the scene a bit. There are four main characters in this story: de Charny, Edward III, Edward of Woodstock and Aimeric of Pavia. At the time de Charny was at least 43 years old, Edward III was 37 and Edward of Woodstock, his oldest son and heir, was 19. I have no idea how old Aimeric was. I include this detail to show what was expected of young heirs to kingdoms in the Middle Ages. Edward of Woodstock had already proved himself in battle at the age of 16 and was about to prove himself again.
The other important point is that in 1349 Europe was still in the grip of the Black Death. I can’t emphasise enough how little what we’ve gone through in the last few months has resembled the Black Death. I know that people have made the comparison, but even the number of deaths in the First World War combined with deaths from Spanish flu a hundred years ago don’t come close. During the three years of the Black Death, somewhere between a third and a half of the population of Europe died and they died horribly. Despite that and the fear in which people must have lived, life seems to have gone on fairly normally, as we shall see.
After a long siege, the French town of Calais had surrendered to the English in 1347. Most of those who lived in the town and survived the siege were allowed to leave and Edward III filled the town with English merchants and soldiers. It was incredibly useful for a king who was expecting to continue to wage war on French soil to have a port in France just over 30 miles from the English coast. This, of course, presented a huge problem to the French king. Fortunately, de Charny had a plan for getting Calais back which didn’t involve besieging it.
There are different versions of the story, mainly told by people who weren’t there, but we’ll look at the story as told by Geoffrey le Baker, an English chronicler. According to him, Aimeric Pavia, a Lombard mercenary, was the governor of Calais. De Charny bribed him to open the gates to let in some French soldiers. Aimeric was greedy, but not stupid, and he wrote to Edward III, explaining about the plot, obviously hoping to be in good standing with both sides.
Edward III wasn’t stupid either and he decided to go to Calais himself. He took his oldest son and a few other men. (Other versions say that the news reached the king on Christmas Eve and he took his household knights and the retinues of some of the lords who were celebrating Christmas with him.) Le Baker says that they entered the town secretly, which they might have done, but he also says that they managed to build a false wall behind which they hid and they also sawed through parts of the drawbridge so that it would collapse if a heavy stone were thrown down on it, all without anyone noticing, which seems unlikely.
On 31st December, De Charny went with fourteen men into the castle, through the gate opened by Aimeric, on the day before the raid was to take place. Their task was to check that everything was as it should be and to pay Aimeric part of his money. Despite checking the castle thoroughly, they noticed nothing wrong. Again, I’m not sure how fifteen Frenchmen could stroll around a castle held by an English garrison without someone noticing, but apparently they did.
The next morning they raised French standards around the castle and opened the gates. The English garrison attacked them, despite the efforts of those who were in on the plan to trap the French inside the castle.
By this point the king and his men had been in hiding for three days. One of them was hiding near the drawbridge and he dropped the huge stone onto it, trapping the soldiers inside the castle. They were swiftly defeated by the king and his men when they emerged from their hiding place.
The French forces who had remained outside retreated, realising that the plan had failed. The king took 16 of the men he had brought with him and 16 archers from Calais, who didn’t know him, and chased after the French.
He attacked a force of 800 men. When the French realised how few men were pursuing them, they turned and fought. The king revealed his identity to the archers and le Baker points out that he positioned his meagre forces wisely. He doesn’t say, for obvious reasons, how lacking in wisdom the king was to chase after the French with so few men.
The king and his men managed to kill or capture many of the French soldiers, but they were facing overwhelming odds and it was obvious that they were going to lose. In true Boys’ OwnAdventure style, however, Edward of Woodstock arrived with reinforcements just in time and rescued his father.
Le Baker tells us that 1,000 French knights with 600 men-at-arms and 3,000 foot soldiers had tried to take the castle. It would certainly have needed a large force, so perhaps it’s not an exaggeration. More than 200 French men-at-arms were killed and about 30 men were captured for ransom, Geoffroi de Charny and his son among them. Many French soldiers drowned in the marsh.
There are some incorrect details in le Baker’s account. Aimeric wasn’t the governor of Calais. During the siege of Calais he had been employed by the French. After the siege he changed sides and became master of the royal galleys and crossbowmen. In 1349 he was part of the English garrison at Calais and was in command of one of the gate-towers, which was why it was easy for him to let the French in.
As we learned last week, Aimeric enjoyed his bribe and the pension given to him by the king for a very short time before de Charny tortured and killed him. This whole episode wasn’t de Charny’s finest hour. Not only was he captured, but he was also wounded in his failed attempt to retake the town. Fortunately for him, the king who had provided soldiers to support his plan died while de Charny was a captive in England. The new king paid part of de Charny’s ransom. De Charny even managed to put a good gloss on the murder of Aimeric, since he made it clear that he was avenging an act of personal betrayal.
Next week we’ll have a look at another aspect of de Charny’s life.
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.
Men who fought together against a common enemy could become very close. Sometimes they forged partnerships and became brothers-in-arms. Although these relationships were often based on friendships, they could equally be little more than business arrangements. If they were the former, they could last for a long time, if the latter, they could last for the length of a campaign or even a single engagement.
The two men who became brothers-in-arms agreed that they would watch out for one another when they were fighting and provide help and advice when they were not. The men involved might agree to share the financial gains (or losses) arising from the campaign or engagement.
Some of the relationships between brothers-in-arms were contractual and a contract from 1421 has survived. It was between John Winter and Nicholas Molyneux. The contract sets out the assistance that they were to provide to one another. It also details what the one who remained free should do if one of them was captured. Up to a certain amount of money he was to pay the ransom demanded by the captors. If the ransom was higher than the sum agreed, he was to become the hostage of those who had captured his brother-in-arms so that the latter could go and raise the ransom from his family and friends. If both were captured, one would remain as hostage, while the other raised the ransoms. Essentially they had to do everything they could to secure the other’s release.
Where there was a true bond of friendship between the two men, it was unlikely that the agreement was written down, but the obligations would be similar.
It is believed that there was such an agreement between Edward II and Piers Gaveston. If there was, it would have been very unusual, for brothers-in-arms were supposed to be of equal status.
Hugh Calveley (d.1394) and Robert Knollys (1330 – 1407) were probably brothers-in-arms. Their arms appear on alternating sections of Calveley’s tomb (pictured above). Both were renowned soldiers in the latter half of the fourteenth century. Calveley was more or less a mercenary, joining a free company in the 1360s. He was briefly a brother-in-arms of Bertrand du Guesclin, who later commanded the French army, when both were employed by Enrique de Trastámara. Calveley changed sides when he learned that Edward of Woodstock (the Black Prince) was leading an army into Spain to fight against Enrique. Knollys’ history was just as colourful and he was also occasionally a mercenary. He was a man of low birth who rose to a high position and many nobles complained about serving under him. Knollys and Calveley served together on and off during the Hundred Years’ War. Both became wealthy by taking booty and receiving ransoms for men they had captured.
Chaucer presented a fictional view of brothers-in-arms in the Knight’s Tale. This is about Palamon and Arcite, two brothers-in-arms who are captured and kept in prison. They are presented in the tale as the epitome of knighthood and being brothers-in-arms for them is simply a part of being a knight.
Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages: The English Experience – Michael Prestwich
Knight: The Unofficial Medieval Warrior’s Manual – Michael Prestwich
Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years’ War – Rémy Ambühl
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.
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.
This week I was in Coventry and was fortunate enough to be able to go into the church of St John the Baptist in the city centre. It is referred to as Coventry’s medieval gem, and this is no exaggeration. The church was founded in the fourteenth century, under circumstances that we’ll go into shortly, but underwent huge alterations in the fifteenth, sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Much of the centre of Coventry was destroyed during the war, so it’s wonderful that St John’s has survived.
I went to the church to look at some needlework panels showing over a thousand years of Coventry’s history including St Osburga, Lady Godiva, the Civil War, the industrialisation of Coventry and the Second World War, but the real interest for me was the founding of the church, which is documented at various places inside the building.
In 1344 Queen Isabella, widow of Edward II and mother of Edward III, gave some land to the guild of St John the Baptist in Coventry. The land was part of her manor, Cheylesmore. The chapel was to be a chantry, where Masses would be said for members of the royal family, including her husband, the late king. Since the official date for the death of Edward II was September 1327, the timing of this endowment has been taken by many to confirm the theory that he didn’t actually die until the early 1340s, having escaped, or been allowed to escape, from Berkeley Castle and gone to the Continent.
The impy on a pillar inside the church
The grant of the land includes the stipulation that, in addition to saying Masses for the members of the guild (living and dead), two priests had to say Masses daily for Edward III, his wife Philippa, and Edward, the Prince of Wales (the Black Prince) during their lifetimes and for their souls after their deaths. It has been suggested that she founded the guild of St John herself specifically to say Masses for the royal family. The chapel was consecrated on 2nd May 1350.
The position of the chapel – probably
The photograph above shows the aisle that is believed to mark the original foundation, with the needlework panels I’d gone to see down one side. On Isabella’s death in 1358 her grandson, the Black Prince inherited the Cheylesmore manor and donated more land to the guild.
The guild flourished and by 1393 there were nine priests.
The chantry was dissolved in 1548 and became a parish church in 1734.
Whilst this blog is primarily to record my own research, I acknowledge that some of its readers might be interested in the resources I use for that research. If you’re on Goodreads you can see my library, or at least as much of it as I’ve been able to record there, as well as what I’m reading at the moment.
Today my medieval shelf contains over 100 books, which rather explains why I’m running out of space for books in the house. I’ve read few of them from cover to cover, but I’ve dipped into most of them.
Since I’ve written a number of posts about the Black Prince, or Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales and Aquitaine, I thought I’d start with some of the books that I’ve read about him.
I reviewed this book here. It’s very useful, not just because it recounts as many of the details of the Prince’s life as are known, but because it also has some interesting details about the Hundred Years’ War.
Barber has collected source material including campaign diaries, letters and Chandos Herald’s Life of the Black Prince in one place. Only one of these is written by the Prince himself. It is a letter that he wrote to his wife after the battle of Nájera. This gives useful insights into what people of the time thought about events, even if much of it was written for propaganda purposes.
This book examines aspects of the Prince’s life in relation to events or ideas in the fourteenth century. These themes include politics, the Hundred Years’ War, the Black Death and religious heresy. It’s not a particularly useful book if you’re interested in the life of the Prince, but it does have some interesting things to say about the times in which he lived.
In death, as in life, Joan of Kent is always associated with the men in her life, in this case her third and last husband. This, together with the books listed above and a couple of others, was the main source of my recent series of posts about Joan of Kent.
This is a worthy attempt at a biography of a woman about whom very little is known. There is more information available about her three husbands and her sons than there is about her, so much of this book is speculation and you might not necessarily agree with the conclusions that Lawne comes to.