Tag Archives: His Ransom

Edward III: King of England, King of France Part One

Edward III and the garter

 

All of my novels set in the fourteenth century take place during the Hundred Years War and the war itself influences the stories. In The Traitor’s Daughter Hugh and Alais meet during a French raid on Southampton. Richard in His Ransom is taken prisoner at Poitiers and sent to England until his ransom can be raised, and thus meets Rosamunde. In The Winter Love Henry finds Eleanor in order to fulfil a promise to a brother-in-arms who fell at Poitiers. All, except the first, take place later in the war in the 1350s. The events in The Traitor’s Daughter occur when the war had barely begun in 1338. The war was, to all intents and purposes, to support Edward III’s claim to the French throne, which was made and denied in 1328. Why did it take almost 10 years for Edward to make his claim with force? First, we’ll look at the basis of Edward’s claim to the French crown.

Edward III’s mother Isabella was the daughter of Philippe IV of France. When Philippe died in 1314, the eldest of Isabella’s three brothers, Louis, became king, but a scandal perpetrated by Isabella had an effect on the continuing succession.

In 1313 Isabella had been visiting her family in France and gave purses to her sisters-in-law and her brothers. Later she saw two of the purses being carried by two Norman knights. The conclusion that she came to was that her brothers’ wives were involved in adulterous affairs with the men and she told her father. The two women were tried and imprisoned for life, while their lovers were executed.  There was a papal interregnum at the time, so the marriages could not be annulled. Louis’ wife was one of the two and she died shortly after being imprisoned. Rumours were rife that she had been murdered, since he remarried within days. He died a few months later, leaving the succession in doubt, since his wife was pregnant. His heir was born five months after Louis’ death, but lived for only five days.

Despite the claims of Louis’ daughter, Jeanne, to the crown, Isabella’s middle brother, Philippe, became king (Philippe V). Philippe said that his niece was too young (she was four), that she was illegitimate (she was the daughter of Louis’ first wife) and, most important for his nephew, Edward of Windsor, that women could not inherit the French crown. It was not a foregone conclusion that Jeanne would not become queen, however. If she had been an adult or married, she would have been able to gather some support. As it was, such support as she had drifted away quickly. Philippe had a forceful personality and a large army. He had himself crowned as soon as he could.

Although Philippe’s wife had been implicated in the scandal along with his sisters-in-law, she was acquitted of adultery, and was his queen throughout his reign. They had daughters, but no sons, and when Philippe died, his younger brother Charles became king. Given what had happened with Jeanne, there was no suggestion that any of Philippe’s daughters should become queen. What was still undecided was whether or not the crown could be inherited through the female line.

Charles IV had three wives, but only managed to produce one daughter.  When Charles died in 1328 it seemed obvious to Edward III and his mother that he, as the closest in line to his grandfather, Philippe IV, should become king of France. Isabella pushed her son forward, but her cousin Philippe de Valois was crowned king.

The main reason why the French rejected Edward III’s claim was, of course, because he was English. With a French mother, he probably saw himself as more French than English. French was his mother tongue, as it was for all his barons; he was Duke of Aquitaine; and his ancestors had controlled more of France than the king of France. The French, however, saw him as English. Unlike Philippe de Valois, he had played no part in French politics and had no influence in the country, other than in Aquitaine.

There were other disadvantages for Edward, mainly in the form of his mother. She was a scandal and had rebelled against the rightful king of England, her husband. Since she controlled her young son (he was only 16), she would have power in France and there were fears that she might use it in the same way that she had in England. It was decided, therefore, that if a woman could not inherit the crown, the crown could not pass through her to her son.

Phillippe de Valois, on the other hand, was a grown man in his 30s. He was fully French and he was in France, which Edward was not. Unfortunately, for the French, he was a dreadful soldier and Edward III was a great one, although this was not obvious in 1328.

Before he could consider winning France, Edward had to win England. Although he wrested control from his mother and her lover in 1330, it was several more years before he was able to start making good his claim to the French crown.

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A bird in the hand…

1300_1320ManesseCodex_hawking

Hunting in the Middle Ages was very much a male preserve, except in one area.  Women could attend a hunt on horseback, but they were usually there to flirt (or more) with the hunters, who were exclusively male. There was a great deal of sexual imagery used in writing about hunting and in some of the customs associated with it.

It was in hawking, however, that women found their own way to enjoy a hunt.

Hunting in the fourteenth century was not a sport, but a necessity. People hunted in order to eat. All strata of society hunted, from the king to the lowliest peasant. The main difference between them was that the king could hunt whatever he liked and wherever he liked, while the peasant was, in theory, very restricted, unless he was prepared to poach, which he usually was.

Hawking allowed women to show their riding skills without having to participate in the fast chase necessitated by hunting a stag. It was also much less bloody. It was the bird that made the kill, not the huntswoman. Aristocratic young women were expected to be able to hunt with birds in the same way that they were supposed to be able to play chess, tell stories, make witty conversation, sing and play a musical instrument. It was part of their education.

Ducks and herons were favourite prey for women. Their dogs would disturb them so that they flew up from the water and the huntswoman would loose her bird at them.

Hawking was tremendously expensive, so it was something that only the aristocracy could do properly, although lower classes could and did keep birds for hunting. The birds themselves cost a great deal and could travel a long way when they changed hands. They needed proper accommodation and training and exercise, which meant a falconer (usually very well paid) and his assistants had to be employed.

The birds most used in England were peregrines, merlins and hobbies. They were called ‘hawks of the fist’, because they were trained to return to the fist of the hunter instead of to a lure (something designed to make the bird think it was prey, usually a piece of meat and some feathers). The lure would be swung to make the bird think it was in flight and she would try to catch it. These were also used in training the birds. Merlins were generally considered suitable birds for women. Female birds were used by both men and women, as they are larger than the males.

Rosamunde, the heroine of my novel His Ransom is clearly an aristocratic young woman who likes to hunt. Before her betrothed went to fight in France she joined him in a stag hunt, and a hawking expedition later in the novel leads her into great danger.

It’s difficult to overstate how important hunting was in the Middle Ages. For many it was the difference between life and death.

 

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Ransoms: the way to riches, the way to poverty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why the fourteenth century?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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