Tag Archives: Soldiers of Fortune

Papal Dispensations

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In one of the Soldiers of Fortune stories a couple needs a papal dispensation in order to marry. This is because they’re too closely related to marry in the normal course of things. There were rules about consanguinity which were fairly closely observed by monarchs and the nobility, who would not want anyone to question the validity of a marriage and, by implication, the legitimacy of any heirs. These rules were probably more or less ignored by everyone else.

A papal dispensation is permission from the pope for someone to do something contrary to canon law. Its best-known use relates to marriage, where it can permit a marriage which would not otherwise be allowed or dissolve a marriage.

Probably the most famous papal dispensation was one that wasn’t granted. Henry VIII requested one to enable him to put aside his wife, Katherine of Aragon, and marry Anne Boleyn. Since he had already requested, and received, one in order to marry Katherine, he was on a bit of a losing wicket from the start. Henry had needed a dispensation to marry Katherine because she was his brother’s widow, which meant that their marriage would be incestuous. Katherine said that her marriage to Prince Arthur had not been consummated and the pope allowed Henry and Katherine to marry.

There were prohibitions against marriages considered incestuous and the rules of consanguinity also covered people who were only related by marriage. Hence, if Katherine’s marriage to Arthur had been ruled valid, Katherine and Henry would have been related to the first degree, that is, they would have been considered brother and sister.

The prohibited degrees of consanguinity varied throughout the Middle Ages. Before 1215, when the Fourth Lateran Council clarified the issue, marriage between sixth cousins was prohibited. Who is your sixth cousin? It’s someone who shares a great-great-great-great-great-grandparent with you, or someone who was married to someone who shared a great-great-great-great-great-grandparent with you. You can see how it might be difficult to know who your sixth cousin was. If you lived in a small village, you could almost guarantee that you were related to everyone else more closely than that.

In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council decreed that the fourth degree of consanguinity was the closest at which a marriage could be permitted. This meant that marriage between a couple who shared a great-grandparent was not permitted. Brother and sister are related in the first degree, first cousins in the second, second cousins in the third and so on. An infringement of this rule was considered incest.

If you were a noble, however, you might be able to persuade the pope that your close relationship to your intended wife was not such an impediment. Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince, needed a papal dispensation to marry Joan of Kent. His great-grandfather, Edward I, was her grandfather, which meant that they were first cousins once removed. They married secretly some weeks before the dispensation was requested in the hope of forcing the pope’s hand. The pope gave his permission and Joan’s third marriage reinforced her reputation of marital irregularity.

 

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Marriage, The Medieval Church

Medieval Betrothals

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In this second post relating to the Soldiers of Fortune series of novels I’m looking at betrothals. A betrothal was sometimes a precursor to marriage, but it was not necessary to enable a marriage to take place. What did and did not constitute a marriage in the fourteenth century is a different topic, but they could be secret or public. A betrothal was always a public act.

There were, generally speaking, two ways to marry. One was by present consent and the other by future consent. The latter was a betrothal. The vows made in a betrothal were such that the couple said that they intended to marry and would be married if they consummated that intention physically. When that consummation took place (weeks, months, years later) they were married. Sometimes there was another ceremony after the betrothal and before the consummation, but that was rare.

A betrothal was not a religious ceremony.

Both children and adults could be betrothed. Although it was more usual for a child to be betrothed to another child, a child was sometimes betrothed to an adult.

Children became adults at a much younger age than they do today. We saw last week that men were not considered too young to lead an army at fifteen and sixteen, and boys and girls came of age much younger than they do now.

A marriage was not supposed to be consummated until the woman was capable of bearing a child and the couple might wait for some time after that. Some did not. Joan of Kent maintained that she consummated her clandestine marriage to Thomas Holland at the age of twelve. When she was married to William Montague later that year, the unwilling bride and her new husband lived apart, because she was considered too young to consummate the marriage. It’s believed that Edward II, who married Isabella of France when she was 12, waited two or three years before consummating their marriage.

Fourteen was the acceptable age for cohabitation for a woman.  She was considered to be in her prime child-bearing years in her late teens and early twenties.

Marriages were often used by aristocratic families to cement alliances as parents betrothed their children to one another. Betrothals could be, and were, broken. Loyalties changed and someone who was seen as an ally one day could be an enemy the next.

 

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How to become a squire

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Chaucer’s squire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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