Macbeth and the Gunpowder Plot

Gunpowder Plot Conspirators, Contemporary engraving, National Portrait Gallery, Source: Wikipedia

It wasn’t until recently that I discovered the link between Shakespeare’s famous play and the event that nearly shook England’s ruling class to its knees. The Gunpowder Plot was a carefully planned event with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder stashed under the House of Lords in order to blow King James and his government sky-high. Most fortunately—as the story goes—it was foiled by a last-minute letter to Lord Monteagle warning him not to attend Parliament the next day. A timely search of the basement exposed Guy Fawkes and his stockpile before he had the opportunity to apply the fuse. England celebrated its miraculous escape from disaster, and the king’s men went after the conspiracy with a vengeance.

What did this have to do with Shakespeare? Well, as it turns out, Warwickshire was a hotbed of conspirators, and some properties near Stratford-Upon-Avon had been leased to provide a meeting house for the plotters. Worse than that, the town was full of closet Catholics known as recusants—and Shakespeare may have been one of them. A search of the properties in question revealed a hoard of forbidden Catholic paraphernalia—or “massing relics”, as they were called. William Shakespeare, unfortunately, was distantly related to some of the plotters themselves and had business relationships with others. Talk about guilt by association!

Macbeth consulting the vision of the armed head, by Henry Fuseli. Source: Wikipedia

Since we know next to nothing about Shakespeare, we can only speculate about his motivations. But I suspect appeasing the king might have been on his mind. Not so coincidentally, less than a year after the gunpowder plot we see the first performance of Macbeth, demonstrating the consequences of killing a king. Shakespeare also gives a nod to James’s lineage—Banquo was recognized as the ancestor to the Stewarts—as well as a reference to witches—a theme close to the monarch’s heart. It was commonly thought that diabolical agents were responsible for the most evil of human activities.

But that’s not all. Renowned Shakespearean historian James Shapiro tells us that a discovery during the gunpowder plot investigation introduced a new word to the English lexicon: equivocation. Actually, the word wasn’t new; it was just redefined and “had become a byword that transfixed the nation and suffused the play he was writing”.1 The government badly needed a scapegoat—a leader—and they found him in the guise of Jesuit Superior Henry Garnet, who had written a treatise advising Catholics how to lie under oath during interrogation, while seeming to tell the truth. It was a play on words extraordinaire.

A diligent search of the Inner Temple in London had uncovered this amazing manuscript, with a crossed-out title: “A Treatise of Equivocation” which had been changed to “A Treatise of Lying and Fraudulent Equivocation”. Here, too, the word “of” was crossed out and changed to “against”, but no one was fooled; the authorities had, in their hands, a how-to guide for evading prosecution. For example, “You could deny that you were harboring a priest by saying that the priest ‘lyeth not in my house,’ since he wasn’t telling lies there.”2

Anonymous portrait of Friar Henry Garnet, Source: Wikipedia

Whether the treatise had anything to do with the gunpowder plot was irrelevant; Garnet apparently knew about the conspiracy and kept silent. This was good enough, and so much better than prosecuting a handful of disgruntled Catholic gentry. Now the detested fingers of the Jesuits were all over the plot, and the treatise took on a major role in the legal proceedings. The word equivocation had gone viral, so to speak, and a high-profile trial of Garnet himself ended in the inevitable conviction of treason.

In Macbeth, as Professor Shapiro tells us, “Equivocation permeates the play”.  The witches equivocate when they tell Macbeth he shall be king—not informing him that he will need to kill in order to get the crown. And of course, later on, they equivocate, telling him he should never be vanquished ‘till Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane. Macbeth equivocates to his wife, not telling her that Banquo’s heirs will be kings rather than his own. He equivocates when he kills the guards, then again when he hires Banquo’s murderers. Lady Macbeth equivocates when she tells the banquet guests that “my lord is often thus” after they watch him shriek at an empty chair. Even Lady McDuff equivocates, pretending to her son that his absent father is dead. But the most telling aspect of all is the porter scene, in which the word equivocate is used over and over again:

Knock, knock! Who’s there, in th’ other devil’s name? Faith, here’s an equivocator that could swear in both the scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God’s sake yet could not equivocate to heaven. O, come in, equivocator.” 

The word is used five times by the porter and later, once by Macbeth. There’s no doubt that equivocation truly is the byword this time around, made even more interesting that it is only used once in all Shakespeare’s plays written before Macbeth.

As he often did, Shakespeare wrote his play in response to concerns pervading London society. A fear of unseen forces was very real to his contemporaries, and Macbeth would have struck a chord in the unsettled atmosphere pervading King James’s court. One wonders what the playgoers might have thought when passing underneath the severed heads of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators, while crossing London Bridge from Southwark on their way home.

1  Shapiro, James, THE YEAR OF LEAR, SHAKESPEARE IN 1606, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2015, p.156
2  ibid, p.158

Christmas in the time of the Vikings

Odin the Wanderer, by Georg von Rosen, 1886 from the Swedish Poetic Edda (Source, Wikipedia)

Yule celebrations are Pagan in origin and came from the Germanic countries. They were alive and well in the Nordic lands, and were most likely brought over to Anglo-Saxon England with the Viking settlers. Eventually, the midwinter celebrations merged with the Christian festival of Christmastide, better known as the 12 Days of Christmas. I think we would recognize many of their festivities, although some of them were dedicated to Odin!

Since the Yule (or Jul) took place around the Solstice, the shortest day of the year, there is a certain element of celebrating the return of the light. It is said that the name Yule is derived from the Old Norse HJOL, meaning ‘wheel,’ to identify the moment when the wheel of the year is at its lowest point, ready to rise again. But it was also thought that in this time of year, the spirits of the dead most commonly crossed over into the human realm. It is thought that many of the Yuletide customs were an attempt to protect the household against hostile supernatural influences. On the other hand, it is also said that ancestors came back during this season, and sometimes food was left out for them so they would help promote a good harvest the following year. Some of the spirits were benevolent—but not all.

One night stood out from the others—the 24th of December. This is when the children filled their shoes with straw, carrots and sugar lumps and set them out by the fire to feed Odin’s flying eight-legged horse Sleipnir as the God led the Wild Hunt—the host of the restless dead—through the darkness. In return, Odin would leave the children small gifts and sweets as a reward. He was even known to slide down the chimney! Or fire hole, as the case may be.

The Wild Hunt by Johan Wilhelm Cordes, Museum Behnhaus Drägerhaus, Lubeck, Germany (Source, Wikipedia)

Many tales were told of the Wild Hunt. Because winter nights were often stormy and turbulent, Odin was most likely to be heard then, raging and howling, riding to collect the fallen, whether they be living or recently departed. People—especially children—were warned to stay indoors. It was a terrible thing to witness the Wild Hunt; rumors abounded that people seeing the Wild Hunt might be abducted to the underworld or to the fairy kingdom—or even killed. A gift—or rather, a sacrifice—was advised, to thank Odin for taking care of the family’s recently deceased. In 1673, Johannes Scheffer (The History of Lapland) wrote “All the Bits they have preserved for these two Days, they put in a small Chest made of the Bark of Birch, in the shape of a Boat, with its Sails and Oars; they pour also some of the Fat of the Broth upon it, and thus hang it on a Tree, about a Bow Shot distant from the backside of their Huts”. Perhaps this represented the practice of ship burials, though no one really knows the exact purpose of this ritual.

Yule is a time for feasting, dancing, and family. The traditional food of the Yule was Boar, an animal sacred to Freyr, the Norse God of Yule and fertility. This was probably the origin of the Boar’s Head presented at later Christmas feasts. Then we have the Yule Log. The largest ash—the wood of Yggdrasil—log was brought inside so that ritual runes could be carved onto it, calling on the gods to protect one and all from ill-fortune. Burning the Yule log was thought to give power to the sun and bring warmth again to the land. The carved log was sprinkled with mead and decorated with dry sprigs of pine and cones and as it was lit, musicians plucked the strings of their harps and started the singing. It burned for twelve hours, which brought good fortune for the next twelve months.

Odin riding Sleipnir. From the 18th century Icelandic manuscript. Source, Wikipedia

Outside, evergreens would be decorated with small lanterns and candles, plus crackers, little carved statues of gods, pieces of dried fruit, and even berries strung together. A huge bonfire was lit, reportedly to dispel any evil that was marching abroad. There was dancing around and through the bonfire, especially among the youngsters.

It’s pretty commonly assumed that Odin the Wanderer eventually morphed into our Santa Claus. The old legends came in many forms, one of which was Odin on a chariot pulled by goats (who later became reindeers). Or, possibly, his eight-legged Sleipnir was the precursor to reindeer (naturally, from the North). Odin who was the lord of Alfheim, the home of the elves (Santa’s elves?). The comparisons go on and on. How much of is true?

Thomas Mowbray, Bolingbroke’s adversary

Richard II makes Thomas Mowbray the Earl Marshal, BL Cotton MS Nero D VI, f.85r.

Considering that Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham (and later 1st Duke of Norfolk) participated in almost every major event of Richard II’s reign, it’s surprising that he’s been given so little attention by historians. It is evident that Thomas had a checkered career, in favor then out of favor then back again until his final outlawry. He is often depicted as a slippery character, though it’s not clear whether he was motivated by ambition, jealousy, or was he driven by circumstances? It’s hard to say, considering how difficult it was to maintain one’s equilibrium during Richard II’s tempestuous reign.

Orphaned at age two, Thomas and his elder brother John were  brought up in the royal court alongside future rival Robert de Vere (another ward). All became close friends with Prince—soon to become King—Richard. John died in 1383, passing on the title Earl of Nottingham to Thomas, who was elected knight of the Garter in the same year. Two years later he was granted the title of Earl Marshal for life. Not bad for a nineteen year-old. He even had an apartment all his own at Eltham, the royal palace—reserved, naturally, for high-ranking nobles.

Nonetheless, trouble was brewing. Robert de Vere had managed to capture Richard’s affection and Thomas was increasingly left out. Rather than fight a losing battle he went over to the opposite court faction and married Elizabeth, the daughter of Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel. I would assume he couldn’t have found a wife more calculated to alienate the king, though Richard did “distribute liveries of cloth to the earl’s wedding guests in 1384” (1). Nonetheless, Mowbray’s  association with Arundel put him squarely in the Lords Appellant camp, just in time to march against Robert de Vere who was attempting to bring a force from Cheshire to protect the king against his rebellious nobles. Alas, de Vere was no general and his army made a pitiful showing at Radcot Bridge, eventually surrendering with very little loss of life. Robert fled to the Continent; that thorn in Mowbray’s side was removed forever.

Robert de Vere fleeing Radcot Bridge, from Gruthuse Froissart, BN FR 2645, fol.245V

By then, Henry of Bolingbroke (future King Henry IV) had joined forces with the Lords Appellant, making their number five. After Radcot Bridge the victors confronted King Richard in the Tower, forcing their agenda down his throat and threatening to depose him. Cowed after three days’ isolation in the Tower, the king agreed to call parliament. It met in January of 1388, ushering in the worst year of Richard’s life.

Bolingbroke and Mowbray, the junior Appellants, mainly kept quiet during the Merciless Parliament, only asserting themselves against their elders when it came time to condemn Richard’s beloved vice-chamberlain, Sir Simon Burley. By now, the Merciless Parliament had become a bloodbath and the senior Appellants knew that unless their purge was total, the survivors would demand retribution. Too bad for them that the king himself would take on the mantle of avenger ten years later.

But Richard had noted Mowbray’s reticence and decided to bring him back into the fold. In 1389 he made Mowbray Warden of the East March toward Scotland; later Thomas became Captain of Calais and royal lieutenant in the north-east of France.  He accompanied the king to Ireland in 1394 and was credited with many successful assignments;  he even came within a hair’s breadth of capturing Art MacMurchadha abed with his wife. Shortly thereafter, Mowbray went to France to negotiate a truce and Richard’s marriage to Princess Isabella.

But Mowbray’s uneasy favor with Richard was sorely tested in 1397 when the king launched his tardy retribution against the senior Lords Appellant. Conniving with his new affinity of noble supporters (including Mowbray), Richard initiated a new Appeal against Gloucester, Warwick, and Arundel. Capturing Warwick was easy; the king invited all three to a formal dinner and Warwick was the only one who showed up. A polite, entertaining evening ensued, at the end of which the king ordered the unwary Warwick’s arrest. Immediately afterwards, Arundel was persuaded to give himself up. Richard dealt with Gloucester in person. Collecting a large retinue including Mowbray, the king rode all night to Gloucester’s Pleshy residence, dragging the sick duke out of bed and arresting him as well. Gloucester was placed into Mowbray’s charge and taken to Calais where he was imprisoned in the castle.

The king was adamant; he did not dare appeal Gloucester in person in front of parliament. Politically, that was too volatile. But he needed proof of the duke’s guilt relating to the Merciless Parliament of 1388. A lot of suspicious activities took place in Gloucester’s prison under the unwilling direction of Thomas Mowbray, Captain of Calais. Eventually a confession was extracted from the duke, and shortly thereafter a sullen Mowbray announced before parliament that Gloucester was dead. No further explanation was forthcoming and after the confession was read Gloucester was condemned as a traitor in absentia. But naturally rumors abounded and Mowbray was implicated beyond a doubt.

After the Revenge Parliament, as it came to be called, the king created a slew of dukes to reward his supporters—sneeringly called “the duketti” by contemporaries. Even Mowbray was created Duke of Norfolk. But it wasn’t enough to reassure Thomas. After all, he was one of the five Appellants; now that the king was finished with the instigators he was bound to cast his vengeful eye on the remaining two. From then on, Thomas feared for his own life and stayed away from court as much as he could.

The Challenge of Mowbray and Bolingbroke from Froissart Chronicles, BnF ms. Francais 2646, fol.295

But he finally broke under the stress. In December that same year, Mowbray caught up with Bolingbroke on the road to London. He wasted no time in getting to the point. “Henry, we are about to be undone!” he is said to have declared. When Henry asked him why, he replied, “for what was done at Radcot Bridge”.(2) Pretending astonishment (or was he pretending?) Bolingbroke objected: look at the honors Richard showered them with; they had all received pardons. But Mowbray believed none of it. He even told Henry there were men plotting the destruction of him and his father. He hoped Henry would help devise a plan for their mutual defense.

But poor Mowbray had badly miscalculated. Far from allying himself with his former Appellant, Bolingbroke made a report to the king (or he told his father who went to the king). Then followed a series of accusations and denials, counter-accusations and further denials. Unable to settle this argument amicably, the court of chivalry decided on a trial by combat. It was to be the event of the decade. Held at Coventry, the tournament was attended by knights from as far away as France, and the two challengers went to great lengths to acquire the very best and most expensive armor and trappings. But all was for naught. As depicted by Shakespeare, as soon as Mowbray and Bolingbroke started their charge, King Richard threw in his baton and halted the fight. After discussing the matter with his council, the king declared that Bolingbroke would be exiled for ten years and Mowbray for life.

It was a devastating decision for the Duke of Norfolk. He took his leave shortly thereafter with a small retinue, forbidden to make any contact with Bolingbroke—not that he was very likely to. One wonders if he would have been recalled to England after Henry became king, but we’ll never know. He died in Venice just a year later, somewhere around the 22nd or 27th of September in 1399—just a few days before Richard was forced to abdicate. His young son, another Thomas, was not permitted to assume his father’s titles and soon involved  himself in political turmoil, finally joining the ill-fated revolt of Archbishop Scrope in 1405, where he was beheaded alongside the prelate.

  1. “The Politics of Magnate Power” by Alastair Dunn, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2003, p. 40
  2. “Chronicles of the Revolution 1397-1400” by Chris Given-Wilson, p.86

Who—and What—were the Lords Appellant?

Arundel, Gloucester, Nottingham, Derby, and Warwick, Before the King Source: Wikimedia

When I first bumped into the Lords Appellant I was confused because as far as I knew, an appeal was filed after a court conviction in an attempt to reverse the decision. But as it turns out, in the fourteenth century an appeal was the starting point—an indictment or an accusation against someone, initiating a legal procedure. What made the case of the Lords Appellant so special was that this was the first time the appeal was introduced into Parliament; up until then, it was used in common and civil courts.

When you see the words Lords Appellant capitalized, it refers to those involved in the first legal crisis of Richard II’s reign. Their case was against Richard’s friends, counselors, and officers who were accused of giving the king bad advice—misleading and deceiving him. Most historians agree that the Appellants were driven by resentment, ambition, and dissatisfaction. Here they were, some of the most powerful magnates in the realm, shut out of Richard’s inner circle. No influence with the king, no power, no opportunities to reward their retainers—all these obstacles put them in a bad position. However, they weren’t powerful enough to go after Richard directly; there was no popular swell of discontent as in the case of Edward II. The second best solution was to eliminate the king’s despised supporters and get him under their control.

The only person that stood between the Appellants and the king was John of Gaunt, the eldest surviving son of Edward III and a stickler for protocol. However, in 1386 when he sailed for Spain to pursue a crown of his own, his absence left Richard exposed to his enemies. They immediately went on the offensive and the young king was too inexperienced to know how to deal with them. Nonetheless, the Lords Appellant had a problem. If they went through the courts, the rulings wouldn’t be permanent enough. The only way to completely destroy their enemies, take away their titles, lands—even their lives—and dispossess the heirs was through Parliament. Not only were their motives questionable, but the whole process had no legal basis from which to act, and the Appellants were forced to make up the rules as they went along, twisting the system to accommodate their self-serving objectives.

Woodstock receives King Richard from Froissart Chronicles BL MS Harley 4380, f.117

The driving force behind the Lords Appellant was Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester (the youngest son of Edward III). One would think that the king’s uncle would not be his worst enemy, but Gloucester was a bitter, aggressive man. He reminds me of John Lackland because he, too, came out on the losing end of land distribution after all his siblings were taken care of. He only became duke two years before all this unpleasantness started, and even so he was dependent on the exchequer for his revenue. If it weren’t for his wife, one of the great Bohun heiresses, he would have had nothing at all. His only hope of prominence would have been from the French wars like his brother the Black Prince and his father Edward III; but here, too, the king disappointed him. There was to be no major campaigning in this reign, and Gloucester became the spokesman for warmongers amongst his peers. As the Appellants gained the upper hand, Gloucester even went so far as to put himself forward as a possible replacement (after having deposed Richard), but young Henry of Bolingbroke put an end to that scheme. There were stronger claimants to the throne, himself included.

Richard Fitzalan, from Froissart Chronicles, Getty MS Ludwig xiii, fol.311v.

In almost total accord with Gloucester, Richard FitzAlan, 11th Earl of Arundel was a stout collaborator. He was an experienced, if unexceptional warrior and served under John of Gaunt, mostly as admiral. Although he won brief popularity by sharing a year’s worth of wine with all of England at rock-bottom prices (from 100 captured Flemish vessels), his brusque and overbearing personality made him few friends. From the beginning of Richard’s reign he was on the council of regency, and in 1381 he was appointed co-councilor in constant attendance upon the young king, ironically alongside his future victim Michael de la Pole. Although Richard warmed up to Michael he found Arundel detestable, which I suspect contributed to the crisis.

Thomas Beauchamp (Luminarium.org)

The third original Appellant was Thomas de Beauchamp, 12th Earl of Warwick. He was the son of the famous Thomas Beauchamp known for his bravery at Crecy and Poitiers. Rather mediocre and undistinguished, Thomas never lived up to his father’s reputation. But he was, after all, a noble from a great family and hence valuable as an ally. He pretty much went along with everything Gloucester said and didn’t rock the boat.

The three Appellants originally appealed five of Richard’s supporters: Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk and chancellor of England, Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford and Richard’s closest friend, Robert Tresilian, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, Sir Nicholas Brembre, wealthy London magnate and former Mayor, and Alexander Neville, Archbishop of York. After the Lords Appellant made their formal appeal, Richard arranged for Neville, de la Pole, and Tresilian to slip away, and secretly sent Robert de Vere to Cheshire to raise an army to defend him. Brembre stayed put, certain of his innocence, and sought to gain support in London for the king (he paid for that with his life).

Once the Appellants discovered that de Vere was putting together an army, the last two “junior” members came on board. Henry of Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby (son of John of Gaunt and the future Henry IV) posted himself at Radcot Bridge and succeeded in blocking de Vere from crossing the Thames; the royal army dispersed after a brief and pathetic battle and de Vere escaped over the Channel. Why did the non-political Bolingbroke join the Appellants? He later claimed he needed to protect this father’s interests. It’s also difficult to discover the motives of Thomas de Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham, 1st Duke of Norfolk (great-great grandson of Edward I and son-in-law to Arundel). He could have been driven by jealousy of Robert de Vere, who supplanted him in Richard’s esteem. His early friendship with the king had definitely cooled, especially after he married Arundel’s daughter; I imagine his father in-law put pressure on him to join the party of resistance. These last two Appellants tended to take a back seat, so to speak, and never wholeheartedly agreed with all the knavery that attended these trials. Nonetheless, they were committed and so the three became five.

Queen Anne Intercedes for Sir Simon Burley, from A Chronicle of England (Source: Wikimedia)

From besieging the king in the Tower of London to the Merciless Parliament of 1388, the Lords Appellant pursued a bloody campaign against the king’s supporters, culminating in the outrageous execution of Sir Simon Burley, Richard’s vice-chamberlain and lifelong mentor. (By then they had gone way beyond their initial condemnations.) Bolingbroke and Mowbray publicly objected to Burley’s conviction, as well as the Duke of York, Gloucester’s brother; even Queen Anne got on her knees and begged Gloucester for Burley’s life, to no avail. In the end, eight of Richard’s supporters were executed—for no good reason. Three more fled to permanent exile, and over forty others were ejected from court (some returned later as Richard took back his authority). The king was reduced to a figurehead and withdrew to lick his wounds. For one year the three original Appellants tried to run the government their way (Bolingbroke and Mowbray had lost interest by then), but it soon became obvious that they were doing no better than before. Worse, actually: it was under their watch that the disastrous Battle of Otterburn was lost and Henry Hotspur taken prisoner along with his brother Ralph. Their ransom was a huge hit to the already depleted exchequer, which had been obliged to pay the Lords Appellant 20,000 pounds to reimburse them “for their great expenses in procuring the salvation of the realm and the destruction of the traitors”.

When Richard declared his majority in 1389, he was able to take over and dismiss his enemies without a protest. But, though Richard was obliged to “forgive and forget” on the surface, in reality his anger festered for ten years until he was strong enough to wreak revenge on the men who humiliated him.

You can read more about the Lords Appellant in my novel A KING UNDER SIEGE.

Manorial Courts Guest Post by April Munday

British Library MS Royal 2.VII

The manorial courts were one step up in law enforcement from the tithings that we looked at last week. Each manor had a court and the court governed the lives of everyone who lived on the manor, even determining when they could plant and when they could harvest. It fined them if they allowed their animals to stray onto the lord’s demesne, and it was where they took their claims against one another to be judged.

The manor was made up of the lord’s demesne as well as the land that he leased to tenants. The demesne was the farm that the lord kept for his own benefit.  The people who worked the manor’s land were both freemen and serfs (cottagers, smallholders or villeins). The manorial court dealt with the serfs’ issues, while the freemen were able to go to other courts, which we’ll come to later.  It was also able to create new bylaws for the manor.

Some lords had more than one manor and could not look after all of them closely, or they were away at war or absent for some other reason. The manorial court was one of the ways in which the manor could be managed whether the lord was there or not. He had a steward, who looked after his interests in his absence, but it was the village officials (reeve, hayward and beadle amongst others) who made sure that things happened as they should.

The manorial court decided the land boundaries and the days on which animals could graze in the fields. The steward presided over the court, but the village elected the officials from among themselves. The steward could not tell the court what to do and the court could appeal to the lord if necessary. Usually the business transacted by the court had no direct reference to the lord’s own affairs since it dealt with village problems such as loans not being repaid; men not turning out to work on the lord’s demesne; theft; the erection of a fence in the wrong place; or one villager injuring another.

The court was run by the rich villeins who provided the jurors and officials. The court was supposed to meet every three weeks, but some met less often. All the serfs in the village had to attend. Those who did not were fined. The court was often held in the nave of the church, the part that ‘belonged’ to the village. There were not many places in the village large enough to hold the court and many were simply held in the open air, often in the churchyard. Some manorial courts met in the hall of the manor house itself.

The jurors pronounced judgement on their fellow villagers (and occasionally on the lord) and this was sometimes put to the rest of the village as well for their assent. When making a judgement they had to take into account what they knew of the law, the customs of the manor and the manor’s bylaws. All the jurors and everyone else in the court knew both parties in every case that was brought before them, which was supposed to make it easier to come to a correct judgement. The system of justice was mostly based on the way in which society worked. People lived in small communities where everyone knew everyone else’s business and character. If you, as a villein, were asked whether your neighbour, Peter, had stolen from another neighbour, John, you would know the characters of both men and could assess whether John was making a false claim against Peter or whether Peter was a known thief. You did not have to have seen the (alleged) crime take place in order to be able to work out what had happened, nor did you need any evidence.

Villagers had to pay a fee to the lord get their case heard. The lord of the manor benefited from any fines issued by the court and the court was often the source of a large part of the lord’s income. The manorial court also required payments to the lord on all kinds of occasions – death, inheritance and marriage all had their appropriate fee. When these things happened part of the lord’s land was transferred from one person to another and the fee was to obtain the lord’s permission for that transfer. The court could generate a lot of income for the lord, and fines and fees tended to increase after the Black Death when there were fewer tenants to pay rents. The steward’s clerk recorded the cases and any fines or fees. As well as fines which went into the lord’s coffers, the court could also award damages to be paid by the guilty party in a case to the injured party.

One of the commonest cases to come before a manorial court was the accusation that someone was selling ale before it had been tasted by the ale taster. Ale was brewed at home and sold to the neighbours, who came to the brewer’s house to drink it. The ale taster’s rôle was to ensure that a consistent quality and price were maintained.

It is thanks to the surviving manor court rolls that so much is known about everyday life in the Middle Ages in England. What they show, however, is the things that went wrong and not the things that happened exactly as everybody thought they should.

 

Sources:

England in the Reign of Edward III – Scott L. Waugh

Medieval Lives – Terry Jones

Life in a Medieval Village – Frances and Joseph Gies

Making a Living in the Middle Ages – Christopher Dyer

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

 

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:

 

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Heirs-Tale-Soldiers-Fortune-Book-ebook/dp/B075KQ3HX4/

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heirs-Tale-Soldiers-Fortune-Book-ebook/dp/B075KQ3HX4/

 

 

Website: https://aprilmunday.wordpress.com/

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Ill Prepared for war: Shortages, the Fencibles and fear of revolution over here! Guest post by Dominic Fielder

I’ve found that it’s easy to misjudge history, to confuse timelines from the relative luxury of the twenty-first century because we know the outcome of events in the nineteenth. When I started research for a series of books called the King’s Germans, I felt certain of both the timeline and the narrative. But research has that uncanny knack of unseating you. A story that flowered in 1808, was firmly planted in 1803. But the seed of the story was set in 1793. By 1808, Napoleon has conquered the major powers of Europe, except Russia and Great Britain. With the former, he has a treaty and a framework for co-operation, or at least non-aggression. With Great Britain, his intention is to turn the British blockade into a continental blockade of British trade. The French army numbers hundreds of thousands of men, with an array of experienced and highly capable leaders. And of course, Napoleon himself! So far, not too radical a narrative.

But this is not the world of 1793. Then the fledgling republic that declares war on Great Britain and every other royal house in Europe is hardly united. It does have a large army, men forced into uniform by the Levée en masse. John Lynn (The Bayonets of the Republic) suggests that the volunteers of 1792 gave the French around 275 battalions, a field strength of 220,000. By February 1793, manpower is estimated between a paper-strength of 450,000 and worse case estimates of 290,000. But how does this affect Great Britain? Again, that firmly held conviction that I had before research was of the unquestioned superiority of the Royal Navy. As I sat and read Fortescue’s British Campaigns in Flanders, the narrative was rather different. The fleet was under tremendous strain, policing Great Britain’s global interest. Manpower was the most crippling deficiency, despite the greatest efforts of the press-gang.

The influx of émigrés saw the formation of communities in Marylebone, Richmond and St. Pancras. The government’s response to the threat of spies and revolutionaries embedding themselves within London, was the Aliens Act, 1793. Immigrants had to provide their names, ranks, occupations, and addresses. Anyone who shared a room or house with an immigrant was also required to do likewise. Failure so to do was to risk being held without the prospect of bail and the possibility of deportation.

The wider debates on the very essence of society and rights were popular and real arguments. Edmund Burke had expressed the fears of the gentry in his essay Reflections on the revolution in France, an essentially conservative treatise condemning the revolutionaries. It sold well, with some 30,000 copies going into circulation. The rebuttal, by Thomas Paine, both defended the revolution and set out costings for welfare for the poor and the means to educate over one million children. At the time the population of the United Kingdom was estimated at around eight million. It’s also estimated that after the initial printing of the Rights of Man were withdrawn in February 1791. A new printing, in March of the same year, was estimated to have sold around a million copies. Paine was tried in his absence for sedition and sentenced to death by hanging. He declined the invitation to return from France and meet such a fate.

How were the fear of invasion and the possible treachery from within were to be avoided? The answer was in the expansion of Fencible units, where the gentry were encouraged to raise infantry and cavalry formations, for the protection of the homeland. Life as a Fencible had certain advantages, a man was exempt from both the press-gang and drafting into the army. Thus, the estates of many landed estates were preserved of their workers and the sons of the nobility received military half-pay and pension safe from the prospect of ever been posted abroad. The ire that Fortescue directs to the obvious junket is worth reading. There was at least one case of an individual claiming a lieutenant’s half-pay for over sixty years. Nineteen thousand men were drafted into militia and Fencible units in 1793, according to Fortescue.

The net result for an army destined for the continent was that only one brigade of two thousand men, drawn from the Foot Guards, was available for deployment. A second under Major-general Abercrombie was being prepared but these were so awful that the Adjutant-general wrote to the Duke of York and to Abercrombie to apologise.

“I am afraid that you will not reap the advantage that you might have expected from the brigade of the Line just sent over to you, as so considerable a part of it is composed of undisciplined and raw recruits; and how they are to be disposed of until they can be taught their business I am at a loss to imagine… I was not consulted upon the subject until it was too late to remedy this evil.”

Such a letter shows the deep division between Horse Guards and Dundas, the War Minister. It exposes the fault lines over which the Duke of York was to attempt to exercise control of his army and a strategy to successfully conclude the war, with no firm indication of what such war aims might look like.

The Black Lions of Flanders
(King’s Germans Book 1)

In the war of the First Coalition, friend and foe know one simple truth: trust your ally at your own peril.

February 1793.

Private Sebastian Krombach has joined the army to escape the boredom of life in his father’s fishing fleet. Captain Werner Brandt yearns to leave his post and retire into civilised society and Lieutenant Erich von Bomm wants nothing more than to survive his latest escapade that has provoked yet another duel. Each man is a King’s German; when they are called to war, their lives will become inextricably linked.

The redcoats of the 2nd Battalion, 10th Regiment, must survive the divisions that sweep through their ranks before they are tested in combat. On the border of France, the King’s Germans will face an enemy desperate to keep the Revolution alive: the Black Lions of Flanders.

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The King of Dunkirk
(King’s Germans Book 2)

May 1793: The French border.

Valenciennes, Paris then home! Every common soldier knows the popular refrain so why can’t the commanders see sense?

The protracted siege of Valenciennes exposes the mistrust between the allies. National interests triumph over military logic. The King’s Germans find themselves marching north to the coast, not east to Paris. Dunkirk has become a royal prize, an open secret smuggled to the French, who set a trap for the Duke of York’s army.

Lieutenant Erich von Bomm and Captain Werner Brandt find themselves in the thick of the action as the 14th Nationals, the Black Lions, seek their revenge. In the chaos of battle, Sebastian Krombach, working alongside Major Trevethan, the engineer tasked with capturing Dunkirk, must make a dreadful choice: to guide a battalion of Foot Guards to safety across the Great Moor or carry a message that might save the life of a friend.

The King’s Germans and the Black Lions do battle to determine who shall be crowned the King of Dunkirk.

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Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07N6B7XRN/

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07N6B7XRN/

Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/King-Dunkirk-Kings-Germans-Book-ebook/dp/B07N6B7XRN

 

AUTHOR BIO:

The King’s Germans is a project that has been many years in the making. Currently I manage to juggle writing and research around a crowded work and family life. The Black Lions of Flanders (set in 1793) is the first in the King’s Germans’ series, which will follow an array of characters through to the final book in Waterloo. The King of Dunkirk will soon be released and I hope that the response to that is as encouraging as the reviews of Black Lions have been.
While I’m self-published now, I have an excellent support team that help me to produce what I hope is a story with professional feel, and that readers would want to read more than once. My family back-ground is in paperback book sales, so I’m very keen to ensure that the paperback design is something that I would be proud to put on my bookshelf.
I live just outside of Tavistock, Devon, where I enjoy walking on the moors and the occasional horse-riding excursion as both inspiration and relaxation.

LINKS:

Facebook:   https://www.facebook.com/KingsGermans/
Twitter:       https://twitter.com/Kings_Germans
Instagram: kingsgermans

 

Inheritance in Medieval England

Source: Wikipedia: Genealogical roll of the kings of England. 1300-1308. Royal 14 B VI Membrane 7 From Henry III to Edward III

Cut-and-dried? Not on your life. Primogeniture, or the “law” governing inheritance, even in its basic form could prove elusive to the most determined lawyer. “Primogeniture among males, equal shares between females, a son always preferred to a daughter, a daughter to a brother or other collateral. For the fief to retain its coherence, it was thus essential that its proprietor, if not childless, should have at least one son or, failing sons, not more than one daughter.” (see K.B. McFarlane’s “The Nobility of Later Medieval England”). Easier said than done! Sorting out the details got messy very quickly.

According to McFarlane, approximately 25% of all noble families failed in the direct male line in every generation. So according to the laws of inheritance, any daughters would be next in line, even if there was a male nephew, for instance, or a surviving brother, known as collateral heirs. When the inheritance went to an heiress, the line would be passed to her husband—an unfortunate outcome, needless to say. A famous example of this was the Beauchamp inheritance. When in 1446 the Earl of Warwick died with no male heir, his lands and title passed on to his daughter who died in infancy; after that the earldom passed on to his full sister, married to Richard Neville who was already Earl of Salisbury—and later known as the Kingmaker. If there were multiple daughters, they would split the inheritance. In the case of Richard Neville, he had no sons—only two daughters, the elder married to George Duke of Clarence and the younger to Richard Duke of Gloucester, the future Richard III. George became next Earl of Warwick through Isabella, then was executed, passing the title to his son Edward Plantagenet. Imprisoned in the Tower of London at age 10, Edward spent the rest of his life there and was executed in 1499, at which point the line became extinct.

Madame Tussaud’s wax figures in basement of Warwick Castle (my pic)

If the father had a big family, naturally he would want to take care of younger sons and daughters, notwithstanding the legends of the younger son driven from home to seek his fortune. In the case of royalty, the younger sons often were often made earls, or dukes—and married to an heiress, if possible. And of course there was sometimes a situation where a younger son was preferred over the direct heir. What was a man to do? What’s important to the study of primogeniture is to know that property could not be devised by a will, as we know it today. According to McFarlane, “If a landowner died, his heir inherited; if he wanted to benefit his younger children he had to do it in his own lifetime.” Most people did not want to divest themselves of their lands à la King Lear, so this was not a common option.

Clever aristocrats soon found a way around this restriction: the estate tail. What happened here is that the grantor would surrender his fief as a “conditional gift” to his king, his immediate lord, or a group of friends. Then he would receive it back “on terms different from those governing ordinary inheritance”. He no longer owned the fief in “fee simple” (by definition unconditional); he held it in “fee tail”. This way he could cut out the direct heir, or possibly his daughter in favor of collateral heirs (or any other situation—even bastardy). If women were excluded altogether, or at least until all male descendants were extinct, this estate was called “tail male” or “entail”. The entail was irrevocable and perpetual, even if the principal changed his mind before he died. No one could alter it. However, in the legal interest of the direct heir, entails usually reverted back to the head of the family if there was a total failure of male heirs in the cadet branches after three generations.

Slightly more adaptable was another legal device known as the use.  A man would grant his lands, “or any part of them, to a number of his friends, usually called his feoffees, to hold to his use as long as he lived and to dispose of when he was dead in accordance with his last will.” (McFarlane)  For all intents-and-purposes the grantor was now a tenant for life rather than owner of the estate. The use had the added advantage that an underaged lord who inherited was not subject to a wardship in his minority—hence, it was a bit of a tax dodge, since wardships had a monetary value. A disadvantage was that the feofees had to be trusted implicitly; if they acted fraudulently or in disobedience, there was little established recourse for the wronged party.

By the end of the fourteenth century, “tail male” became ingrained and extended to earldoms as well. An added bonus, by the way, is that an estate held in “fee tail” could not be forfeited for treason. Ultimately this new freedom to bequeath land had its own consequences: too many unsustainable cadet branches weakened the line. Primogeniture reasserted itself around 1500, though many permutations continued to exist.

The Dark Ages: The time of King Arthur. Guest Post by Mary Anne Yarde

Source: Wikipedia

In 1846 William John Thoms, a British writer, penned a letter to The Athenaeum, a British Magazine. In this letter, he talked about “popular antiquities.” But instead of calling it by its common name, he used a new term — folklore.

What did Thoms mean by this new word? Well, let’s break it down. The word folk referred to the rural poor who were for the most part illiterate. Lore means instruction. So folklore means to instruct the poor. But we understand it as verbal storytelling. Forget the wheel  — I think storytelling is what sets us apart. We need stories, we always have and we always will.

The Dark Ages is, I think, one of the most fascinating eras in history. However, it does not come without challenges. This was an era where very little was recorded in Britain. There are only a handful of primary written sources. Unfortunately, these sources are not very reliable. They talk of great kings and terrible battles, but something is missing from them. Something important. And that something is authenticity. The Dark Ages is the time of the bards. It is the time of myths and legends. It is a period like no other. If the Dark Ages had a welcoming sign it would say this:

“Welcome to the land of folklore. Welcome to the land of King Arthur.”

Throughout the years there have been many arguments put forward as to who King Arthur was, what he did, and how he died. England, Scotland, Wales, Brittany and France claim Arthur as their own. Even The Roman Empire had a famous military commander who went by the name of Lucius Artorius Castus. There are so many possibilities. There are so many Arthurs. Over time, these different Arthurs became one. The Roman Artorious gave us the knights. The other countries who have claimed Arthur as their own, gave us the legend.

Source: Wikipedia

We are told that Arthur and his knights cared, for the most part, about the people they represented. Arthur was a good king, the like of which has never been seen before or after. He was the perfect tool for spreading a type of patriotic propaganda and was used to great effect in the centuries that were to follow. Arthur was someone you would want to fight by your side. However, he also gave ordinary people a sense of belonging and hope. He is, after all, as T.H. White so elegantly put it, The Once and Future King. If we believe in the legend, then we are assured that if Britain’s sovereignty is ever threatened, Arthur and his knights will ride again. A wonderful and heartfelt promise. A beautiful prophecy. However, there is another side to these heroic stories. A darker side. Some stories paint Arthur in an altogether different light. Arthur is no hero. He is no friend of the Church. He is no friend to anyone apart from himself. He is arrogant and cruel. Likewise, history tells us that the Roman military commander, Lucius Artorius Castus, chose Rome over his Sarmatian Knights. He betrayed them and watched as Rome slaughtered them all. It is not quite the picture one has in mind when we think of Arthur, is it? It is an interesting paradox and one I find incredibly fascinating.

But putting that aside, Arthur, to many people is a hero. Someone to inspire to. This was certainly true for Edward III. Edward was determined that his reign was going to be as spectacular as Arthur’s was. He believed in the stories of Arthur and his Knights. He had even started to have his very own Round Table built at Windsor Castle. He also founded The Order of the Garter— which is still the highest order of chivalry that the Queen can bestow. Arthur, whether fictional or not, influenced kings.

So how do we separate fact from fiction?

In our search for Arthur, we are digging up folklore, and that is not the same as excavating relics. We have the same problem now as Geoffrey of Monmouth did back in the 12th Century when he compiled The History of the Kings of Briton. His book is now considered a ‘national myth,’ but for centuries his book was considered to be factually correct. So where did Monmouth get these facts? He borrowed from the works of Gildas, Nennuis, Bede, and The Annals of Wales. There was also that mysterious ancient manuscript that he borrowed from Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford. Monmouth then borrowed from the bardic oral tradition. In other words, he listened to the stories of the bards. Add to the mix his own imagination and Monmouth was onto a winner. Those who were critical of his work were brushed aside and ignored. Monmouth made Britain glorious, and he gave us not Arthur the general, but Arthur the King. And what a king he was.

So is Arthur a great lie that for over a thousand years we have all believed in? Should we be taking the Arthurian history books from the historical section and moving them to sit next to George R. R. Martin’s, Game of Thrones? No. I don’t think so. In this instance, folklore has shaped our nation. We should not dismiss folklore out of hand just because it is not an exact science. We should embrace it because when you do, it becomes easier to see the influence these ‘stories’ have had on historical events.

The Du Lac Prophecy

(Book 4 of The Du Lac Chronicles)
By Mary Anne Yarde

Two Prophesies. Two noble Households. One throne.

 Distrust and greed threaten to destroy the House of du Lac. Mordred Pendragon strengthens his hold on Brittany and the surrounding kingdoms while Alan, Mordred’s cousin, embarks on a desperate quest to find Arthur’s lost knights. Without the knights and the relics they hold in trust, they cannot defeat Arthur’s only son – but finding the knights is only half of the battle. Convincing them to fight on the side of the Du Lac’s, their sworn enemy, will not be easy.

 If Alden, King of Cerniw, cannot bring unity there will be no need for Arthur’s knights. With Budic threatening to invade Alden’s Kingdom, Merton putting love before duty, and Garren disappearing to goodness knows where, what hope does Alden have? If Alden cannot get his House in order, Mordred will destroy them all.

BUY LINKS: 

Amazon US
https://www.amazon.com/Du-Lac-Prophecy-Book-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B07GDS3HPJ

Amazon UK
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07GDS3HPJ/

Amazon CA
https://www.amazon.ca/Du-Lac-Prophecy-Book-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B07GDS3HPJ/

 

Author Bio:
Mary Anne Yarde is the multi award-winning author of the International Bestselling series — The Du Lac Chronicles.

Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury — the fabled Isle of Avalon — was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were a part of her childhood.

Media Links:

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Twitter: https://twitter.com/maryanneyarde

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Mary-Anne-Yarde/e/B01C1WFATA/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15018472.Mary_Anne_Yarde

The King’s Wardrobe, Great Wardrobe, Privy Wardrobe, Chamber Wardrobe

Coronation of Henry IV, BL MS Harley 4380, F.186V

As my title suggests, the king’s wardrobe was actually broken into four parts. Each part had its own officer, separate function, and different location. And surprisingly, their names aren’t always intuitive.

The WARDROBE, was the most important and expensive of the four. It was responsible for the king and his household’s expenses, such as food and drink, coal, wood, candles, etc. as well as oats and litter for the horses and daily wages. Incidental expenses for the household such as medicine, ink-horns and parchments were included, as well as gifts, robes, hunting expenses, and the cost of entertaining foreign ambassadors. For the last several years of King Edward III’s reign and the first half of Richard II’s reign, Wardrobe expenses hovered around £18,000. But after Queen Anne’s death in 1395, when Richard was accused of excessive extravagance and especially when he employed his 300 Cheshire archers as bodyguards, his expenditure swelled to over £37,000. Ironically, even though this was a bone of contention, King Henry IV continued this huge spending spree, allegedly because he preferred to maintain a large and extravagant domestic establishment. Eventually he had to bow to the complaints of Parliament, and managed to bring his annual expenses down to about £19,000.

The GREAT WARDROBE was responsible for cloth, furs, and linen. These were for robes (sometimes part of an annuity, as well as robes for tournaments, marriages, funerals, anniversaries, chapel vestments, trappings for royal horses), wall hangings, coverings—even garters. Just to give an example of how costly certain events could prove, “for Princess Joan’s funeral (mother of the king) in 1385, the keeper had to provide special mourning robes for four earls, ten bannerets, fifty-four knights, forty-eight clerks, 161 esquires and sergeants, 157 valets, eighteen minstrels, a further 320 lesser servants of the king” (see “The Royal Household and the King’s Affinity” by Charles Given-Wilson). No sewing machines; they must have needed a whole army of seamstresses.

Jewel Tower, Westminster c.1365. Photo by lonpicman, Wikipieda

The Great Wardrobe was also divided into four sub-departments, headed by a tailor, armorer, pavilioner, and embroiderer. It was housed next to Baynard’s Castle between St. Paul’s and the Thames; this house was purchased by Edward III in 1360 and remained in use until the great fire of 1666. As in the Wardrobe expenses, there was a huge escalation of costs from the early part of Richard’s reign (averaging about £3,000-£3,500 a year) to £8,000 at the end of his reign. This is attributed to his great love of finery.

The PRIVY WARDROBE was essentially dedicated to arms and armor and was located in the Tower of London. Although the stock of weaponry was impressive (among the 1396 inventory it contained 796 basinets, 2328 bows, 1392 coats of mail, 11,300 quarrels, 14,280 arrows), this was the least expensive of the four household departments. This is because the sheriffs were expected to provide most of the weaponry, deducting the costs from their annual payments to the exchequer. When members of the king’s household were sent out on military duties, they were usually equipped from the Privy Wardrobe.

The CHAMBER, as you would expect, was the king’s personal wealth. This included his jewels and plate, which were sometimes used as pledges for loans. How was the Chamber money accrued? Income from the king’s personal estates, fines, wardships, ransoms (remember the French King John?), licenses, traitors’ chattels, dowries (800,000 francs in 1396 for little Princess Isabella) among other sources. Money was passed back and forth between the Chamber and the exchequer; not only was the Chamber given annual installments, but there were times the king would deposit large sums in the exchequer. According to Given-Wilson, “between 1368 and 1377, Edward in fact transferred a total of more than £160,000 of his personal wealth, from the chamber, the Tower hoard, and the ransom installments which continued to accrue, into the exchequer, the vast majority of which was spent on military needs”. Since the Chamber money was the king’s business and nobody else’s, there are no official accounts for historians. Nonetheless, Edward must have collected quite a hoard, for in 1365-66 he erected the Jewel Tower (pictured) in the Palace of Westminster which was surrounded by a moat.

As you may suspect, this post concerns the reigns of Edward III, Richard II and Henry IV as described by Chris Given-Wilson. If you are interested in the early development of the Wardrobe, I heartily recommend T.F. Tout who has written four volumes on the subject entitled “Chapters in the Administrative History of Mediaeval England” which have recently been reprinted. Both of these historians have contributed greatly to our knowledge of the period.

What is Bastard Feudalism?

Roland pledges fealty to Charlemagne. Source: Wikipedia

Bastard Feudalism is a term I kept bumping into during my recent research into the fourteenth century. I finally had to stop and investigate. Just what is it, and how does it differ from feudalism as I’ve always known it? It turns out that this was originally used in the Victorian era; the term “bastard feudalism” was derogatory—implying a corruption of feudalism, debased and degenerate. But as time went on, historians came to define it more as a term implying a superficial imitation of the original social order, though different in its essence.

Just to review, Feudalism was brought to England with the Norman Conquest. Like everything else, I’m sure the Anglo-Saxons had a hard time making the adjustment, but the concept of Feudalism was harshly efficient. The king owned everything, and the system is based on land tenure (coming from the French word tenir—to keep), the relationship between the tenant and the lord. The king chose to lease out portions of his kingdom to loyal barons; in return they offered military service, paid rent, and served on the royal council. They had complete control of their Manor, as it was often called; they meted out local justice, minted coins, and collected taxes. The Baron, in turn, divided up a portion of his Manor among his knights, who agreed to offer protection and military service when called upon. The knights lorded it over their villeins, or serfs, who owed them service and provisions. This went on pretty much until the Black Death disrupted the abundance of available workers on the Manor and created a situation where cash was becoming more important than labor.

The term “bastard feudalism” was coined in 1885 by historian Charles Plummer, when he needed a term to define the changing relationship between lord and vassal in the two centuries after the death of Edward I. Slowly but surely, the tenurial bond gave way to a social tie depending on a personal contract. Mutual benefit became the keyword. Although military service was important, the relationship between master and retainer became more of a matter of reciprocal services; the lord offered patronage and contracted to protect and defend his vassal in court—maintenance—as well as in combat. He would pay his retainer an annuity, or a fee for specific services rendered; he would often feed and house his annuitant. The retainer was usually expected to contract for life, but by no means was this universal and the indenture was not expected to be binding on the heirs of either party. By the end of the fourteenth century, according to K.B. McFarlane (England in the Fifteenth Century, Collected Essays), there is “evidence to suggest that under the Lancastrians less permanent forms of contract were coming into favor.” Stipends were paid to household officers and servants, civil servants, surgeons, chaplains, falconers, cooks, and even minstrels.

John Balloil before Edward I, from BL Royal 20 C.VII, f.28

When it came to the lesser gentry, ties between them and the great lords often followed their feudal connections. According to Simon Walker (The Lancastrian Affinity 1351-1399), “bastard feudal loyalties were often the legitimate heirs of fully feudal ties. Precisely how often is rather more difficult to say. By the late fourteenth century, territorial proximity was usually more important than tenurial dependence in creating links between the magnates and the country gentry… it was the expectation of such additional fiscal benefits, not the mere possession of land, that bound the duke’s tenants more closely to his service.” At the same time, if a man owned several manors scattered throughout the country, McFarlane tells us “by this date tenurial relations were so interwoven that a man with several manors could scarcely avoid holding them of nearly as many lords.” If there was a potential conflict, one can only assume the vassal went with the lord who had the most to offer.

By Lancaster’s time, it was not at all unusual for a retainer to collect fees from more than one master for specific duties; think of today’s lawyers, accountants, or estate managers. This could very well be of benefit to both parties; the retainer could make money from several sources, and the magnate could stay informed. Simon Walker tells us, when Gaunt paid annuities to some of King Richard’s chamber-knights: “the king’s household was a center of gossip and accusations against the duke and it was by having his own men there that Gaunt was best able to thwart the efforts of his enemies.” It sounds a lot like spying to me, but if everyone agreed on the arrangement, I suppose it was routine.

From what I can gather, the whole concept of “bastard feudalism” is fluid; not every historian uses it, nor do we find an easy definition. It does make sense that cash was a strong incentive. It was a precious commodity and major magnates like John of Gaunt—not to mention the king—still represented a powerful influence.