The Quandary of Public Domain Photos


I could just about guarantee that I’m not the only underpaid indie author who has wondered about using a public domain photo on the cover of their new novel. Well, I finally decided to push this question to its logical conclusion, and I thought I’d share the process with you. I am not a lawyer, so don’t take me at my word! But I have at least one experience to pass on.

For me, the picture in question was from a manuscript in the British Library. The image is all over the Internet and, most importantly, on Wikipedia, a kind of the clearinghouse for public domain images, as I see it. For the record, Wikipedia tells us “the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or less.” Since I am using a manuscript illumination, that’s not a problem. I knew I could use these pictures on the Internet: a blog post, social media, and my webpage. But when it comes to something like a book, I knew somehow that the rules were different. First of all, copyright laws tend to cover the country of origin. Even if I could use it in the United States, what about Europe? I wouldn’t (or couldn’t) limit my distribution to just one country.

So I went to the British Library site (https://imagesonline.bl.uk/) where you can purchase a license. That was the easy part. Below the image you can click on an icon to determine the price. First they ask you a question: is this for personal use, advertising, editorial, or products? For personal use, the price is £7.50, for advertising the price is £691.20. I’m already confused, because if I take the image from Wikipedia for my personal use, it doesn’t cost anything.

Which category does my book cover fall into? I’m not a publisher or a business, so my book is being published personally. Isn’t it? What is the definition of advertising? Do they mean a picture on a coffee cup or a magazine advertisement, or something of that ilk? Is a book cover considered advertising? When I checked out the Terms and Conditions, it tells us, “Reproduction (allowed): includes any form of publication or copying of the whole or part of any Image whether altered or not, and derived from any Image whether by printing, photography, slide projection, xerography, artists’ reference, artists’ illustration, layout or presentation, electronic or mechanical reproduction or storage by any other means.” OK, my book is covered by “any form of publication”, I suppose.

So, taking this as permission, I paid my £7.50 and proceeded to fret about it for a couple of days. Finally, just to be sure, I sent an email to the support people and gave them a working copy of my cover with an explanation. They were very responsive. The next day I received an answer, telling me, “The licence you have purchased is only for personal use. Please let us know the print run and language territory rights required for your book. For front cover use the fee is much higher but we would deduct or refund the fee you have paid.” Well, that was that. Expecting the worst, I explained to them that my book was Print on Demand and I had no way of knowing how many were going to sell; it could be 10, or 100, or 500. I was already prepared to scrap the whole idea, having resigned myself to the worst. Imagine my surprise the next day to hear from them again: “The permission fee will be an additional £46.45.” That’s a far cry from £691 and change! Needless to say, I jumped on it (and printed a copy of the email for my records). And now I am the happy licensee of a public domain image that assuredly was inaccessible before the days of the Internet.


When it came time to publish my second book (a year or so later), I was expecting more of the same, since I used British Library again. I noticed that my “contact” was someone different and the procedure had changed somewhat. I told them I expected to sell about 500 copies, again Print on Demand. This time, the charge was £150—considerably more, needless to say! I was afraid to object so I paid it and considered myself lucky. Now, I’m about do it a third time (another year later). Who knows what I’ll come up with?

I have absolutely no idea how they arrived at a price. What I did learn is that in this new world, it behooves us not to assume anything. Had I not written that letter, I might have gotten myself into a lot of trouble. On the other hand, my image of choice was not out of reach after all.

The Percies and the Battle of Shrewsbury

Froissart Chronicles by Virgil Master, Source: Wikimedia

My short story in the BETRAYAL anthology, Family or Fealty?, is about Thomas Percy, probably the most able—if the least flamboyant—member of the Percy clan in this period. But, Shakespeare notwithstanding, I don’t really think he was the motivating force behind the rebellion that led to the Battle of Shrewsbury. He had much to lose, and nothing to gain. So what led to this disastrous conflict?

The Percies were such a powerful force in the North they practically acted like rulers in their own kingdom. For much of Richard II’s reign and the beginning of Henry IV’s, Earl Henry Percy and his son, Sir Henry (nicknamed Hotspur) alternated between the wardenships of the East Marches and the West Marches toward Scotland. They were experienced in dealing with the tempestuous Scots, and their retainers were fiercely loyal. When Henry IV returned from exile and began his campaign that led to the throne, the Percies were his staunchest supporters; they provided a large portion of his army. Henry Percy was directly responsible for persuading King Richard to turn himself over to Henry Bolingbroke—the beginning of the end of Richard’s fall.

Naturally, this was not done out of sheer kindness. Henry Percy expected to be amply rewarded for his services, and at the beginning he was. But the king was uncomfortable about the potential threat of this overweening earl. He soon began to promote his brother in-law, Ralph Neville the Earl of Westmorland as a counterbalance, chipping away at Percy’s holdings and jurisdictions. Additionally, the Percies felt that they were not being reimbursed properly for their expenses; by 1403 they claimed that the king owed them £20,000. But even with all this going on, it’s likely that the earl may have contained his discontent, except for the belligerence of his impetuous son.

One possible catalyst was Hotspur’s refusal to turn over his hostages taken at the Battle of Homildon Hill. This battle was a huge win for the Percies in 1402, where so many leaders were taken—including the Earl of Douglas—that it left a political vacuum in Scotland for many years to come. Once he learned of this windfall, King Henry insisted that the Percies turn over their hostages to the crown. It was his right as king—even if it was against the code of chivalry. Though his highhanded demand was probably not the wisest choice, considering the circumstances. There were many possible reasons he did so. He was desperately short of funds—as usual. It’s possible he may have wanted to retain the prisoners as a means of ensuring Scottish submission. Earl Henry agreed to turn over his hostages, but Hotspur absolutely refused to surrender Archibald Douglas, letting his father take the blame. One can only imagine that all was not well in the Percy household, either.

Statue of Harry Hotspur, Alnwick Castle

There was more at stake. The king had just returned from a humiliating fiasco in Wales, where he had campaigned in response to the English defeat at Pilleth, where Edmund Mortimer was captured by the Welsh. Mortimer was the uncle of the eleven year-old Earl of March, considered by many the heir-presumptive to the throne (and in Henry’s custody). Edmund was also the brother of Hotspur’s wife. By the time Henry demanded the Scottish hostages, it was commonly believed that the king had no intention of ransoming Mortimer; after all, he was safely out of the way and couldn’t champion his nephew’s cause. This rankled with Hotspur, and it is possible that he thought to use Douglas ransom money to pay for Mortimer’s release himself.

Hotspur finally rode to London in response to the king’s demands, but he went without Douglas. Needless to say, this immediately provoked an argument. When Hotspur insisted that he should be able to ransom his brother in-law, Henry refused, saying he did not want money going out of the country to help his enemies. Hotspur rebutted with, “Shall a man expose himself to danger for your sake and you refuse to help him in his captivity?” Henry replied that Mortimer was a traitor and willingly yielded himself to the Welsh. “And you are a traitor!” the king retorted, apparently in reference to an earlier occasion when Hotspur chose to negotiate with Owain Glyndwr rather than arrest him. Allegedly the king struck Percy on the cheek and drew his dagger. Of course, attacking the king was treason and Hotspur withdrew, shouting “Not here, but in the field!” All of this may be apocryphal, but it is certainly powerful stuff.

The whole question of Mortimer’s ransom became moot when he decided to marry the daughter of Glyndwr and openly declare his change of loyalties on 13 December, 1402. No one knows whether Hostpur’s tempestuous interview with King Henry happened before or after this event; regardless, a bare minimum of eight months passed before Shrewsbury. Were they planning a revolt all this time? It is likely that early in 1403 one or both of the Percies were in communication with the Welsh. Owain Glyndwr was approaching the apex of his power, and a possible alliance between him, Mortimer, and the Percies could well have been brewing. It would come to fruition later on as the infamous Tripartite Indenture (splitting England’s rule between them), but by then Hotspur was long dead.

No one has been able to satisfactorily explain just why the Percies revolted against Henry IV. If they were so supportive of young Mortimer—as was stated in Hotspur’s manifesto before the battle—why did they work so hard to put Lancaster on the throne? All evidence points to their self-aggrandisement. And looking at the three years following his coronation, it became evident that King Henry was not willing to serve as their puppet, nor was he willing to enhance their power at the expense of the crown. The Percies’ ambitions were thwarted by the king’s perceived ingratitude, and the consensus of modern historians is that they hoped to replace him with someone more easily manipulated.

Where did Thomas Percy fit into all this? His family’s fortunes were his own. Win or lose, there’s a better-than-even chance that he would rise and fall along with them, whether he participated in the rebellion or not. In the end, I suspect he couldn’t conceive of fighting against his own kin.

Who was Thomas of Woodstock, the Duke of Gloucester?

The Lords Appellant Before the King Source: Wikimedia

King Edward III had eight sons—five of whom survived to adulthood. The eldest, Edward (later known as the Black Prince) predeceased the king in 1376; he was the father of Richard II. The next in line was Lionel; the Mortimers were descended from him through his daughter Philippa—and later, Edward IV. The third surviving son was John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and father of the future Henry IV. The next son was Edmund of Langley (later the first Duke of York), and the last son was Thomas of Woodstock.

Thomas was the youngest of all thirteen known children; there were seven years between him and the next older sibling. So by the time he came along, he must have been a surprise! He was fourteen years old when his mother died. Because of his late arrival, it would be safe to say that pretty much all the income-producing royal possessions had been divvied out between his elder brothers. He was predominately reliant upon the exchequer for his annuities—when the money was available, that is. It wasn’t until he married the wealthy heiress Eleanor de Bohun that he acquired some property: the great Castle of Pleshey. So it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to say this may have contributed toward his irascibility.

Even his prospects through marriage were upset. His wife was co-heiress of her great fortune; why not pressure her younger sister Mary into joining a convent, in which case the whole fortune would default to Eleanor? Alas for Thomas, his older brother John had other ideas. Waiting until Thomas was on the continent serving the king, Gaunt concocted a plot with Mary’s aunt to spirit the girl away and marry her to his own son, Henry of Bolingbroke. Finding his plans in ruins, Thomas was hard put to forgive his older brother for cheating him.

Thomas was created Earl of Buckingham at Richard II’s coronation. He had little use for his royal nephew who was only ten at the time, and he always treated the lad with scorn. Even when Richard made him Duke of Gloucester in 1385 (along with his brother Edmund, who was made Duke of York), relations did not improve between them. The following year, when John of Gaunt sailed to Spain to claim his crown of Castile, the main impediment to Gloucester’s ambition was removed. The road was clear to put his nephew in his place and get some control over his troublesome favorites—as he saw it. First, it was time to impeach the chancellor Michael de la Pole, then he and his allies would force the young king to submit to a Great and Continual Council who would implement necessary reforms.

Needless to say, Richard was incensed, though he conceded when Gloucester threatened him with usurpation like his great-grandfather Edward II. The king’s solution was to absent himself from London and travel around the country trying to drum up support. At the same time he had the clever idea to consult with eminent judges and determine whether Gloucester’s actions were treasonous. Under pressure, they agreed. In the end, this gave Richard’s enemies enough ammunition to denounce his evil advisors (they couldn’t go after the king directly) during the Merciless Parliament. Gloucester was the principal mover; he was one of five Lords Appellant, as they were called, who managed to kill or eliminate all of Richard’s friends and allies. I wrote about this at length in my novel, A KING UNDER SIEGE:

But the Lords Appellant weren’t really interested in running the country. Once they had their revenge against the king’s supporters, they quickly lost interest and failed to pursue their advantage, leaving their (illegal) Continual Council in charge. Almost exactly a year later, the king summoned a Great Council and reminded them that he had reached his majority. He declared that he was in charge now, and that the chancellor, Gloucester, Arundel, and Warwick were relieved of their duty, thank you very much. It was as simple as that!

Arrest of the Duke of Gloucester BL, Harley 4380, f. 181v

For the next seven years, thing went pretty smoothly. The country was prosperous, there were no major disturbances, and Gloucester kept a fairly low profile, seemingly content to annoy the king on occasion just to stay in practice. But something was apparently going on behind the scenes, though historians are far from certain exactly what happened. Nonetheless, in early 1397 Richard began to suspect the Appellants were stirring up trouble again—and his natural paranoia took over, with dire consequences. Without warning, he decided to take his long-delayed revenge on his enemies, arresting Gloucester, the Earl of Arundel and the Earl of Warwick. They were to be tried by Parliament and declared traitors. The other two Appellants—Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray—were off the hook, for the moment. Bolingbroke was protected by his father, and Mowbray had managed to worm himself back into Richard’s good graces.

Gloucester provided a bit of a dilemma. After all, he was John of Gaunt’s younger brother, and Richard knew it would be next to impossible to get a condemnation from the Duke of Lancaster. While deciding what to do, he sent Gloucester across the Channel to Calais, where he was safely out of sight. Mowbray, who was Captain of Calais, was sent as his jailer. It was all very cleverly arranged; Gloucester was persuaded to write his confession, and when it came his time to appear in Parliament, Mowbray declared that he had died in prison.

The Duke of Gloucester murdered, Froissart BnF MS Fr 2646, fol. 289.

Did it look sufficiently suspicious? I’m sure it did, but Richard got away with it anyway—at least, until his usurpation. During Henry IV’s first Parliament, the truth came out and everybody learned that the Duke of Gloucester had been murdered. The only witness who told the story was immediately hustled to his execution, though he claimed he was only guarding the door. Someone had to pay!

All of this is described at length in THE KING’S RETRIBUTION. If Richard hadn’t sent Bolingbroke into exile and appropriated his inheritance, he might have really gotten away with the whole irregular coup. There wasn’t a tremendous outcry at the time; the condemned Lords Appellant had been out of the public eye for many years. Gloucester still managed to stir up trouble, but for the most part he was yesterday’s news. It seemed that nobody gave him much thought except for Richard, who was so traumatized that he just couldn’t let go. In the end, Gloucester’s fate became a rallying cry for Bolingbroke’s rebellion, and the duke’s long shadow overtook his nemesis.

The King Just Won’t Stay Down

Funeral of Richard II from BL Royal 18 E II, f. 416v

When Henry Bolingbroke took the crown, he was beset on all sides by well-wishers who urged him to put Richard II to death. After all, it was understood that disgruntled nobles and troublemakers could easily stir up rebellions in favor of an ex-king. And it didn’t take long for that to happen. Just three months after Henry’s coronation, the first revolt nearly cost him his life. Richard was secretly isolated in Pontefract Castle, a Lancaster stronghold in the north, but his favorites—generously pardoned by Henry IV—planned to kill the king and his family during the tournament scheduled for the Epiphany (Jan. 6) at Windsor Castle. They would use Richard’s look-alike cleric as a figurehead until the real Richard could be released. Only a last-minute betrayal derailed their plans.

Alas for Richard, this revolt sealed his fate. Or did it? In reality, no one knew what happened to the ill-fated ex-king.  Rumors abounded. Finally, the first week of February, the great council attempted to resolve the question once and for all (or were they making an oblique suggestion?). They said, “that if he was still alive—as it is supposed that he is—he should be secretly guarded, but that if he were dead this should be demonstrated to the people”. Since Richard was already secretly guarded, it seems a little strange to me. All of a sudden, by February 17, it was announced that he was dead and on his way back to London. Just for the record, Richard’s death was recorded on February 14, though this seems to be a convenient date lacking any confirmation. Why? No one even knows how he died. If there were any witnesses, their lips were sealed.

Francis Wheatley. The Death of Richard II, Memorial Art Gallery, Univ.of Rochester

There are at least four stories regarding this crucial event—and they are as far apart as you can get. The first, recounted by Shakespeare, was that King Henry sent an assassin, the otherwise unknown Sir Peter Exton with seven henchmen. The murderers burst into Richard’s cell and the king grabbed one of their weapons and put up a good fight, killing four of them before Exton smashed him in the head with an axe. Most historians disbelieve this story, especially since, upon exhumation in the 19th century, Richard’s skull was not damaged. The second story was that, hearing of the failure of the revolt and the death of his friends, Richard fell into a depression and stopped eating. At the very end, a priest convinced him that suicide was a mortal sin, and he tried to eat; but his condition was so far gone that he was unable to swallow and so expired. The third story is that Henry ordered him to be starved to death and he lingered for fifteen days in agony. Needless to say, the new king didn’t appreciate being called a regicide!

The fourth story is the most controversial of all. It was said that Richard escaped before the rebellion started and made his way to Scotland, where he was kept in honorary confinement for the next nineteen years, first by Robert III, then after the Scottish king’s death by the Duke of Albany. Needless to say, King Henry and the government scorned this assertion, but the fact remains that somebody played the part of the king in exile. Whether it was Richard himself or a pretender called Thomas Ward of Trumpington, his presence in Scotland was to harass Henry IV for the rest of his reign and into the next. According to this story, King Richard died at Stirling Castle in December 1419 and was buried at Black Friars in the same town.

In order to convince the people that Richard was truly dead, King Henry staged an elaborate procession where the body—encased in lead except for his face from the eyebrows to the throat—was set on a bier and drawn on a carriage from Pontefract to London, exposed for all the populace to see. A solemn funeral was held for two days at St. Paul’s Cathedral which was attended by the king. Afterwards, the corpse was taken to the royal manor of Chiltern Langley and handed over the Black Friars, who privately buried him in the church; the only witnesses were the Bishop of Lichfield and the Abbots of Waltham and St. Albans. Richard’s tomb at Westminster Abbey was finished and waiting for his royal body, but the usurper didn’t want to draw attention to such a royal setting for a deposed king.

So if Richard was still alive, whose face was on the funeral bier? Why, Maudeleyn, of course, his look-alike cleric who had been decapitated after the rebellion. From a distance, who would have been able to tell the difference?

Funeral effigies of Richard and Anne at Westminster Abbey

Almost immediately, reports of Richard’s escape proliferated throughout England. Repercussions were quick to follow. In 1402, a priest from Ware was drawn and quartered for spreading such rumors. Not long afterwards, eight Franciscan friars were hanged in London for asserting that Richard was still alive. But the most damaging to Henry came in 1403, when Sir Henry Percy, aka Hotspur, raised a rebellion predominately from Chester, swearing that King Richard was returning from Scotland to lead his army. At the last minute he admitted that Richard was dead, but apparently he was able to rely on the soldiers’ fondness for the late king—or maybe he used coercion—because they went on to fight a horrific battle at Shrewsbury that nearly toppled Henry from his throne. The potential for Richard’s return continued to inspire disgruntled rebels, though eventually, the cry was that they fought for Richard if he was still alive, or else the Earl of March if he was dead. (March was the heir presumptive and kept in Henry’s custody for years.)

When Henry IV died in 1413, the first thing his successor did was transfer Richard at great expense from Langley to his real tomb at Westminster Abbey, thus symbolically putting Richard to rest and establishing Henry V as the rightful successor to the throne. Rumors were to follow him for the next couple of years, but by then they had lost most of their influence. The last time Richard was invoked was during the Southampton Plot in 1415, and it was March himself who exposed the conspiracy.

The slippery Edward, Earl of Rutland Part 1: Richard II

Edward of Rutland-Detail from “Bolingbroke Claiming the Throne” in Froissart, BL Harley 1319 f. 57

OK, it’s only fair to call him by his full title, Edward, 2nd Duke of York. But, for the purposes of this article, he wasn’t Duke of York yet; his father died in 1402. So, during most of Richard II’s reign he was the Earl of Rutland, and for a short time, from 1397-1399, he was Duke of Aumale (or Albermarle). Of course, that came to an end after Richard’s deposition. How much did he contribute to his king’s downfall?

Edward was undoubtedly Richard’s favorite. It was even rumored that the king was considering announcing Edward as his heir, which would have shoved Henry Bolingbroke and Edmund Mortimer aside. The king certainly showered his cousin with titles and responsibilities; Edward was admiral of the northern fleet, constable of Dover castle, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, constable of the Tower, and Lord of the Isle of Wight. And these were just some of his greatest honors. On the down side, he was obliged to do much of the king’s dirty work, such as being held responsible for dispatching the Duke of Gloucester (to put it judiciously). Even that didn’t really come to light until after Richard’s deposition, though a few insiders knew about it.

When Richard decided to wreak revenge on the three senior Lords Appellant he recruited his most intimate followers to accuse them; historians have called them the Counter-Appellants. Rutland was among their number. During the Revenge Parliament of 1397, Richard Earl of Arundel, Thomas Duke of Gloucester, and Thomas Earl of Warwick were convicted of treason for their actions during the Merciless Parliament ten years previously. Warwick’s death sentence was remitted because he begged for mercy, but the other two were not so lucky. After a lively defense Arundel was dragged off to the scaffold, and the Duke of Gloucester died in prison—after he wrote a confession. Was he murdered? Most everyone thought so, but who was going to accuse the king? It was much easier to point to the finger at Richard’s accomplices.

Most of the Counter-Appellants were given new titles; all were rewarded with lands forfeited by the traitors. Rutland was doing pretty well for himself. He had just been appointed Warden of the West Marches toward Scotland and was busy doing his duty when the king crossed over to Ireland on his second expedition. For the first few weeks, Richard looked anxiously for his cousin; Edward was running very late. When he finally showed up in Dublin, Rutland claimed he had needed more time to ensure that the Scottish border was quiet. Was this really the case, or was he up to something suspicious? No one knew for sure. But shortly after Edward’s arrival, Richard received word of Henry Bolingbroke’s invasion, which threw him into a panic. The king was all for dropping everything and immediately returning to England, but Rutland was the main dissenter to this plan; they needed time to reorganize the troops, and recall the scattered ships. Why not send the Earl of Salisbury ahead to gather an army in Cheshire and North Wales, and the king could join him later? Let Richard return via Milford Haven in South Wales and join the Duke of York—the acting regent—who was planning to wait for him in Bristol. Then together they could march north and join forces with Salisbury.

Percy captures King Richard BL Harley 1319 Histoire du Roy d’Angleterre

Reluctantly, Richard agreed to his suggestion, which turned out to be an utter disaster. Unbeknownst to him, the Duke of York had already gone over to Bolingbroke. There was no army waiting for the king in the south. In fact, he was denied entrance to Bristol altogether. Worse than that, Salisbury was unable to hold his recruits together for as long as it took Richard to get to Conway. Of course, the king didn’t know that, either, until it was too late.

As soon as Richard landed at Milford Haven with as many ships as he could muster—more were still to come—his army started to desert. Attempts to recruit more Welshmen failed miserably, and once Richard discovered that York had abandoned his cause, he decided to make a dash for Conway and Salisbury’s army. He traveled along the coast of Wales, accompanied by only a handful of men in an attempt to disguise himself and move as quickly as possible. Edward stayed behind to take command of the forces that were left. Apparently Richard still trusted him.

Later, it was reported that Rutland had received a letter from his father, telling him that all was lost and that he had changed sides. This would certainly account for the sudden reversal, for the morning after Richard disappeared, Rutland and Thomas Percy—steward of the royal household—announced the king’s abandonment to the army. In tears, Percy disbanded the royal household and broke the baton of office. Richard’s army dispersed and Rutland and Percy rode north and joined Bolingbroke.

This was Richard’s worst betrayal and he afterwards suspected Rutland of collusion all along. Did Edward intentionally give him bad advice in Ireland, thus stalling him and giving the Duke of York enough time to change sides? No one ever knew.

 

The Nobles and Gentry in late Medieval England

Medieval Parliament, Royal Collection, RCIN 1047414: Source, Wikipedia

As I alluded to in my previous article about Different Layers of Knighthood, the gentry was an evolving class in the fourteenth century that was starting to find its own voice. There are no hard and fast distinctions for nobility and gentry, and no legal definitions. Naturally, there are exceptions to every convention.

But before we go there, it would help to define nobility, a term also subject to interpretation. The most common definition was put forward by K.B. McFarlane. He defined a noble as a man who was summoned to parliament. Ideally, he would have inherited this privilege, or achieved his title by marriage to a daughter of a noble. The nobles became peers of the realm, a wealthy and exclusive membership that continually decreased during the fourteenth century due mostly to extinction. Nobles who didn’t have a title (duke, earl, etc.) were referred to as barons. Below the baronage ranked the knights bannerets; some were given special preference by the king and summoned to parliament through having distinguished themselves militarily rather than by feudal tenure. By 1425 the distinction between barons and bannerets had disappeared.

In the house of lords, the nobles were summoned; in the house of commons, the members were elected locally or assigned by a sheriff. This is where the gentry comes in, also known as the ‘knightly class’. This class was composed of three groups of landholders: knights, esquires, and gentlemen (in that order); the term ‘gentleman’ was first documented in 1384. By the late fourteenth century, the knight’s main focus was less military and more administrative. He was certainly a landowner and was “regularly involved in the judicial and financial administration of their shires… For the magnates, they served as stewards and councilors”.*  Lineage was an important aspect of knighthood, as well as financial worth; most held land worth between £20 and £40 per annum.  This is opposed to an earl, who was required minimally to possess a revenue of £1000; lesser peers were expected to command £250 per annum. “Around 1300, the ‘knightly’ or gentry class consisted of between 2,500 and 3,000 landholders, roughly half of whom were real (that is, dubbed) knights, while the other half (generally styled esquires) were men who for various reasons had decided not to assume actual knighthood.” *

As the gentry became more influential in parliament and exercised control in local shire offices, both Richard II and Henry IV began to retain knights more frequently so as to directly influence local politics. Richard’s behavior was more obviously manipulative, and tended to alienate the commons; Henry’s immediate popularity after his coronation made it easier to appoint his own men as sheriffs and JPs, and he often did so regardless of their experience. This created its own set of problems, but as far as he was concerned, their loyalty was more important than their productivity. Ironically, Henry succeeded in stacking parliament in his favor, whereas Richard was condemned for doing the same thing.

FURTHER READING:
* Given-Wilson, Chris, THE ENGLISH NOBILITY IN THE LATE MIDDLE AGES, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1987

Given-Wilson, Chris, THE KING AND THE GENTRY IN FOURTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Vol. 37 (1987), pp. 87-102

McFarlane, K.B., THE NOBILITY OF LATER MEDIEVAL ENGLAND, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1973

Different Layers of Knighthood

Jousts Between Knights on Horses and on Foot- Brussels, KBR, ms. 10218-19, f. 141r

I’ve been wanting to write this article for a long time, but the topic is so complicated that I’ve been afraid to tackle it. Why? The personification of a knight has changed over the centuries and most scholars don’t go there. I don’t need to reinvent the proverbial wheel; we all recognize the classic knight from the crusades and jousting tournaments. My aim in this article is to fine-tune the different layers of knights in the fourteenth and fifteenth century (which is the period of my study) who served the king.

This all started for me when I kept reading about chamber knights in Richard II’s household. Already I was baffled. What exactly was a chamber knight? Ever since then I’ve been piecing together bits and pieces of historical tidbits, until finally I stumbled across an article written by my favorite Richard II historian, Chris Given-Wilson. The title threw me: “The King and Gentry in Fourteenth-Century England”. (There’s another conundrum: how to define Gentry. I’ll save that for another article.) Thanks to his explanations here (and elsewhere), I’m ready to take the plunge. If you know something I’ve missed, please jump in!

As expected, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the knight and his relationship with the king was primarily military. According to Given-Wilson, the household knights (familia regis) were kept on retainer: “They were the core of the king’s retinue, his nucleus of shock-troops, a force in itself, and capable of rapid expansion whenever necessary.” Apparently this last statement was important; the number of household knights was modest—somewhere around 30-70—but as soon as military action was demanded, their numbers jumped considerably—maybe as high as 120—then back again. These household knights were divided into two groups, depending on their military rank: the simple knight (also knight bachelor, who fought under someone else’s banner) and the banneret. The knight-banneret led his own contingent of knights and esquires and was entitled to carry a square banner instead of the triangular pennon for regular knights. He was also paid double the wages of a simple knight.

Roland pledges fealty to Charlemagne. Source: Wikipedia

Around 1360, the knights gradually evolved into chamber knights who were “trusted royal servants valued by the king for their counsel, their administrative ability, and their domestic service as much as for their strong right arms”. Naturally their military function was important, but from then until the end of the century the king was—for the most part—inactive militarily. He just didn’t need a core of fighting knights around him (until the last three years of Richard’s reign, his so-called tyranny).  The chamber knights were closely attached to the king, and sometimes served as diplomats, special commissioners, and companions; they were given castles and manors to administer, and sent as ambassadors to foreign powers and even to negotiate the king’s marriages. Their numbers were much more limited: “under Edward III, between 1366 and 1377, they number between three and five; under Richard II and Henry IV, they number between eight and thirteen. During the fifteenth century, they came to be known as ‘knights of the body’.”

From 1377 (the beginning of Richard II’s reign) through 1413 (the end of Henry IV’s reign) most knights retained by the king primarily served a different function outside the household and were known as the king’s knights (milites regis). Their job was to exert influence and authority in their shires. They didn’t receive robes and fees through the wardrobe like the chamber knights, but they were granted annuities. The king’s knights were sheriffs and justices of the peace, or represented their shires in parliament. The important aspect of this is that these knights were not separate from the gentry; for the most part, they were the gentry. Many knights were also landowners and belonged to that class, ranking just below the baronage. “The knightly class,” he tells us, “was the nobility”. And the gentry were rapidly becoming a key element in national politics.

Just to complicate things further, the king also started to retain king’s esquires for considerably less money than the knights (many, but not all of them were esquires of the household). According to Given-Wilson, “If for the moment we exclude the years 1397-99, the over-all figures for king’s knights and king’s esquires during the two reigns are not dissimilar: under Richard II, there were about 150 knights and 105 esquires; under Henry IV, about 140 of each.” The esquires’ careers were similar to the knights but with less prestige and importance, though sometimes this was a stepping stone to becoming knights of the chamber. Nonetheless, most esquires actually possessed the lineage to become a knight, but the fee for their equipment and the cost of the dubbing ceremony deterred them from taking that step. So by this time, the gap in status between knights and squires was narrowing. By the mid-fourteenth century esquires were even permitted to bear coats of arms. So Given-Wilson places them squarely into the knightly class. More on this when we get to the gentry!

FURTHER READING:
Given-Wilson, Chris, THE ENGLISH NOBILITY IN THE LATE MIDDLE AGES, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1987

Given-Wilson, Chris, THE KING AND THE GENTRY IN FOURTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Vol. 37 (1987), pp. 87-102

Given-Wilson, Chris, THE ROYAL HOUSEHOLD AND THE KING’S AFFINITY, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1986

 

 

 

The History of the Tomato: Guest Post by Gerard Paul

The history of your favorite (mainly) red nightshade involves a long and intricate tale that traces back to the Aztecs around 700 AD. Yes, the tomato hails from the Americas, although it took a trip to Europe – and a fight over its reputation as a poisonous killer – before it became the globally embraced veggie you know today. And before that, it left its (scary) mark on the European consciousness, global tax laws, dietary guidelines – and even the Supreme Court of the United States.

Yes, it’s been a strange journey. The tomato has had a wildly varying reputation over the years, considered everything from poison to aphrodisiac(!). I’ll explore all these fascinating tomato facts – and many more – in this history of the tomato.

Tomatoes have become a global tour de force today, but originally they were limited to only one pair of continents — the Americas. One study traces the earliest ancestor of the fruit to South America, where the grandfather of all tomatoes — Solanum Pimpinellifolium L., was known to have been first domesticated. This species gave rise to the S. Lycopersicum L var. Cerasiforme (S. l. Cerasiforme), which, in turn, birthed the most common tomato species known on the planet today — Solanum Lycopersicum L. var. Lycopersicum (SLL – the one you chop to put on your salad). It first made its way into Mesoamerica before finding its way to the rest of the world.

That’s just the tomato, though – nightshades, particularly the tomatillo, have an even longer history. A few years ago, scientists found a tomatillo fossil in Patagonia, Argentina they dated to roughly 52 million years old!

As mentioned in my introduction, as far as we know, the Aztecs were primarily responsible for first understanding the fruit’s versatility and using it as an ingredient in their cooking. We even derive the word tomato from the Aztec word “xitomatl” (pronounced as ji-tomatel). By the early sixteenth century, the Aztecs had domesticated a reasonably modern version of their tomatoes and had created at least 50 unique recipes using the red wonder as a base. Early Aztec writings reveal recipes for a dish that uses tomatoes, peppers, and seasoning – yes, recipes for salsa have been around for an extremely long time! We now know that the Aztecs of Mexico were a source for tomatoes that were taken to Spain and the Mediterranean by the Spanish conquistadors – likely Columbus or Cortés. We even have a record of the fruit entering Europe with the earliest mention of them being seen on the continent by Mattioli in 1544. (At the time, he essentially called it an eggplant).

Before making it to Europe, tomatoes had a good stint in Pueblo culture and had a reasonably influential touch on their customs and beliefs. The journey from South America to Europe featured a noteworthy stop in Central America where the tomatoes interacted with Native American culture. While the Pueblos certainly used tomatoes in their cooking, they did not explore it as deeply as the Aztecs in their culinary style. Instead, there were a few noteworthy associations between the Pueblos and the tomato. This included the belief that those who consumed tomato seeds would be blessed with the powers of divination.

Hernán Cortés is the Spanish explorer who is credited with introducing the tomato to Europe. He did this after successfully capturing Tenochtitlan’s city in 1521, and he used the Spanish colonial system to spread the fruit successfully across the rest of the world.

Before reaching Europe, tomatoes first made their way to the Caribbean islands. And after Europe, the naval path to the Philippines was used to take the plant to Asia. Its path to Europe, and specifically Italy (where tomato’s culinary popularity first took off), is harder to trace, but there have been several handwritten accounts to read. The first of these dates to 1548 in Tuscany, where the fruit was improperly thought to be a type of eggplant, and it was named “Pomodoro” or pomi d’oro.  You might think the “Pomodoro” caused shock waves across the country and transformed the landscape of Italian cuisine as soon as it entered the market – alas, this was not the case. Many of the Italian tomato dishes that we know and love today are quite recent. It wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that the modern-day tomato had firmly cemented its roots in Italian culture. Pasta and pizzas were around for quite some time by this point, but they depended on base ingredients such as cheese and olive oil for flavor until someone had the bright idea of adding tomato sauce.

The Chinese and Europeans eventually whole-heartedly embraced tomatoes in their cuisine. After the tomato’s travels to Europe, the fruit was also making the rounds in Asia, where it continues its popularity to this day. In Chinese culture, written records of tomatoes date back to 1621 during the Ming dynasty. Much like Italian culinary culture, China took a fair amount of time to warm up to the fruit. In fact, the tomato’s first records read more like a precaution – written records tell of a Western-originated fan persimmon. Although tomatoes never rose to culinary prominence in the same way as they did in Italy, several regions of China became quite reliant on the use of tomatoes in their dishes. By the turn of the nineteenth century, tomatoes had officially migrated to most parts of Asia. During this period, they also found their way into Syria and Iran. There though, they were widely used almost immediately.

To read more about the mighty tomato, click HERE

Review: The Fall Of The House Of Percy, 1368-1408 by Richard Lomas

This book with the catchy title has actually proved to be very readable and informative. I had hoped it would answer some of my most nagging questions (what exactly was the relationship between Thomas Percy and Prince Henry, and of course, why did he throw everything away to fight at Shrewsbury? And why did Hotspur throw everything away on such a risky venture?) Alas, I can only assume that the answers are lost to history and we are left with plenty of speculation. Nonetheless, this book provided me with many details I didn’t find elsewhere and that helped explain situations.

“The alternative and reasonable explanation is that whatever loyalty to Henry he (Thomas) had was dissipated by the king’s treatment of him. Also, there was family solidarity: he probably felt unable to fight for a king his nephew was seeking to depose. What is unclear is the point or stage at which he was drawn into the plot. His move, however, was militarily significant in that he brought with him eight knights, 96 esquires and 866 archers, most of them staunch Ricardians and/or Cheshire men, that constituted over a quarter of the Prince’s force.”

The same quandary applies to the relationship between Hotspur and Prince Henry. Hotspur was often portrayed as young Henry’s mentor, but anecdotal evidence gives us a small window of opportunity. Even biographies of Henry V yield little information. But enough of what is lacking. The author has given us a solid picture of the Percys starting with family background, leading to Henry Percy’s early career as first Earl of Northumberland. We get a thorough description of the wars and politics of the years between 1368-1389, bringing in the international influences. By chapter four, we explore the last ten years of King Richard’s reign and the revolution of Henry Bolingbroke, which relied heavily on the Percys for its success. They were greatly rewarded, but during the next few years it became evident that Henry IV was not as committed to their cause as they were to his. Using the rival family of the Nevilles as a counter-balance, Henry sought to control the overweening Percys by giving the Nevilles land and offices, just as Richard II had done. Alas, he only succeeded in driving them into the arms of Owain Glyn Dwr, who was more than happy to combine forces in an effort to unseat the usurper king.

Percy captures King Richard, BL Harley 1319 Histoire du Roy d’Angleterre Richard

A major fallout occurred as a result of the battle of Humbleton Hill—a huge success for the English against the Scots, where a large number of aristocrats were captured. “It was the fate of these men that shortly became the occasion of a bitter quarrel between the king and Hotspur. A week after the battle, on receipt of the news of the victory… Henry wrote to the Earl as Warden of the West March, strictly ordering that none of the Scottish prisoners should be ransomed or released, except on his authority. The stated reason for this prohibition was the ‘urgent causes now moving the king’ but without indicating what they were.” Earl Henry duly delivered his hostages to the king at Westminster, but “Hotspur refused to hand over the Earl of Douglas. In doing so, he flouted the rules of war, which accorded the king the right, for obvious political reasons, to captured commanders and prisoners of royal blood, on the understanding (which Henry explicitly gave in his letters) that he would suitable compensate the captor.” So you see, the author gives us a balanced description of events, unclouded by the usual haze of sentiment surrounding the chivalric Hotspur. The disaster at Shrewsbury was followed by two more failed rebellions of Henry Percy—the last when “he was in his early sixties, that is to say, he was a man of very advanced years, whose health may have been poor and faculties impaired. As regards his final throw in 1408, it seems clear that it had virtually no chance of success and that the Earl may well have known this as he set out.” A sad end to a proud and powerful man.

The dynasty did survive after all, but their eventual fate is outside the scope of this volume. Overall, I liked this book very much and find it to be a worthy addition to my library.

When Did Bolingbroke Decide to Take the Crown?

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

Bolingbroke’s decision to go for the crown has puzzled historians for the last 600 years. Certainly his contemporaries were led astray by his declaration that he was only returning from exile to recover his inheritance. Or were they? Many of them probably were—at first. After all, an outlaw ran the risk of losing his head if caught returning illegally, and anyone supporting him ran the same risk. So when Bolingbroke landed at Ravenspur around July 4, 1399 accompanied by a small but faithful retinue, the outlawed Archbishop of Canterbury, and the son of the executed Earl of Arundel, all were fair game to any loyalist looking to stop them. Nonetheless, the insistence that he was only seeking to regain his Lancastrian patrimony garnered  a tremendous amount of sympathy from anyone who had something to lose. No one was safe from a king who could destroy their inheritance on a whim. But landowners weren’t the only ones who worried about their status. All Lancastrian retainers and servants stood to lose their positions. They could expect to find themselves replaced by vassals of new royal appointees who were to manage the estates until Bolingbroke’s eventual return—if he was ever allowed back.

Henry wasn’t about to let that happen. Once Richard left the country for Ireland, the time was ripe for Lancaster’s return. The first big encounter—and it happened very soon after Bolingbroke’s landing—was with Sir Harry Percy, known as Hotspur, the son of Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland. This happened at Bridlington, a town about thirty miles north of Ravenspur on the coast. His appearance was a big surprise, and if he had been so inclined, Bolingbroke’s expedition could have come to a screeching halt. But he was not so inclined. Over the last several years, Richard II had been steadily attempting to diminish the Percies’ influence in the North by removing them from key positions, and they were already disgruntled. They were quick to anticipate a golden opportunity—even though Henry assured Hotspur that he only wanted his inheritance back. Did they believe him, or were they already thinking ahead?

And so it began. Bolingbroke quickly garnered more support from the Northerners, making a wide berth around York and stopping off at Pontefract, his family’s stronghold. By now he was sure of his strength and moved on to Doncaster, where he met the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland among many other powerful local magnates. Northumberland had brought with him a large contingent—some said 30,000 men—which gave Bolingbroke the army he needed to challenge the royalist forces. In a very public ceremony he swore an oath that he had only returned to claim his inheritance, and did not have any designs on the crown. This wouldn’t be the last oath he was to make before changing his mind. It’s more than probable that at this point he also declared his intention to put the king under their control and impose a continual council, as they had in 1386.

Did his followers believe him? Historians conjecture that even if Henry had already decided to go for the crown (some think he did even before he landed, though there is no solid evidence), it was too soon to declare his intentions to a guarded populace. They had just barely recovered from Richard’s recent burst of tyranny; would they be willing to expose themselves to another series of threats? But if Bolingbroke came to assert his own rights, unfairly trampled upon, surely this was not treason?

Richard II detained by Percy, BL Harley 1319 Histoire du Roy d’Angleterre

And so, bolstered by a strong army that grew as he marched south, Bolingbroke solidified his credibility when he convinced the regent, Richard’s uncle the Duke of York, to come over to his cause. All along the regent was sympathetic to Henry’s grievances and was seriously distressed by this conflict of interest. After all, he was Henry’s uncle, too. Once again, it is thought that Bolingbroke repeated the same oath to York, convincing him to change sides.

The first action Bolingbroke took that indicated a possible change of intention came along shortly thereafter when they subjugated Bristol and executed three of King Richard’s close advisors—an action quite illegal unless ordered by the king. Afterwards, on their way north to Chester, he appointed Percy Warden of the West Marches toward Scotland—another custom reserved for the king. Yet still, Bolingbroke professed that he had no designs on the crown.

When Percy was chosen to approach King Richard who was by then holed up at Conwy Castle, again it was said that Henry swore the same oath. Did Percy really believe him? He certainly repeated this oath to Richard over a consecrated host, convincing the king to meet Bolingbroke in person. Too bad for Richard! He hadn’t traveled far from his sanctuary when Percy’s hidden soldiers surrounded him and and escorted his little party to Flint Castle, prisoners in fact. When meeting the humiliated king in person, according to the eye-witness Jean Creton, Henry said, “My Lord, I am come sooner than you sent for me: the reason wherefore I will tell you. The common report of your people is such, that you have, for the space of twenty or two and twenty years, governed them very badly and very rigorously, and in so much that they are not well contented therewith. But if it please our Lord, I will help you to govern them better than they have been governed in time past.” And Richard answered mildly, “Fair cousin, since it pleaseth you, it pleaseth us well.” If this wasn’t an acquiescence, I don’t know what more would have been needed!

The game was up, and although Bolingbroke treated the king like a prisoner, he still did not declare himself. With the king in tow, they all returned to Chester where Henry sent out summonses for a Parliament—in the king’s name—to be held the 30th of September. This would be about a month-and-half later. While in Chester, he received emissaries from London, who declared that the people renounced their allegiance to Richard and pledged their loyalty to Henry. It was said they even demanded that Henry put the king to death, but of course he refused. Three days later, Bolingbroke returned to London with his prisoner king, who rode a nag rather than his own horse, and was still dressed in the clothes he was wearing when arrested. When they reached London, Henry turned Richard over to the mayor and another delegation. By now the citizens must have come to their senses, because the officials escorted the king to the Tower, guarding him from the menacing crowd.

Richard was out of his hands. Now Bolingbroke could concentrate on finding a legal way to stage the deposition. By the time he reached London he had undoubtedly decided to go all the way.