Category Archives: Fourteenth Century

Sir John Curson of Kedleston (d.1406)

john cursonJohn of Gaunt’s estates were huge, including much of Derbyshire. It should not be surprising that Sir John Curson of Kedleston was one of his retainers nor should we be surprised that there was more than one John Curson in the area at the time – one of whom was found guilty of poaching deer from Gaunt’s Duffield’s estate – history is unclear whether it was Curson of Kedleston who went on to redeem the theft of Gaunt’s deer by his good service or another, possibly shadier Curson!

John Curson of Kedleston, unsurprisingly given his position within Derbyshire society, was a justice of the peace and one of the Lancaster Affinity in Parliament. In fact his name turns up rather a lot on legal documents of the period as a trustee for land holdings (more on that at the end of the post) and as a litigant for land claims arising from estates for which he was an executor. Perhaps one of the reasons he was so widely trusted with other men’s property was that he appears not to have extended his own landholdings as much as he might have done given the opportunities that arose.

 

His loyalty to the Lancaster affinity isn’t only seen in the Lancaster livery collar he wears on his funeral monument, it can also be read in his actions. In July 1399 there was a party from Derbyshire at Ravenspur to meet Henry of Bolingbroke who arrived in England breaking the terms of his banishment to claim in the first instant his title as duke of Lancaster. Curson was rewarded by being made an esquire of the chamber.

 

Curson’s actions not only speak of loyalty to the house of Lancaster but of a canny political move. It wasn’t long before Henry of Bolingbroke had turned into King Henry IV. That November Parliament awarded John £20 for his services to John of Gaunt and Henry IV; he became a privy councilor at a time when most of its members were related to the Crown and he escaped the censure which later attached itself to Henry’s council by attending meetings and being very busy on the king’s behalf not only in Derbyshire but in Wales and also in the north.  He became treasurer of Henry V’s army in Scotland, oversaw the so-called “love-days” between the English and the Scots which saw sworn enemies attend church arm in arm and generally made himself very useful on the Scottish borders – an office which extended in 1401 to arbitrating between the Douglas and Percy families (rather him than me). That particular role probably made settling Derbyshire trade disputes seem rather like a walk in the park.

 

Helen Castor makes the point that Curson is an example of how the Lancaster Affinity worked in Duchy counties like Derbyshire. Curson’s allegiance was to Lancaster and he was from one of the county’s leading families – it was almost inevitable that with a Lancastrian king on the throne he would came to hold many important posts within the county – it was almost a chicken and egg situation ie was the status because of his rank within local society or was it because of his loyalty to Lancaster (Castor:205)? In any event Castor says that the loyalty of men like Curson gave Henry IV more power than might have usually been expected by a monarch in the regions as not only did he wield the power of king also but the private power of a mighty magnate (the duchy of Lancaster). It meant that Henry could safely afford to “devolve” power to his men so that he personally did not have to traipse around the countryside dispensing justice and keeping an eye on what was happening because he had men whose loyalty he could rely upon to do that for him – which was fine in the first instance but wasn’t such a great strategy two generations down the line.

 

Curson died in 1405 and demonstrated that he had learned rather a lot about the law over the years. His eldest son was only twelve – so by rights Kedleston should have found itself in the chancy hands of the Crown with young John as its ward. However, Curson had ensured that his lands were in the hands of trustees before his death. Kedleston  did not offer rich pickings. The trustees administered the estate for John Junior until he came of age without recourse to the Crown – so that there was no sale of John’s wardship to the highest bidder and no creaming of the profits to recoup the expenditure.

In addition to John there was another son Thomas and a daughter Margaret all of whom married into Derbyshire families tightening the links that bound the ruling families together. John’s widow married into another local family.

 

And just in case you’re thinking that I’ve made a spelling mistake and the name should be Curzon – that came later.

 

Castor, Helen (2000) The King, the Crown, and the Duchy of Lancaster: Public Authority and the Crown.  Public Authority and Private Power, 1399-1461. Oxford: Oxford University Press

image accessed from https://dorysworld.wordpress.com/tag/all-saints-church-kedleston/ which is an informative (not to mention amusing) look at Kedleston Church.

 

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Peter de Melbourne

Melbourne_castle_1602Peter de Melbourne was an important part of the Lancaster affinity, serving as the MP for Derbyshire as well as being Constable of Melbourne Castle pictured at the start of this post (don’t go looking for it – there’s only a small section of wall surviving).

Peter’s parents also served in Lancaster’s household. Amy Melbourne knew Katherine Swynford and Philippa Chaucer serving as she did in Constance of Castile’s household. Like Katherine who raised her children alongside the duke’s as part of her terms of employment as the Gaunt governess there is evidence to suggest that Amy fetched her son into Gaunt’s household at an early age and as he grew was retained into the household – again in the way that Katherine Swynford did with her own son- Thomas Swynford. Amy’s links to Katherine are even more defined by the fact that when Katherine was away from her duties as governess it was Amy who stepped into her shoes and that the Duke gave them identical gifts for the care of his children on at least one occasion (Weir: 120).

 

In 1376 Peter was indentured for life to John of Gaunt at a fee of £10 per year; in earlier years it had been £5. He gained the role of Constable of Melbourne Castle as well as keeper of the park at the same time. After Amy’s death, parliamentary information reveals that he kept rents to the value of £66 per year which had formerly been his mother’s. This together with a marriage to one of Sir Simon Handseacre’s coheiresses made him a wealthy man and his fees would continue to grow with the passage of time marking his advancement in Gaunt’s household and then in the household of Henry of Bolingbroke.

In fact Melbourne went with Henry in 1392 to Prussia as part of Bolingbroke’s crusade – against the Lithuanians (it wasn’t a wildly popular event)- and from there accompanied Henry to the Holy Land – a fact which marks him out as being close to Bolingbroke who took only a small party of his closest friends and supporters with him.

Melbourne must have been increasingly concerned that his loyalty to Lancaster led him into conflict with Richard II. Bolingbroke was one of the Lords Appellant and being, apparently, a cautious man Melbourne gained a letter of pardon from the king for his support of Henry and the other Lords Appellant.

 

In 1399 it looked like a very sensible thing to have gained. John of Gaunt was dead and Henry of Bolingbroke in exile while his own son, another Henry, was  effectively hostage in Richard’s custody. Looking at the dry accounts there doesn’t seem much to tell – Melbourne appears to have jumped ship and gone over to Richard – the king confirmed Melbourne’s annuities. Melbourne went to Ireland with Richard that same summer.

 

Except of course – he hadn’t changed sides. Certainly Henry of Bolingbroke on becoming King Henry IV and locking his cousin away in Pontefract promptly granted Melbourne a fee of 100 marks a year and gave him lands in Derbyshire that had once belonged to Thomas Merke, Bishop of Carlisle and vociferous critic of the usurpation. The key to understanding the reward and what Melbourne was doing with Richard comes from recognizing the fact that Melbourne was appointed chamberlain of the household of the newly minted Prince Henry – the eldest son who’d found himself at the court of Richard. Melbourne would appear to have been caring for the Lancaster scion all along – and let’s not forget that he turns up on Henry IV’s wife’s accounts as well, as one of her two esquires. Without a doubt Peter de Melbourne was at the heart of the Lancaster household. In March 1413 when Prince Henry became King Henry V, Melbourne was rewarded by the new king for his lifelong loyal service.

 

Melbourne died in 1418.

 

Weir, Alison (2011) Katherine Swynford – The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess. London:Vintage

http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1386-1421/member/melbourne-peter-1418

 

 

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Medieval marriage II -adultery.

Public punishments.jpgMy wider reading seems to be taking a turn for the dramatic.  I am working my way steadily through Stolen Women in Medieval England: Rape, Abduction and Adultery, 1100-1500 by Caroline Dunn.  It’s a bit of a break from John of Gaunt’s entourage and its certainly eyebrow raising.  Dunn uses the example of  Richard Mareschal to demonstrate that medieval common law took a dim view of adultery.  He was charged with the abduction of Stephen de Hereford’s wife. It turns out that Mrs de Hereford was more than happy to spend time in the company of Mareschal, a cleric. He did not force the lady to go anywhere nor to do anything she didn’t want to do – in other words they were two consenting adults.  Dunn explains that medieval law still classified their relationship as abduction as clearly Stephen de Hereford had not given his permission for his wife to have an affair with Mareschal (p.124-126). There is a logic to it, though it effectively makes the woman in the case into a possession rather than a person – and that’s an entirely different post which I’m not going to get into here.  It is sufficient to remember that a woman was legally subordinate to her husband once she was married. The law that Mareschal was charged under was the medieval Raptus Law. 

Women could, in the early medieval period, have their nose and ears cut off if found guilty of adultery – a law which Cnut would have recognised. I mentioned the fine of legerwyte in an earlier post which was levied in manorial courts upon women who indulged in premarital sex. Mortimer explains that this fine could also be applied to adulterous men (p 226) as well as fornicating women.

It is also impossible to escape the religious element of the equation within medieval thinking.  Essentially the medieval Church, despite the number of churchmen with families of their own, believed that celibacy was the best state in which to live. St Augustine of Hippo explained rather pithily that sex was for the procreation of children and should, if it had to occur at all, happen inside a marriage – where it was a venal sin.  Outside marriage or without someone who was not your spouse it became a mortal sin. Consequentially adulterers, when not monarchs or extremely powerful lords (because let’s face it it’s virtually impossible to find a Plantagenet monarch who didn’t have at least one mistress and let’s not even venture into the maze that was John of Gaunt’s love life) were regarded as having broken both common and ecclesiastical law.   Priests were expected to keep a note of the goings on of their parishioners. Those members of the community who were misbehaving could find themselves dragged off to the ecclesiastical courts where they could be fined, required to do penance which involved being paraded around in your shift – see the image at the start of this post from a medieval manuscript.

Incidentally whilst king’s could do what they liked, it is worth noting that the petty treason laws which covered crimes against your more immediate master included committing adultery with your lord’s wife or seducing his daughters. The punishment was death.  Petty treason also covered a wife’s duty to her husband.  Plotting to murder your husband was covered by the petty treason laws and could result in a woman being burned for her crimes. Adultery could, it was sometimes argued, be regarded as a type of petty treason.  If Henry VIII had been particularly malevolent this is the fate that could have befallen Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard. Isabella of France’s (so called She-wolf and wife of Edward II of England) sisters-in-law provided an infamous early fourteenth century example of the punishments that could be inflicted on adulterous wives in France.

The Tour de Nesle scandal rocked the french royal family to its foundations.  Joan and Blanche were daughters of Otto of Burgundy. They were married to Philip and Charles of France respectively. Louis, the oldest of the french princes was married to Margaret, a cousin of the two sisters.  Isabella on a visit from England noted some unusual behaviour and informed her father, Philip IV, who discovered that Blanche and Margaret had been carrying on with two brothers- Gautier and Philippe D’Aunay. Joan knew about the adultery so found herself being tarred with the same brush for a time but went on to become France’s queen.  Blanche and Margaret had their heads shaved and were imprisoned for life – it’s probably best not to think about the inventiveness of Philip IV with regard to the punishment of the men involved. Blanche ended up in a nunnery where she died: a further reminder as to the punishment that could be meted out to adulterous wives without necessarily drawing anyone’s attention to the scandal.

All of this links to the stability of society and to the practicalities of inheritance.  If a noble marriage was about the union of two families, a treaty or about a land deal it really wouldn’t do if the heirs of that marriage didn’t belong to the husband. Thomas Aquinas wrote on the topic- which leads to the next point – the law was much more interested in women committing adultery than it was in their husbands carrying on with servants, peasants and prostitutes because essentially in the eyes of medieval society that didn’t count – which perhaps explains why during the Tudor period Henry VIII felt able to effectively kidnap one woman from her husband, take her home and have his wicked way without it impacting on his sense of honour.  The woman and her husband not being of sufficiently important status to count. Thus all those Plantagenet kings weren’t actually guilty of anything because they were the most important men in the land and could do whatever they wanted.  In fact Henry VII was regarded as rather lacking on the manliness front because he had no known mistresses – an absolute monarch was expected to take everything he wanted because he was the ultimate Alpha male.

And let’s not forget the thoughts of Pope Innocent IV on the topic.  He was with Thomas Aquinas; a woman’s adultery was worse than a man’s because man had more resemblance to Christ whilst a woman was more like the church which could have only one spouse i.e. Christ. The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe reveals that this attitude was shifting by the end of the fifteenth century and that there were proportionally more court cases involving men and unmarried women which had been, presumably, previously ignored.

And as though that weren’t complicated enough there’s the whole concept of courtly love to take into consideration.  Society encouraged nobles and knights to place an unobtainable woman on a pedestal and then wander around  in a lovestruck state.  The key thing was that the woman was unobtainable: it was a game.  The man was expected to admire his lady from afar and go off and do derring and gallant deeds for her with no expectation of his devotion being reciprocated. There’s a rather macabre medieval illustration of a couple killing themselves rather than commit adultery – not quite sure how that fits on the scale of sin!

tristan and isolde drinking love potionMedieval tales seem to delight with romances  and marriages gone wrong – there’s Chaucer, who’s  Merchant’s Tale involves an elderly husband January marrying young May.  She promptly shimmies up a tree to meet her lover Damyan – Chaucer neatly referencing Adam, Eve and sin in one rather bawdy image. There’s  Tristan and Isolde who drink a love potion and of course, Lancelot and Guinevere who finds herself threatened with burning by King Arthur on discovery of the affair and has to be rescued…Arthur seems less put out with his friend Lancelot.

lancelot rescuing guineverre

 

Amt, Emilie.  (1993) Women’s Lives in Medieval Europe.  New York: Routledge

Bennett, Judith M and Karras, Ruth Mazo (eds) () The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Dunn, Caroline. (2013 ) Stolen Women in Medieval England: Rape, Abduction and Adultery, 1100-1500  Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought Fourth Series.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Mortimer, Ian. (2009) A Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England. London: Vintage

Schaus, Margaret C. (ed) () Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia

 

 

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Sir John Marmion

marmion tomb.jpgSir John Marmion is buried in West Tanfield church near Ripon alongside his wife Elizabeth St Quentin. They feature in most guides to “must do” churches because of the wrought ironwork above their monument. Apparently the frame with its candle holders is a rare survival of a medieval hearse – which simply meant a portable frame- which was used to cover the coffin with a cloth prior to burial when it stood in front of the altar.   Goodall explains that the rite of cloth and candles would be re-enacted on an annual basis as it was regarded as of benefit to souls in purgatory. Marmion’s lady wife had the foresight to ensure they had a permanent hearse at hand for the anniversary ritual – and don’t ask me how the cloth and seven candles would have worked together without causing a small inferno – I am merely rehearsing my reading of Goodall. What makes the whole thing even more odd is that given that Marmion died in Spain it seems unlikely that his mortal remains ever ended up under a pall in West Tanfield perhaps making the prayers for his soul all the more important.

 

Sir John Marmion’s father was John Grey 2nd baron of Rotherfield. Grey’s second wife was Avice Marmion and Sir John was their eldest son. He was born in 1343 and assumed the name Marmion when his uncle Robert died without heirs.  John Marmion had an older  half-brother who would inherit the Grey name and property. He also appears to have inherited the Marmion loyalty to the house of Lancaster. Certainly Bean’s analysis of Gaunt’s record of indentures identifies the fact that Marmion was one of the group of men that Gaunt bound closely to him not only during times of war but also during times of peace. It is evident from the records that Marmion was a key figure in Gaunt’s retinue. He was personally retained by Gaunt. This seems to be somewhat confirmed by the alabaster monument in West Tanfield. Sir John’s effigy is wearing a livery collar of interlinked s’s. This is associated with Gaunt according to the Heraldry Society. He was afterall an important man in John of Gaunt’s household holding the office of chamberlain.

He was also sufficiently trusted in the wider world to be one of the men called upon to take depositions in the case of the blue shield with the bend d’or  armorial bearings in Scrope V Grosvenor case that I have previously posted about.  At the time Gaunt’s army was assembling in Plymouth to sail to Spain in order for Gaunt to make his claim on the Castilian throne by right of his marriage to Constance of Castile.

It was at this time that Marmion also showed his mettle as an independent and valued commander.  He completely refused to consider Thomas de Evese de Wysewell as a soldier in his company for the Spanish venture.  Goodman suggests that it might have been because the double-barrelled gentleman was prone to scarpering when the going got tough (Goodman: 212)

Marmion died on 25th February 1387 whilst in Spain. The army was plagued by disease brought on by starvation as well as the usual perils of charging around battle fields and besieging castles/towns. It appears as though Marmion fell victim at the same time as eleven barons, eighty knights and two hundred squires – making it one of Gaunt’s least successful adventures abroad in terms of loss of manpower.

Marmion’s name appears in Gaunt’s records the following year when it was ordered that a payment of £342 be made in respect of wages owed to Marmion and his own body of men (Goodman:122).

Goodall, John.(2015) Parish Church Treasures: The Nation’s Greatest Art Collection  London: Bloomsbury

Goodman, Anthony. (1992) John of Gaunt: The Exercise of Princely Power in Fourteenth Century Europe. London: Longman

Bean, John Malcolm William. (1989) From Lord to Patron: Lordship in Late Medieval England. Manchester: Manchester University Press

http://www.theheraldrysociety.com/articles/early_history_of_heraldry/the_livery_collar.htm (accessed 31/07/2017)

Image of Sir John Marmion and his wife from the review of St Nicholas Church posted on the Silvertraveladvisor.  Click on the image to open a new window and visit the page.

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Sir Walter Urswick – soldier, warrior, constable of Richmond Castle.

john of gauntBefore he became the duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt was the earl of Richmond. The title was confirmed on him by Edward III in 1351, prior to that date the income from the estates lay in Queen Philippa’s hands for the maintenance of the royal children.

Gaunt surrendered the title in June 1372 when he married Constance of Castile and took the title king of Castile. Many members of his retinue had joined with Gaunt as he started to build his train of retainers whilst earl of Richmond. Sir Walter Urswick was one such.

Sir Walter Urswick, who was Gaunt’s master of game amongst other things, joined John’s retinue in 1367 as Gaunt for £40.00 per year. Urswick died a decade later (approx) and was buried in the church at Catterick. Interestingly Urswick’s indenture doesn’t make any mention of serving Gaunt during time of war. Conditions are only attached to peacetime service and Urswick was a very busy man on John of Gaunt’s behalf from his base in the Manor of Catterick. In addition to being Gaunt’s master of game he was also the Forester for Swaledale and in 1371 became Constable of Richmond Castle.  In addition he was the Forester for the Forest of Bowland – Gaunt was the Lord of Bowland in addition to all his other titles. Walter held a property at Whitewell which is an inn today.

Despite not having agreed to serve in Gaunt’s retinue in times of war Urswick turns up in Navarre in 1366 where he was knighted and is mentioned in Froissart as serving with Gaunt in Bruges. Following the good service that Urswick performed in Navarre he attained all the other preferrements identified in the paragraphs above and is noted as one of Gaunt’s most trusted men. A letter recalls:

John, son of the noble King of England, Duke of Lancaster, &c., &c„
to all whom these letters may concern, greeting I Know you that for the
good and friendly service which our well-beloved Master Walter de Urswick
has done us in our expedition to Spain, and for others he will render in time
to come, and also to enable him the better to maintain the order of knight-
hood which he took of us on the day of the battle of Najara, we have given
and granted to him for the term of his. life £40 a year, to be taken, year by
year, in round sums, at the hands of our general Receiver for the time being
out of the issues of our Manors of Katterick and Forcet, in our county of
Richmond.’

https://archive.org/stream/recordsfamilyur01urwigoog/recordsfamilyur01urwigoog_djvu.txt (accessed 25/07/2017 21:24).

Sir Walter’s brother Robert was Gaunt’s receiver and other members of the family appear on the pay roll as well.  It should also be mentioned that he married into the Scrope family – as demonstrated by the impaling of the Urswick arms with those of the Scropes’ upon his monument in St Anne’s Catterick – demonstrating once again the growth of a network binding the Lancaster Affinity together.

Catterick - St Anne Walter Urswick 1375 77.jpg

The picture of Sir Walter’s monument originates from http://www.themcs.org/armour/14th%20century%20armour.htm

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Sir Richard Scrope – 1st Baron Scrope of Bolton.

bolton castle.jpgBefore we start and at the risk of telling folk something they already know Scrope is pronounced “Scroop.” The Scrope family is one of the great northern families who arrived with the Conquest and gradually grew in power. They can be found in a number of official capacities down the centuries from the fourteenth century onwards  including as Lord Wardens of the Western March. It should be added that like everyone else I’m reading about at the moment Richard Scrope was decidedly chummy with John of Gaunt. Goodman describes him as a mentor to the duke – after all Scrope had campaigned with Edward III since the early days of the Hundred Years War as well as during various Scottish conflicts (p289).

Richard was the son of Edward III’s chief justice. Sir William de la Pole, the canny Hull merchant who I mentioned in my previous post was Edward III’s financier at about the same time. He arranged the marriage between Richard Scrope and his daughter Blanche de la Pole in 1344. The couple had four sons before Blanche’s death in 1378.

Sir Richard, like many men of his generation, fought during the early campaigns of the Hundred Years War. He served initially in the retinue of The Earl of Warwick in France and later with John of Gaunt where he was an experienced warrior in a war band led by Gaunt who at that stage in proceedings hadn’t seen so much conflict. He appears on Gaunt’s list of knights  from 1367 for the fee of £40 per annum.  He was still receiving that fee  when the duke died in 1399.

Scrope fought in every major campaign between 1346 and 1384 including at Crecy and the Siege of Calais.  We know this from the events that followed the Scottish campaign of 1385.  Goodman makes the point that soldiers of Scrope’s repute helped to recruit men who wished to serve in John of Gaunt’s retinue.  As time passed younger men wished to serve Gaunt not only for the patronage and prestige of being linked to the house of Lancaster but also to rub shoulders with their military heroes (p 217) including Scrope.

In the meantime as well as garbing himself in fortune and glory whilst in France Scrope proved to be a canny businessman.  He obtained the wardship of the three heiress daughters of Robert, Lord Tiptoft who died in April 1372.  Tiptoft was reputed to have salvaged King John’s treasure from ‘The Wash’. Sir Richard paid 230 marks for to become the girls’ guardian. The three girls were betrothed to Scropes’ sons and are all left legacies in Scrope’s will.  It should be added that by the time he died he was a wealthy man having purchased land all over the country including the Isle of Man.

Scrope’s links with John of Gaunt and the ties of the Lancaster Affinity are evidenced not only by his appearance of Lancaster’s list of retainers but is also evidenced through their shared patronage of the Franciscans at Richmond. Other donors also feature on Gaunt’s list of retainers. The men on the list, as might be expected given their lives working together also feature in other written records – namely wills and as witnesses on other legal documents.  Scrope, for example, was one of William Ufford, earl of Suffolk’s executors. (Just to clarify this particular earl died without male heirs, the title lapsed and was filled three years later by Michael de la Pole another of John of Gaunt’s retinue.

Yet more evidence  of the links between Scrope,  John of Gaunt and other members of the Lancaster Affinity can be found in the case of Sir Richard Scrope versus Sir Robert Grosvenor from Cheshire. All the magnates turned out for war against the Scots in 1385. Not only did the campaign not go well for the English but there was the small matter of both Scrope and Grosvenor turning up with arms described in heraldic terms as azure bend or (blue with a gold stripe running diagonally from top left to bottom right). A General Proclamation was promptly made throughout the army that all who were interested in the dispute should appear on 20th August at Newcastle on Tyne to state their views in the matter. Unsurprisingly it took rather longer than a day to resolve the issue. More than three hundred depositions exist taken from thirteen different locations on behalf of both men pertaining to their rights to bear those particular arms. The question that the depositions answered was had the person giving their deposition seen Scrope or Grosvenor bearing those arms, were they aware of any prior usage within the family and had they ever seen the arms used by anyone else. The case lasted four years.

3_scrope.jpg

The depositions provide the information that Scrope first bore his arms during the reign of Edward III in 1359. One of the depositors on Scrope’s behalf was a knight called Sir John de Sully of Crediton in Devon. He was allowed to give his information from the comfort ofhis home – he was over a hundred years old at the time! Testimony was provided by none other that Geoffrey Chaucer- it is from his deposition that we learn that Chaucer ended up as a French prisoner of war during his various adventures. Amongst the people giving evidence were John of Gaunt.

glendowerseal.gifTestifying for Sir Robert was a little known Welshman called Owen Glyndwr – possibly demonstrating that Fourteenth century Britain was a small place when all was said and done! The depositions were made to establish who used the arms and when – making them a gift for military historians wishing to piece together information about the specifics of a particular campaign. Judgement was eventually handed down in Westminster in Scrope’s favour and Grosvenor chose a new coat of arms which changed the bend or for the Chester wheat sheaf – that particular coat of arms is still used by the very unrural sounding dukes of Westminster. It should be added that the Grosvenor family remembered the loss of their coat of arms and in the 1880’s named a race horse “Bend Or.”  It won the Derby.

 

Between 1371 and 1375 Scrope served as Lord Treasurer and was made Lord Chancellor in 1378, which post he held until 1380, but he then served again from 1381 to 1382. One of his roles was to curb the extravagance of the young king who installed toilets in his palaces and followed the fashion for curly toed shoes.  Relations between Scrope and his king came to a rather sticky impasse as a result of the execution of  Edmund Mortimer, Third Earl of March.  Richard being a bit short of cash should made the most of Mortimer and his fellow conspirators having under age heirs.  The lands and the heirs immediately came into Crown hands – wards were valuable commodities in that the person holding the wardship of an heir could milk the estates for their own benefit until the ward came of age and if they were canny the guardian would ensure that the ward was married into the guardian’s family.  It was in a sense a way for Richard to make some quick cash by selling the various wardships to the highest bidder.  Scrope suggested that this wasn’t the most sensible thing that Richard had ever done. It would make far more economic sense for Richard to keep the wards under his own control as the estates would generate revenue and could still be farmed out a later date.  Richard II informed his Chancellor to do get on and do what he was told.   Scrope persisted in trying to persuade Richard to hold on to the lands in question.  Richard II did not like being told what to do and demanded the Great Seal back from Scrope.  Scrope refused to comply until he’d had it from the king’s mouth rather than a messenger’s that he’d been dismissed from his post.

It should be added that Scrope appears to have been regarded as an honest man in that he was appointed executor to Edmund Mortimer’s will – so to say he must have experienced a conflict of interest might be an understatement!

In between going to war, running the country and fulfilling various legal commitments from his friends and peer group Scrope found time to be the Warden of the West March – a post he was appointed to in 1381. The post became something of a hereditary one in that the name Scrope features frequently as warden from that time hence until the post was abolished during the reign of James I of England (VI of Scotland).

It was perhaps fortunate in the aftermath of  Richard II’s disagreement with Scrope that Scrope already had a licence to crenelate Castle Bolton.  The project took him twenty years and £12,000. In the meantime his son William took on the role of warrior and politician rising to become the earl of Wiltshire – and loyal member of the Lancaster affinity. Richard Scrope died on 30 May 1403.  He was buried at Easby Abbey.

 

https://archive.org/details/decontroversiai01scrogoog

http://www.boltoncastle.co.uk/what-to-do-yorkshire/medieval-castles-history/

MacFarlane, K.B. (1973). The Nobility of Late Medieval England. Oxford. Oxford University Press

Goodman, Anthony. (1992) John of Gaunt: The Exercise of Princely Power in Fourteenth Century Europe. London: Longman

 

 

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Michael de la Pole – Earl of Suffolk, Chancellor, traitor and retainer

john of gauntMichael De La Pole ( born circa 1331) was created Earl of Suffolk in 1385. It was a meteroric rise to power given that his father was a Hull wool merchant. Of course, there was money involved.  Edward III needed a financier and William de la Pole was the man for the job. Unsurprisingly, Michael benefitted from his father’s wealth and influence at the court of Edward III.

He can be found amongst the retinues of the Black Prince and later John of Gaunt. It appears that when he first took arms in 1359 he served in the retinue of Henry of Grosmont a.k.a. the first duke of Lancaster. In 1366 he served under the banner of John of Gaunt and continued in the duke’s service in successive campaigns. This suggests that joining with the Black Prince was something that all men wanted to do irrelevant of where their loyalty would normally lay – don’t forget the Black Prince was the military commander who led the English to their early victories during the Hundred Years War.

It was as a consequence of his affiliation with Lancaster that de la Pole began to rise in position. In 1376 he was made admiral of the fleet north of the Thames (Roscell: 129). He was reappointed to the post when Richard II became king in 1377.  Pole was also appointed to be one of Richard II’s advisers. He worked alongside the earl of Arundel who would go on to become Pole’s arch rival and Richard’s bitter enemy.

In 1378 de la Pole was back in France with a commission to take over the castle at Brest – at the behest of Gaunt. During his years as a soldier de la Pole was made a prisoner of war at least once on the second occasion he was part of an embassy negotiating with Wenzel for the hand of Anne of Bohemia. Quite how John of Gaunt must have felt when his former captain managed to get himself captured by brigands in Germany having gone off to negotiate a bride for Richard II can only be imagined. Gaunt agreed to pay 7,000 florins in January 1380 for the return of the embassy that included de la Pole. The ransom would come up at de la Pole’s trial – apparently the ransom constituted rather a waste of money and it hadn’t helped that on his return to England the exchequer was ordered to pay de la Pole his salary as well, inclusive of the time when he was twiddling his fingers in a cell in Germany. As is the way of these things the penpushers dragged their heels and it was only when de la Pole became chancellor that he got his back pay, which ultimately was turned, into a charge of embezzlement.

Richard II made de la Pole chancellor in 1385 but his role as Richard’s man made him a target for an increasingly hostile parliament who regarded Richard’s wish for peace as the result of poor advice. So whose man was de la Pole at this point? He was the king’s friend and adviser  and the king wanted peace.  It looks like Pole leaned in that direction as well.  However Gaunt was for a continuation of the continental conflict – so was Pole still gaunt’s man or not? Possibly not but it was probably just as well that popular opinion had placed Pole in a league of his own because  the Hundred Years War took a turn for the worse and even the Scots seemed to have the upper hand. Once again it was the king’s advisers who were to blame – and who better to blame than the jumped-up son of a merchant? In October 1386, just a year after being made an earl the Commons charged him with the crimes of embezzlement and negligence. This did not deter nineteen-year-old Richard who was forced to accept the impeachment of his adviser and friend. De la Pole continued to maintain his place at Richard’s side but Richard’s loyalty to his friend would ultimately see him removed from power. Consequentially, the following year Michael found himself on the wrong side of the Lords Appellants in November 1387. Pole had the sense to flee England in the aftermath of the Appellants’ victory at the Battle of Radcot Bridge so avoided the punishments meted out by the Merciless Parliament. Sentenced for treason he was stripped of his titles.   He died in Paris the following year but at least avoided the fates of Robert Tresilian (chief justice, Richard Bembre (former mayor of London) and Sir Simon Burley (Richard’s tutor) who amongst others were executed on the orders of the so-called Merciless Parliament. Richard remained powerless whilst John of Gaunt was overseas trying to secure the throne of Castile. It was only on Gaunt’s return in 1389 that Richard was able to regain the ascendency.

 

Froissart is not one of de la Pole’s fans. He described him as a man who gave bad advice and who caused trouble for John of Gaunt by making Richard II increasingly suspicious of his uncle. This is usually the evidence that is used to identify the fact that de la Pole was no longer of the Lancastrian Affinity.

And yet, it is clear that once upon a time de la Pole was very much part of Gaunt’s retinue and he is often used as an example of the way in which the Lancaster Affinity found itself in some very important places – which might well account for the duke of Gloucester’s antipathy to his brother and certainly Gaunt benefited from having retainers in high places. In October 1383, by which time de la Pole was chancellor, Michael spoke about the Anglo-Scottish situation in a way favourable to Gaunt who according to Goodman (p98) wanted to go to war in France rather than on England’s northern borders. By the following year Richard’s hostility to his uncle would taint their relationship (again) and the politics of the realm not to mention the way in which Scottish campaigning would be conducted. However, it was the last time that Michael de la Pole took to the field. When the English army marched into Scotland de la Pole arrived with one hundred and forty men and took his place as a retainer to John of Gaunt demonstrating de la Pole’s loyalty to the duke of Lancaster. During the campaign there were accusations of plots and disloyalty which Froissart interpreted as being de la Pole’s fault – a typical example of blaming the poor decisions of a monarch on his bad advisors. There is some  circumstantial evidence that suggests that de la Pole maintained some loyalty to the duke of Lancaster throughout his life. When the earl of Oxford, one of Richard’s favourites, plotted to rid the political scene of John of Gaunt’s influence in February 1385 it is possible that it was de la Pole who warned the duke of the plot which would have seen him arrested at a council meeting in Walham.

 

And as you might expect the more closely that you look at the extended families of Gaunt’s retinue the more it becomes apparent that there was a web of relationships building on Lancastrian links. Blanche de la Pole, Michael’s sister was married to a son of Lord Scrope – another of Gaunt’s prominent retainers. Michael’s other sister, Margaret, was married to Sir Robert Neville of Hornby. Sir William de la Pole – the Hull merchant had successfully married all his children into some of the north’s leading families – and they all happened to have some loyalty to the duchy of Lancaster. It’ll come as no surprise to know that Michael’s brother Edmund was also in the retinue of John of Gaunt – Edmund was also one of the people who was called upon to pay Michael’s ransom.

 

 

Armitage-Smith, Sydney. (1876) John of Gaunt: King of Castile and Leon, Duke of Aquitaine and Lancaster

Goodman, Anthony. (1992) John of Gaunt: The Exercise of Princely Power in Fourteenth-Century Europe. London: Longman

Roskell, John Smith. (1984)The Impeachment of Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk in 1386: In the Context of the Reign of Richard II. Manchester: Manchester University Press

 

 

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John of Gaunt’s retinue

john of gaunt.jpgThe Katherine Swynford Society runs two quarterly writing competitions – one biographical the other fictional.  Their website states that:

The main characters may be a mixture of the following: ancestors, contemporaries or descendants of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and his three wives; Blanche of Lancaster, Constance of Castile and Katherine Swynford. Minor characters may include any members of John of Gaunt’s entourage in the Duchy of Lancaster. The aim of the competitions is to promote and stimulate interest and research into the life of Katherine Swynford and the late Medieval period.

http://www.katherineswynfordsociety.org.uk/short-story-competition.html

There certainly isn’t a shortage of ancestors or descendants to write about.  I shall peruse them in due course.  In the meantime I’ve become intrigued by the “minor characters.” The English Historical Review Vol. 45, No. 180 (Oct., 1930) contains an article about the way that John of Gaunt packed the Good Parliament of 1376 with his supporters.  The writers goes on to make analysis of the number of paid Lancastrians in the twelve parliaments between 1372 and 1382 (pp. 623-625.)  It turns out that from the one hundred and twenty-five knights  he identifies on John of Gaunt’s payroll that thirty did a stint as a member of parliament during the decade identified.

The reason that the article could be written and the Katherine Swynford Society are able to include individuals from John’s retinue so specifically is that amongst Gaunt’s documents is a list of his retainers. He is the only medieval magnate where such a list exists (although of course it doesn’t mean that other lists won’t be discovered languishing in archives or being reused for backings to other documents).  The list covers the period 1379 to 1383 – although it appears to be an amalgamation of knights from a more wide ranging span that’s been collated and filed at this point.  It exists because  many of the knights and squires in John’s service were required to sign a contract or as it was then called an “indenture of service.”  The indenture identified behaviours, duties and rights for times of peace and for times of war. These documents were then enrolled in chancery where they were confirmed by the king: in this case Richard II.  Bean contains a detailed analysis of the list.  He notes that ten knights have “cancelled” by their name.  Three of them were dead so I’m left wondering about the other seven! In total there were eight-five knights and eighty-five squires – some of them were cancelled as well but rather more cheerfully this appears to have been because they were promoted.

Other sources of information about John’s retinue come from his account books which is the main source for identifying Philippa Chaucer and other women including Katherine Swynford who were in the pay of Lancaster at one time or another. By chance several of Gaunt’s accounts survived as backing to a cartulary belonging to the Waley family, The problem is that the various accounts from the household rolls have been rather badly damaged when they were reused. The National Archives explains that the accounts list members of the household and their daily allowance, expenses for various departments and cost of equine care.  Bean uses figures from Gaunt’s financial returns to calculate that at the time of his death there were approximately two hundred knights and squires in his retinue.  Apparently squires were paid 10 marks a year whilst a basic knight’s salary was £20.  Bean goes on to provide a handy appendices listing all of Gaunt’s knights. John Neville of Raby is the first one of the list as was Lord Welles and Sir John Marmion.  The Camden Society also have a list of Gaunt’s retainers written by Lodge and Sommerville and Walker’s Lancaster Affinity is a useful text.

The more I read though, the more it became clear that the indentures were a business arrangement and whilst a number of men are consistently in Gaunt’s household many of them appear for a brief time only.  This is best explained as a military arrangement rather than a matter of feudal duty.  The men who fought for John during one season might re-enlist  in another magnate’s retinue for the next season’s fighting in France.  The idea of the retinue is much more complicated than it first appears. It is not just about feudal links and tenure of land. There are political and financial considerations to be taken on board as well as gaining a foothold in the household of England’s wealthiest magnate.  Sir John Saville of West Yorkshire is a relatively straightforward example of fealty. He fought for Henry Duke of Lancaster (Blanche of Lancaster’s father) and then turns up in Gaunt’s retinue in Spain.  He’s also one of those parliamentarians with a Lancastrian affinity mentioned at the start of this post.  Saville’s loyalty to the house of Lancaster is confirmed by the fact that the chantry at Elland built at the end of the fourteenth century was for prayers not just for the Saville family but also for the dukes of Lancaster. However, just to throw a small spanner in the wheel, Sir John also turns up in the records as doing service in the retinue of the Black Prince in the mid 1350’s demonstrating that membership of a martial retinue was not always about feudal duty or loyalty to a particular family.

Walker demonstrates throughout his book that during the fourteenth century feudalism was not always what is taught in school – even taking the effects of the Black Death into consideration. Knights and lords were not necessarily obedient to the will of their overlords. Independent action occurs as demonstrated by the number of men shifting from one retinue to another during campaigns in France. Walker also gives examples of men at the heart of Lancastrian territories acting contrary to Gaunt’s will – suggesting that society was much more complicated in the fourteenth century than text books often credit.

Armitage-Smith, Sydney. (1937)  John of Gaunt’s Register Camden Society, 3rd series, LVI-LVII https://archive.org/details/gauntsregister01smituoft (accessed 22.00 16/07/2017)

Bean, John Malcolm William. (1989) From Lord to Patron: Lordship in Late Medieval England. Manchester: Manchester University Press

E.C. Lodge and R. Somerville (ed) John of Gaunt’s Register, 1372–1376

Walker, Simon. (1990) The Lancaster Affinity: 1361-1399. Oxford: Oxford Historical Monographs

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Sir Hugh Swynford

william bell scott john of gaunt.jpgSir Hugh Swynford of Kettlethorpe and Coleby in Lincolnshire married Katherine de Roet in about 1366, although Alison Weir suggests the earlier date of 1362 based on the possible ages of the couple’s three children.  Weir also suggests that the union was arranged by Blanche of Lancaster and her husband John of Gaunt.

The Swynfords themselves were proud of their Saxon heritage and Hugh was part of Gaunt’s retinue.  Hugh’s father Thomas held Coleby for John of Gaunt – a reminder that the Lancaster inheritance was a far reaching one.  When he married Katherine de Roet he’d been a soldier fighting in the Hundred Years War for about ten years (if we take the traditional 1366 date).  He was also born in about 1340 making him a decade older than his  barely teenage bride (she was about twelve) when they married in the church of St Clement Dane.

Weir reveals that he’d fought first for the Black Prince and then transferred into the retinue of John of Gaunt, who was after all, his  feudal overlord.  Hugh wasn’t particularly wealthy, the rents from Kettlethorpe and Coleby appear to have been irregular, although he’d inherited his father’s estates in 1361.  It probably didn’t help that it wasn’t the most fertile of ground and even the mill lay in ruins.  Realistically his income came from his pay in Lancaster’s service and any loot or ransoms he could acquire whilst in France.  He was, however, a knight so the match between him and Katherine who held some lands in Hainault was considered a good one because she didn’t have much in the way of a dowry- though what Katherine, having been raised in the court of Philippa of Hainault, must have thought is not recorded.  Not that it would have mattered; marriage was not about love it was a business arrangement that would secure Katherine and Hugh’s future as vassals of the Lancaster family.  Realistically we don’t know much about the marriage – the portrayal of Swynford as rough and uncouth is based entirely on Anna Seyton’s book Katherine which has Katherine married off to Sir Hugh against her will.

The marriage took place, it is often stated, on In November 1366 Sir Hugh took himself off to Guienne to continue his duties as a knight in Gaunt’s service.  Katherine was pregnant.  Their son Thomas was born on 24 February 1367.  His arrival is often the reason that the marriage is dated to the previous year but the dates of his sisters’ births are not recorded  Weir argues that Blanche who was Gaunt’s godchild and named after the Duchess of Lancaster could have been the older of the siblings but that because she was a girl and because she wasn’t born whilst Katherine was in the company of the Duchess of Lancaster that the dates was not recorded. It is possible to argue the case both ways.

Swynford returned from France in 1369 but was summoned once more for military service the following year.  Katherine would not see him again.  He died on the Gironde in Aquitaine on the 13th November 1371. Katherine was only twenty-one when she was widowed.  Her story was about to take a dramatic turn as portrayed by the image at the start of this post.  It’s one of those Victorian History paintings that they loved so much.  Its by William Bell Scott and depicts John of Gaunt being read to by Chaucer.  The two women are Katherine Swynford and her sister Philippa Chaucer.

When John of Gaunt and Katherine petitioned the pope to legitimise their Beaufort children they stated that the affair had not begun during Hugh’s lifetime.  Froissart believed otherwise and when it came to Sir Hugh’s son Thomas inheriting his mother’s Hainault lands there were some problems on account of the rumour that he was actually the illegitimate son of John of Gaunt.  In the end King Henry IV wrote a letter stating that Thomas, who had been four when his father died in France, was legitimate.  Whatever the truth of the matter Hugh is for the most part a footnote in one of English History’s great love stories or a fictional counterfoil to the heroic personage of John of Gaunt – neither of which seems particularly fair- but without any other evidence its impossible to flesh him out any further.

Lucraft, Jeannette, (2010) Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Stroud: The History Press

Weir, Alison. (2007) Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess. London: Jonathan Cape

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Katherine Swynford

KatSwynfordKatherine de Roet was probably born about 1350 in Hainault.  As is often the case we have no exact records of her birth.  What we do know about Katherine’s early life is found in the accounts of chronicler Jean Froissart who was also from Hainault.  He talks of Katherine as a ‘Hainaulter’ so its a reasonable assumption to make. 

The family headed by Katherine’s father  Paon de Roet arrived in England as part of Philippa of Hainault’s entourage when she married Edward III in 1328.  Paon served in the royal household. Historians think he died in the early 1350s.  Katherine  and her sister Philippa served in the queen’s household  and received their education there as well as developing links with some of the most important people in the country.  Philippa married the poet Geoffrey Chaucer whilst Katherine found herself looking after the daughters of John of Gaunt and his first wife Blanche of Lancaster; Elizabeth and Philippa.  

Blanche died in 1368, most historians think from the Black Death.  By this time Katherine was married to Sir Hugh Swynford of Kettlethorpe in Lincolnshire. It was considered an advantageous marriage for Katherine at the time. Blanche of Lancaster and John of Gaunt held many estates in the area. Historians tend not to think that Katherine had begun her affair with John of Gaunt before Blanche of Lancaster’s death.  Certainly Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess suggests that the duke deeply mourned the wife that gave him seven children and made him the wealthiest man in the kingdom.

Katherine and Hugh appear to have had three children who survived infancy.  The oldest child was a boy called Thomas, the second was a girl called Blanche presumably named after Blanche of Lancaster.  John of Gaunt was Blanche’s god-father and when the time came for John to make his union with Katherine legal and also to legitimise his children this would cause a degree of problem as the papacy deemed that there was a degree of prohibited relationship on account of John’s role as godfather. Blanche grew up with Elizabeth and Philippa of Lancaster. The third child probably grew up to be a nun.  Her name may have been Margaret. Katherine swore her affair with John of Gaunt did not begin until after Sir Hugh Swynford died but Froissart says differently.

Hugh died in 1372 and Katherine’s first child by John of Gaunt was born the following year. John Beaufort was named after the french castle that Gaunt owned and where John was possibly born.  The  couple went on to have three more children who survived infancy; Henry, Thomas and Joan who had her own dramatic love story.  John had married his second wife Constance of Castile in  1371.  It was a state marriage that gave John a claim to the throne of Castile but the existence of a much loved mistress in John’s life cannot have helped the relationship nor the fact that it is known that during some periods Katherine lived quietly in the home of John’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke (Henry IV). During the Peasants Revolt of 1381 the lovers parted company or they became more secretive about their liaison possibly because John was so hated or because John wished to pursue his claim to the Castilian throne.  Not that this prevented Katherine from being made a Lady of the Garter in 1388.

Wife number two died in 1394.  There followed a flurry of letters to the pope and two years later John of Gaunt took the unusual step of marrying his mistress.  They were married on  13 January 1396 at Lincoln Cathedral.  This had the effect of putting rather a lot of noses out of joint. Not only did Katherine become the duchess of Lancaster  but because the king, Richard II, had no queen and John was the next most important man in the country Katherine automatically became the first lady to whom all others had to give way… I should imagine that some very stiff necked ladies muttered rather a lot about that particular turn up for the books. 

John and Katherine’s children were not only legitimised by the pope but also legitimised by Act of Parliament on the command of their cousin Richard II on 9th February 1397.  Later Henry IV would add a note in his own hand to the effect that whilst the Beauforts might be legitimate they couldn’t inherit the throne.  This didn’t stop Henry IV from making effective use of his Beaufort half-siblings.

katherine swynford coat of arms.jpg

Katherine Swynford’s coat of arms – after her marriage to John of Gaunt

Katherine died on the 10th May 1403 having outlived John of Gaunt by four years.  She’d survived a period of plague, seen the Peasants revolt and the Hundred Years War as well as having caused a national scandal.  She and her daughter Joan are buried in Lincoln Cathedral having lived quietly in Lincoln in her final years.  We can still identify her house.

There was a brass of the dowager duchess but it was destroyed or certainly very badly treaded by the Roundheads in 1644 so we have no certain primary source image of the woman who stole the heart of the most powerful man in England despite the fact that there is now a brass over Katherine’s tomb it is not the original and she’s wearing a widow’s veil which doesn’t help matters but it is an effective way of the engraver dealing with the fact he didn’t know what the duchess looked like.  Froissart describes her as young and pretty in his chronicles. The image at the start of this post comes from a fifteenth century edition of Chaucer’s work and it shows the key people of Richard II’s reign. John of Gaunt is identifiable.  It’s possible that the girl in blue is Katherine.

Weir, Alison.(2007) Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and His Scandalous Duchess. London: Jonathan Cape

 

 

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