Medieval field measurements

Image from the Luttrell Psalter held by the British Library

An acre comes from the Latin word ager meaning field which led to the Old English aecer.  Originally an acre was the strip of land that could be plowed in one day by a team of oxen pulling a plough.      Ideally there would be a team of 8 oxen in a team, but it could be four or fewer depending on your wealth and whether your neighbour would lend you his. Clearly the more oxen you owned the more land that you could work and the more likely you were to be able to have surplus supplies. So far so good. Beyond that point it becomes a bit more complicated. Weights and measures were not standard – think of it more as a rule of thumb.

You could then divide every acre into 4 roods (1 rood = ¼ of an acre)  and each rood contains 40 perches or 40 rods.  The perch comes from the Latin name for a measuring pole whereas a rod comes from the Old English rod or goad that the ploughman used to encourage the oxen on – or put another way, if I’ve got it right – a rod, a pole and a perch are exactly the same thing and are the name given to the device by which the land was measured and which again was initially dependent on where you were as to what size it actually was! These days a rod is 5.5 yards and this seems to have been typical of a medieval ox goad.

Acres could also be divided into long-furrows or furlongs – each furrow ran the length of the acre strip of land. This was the distance that the ploughman ploughed before turning the plough = ideally it should be 40 rods or 220 yards if you prefer yards to rods, poles or perches.  

Acres were standardised in 1878 to 4840 square yards and because of the practical fact that fields were all sorts of shapes rather than neat strips the acre is now any shape you would like it to be. If you’re looking at a tithe map you’ll often see meansurements in acres, roods and perches.

If you just had the one ox rather than a team then an oxgang was the amount that a single oxen could plough in one season – or between 15-20 acres…again the rule of thumb kicks into operation.

And just when you were feeling as though you might be getting a handle on things I’m going to add the fact that in medieval times the unit used for measuring land for taxation purposes and to identify social status was the hide. A hide was deemed sufficient to support one family. Depending where you lived, and the quality of the land, the hide was a movable feast varying between 40 and 1000 acres.

When the Saxons claim to collect tax for Danegeld then worked on the principle of 120 acres = 1 hide. In 1086 when William the Conequer’s Domesday Book was completed the same premise was applied. And just so we’re clear a hide has the same area value as a carucate.

http://www.yeovilhistory.info/land-areas.htm

A hundred – an administrative area set up by the Saxons to subdivide a shire was the equally of a hundred hides in size. Across the border into Danelaw the hundred is identified as a wapentake. And of course if a hide supports one family then every hundred would be capable of supplying 100 fighting men – who all presumable arrived with the family rod, perch or pole if they didn’t have a sword or spear.

https://lochista.com/understanding-acres-perches/

So from this happy little list of imperial measurements – 12 inches to the foot, 3 feet to the yard, five yards and one foot and six inches to the rod (or pole or perch), 4 rods (or poles or perch) to the chain, 10 chains to the furlong, and 8 furlongs to the statute mile I have omitted a chain.

A chain is 22 yards or 4 rods, poles or perches. A chain is the width of the medieval acre.

And I think that is more than enough for one day- and whichever way you look at it the medieval farmer was required to do an awful lot of walking!

Hops – an unwholesome weed.

https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b52000858n/f455.image

In 1426 an innkeeper in Kent was fined for putting a weed into the beer – hops. Jack Cade’s rebellion of 1450 was blamed on hops rather than the ineptitude of the government in at least one instance. The plant was perhaps looked on askance because it originated from the Low Countries. However, by 1597, John Gerard was advocating hops in beer as a remedy to keep the drinker healthy rather than merely as a thirst quencher.

In 1603 Parliament passed an act which forbade hop growers from adulterating their hop flowers with bits of stalk and leaves. By the seventeenth century there was no stopping the growth of hop farming. Indeed in 1710 another act was passed preventing the use of anything but hops.

Traditionally hop garlands and wreaths were hung up every year for good luck. Rather than adding them to beer in spring the new shoots can be eaten (I’ve not tried) – hence the name “poor man’s asparagus.” And of course, a pillow filled with dried hops will apparently send you to sleep. And having lulled you into a false sense of security now is probably a good time to mention that spring was a time for fasting and purging – putting a whole new meaning on the idea of spring cleaning. Hops were just one of the plants used to treat pests and parasites – yellow iris, red current leaves, wormwood and tansy were just a few of the ingredients added to the brew to give you a fresh start after the winter months.

I think I need to end on a more positive note! In 1406 John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, founded the Order of the Hop. He had just become the Count of Flanders and wanted his new subjects to feel appreciated. It was John who helped to popularise hops in Europe. Aside from hops John also commissioned many books, continuing the work of his parents. One of them – the Livre de Merveilles du Monde, contains some rather famous descriptions of journeys to exotic and strange places including Marco Polo’s account of his journey to China. However, the reason why its in this post is because as Celia Fisher explains that the frontispiece of the book depicts hops. The whole of the book is available to view online – just follow the link beneath the image at the start of this post.

Illustration from the Medieval Flower Book p62

Fisher, Celia. (2013) The Medieval Flower Book. London: The British Library

Forget-me-not and courtly love.

L0055259 Platearius, Matthaeus Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Western Manuscript 626 Platearius, Circa instans seu de medicamentis simplicibus …; circa 1480 to 1500 1480 – 1500 Platearius, Matthaeus (d. 1161) Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Myosotis is part of the borage family and there are various folk lore based stories for it’s name. One of them is based on courtly love. A knight was walking with his lady beside a river. Obviously when one goes courting it is essential to wear full armour – in this case the knight was very chivalrously carrying the lady’s flowers when he slipped and tumbled into the raging current – as he was swept away he threw her flowers to her crying “Forget me not!” And there you have it!

Courtly love is of course the medieval form of ritualised love expressed by a knight for a married lady who is outside his reach – so duty, honour, devotion and courtesy were all important as they were part of the chivalric code. Ideally a knight’s love should be unrequited. Lancelot and Guinevere became very popular at this time. For a more in-depth article about the literature of courtly love follow the link to the British Library:

https://www.bl.uk/medieval-literature/articles/love-and-chivalry-in-the-middle-ages

An illustration from Anne of Brittany’s book of hours. Grandes Heures d’Anne de Bretagne. Type : manuscrit Langue : Latin Format : 238 ff. – 300 × 190 mm. – Reliure galuchat noir datée de 1684, fermoirs métalliques XVIIe s. au chiffre d’Anne de Bretagne, gardes pap. dominoté, tranches dorées Droits : domaine public Identifiant : ark:/12148/btv1b52500984v



By 1190 the monks of Glastonbury had cashed in on the popular stories of the knights of the Round Table with the discovery of the graves of King Arthur and his queen.

Courtly love became the rage in the twelfth century at the point where tournaments also became the height of fashion. The use of courtly love as a motif in England grew when Eleanor of Aquitaine became queen. It was William IX of Aquitaine (Eleanor’s grandfather) who made it fashionable in 1101. Aquitainean troubadours carried songs of romance around Europe. It should be noted that William’s love was not unrequited – he appears to have been something of a serial seducer.

Henry of Bolingbroke adopted the forget-me-not as an emblem during his exile in 1398 when Richard II banished him from England for ten years. When his father John of Gaunt died the following year Richard turned the sentence into banishment for life – setting in motion the events that led to his usurpation.

Anyway, back to the forget-me-not, in medieval times if you got bitten by a dog or a snake you might be treated with forget-me-not. Gerard called it scorpion grass named due to the shape made by the curling bract of flowers.

Phillips, Stuart. (2012) An Encyclopaedia of Plants in Myth, Legend, Magic and Lore. London: Robert Hale

Swabey F. (2004) Eleanor of Aquitaine, Courtly Love and the Troubadours

Solomon’s seal – medieval medicine

Illustration from the Book of Simple Medicines circa 1470

According to Gerard Solomn’s seal will mend a black eye within a coupe of days caused, and I quote, by “women wilfnulnes, in stumbling upon their haste husbands fists.” I make no comment other than to be grateful that Gerard’s humour would no longer be regarded as acceptable in any way shape or form. The roots of the plant will also help heal wounds and mend broken bones.

It took me years and years to find some Solomon’s seal of my own as wasn’t very popular in garden centres at that time. I assume because it grows in such profusion that those with the plant are more than happy to share it – the knack is to find a gardener with the aforementioned plant. Consequently I have been carefully to pot up some of the plant with each successive move I have made and there is always the concern that it won’t like it’s new home but it is currently spreading happily.

The plant is called Solomon’s seal after the marks on the root which are said according to folk lore to come from King Solomon’s seal when he first discovered the plant’s medicinal properties. Rather alarmingly the notes in my dictionary of plants inform me that the fumes that come from he brewed flowers were used to inspire painters and poets and keep evil spirits at bay. I shan’t be eating it anytime soon even if it a very useful medical plant, not least because my Alnwick Poison Garden guide observes that everything about the plant is toxic -it contains saponins and convallamarin demonstrating that medieval medicine really was a case of kill or cure.

Philips, Stuart. (2012) An Encyclopaedia of Plants: in myth, legend, magic and lore. London: Robert Hale

Medieval gardens

I spent much of today foraging for stones to adorn my pond. It is frowned upon, not to mention probably destabilising, to remove capping stones from nearby walls – even your own walls- to turn them into lovely big flat pond topping stones…so I shall have to wait until a) I can get on to a well known builder’s website without having to queue virtually for hours or b) collect them myself when this is all over – which ever comes first. Or c) start a quarry in the field on the other side of the stone wall which I have definitely not disturbed in any way, shape or form.

But back to history. Did you know that in 800 AD (ish) Charlemagne drew up a list of plants that should be grown in every town? He required 73 herbs to be grown as well as roses and lilies. The list together with the other twenty or so horticultural requirements can be found in The Capitulary of Charlemagne. Capitulary is word I’m likely to misspell which means exactly the same as charter. As well as the lilies and the roses he also identified flag iris (soon to be found growing near my pond despite the risk of the roots puncturing the liner.) He listed medicinal herbs, fruit and nut trees; vegetables; salads and teasels – for combing wool as well as madder for dyeing it.

Unsurprisingly Charlemagne’s list is an important one in our understanding of medieval gardening. Floridus writing in the eleventh century also gives some insight and then there’re wonderful manuscript illustrations depicting all sorts of garden flowers. What is interesting is that many of them were there simply because they were lovely. By the beginning of the twelfth century gardens were beginning to be advocated as a backdrop necessary for the fashion of courtly love. Clearly the Romans had gardens and monastic houses required gardens for physic and for the monks to have a plentiful supply of food. The garden as a statement of courtly love was something very different.

On one hand an enclosed medieval garden may have afforded the kind of privacy that was difficult to find within a busy castle, not to mention making a statement about the wealth of the aforementioned castle owner. The concept of privacy and gardens very naturally leads to thoughts of Adam and Eve and associated sinfulness – it is possibly not surprising that the garden saw the introduction of seats for canoodling at this point in the form of raised turf hillocks – preferably studded with pretty flowers. And before we get too carried away with the image, the whole concept of courtly love was that the lady was unattainable – so whilst temptation might be present vis a vis privacy and comfy lawn hillocks, a knight and his lady simply do not demean themselves with comedy of the Carry On kind. Carnal desire is renounced in order to find God – essentially humans are part of the natural cycle but can rise above it. The garden became part of a larger scheme – of the kind with which art historians are familiar. The symbolism of the garden in art became the rationale for actual gardening if you follow Barnett’s hypothesis.

By the thirteenth century there was even a manual that covered raised turf hillocks:

Between the level turf and the herbs let there be a higher piece of turf made in the fashion of a seat, suitable for flowers and amenities; the grass in the suns path should be planted with trees or vines, whose branches will protect the turf with shade and cast a pleasant refreshing shadow.

Piero de’ Crescenzi, Liber ruralium commodorum (1305-09)

And there are certainly a great many turf seats depicted in medieval art – either being occupied by lovers or the Virgin Mary. The Virgin Mary is sometimes depicted as hortus conclusus – i.e. seated in an enclosed garden metaphorically being an enclosed garden, an allusion taken from the Song of Solomon in the psalms. It was another way of illuminating her purity. She is able to be in THE enclosed garden – Eden- because she is without sin. I’m not sure I’ve explained it very well but I’m sure that you get the gist.

Anyway the concept of the raised turf bench remained a popular one throughout the medieval period.

I shall content myself with my old wooden bench which is more than adequate for sitting in the sun with a cup of tea whilst surveying my increasingly manicured garden…incidentally how long before a frog and a dragonfly arrive to take up residence?

Innes, Miranda & Perry, Clay. Medieval Flowers

Barnett, Rod. “Serpent of Pleasure: Emergence and Difference in the Medieval Garden of Love.” Landscape Journal, vol. 28, no. 2, 2009, pp. 137–150. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43323842. Accessed 22 Apr. 2020.

Hellebores in history

Helleborus niger. Watercolour painting by Lady Atholl Oakeley, December 1826

Today has been a day of raised vegetable bed and pond creation -no doubt tomorrow I will pay for a day spent moving soil around! Inevitably it’s a garden post tonight with a look at the way one of this decade’s most popular plants was used in the past.

I have a lot of hellebores in my garden in beautiful shades from white to dark red. They’re lovely to see early in the year and they pretty much look after themselves. However, in earlier times there were two varieties available from this poisonous member of the buttercup family: black (Helleborus officinalis) and white (Veratrum album) – named for the colour of their roots rather than their flowers. It was a cure for melancholy and madness. This view has come down to us from the Greeks. Apparently King Proteus’ daughters were mad and a brew of hellebore purged them of their indisposition. I would not recommend this to anyone given the name of the plant relates to the fact that it’s a toxic narcotic.

During the medieval period your physician might give you some if you were suffering from an excess of black bile leading to melancholy. The side affects of this concoction would be vomiting and diarrhoea. It was probably for this reason that hellebore root was also used to rid patients of worms – the right amount would purge the victim (sorry -patient) whilst the wrong amount would probably kill them.

The idea of using hellebore mixed with vinegar as a mouthwash is somewhat unappetising and for those of you who are a bit hard of hearing it should be noted that there was an idea that shoving a hellebore in your ear (no idea which part) would cure deafness. Paracelsus, writing in the 16th century, stated that it could be good ‘for those of older years’ – which is ever so slightly worrying given the toxicity described in the paragraph above.

Culpepper writing in the seventeenth century stated at stewed hellebore was good for ulcers – external application only.

Nor for that matter would I give much credence to Pliny’s belief that you’d be in big trouble if an eagle saw you digging one up. His preferred anti-eagle device was to draw a circle around the hellebore and to say a quick prayer before digging it up. And my most favourite use for a hellebore requires it to be powdered and spread on the ground – thus rendering the spreadee invisible.

Magic, medicine and alchemy were branches of respectable science and the garden was a walk in pharmacy. If I do find myself in the garden tomorrow I shall keep a weather eye out horticultural eagles.

Grieve, Maude. A Modern Herbal. 1931. Reprint: New York: Dover Publications, 

https://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/h/helbla14.html

Julie Wakefield, “The Christmas Rose as a Medicinal Plant”, From the Herb Garret (blog on oldoperatingtheatre.com), December 1st, 2016. [On line] http://oldoperatingtheatre.com…

https://history.rcplondon.ac.uk/blog/snow-white-blooms-christmas-rose

feudalism and bastard feudalism

Feudalism was the method by which society was structured across the tenth to thirteenth centuries. Essentially the tenant-in-chief was the monarch. William the Conqueror regarded the whole of conquered England as his along with the deer, the boar and the wolves who were owned by no one except God and since God had clearly given William England by right of Conquest then the large beasts which roamed the land must also be his….

The monarch then distributed land or fiefs to his lords – the lands varied in size and location. There was a promise of military and legal protection along with the land. In return the monarch’s tenants, or vassals, promised obedience through an act of homage and payment in the form of military service and/or goods. Sometimes a lord might pay for mercenaries to take his place rather than offering military service himself – this was called scutage. One of the advantages for William was that he was able to call on a large army when he needed one but it was not a standing army which he would be required to pay for – it also ensured that he was able to reward is supporters.

The lords or barons as medieval history tends to term them, who received land from the monarch often had more than they could manage themselves and in different parts of the country. These vassal of the king would sub-let land, manors and estates to their own adherents, the knightly class or less important barons, in return for loyalty, military service and goods. Just as the baron expected protection so the baron’s tenant would expect the lord to protect him militarily and legally as the lord was himself protected by the king.

The knights might in their turn give land to freemen to hold in return for goods and service.

All of the above would be served by peasants who might hold their land in return for labour and a percentage of their crops or by serfs who were tied to the land.

Clearly it was more complicated than this but this is the basic pyramid that we learn at school.

feudal pyramid showing numbers of people in the system and who gained what.

Bastard feudalism was not what a serf might describe the social structure as being (sorry – couldn’t resist.) Bastard feudalism developed during the fourteenth century and was at its most influential during the fifteenth century. This system was different from feudalism in that it was based on a contract that involved much more than land in exchange for service and loyalty. Edward III had the twin problems of the black death and a weakened kingdom thanks to his mother and her lover deposing his father.

Put very simply, the black death meant that there were insufficient villeins/serfs to work the land. Rather than being tied to the manor where they were born or having no choice in how much they were offered for their services, land owners now found that the people who worked their land were valuable commodities that had to be paid for.

Edward III needed the support of his nobility. He did not require another Mortimer situation on his hands. Therefore he gave his nobility more concessions than earlier medieval monarchs had done. This ultimately weakened the crown – again this is putting things at their most straight forward.

Titled noblemen or important members of the gentry (we’ve moved away from barons) developed networks or affinities as a consequence of the greater freedoms that Edward III had been forced to grant them. He also created the “super-noble” in the form of his royal sons who he made dukes. John of Gaunt’s Lancaster Affinity is the most widely signposted example of an affinity. Basically the person at the centre of the affinity created a network of retainers who provided him and his family with military service, domestic service and political and legal support – there was no prerequisite for land to exchange hands- the affinity was superglued into place by extended family – someone who was part of an affinity might reasonably expect an advantageous marriage to be arranged within the affinity either for themselves or their children. In return the network of retainers would expect protection, office, power and money. Bastard feudalism and the widespread use of these powerful networks was once the reason given for the Wars of the Roses – think of the feuds between the Nevilles and the Percys. However, it would be fairer to say that feudalism and bastard feudalism required a strong monarch to control the various factions.

An additional factor in the equation of bastard feudalism and social structure is the Hundred Years War. When the English were winning it was an opportunity for younger sons and those lower down the social ladder to gain wealth which they spent on upping their position within the social hierarchy. Militarily talented men might gain battlefield knighthoods and jump up the social ladder at a stroke but they would need the patronage of someone more powerful if they were to continue their upward journey. Then when the English ultimately lost the Hundred Years War there were powerful nobles who had financed armies and put men in the field who were now looking for political influence. Again, I have presented the case in its most straight forward format.

Year seven pupils (eleven-year-olds) are required to have a grasp of the feudal pyramid as a social structure introduced by William the Conqueror. Clearly social structures were more complicated than this. The Church needs to fit into the equation along with the merchant classes and the impact of a changing economy.

What is an affinity and what is a livery badge?

Richard III’s white boar livery badge – York Museum

Having set a challenge about Royal Arms I thought I probably ought to post a little about the way in which arms and badges were used during the medieval period. Clearly a personal badge was originally designed so that people knew who was who on the battle field or tournament ground – either on a banner, a surcoat or a shield for instance but by the fourteenth century they had developed into something that was given out almost like a contract between a noble and the group of people who served him in a variety of capacities.

An affinity was a set of political and social connections – like an extended family- but with a nobleman at the centre of the web based on his links to royalty, personal patronage, family and territory. The noble would have a household and a set of retainers, or followers, who were sworn to provide the lord with help in terms of military service, political support etc in return for which they would receive protection; a leg up the social ladder and dating agency for their offspring; offices; land. As the fifteenth century progressed these retainers wore either his livery or someothe badge that associated them with their noble – the bear with the ragged staff is a well-known badge associated with the Earl of Warwick for instance.

A powerful lord like John of Gaunt would attract local gentry as well as family and tenants. The Gaunt affinity was particularly noticeable in Derbyshire for instance. This meant that men with a large affinity, such as the duke, effectively had an army that they could call upon whenever they needed one – something of increasing importance as the fifteenth century moved into the wars of the roses. Consider the impact of the Neville affinity in the escalation of feuding during the fifteenth century.

Livery badges and colours were used to show that you belonged to a particular affinity. More can be found on livery colours here: https://history.stackexchange.com/questions/13103/whose-colors-coat-of-arms-did-men-of-arms-wear-in-a-feudal-army-14th-century and if you’re interested in the Wars of the Roses here: https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/tag/livery-colours/

Livery badges could be displayed anywhere, but usually on the outside of the upper left sleeve, on the left breast. They turn up in jewellery – think of the medieval livery collar -(https://thehistoryjar.com/2015/07/17/nicholas-and-ralph-fitzherbert-a-glimpse-of-the-wars-of-the-roses/), on horse trappings, weapons and their scabbards, stained glass windows and masonry. In fact, now I come to think of it there’s a photographic project there when we’re allowed out again!

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III’s personal livery badge was a white boar. Sometimes the badges were taken from a charge (an emblem from the shield) on a coat of arms but they might also be more personal than that – they could be to do with an event in the lord’s life or a play on the lord’s name. Richard II’s white hart is a pun on Rich hart.

Henry VII needed to stamp out the concept of the affinity as the bands of men that nobles could gather up as part of their affinity could be used for the king but also form armies that fought against him. The Statute of Liveries of 1506 forbade issuing livery badges to men of rank; they had to be domestic servants unless the livery was covered by a specific royal licence.  Eventually livery badges were reserved only for those who were part of the monarch’s affinity and for household servants of the aristocracy. Henry made sure that everyone rocked the Tudor rose rather than their own personal livery. John of Gaunt’s livery chains of entwined “esses” ultimately became associated with chains of office rather than with the Lancastrian royal house.

Bear and ragged staff

The bear and ragged staff was associated with the Earl of Warwick during the Wars of Roses but in the reign of Elizabeth I it was associated with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester who was the successor of the Earl of Warwick (via a circuitous route.)

The blue lion – or lion rampant azure- is associated with the Percy family.

The Prince of Wales feathers were first associated with the Black Prince when he chose them as a device on hearing about the bravery of the blind King of Bohemia.

The Stafford knot is associated with the Dukes of Buckingham.

The Talbot dog is associated with the Talbot Earls of Shrewsbury

The portcullis is associated with the Beaufort family and was used widely in Tudor iconography.

The white rose of York and Edward IV’s sun in splendour – St Andrew’s Church, Penrith

Livery badges issued by the livery companies of the City of London are of a later date.

Edward III’s sons – starting to sort the Plantagenets out.

220px-Edward_III_of_England_(Order_of_the_Garter)

Edward III- Bruges Garter Book made 1430ish

An article by Mark Ormrod published in 2011 in the BBC History Magazine has always stuck in my mind.  Essentially Edward was an indulgent father who made big plans for his dynasty that involved crowns for his children through adoption, marriage and conquest.  His sons grew up believing that they might be kings of various countries if the odds were sufficiently stacked in their favour – and having created a series of royal dukes (Edward’s two younger sons were raised to dukedoms by their nephew Richard II) it is perhaps not surprising that there was disaffection within the family.  Edward’s dynastic policy required a large family.  He and his wife Philippa of Hainhault were fortunate in their love for one another – England was less fortunate in the size of the Plantagenet family all of whom thought themselves worthy of a crown at a time when the occupant of the throne, Richard II (Edward’s grandson) was unable to control his ambitious, conniving relations.

It seems as good a place to start as any.  It also helps that popular history gives a degree of familiarity to Edward III’s sons.

edward iii sons1.jpg

  1. black prince.jpg

    Edward, the Black Prince, from the Bruges Garter Book

    Edward – “The Black Prince.” He was born at Woodstock so can also be styled Edward of Woodstock after his place of birth.  He was created Earl of Chester in 1333 and then Duke of Cornwall when he was seven-years-old. He became Prince of Wales in 1343 at the age of thirteen.  The duchy was made out of the earldom of Cornwall by Edward III for his son. The title is reserved for the eldest son of the monarch. Although Edward was the Earl of Chester as soon as he became a duke he would have been known by that title as a duke trumps an earl.    Edward married his first cousin once removed – Joan of Kent.  He eventually succumbed having wasted away, it is thought, to dysentry, caught whilst on campaign in France.  He only had one child who survived to adulthood – Richard of Bordeaux who became King Richard II.  The complication for this member of the family tree comes from Joan of Kent who had been married to Sir Thomas Holland prior to her marriage to the Black Prince.  There is a large Holland clan to add into the equation not to mention some back tracking up the Plantagenet family tree to King Edward I.

  2. Lionel of Antwerp was betrothed to Elizabeth de Burgh Countess of Ulster when he was a child. He married her in 1352 but he had been styled Earl of Ulster from the age of nine. The earldom came to him through his wife. In 1362 he was created 1st Duke of Clarence. This was actually the third dukedom created within England but more of that shortly.  Elizabeth de Burgh died in 1363 having produced one child in 1355 called Philippa who became the 5th Countess of Ulster in her own right. Philippa was Lionel’s only surviving legitimate child (hurrah!)  He married for a second time to Violante Visconti the daughter of the Count of Pavia.  Lionel went back to Italy with his new wife where his -in-laws poisoned him.
  3. John of Gaunt. john of gauntJohn’s wealth and title came from his marriage to the co-heiress Blanche of Lancaster. Her father had been the 1st Duke of Lancaster but on his death with no male heirs the title died out. When John married Blanche he was given the title earl and through Blanche half of the Lancaster wealth. Blanche’s sister died in 1362 without children – the Lancaster wealth now all came to John.  On the same day that Lionel received his dukedom from his father the dukedom of Lancaster was resurrected for John.  Because the dukedom had been dormant and Edward III resurrected it John of Gaunt was also known as the 1st Duke of Lancaster (why would you want things to be straight forward!).  John married three times – firstly to Blanche who was descended from Henry III via his second son Edmund Crouchback; secondly to Constanza of Castile by whose right John would try to claim the crown of Castile and thirdly to his long time mistress Kathryn Swynford with whom he had four illegitimate children surnamed Beaufort who were ultimately legitimised by the Papacy and by King Richard II.edmund of langley.jpg
  4. Edmund of Langley was born at King’s Langley. In 1362 when he was twenty-one he was created Earl of Cambridge. It was his nephew Richard II who elevated him to a dukedom in 1385 when he was created 1st Duke of York.  Thankfully there is an example of a logical progression of the dukedom.  When he died his son became the 2nd Duke of York.  Edmund was married first to Isabella of Castile who was the sister of John of Gaunt’s wife Constance. He married for a second time to Joan Holland who was Joan of Kent’s daughter from her first marriage – so the step-daughter of the Black Prince. Joan had no children but there were three children from the first marriage – although there is a question mark over the parentage of the last child from the union with Isabella of Castile.
  5. ThomasWoodstock

    Thomas of Woodstock: London, British Library Cotton MS Nero D.VIII, f. 0

    Thomas of Woodstock married an heiress Eleanor de Bohun in 1374.  In 1377 he was created Earl of Buckingham and in 1380 he became the Earl of Essex by right of his wife. In 1385 his nephew Richard II created him Duke of Aumale and Duke of Gloucester.  Thomas’s nephew, Henry of Bolingbroke (John of Gaunt’s son) would marry Eleanor de Bohun’s sister Mary – making Thomas both uncle and brother-in-law to Henry of Bolingbroke…demonstrating that sorting out the Plantagenet relationships is not necessarily a straightforward undertaking.

 

Nor for that matter is sorting out their titles a linear progression. Thomas of Langley’s dukedom of Aumale was given to him by Richard II in 1385 but was then passed on by Richard to Edmund of Langley’s son Edward of Norwich in 1397 when Thomas was marched off to Calais and murdered. However,  Edward of Norwich was himself stripped of the title in 1399 when his cousin became Henry IV having usurped Richard II.  It’s something of a relief to report that there were no more dukes of Aumale. Henry IV recreated the title as an earldom and gave it to his son Thomas at the same time as creating him Duke of Clarence and as a duke trumps an ear, Thomas is usually known as Duke of Clarence rather than Earl of Aumale.  Thomas died without children and the title became dormant (though rather like indigestion an Aumale title does return at a later date.)

 

The Black Prince died from dysentery and is buried in Canterbury Cathedral where his effigy and shield can still be seen.  Lionel of Antwerp was murdered by his Italian in-laws in 1368.  I should add that it was never proven that he was poisoned.  He was buried in Milan but eventually disinterred and transported home for burial in Clare Priory, Suffolk alongside his first wife.  John of Gaunt died of old age at Leicester Castle on 3rd February 1399 and was buried beside Blanche of Lancaster in St Paul’s Cathedral. Edmund of Langley died in 1402 and was buried at King’s Langley in Hertfordshire. Thomas of Woodstock was arrested on the orders of his nephew Richard II and placed in the custody of  Thomas Mowbray (Duke of Norfolk), transported to Calais where he was murdered in 1397. He was eventually buried in Westminster Abbey.

 

Ormrod, W. Mark. (2011)  Edward III. Yale: Yale University Press

Ormrod, W. Mark https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/king-edward-iii-the-family-man/

Weir, Alison. Britain’s Royal Families

The Holland family -from medieval gentry to dukes – part one.

220px-Thomas_Holland_1430.jpgThe story of the Holland family begins with Robert de Holland from Upholland in Lancashire.  He was born about 1283. He was a trusted part of Thomas of Lancaster’s household.  He benefitted from being within the Lancaster affinity by acquiring land as well as a wife in the form of Maud de Zouche – a co-heiress.

He fought at Boroughbridge in 1322 but not on the side of the earl who was in rebellion against his cousin the king.  This may well have been because Edward II was holding one of Robert’s daughters hostage at the time. However, the Lancaster faction were not quick to forgive the fact that the second earl was executed in Pontefract soon after the battle and that Robert, one of his most trusted men, had been a traitor to the earl’s cause.

Thomas of Lancaster was succeeded by his younger brother – Henry of Lancaster. Time passed.  On 15 October 1328 Robert Holland, or Holand, was at Borehamwood.  Unfortunately so were a number of Lancaster supporters.  There was an argument.  Robert was beheaded.

Thomas, Robert’s eldest son pictured at the start of this post in his garter robes, served Edward III. He was a man of no substantial wealth.  His mother Maud had to borrow money so he could be outfitted as a knight. However, it would appear that Thomas had a great deal of charm, not to mention nerve and persistence.  He wooed and won Edward III’s young cousin Joan of Kent.  They married in a secret exchange of vows when she was eleven or twelve.  He was more than ten years older than Joan.  It would take another nine years, a bigamous marriage and a papal decree before he was allowed to live with his bride.

Thomas’s fortunes really changed when Joan’s brother died.  He had no other heirs so Joan became the Countess of Kent in her own right (suo jure).  Thomas effectively became an earl through the right of his wife.  Thomas who had a proven military  track record by this time now had the money and the position in society to fulfil a leading military role in the Hundred Years War. Thomas and Joan’s eldest son another Thomas became a baron after his father’s death but did not become the 2nd Holland Earl of Kent until Joan died in 1385.

wiz33vab_medium.jpgThomas died in December 1360.  The following year his widow married her cousin Edward, the Black Prince.  The Holland children now had access to patronage with a very heavy clout.  Thomas (Joan’s son) gained a wealthy and aristocratic bride from the FitzAlan family.   More importantly it was the Hollands’ half-brother, Richard, who ascended the throne after Edward III died in 1377.

Thomas and John Holland were loyal to their half brother, Richard II, and benefited from their close ties – John even managed to get away with murder.  The Holland family found themselves spouses from some of the wealthiest families in the country, had the ear and trust of the Crown and continued to thrive whilst Richard II was on the throne.  The second earl’s son, another Thomas not only became the 3rd Earl of Kent but from 1397 the 1st Duke of Surrey.  This was a reward for loyalty.  Thomas had arrested his FitzAlan uncle on behalf of his royal uncle Richard II.   Perhaps because he felt a bit guilty about it he the founded of Mount Grace Priory in Yorkshire the following year.

It is perhaps unsurprising that when Richard II was deposed by Henry of Bolingbroke – Richard’s first cousin and the Hollands’ first cousin once removed- that they found themselves being demoted.  The dukedom had to be handed back.  As a consequence Thomas Holland the 3rd earl of Kent became involved with the Epiphany Rising of 1400.  He was executed.  He had no children.

holland1exeter.jpg0bea27da411458b11f502fb7d52aad65.jpgThomas’s uncle John (Joan’s second son) was executed at the same time.  John Holland had married another wealthy royal cousin, Elizabeth of Lancaster (John of Gaunt’s daughter).  This may have been because of the Black Prince’s patronage and it may have been because his mother Joan of Kent got on well with her cousin John of Gaunt.  John became Earl of Huntingdon in 1388 and in 1397 became the Duke of Exeter.  He was also involved in removing Richard II’s enemies.  In John’s case not only had he arrested his uncle Richard FitzAlan (the 11th Earl of Arundel) he has gone to Calais to arrest Thomas of Woodstock, Richard’s youngest Royal uncle. Thomas had died whilst in Calais as pictured in Froissart – the story involves a mattress…

When Richard II fell from power John was stripped of his dukedom but was allowed to retain his earldom by his brother-in-law the new king Henry IV.  This double relationship did not stop John from being involved in the Epiphany Rising of 1400 nor did it prevent his execution.

For the moment the fortunes of the Holland family looked bleak. It would continue to be dubious until 1415 when John Holland’s son, another John, would be able to regain the dukedom of Exeter from Henry V after the Battle of Agincourt. He would also continue the family tradition of marrying someone who was a cousin in a degree that required papal dispensation and which kept his family close to the line of succession!

Hicks, Michael.  Whose who in Medieval History

P.S. A family tree will be forthcoming at some point soon.