Tag Archives: John of Gaunt

Katherine Swynford locations

It’s inevitable that many of these locations feature as castles belonging to John of Gaunt: Tutbury, Leicester, Herefored and Hertford to name a few.  I’ve also included a few places associated with Mary de Bohun whose household Katherine is listed in during some of the period when she and Gaunt went their separate ways.

 

Double click on the pointer to open up a box with a snippet of information about each of these locations. If nothing else it is possible to see how widely travelled John of Gaunt was within England. It is possible to see the lines of Roman roads as well as the marches between England and Wales as you look at the locations, a reminder that in the past boundaries determine fortifications and that key transport networks made it possible for the great and the good to administer their estates.

6 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century, maps, medieval

Thomas Walsingham – and the “Scandalous Chronicle.”

KatSwynfordThomas Walsingham was a Benedictine monk.  He lived at St Albans Abbey where he had been educated and is usually considered the last of the great medieval chroniclers being a prolific producer of manuscripts including the “Chronicon Angliae” which covering the years 1328 to 1388.  It is in this chronicle that he criticises John of Gaunt.   The “Gesta Abbatum” or the St Albans Chronicle or Chronica Maiora as a continuation of that of Mathew Paris – and in fact his histories draw heavily on Paris’s work. His writings end in 1422 when he died but it is from Walsingham that we know about Wat Tyler, John Wycliff and the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV.

In part because he wasn’t a fan of John Wycliff and Lollardy – he took against John of Gaunt who was regarded as offering protection to reformers, Wycliff in particular. However, it should be added that there are two versions of Walsingham’s chronicle – one which is deeply hostile to John of Gaunt describing him as having “unbridled malice and greed, fearing neither God nor man.”  Walsingham’s general view was that Gaunt was after his nephew’s crown. True, Gaunt was the power behind the throne but hindsight shows that he never sought to take the crown by force despite several provocations.  It would also have to be said that Walsingham was just repeating what other people thought.  In 1377 his arms were reversed and marched through London by an angry mob. In 1381 his London palace, the Savoy, was burned to the ground. Walsingham was also critical of John’s relationship with  Katherine Swynford describing her as an “unmentionable concubine” and a “whore.”

william bell scott john of gauntRather amusingly and to the detriment of the chronicle a second version was penned after Henry IV, who was of course Gaunt’s son, came to the throne. Oddly all the unpleasant remarks about Gaunt were removed…so that the first version came to be known as “the scandalous chronicle.”

In all fairness Walsingham was critical of most of Richard II’s courtiers describing them as knights of love rather than war and better with words than weapons – well he should know about that!

Lucraft, Jeannette. (2006) Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Stroud: Sutton Publishing

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Fourteenth Century, The Plantagenets

Get thee to a nunnery! Swynford and Chaucer

nun5.gifIt was quite common in the earlier part of the Middle Ages for a parent to dedicate a baby or a young child to holy orders.  These children were called oblates because the child was offered to God with an altar cloth wrapped around their right hand – an oblation or offering.

Prior to the invasion of 1066 William, duke of Normandy, and his wife Matilda sent their daughter Cecilia into the noviciate at the abbey of Holy Trinity in Caen.  The date is significant – 18 June 1066.  She didn’t become a fully professed nun until 1075 when she was about nineteen or twenty.

It’s easy to speculate that Cecilia was offered in exchange for a successful invasion. Equally many parents gave their child as an offering in hope of heavenly brownie points. It should also be added that if you were a man with many daughters and insufficient lands you might be tempted to palm the plainest or least marriageable daughter off on the Church to avoid all the expenditure that accompanied nuptial arrangements.  Until the rule of Innocent III (1198-1215) children who were given to the Church had no power to quit the religious life once they grew up.  This could lead to unfortunate incidences of runaway or pregnant nuns not to mention nuns like Chaucer’s abbess who dressed well and kept pets.

Katherine Swynford’s eldest daughter Margaret along with her cousin Elizabeth Chaucer entered the nunnery at Barking when they were children.  It is possible that Katherine Swynford and Philippa Chaucer were following family tradition in dedicating a daughter to the Church because evidence suggests that the pair had an older sister (probably a half sibling) called Elizabeth or possibly Isabelle who entered the nunnery of St Wandru in Mons in 1349.

medieval-nuns

 

Elizabeth Chaucer entered the nunnery in 1381 following nomination by Richard II – demonstrating the influence of Katherine by this time.  Elizabeth had previously been lodged in the convent of St Helens in Bishopgate.  We know that John of Gaunt paid her admission fee – in lieu of a dowry.  It was a large sum- £51 8s 2d.  This in its turn has given rise to the rumour that Philippa may have had an affair with the duke of Lancaster and that Elizabeth was his daughter.  As Weir points out, Gaunt acknowledged his other illegitimate children and provided for them handsomely so why would he be furtive about Elizabeth, if she was indeed his?.She also notes that the care given by Gaunt to  members of his household was generous so there should be no raised eyebrows about the gift, although of course Auntie Katherine may have had a hand in it so that her own daughter would have, at least, had the company of a cousin. Margaret went on to become the abbess of Barking in 1419.

The abbess of Barking had the legal status of a baron- a reminder that for women the Church was more or less the only way to wield power in your own right so long as you made it to the top of the job ladder.  Margaret Swynford is recorded as dying in 1433.

Its not much information about the two girls but it’s all there is!

Weir speculates as to whether Sir Hugh and Katherine Swynford might have had other children.  She notes that there was a Katherine Swynford at Stixwold Priory in 1377.  However, other than the name and the fact that it is just possible that the traditionally accepted marriage date for Hugh and Katherine is wrong there is no evidence that this particular Katherine was a member of our Katherine Swynford’s immediate family.  Also Barking was a prestigious location.  It would be here that Jasper and Edmund Tudor were sent after their mother’s death.  By contrast Stixwold was rather impoverished.

 

Lucraft, Jeannette. (2006) Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Stroud: Sutton Publishing

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

‘Houses of Benedictine nuns: Abbey of Barking’, in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2, ed. William Page and J Horace Round (London, 1907), pp. 115-122. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol2/pp115-122 [accessed 7 September 2017].

SaveSave

Leave a comment

Filed under Fourteenth Century, The Plantagenets

Blanche Swynford

KatSwynfordBeing a girl, daughter of a minor and somewhat impecunious Lincolnshire knight claiming descent back to the Saxons, no one thought it sufficiently important to make note of Blanche Swynford’s date of birth. Of course, History reveals little Blanche to be the god-daughter of John of Gaunt and daughter of Katherine Swynford. Nor for that matter is History terribly sure about the number of her sisters.

 

Historians are uncertain whether Blanche is older or younger than her brother Thomas who was born on 21 September 1368.  Anthony Goodman argues that Blanche was born sometime in 1366 whilst John of Gaunt’s first wife was still alive.  It makes sense that if Gaunt was her godfather that Blanche of Lancaster may well have been her godmother.  Equally it is possible to argue that the baby was named after the late duchess and not born until 1370 (ish).  Both scenarios are equally valid although there may be some shifting in the dates depending on the text.

Weir suggests that Blnache may have been born earlier given that Hugh inherited his estates in 1361 pushing the marriage date for Katherine and Hugh back to the start of the decade, at a point where Katherine would have only just attained a legally marriageable age, rather than placing it sometime between 1366 and 1367 as is usual.  In part the problem arises because Historians are uncertain whether Katherine married at a very young age or not.  The argument often given is that it seems unlikely that a very young woman would have been made governess of Gaunt’s children.

What we can be certain about is that the papal dispensation for the marriage between John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford mentions Blanche because of the relationship that being godparent created.  There is also some evidence to suggest that Blanche grew up with John’s daughters – which makes sense given that Katherine was their governess- and which Weir uses as evidence of Katherine being married by the end of 1362 with Blanche making an arrival the following year.  The fact that Blanche is in Gaunt’s records as being in the household of his daughters in 1368 helps this viewpoint.

She turns up again in the aftermath of Queen Philippa’s death on 14 August 1369.  Edward III provided mourning for the ladies at court and Blanche as lady-in-waiting or more accurately demoiselle to John of Gaunt’s daughters received suitable garb for the occasion.  Weir argues that the mourning given to the Swynford family at this time reflects the fact that Philippa remained fond of Katherine and  Philippa Chaucer after their years growing up in the queen’s household.

Lucraft identifies the fact that Gaunt takes an active interest in his godchild.  Katherine was awarded the wardship of Robert Deyncourt in 1375 specifically to cover Blanche’s dowry. Of course, one of the key factors of having a wealthy ward was to marry him into the family as soon as decently possible.  Weir writes that Gaunt intended Deyncourt, a scion of the Lancaster Affinity, as a groom for his godchild. However – Blanche did not marry Robert.

Did she die young? Was Blanche dead by 1378? Possibly.  Alternatively the records provide us with another possible groom in the form of Sir Thomas Morrieux – the gift Gaunt gave the happy couple was extremely generous including as it did silver spoons, saucers and a basket with a silver top. The difficulty is that this may be a different Blanche. Froissart says that Morrieux’s wife was Gaunt’s illegitimate daughter. Either Froissart thought Blanche Swynford was Gaunt’s; or she was the daughter of Marie de St Hillaire or Froissart was wrong (his chronicles do contain errors). The evidence that this particular Blanche is Blanche Swynford is circumstantial- Morrieux was a Lancastrian retainer with an annuity of £100 p.a who died in Spain. Our lack of knowledge about his wife reflects the difficulty of decoding the past where records are incomplete and names not always terribly helpful.

The difficulties of working out relationships from fragmentary evidence and deductions without necessarily knowing exact dates for events are summarised by Sydney Armitage-Smith writing in 1904 about John of Gaunt:

But the attempt to identify the Duke s daughter and the daughter of his later mistress breaks down hopelessly. (It was made by Sir N Nicolas, Scrope v Grosvenor Con
troversy 11 185) For (i) there is Froissart’s explicit state ment quoted above ; (11) Blanche is never mentioned among the Beauforts , (ui) there is the insuperable difficulty of age.
Katharine Swynford, born in 1350, and married to Sir Hugh Swynford m 1367, whose elder child, Sir Thomas Swynford, was born in 1368, could not possibly have been the mother of Blanche, who was married to Sir Thomas Moneux in 1381.

https://archive.org/stream/johnofgaunt001003mbp/johnofgaunt001003mbp_djvu.txt

Lucraft, Jeannette. (2006) Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Stroud: Sutton Publishing

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

4 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century, The Plantagenets, Uncategorized

The Hungerford family and the house of Lancaster

Seal_WalterHungerford_1stBaronHungerford_KG_Died1449.pngSir Thomas Hungerford is generally recognised as the first Speaker of the House of Parliament (Sir Peter de la Mare actually did the job first but no one at the time bothered to give him a job title so technically its Sir Thomas).  His family had all represented Parliament for Wiltshire so it is unsurprising that Sir Thomas should have taken the mantle on his shoulders in 1376 having been knighted the previous year – more unexpected, to the modern way of thinking at least, is the fact that he held the constituency of Wiltshire and also Somerset in the parliaments of 1384 and 1389.  He was already part of the Lancaster Affinity when he sat in his first parliament. He was an member of parliament during the so-called Bad Parliament of 1377 when he fulfilled the role of Speaker. In all, he would serve as a member of parliament sixteen times.

Sir Thomas’s career path is typical of the period – he married well; twice and on both occasions secured lands and political credit.  He represented John of Gaunt within Wiltshire/Somerset and he benefitted from that link to the extent that on his death he was the holder of twelve manors.  Thus on a regional level through family roles and local administration he was a man of importance – sheriff and member of royal commissions.  This in turn was enhanced by his links to the Lancaster Affinity.  And as with other knights I have written about in the last couple of weeks, the arrangement was reciprocal.

Evidence for the growth of Hungerford’s status is best seen in the form of Farleigh Hungerford Castle which started off life as a manor house and which was turned into a castle by Sir Thomas as his power and wealth increased.

And, as with other members of Gaunt’s retinue, Hungerford was associated not only with the father but also the son.  In 1387 he was linked with the so-called Appellants, of whom Henry of Bolingbroke was one,  who sought to muzzle Richard II. However, he was not a member of the Merciless Parliament.  Even so once Richard II regained his power Hungerford lost some of his regional influence which was not restored until John of Gaunt returned from Spain.

 

In addition to serving the Lancaster Affinity within his region he also served as Lancaster’s steward and can be found also  in the role of bailiff to the Bishop of Salisbury.

 

Sir Thomas died at the end of 1397 and was replaced by his son – another Sir Walter who was the only one of his sons to outlive him (his seal is pictured at the start of this post.)  Sir Thomas had three son by his first wife and two by his second.  Sir Walter, who at the time of his father’s death had only just come of age, would become a baron and like his father would maintain his loyalty to the house of Lancaster – and this was demonstrated in 1399 when he supported Henry of Bolingbroke during his return from exile to claim John of Gaunt’s title and estates.  Walter became a knight just before Henry of Bolingbroke was crowned and would continue to serve Lancaster through the reigns of Henry IV and Henry V – he was an executor of Henry V’s will as well as also being a Speaker in Parliament. He was also Chief Steward for all the duchy lands south of the River Trent. By the time Sir Walter died, the Hungerford family owned fifty manors – perhaps making him into an example of a magnate with too much power and cash.

Inevitably the wheel of fortune turned as Lancaster’s fortunes declined with the reign of Henry VI. Sir Thomas’s grandson, Robert was executed in 1464 in the aftermath of the Battle of Hexham.The same fate befell Sir Thomas’s great grandson in 1469. It is perhaps unsurprising to discover that a member of the Hungerford family fought at Bosworth on the side of Henry Tudor – which helped to reverse the attainder that the House of York in the form of Edward IV had passed against the Hungerford family.

The Lancaster Affinity is hugely important to the period and to England’s changing political landscape.  The career patterns of John of Gaunt’s retinue echo one another in more ways than one- so no doubt I shall come back to the Lancaster Affinity and John of Gaunt’s retinue one way or another but its time to look more closely at Katherine Swynford.

 

Roskell, John Smith. (1981) Parliament and Politics in Late Medieval England, Volume 2

Roskell, John Smith. (1965) The Commons and Their Speakers in English Parliaments, 1376-1523. Manchester: Manchester University Press

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Fourteenth Century, Wars of the Roses

Sir John Pole of Hartington (d.1397)

 

DSC_0174John Pole of Hartington (the picture is of Hartington Church) in Derbyshire held some important offices in the Duchy of Lancaster – not least being the steward of the High Peak – which I think you’ll agree is a rather wonderful title as is the title of forester of Crowdecote – another of John’s nice little money spinners. The Crowdecote office came with the purchase of land which appears to have occurred shortly after Pole inherited the family lands in the area. The Parliamentary website also suggests that it was the purchase of the land at Crowdecote which first brought Pole into the orbit of Gaunt’s sphere of influence certainly it was from this time that Pole acquired grazing rights to land in Hartington in the ownership of Gaunt as part of the Duchy of Lancaster  (Hartington had been in the hands of the Ferrers family until involvement with de Montford’s rebellion saw his estates ending up in the hands of Edmund of Lancaster).

We probably shouldn’t be too surprised, either, to learn that Pole became a member of parliament following his links to Gaunt – it is pure supposition to consider the idea that Pole purchased the land at Crowdecote with the single aim of improving his political and financial standing by hooking up to the Lancaster bandwagon but it certainly isn’t outside the realms of possibility.

In 1381 Pole can be found suppressing revolting peasants – a role which he continued throughout his career in Gaunt’s service as in 1386 he is on the record arresting people following unrest in Worksop. Ironically it was probably his role as an assessor of tax in 1379 that led to the unrest in the area in 1381! He is also noted as being sent off  in 1395 to lean on juries in Staffordshire along with other men in Gaunt’s retinue…suddenly its all sounding very mafia-ish.

 

More importantly so far as history’s knowledge of Pole is concerned is his keenness to take people to court – lawyers are good at written records and consequentially we know quite a lot about him.  He first appears in 1376 suing someone from Alstonfield for poaching and there are also records of him suing his own family over the inheritance of the manor of Sheen which had been split for a number of years due to the way it was inherited but when the manor was finally reunited under John’s tenure he promptly sued the previous occupants for laying waste the estate – presumably they weren’t too happy about the fact that the manor was ultimately going into John’s hands and took what they could whilst the going was good. Ultimately another John Pole would sell the manor of Sheen to Edward IV.

 

Our fourteenth century Pole appears to have recognized which side his bread was buttered and became on of the duchy’s most loyal supporters in the region. In return he gained preferential rates for grazing in the High Peak as well as an annuity of £10 a year as one of Gaunt’s retainers – crucially both in times of peace and war. He was newly knighted in 1386 when he set off for Spain with John of Gaunt and Constance or Constanza of Castile in John’s abortive campaign to claim the Spanish throne. Fortunately for Pole he avoided succumbing to the disease that rampaged through Gaunt’s army and returned to Derbyshire.

 

When he returned to England he appears to have continued extending his land holdings in Derbyshire and Staffordshire. His behaviour either on his own behest or for his master seems to have caused major disagreements with the abbot of Dieulacres in 1395.

Dieulacres, a Cistercian Abbey near Leek, had a bit of a reputation! The abbot was prone to suggesting that it was put upon but the Victoria County History for Staffordshire paints a rather different picture as this extract demonstrates:

 

The abbey appears as aggressor as much as victim in numerous breaches of the peace in the area during the later Middle Ages, the abbot maintaining armed bands like any troublesome lay magnate. A royal commission of inquiry in 1379 recited ‘information that one William, Abbot of Dieulacres, desiring to perpetrate maintenance in his marches and oppress the people’, had kept a band of 21 retainers ‘to stay with him . . . to do all the mischief they can to the people in the county of Stafford and that they have lain in wait for them, assaulted, maimed, and killed some, and driven others from place to place until they made a fine with them’. In 1380 a similar group was indicted for having beheaded John de Warton at Leek by command of Abbot William. The abbot surrendered and was imprisoned, but he was soon pardoned and released. At the beginning of Henry V’s reign the county was in a very disturbed state, and among the many indictments was one involving a monk of Dieulacres and a servant of the abbot. They were accused of being members of a group of 80 who had broken into William Egerton’s park at Cheddleton in 1413 and stolen ironstone.

 

So the dispute between Pole and the Cistercians was probably a rather lively one which has been relegated to a passing footnote of history. 1395 also saw Pole being charged with the illegal use of hunting dogs – whether it was connected to the abbot is another matter entirely.

 

Pole was probably dead by 1397 because he disappears from the register and his son, another John, is described as a minor. John senior’s widow, Isobel, went on to marry Sir Thomas Beek, another member of Gaunt’s retinue. Isobel and Sir Thomas appear in the records in several land ownership cases at the time as well as sueing Henry Marion, William Perkson, William de Tyderyngton and Hugh del Grene, for treading down and consuming her grass at Alstonfield – I should add that it was the cattle of the aforementioned doing the trampling and eating!

 

The family tradition for suing all and sundry was maintained by young John when he came of age because he promptly sued his mother and step-father for failing to account for their stewardship of his estates – including at Alstonfield- the general feeling being that they had lived rather well on the proceeds.

 

I have the feeling that I will be returning to the Poles at some point. And before anyone asks; I know that they were related to the Poles of Radbourne in Derbyshire and linked to the Chandos family but not to the de la Poles (dukes of Suffolk) or to the Pole family who were Henry Tudor’s cousins (Henry married off Margaret Plantagenet- daughter of the duke of Clarence- to his cousin Sir Richard Pole – she went on to become the Countess of Salisbury and was brutally executed by Henry VIII). I should add that that particular Pole family came from Cheshire. A casual glance at the map reveals that it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that the two families were somehow linked but the two sets of Poles were distinctly separate entities so far as known history is concerned.

DSC_0173.jpg

 

G C Baugh, W L Cowie, J C Dickinson, Duggan A P, A K B Evans, R H Evans, Una C Hannam, P Heath, D A Johnston, Hilda Johnstone, Ann J Kettle, J L Kirby, R Mansfield and A Saltman, ‘Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Dieulacres’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3, ed. M W Greenslade and R B Pugh (London, 1970), pp. 230-235. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol3/pp230-235 [accessed 22 August 2017].

 

POLE, Sir John de la (d.c.1397), of Hartington, Derbys. and Alstonfield, Staffs. Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993.  Available from Boydell and Brewer

3 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century, Monasteries

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

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Derbyshire, Fourteenth Century, The Plantagenets

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

 

 

SaveSave

1 Comment

Filed under canon law, Fourteenth Century, Law, medieval

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Fourteenth Century, The Plantagenets

Rules for Medieval Marriage

Marriage_of_Blanche_of_Lancaster_and_John_of_Gaunt_1359.jpg  I have been reading a Social History of Women in England 450-1500 by Henrietta Leyser  in between finding out about John of Gaunt’s retinue as it is sometimes easy to impose our own views and beliefs on the events of a particular period.  Interestingly it was only in the twelfth century that the Church came up with a consistent view of what constituted a marriage and what wordage was required from the couple who it joined in wedlock and whether the marriage needed to be consummated in order to be legally binding.

So here it is very briefly as I understand it: Peter Lombard of Paris insisted that a couple need only exchange the words “I take you as my wife” and “I take you as my husband.” He argued that the Virgin Mary was married to Joseph but had remained a virgin her whole life according to the theology of the time.  Consequentially, if it was good enough for the mother of Jesus it was good enough for everyone else.  Pope Alexander III backed this view.

In 1215 Pope Innocent III clarified the Church’s views on consanguinity by reducing the prohibited degrees of relationship from seven to four. When counting seven degrees of relationship the Church simply counted back up the family tree so that would have meant that a sixth cousin would be unable to may his or her sixth cousin which must have made life somewhat difficult for the intertwined aristocratic families. Properly the first degree of consanguinity is the closest one – parent and child; second degree of consanguinity -siblings; third degree aunt-nephew or uncle-neice; fourth degree- first cousins. However, the Church continued to make its calculations by going back up the family tree four generations meaning that the net of consanguinity covered much more than a first cousin. It included anyone with the same great great grandparent. However, there were such things as papal dispensations which fetched in a handy income for the Church.

478px-Lady_Margaret_Beaufort_from_NPGThe need to apply for papal dispensation where cousins removed were to be married often fitted into a rather lengthy negotiation process where the marriage was more of a seal on an alliance than a love match. Prior to a couple’s betrothal a financial settlement had to be agreed.  A bride’s family was expected to settle a dowry upon her.  This was her share of her inheritance.  It often took the form of goods and cash as well as land which her own mother might have brought into her own marriage.  In return the bride would receive dower rights from the lands which her groom held i.e. the income from those lands was hers.  Once the marriage settlement had been agreed then there would be a betrothal ceremony.  Given that these betrothals often took place where at least one of the participants was a very young child the betrothal wasn’t always binding.  Effectively where children  had not yet reached the age of reason it was much easier to wriggle out of a marriage alliance than after.  Margaret Beaufort was betrothed by her guardian to his son John de la Pole at the age of six but was rebetrothed on the orders of Henry VI to his half-brother Edmund Tudor  three years later.  Seven was regarded as the age of reason and after that time is was harder to break a betrothal. A full coming of age was twelve for girls and fourteen for boys though even at the time Edmund Tudor’s treatment of  his child bride raised eyebrows.

There were other considerations to take account of if you were of peasant stock and wished to marry. Family politics and relative wealth acquisition played their parts from the mightiest to the least in the land. However the peasantry or those descend from villeins had to find the money to pay marriage fines and there were plenty of them.  Leyser (120) describes Merchet – a fine paid for a licence to marry; legerwite which literally translates as a laying down fine was the fine levied on a woman who had had pre-marital sex (there was no corresponding male fine) and there was also chidewite which was the fee for having an illegitimate child.  You might also find yourself having to marry someone your lord had decreed was a suitable match for you – though of course this something that every strata of society had to deal with.

Innocent III also forbade secret marriages and decreed the necessity of the calling of banns. There were also times of the year when the Church decreed that marriages couldn’t occur.  Advent and Lent were marriage free times of the year.  Banns were called three times and the calling had to be at least a day apart to allow an opportunity for anyone objecting to the union to come forward.

During medieval times weddings did not take place inside the Church.  Weddings occurred at the church door – which given the climate in England probably accounts for the number of porches within medieval church architecture.   The marriage at the church door was a curious amalgam of vows and financial arrangements.  The ring that the bride wears today is all that is left of the symbolism of the groom’s symbolic gift of gold or silver given to represent the bride’s dower.  It was apparently quite normal for the groom to arrive with a shield or book stacked with gold or silver.  The couple exchanged vows in English. And did I mention that a priest wasn’t needed even if the couple did get married at the church door!  Of course having a priest made it easier to prove you were married.

And that leads to an explanation of the word wedding. Dixon Smith explains that consent to a marriage or a pledge to marry was shown by giving and receiving an item referred to English as a ‘wed’. A ‘wed’ could be any gift understood by those involved to mean consent to marry but was often a ring.  A ‘wedding’ where a man gave a woman a ring and she accepted it created the marriage.  This complicates things still further because if the giving of a gift is enough to have created a marriage there’s an awful lot of room for accusations and counter accusations of being married based on very little evidence other than a he says/ she says sort of exchange in a court.

Once the couple had exchanged their vows they entered the Church and celebrated Mass.  Once that was done the couple knelt to receive a further blessing.This was all followed by a wedding feast and there could be no skimping on the food or festivities.  Leyser reveals that Robert Juwel was fined for failing to provide a feast at his marriage (109).  Obviously this depended on the relative status and wealth of the groom and his family.

And finally the priest would bless the happy couple’s bedchamber and the bed.  There then followed an often rowdy and sometimes public bedding of the bride and groom.

images-17elizabeth woodville

 

All very straight forward except it wasn’t! Leyser goes on to reveal that during the Middle Ages couples  got married all over the place – from trees to inns.  This of course was because there were two kinds of marriage as anyone familiar with the convoluted story of Edward IV’s love life must be aware. If Edward IV, who married Elizabeth Woodville in secret, had previously been betrothed to Eleanor Butler then he was as good as married which made his union with Elizabeth bigamous.  The promise of marriage followed by intercourse was marriage and recognized as such by the Church. So despite the fact that secret marriages were prohibited, the Church recognised that people could and did get married without the consent of either the Church, their parents or their overlords. Law required the irregular or clandestine marriage to be regularised before any children could inherit but the marriage was legally binding even if there were no witnesses, no banns and none of the above negotiations. No priest was required for an irregular marriage either.  This makes either proving or disproving such a union rather difficult.

Unsurprisingly there are plenty of accounts in the ecclesiastical courts of couples who’d married clandestinely and which were followed up by objections. And so far as consanguinity was concerned anyone with an interest in English History knows where that got Henry VIII but realistically it was possible to extract yourself from an unsatisfactory marriage if some previously unknown impediment should be discovered and that’s before we even get on to the topic of people being pre-contracted in marriage and then going off and marrying someone else.

All of this seems to be rather complicated and in an age where the wealthy often married without love it comes as a bit of a surprise to discover that a marriage could be dissolved if it was proved to have occurred under duress.  Marriage by abduction did occur.  The reason why there may have been very few annulments for this reason was that once the marriage was consummated or the couple had lived together the grounds for duress was deemed to have fallen by the wayside.  Nor was cruelty a grounds for divorce though occasionally the courts threatened errant husbands with a whipping if they didn’t step up to the mark.

Of course sometimes people did marry for love – Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville spring to mind as do Margery Paston and the family bailiff Richard Calle. Katherine of Valois married Owen Tudor in secret rather than face life without a spouse and unable to marry to her own status in society until her son came of age.  More surprisingly Edward I’s daughter Joan of Acre married Ralph de Monthermer a squire from her household in secret.  Her father was not amused when he found out.

The image at the start of the post is to be found in Reading Museum.  It is an interpretation by Horace Wright completed in 1914 of the marriage between John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster which took place in Reading Abbey on 13 May 1359.  The happy couple were third cousins so a papal dispensation was required. Their shared heritage was their descent from King Henry III.

Dixon-Smith, Sally.  Love and Marriage in Medieval England in History Extra 11 February 2016   http://www.historyextra.com/article/feature/love-and-marriage-medieval-england-customs-vows-ceremony

Leyser, Henrietta. (1997) Social History of Women in England 450-1500  London: PheonIx

 

 

 

 

 

7 Comments

Filed under Development of English, Historical Artists, medieval