Kings and Queens, Lords and Ladies
Updated: Feb 21, 2022
Royal messengers were considered to be protected by the king from any untoward treatment. When something bad did happen to them, the perpetrators could find themselves being punished rather harshly. For example, in 1250, a king’s messenger was made to eat the message that he was carrying by Sir Walter de Clifford, a powerful Marcher lord. Upon hearing of his messenger’s maltreatment, Henry III was so angered that he locked Clifford up and fined him 1000 marks.
Clothing Allowances for Knights-to-be
When around 300 men were knighted at a ceremony by Edward I in 1306, each would-be knight was issued with enough cloth for their clothing and bedding. A receipt for these items exists and is as follows: ‘I, William Beler, have received from Master Thomas of Usflete, Clerk of the King’s Great Wardrobe, for the use of Henry le Vavasseur, for making him a new knight, by order of the lord King by privy seal, namely for his cointesia [mantle], 6 ells of cloth of Tarsus and one pena of squirrel fur of 8 rows. For his cape during vigil, 4 ells of brown mixed cloth. For his two robes, 10 ½ ells of azure blue cloth, 2 furs of ‘popple’ and 2 furs of squirrel, each of 6 rows, and 2 hoods of marten fur of 4 rows. Item, for his bed, that is for his quilt, 2 lengths of cloth of gold in Meseneaux and one piece of worsted, 24 els, and for that of his canvas, 10 ells.’
A King's Get-Away
According to Kathryn Warner’s wonderful book, Edward II, The Unconventional King, Edward took possession of a cottage inside the grounds of Westminster Abbey in 1320. He named this cottage ‘Burgundy’, and it seems to have been a place where he could get away from his royal trappings, while the rest of his entourage stayed in more luxurious surroundings, either at the Palace or the Tower. Of course, this was seen as yet another example of Edward’s eccentricities and was very much frowned upon by contemporary chroniclers.
The Gardening Earl
Henry de Lacy, the third Earl of Lincoln, seems to have enjoyed a good garden. His plot at his house in Holborn became famous for its flowers, fruit and vegetables and he sent abroad for new types of apple and pear trees. Having such a surplus of produce, he was also able to sell at market, bringing in a sizeable profit. He also sold ‘small plants’, bringing to mind the sort of commercial garden centre business that you see today. With so much garden to maintain, he had a small army of gardeners, the head of which was paid a princely sum of 52s. 2d. a year, plus robes.
A Valuable Velvet Bed
The 4th Lord Basset of Drayton, Ralph Basset (d.1390), valued not just his coat of arms, but obviously his bed too, as a provision in his will states: ‘I will that the person, whosoever he be, that shall first bear my surname and arms, according to my will, shall have the use of my great velvet bed for life, but it is not to be given away from him who should bear my name and arms.’
Playing a musical instrument was a common skill in the Middle Ages, especially so for the noble classes. Young men (and probably women too) of gentle birth were certainly expected to not only be able to play something, but also to sing and to compose songs and poems. Dancing was another thing that they had to know. Somehow you have to feel sorry for those who were tone deaf!
Royal trumpeters were expected to accompany the king everywhere to announce his comings and goings. On the road, their calls also served to keep everyone together and inform them where the king was. Horn-blowers also had special duties: calling night-watches and people to meals, warning of the outbreak of any fires, and informing everyone within the royal residence when the king was about to go hunting.
Different Regime, Same Sh*t
After the deaths of the Despensers in 1326 and the deposition of Edward II in 1327, you would have thought that the new regime of the young Edward III (controlled by Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer) would have been welcomed by everyone as a new age. However, this wasn’t the case: several small lead panel badges from the time have been found which show a youth kneeling in supplication and/or fear before a standing queen who has a rather threatening cudgel in her hand! These badges would most likely have been worn by those hostile to the new regime - which was proving to be as greedy and ruthless as the old one.
The Inconvenient St. Thomas
When Thomas of Lancaster was executed in 1322 by Edward II, his supporters tried to make him into a saint, despite the fact that while he’d been alive, his actions were often far from saintly! To the king’s chagrin, pilgrims began to flock to his tomb and were soon claiming miracle cures were happening. As this was a PR disaster for Edward, he ordered that a commemorative plaque to, and pictures of, Lancaster to be removed from St. Paul’s Cathedral, as well as any shrines elsewhere in the country. However, even up to the reformation, the St. Thomas of Lancaster cult persisted and there were even reports of his hat being used as a remedy for headaches and his belt against the dangers of childbirth!
Nun of That Name Here
Matilda (also called Edith), later to become the wife of Henry I, spent her younger days at the abbeys of Romsey and Wilton. One story relates that, when she was newly come to Wilton (some say Romsey) in 1093, the king, William Rufus, arranged a visit. To protect her from his possible unwanted attentions, the abbess dressed her in a nun’s habit. Which was just as well as William insisted on going to the cloisters, although he insisted he ‘only wanted to admire the roses and other flowering plants.’
Weasel of the Wise King
Alfonso X 'the Wise' of Castile (1221-84) had a pet weasel, which he seemed to be extremely fond of. It went everywhere with him, kept in a little cage tied to his saddle. The king, known for composing a type of song called a cantiga, even wrote one about how the Virgin Mary saved his pet after it fell under the hooves of his horse, in return for the king's pious devotion.
Not a Good Day for a Birthday
The 25th April was the birthdate of Edward II, and of Roger Mortimer. Its also celebrated as St Mark's day in the liturgical calendar, when black crosses were carried in procession, along with prayers for good weather, good harvests, and good health in the coming year. According to some, to be born on this date was seen to be a bad omen. Not wrong there, for those two.
Edward I's Easter
Edward I started up a lovely little tradition on Easter day. If members of his household, or the queen's ladies, could catch him abed, they could drag him out of it and hold him 'captive' for a small ransom. Edward II also continued the fun during his reign. In 1307, the last year of his reign, Edward I also ordered 450 eggs to be boiled and dyed or covered with gold leaf to be given out to his household as gifts.
A Lady's Abduction... or was it an Escape?
In 1317, the earl of Surrey, John de Warenne, abducted Alice de Lacy, the wife of Thomas, the earl of Lancaster. Although Warenne had, for years, been trying to get rid of his own wife, the abduction was probably not because they had any sort of relationship together. It has been proposed (and I'd go along with it too) that Alice was a willing abductee, her marriage being completely loveless at the time, and that she placed herself under Warenne's protection. Whatever the circumstances, it certainly served to humiliate Lancaster, something that Edward II and his supporters must have rejoiced in). Later, after Lancaster's execution, she married one of Lancaster's men, Eubolo l'Estrange.
Order of the Garter Created
On this day in 1348, Edward III created the Order of the Garter, the first official order of knighthood. Inspired by the legend of king Arthur and the round table, it was also considered to be the highest order of chivalry.
A Lovely Gesture
In 1310, Edward II had a stone bench set into a recess of the north wall of Windsor Castle, next to the cloistered garden, so that he and Isabella could sit together in privacy. (Medieval English Gardens, Teresa McLean)