06 May, 2012

Edward II And His Staff

I posted a few weeks ago about Edmund and 'Litel Wille' Fisher, father and son, who both worked in Edward II's chamber, and about Edward's treatment of them: he bought Wille shoes in 1323, and gave generous sums of money to Edmund's widow Sibille and daughter Johane in 1326.  This post contains more insights into Edward II's treatment of his household staff and their families, taken from his extant chamber journal of June 1325 to October 1326 (now in the library of the Society of Antiquaries, London).  Generally it seems that Edward was generous and kind to his staff and treated them well, although the Polychronicon, written by Ranulph Higden, monk of Chester, in the 1350s, claims that he lashed out at his servants when he was in a rage.  No other source I know of confirms this, however.  In the interests of fairness and balance, I should point out that Edward II was capable of being cruel and vindictive towards anyone who angered him or who he thought (rightly or not) had betrayed him.  I could give many examples, but let's just take a minstrel called John le Botiller, who played at Edward's knighting in 1306 but fought against the royal army at Boroughbridge in 1322, and who was still imprisoned in late 1326; not a lot of forgiveness there from the vengeful king.  Edward II inherited a vile temper from his father, who assaulted a servant at his daughter Margaret's wedding in 1290 and had to pay him compensation for injury, and perhaps from his mother Queen Eleanor as well.  This is demonstrated on one occasion in the 1320s when he flew into such a violent rage with his ally Walter Reynolds, archbishop of Canterbury, that the archbishop pretended that he had to make an urgent visitation to his cathedral in order to escape from the king’s presence.*  Edward II, for all his bad temper and other character flaws, was often astonishingly generous and kind to the people he loved and who pleased him, to the point of political foolishness when he lavished gifts and lands on Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser.  Still, there are far worse character traits than generosity and loyalty to the people you love.

* Kathleen Edwards, 'The Political Importance of the English Bishops During the Reign of Edward II', English Historical Review, 59 (1944), p. 340.

Staff of the king's household earned one and a half pence, three pence, four and a half pence or seven and a half pence a day depending on rank and position (except for sergeants-at-arms, who earned twelve pence or one shilling, and knights, who got two shillings), and all their clothing, shoes, food and drink was provided.

- Late April 1326: "Item, paid to Hick Mereworth, valet of the king's chamber, who had leave to go to Henley to his house with his wife, who came to Kenilworth great with child [grosse denfaunt], for his expenses, of the king's gift, 20 shillings...Item, paid to Johane, wife of the said Hick Mereworth, who came to her baron [i.e. husband] at the said Kenilworth great with child as is said above, because she heard that her husband had been ill, 40 shillings."  (Hick was a nickname for Richard.)

I find this entry really interesting for the insight that the king's household staff got royal permission to go home, i.e.that they got holidays, though I don't know how often leave was granted.  They didn't live with their families; the Household Ordinance of December 1318 states that no wife was allowed to accompany or to follow the household, not even the wives of highly-ranked staff.  I also love this entry for the information that Johane Mereworth had somehow heard that her husband had been ill, and out of concern for him travelled, while heavily pregnant - on foot or via cart, perhaps? - the eighty-odd miles from Henley-on-Thames to Kenilworth to see him.  Litel Wille Fisher was forced to remain behind ill at Kenilworth when Edward left there in late April 1326, so it does seem as though some illness was making its way around the chamber staff.  Edward granted Hick and Johane permission to go home together, perhaps to await the birth of their child, and gave them a remarkably generous gift of three pounds for their expenses (and note that Johane's share of that was two pounds).  At wages of threepence a day, that was half a year's income for Hick, or if he earned one and a half pence, a full year.

- Having said that wives were not allowed at court, Edward did give permission for them to stay there on occasion: in early January 1326, he gave seven shillings to Anneis, wife of his porter Roger de May? (his name is abbreviated), who stayed with her husband from 5 December to 1 January. Anneis was also given forty shillings on 9 June 1326 when she came from 'the parts of Nottingham' to visit her husband at court.

- Hick Meworth or Mereworth, now called by his full name of Richard, is mentioned again on 28 June 1326, given twenty shillings and leave to go home because he "had news that his goods were stolen."

- 21 September 1325: five shillings given to Philip, "who was a page of the king's chamber and who can no longer work." (This is not explained.)

- 10 March 1326: Two and a half pounds "paid to Jack of St Albans, king's painter, who danced before the king on a table and made him laugh very greatly [lui fist tr' gr'tment rire], of the king's gift, by the king's own hands, in aid of him, his wife and his children."

This entry is often cited in secondary sources, but no-one ever points out that the payment to Jack was not only made for entertaining Edward - and notice that the king hadn't lost his sense of humour despite knowing by then that his wife was associating with Roger Mortimer in Paris - but was intended to support Jack's wife and children.

- 11 August 1325: five shillings given to Robert Traghs, one of the king's porters, "of the king's gift, because his wife was delivered of a child." In mid-September, Robert (now named as 'Robyn') was given another five shillings for his expenses in travelling home to London to see his daughter and his wife, whose name was Johane.

- 27 May 1326: Edward paid eight shillings for cotes (tunics) made of worsted for seven of his household archers.

- 11 February 1326: twenty shillings given to Roger Lesturmy, one of the king's squires, who had been ill.

- 16 October 1325: "Item, paid to Will Shene, one of the porters of the king's chamber, who will marry his wife at Henley on the next Sunday after the date of this [entry], five shillings. Item, paid to Isode, whom the said Will will marry, for their expenses on the said Sunday when they will be wed, twenty shillings." Again, the wife got far more money from Edward than her husband. Will was one of three porters who received ten shillings each on 30 April 1326 for their expenses in returning home when they "had leave to go to their country" (avoient conge daler en lour pais). Edward II gave Isode another ten shillings on 4 July 1326, though it's not stated why.

- 17 May 1326: forty shillings paid to Will de Bromleye, king's harper, who "has leave to go to Ireland."

- 14 January 1326: forty shillings paid to Hugh Despenser the Younger's confessor Richard Bliton, "for what he did in the park of the said South Elmham when the king went to eat in the said park."

- 29 October 1325: one of Edward's chamber valets, who often appears in the journal, was called Syme Lawe. Evidently his brother Henry was a member of the king's household too. Their sister Alis Coleman was paid twenty shillings on this day for brewing forty gallons of "ale for the king's mouth," and her brother Henry was sent to give her the money. Edward bought Syme Lawe a saddle on 5 March 1326, and he was granted permission on 20 May to go home for a while and given a pound for his expenses. Syme, Henry and Alis also had a brother called Willecok, who on 23 May 1326 travelled with Edward II by water from Shene to Bisham and was paid three shillings for doing something with the rope in the king's boat (I'm not quite sure what; my knowledge of Anglo-Norman doesn't quite stretch to such technical matters).

- 31 October 1325: Edward gave two pounds to Katherine, wife of Hugh Despenser the Younger's chamberlain Clement Holditch, "who came to the king for some great business which she had to do with his help."

- 20 January 1326: Edward II paid thirty shillings to a draper of Norwich for fourteen ells of 'cloth of Coggeshall' - a town in Essex famed in the Middle Ages for its production of cloth - to make tunics (cotes) for the wives of five of his porters, including Roger de May and Robyn Traghs. The cloth, however, turned out to be "too stiff" for this purpose, and was sent to Edward's wardrobe to be used for something else. Edward bought instead eighteen ells of "bright blue English cloth," at twenty pence an ell, from a draper of Leicester, to make cotes hardies and hoods for the five women.

- 11 February 1326: forty shillings given to Thomas of Goodrich Castle, one of Hugh Despenser the Younger's clerks, "who remained at court, ill, and this day has the king's leave to go to London to the said Sir H. [a dit mons' H], for his expenses."

- 19 March 1326: a whopping hundred shillings, five pounds, given to John Dene, one of the ushers of the king's hall, who had been ill and had the king's leave to "go to his country in the parts of Canterbury" (daler en son pais en les p’ties de Cant’bury).

- 19 April 1326: a sum of money that I can't work out paid to a man with the fantastic name of Willecok de Brakenhale, "king's blacksmith," who "had news that his father was almost dead."

- 19 May 1326: twenty shillings paid to Will Muleward, one of the valets of Hugh Despenser the Younger's sister Isabel, Lady Hastings, who "was with the king for some time and made him laugh very greatly" when Edward attended the wedding of Lady Hastings' daughter Margaret to Sir Robert Wateville at Marlborough that day.

- 26 July 1326: Edward gave three shillings to 'Will, the gardener of Kenilworth, who came from there to talk with the king on some affairs touching him, of the king's gift, for his expenses in returning to the said Kenilworth."

10 comments:

Anerje said...

These types of gifts show a very human side of Edward. He could indeed be very generous to friends and servants. Their stories are often very interesting and touching. I've been reading about Elizabeth of York's charitable giving, and she was more inclined to give to an individual rather than groups. As for Edward's temper, all kings had tempers, and his was certainly not as bad as his father's or the early Plantagenets.

Kathryn Warner said...

Yes, they're lovely insights into how things worked, aren't they? And how he interacted with his household and their families. I love it.

That Plantagenet temper seemed to be inherited down the generations, didn't it? :)

Gabriele C. said...

Now I begin to wonder if Heinrich the Lion's Plantagenet wife got some of that temper, too. Maybe their marriage was a bit more .... lively than it appears. ;)

Kathryn Warner said...

There's an interesting thought...:)

Carla said...

A wildly unpredictable temper seems to be a Plantagenet characteristic, more so in some than others. I wonder if some sort of bipolar disorder ran in the family, or if it was just that they weren't used to being crossed.

Some of those gifts are extraordinarily generous. It must have been almost like winning the lottery.

Kathryn Warner said...

Carla, I sometimes wonder too if it was being treated with kid gloves from birth, never hearing the word 'no' and never being thwarted!

Edward's most generous gift that I can think of to a member of staff was to a messenger in 1312 who brought him 'good news' from Piers Gaveston - 50 pounds, decades' income!

Gabriele C. said...

Makes you wonder how he treated messengers with bad news, though.

Kathryn Warner said...

I've never seen even a suggestion that Edward treated messengers bearing bad news badly.

bluffkinghal said...

Liked this post. I think all kings (or queens or dictators) with absolute power have this very human habit of lashing out when angry. Others who don't have this power would not do so because of the consequences, but those in power don't have to fear that. It hardly means that the same people cannot be loving or generous.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Bluffkinghal! Great point!