14 July, 2015

Insomnia, A Human Knife And Equal Pay For Women: Edward II And His Chamber Staff, 1325/26

There are some rather fascinating details in Edward II's last chamber account, which covers the period from late May 1325 until 31 October 1326 and is now held at the library of the Society of Antiquaries in London, and is the most gorgeous thing ever, in my admittedly biased opinion.  Edward had a large staff in his chamber, which was headed by the chamberlain, i.e. Hugh Despenser the Younger from late 1318 onwards, and was the department with responsibility for household management and subdivided into numerous departments such as the napery (table linen), pantry (bread and other dry goods), buttery (drinks), spicery, laundry, larder (meat and fish), chandlery (wax and candles), saucery, scullery, and ewery (water and vessels for washing).  The chamberlain was in charge of the knights, squires, ushers, porters, sergeants-at-arms, valets and pages of the chamber, and held responsibility for Edward's personal service and private apartments, and for public events and ceremonies.  In his chamber, Edward II had over thirty 'valets' (valletz in French), thirty sergeants-at-arms, and two dozen archers as his personal bodyguard, as well as a number of knights, pages, ushers, clerks and at least a dozen squires.  The valets and archers were paid three pence a day, as were the king's sailors and carpenters, and the pages two pence; the wages of the other staff, though they were members of the chamber, were paid out of the king's wardrobe, not his chamber.  The squires and ushers earned seven and a half pence a day and the sergeants-at-arms twelve pence (one shilling).  All food and drink, accommodation, clothes and shoes were provided to royal household staff for free, and they were given permission by the king to go home to visit their families on occasion (as the families were not allowed to stay at court or follow behind).

One of the squires of Edward II's chamber was Oliver of Bordeaux.  On 7 February 1326 at Harpley in Norfolk, a wonderful entry in the chamber account (my discovery, my transcription and my translation!) records an extremely large payment of twenty marks to Oliver "when the king sat beside his bed a little before midnight" (q'nt le Roi sist enp's son lit vn poi deuant la mynoet).  What on earth was going on there?  Was Edward, sleepless, spilling out his thoughts and worries to the attentive Oliver?  It's interesting to see - and I didn't notice this when I wrote this lovely anecdote about Oliver in my book Edward II: The Unconventional King - that the very next day, 8 February 1326, Edward II issued a proclamation that his queen Isabella of France was 'adopting the counsel' of Roger Mortimer, his deadliest enemy, at her brother Charles IV's court in Paris.  Had the king just heard this news on the night of 7 February, and that's why he sat beside Oliver's bed, late at night, perhaps anguished?  And why was he sitting by Oliver's bed, and not Oliver by his?  Curious, most curious.

The payment to Oliver, 7 February 1326, in SAL MS 122.

Another of Edward II's chamber squires was John Pymock, whose son's name was also Edward; this Edward was called le petit Pymock, 'the little Pymock', and the king's confrere, brother or companion, in Edward II's chamber account.  A curious nickname for one of the king's chamber staff, which one I've been unable to identify, was le petit Cotel le Roi, 'the king's little Knife'.  That this was the nickname of a person is apparent from an entry in the chamber account of 24 August 1325, when a payment was made to Jack Pyk, a valet of the chamber, "on the information of the king's little Knife."  This formulation, 'on the information of', is used over and over in the royal accounts, and always referred to a person.  Other chamber squires of Edward II included Eustace Boson, Robert de Micheldever (executed with the earl of Arundel on 17 November 1326), John Harsik, who joined the earl of Kent's plot to free Edward in 1330, and Garsy de Pomit.

In the year 1325/26, Edward II had between twenty-eight and thirty-three valets attending him in his chamber at any given time (sometimes they were sent out of court to buy fish or fishing nets, for example).  What's interesting is that two of the valets were women; royal and noble households of the Middle Ages usually consisted almost exclusively of men, and Edward's Household Ordinance of 6 December 1318 mentions only a handful of washerwomen, the rest of his staff of several hundred being men.  (Queen Isabella of course had female attendants, but had her own household.)  The female valets' names were Joan Traghs, who was the wife of another chamber valet Robert 'Robin' Traghs, and Anneis de May, wife of the chamber valet Roger 'Hogge' de May.  The women were hired in early May 1326 and at the end of 1325 respectively, and received the same wages, three pence a day, as the men.  (Edward II, fourteenth-century champion of equal pay for women!  Wooo!)  On 15 June 1325, Edward paid for cloth to make tunics for Joan Traghs and three other wives of his chamber valets, and two months later gave her husband Robin a gift of five shillings on hearing that Joan had given birth to their daughter.  He even paid Joan's usual wages when she was away from court, ill, for forty-four days, and recuperating somewhere in Norfolk.  Joan Traghs and Anneis de May and their husbands Robin and Roger were among the twenty-four chamber valets still with the king in South Wales on 31 October 1326, over a month after the queen's invasion and the last day the account was kept.  As well as the two married couples, there was a father-son pair and two brothers among the chamber valets: Richard 'Hick' Hustret and his son Henry Hustret, and Simon 'Syme' Lawe and his brother Henry Lawe.  Another Lawe brother, the excellently-named Willecok, is also mentioned in the chamber account, sailing in Edward's boat along the Thames with the king in late May 1326, and their sister Alis Coleman was paid on several occasions for brewing ale for Edward.  A Thames fisherman named Jak Coleman, mentioned a couple of times sending gifts of fish to the king, may have been Alis's husband.  Then there was the fab father-son pair Edmund 'Monde' Fisher, a valet of the chamber, and William 'Little Will' Fisher, a page of the chamber.  I love Little Will Fisher.

Edward's Household Ordinance of 6 December 1318 stated that he should nominate six of his thirty sergeants-at-arms to sleep outside his bedchamber every night, with the remainder to stay close by in the hall should he need them.  He also had an usher to guard the door, and judging by an entry in SAL MS 122, six of his chamber valets also slept inside the room with him, one of whom was Roger de May.  In early July 1326, the six men received a gift of twenty shillings to be shared out among them in recognition of their hard work in waking up and attending the king whenever he himself awoke during the night (more anxiety and insomnia, perhaps?).

In the third week of 1326, Edward II was sailing along the Thames from 'Bustleham', i.e. Bisham, to his palace of Sheen, when he hired one 'Ambrose son of Will de la Wyk' as another chamber valet.  (Because apparently nearly three dozen just wasn't enough.)  On 7 June, Ambrose received his first wages of four shillings and nine pence, at three pence a day.  Unfortunately, the chamber account doesn't specify how Ambrose came to join the royal household.  I also sometimes wonder how it happened that the many of Edward's sergeants-at-arms who came from abroad joined his household.  You can tell from the names that some of them were German, French, Italian, Spanish: Oto le Alemaund ('Otto the German'), Giles de Tholosa (Toulouse), Rodrigo de Medyne, Nicholas le Lombard, Poncius de Fossato, Pouncettus de Monte Martini, William Beaukaire (the town of Beaucaire not far from Avignon).  Were these men hired abroad, or were they already living in England?  I'd love to know.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fascinating post ... I wonder why Edward hired women, if it was so unusual.

Esther

Sami Parkkonen said...

This is great stuff! I wonder if the Little Knife was his hit man or someone who could really use a knife? Perhaps if we knew more of the knife culture in medieval society we could unlock this mystery and understand what is behind the name. What meaning a knife had, symbolically, what it meant to carry a knife or wield one? Was it a tool ir something else?

In Finland there was a strong knife culture up untill very late. A knife was a multipurpose tool, like the famous swiss switchblade, and they were carried out openly untill late 1970's legally in Finland. It was quite common to see people carrying knives on their belts in the early 1970's in some country towns and villages, even in some bigger cities like Jyväskylä or even Helsinki. Men carried knives quite openly in eastern Finland in early 1980's, few years after that had been made illegal.

I got my first knife at the age of five, just like brother and sister. Small kids knives were sold for this purpose. It was a sort of a sign that one was no longer a toddler anymore. And yes, I managed to cut my left forefinger nine times while practising to use the knife. But nobody made a big thing out of it. My sister once needed stitches on her tigh when her kife slipped from her hands. My brother bought a knife to his son when he was six so the tradition went on. My brothers son never used it, is not carrying one etc. but it was a symbolic thing.

Perhaps there was somekind of a meaning for a knife in England in those days as well, one we have forgotten, and thus the name Little Knife.

Anerje said...

What a marvellous post! I'm intrigued as to why Edward was sat by Oliver's bed and not the otherway around! To think Edward may have wanted to confide or seek the opinion of one of his household - fascinating!

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

This is fascinating. Kathryn. I love the abundance of detail here. And so much food for thought - especially Edward's night vigil.

Sami Parkkonen said...

I think I have figured out why Eddie stayed up all night long and kept this guy awake all night long...

Personally I do not drink at all but perhaps Eddie had taken few sips and, as we all know and some of us have personal experience on this, once you reach a certain level of shall we say influence of the drink, you become philosophical. Maybe Eddie was staying up all night and being "philosophical" shared his thoughts with this guy, so much so that later on it did not feel that great and he felt it would only decent to compensate it somehow? :-D

Gabriele Campbell said...

I wonder if they only thing he did was sit and talk. Surely the rolls wouldn't mention that little detail. ;-)

Maybe Edward kept female staff to please the women's husbands. He strikes me as uncommonly generous and understanding towards lower born people, esp. considering the attitude of his time.

Anonymous said...

Thank you again for an interesting post. I would love to ask a couple of questions about what happened when Edward was on the road (and I guess that was a quite a lot from a number of your posts). Did he always have this big encourage with him, even when he was staying in places much smaller than London or Westminster (like Harpley in Norfolk maybe?)? It must have been quite a task to feed everyone in some of these small places!
Also, do you know if he and his household worshipped in the local parish churches when they were staying in rural manor houses or hunting lodges, or did they get chaplains to come to them? It is intriguing to think of villagers watching a royal party cramming into some parish church (which still may still stand today). But maybe that is a bit of a fanciful idea!
Best wishes, Henry

Kathryn Warner said...

Judging by the refs to Edward's 'mesnie', i.e. household, when he was visiting Norfolk in early 1326, it seems as though only some of his household were with him. I don't know where the others were. Sometimes I wonder where Edward and all his retinue stayed when they visited all these little out of the way places! Some manors had a private chapel for the king, and he did sometimes pay chaplains for their Mass which implies that it was also private, but otherwise, I suppose he might have worshipped at the local church. It's a lovely idea!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Kathryn. I guess space would have been at a premium in a place like Harpley. If there had been various retainers spread out over rushes on the floor near Oliver's bed, maybe someone would have shouted "Hoy! Put a sock in it! We are trying to get some shut-eye here!" before noticing who was having the midnight conversation! It's fun to muse on these possibilities that your great research has thrown up, isn't it? Best wishes, Henry

Kathryn Warner said...

Funnily enough, I imagined exactly the same thing, Henry! 'Oi, shut up, it's late, I'm trying to...ohhhhh, my lord king! I'm so sorry! I didn't see at first that it was you!' :-D

Anonymous said...

It is these little snippets that take you, Kathryn, above so many historians. Most will say that king so and so was here then and did this, but you find the human under the lies, misjudgements and cold stark politics. Historians seem to view the people they write about as chess pieces to fit a hypothesis and a theory. You search for Edward and make his emotions and what makes him the real, flesh and blood man matter. I wish more writers took your approach. Who needs fiction when the reality is so vivid and fascinating?

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you so much for the kind words! That really means a lot to me.