09 December, 2017

The 'Portours' Of Edward II's Chamber, And Their Wives

I've written before (and here and here) about the men who served in Edward II's chamber, who are referred to in his chamber accounts as his vadletz or portours. There were around thirty of them at any one time, plus half a dozen pages, who are either called 'pages' or 'boys', garsons. Then there were the squires of the chamber, a higher rank, of whom I've been able to find about nine at any given time. Oh, and there were knights of the chamber, and clerks, and other categories of men whose wages were paid out of the chamber: Edward's archers, carpenters, whelers, the men who bought and looked after the carthorses, etc.

I make no apologies for another post about Edward's servants, because history is not only about royalty, and I find it endlessly fascinating to discover details about the men and women who knew the king well and to gain insights into the lives of ordinary people in England in the 1320s.

Edward II's Household Ordinance of December 1318 states that no member of the royal household may have his wife at court or following along behind. Edward, however, did not vigorously enforce this rule: as I've said before, he hired two of the wives of his chamber vadletz/portours to the same job as their husbands, at the same wages. They were Johane (i.e. Joan) Traghs and Anneis (i.e. Agnes) de May. Johane and her husband Robyn Traghs had a daughter born in London shortly before 15 September 1325, and in early 1326 Johane joined the royal household as a portour and was still with Edward at the end of October 1326 when his accounts ceased to be kept, a couple of weeks before his capture. Someone, therefore, was looking after Robyn and Johane's daughter while they both travelled all over the country with the king. On 16 May 1325, Roger de May was given half a mark (six shillings and eight pence) for his expenses going home for a while, and some months before, his wife Anneis de May had been paid for sewing shirts for the king and Hugh Despenser the Younger and for making smocks for the chamber servants. This was a few months before she was hired as a chamber portour, and her making clothes for the king and his attendants seems to mean she was living somewhere close to the royal household, at least for a while. On 14 December 1325 shortly before she was hired as a portour, Anneis was given ten shillings to cover her expenses visiting the royal household, and "for what she did at the gate of the Tower [of London]" to mark the feast of St Katherine on 25 November. Anneis's name sometimes appears in the account as Annote, an affectionate diminutive of her name, while her husband Roger's name often appears as Hogge.

On 16 May 1325, Beatrice the wife of the chamber portour John Gos received six shillings and eight pence/half a mark for her expenses coming to the royal household, and another twelve pence for four nights' accommodation in London (Edward II was then staying in Chertsey). We see here how the wives of royal servants were allowed to visit their husbands at court but not to stay overnight with them there, and the king paid for their accommodation somewhere nearby. Though not too near; Chertsey is a good twenty miles from London, so maybe John Gos was given four days' leave to go and stay with his wife.

On 8 July 1325, Edward II gave a gift of ten shillings - and to put that in perspective, it was a few months' wages - to Anneis Lawe, wife of his chamber portour Henry Lawe. This implies Anneis was then visiting her husband. Henry was given permission to go home on 22 May 1325, with twenty shillings for his expenses. Henry's brother Syme Lawe was also a chamber portour, and also married to a woman called Anneis. This Anneis Lawe received twenty shillings in early July 1326 when she "came from her home to visit and talk to the said Syme, her baron [husband], for her expenses in returning to her home." The Lawe brothers' sister Alis Coleman sometimes brewed ale for Edward, their brother Willecok Lawe once helped with the ropes on a royal boat, and the king sent their father Roger Lawe a gift of money once when he was ill.

On 5 September 1325 at Dover, when Edward II was still debating whether or not to sail to France to pay homage to Charles IV or to send his son instead: "Paid to Nanne, wife of John Pecteman, one of the king's portours, who came to talk to her baron [husband] before he crossed the sea, of the king's gift, for her expenses towards the household, five shillings."

15 September 1325: "Paid to Robyn Traghs, one of the portours of the king's chamber, who went to London to talk to Johane his wife, who was delivered of a daughter, for his expenses, five shillings." This was a few months before Johane was admitted to wages as a fellow portour of the chamber.

16 October 1325: "Item, paid to Will Shene, one of the portours of the king's chamber, who will marry his wife at Henley next Sunday, five shillings. Item, paid to Isode, whom the said Will will marry, for their expenses on the said Sunday when they marry, twenty shillings."

29 April 1326: "To Hick Mereworth, vadlet of the king's chamber, who had permission to go to Henley to his house with his wife, who came to Kenilworth great with child, for his travel expenses and for what he did at Kenilworth before the king left there, twenty shillings. Item, to Johane wife of the said Hick, who came to her baron at the said Kenilworth great with child as is said above, because she had heard that her said baron was ill there, forty shillings." 

10 May 1326: "Paid to Johane wife of Robyn Traghs, one of the portours of the king, assigned to wages of three pence a day by the king as one of his portours from Saturday 8 March, on which day the king was at Sibson [near Leicester], and when he left the parts of Leicester the said Johane left court for the parts of Norfolk and the house of Lady Haward, where she stayed at the king's order because she was ill, and now on this day is being paid her wages, from 8 March until this day, sixty-four days, sixteen shillings."

Sick pay in the early fourteenth century! Awesomeness! And for two whole months as well. Who'd have thought it? Edward II offered equal pay for women, and gave sick pay to a woman he'd just hired who was unable to work for him for two months.

Edward spent Christmas Eve 1324 at Nottingham, playing dice with three of his chamber squires: they were called Giles of Spain (who later took part in the earl of Kent's plot to free the supposedly dead Edward in 1329/30), Burgeys de Till, and Garsy de Pomit. Garsy at least must have been an older man, as he had a son who was rewarded financially in 1326 for bringing the king news from Gascony. Another chamber squire was John Pymmok, who also had a son who was an adult in the 1320s. The chamber portours seem to have been of different ages: Will Shene, Robyn Traghs and Hick Mereworth and their wives evidently were pretty young in c. 1325 as they were getting married and having children - probably they were in their late teens or twenties - but Hick Hustret must have been older, as his son Henry Hustret was also a chamber portour. The pages of the king's chamber are often called garsons or boys, implying they were teenagers (or perhaps even younger), and sometimes are referred to by nicknames which reveal their youth and small stature: Litel Wille Fisher, Litel Colle, Litel Robyn. By contrast, one of the chamber portours was called Grete Hobbe, 'Great Hob', or in modern English Big Rob, implying that he was either tall or well-built, or both.
So we see that Edward II allowed the wives of his portours to come and visit them, and paid all the women's expenses. Servants were often given permission to go home to visit their families as well, with generous expenses that surely also counted as a kind of holiday pay. The permission to go home appears in the accounts as conge de aler en son pais, "leave to go to his country." The frequent use of nicknames in Edward's chamber accounts reveals the mutual affection and camaraderie among the chamber staff, and Edward took good care of his staff and was hugely generous to them. These were the men, and occasionally women, with whom Edward II spent the most time, and who knew him best. Six of the chamber portours slept in the king's bedchamber with him every night or most nights and thus knew Edward II intimately (I don't mean that in the sense of 'sexually'). This also strongly implies Edward's ability to speak fluent English, as men bearing names like Will Shene and Henry Lawe who worked as servants on pay of three pence a day were never going to speak French, though we can see from the names of some of the chamber squires like Burgeys and Garsy, above, that they were Gascon and thus French-speaking.


sami parkkonen said...

Well, looks like Edward was ahead of his times in equal pay too!

It is amazing how much money he was handing out to his servants in general. Payment of three pennies a day for a woman porter? That was the same salary he was paying for archers in his army so this is not a small thing at all.

Also paying for sick leave and sickness, handing out schillings etc.

You can say what ever you want but Edward was not squeezing his people money wise. He was paying well and all around. Strange man in his times when most of the knights, barons and lords of any statue were doing their best NOT to pay people under them in social order.

Anerje said...

These details show Edward's compassion, and a sense of camaraderie, in Edward's household. They are historical gems, and thanks for bringing them to our attention.

Anonymous said...

More proof that Edward would have been a great modern monarch!


Carolyn Grace said...

Kathryn, this is such wonderful insight. Do you know how Edward II's treatment of his servants compared to his father's and son's, or to his royal contemporaries'?

sami parkkonen said...

Comment on the previous one:

From what I have read, Edward I was a man who rewarded loyalty but also demanded it, and he was not as much loved as he was feared. I assume he also preferred that way because of his memories of what had happened to his own father with Simon de Montfort etc. That being said he inspired loyalty and he had some very faithful followers and allies who championed him and supported him, and who created his legend.

That being said he was not just the Hammer of Scots nor the cruel Longshanks of the movies, but a man who could be good too. He was also shrewd swindler on the international banking world and caused couple Italian banker families to collapse.

Edward III was something between the two. He got along with commoners but was not spending any time with them like his father had been, nor he was the scary ruler in the shape of grandfather. He could be ruthless and very cold, but was also capable for charity and understanding. Most of the commoners he had a positive inter action with were his soldiers, archers and spear men.

One anecdote says a lot about his attitudes: During the battle of Crecy in 1346 the crown prince and his Batallion were in serious trouble and a messenger arrived to ask help. Edward III refused and noted: Let the prince earn his spurs. The crown prince was only sixteen at that time and was in hand to hand combat for his life at this moment. So Edward III could be pretty hard on his own son too.

Goatberry said...

The more I learn of Edward, as a person, the more I love him. Perhaps he was just a man born out of time. I'd much rather have worked in his chamber than have been among those trying to keep the realm solvent. Or, as a general in his army. He didn't understand the tactical situation; didn't he have a tutor in such things? Or did he dislike it?
Poor man.

Kathryn Warner said...

I love that you love Edward :-) Oddly enough, Edward acquitted himself well as a soldier during his father's lifetime, but later when he was the one in charge, it all fell apart. I suppose he just didn't have a natural talent for it, and perhaps didn't like it. As you say, poor man. :/