22 May, 2006

The Feast of the Swan, 22 May 1306

700 years ago today, one of the great events of the Middle Ages took place in Westminster Abbey: the knighting of 267 men, the largest mass knighting in medieval England, described by one contemporary chronicler as the 'most splendid event since King Arthur was crowned at Caerleon'.

Foremost among the new knights was the man who would become King Edward II just over a year later, but at the time was 'merely' Edward of Caernarvon, Prince of Wales, Duke of Aquitaine, Earl of Chester and Count of Ponthieu. Now a month past his 22nd birthday, it was high time that he was knighted, and his father Edward I - who was almost 67 but had just become a father again, for about the 19th time - sent out a writ that "all who are not knights but wish to be" should come to London to be knighted.

267 men were accepted, and accordingly arrived in London with their retinues. The logistics of housing all these men were difficult, and required a great deal of preparation: wheat, oats, sheep, oxen and swine were purveyed in five counties, many new utensils were bought for the king's kitchen, and fifty carpenters were hired to build temporary structures at Westminster and elsewhere. Most of the men were housed at the church of the Knights Templar, the 'New Temple', where walls were levelled and fruit trees cut down to make space for all the tents and pavilions which were required, some as robing-rooms.

As was customary in knighting ceremonies, the men spent the night before the ceremony in vigil, in church - most of them at the New Temple, but a few in the Abbey church with Prince Edward. The vigil was supposed to be spent in silent prayer and meditation, but in the Temple there was a great deal of talking, shouting and trumpet calls. Tsk, young men, eh?

The following morning, Whitsunday, 22 May 1306, Prince Edward was knighted by his father in a private ceremony in the chapel of Westminster Palace. The king touched his sword to his son's shoulders, girded him with the belt and sword of knighthood, and the earls of Lincoln and Hereford - the latter Prince Edward's brother-in-law - fastened on his golden spurs. The royal party then made their way into Westminster Abbey.

In the meantime, all the other knights-to-be had processed through a huge, excited crowd from New Temple to the Abbey. More noise and chaos reigned, to the extent that great war-horses were brought in to clear a path and restore order. Finally, in front of the high altar, the men were called forward in pairs, made their vows of knighthood, and Prince Edward touched the sword to their shoulders and fastened on the belt, sword and spurs.

The banquet held afterwards in the Great Hall of Westminster Palace was equally splendid. 80 minstrels had been hired for the occasion, which cost Edward I £130, a huge sum (more than three times the minimum annual income for knighthood). The highlight of the feast came when some musicians brought in a huge platter bearing two swans (I'm not sure if they were real or not) and those present took vows on the swans. The king's was to avenge the injuries done by Robert Bruce, after which he would never take up his sword again except in the cause of the Holy Land. The Prince of Wales' vow was to never sleep in the same place twice till he reached Scotland, in his attempt to help his father keep his vow.

Many of the men who would play a vital role in Edward II's reign were present on that day, though apparently Piers Gaveston was knighted a few days later, not during this great ceremony.

Roger Mortimer of Wigmore was there, just turned 19 but already long married and a father, probably several times over.
His uncle Roger Mortimer of Chirk, about 50 but never knighted. He was imprisoned with his nephew in the Tower in 1322, and died there.
Hugh le Despenser the Younger, aged between 16 and 19 and due to marry the king's eldest granddaughter, 13-year-old Eleanor de Clare, 4 days later. Late May 1306 was a big month for Hugh: knighted on the 22nd, married on the 26th, and his mother Isabel Beauchamp died on the 30th.
As far as I know, Roger Damory, Edward II's favourite between 1315 and 1318 (he was described as a knight in a document of 1306)
John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, aged almost 20. Surrey would marry another granddaughter of the king, Joan of Bar, 3 days later.
Edmund Fitzalan, earl of Arundel, aged just 21. One of Gaveston's killers, but executed by Mortimer and Isabella in 1326.
John Maltravers, later notorious as one of Edward II's jailers at Berkeley Castle.
Bartholomew Badlesmere, who was Steward of Edward's household between 1318 and 1321, turned against him, and was hideously executed in 1322.
John Mowbray, one of the many of Edward's enemies (or rather, Hugh le Despenser's enemies) executed in 1322.
And well over 200 others! :)


Scott said...

A great site you have here. This post in particular was of great use to me. I am a historian and writer, currently penning a short story centered on Roger Mortimer's escape from the Tower of London. I'm impressed with your wealth of information!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, Scott! So glad you're finding the site helpful, and I'd love to read your story when it's finished (sounds great!).

Scott said...

Great. I'm getting ready to start following you on Twitter, so I'll be in touch when the story is complete. Thanks again.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, I appreciate that! Please do let me know when it's ready! ;)

Beata said...

That was a great blog. It must have been an extraordinary experience for those present. I wish we could really time travel and go back and see it!

Maris said...

Thanks Kathryn for your impressive site. Most useful with detail. I am in the process of filling in some gaps of my [presumed] ancestors, the Belhus family, who were close and faithful servants to the kings for a very long period, partly because of their kinship with the de Burghs.

I come from the Bellhouse family from Yorkshire and there has been great debate about whether they were in fact related to the Belhus family of Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent etc. which was believed to have died out in the late 1300's because property passed to grandsons on the female line, or not. In fact it did not die out because there was a commercial arm of the family in London which lived on.

My personal opinion after much research is that probably the Yorkshire Bellhouse family emanated from an illegitimate child in Wakefield, Thomas, born about 1260? - possible progeny of a knight riding north to assist the king in quelling the Scots.

No doubt they would have ridden via Wakefield and Pontefract, although Richard Belhus had been granted the property of Sledemere in east Yorkshire as early as 1199 when he gave the king [John Lackland] 90 marks "in his great need" and received Sledemere in return.

However there is an extremely fascinating John Bellhouse [Johannes de BELLEHOUS of Yorkshire, who was listed in the Yorkshire Poll Tax of 1379, and his son Thomas BELHOWSE appears in 1400.[Agbrigg wapentake, Warmfield parish:Sharlston: Johannes de Bellehous' Cecilia uxor ejus - Johannes de Bellehous and his wife Cecilia],

This Johannes de Bellehouse of Sharleston near Wakefield was apparently known to John of Gaunt for some service because of the following "Johan Bellehous 1379-1383 “our good friend” (John of Gaunt Register) - to be paid by Robert de Morton – Receiver of Pontefract Yorkshire".

And I have a note from the same register as follows: "Robert de Morton – Receiver of Pontefract 1379-1383 (John of Gaunt Register) ordered to pay Thomas Wollasson, the Duke’s Master carpenter of Rothwell. [Could this be when the Bellhouse family became exposed to the carpentry trades which they followed for hundreds of years??]"

Finally I have a note about the same Johannes de Bellehouse [I think it is the same man] "1396 – Inheritance - Testamentum Walteri de Bruge Canonici Ebor (Canon of York) - p.209 “Item lego Johanni Belhows x marcas, unam loricam calibis, & unam equum secundum meliorem.” Anno Domine MCCC nonagesimo sexto p.209 Also, “I read John Belhows ten marks, one on the breastplate of steel, and one of the better horse.” AD1396 Sep30".

If it is the same man, then he is unlikely to be the offspring of an illegitimate serf, Thomas, unless Thomas was recognised as offspring of one of the Belhus knights riding north to Berwick on Tweed to help the various kings quell or intimidate the Scottish kings.

On the other hand he could have been a legitimate child of one of the knights or one of the commercial Belhus/Bellehous families - I speculate that perhaps a mother could have died circa 1350 from Black Death and a living child could have been sent north, out of the more populated areas or more at risk areas such as Norfolk to be reared by a retainer or friend in Yorkshire, and just chosen to marry and stay there.

I am also trying to see if there is a connection between the Bellhouse [Bullus] people of Sheffield and the rest of the Yorkshire Bellhouse/Bellas family in Ledsham, Kippax, Garforth, and Wakefield etc., many of whom eventually moved to Leeds and some moved even later to Manchester. My own g-grandfather later moved to London.

If you have any ideas I would be grateful.


Snedley said...

I am a little late to this page, but wanted to tell you that I am medievalist/heraldrist. Nice spelling, but anyway, I am trying to find the entire list of knights who were knighted at feast of swans 1306. I am trying to determine all the heraldry if it exists for all 267 individuals. I already have the armorials of the day (Nativity, Lord Marshal, 1st Dunstable, Parliamentary (Banneret), etc). Does the reference you mention (in Latin) have the entire list? You mentioned English translation possibly online? I haven't had any luck finding the list. Any help would be appreciated.

Jon Sneddon

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi Jon, sorry for the late reply - was away. The entire list of knights appears in Constance Bullock-Davies' book Menstrellorum Multitudo: Minstrels at a Royal Feast. Do feel free to email me about it at edwardofcaernarfon@yahoo.com.