04 March, 2012

Brief Biographies: The Fisher Family

Just a quick post today (I've had an eye injury and haven't been able to come online for a while) about a family who served Edward II: the Fishers.

Edmund Fisher, Fissher, Fisshere or Fyssher, whose first name almost always appears on record as the diminutive 'Monde' - Edmund in the early fourteenth century was spelt 'Esmon' or 'Edmon' - was a valet of Edward II's chamber by February 1323 and probably a lot earlier, but unfortunately few of Edward's chamber accounts survive.  That month, he was given a gift of five shillings by the king (paie a Monde Fissher vadlet de la chambre de doun le Roi v s).  He often appears in Edward's extant chamber accounts of the 1320s doing errands for the king, usually called 'valet of the king's chamber', and in January 1326 'the king's fisherman', as per his name, given three shillings by Edward to buy himself fishing boots (botes p' lewe, literally 'boots for the water').

Monde's son Wille was also a member of Edward II's household, and appears in the records as a page of the king's chamber and later as a huntsman.  What I love is that he is almost always called Litel Wille, Little Will.   (Edward also had servants called Litel Colle, Little Colin, and Grete Hobbe, Big Rob.  So cute.)  Although Edward's chamber accounts were written in French, the nickname was always written in English, Litel or Lytle, not Petit, although I have seen it once in Latin, Parvo Willelmo.  The name Fisher always appears in English too, not in French (le Peschour, it would have been).

In November 1322, Edward gave Litel Wille and another page of his chamber, Wille de Donestaple, nine pence to buy themselves shoes, and in August 1325 the two young men and two others received money from him to buy themselves robes.  From October 1325 to January 1326, 'Lyttle Wille' was sent to Somerset and Dorset with Richard Beauchamp 'the king's huntsman', six other men, forty-one 'coursing hounds' and eleven greyhounds, for which he was paid seven pence a day, a very generous amount for a young man of his rank.  In late April 1326, 'Litel Wille Fyssher, page of the king's chamber' was given a gift of five shillings "for what he did when the king mounted his horse."  (Unfortunately, whatever he did is not specified.)  Edward was leaving Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire that day, and Litel Wille was forced to remain behind, ill; presumably the five shillings was at least partly intended in aid of any expenses he incurred while not travelling with the court.

Monde Fisher's wife, Wille's mother, named Isabelle or Sibille for short, first appears in Edward II's chamber account in the autumn of 1325, receiving a gift of five shillings in exchange for sending him fish.  On 1 April 1326, Edward sent 'Esmon le Fisshere' to the priory of Coventry on his retirement; it was a usual and frequent occurrence for kings to send their former servants to a convent to receive sustenance there for the rest of their lives when they retired.  Monde was still with the king at Sturry in Kent on 12 June, however, when Edward gave ten shillings to "Monde Fissher, one of the valets of the king's chamber, remaining ill at the said Sturry."  Edward departed that day for Leeds Castle, leaving Litel Wille behind with a gift of two shillings to help look after his father, but sadly Monde "was called to God" (fust a dieu commande) the next day.  Edward gave twelve pence to "Peres, boy of Monde Fissher" who came to inform him of Monde's death.

Edward met Monde's widow Sibille while travelling between Sheen and Byfleet on 2 July.  He gave her a gift of twenty shillings (a pound), and also gave ten shillings to her and Monde's daughter Joan ('Johane' in contemporary spelling), his chamber account noting that the money was given to the women in his presence.  On 25 July, Edward encountered Sibille (her name this time recorded as 'Isabell') again, also when travelling between Sheen and Byfleet - this was the day he met a man named John de Walton who gave him a bucket of fish and who "sang before the king" - and she gave him and his niece Eleanor Despenser, travelling with him, a present of loach.  He gave her five shillings in return.

This is the last instance I can find of Edward II's association with the Fisher family, though Litel Wille was named as one of Edward III's huntsmen in 1330.  I hope he thrived.  I'm so fond of him.  :-)  I like the glimpse into the lives of some of the lower-ranked people who served Edward and how he looked after them, and also into contemporary nicknames - Monde, Wille, Sibille.  Finally, it's interesting to see that Monde, who really was a fisherman, had the name Fisher, and that his son Wille bore the same name, despite not being a fisherman to the best of my knowledge.  He wasn't called 'Hunter' or 'Page' or 'of the Chamber' or 'of Byfleet' or anything else which might have served to identify him and distinguish him from other men named Wille.  Are we seeing part of the evolution of fixed English surnames here?


The National Archives E 101/379/17
Society of Antiquities Library MS 122
Calendar of Memoranda Rolls Michaelmas 1326-Michaelmas 1327
Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-1327


Anerje said...

It's always nice to hear about the 'lesser' people in Edward's reign, especially his kind gestures towards them. Sorry about the eye! Sounds very painful.

Kathryn Warner said...

It's nice to see the lower-born people sometimes, isn't it? Great to see Edward's good relations with them too.

Thanks! It really was, so I'm extremely glad it's mostly healed now!

Carla said...

Sorry to hear about your eye injury. I hope you're fully recovered now.

That's a very interesting point about fixed surnames starting to develop. Having the names and nicknames written in English even though the rest of a document was in French might be consistent with that. A job title might be translated, but not a name. I wonder if he was sometimes known as Little Will the Fisher's son and that was shortened to Will Fisher.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Carla! It's fine now, thank goodness.

It's really interesting, isn't it? I've seen other examples where Edward's servants are called by their job title, in French (e.g. le Keu, Cook), but Fisher really seems to be a surname.