04 June, 2017

Where Did The King Sleep? Logistics of the Royal Household

Edward II had at least 500 people in his household. The queen had close to 200. At any given time the king would have been attended by a sizeable number of earls, lords and bishops, who would all also have large retinues with them. Add to this all the merchants, prostitutes, petitioners, etc etc who would have followed the royal progress, and we're looking at thousands of people present at court, all the time. It's hardly surprising that the king hardly ever spent more than a handful of nights in one place; the localities wouldn't have been able to cope with feeding and housing such a huge number of people for any longer than that.

I often think about the logistics of the royal household, where everyone slept and so on. Sometimes Edward stayed at remarkably small villages, and I wonder, where the heck did all those thousands of people sleep? I've recently seen a couple of entries in the chancery rolls which I found interesting. In January 1322 during the campaign against the Contrariants, Edward stayed at Shrewsbury for about ten days, in the house of a woman called Isabella Borrey. This is rather intriguing; presumably the king stayed in her home with a small number of attendants while the majority of his retinue found lodgings elsewhere. Even a large-ish house would only have had room for a few people, not, of course, hundreds. Which attendants stayed with the king, I wonder? In 1326, Edward gave a gift of money to six of his chamber 'valets' (a word that's hard to translate) who woke up at night whenever he himself awoke. That seems to imply the six men slept inside his chamber. Except, I assume, on nights when Edward slept with his wife or anyone else he might have been intimate with. Or would they have made love and then the queen left for her own chamber, and they didn't spend the whole night together? I know that was sometimes the case with some later European royals. During Edward and Isabella's extended visit to France in the summer of 1313, the chronicler Geoffrey of Paris commented that one morning the couple overslept thanks to their night-time dalliance, and on another occasion a fire broke out in their pavilion during the night and Edward scooped up Isabella in his arms and rushed out into the street with her, both of them naked. This implies that they did spend nights together, at least sometimes. In 1326 when Edward thanked his chamber staff for waking up when he did, Isabella was in France and refusing to return to him, so he couldn't have been sleeping with her. Did he sleep with other people? Piers Gaveston, Hugh Despenser? If so, how did his chamber staff feel about their king taking men to his bed? Given the total lack of anything even resembling privacy, they could hardly have failed to be aware of it. Your guess is as good as mine. As he fathered an illegitimate son, probably before he married Isabella, and given that Isabella was pregnant at least five times, Edward was evidently not averse to sleeping with women either.

Edward II's Household Ordinance of December 1318 stated that he should nominate four of his thirty sergeants-at-arms (quite a high rank, below knight but involving considerable military training and ability) to sleep outside the door of his chamber "as near to it as they can" with the two ushers of the chamber, while the other twenty-six slept in the 'hall' to be nearby if the king needed them. The Ordinance also stated that Edward should have two dozen archers as his personal bodyguard (garde corps le roi) and, given their responsibility for keeping the king's person safe, I imagine at least some of them slept near him, or rather, stayed awake near him, perhaps in shifts (though I'm only speculating on that). So that's potentially six valets inside the chamber, four sergeants-at-arms and two ushers outside, plus, I assume, a few archers somewhere nearby, perhaps out in the street and around the building.

Another interesting entry in the chancery rolls of the 1320s I chanced on recently demonstrates that four of the king's hobelars (armed men on horseback, a lower rank than sergeants-at-arms) had been assigned lodgings by the marshal of the royal household in the dwelling of one Robert Gumby in Fleet Street, at some point when Edward was staying in London. (They were robbed and assaulted there.) Again, this indicates that the hundreds of members of the royal household were scattered among private houses to sleep and perhaps to eat, and presumably were given stables for their horses too. This must have taken considerable organisation on the marshal's part, especially when the court moved every few days. Quite a task. Just think, all those hundreds of people, horses, carts. Imagine having to bake bread or provide food, ale, bedding, firewood and so on for that many people, on a regular basis. Imagine having to pack up and move all your and the king's possessions several times a week. Even beds were moved; I've also just seen a reference to Edward's bed being taken along the Thames by boat in the summer of 1326.

Edward II travelled to France in June/July 1320 to pay homage to his brother-in-law Philip V for his lands of Gascony and Ponthieu, and sent commissioners to Amiens ahead of his visit to find lodgings for him and his huge retinue. Edward himself, certainly with a few attendants, stayed in the house of one Pierre du Garde, and later paid him ten marks in compensation for "all damage to his dwelling" caused during his stay. The king's chapel was placed in the house of Jean le Mouner, his offices in the house of Sanxia, the store-room for his kitchen in the house of Marguerite, and the passage between his chamber and chapel in the house of Guillaume le Mouner. Edward paid Pierre le Peyntour a shilling and sixpence to paint shields of the king's arms in the streets of Amiens, "in order to make known where the king’s liveries were," and four pounds to a master carpenter to repair "damage done by carpenters and others in the state rooms" of the court. So again, we see that the king stayed in a private dwelling with another home assigned for his chapel, and one inhabitant of Amiens opened up his house to provide a 'passage between the chamber and chapel', so that Edward didn't have to go out into the street whenever he wanted to pray or hear Mass, I assume. I wonder - I'm doing a lot of wondering in this post - if this was what usually happened wherever the king stayed.

Sometimes Edward stayed at the house of the Dominican friars in London, and in 1316 spent five weeks at the house of the Franciscan friars in York and gave them £10 for the expenses of himself and his household. On the way from York to London in early July 1312 after Piers Gaveston's murder, he stayed at Swineshead Priory in Lincolnshire. He also spent a fair few nights throughout his reign at Cawood in Yorkshire, a manor of the archbishop of York, and Sturry in Kent, a manor of the archbishop of Canterbury. As the king he had the right to stay wherever he chose, and so did the queen. (Lady Badlesmere's refusal to let Isabella into Leeds Castle in October 1321 gave Edward the excuse he needed to attack Badlesmere and go after Badlesmere's allies the Marcher lords, feigning outrage over this insult to his consort.) Especially near the end of his reign, Edward enjoyed spending time at Borgoyne or 'Burgundy', his cottage within the precincts of Westminster Abbey, rather than staying at the great royal palace of Westminster or the Tower or the palace of Sheen along the river.

I wonder, did the inhabitants or owners of private dwellings have to leave their homes for the duration of the king's visit, or did Edward have cosy chats with them in the evenings? Knowing him, I wouldn't be at all surprised. Did the household staff of, say, the earl of Surrey and the bishop of Worcester and Lord Whoever, all the great magnates and prelates attending the king at any time, also have to find their own lodgings or did the marshal of the king's household take care of that? The logistics of it all are quite staggering. Edward's marshals were told in 1318 to check regularly for people who had not taken an oath of loyalty to the king, and to throw them out of court. Given the huge numbers of people involved, it must have been fairly easy for intruders to insinuate themselves into the household and to eat at the king's expense, and the costs of the royal household were massive enough as it was. There are also a few entries in the chancery rolls indicating that it was not uncommon for 'persons pretending to be of the king's household' to go around the country thus obtaining lodgings and food for themselves for free. In or before September 1324, six men were imprisoned by Edward's marshals for "asserting themselves to be of the king's household and following it at a distance, [and] committed diverse larcenies and felonies at Winchester and elsewhere in the county of Southampton."


Caroline Newark said...

I love it. And to think it takes all my resources to get me, my husband and the dog to Southampton. Keep up the good work Kathryn.

Kathryn Warner said...

Yes, it's as much as I can do to get myself to the tram stop on time and remember to go to the supermarket before it closes. :-) Thanks, Caroline!

matt said...

Excellent post/ information.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Matt!

Anonymous said...

I may be missing the point here - but surely, if Edward had hundreds of courtiers and Isabella about the same, someone but someone would have reported that Edward and Isabella didn't have a 'normal' marriage i.e sleeping together and others were not occupying their marital bed. It seems absolutely ridiculous to me if Edward was such a weak, effeminate man who disappointed Isabella that she wouldn't look elsewhere for 'comfort' whilst Edward was on the throne and
let him get on with his dalliances whilst she just found someone to entertain and love her; but I don't believe they didn't love each other and it all went horribly wrong. Amanda

April Munday said...

Thank you. I, too, have often wondered about where all those people slept, not just the court, but the households of the nobles.

sami parkkonen said...

Fantastic stuff! You are The Expert, K!!

Jerry Bennett said...

Fascinating piece again Kathryn. I did not realise the royal households were so large. But two questions spring to mind.

1. Did some of the households of both Edward and Isabella stay in London or other major cities on administrative duties while they were travelling around the country, or were those duties left to the staff or officers of the chancellor or the treasurer? Parliaments tended to last for a month or more in most cases so accommodating the full royal household as well as various other retinues would have put quite a strain on even the largest cities. But if something like 40% were looking after the king's affairs in London or travelling on other royal duties, that could have eased the burden.

2. How far would they have been reduced while Edward (and to some extent Isabella) were involved in military campaigns. Having recently visited Tynemouth priory to try and understand how Isabella escaped from there in 1322, the thought of two hundred of her household trying to board a mediaeval cog, presumably from the small beach that is now home to Tynemouth Sailing club, is really quite staggering.

Kathryn Warner said...

Jerry, unfortunately I just don't know. I could only speculate. What I've found about the royal household and their travels is here in the post. Your guess is as good as mine.

sami parkkonen said...

@Jerry Bennett:

When ever great lords traveled from their castles to another, their household followed them, including the men-at-arms. Castles had only a skeleton crews standing by unless specially ordered to man them or bigger garrison stationed into one. Even great castles, such as Sandal near Wakefield in Yorkshire, had only few men manning it when the lord was not around so many of them were almost ghost towns/castles.

A Famous incident happened when Edward III returned unannounced to London from the Continent. His entourage came to shore to the pier of London Tower in a quiet night but nobody raised an alarm nor noticed anything. The castle was mostly dark and empty so when king eventually found some men from the almost empty Tower, he was understandably annoyed and demanded some high lords to appear in Tower at once to let them hear his displeasure of this. Some almost lost their heads since this was, after all, one of the main residences of the king and was supposed to be manned properly at all times. It is good to remember that Edward III had left most of his household to the other side of English channel and his queen too for this surprise appearance.

The reality was that just like in all the castles, there was no full garrison even at Tower of London when the king was absent, unless the queen was staying in there. It is almost shocking to read some huge castle being manned by couple dozen men when not occupied by the lord but that was the reality in many places. The standing crew was just a bunch of gate keepers in many castles and this also one reason why some of them were captured so easily. Thirty men can not man the walls etc. if someone does attack surprisingly.

So yes, the king traveled with most of his household, including his chaplains and priests, the great seals (if I do not recall wrongly Edward II had two of them, one for read wax and the other for green) and their keepers, his secretaries and cooks and valets, other servants, bodyguards and sergeants, archers and footmen, larder and other necessary stuff. Only some of his household stayed behind and usually it was a trusted man for some particular reason.

If and when the king went to the Continent, he usually named a regent to rule in his absence, who naturally moved in with his own household as the stay-in regent. Naturally they brought their own ways of doing things with them and this caused some friction among those whose responsibility was to provide food etc. to the royal place of residence.

The real problem came from the fact that when ever the king visited his lords, they had to be there naturally as good hosts, with their full household, in order to welcome the king and his full staff in a way which was proper. No matter how grand manor or castle one had, pretty soon there was no more room for everyone. Sooner or later servants slept in the stables, hallways and corridors, or even outside or in temporary tents. During the summer this was not a big problem but during the winter... well, let just say that some great lords resided in far away and distant castles and manors for a good reason.

One has to remember that the host also always provided the essentials when the royals came to visit so he had to get all the food and fire wood etc. for the whole kingly entourage. King or queen paid some expenses if and when, not nearly always, and very very few men or ladies were bold enough to ask compensation if the king "forgot" to share the expenses.