24 December, 2017

Merry Christmas!

A very Merry Christmas to all my readers, all 35,000 to 45,000 of you every month and over two million in total! May the festive season of 2017 bring you happiness and peace. (And lots of great presents.) 700 years ago, at Christmas 1317, Edward II was at Westminster with Queen Isabella, who was pregnant with their third child and first daughter. Edward spent one pound, thirteen shillings and six pence on a "great wooden table" to be placed in the palace hall, and also paid thirty pounds to Thomas de Hebenhith, mercer of London, for "a great hanging of wool, woven with figures of the king and earls on it, for the king’s service in his hall, on solemn festivals."

I'll be posting again in the New Year. Until then, take care!

16 December, 2017

Edward II And Dice Games

For the record, in a piece of news unrelated to the current post, this blog had a whopping 6,434 visitors yesterday! Thank you all for visiting and reading. :-)

It was Edward II's custom for many years to play at dice on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas night with members of his retinue. At Nottingham on 25 December 1316, for example, the king spent the large sum of five pounds to play (whether he won or not, I don't know). Edward didn't only play dice at Christmas: on 7 January 1323, he played while at the royal manor of Cowick in Yorkshire, and spent two pence at Langdon Abbey playing dice in late August 1325 and celebrated the Nativity of St John the Baptist at the Tower of London on 24 June 1326 playing dice with Sir Giles Beauchamp. On the Langdon occasion, Edward sent his chamber servant Piers Pulford to buy new dice at a cost of two pence. Christmas does seem, though, to have been Edward's favourite time to play at dice. Again at Nottingham on Christmas night 1324, he played a game called rafle or raefle with three members of his chamber staff and with William Montacute (b. 1301), future earl of Salisbury and the son of one of Edward's greatest friends, the elder William Montacute, who died in Gascony in 1319.

Edward also enjoyed a game called cross and pile, the medieval equivalent of heads or tails. On 5 May 1326, he borrowed five shillings from his barber Henry to play with him, and spent another twenty shillings playing again a few days later (these were large sums of money!). Edward II attended the wedding of Hugh Despenser the Younger's household retainer Sir Robert Wateville and Hugh's niece Margaret Hastings on 19 May 1326, and three days later lost eight shillings to the newly-married Wateville playing cross and pile with him. On 13 July 1326 the king lost another two shillings playing against his chamber usher Peter Bernard, so apparently wasn't very good at it, or was very unlucky.

The king did not only enjoy indoor games, he loved outdoor physical activity as well; I've previously written posts about his love of swimming and rowing, ball games, digging ditches and so on. But, sadly, the British climate and long hours of darkness for part of the year does not always permit outdoor activities - though Edward did go swimming in the Thames in February one year, brrrrrrr - and so Edward stayed inside and took part in games of chance to while away the long winter evenings.

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.

01 December, 2017

Edward II's Sense of Humour

I've posted here before, and written in my biography of Edward II, some lovely details which reveal that the king's sense of humour ran very much towards the slapstick. In the summer of 1326, he gave a pound to his cook Moris for falling off his horse and making him laugh, and the same year gave two and a half pounds to his painter Jack of St Albans for dancing on a table and also making him laugh (the money was said to be to help Jack support his wife and children). In early 1325, two of Edward's chamber squires, Giles of Spain and Burgeys Till, accidentally burned themselves quite badly while performing some kind of show with fire for the king's entertainment at his Westminster cottage of Burgundy, and around the same time Edward paid a man for putting on a performance for him inside the Tower of London, outdoors, in what his account calls "the area in front of the long stable." In the summer of 1312, an Italian minstrel was paid for "making his minstrelsy with snakes before the king," and Edward also enjoyed watching conjurors.

I've just found another lovely entry in one of Edward II's chamber accounts - all of the details in this post are from his chamber accounts - revealing that just before Easter 1325, the king played some kind of prank or practical joke on Hugh Despenser the Younger while they were just outside Southampton on the way to Beaulieu Abbey. Edward's clerk wrote that "the king frightened Sir Hugh." Sadly there are no more details, but Edward was a very playful person who loved to laugh and have fun (though I'm not entirely sure if Hugh Despenser appreciated it!). In May 1326 at the wedding of Hugh Despenser's niece Margaret Hastings, Edward gave a pound to a servant of Hugh's sister Lady Hastings who spent time with him "and made him laugh very greatly." I've also found numerous entries revealing how the king played dice and cross and pile with members of his retinue; on Christmas Eve 1324 at Nottingham, he spent the evening playing dice with his chamber squires Burgeys Till, Giles of Spain and Garsy de Pomit. He also played unspecified ball games in the parks of various castles with some of his household knights. One of Edward II's friends, or at least an acquaintance, was a Thames fisherman called Colle Herron, and the king often chatted to fishermen while sailing up and down the Thames and invited a group of shipwrights to come and stay with him in April 1326. In October 1315 he went on a swimming and rowing holiday with "a great company of common people." What strikes me very strongly from the evidence of Edward II's chamber accounts is that he comes across as a boon companion, a person you can imagine meeting and having a good laugh with, a man who didn't stand on his royal dignity but could get on well with absolutely anyone. There aren't many medieval kings you can say that about.