Thursday, February 28, 2013

Marshal Thursday. Episode 5 of the Histoire.

Marshal Thursday Episode 5
Last week we'd left William, a newly fledged knight, in the midst of a serious street battle. Here's the continuation.


But very frequently the Marshal’s men turned to face them, and, when they did, I can tell you that many of their side were thrown from their saddles. They did not retreat in disordered array but in serried ranks, and they made every effort to put up a defence. But they could not withstand them since they were not even in number; indeed the count’s side were at least six times their strength. Four times the enemy pushed them back, four times they drew them back again to the bridge on the highway; they certainly taught them the way! These are no exaggerated words of mine, for it was common knowledge that those inside overcame by force of arms those who had come from outside, with the help of the Marshal.
After that o the Marshal returned to his quarters, to the sheep pen where he was wont to hide, for he intended to do all within his power to inflict harm on those who were his enemies; it would be his pleasure to do them mischief. There were soldiers from Flanders there, who had found a pole with a hook on the end, made of iron, used to pull down houses. He had no chance of putting up a fight since they hooked him with it by the shoulder. More than 13 of them formed a band to knock him off his horse, but he held on by the breast piece of its harness. He spurred his horse on, and they tugged and by using force tore through 13 links on his hauberk, making a mark on his flesh that would last for many a day. It is true that he departed from their midst, but as he did, there were some pulling on the hook who paid a price for what they did, for he attacked them with great ferocity and dealt many a mighty blow. But as he departed from them, it was on a horse which had had the worst of it, for it was wounded in many places and from the wounds blood streamed from its body; such a loss of blood so impaired it that its death was inevitable.
The men in the town were overjoyed when they saw his valiant deeds and swiftly ran to take up their arms, swords, axes, and pikes, whilst the womenfolk sallied forced from their houses; wielding bludgeons and sticks, swords and clubs; off they went to pursue them through the streets. They gave them grievous injury and eventually rid the town of them, with the help of the knights of whom William marshal was in first place.
Once the town had been delivered by the lord of Tancarville and those in his troop, they all said as they could not help but do since they had seen it to be so, that out of both sides it was the Marshal who had been the foremost in combat that day, and that his was the fame and the glory. So witnessed the French too, who had little esteem for him before, prior to experiencing the treatment he had meted out to them. On the day that those events took place, the Chamberlain held a very big court gathering of all he was able to muster. No expense was spared if there was fine food to be found; it was immediately brought up and fully paid for with good money. He had at least 80 Knights with him that day at the opening meal, and those who were keen to come in to eat and drink had as much as they wanted to take; nobody dared to close the door on them. You should have seen the great gifts made by the burghers and all the other folk, of expensive wines and very fine fruit. They all paid honour to the Chamberlain, who had defended the town so that it was neither burnt or surrendered. It was he who delivered it for the constable and his men had surrendered it to pillage when they had made an ignominious departure.
The household was greatly cheered by the splendid words and the fine tales; people told one another what they had seen that day, the mighty blows and the fine exploits, and named him who had been responsible for them. They certainly said of the Marshal that he had stood firm before all, that he knew full well how to launch into them, knocking over some, striking down others, injuring here and taking prisoners there; he had no personal profit in mind, seeking a only for Louis to deliver the town.
Thereupon the lord of Mandeville the valiant and worthy William, who had not as then become count said: ‘Marshal, make me a gift, out of friendship, and you will get your reward.’
‘Willingly. What would it be?’
‘A crupper or, failing that, an old horse collar.’
The Marshal, hardly a man of words, and neither crafty nor arrogant, replied: ‘Upon my soul, I never owned one of those in my life.’
‘Marshal, what’s that you say? It’s a trifling thing you refuse me. Today you got 40 of them before my very eyes, or even 60, and now you intend to refuse me one!’
Then those who heard his words started to laugh, for they knew well what they meant.

There are two things going on here. One is the learning curve for William that he should have taken ransoms from those people he captured in order to increase his wealth. The other is that one of the roles of the Marshal was to see that everyone in a household was equipped with what they needed harness-wise. Although William wasn't the household marshal, he was a scion of the English royal Marshal John and would have been teased because of that aspect.


Temple Church , London

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Today's research snippet. A Description of Henry I


description of Henry I by William of Malmsbury. I think he's an interesting king and although he doesn't receive the same attention of his grandson Henry II, I think he was his equal at least.

 He was of middle stature, exceeding the diminutive, but exceeded by the very tall; his hair was black, and set back on the forehead; his eyes  mildly bright; his chest brawny; his body fleshy.  He was facetious in proper season, nor did multiplicity of business cause him to be less pleasant when he mixed in society…  He preferred contending by council rather than by the sword: if he could, he conquered without bloodshed; if it was unavoidable, with as little as possible.  Throughout his life he was wholly free from impure desires, for as we have learned from those who are well informed, he partook of female blandishments, not for the gratification of incontinency but for the sake of the issue; nor condescended to casual intercourse, unless where it might produce that effect: in this respect he was the master of his natural inclinations, not the passive slave of lust.  He was plain in his diet, rather than surfeiting himself by a variety of delicacies.  He never drank but to allay thirst, execrating the least departure from temperance, both in himself and those about him.  His sleep was heavy, and interrupted by frequent snoring.  His eloquence was rather unpremeditated than laboured; not rapid, but deliberate.
He was active in providing what would be beneficial to his empire; firm in defending it; abstinent from war, as far as he could with honour; but when he had determined no longer to forbear, he became a most severe requitor of injuries, dissipating every opposing danger by the energy of his courage; constant in enmity, or in affection towards all, giving too much indulgence to the tide of anger in the one, gratifying his royal magnanimity on the other; for he depressed his enemies even to ruin, and exalted his friends and attendants to an enviable condition.
Inflexible in the administration of justice, he ruled the people with moderation, the nobility with condescension.  Seeking after robbers and counterfeiters with the greatest diligence, and punishing them when discovered; neither was he by any means negligent in matters of lesser importance.  When he heard that the tradesmen refused broken money, though of good silver, he commanded all of it to be broken or cut in pieces.  The measures of his own arm was applied to correct the false ell of alltraders, and he made that the standard throughout England.  He made a regulation for the followers of his court, at whichever of his possessions he might be resident, stating what they should accept without payment from the country folk, and how much, and at what price, they should purchase, punishing the transgressors by a heavy pecuniary fine, or loss of life. In the beginning of his reign, that he might awe the delinquents by the terror of example, he was more inclined to punish by deprivation of limb, afterwards by fines.  Thus in consequence of the rectitude of his conduct, as is natural to man, he was feared by the nobility and beloved by the common people.

Today's photo: The Imperial crown of the Holy Roman empire dating to the late 10th and early 11th centuries.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Today's research snippet. Not a Rihanna in sight: 12thC ladies' names.


In the pile of books around my feet at the moment is Noblewomen, Aristocracy and Power in the 12th Century Anglo Norman Realm by Susan M. Johns. It's the book that told me yesterday about Isabel de Warenne's lovely pink seal. There's a section listing a catalogue of seals for women from the 12th and early 13th centuries. It's an interesting and informative list for any historical novelist in search of a name, reanactors seeking a persona, and just for general interest. What were the names of the day?




These are the women
Royalty:
Matilda, wife of Henry 1
Adeliza of Louvain - 2nd wife of Henry I
Matilda of Boulougne - wife of King Stephen 
Empress Matilda
Joan - Daughter of Henry II (Often called by the Latin version, Joanna by modern writers, written as IOHE on her seal)

Noblewomen: Ada
Aelina
Aeliza
Agnes
Alda
Albreda
Aldith
Alexandria
Alice (very popular)
Alicie
Alienor
Amicia
Aubrey
Avicia
Avina
Basilia
Bertrada
Beatrice
Beaveria
Blanch
Botilde
Burgesia
Cassandra
Cecilia
Cecily
Claricia
Constance
Cristina
Desirea
Egelina
Ela
Emma
Eugenia
Eustachia
Eva
Geva
Gundred
Hawise
Ingrid
Isabella (popular)
Ida
Idonie
Gilliane
Lecia
Legarda
Letia
Letitia
Lucy
Mabel
Margaret
Marie
Marjorie
Matilda (very popular)
Milysant
Muriel
Pavia
Petronilla
Pupelina
Richenilda
Rohais
Sybilla
Tisande
Wimarc 
Ysoude


This is the seal of Joanna, daughter of Henry II and Alienor of Aquitaine.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Today's research snippet. Fuelling the fire:

 A few notes on wood as fuel:

In the high middle ages, great households had an 'Office of the Wood yard' whose responsibility it was to provide wood for the fires, sometimes from the familiy's estates, sometimes from outside contractors.
Quite often the clerk of the kitchen would see to the contracts for the provision of firewood at agreed rates, which would mean that expenses for fuel could be predicted.
Domestic chambers were heated as a general rule from November 1st to 25th March - which must have meant some cold times indoors for those not privileged by rank to have a fire as and when they chose. Fuel for the service part of the household such as the bakehouse, brewery and kitchens remained constant and was delivered daily in predetermined allocations. The clerk in charge was often the avenor. The latter was a title given to the person with responsibility for providing fodder and bedding for the stables and kennels, and who would have knowledge of the woodyard. John the Marshal, father of William Marshal held the title of avenor at the court of King Henry I. Wood yards were enclosed and guarded to prevent pilfering.
Ordinary folk, if the were lucky, might have the right to fuel-collecting privileges and be allowed to gather underwood and dead wood from their overlord's woods and parks. But living wood tended to be out of bounds and protected as a valuable commodity. 
Not all woods were equal either. Ash, beech, hornbeam and willow burned well, but elm and poplar did not.
In towns where access to wood was limited, there were 'woodmongers' who had become an organised body by the 14th century. In London the wood was brought in barges on the Thames, shipped from the Weald via the ports of Kent and Sussex and then brought upriver to London.
Commercial wood fuel was cut to regulation size. The biggest fuel wood, known as a billet was 3ft 6ins long with a circumference of 15 inches. (this was the measurement of an Essex billet). Spit the piece in two and it became known as a shide. These were good for sustaining fires for roasting and general cookery. Timbers of lesser thickness were known as 'astelwood', from the Latin 'hostella' for a thin stick. The smallest branches and longer twigs were bundled together and tied with two wooden bands to form faggots.


More another day as this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Today's photo - Medieval tools including a spade and pitchfork, Museum of London.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gerald of Wales goes Tabloid journalist.


This is dear old Gerald of Wales at his most gossipy and vicious.  I'm sure he'd be a feature writer for the Daily Mail if he was around today!

When the two year war was over (1174) and the fighting and persecution had stopped, the King, attributing his success like another Pharaoh not to divine mercy but to his own strength, hardened his heart and returned incorrigibly to his usual abyss of vice, or rather, to an even worse one, since, going downhill things can only deteriorate.
How Eleanor of France behaved when she was across the sea in Palestine, and how she conducted herself on her return, towards her first husband and the second; and how her children aroused such hopes when young but withered away; all those things are well enough known.
Or two of her daughters, the Sicilian and the Saxon, the first died without children and the seconds without happiness, one without fruit, the other not without misery. As far as the others are concerned the Spanish branch, the German one and the Breton, subsequent ages will be in a position to tell their fate, let us not go through them all, as some may find it offensive. It is to be hoped that, God willing, some good may come from the fortunate Spanish marriage. it is very well known that her two daughters by Louis King of the French, one married Henry count of Champagne, the other to his Brother Theobald count of Blois, both failed of their fruit in Palestine and in the land of the Greeks.
To demonstrate how King Henry’s stock was blighted, we only have to remember that the Emperor Henry V, to whom King Henry the first's daughter and King Henry the second’s Mother Matilda was married, for the sake of worldly ambition captured and held in chains first his natural father and afterwards his spiritual father, namely PopePaschal; resigning the empire he went into a hermitage in Western Britain near Chester, and lived a holy life of repentance until his death. When the Empress Matilda came home her father gave her in marriage to Geoffrey count of Anjou, though her husband was still alive (provably untrue) and Geoffrey had sons by her of whom two quickly vanished, nipped in the bud despite the great hopes held of them and the third began better than he ended.
Then again, Count Geoffrey of Anjou when he was seneschal of France (no proof of this. Gerald is possibly mixing him up (deliberately?) with one of Eleanor’s Potievan lords) took advantage of Queen Eleanor for which reason he often warned his son Henry, telling him above all not to touch her, they say (Who is they? Again strong suspicion of untruth emerges) because she was his lord’s wife, and because he had known for himself. As the final culmination of these outrages it is related that King Henry presumed to sleep adulterously with the said queen of France, taking her from his own lord and marrying her himself. How could anything fortunate, I ask, emerge from these copulations?
Again note ‘it is related.' No names no packdrill. This is skilled tabloid hackery. Henry and Eleanor would have to be round the bend and out the other side to have sex with each other at the French court. They were both political players with agendas. Henry often did things to get the better of Louis by playing political hardball, but he would not violate certain feudal tenets – one of the reasons he was unsuccessful in taking Toulouse in 1159. He would not attack his overlord unless his overlord attacked first. And the same goes for Henry’s moral behaviour in Paris. Eleanor too was way too savvy and experienced to indulge in a few quick screws with her husband’s chancy 19 year old vassal. In my opinion of course. Your mileage may vary.


Enamel plaque dating to circa 1150, probably  from an altar front.  It's the cleansing of Namaan, a Syrian general who was cured of leprosy after bathing in the River Jordan.



Friday, February 22, 2013

William Marshal episode 4 from the Histoire.

I should have posted the regular weekly episode from the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal yesterday, but various offline issues meant I wasn't at my desk much.  However, I'm posting the excerpt a day late and here it is.


It did not take long, not many years before William had grown into a tall boy.  His body was so well fashioned that, even if he had been created by the sculptor’s chisel, his limbs would not have been so handsome.  I can tell you this because I saw them, and remember them well.  At the same time he had fine feet and hands, but all this was as nothing compared with his overall appearance.
Anyone who looked upon it would have found it so upright, so well formed, that, if his judgment was sound, he would have concluded that nowhere in the whole world was there to be found such a perfect body.  His hair was brown, his face swarthy, but his features were so much like those of a true noble that he could have been Emperor of Rome.  Also, he had wide hips and was so handsomely formed as any noble could be.  It was a master sculptor who had fashioned him. 
During the time William was growing up, King Stephen had died, and Henry was crowned King, a man worthy and courtly.  He already had a wife and children, sons and daughters both young and grown up.  The Marshal decided that he would send William to Tancarville in Normandy, to be with the Chamberlain, who had never brought shame upon his family line at any time; indeed, he set great store by it and kept its reputation high.  He was their first cousin.  (likely to have been more distant kin actually. William’s mother Sybilla did have high family connections. Her sister Hawise until her death had been the wife of Louis VII’s brother Robert of Dreux and thus sister in law to the King of France). Just as he had undertaken to do, so he (John)  arranged William’s affairs, as is fitting for a nobleman setting off abroad to win an honourable reputation.
William would wait no longer.  When he came to take his leave, his mother wept tears of distress, as did the sisters and all his brothers.  That was only natural.  Nonetheless he lost no time in embarking on his journey, taking with him no companions save a younger attendant and a servant, for in those days the world was not so proud as nowadays, and a prince, dispensing with all pomp and ceremony, would ride with just his cloak in his pack; now there is scarcely a squire who does not require a pack horse.  I do not wish to continue to develop my skills narrating the time during which William was a squire, but people say that for a full eight years he remained a squire.  People thought it a great pity that he stayed up so little at night and yet slept so late, that he ate  and drank too much, and those scoundrels would laugh at him behind his back, asking of one another ‘This greedy gorger William, in god’s name, what good is he doing here?’ So said those within the household and beyond.
The Chamberlain was fully aware of the situation, for he came across many people who asked him: ‘Just how are you being served by this troublesome fellow, this devil of a glutton, who is always sleeping when he’s not eating?  The man’s a fool who feeds him.’
The Chamberlain was much displeased with such words but he smiled and kept quiet, and then replied with a few well-chosen words: ‘You’ll see, he’ll set the world alight yet.  He’s my nephew and my friend, and you’ve no idea of the quality of man I’m keeping.’
At any rate so indulgently was he treated that he partook of all the choicest dishes placed in front of his lord.  Many people, who were jealous of him, grumbled at this and had little respect for his way of life.  He was wont to hold his tongue on these occasions, for he was of such a docile and well-bred disposition that he would never show signs of noticing any slur spoken against him.
At that time King Henry was in conflict with King Louis, and no amount of gifts or promises could bring an end to it.  Indeed, the war was so ferocious that never again was there one like it.  The borderlands were well garrisoned: between Bonsmoulins and Arques there was not a single castle, of wood or stone that was not well fortified.
The Chamberlain was at Drincourt, where there was a great court gathering.  There William Marshal was dubbed a knight and he willingly accepted the honor accorded to him by God, which he had been so long waiting for.  The Chamberlain girded on his sword with which he was to deal many a blow.  And God bestowed on him such grace that he never went anywhere to perform feats of arms without his exploits being covered in glory.
The count of Eu was in command of a contingent of Norman Knights, and the Constable was there as well, but he was not very reliable, for he left the town simply because he had heard a rumour that was circulating that the count of Flanders was making in that direction.  The count of Ponthieu was coming there too, along with Bernard de Saint Valery and count Matthew of Boulogne.  The situation reached such an emergency pitch that people cried out ‘To arms! To arms!  Count, what are you doing not arming yourself?  A force of more than 2000 is descending on us here and they intend to burn the town.’
At this they speedily took up arms, vying with one another in their haste being the valiant  men they were.  A moment after they were upon their horses.  They saw the Chamberlain coming with twenty eight knights in his company down the hill towards them, and once at the bottom he met the Constable and spoke to him in reasonable terms.  If only he had been willing to heed them!
‘Sir he said, ‘it would be a very shameful thing if this town were allowed to burn.’
The Constable replied: ‘Quite so, Chamberlain; and since that is your plan, go on then,  defend it!’
In reply he said: ‘Upon my word, willingly, my lord, I shall do the best I can.’ This said, he went into the town, where, on the bridge he encountered William, later Earl of Mandeville, never a man for intrigue or trickery; he had willingly gone down to the bridge since he wanted to defend it.  The Chamberlain rode on to the bridge, with a strong vanguard of knights.  The Marshal came up so far as to be able to ride alongside him, and the Chamberlain spoke as follows: ‘William, get back; don’t be so hot headed, let these knights pass.’
William withdrew a few paces, downcast and ashamed, his face the picture of gloom; he wished he had never been born since he thought he was indeed a knight.  He let three men pass in front of him, then he quickly spurred on his horse until he was right at the front of those crossing the bridge.  Whatever happened, if there was to be a skirmish of battle, if knights were going to be locked in combat, he would make sure he was up there at the front.
On they rode, so far, I understand that they saw right there in front of them their opponents, a huge force of them; they had forced their way into the town.  They rode up to engage them.  When the two companies met, on both sides they gave free rein to their horses, their shields in hand, their lances at the level.  They struck one another with great force, drawing on their might and main.  Lances were broken and shattered, shields were holed and crushed, and all they  had to strike at each other with were the stumps.  Such was the din and uproar created by the blows of combat that you wouldn’t have heard God’s  thunder  resounding.  You should have heard helmets ringing and clanging and echoing around, as they were squashed right down to the coifs.  Gone now the idle threats and boasts made back home; here they had to come up with something different. 
William the Marshal proved himself as a valiant knight having broken his lance, he drew forthwith  his sword and went right into the fray to lay about him.  Anyone watching him would not have thought that he still had to learn about fighting.  He had to give and receive many a blow before retiring from that fight; and he had no desire to leave the field before making his accomplishments plain for all to see.  What a deadly companion they found him to be as he cut a swathe through the throng.  Many he found to let him through for the blows he dealt was so violent that they were greatly feared, coming as they did with such force behind them.  The dishes he served up for them were in no way to their liking!  Whether it was to their taste or not, he assailed them properly paying them back more than he owed them!  My lords I can tell you for certain that one man’s brave prowess puts heart into a whole great army; because of him, and his skill at arms, they fought so bravely that they were worth twice the force they were.
By force of arms they drew them back through the gate by which they had entered, right as far as the bridge on the highway.  Such feats greatly increased their honour, but they had little chance to remain there for coming on the road from Eu, a mighty force fell upon them and mounted a ferocious charge against them; all they could do was retreat.  You would have seen them being driven back, holding their shields by their straps.  You would have seen many feats of arms, but since they were in a sorry plight, they were driven back by force as far as the end of the main bridge.  William remained further up in a sheep fold attached to one of the houses.  He was much aggrieved, and rightly so, to see his company so ill-treated and humiliated.  Taking a lance he had chanced to find, he rushed out forthwith  into the street, where he struck a knight such a savage blow on the shield that he sent crashing to the ground both horse and rider.  Twice he shouted: ‘Tancarville!  My lords, the town is ours.  We will teach you such a lesson that it will stay so, do as you may.’
At the windows and in upstairs room were ladies and knights, and many a burgher with his wife, who were much pained and it grieved them to see the marshal with no help around him.  Then up went the unanimous cry: ‘Normans, you do wrong not to go to the Marshal’s aid.  It is a source of much pain and sadness to us that he fights in such a sorry plight.’
Heralds, whose task it was to relate feats of arms, and minstrels out in front to witness the fine blows dealt and tell them, set out after him shouting: ‘Over here all of you, to the brave knight’s side!  This man doesn’t hide away, he makes great companies buckle before him, he cuts a swathe through the ranks; he is a man whose blows strike home everywhere, a man who doesn’t hold back, before whom lance and sword offer short resistance. He’s one who hasn’t sworn a peace accord.’ When the Normans heard this, they did not fall asleep on the job: they lashed out to left and right, so that all around it was a sorry thing to be one of those they had no affection for. The area around was taken by storm.  You would have seen many a hand stretching out to snatch bridles.  In many places there were pitched battles fought with axes, lances, and swords, and many a knight was taken prisoner, many were wounded and many killed, for the battle was a very fierce one.  The Marshal smote and hammered like a blacksmith on iron; I do not think for a minute that Gadefer de Larriz, a man of such high reputation, would have performed so many feats of arms in a single day.  So many were the blows such a harrying, that they drove them back to where they had come from.  There the combat was pursued by both sides for so long that grievous harm came to both.  The business would have been swiftly concluded have not Count Matthew of Boulogne come upon them between two valleys.  The enemy would have all met an ignominious fate had he not been for this misadventure. The count’s troop were fresh and well rested and were renowned for their success in combat, whereas  our side had been involved in battle and were badly battered and more.  They were fresh and well rested and made their attack on our side instantly, with the result that we retreated…

Next week the conclusion of the battle and William has to  learn a hard life lesson about fighting.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Today's research snippet. Hospitality Medieval Welsh style!


Gerald of Wales on Welsh grooming habits And hospitality. I have to say that when I stayed in Wales the hotel beds were very comfortable!

Taken from 'The Journey Through Wales and the Description of Wales'.

"Both the men and the women cut their hair short and shape it around their ears and eyes.  Like the Parthians the women cover their heads with a flowing white veil, which sticks up in folds like a crown.  Both sexes take great care of their teeth, more than I have seen in any country.  They are constantly cleaning them with green hazel shoots and rubbing them with woollen cloth until they shine like ivory.  To protect their teeth they never eat hot food, but only what is cold, tepid or slightly warm.  The men shave their beards, leaving only their moustaches.  This is not a new habit, but one which goes back to time immemorial.  You can find it in the book which Julius Caesar wrote about his exploits, for there we read: the Britons ‘shave their whole body so that they can move more freely, for, when they run through the forest grove’s, they want to avoid the fate of Absalom.  Of all the people I have seen the Welsh, are the most particular in shaving the lower parts of the body.
It is Julius Caesar, too, who tells us that, when they were about to fight a battle, the Britons used to daub to their faces with shiny war paint.  They made themselves so bright and ghastly that the enemy could hardly dare to look at them, especially if the sun was shining."

Welsh hospitality and eating habits
"In Wales no one begs.  Everyone’s home is open to all, for the Welsh generosity and hospitality are the greatest of all virtues.  They very much enjoy a welcoming others to their homes.  When you travel there is no question of you asking for accommodation or of them offering it: you just march in to a house and hand over your weapons to the person in charge.  They give you water so that you may wash your feet and that means that you are a guest.  With these people the offering of water in which to wash one’s feet is an invitation to stay.  If you refuse the offer, it means you have only dropped in for refreshment during the early part of the day and do not propose to stay the night.
In Wales young people go about in groups and families, under their chosen leader.  They spend their time in exercise and practicing with their weapons, with the result that they’re ready at a moment’s notice to protect their homeland.  They enter an one’s house without asking permission, as if it were their own.
Guests who arrive early in the day are entertained until nightfall by girls who play to them on the harp.  In every house there are young women just waiting to play for you, and there are certainly no lack of harps.  Here are two things worth remembering: the Irish are the most jealous people on earth, the Welsh do not seem to know what jealousy is; and in every Welsh court or family menfolk consider playing on the harp to the greatest of all accomplishments.  When night falls and no more guests are expected, the evening meal is prepared, varying according to what the house has to offer, and to the number and importance of the men who have come.  You must not expect a variety of dishes from a Welsh kitchen, there are no highly seasoned titbits to whet your appetite.  In a Welsh house there are no tables, no tablecloths and no napkins.  Everyone behaves quite naturally, was no attempt whatsoever at etiquette.  You sit down in threes, not in pairs as elsewhere, and they put food in front of you all together, on a single large trencher containing enough for three, resting on rushes and green grass.  Sometimes they serve the main dish on bread, rolled out large and thin, and baked fresh each day.  In ancient books you will find the same bread called ‘lagana’.
The whole family waits upon the guests, and the host and hostess stand there and make sure that everything is being attended to.  They themselves do not eat until everyone else has finished and if there is a shortage of anything, it will be they who go without.  Finally the time comes to retire to rest.  Alongside one of the walls is placed a communal bed, stuffed with rushes, and not all that many of them.  The sole covering there is a stiff harsh sheet, made locally and called in Welsh a ‘brychan’.  They all go to bed together.  They keep on the same clothes which they have worn all day, a thin cloak and tunic, which is all they have to keep the cold out.  The fire is kept burning all night at their feet, just as it has done all day, and they get some warmth from the people sleeping next to them.  When their underneath side begins to ache through the hardness of the bed and their uppermost side is frozen stiff with cold, they get up and sit by the fire, which seems more reasonable and soothes away their aches and pains.  Then they go back to bed again, turning over on their other side if they feel like it, so that a different part is frozen and another side bruised by the hard bed."


Today's research photo Manorbier Castle South Wales, home of Gerald of Wales.





Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Today's research snippet. By the time I got to Woodstock...


A few notes on the royal palace at Woodstock:

Woodstock in Oxfordshire had been a royal residence for hunting, relaxation and gatherings since the time of the Saxon kings, but it was further developed in the reigns of Henry I and more especially Henry II who turned it into a 'Sicilian-style retreat with internconnecting pools."
In 1110, Henry I built a stone wall around the park of Woodstock in order to contain his collection of animals including lions, leopards, lynxes, camels and a porcupine.
Henry II extended the buildings at Woodstock and rolled out the programme to include nearby Everswell. He intended the additional buildings to accommodate his household when he visited, and for Everswell to be a residence for his mistress Rosamund de Clifford, so that she would be nearby when the court came to Woodstock, but discreetly separate.
The remains of the palace of Woodstock were destroyed around the time of the building of Blenheim Palace when they were razed to make way for landscaped gardens. Any remnants were then lost under the ornamental lake. Sir John Vanbrugh wanted to keep the remains of Woodstock, but Lady Marlborough, his patroness was having none of it and and in the end he had to raze them.
In 1163, Woodstock was the site where Henry II took the homage of the King of Scotland and various Welsh princes and other nobles. In 1178, he knighted his son Geoffrey here.
There were 2 complexes of buildings as well as the settlement of New Woodstock which grew up on the edge of the forest. The first complex contained the buildings of the actual palace and are the ones levelled by Vanbrugh. Antiquarian John Aubrey saw it in 1672 before it came down and says that there was a manor house, a chapel still retaining red and blue wall coverings, and a hall with pillars and semi-circular arcading.
The second complex of buildings was at Everswell and was where Rosamund's dwelling was located (according to architectural historian Thomas Beaumont James). The layout was very unusual for England . John Aubrey made a sketch plan which shows a gatehouse and other buildings. The sketch also shows a series of three interconnected pools fed by the Everswell spring. There has been much speculation about these pools which have a Sicilian or Spanish influence, but the Angevin court did have connections with these places and Henry's daughters Eleanor and Joanna were married to lords of these countries. A link has perhaps rather fancifully been suggested to the romance of Tristan and Isolde, because Isolde had a stream running through her chamber down which her lover floated secret messages. There is a later tale that there was a maze at Woodstock through which Henry had to travel to reach his mistress. Eleanor of Aquitaine is supposed to have followed a silk thread from Rosamund's snagged dress to the centre of the maze and to have murdered her rival, but that's much later popular balladeering. No evidence for a maze has turned up in an archaeological context, just the pools.
Henry III spent £3,300 on improvements to Woodstock and in 1247, it was the setting for the marriage of two royal wards who had been living at Woodstock while being educated in 'polite manners and accomplishments.'
Two of Edward III's children were born at Woodstock.
Woodstock declined in the Tudor period and was finally destroyed to make way for Blenheim Palace. And beautiful though Blenheim is, I confess that I'd far rather see Woodstock still standing!


Today's photo - print of Woodstock the palace complex from 1672 before demolition.



Monday, February 18, 2013

Today's research snippet. Never be without a good Dane Axe in a crisis

On March 5th, Sourcebooks will be publishing Shadows And Strongholds in the USA in paperback and e-book for the first time. It was published a few years ago in the USA but only in hardcover and mostly for the library market, so this time it will hopefully reach a bigger audience. Anyway, with the title becoming topical, I thought I'd post a piece from The Romance of Fouke FitzWaryn, which was one of the primary source research documents I used. It's a family chronicle slightly like the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal, but slightly less accurate, even though the general text follows a true base line. It's tall tales about one's legendary ancestors.
The piece below was my starter section for thinking about the personalities of my hero Brunin (later known as Fulke le Brun) and his future wife Hawise de Dinan, and how I was going to develop them. The translation from the Old French is by Professor Glynn Burgess.

"When the boy was seven years old, they sent him to Joce de Dinan to be educated and brought up for Joce was a knight of great experience. He received him with great honour and great affection and brought him up with his children in his own chambers. For he had two daughters, the younger of whom was the same age as Fouke, and she was called Hawyse...
The chronicle goes on to say that there was discord and war between Joce and his rival marcher lord Walter de Lacy, who coveted Ludlow. When Fulke (Brunin) was in his late teens, there was a battle between Joce and de Lacy right in front of the walls of Ludlow, and Joce found himself in deep trouble...
The lady and her daughters in the tower saw their lord so hard pressed that they could scarcely endure it. They cried out, fainted and lamented greatly, for they did not expect to see their lord alive again. Fouke FitzWaryn had been left in the castle, for he was only 18 years old. Hearing the cry from the tower, he went up quickly and saw his lady and the others
 in tears. He went to Hawyse and asked her what the matter was and why she appeared so unhappy.
'Hold your tongue,' she said, 'you are not so much like your father, who is so bold and so strong. You are a coward and always will be. Do you not see my lords there, who has cared for you greatly and brought you up lovingly? His life is in danger for want of help, whilst you, wretch, run up and down in safety, without giving him a thought.' 
The young man became flushed with anger and distress. Then he climbed down the tower and found in the hall an old, rusty hauberk, which he donned as best he could. He grabbed hold of a large Danish axe and went to a stable beside the postern leading to the river. There he found a packhorse, which he mounted, and going out through the postern he soon crossed the river and reached the field, where his lord had been unhorsed and was on the point of being killed if he had not suddenly come up. 
Fouke had a wretched helmet, which scarcely protected his shoulders, and at his first attempt he struck Godard de Bruce, who had seized his lord, with his axe, slicing right down the middle of his spine. He put his lord back on his horse, turned towards Sir Andrew de Preez and with his axe dealt him such a blow on his helmet of white steel that he cleaved right through it down to his teeth. Sir Ernalt de Lys sort that he had no chance of escaping, for he was seriously wounded. So he surrendered to sir Joce. Lacy defended himself, but he was soon captured."

Then everyone goes back into the castle, the hostages are locked up in the Pendover tower, and Joce thanks Fouke (Brunin) saying: 'My dear son, blessed be the time I have spent bringing you up, for effort expended on a worthy man is never wasted.' 

Those of you who have read Shadows and Strongholds will recognise this scene in the novel where Brunin confronts his demons and comes of age. The cover with the man is the Sourcebooks USA cover. The one with the woman is the UK cover. The castle is Ludlow.

































Fouke (Brunin) saying: 'My dear son, blessed be the time I have spent bringing you up, for effort expended on a worthy man is never wasted.' 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Today's research snippet. Empress Matilda and the Hand of St. James

The Empress Matilda and the Hand of St. James.
reliquary case for hand in the V&A

When the Empress Matilda's first husband, Emperor Henry V of Germany died, she returned home to England and Normandy, bringing with her various items that had come into her possessions during her marriage. One such item was a heavy golden crown that was later used at the coronation of Henry II. Another, item (and this was as much misappropriated as appropriated) was the Hand of Saint James. The rest of Saint James was buried at Compostela, a famous pilgrimage shrine then, as it is now.
The hand of St James was believed to belong to James the Apostle who was martyred by King Herod in AD44. The hand first turns up in AD640 and is reported as being stored by the Bishop of Torcello in Venice. In 1072 it became part of the regalia of the Imperial chapel and was then brought to England by the Empress.
Matilda's father Henry I was in the throes of building a magnificent abbey at Reading where he intended to be buried. Part of an abbey's prestige lay in its relics and the Hand of St. James was one that fitted the bill perfectly. It may well have been stored in a magnificent relic chest or a hand reliquary made especially for it; that we don't know, but hand and arm relic cases abound from that period and later.
Henry Bishop of Winchester removed it from the abbey to his own private collection in 1136, but returned it in 1155 (knowing what a collector Henry of Winchester was, I suspect it was reluctantly handed back!).
The Hand seems to have been a very coveted item. Emperor Frederick Barbarossa wrote asking for its return, but Matilda and Henry II turned him down (with effusive politeness) and sent him magnificent gifts along with the refusal, including a costly tent that was so big it had to be raised mechanically. Whether or not Frederick subscribed to the belief that exchange was no robbery, we don't know!
St. James' hand was believed to perform miracle cures and the Abbey sold 'Water of St. James' to pilgrims - presumably that in which the hand had been dunked.
In 1539 at the dissolution of the monasteries, the monks hid the 
hand in an iron chest in the abbey walls. It was dug up again in 1786 by workmen and given to Reading Museum. And then in 1840 was sold to J.Scott Murray, who put it in his private chapel at Danesfield House. On his death in 1882 he gave it to St. Peter's Church in Marlow, which is where it resides today.


The Hand of St James Today