Monday, April 29, 2013

A body of corruption.

Today's research snippet: The burial of King Henry 1. Don't read this while eating lunch!

As yet the body of King Henry remained unburied in Normandy; for he had died on the first day of December. His body was brought to Rouen where his entrails, brains, and eyes were buried; but the remainder of his body being cut asunder with knives in every part, and then sprinkled with a quantity of salt, was wrapped up and sewed in bulls’ hides to avoid the offensiveness of the smell, which being strong and continued, was overpowering to those who stood near it. In consequence of this, even the person who, in consideration of a large sum, had opened the head with a hatchet for the purpose of extracting the brain, which was in a most corrupt state, although he had wrapped up his own head in napkins, still met with his death therefrom, and had poor reason for rejoicing at his bargain. He was the last of the many slain by King Henry.
His attendants then conveyed the royal corpse to Caen, where, while it was lying in the church in which his father had been buried, it was steeped in a quantity of salt and wrapped up in numerous hides, still a black and disgusting liquid matter coming through the hides oozed forth therefrom, and being caught in vessels placed beneath the bier, was carried away by the servants fainting with disgust.
See, therefore, reader, whoever thou art, how the body of a most potent King, whose head had been decked with a crown, gold and the choicest gems, with splendour almost divine, whose two hands had been radiant with sceptres, the rest of whose person had glittered all over with tissue of gold, his mouth used to be supplied with food so exquisite and delicious, before whom all were wont to arise, whom all had dreaded, or congratulated, or admired – See I say, to what that body was reduced; how horribly he was put out of sight, how shockingly thrust aside! Behold the result of human affairs, upon which the judgment ever depends and learn to have a contempt for all that thus terminates, all that is thus reduced to annihilation.
At last the remains of the royal corpse were brought to England, and were, in 12 days after, on his birthday, buried at the Abbey of Reading, which the same King Henry had founded and enriched with many possessions. Thither also, came King Stephen from his court, which at the feast of the Nativity, he had been holding in London, to meet the body of his uncle; and with him, William, archbishop of Canterbury, and many bishops and nobles, and there they buried King Henry with the respect due to a man so great.

The Sion Gospel book -10th-12th centuries.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A bedroom scene!

medieval shears in the Museum of London - found more often than scissors
Today's research snippet, and it's more from Alexander Nequam, this time on bedchambers - high status I would think with the references to sillk and sable!

In the bedchamber, let a curtain go around the walls decently, or a scenic canopy, for the avoiding of flies and spiders. From the style or epistyle of a column a tapestry should hang appropriately. Neare the bed let there be placed a chair to which a stool may be added, and a bench nearby the bed. On the bed itself should be placed a feather mattress to which a bolster is attached. A quilted pad of striped cloth should cover this on which a cushion for the head can be placed. Then sheets of muslin, ordinary cotton, or at least pure linen, should be laid. Next a coverlet of green cloth or of coarse wool, of which the fur lining is badger, cat, beaver, or sable, should be put – all this if there is lacking purple and down. (I am not sure what purple refers to here).
A perch should be nearby on which can rest a hawk. From another pole let there hang clothing, and let there also be a chambermaid whose face may charm and render tranquil the chamber, who, when she finds time to do so may knit and unknit silk thread, or make knots of orphreys (gold lace), or may sew linen garments and woollen clothes, or may mend. Let her have gloves with the fingertips removed; she should have a leather case protecting the finger from the needle pricks, which is vulgarly called a ‘thimble.’ She must have scissors and a spool of thread and various sizes of needles – small and thin for embroidery, others not so thin for feather stitching, moderately fine ones for ordinary sewing, bigger ones for the knitting of a cloak, still larger ones for threading laces.
Knitting in the modern sense was unknown at this time, and without the Latin original I don’t know what word the translator was glossing to come up with the term ‘knit.’ Forms of needle thread weaving such as naalbinding were known, but without more detail there is no telling what was meant in the fine tuning. Still, all very interesting!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday Likes

Today's Friday likes are:

1. Tea shops.  I do love going out for afternoon tea, a slice of cake and a chat with a girlfriend.  Here are two of my haunts.  Manor Farm at Bleasby Manor Farm Tea Shoppe   and The White Rabbit Tea house in Nottingham City Centre.  White Rabbit Tea House

Springtime.  I love April and May in the UK with the long summer evenings when I can watch the bats twirl in the twilight and when the sky is that deep, luminous turquoise colour with the first stars pricking out, and perhaps a narrow slice of crescent moon.  Just lovely.

This song by Gordon Lightfoot.  I'm a sucker for a minor key and this is just so poignant and profound.  Affair on 8th Avenue.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Check Mate!

Today's research snippet.
A few facts about Medieval chess:
Documentary evidence for the game of chess first appears in Latin Christendom in the early 11th century. The chess pieces attributed to the court of Charlemagne have now been dated to 11thC Italy. At the moment no chess piece of European provenance can be dated any earlier than the early 11thC. 

By the first quarter of the 12thC, chess was listed among the skills that a good knight ought to possess. Chess came to Europe from the Arabic lands, but its origins like further back in Northern India, where it was thought to have been invented some time before 600AD. The Sanskrit word for the game is Chaturanga, and the Arabic Shatranj. The Abbasid caliphs of the 9th and 10th centuries were keen patrons of the game at their courts.

The chess pieces themselves would have appeared rather alien to Western European society. Heavily imbued with Muslim terminology, the pieces themselves had been modelled to fit in with the Koranic ban on representational images. However, the actual rules and strategy of the game were universal, and the pieces would gradually adapt to the culture of the land in which the game was played. In modern England we have the king, queen, bishop, knight, rook, and pawn. In the game of shatranj, these were called the shah,(king) firz, (vizir) al-fil (elephant), faras (horse) , rukh (chariot) and baidaq (footman). These latter titled go back to the traditional elements of the Indian army. – infantry, cavalry, elephants and chariots. The latter two weren’t familiar to medieval westerners. As the game progressed the names changed. Shah, faras and baidaq became king, knight and footman. (rex, miles, caballarius pedes). Firz and al-fil became queen and count (regina, comes). Rukh more or less remained as Rukh. The actual name ‘chess’ that we use today has come down to us from ‘Shah.’
Gradually the west developed their chess pieces into feudal representations. The Lewis Chess pieces found on the Isle of Lews in 1831, date to circa 1150 and depict a king, queen, bishop, knight and armed man with only the pawns carved as simple forms.

Although an intellectual game, wagers were frequently made on the outcome, and there was also a form of chess that was played with dice. Bernard of Clairveaux (typical to his nature) forbade the game of chess to the Knights Templar. Alexander Nequam, King Richard I’s milk brother, condemned chess because of its violent and quarrelsome nature. Someone else thought that it was all right for laymen to play the game providing they did not use dice, but that in a priest it was shameful, senseless and disgusting. Louis IX of France issued a complete ban on chess as well as other board games in 1254. That chess led to violence is often portrayed in literature. The Romance of Fouke FitzWaryn, written in the 13th century and the basis for my novels SHADOWS AND STRONGHOLDS and LORDS OF THE WHITE CASTLE/THE OUTLAW KNIGHT tells us that King John (well Prince John Count of Mortain at that time) and Fulke FitzWarin, clashed as teenagers over a game a of chess. ‘John took the chessboard and struck Fulke a great blow. Fulke felt himself hurt and raised his foot and struck John in the middle of the stomach, so that his head flew against the wall, and he became all weak and fainted.’ Whether this is true, or a literary conceit is open to conjecture, but there are a couple of reports in the middle ages of chess boards being used as murder weapons in homicide cases!

At the opposite end of the spectrum, many a flirtatious moment might be conducted across a chess board and learning to play the game was one of the accomplishments a young noblewoman was expected to learn. 

So it wasn’t just a case of black and white. The medieval game of chess was one of many nuances and subtleties!

Lewis chessman - British Museum
Photo courtesy of Rosemary Watson

Monday, April 22, 2013

Newbury and the missing Castle

Those of you who have a read A Place Beyond Courage, or who have followed my blog for some time, will know about the Marshal links to Newbury and its castle – a structure that has now disappeared so thoroughly, that no one knows where it is – although I have very strong suspicions myself as to where it once stood.

Newbury is in west Berkshire a short distance from the Hampshire border.  The town is situated in the flood plain of the River kennet near the junction of the River Lambourn at a point where the Oxford to Southampton road crosses the river and the London to Bath road passes to the north.  So its situation is of strategic importance.
Saxon settlements are known  from the 10th century with charters existing at very nearby Speen and Thatcham.  By the late 11th century a manor called Ulvritone was listed in the area by the Domesday Book, belonging to one Arnulf de Hesdin.  The name of the town itself is first mentioned in a grant of 1080.  Evidence suggests that it was created as a planned town on the site of Ulvritone.  It had a castle by 1152 (more on that in a moment).  The town seems to have developed steadily during the 12th and 13th centuries.  By 1204 it had a market as well as town bailiffs, and why you 1225 it was represented at assize by its own baliff and jury.
Excavations were undertaken in Newbury between 1979 and 1990 in the course of which the search for a castle at the traditionally acknowledged site of the Wharf was pursued from 1988 -1990.  The area was called ‘The Castle’ by the locals.  The evaluation of the area by theTrust for Wessex Archaeology in March 1990 suggested that the tradition of a stone built castle standing on the side and surviving into the later medieval period was unsupported by fact.  It was highly likely to have been a temporary earth and timber structure, short-lived and purely defensive as were many castles hastily thrown up in the period of the war between Stephen and Matilda. ‘The balance of evidence would tend to suggest a location other than at Newbury Wharf.’
My own feeling on the subject of Newbury Castle is that the archaeologists should have been looking to the outskirts, to Speen, where the Marshals and the Bishop of Salisbury had interests.   There is a fine big house at Speen built on the site of a dwelling that once belonged to the Bishop of Salisbury.  The site is the highest point on a ridge overlooking the River Lambourn to the north and the Kennet to the South.  The Roman road- Ermine Street coming from Cirencester to Speen must have been very close by.  The place in ancient times had been an iron age hill fort and the ramparts can still be seen on the spot.  There have been Roman finds nearby too.  Fortifications and ramparts are regularly adapted and reused down the centuries.  John marshal was renowned as a cunning builder of Castles and the Speen site would have been tailor made for his skills, especially if he was throwing up defences in a hurry and this place was a strategically important site.
On the map, I have gone over the rampart lines in red. The walking distance from Newbury centre is 1.4 miles.  Click to enlarge.

The church for Speen is that of St Mary The Virgin. On its own website  it says: 
'It is a medieval church built on Saxon Foundations, and was the mother church of Newbury. In 1086 it was recorded in the Domesday Book. The church stands about 200 yards from where I purport the castle site to be and I found it interesting that the church is claimed to be the 'mother church' of Newbury. Built before the others were built. The Marshals have a connection with this church. There are several charters listed in the cartulary of Sandford Priory. 

For example from 1206: 

Uniuersis etc Willelmus Marescallus comes Penbr[] salutem Nouerit uniuersitas uestra me concessisse etc deo et beate Marie et fratribus militie Templi Salomonis intuitu caritatis et pro salute anime mee et Isabelle uxoris mee et puerorum meorum et antecessorum omnium et successorum meorum in liberam et puram et perpetuam elemosinam ecclesiam de Spenes cum omnibus ad eam pertinentibus et omnibus libertatibus suis habend et tenend et in usus proprios perpetuo possidendam Et ut etc Hiis testibus Edwardo abbate de Nottel 

My Latin is pretty terrible, but basically it's a salutation from William Marshal giving the proceeds of the church at Speen to the Templars for his soul, for the soul of his wife, Isabelle and for the souls of their ancestors and their heirs. There is also a mention in the Pipe roll of 1199 referencing William Marshal and Speen. 'Et in perdonis Willelmo Marescallo dim.m. de wasto qod exigebatur ex eo in terra sua deSpienes per breve R.  Which concerns a fine for waste land in William’s lands at Speen.

None of this proves that there was a castle at Speen, but it does add to the circumstantial evidence. The Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal tells us that John Marshal built a castle at Newbury. But no one knows where it is. Speen, on the outskirts, with its commanding views over the landscape and strategic roads would have been an ideal place. The church, within short walking distance has been there since Saxon times. The Marshal presence at Speen from the late 12th century is confirmed by pipe roll evidence and then charters.  It's a slow, laborious process, but nothing turned up so far detracts from the idea that Newbury Castle was at Speen, and indeed, in a peripheral manner, supports the argument.  Perhaps one day we’ll know for sure.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

I Want My Mummy! Two Strange Medieval Spices...

Medicinal jars circa 1300, originating in Syria, found in London 
Not all items classed as spices in the medieval period had a culinary use. Some were medicinal and not what we would regard as a spice today. One item a physician might require for his preparations for example was a spice known as 'tutty'. Tutty was a panacea consisting of charred scrapings from inside chimneys. But not just any chimney. It was no good popping up to the castle in summer and taking a surreptitious rasp while no one was looking, oh no. Tutty was specifically scrapings from more exotic, far away climes, its point of export being Alexandria. 

To go with your tutty, you might want another spice for your supply chest called 'momie', 'mumia' or 'mummy'. A drug handbook of 1166 defines 'mummy' as a kind of spice collected from the tombs of the dead. This doesn't mean thousands of years old Egyptian mummies as we might imagine, but sligthly more recently enbalmed corpses that still have a bit of give in them. A 15th century treatise tells us that it is 'A spice or confection found in the tombs of people who have been embalmed with spices, as they used to do in ancient times, and as the pagans near Babylon still do. This mummy is found near the brain and the spine. You should choose that which is shining black, bad smelling and firm.' Yuk.
Mummy was thought efficacious when combined with the juice of a plant called shepherd's purse in stopping excessive nose bleeding. Its main function was to stop bleeding. If someone was spitting blood becauses of injury or malady, they were advised to put a mummy pill under the tongue, the latter made from mummy, mastic powder and water in which gum arabic had been dissolved.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Friday Likes

It's that day when I post 3 things that bring pleasure to my life whether they're attached to history or not.

1.This gorgeous, poignant song by Claire Macguire.

2. Mugs.  I collect them and drink from them (as opposed to just keeping them for display) and use whichever I fancy on the day.

3. The Medieval Archaeology Data service website with links to all sorts of interesting information included in back issues of their magazine.  Perfect for browsing.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Items required to make life pleasant for a peasant!

Medieval farming implements including a spade and
This comes from Alexander Nequam, Richard I’s milk brother, and he tells us about the daily living needs of a medieval peasant. His notions of what a peasant should own are somewhat grandiose, but the work is a grammatical treatise, and Alexander himself was not exactly of peasant status and is probably looking on from an idealised distance, and I suspect the wild asses are something of a literary conceit!

A peasant spending his life in the country, wishing to provide for poverty and old age, should have many kinds of baskets and beehives of willow wands. He should have also a fishing fork shape like a hook that he may get himself fish. Nor should he be without a willow basket for pressing clabber (cottage cheese) in which milk saved from the milking, pressed frequently, may be transformed into cheese with the whey well extracted. The whey should then be kept for young children to drink.
Afterwards the cheese in its fresh state should be kept in a cheese box of paper or of marsh reeds wrapped in leaves and covered against the attacks of flies, mice, stinging flies, locusts and such. Also he should have straw and coarse grains, which are fed to hens, ducks, geese, and birds of the kitchen yard. He must have also bolting cloth and a strainer, so that he can sift flour with them; he can clarify beer with them too. He must possess a sword, guisearme, a spade, a threshing sledge, a seed bucket for sowing, a wine strainer basket, a wheelbarrow, a moustrap for mice, and a wolf trap. He should have also stakes or pales, frequently sharpened and tested in the fire. He should have a two- headed axe for removing thorns, thistles, brambles, spines, and bad shoots, and holly wood for tying and reneweing hedges in order that, taking advantage of carelessness, no thieves may enter into the livestock enclosure and take animals. He should have a large knife also by which he may cut grafts and insert them into trees are shall be needed. He may have hoes for removing tares, chicory and bennett grass, vetch, darnell, thistles and avens. Some of these, however, are eradicated better with a curved implement than with a hoe.
He needs a herdsmen and a shepherd because of the treachery of wolves, and he must be provided with a fold in order that the sheep placed there may render richer the land with the wealth of their dung. The shepherd must have a hut in which a faithful dog shall pass the night with him. The sheepfold ought to be moved frequently in order that all the area of the field can feel the benefit of the urine as well as of the dung of these animals. Our peasant should also have a cow barn and mangers: one manger for horses, one for cattle, and if prosperity smiles a bit and Fortune is kind, he should get an ass and a stallion for a stud. He will need also sheep, goats, oxen, cows, heifers, bullocks, wild oxen, wild asses, rams, ewes, wethers, bull calves, and mules. He must have boxes, nets and long lines to trap hares, does, kids, stags, hinds, and young mules. This is the equipment of a peasant. He will require also bratchet hounds, levriers (greyhounds) and mastiffs.
He should have a plough which can produce the necessities of life, in the middle of which is a huge piece of oak which we call the beam or the pole. This widening into two prongs, forms twin ears or earthboards whereby the furrow is made wider. A certain kind of plough has only one ear. This oaken beam curves into the back end which is known as the tale of the plough.
The plough handle to which grips are fixed and by which the plough is directed should go up obliquely. There are three kinds of grips: that in the handle of a sword, the kind attached to a funeral bier, and the kind which a ploughman holds with his hands. But a plough is difficult to control when it is opposed by hard earth and rough or clay soil, where the yoke of the draught animals or the willow bands are broken. A share beam should be added, to which a ploughshare is inset. I Pass over willingly the hedge, harrow, nails, bars, cords, and knife. I leave to those who understand such things to develop and elucidate how the fields should be manured, cleared off, or renovated when Sirrius and Procyon is in the ascendant, or when houses are falling, (astrology refs) also how to burn off when the stalks have been left, or level off with a cylinder, or cover the sown land with a drag, or put the seed in the ground in order that the inert seed may burst into green; how it is necessary to reap, to beat on a threshing floor, to send the bundles or stacks to the granary, to clean with a rake, to clean with the winnowing fan, afterwards to grind with a millstone, to sift the flour through the holes of a sieve, and by the art of baking transform it into bread. I omit for the present, a goad, a drag, a scarecrow, and a lecherous representation of Priapus, not from ignorance but because I do not recall them precisely.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hamelin de Warenne : "Par lege Per Lege"

Hamelin FitzCount, Earl of Surrey and Warenne
Circa 1130 - 1202
"Par Lege Per Lege"

Geoffrey le Bel, Hamelin's father
Plaque on his tomb effigy 1
Hamelin FitzCount is one of those supporting role players in English history who is vaguely known to people well versed in the life of the Angevin kings, but otherwise off most people’s radar. However, he has a big part to play in my Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy, especially in books 2 and 3, and so does his wife Isabel, Countess of Surrey and Warenne, from whom he took his title.   So who was he?  Let’s take a look at what we do and don’t know about him.

The first is a don’t know – his birth date isn’t recorded.  His father was Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, husband of the Empress Matilda who was heiress to the Duchy of Normandy and the English crown. (although that right was stolen from her by her cousin Stephen). The marriage took place when Geoffrey was not quite 15 and his bride 26.  The union produced 3 sons in the fullness of time but from circumstantial evidence including a separation, does not appear to have been one made in heaven.  Geoffrey was known as ‘le Bel’ in his lifetime, meaning ‘The beautiful’ and descriptions say that he was tall, graceful, and long-limbed with red hair and piercing crystal-grey eyes.  As well as his legitimate heirs, Geoffrey had an illegitimate son and two daughters by a mistress or possibly mistresses unknown. Some genealogies list the lady as one Adelaide of Angers.  There is the very, very scant possibility that she may have been called Matilda the same as her husband’s wife.
   Whatever the circumstances, Geoffrey provided for Hamelin, Emma and Mary and took them under his ducal wing.  Emma was later to become one of the ladies of Alienor of Aquitaine’s chamber and to marry Welsh prince Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd in the summer of 1174.  Mary, became Abbess of Shaftesbury. 

Not a great deal is heard about Hamelin before his marriage in 1164.  That he was a longterm part of his half-brother Henry II’s general entourage seems likely.  We know he supported Henry at the gathering at Northampton when Archbishop Thomas Becket was summoned to account for his behaviour concerning the matter of land disputes between church and crown (among numerous other things). The proceedings of that council escalated into a slanging match between the Archbishop and the barons. Hamelin got involved, defending Henry’s dignity by shouting at Becket that he was a traitor. Becket’s response to Hamelin was ‘Were I knight instead of a priest, my fist would prove you a liar!’  Later in life, however, after Becket’s death, Hamelin embraced the cult of the murdered Archbishop and claimed to have been cured of blindness in one eye by the cloth covering Becket’s tomb.
Younger sons, minor branches on the family tree and bastards are always dependent on their greater kin for handouts.  There is evidence that Henry gave Hamelin lands in Touraine before his marriage, and that he was styled the ‘Vicomte de Touraine’.  He later gave his lands at Ballan, Colombiers and Chambray-les-Tours to his nephew King Richard in 1190/91 in exchange for Thetford.  The 3 estates were situated on the Southern fringe of Tours and were in strategic positions on the road to Chinon.  This suggests that they were hereditory possessions of the counts of Anjou.  The lands were given to Hamelin either by Henry II, or by their father to provide for his bastard son.
Hamelin’s greater days, however, came partly as a result of the Becket dispute.  Henry’s youngest brother William had been in line to wed the widowed heiress Isabel de Warenne.  She had been married to King Stephen’s son William of Boulogne who died in 1159 in Poitou while on battle campaign with Henry II. They had no issue.   Becket, being awkward, declared the proposed match between Isabel and Henry II’s brother consanguineous and refused to permit a dispensation for the couple. William FitzEmpress is supposed to have pined to death on receiving this news. I doubt that very much, but for whatever reason, he died in Rouen a few months after the refusal.  Henry was not about to let the rich de Warenne lands escape the family clutches, and promptly arranged for Hamelin to marry the widow instead.  There was no consanguinity here, and Hamelin was Henry’s sole remaining brother, the other one Geoffrey having shuffled off the mortal coil a few years earlier.
Isabel de Warenne was an heiress worth having.  She owned substantial lands in Norfolk, Yorkshire, the south of England and Normandy. At Domesday book, her family’s lands had been valued at £1,140, which put them among the five wealthiest secular holdings in the country after the King. By the second half of the 12th century, the honour of Warenne held over 140 knights fees in England. Isabel’s ancestral holdings included castles at Lewes, Reigate, Sandal and Castle Acre, and would later include the magnificent keep at Conisbrough, inspiration for Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.  Norman prestige lay in the castles of Mortemer and Bellencombre, which were strategic fortresses in upper Normandy and were held in the family by her uncle Reginald de Warenne.   

The family were also patrons of Lewes Priory, a Cluniac foundation dedicated to St. Pancras, and Castle Acre Priory in Norfolk.  Isabel’s family connections spread far and wide among the Anglo Norman aristocracy.  As a note for my personal interest, Isabel’s mother became William Marshal’s aunt by marriage when she wed Patrick Earl of Salisbury as her second husband. Isabel’s great uncle Raoul de Vermandois had been married to Alienor of Aquitaine’s sister. Isabel’s father had died on the 2nd crusade, one of the victims of the massacre while crossing Mount Cadmos.  Several birth dates are given for Isabel, but circa 1130 onwards seems the most likely; thus she and Hamelin were of a similar age.
Hamelin and Isabel married in April 1164.  In March of that year, a record appears on the Pipe Roll for money for clothes for Isabel – amounting to £4 10s 8d - presumably for her trousseau.
Hamelin took the de Warenne name for his own, adopting his wife’s patrimony and the distinctive chequered de Warenne blazon.  Two years after their marriage, he reported to the enquiry of 1166 that he held sixty knight’s fees in Sussex. This was by no means all and it seems that Hamelin was one of an elite handful of Anglo Norman courtiers who were not obliged to report fully on how many knights they could field in battle and to serve the Crown. The de Warenne contribution is missing from the knight’s fee survey documents of Henry II’s time, the Cartae baronum and the Infeudationes militum. However, other sources suggest that the de Warenne estates were in the top 10 of England’s wealthiest and most important honours.   
4 The motte of Sandal Castle
Isabel and Hamelin had four children – a boy and three girls. The boy, William, would go on late in life to marry Mahelt Marshal, eldest daughter of William Marshal as her second husband. The girls all made marriages among the run of the mill aristocracy, but one of their daughters (some sources say Isabel, some Adela) became pregnant by her cousin John Count of Mortain, later King John.  They had a son, Richard, who went on to have an effective military career, playing an important role in the Battle of Sandwich in 1217.  How much of a scandal this cousinly pregnancy caused at the time, is open to conjecture.  It does, however, show a continuing close social link between the families for the opportunity to have presented itself!
The centres of power in England for Hamelin and Isabel were in Norfolk at Castle Rising, in Lewes at Lewes Castle, and in Yorkshire, at Sandal, and Conisbrough where Hamelin built the magnificent hexagonal keep.  It’s thought to be an improved version of the castle built on the de Warenne Norman lands at Mortemer.  Perhaps he began building at Conisbrough in earnest following the rebellion of King Henry’s sons and the civil war of 1173.  Hamelin sided with his half brother Henry in this dispute, rather than with his impetuous nephews. His loyalty to the crown was always staunch. While his neighbour in Norfolk, Hugh Bigod, took the path to perdition by supporting Henry’s eldest son, Hamelin held firm at Castle Acre - and in all his other territories and ultimately triumphed.
Hamelin doesn’t appear as a signatory to that many charters involved with Henry II, but he was there when it mattered and always quietly efficient in service to his brother.  He was present at Fontevraud in 1173 when Henry met with Raymond de St Gilles, count of Toulouse to settle their differences – and thus was also a witness to the start of the Young King’s rebellion against his father.  Hamelin attested these charters as ‘Vicomte of the Touraine.’   The Touraine was a politically sensitive area and demonstrates Henry’s trust in Hamelin’s abilities.
Part of the Young King’s rebellion was caused by the fact that his father was negotiating a marriage for John to the daughter of the count of Maurienne.  This would have involved John being given the castles of Chinon and Loudon in the Touraine as a marriage portion, castles which the Young king saw firmly as his own.   Had the deal gone through, Hamelin would have had custody of those castles until the marriage took place.  As it was, it all fell through and turned to rebellion.  Hamelin firmly backed his brother Henry II during this time at a point when Henry’s supporters were in short supply.

Hamelin’s next moment in the limelight comes in 1176 when he is found escorting Henry and Eleanor’s youngest daughter to her marriage to King William of Sicily – so a task of status and diplomacy.
During the 1180’s Hamelin retired to his own business, much of it concerned with his Yorkshire estates, and he seems to have put his energies into building his wonderful keep at Conisbrough. Historian Thomas.K. Keefe says of him that he  “undoubtedly spent more time in Yorkshire than any of the other Warenne earls…” and that  “Years of experience at the Angevin court, coupled with private success in the management of the diverse Warenne properties, earned Hamelin a respect that would serve him well in the troubled years following Henry II’s death in 1189.”
7 The great keep at Conisborough Castle

In the period leading up to Henry's death at Chinon, Henry is found at Hamelin's home manors in Touraine, suggesting that he could rely on Hamelin's support and loyalty.
Following Henry's death, Hamelin was present at the coronation of his nephew Richard the Lionheart on the the 3rd of September 1189 and was certainly very busy about the business of the court before Richard departed on crusade. There are  13 charters attested by him  before July 1190.
As aforementioned, Hamelin exchanged his lands in Touraine for Thetford in Norfolk.  This was valued at £35 a year and was an important addition to the de Warenne power base in Norfolk. If  the estate made a profit, the moneys had to be handed over to the exchequer, but if it made less than £35, the Crown had to stump up the difference. 
 While Richard was absent on crusade, Hamelin supported the chancellor William Longchamp against the intrigues of Richard’s younger brother John and also the Bishop of Durham Hugh le Puiset.  Perhaps John was persona non grata to him at this time because of the scandal of the illegitimate child he had begotten on Hamelin’s daughter. (my conjecture, no proof).  Also Hamelin, rather like William Marshal was a stickler for his word being his bond.  Once sworn he was committed.  The legend on his seal reads “pro lege, per lege” which translates (roughly) to ‘For the law, by means of the law.’  Since the bishop of Ely, William Longchamp was the law at that point, Hamelin supported him until Longchamp was forced into exile.
 In 1193 Hamelin was appointed along with William D’Albini earl of Arundel as one of the treasurers entrusted with collecting Richard’s ransom after the king was taken prisoner on his way home from the Holy Land.  On Richard’s return in 1194, Hamelin was granted the privilege of bearing one of the three swords of state at the second coronation, the other two bearers being William King of Scots and Ranulf Earl of Chester.  When Richard held a council at Nottingham later that year to deal with the insurgents who had supported John, Hamelin was present at Richard’s side to sit in judgement.
Hamelin was present at John’s coronation on 27th May 1199, and occasionally still attended court duties, witnessing an oath taken by William King of Scots in November 1200. In 1200 too, Hamelin was granted a weekly market at Conisbrough.  King John visited Hamelin and Isabel at Conisbrough on the 5th March 1201. In the ensuing years, fences had clearly been mended, and John was not only Hamelin's king, but his nephew, and father of his grandson!
 8 Castle Acre Priory
Hamelin and Isabel were generous patrons to the church. They gave gifts to Lewes Priory, the Hospitallers, St Mary’s York (gifts of fish – bream) , Nostell Priory, the chapel of St. Philip and St. James in the castle of Conisbrough, the priory of St Katherine, Lincoln, (the right of free entry along a causeway belonging to Hamelin for 40 cattle to graze on his moorland) Southwark priory and the abbey of St. Victor-en-Caux.  With Isabel and their son William, he was a benefactor of the Abbey of West Dereham and he issued 2 charters to the priory of the Holy Sepulchre Thetford, and several to Castle Acre Priory.  In Normandy he was a benefactor of the abbey of Foucarmont.  Not that Hamelin was always in full amity with the church.  He quarrelled with the Abbot of Cluny over the appointment of the prior of Lewes in 1181, and the dispute continued to rumble on after his death and was pursued by his son. 
Notwithstanding, when Hamelin died in May 1202, he was buried at Lewes Priory.  Isabel did not long outlive him, dying the following July, and she was buried at his side in the priory choir.  I’m pleased about that. So many couples, including William Marshal and Isabelle de Clare were buried far apart in death, but Hamelin and Isabel got to rest together.
Studying Hamelin’s charters, I was fascinated to come across the detail that he had had one of them witnessed by a man called Haregrim, who was his goatherd!  Now, usually charters are witnessed by men of status and standing in a lord’s life, and they will be listed at the end of charters in order of importance, usually starting with the Church.   The charter in question is a gift to Lewes Priory by one Robert Brito.  At the end of the charter, the witness list begins with Richard the chaplain of Conisbrough, then several knights, including Hamelin’s chief steward, William Livet. There are clerks in minor orders, Paul and John, then another 4 men of unspecified rank, followed by ‘Haregrimo caperario comitis’  which translates  to ‘Haregrim, the earl’s goatherd.’ I like that.  It brings the quirky and the idiosyncratic into the story and fuels this writer’s imagination!
From what I have been able to garner from the scraps available, Hamelin de Warenne illegitimate half-brother of Henry II, was a man of loyalty, steadfastness and integrity. His daily and family life seems to have been a place of measured order, steady growth and contentment – a seaworthy boat from which to weather the violent political storms churned up by his close and royal Angevin relatives whom he served with faith and honour throughout a long and quietly distinguished career.

My thanks to Rosemary Watson for photos 6 and 7
Wikipedia 1, and4.
Picture 3 is from Istock
Author's own photos 2, 5 and 8.

Select Bibliography: 
Early Yorkshire Charters vol 8 The Honour of Warenne Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay/Cambridge University Press
Dictionary of National Biography - entry by Thomas K. Keefe
England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings vol 1 and 2 by Kate Norgate

English Heritage links.
Conisbrough Castle

Castle Acre Priory

Saturday, April 13, 2013

On criminal pleas, homicide and rape in the 12th century.

Today's research snippet. The laws and customs of the Realms of England on the matters of homicide and rape at the end of the reign of Henry II, from the Glanvill treatise. This gives some fascinating insights into medieval life. For example - that 60 was the cut off age for trial by combat, which suggests that society viewed you as fit and capable up to that age - pretty much discounting the silly statements you sometimes see saying people were old by the time they were 35! Also interesting to see the class divisions. Why it was a high status thing to face ordeal by hot iron as opposed to ordeal by water which was for peasants, I don't know! And again one sees the subservient position of women.

Criminal pleas
If no specific accuser appears but the accusation is based only on public notoriety, then immediately the accused shall be safely attached, either by suitable sureties or by imprisonment.  Then the truth of the matter shall be investigated by many and varied inquests and interrogations before the justices, and arrived at by considering the probable facts and possible conjectures both for and against the accused, who must as a result be absolved  sold entirely or made to purge himself by the ordeal.  If the ordeal convicts him of this kind of crime then judgement both as to his life and as to his limbs depends on royal clemency as in other pleas of felony.
  If a specific accuser appears, he shall be immediately attached to give security for prosecuting his suit by sureties if he has any.  If he has no sureties, then he is put on a solemn oath, as in all pleas of felony.  An oath is deemed sufficient in such cases lest others should be deterred by excessive demands for security from making similar accusations. 
When the accuser has given security for prosecuting his claim the accused shall, as we said, be attached by sound and reliable sureties; if he has not, he shall be put in prison.  The accused is allowed his freedom on giving sureties in all pleas of felony except homicide, where, in order to intimidate, it is ordained otherwise.  Next, a day is given to the parties, and on that day the customary essoins (excuses for non appearance in court)  are available.
When at last, both parties are present, the accuser alleges that he saw that, or in some manner approved by the court, he knew with certainty that the accused had plotted or done something against the king’s Life or towards sedition in the realm or army, or had consented or given advice or lent his authority to this; and that he is ready to prove this is as the court shall award. (seems here to be citing the crime as an example rather than a single specific). If the accused denies everything in court in the proper manner, then the plea shall be settled by battle.  It should be known that, once battle is waged in this kind of plea, neither party may add to or take away from the words used in the actual wager, nor in any way go back on his allegations if he does so he is deemed to be vanquished and penalised as such. Nor can they in any way be reconciled to each other without licence from the lord king or his justices.
 If the appelor or is vanquished, he will be liable to ammercement by the lord king.  But if the accused is  vanquished, he  must expect the judgment mentioned a little way back;  in addition, all his goods and chattels shall be confiscated and his heirs disinherited for ever.
Every free man of full age may make this sort of accusation.  If a minor appeals someone, however, the minor shall be attached as described above.  A villain may also accuse.  A woman may not accuse anyone in a plea of felony, save in certain exceptional cases (homicide and rape).  The accused may refuse trial by battle in these pleas on account of age or a serious injury: the age must be sixty years or over; serious injury means a broken bone, or injury to the skull by cut or bruise.  In such a case, the accused must purge himself by ordeal, that is, by hot iron or water according  to his status: by hot iron if he is free, by water if he is a villain.

The plea of homicide.
There are two kinds of homicide.  The first is called murder: this is done secretly, out of sight and knowledge of all but the killer and his accomplices, and so cannot be immediately followed by the hue and cry which is required by the relevant assize.  No one is allowed to make an accusation of this kind unless he is a blood relative of the deceased, and within this limit proof of the accusation is awarded to him who is nearer the stock of dissent, to the exclusion of the remoter.
There is another kind of homicide which in ordinary speech is called simple homicide.  In this plea no one is allowed to prove an accusation unless he is a blood relative of the deceased or bound to him by homage or lordship, and can speak about the death from what he has seen himself.  It should be known, moreover, that in this pleas a woman is allowed to accuse another of the death of her husband if she speaks of what she saw herself, because husband and wife are one flesh.  Indeed, as a general rule a woman is allowed to accuse another of injury done to her body.  It is for the accused to choose whether he will rely on disproving the accusation of the woman, or will purge himself by ordeal from the crime imputed to him.  A person accused of homicide is, however, compelled to undergo the ordeal if he has been taken in flight by the hue and cry, and this has been duly sworn to in court by a jury of the countryside.

The Plea of the crime of rape
In the crime of rape a woman charges a man with violating her by force in the peace of the lord king.  A woman who suffers in this way must go, soon after the deed is done, to the nearest vill and there show to trustworthy men the injury done to her, and any effusion of blood there may be and any tearing off her clothes.  She should then do the same to the reeve of the hundred.  Afterwards she should proclaim it publicly in the next county court; and when she has made her complaint, the form of proceeding to judgment shall be as stated above.  In such a case the woman is allowed to make an accusation just as in every case of injury done to her body.  It should be known that in such a case it is for the accused to choose whether he will summit to the burden of the ordeal, or will rely on disapproving the accusation of the woman.
Moreover it should be known that if anyone is convicted in this kind of plea, the judgment against him shall be the same as in the crimes discussed earlier.  Nor can the wrongdoer escape this by expressing his willingness after judgement, to marry the woman he has defiled.  For if he could, it  would frequently happen as a result of a single defilement that men of servile status disgraced forever women of good birth, or that men of good birth were disgraced by women of the lowest estate, and thus the fair repute their families would be unworthily blackened.  But before judgment is given the woman and the accused can be reconciled to each other by marriage, if they have a licence from the king or his justices and the consent of their families.  (the opportunity for abuses of this law are chilling).

Friday, April 12, 2013

Friday Likes

I missed the Friday Likes last week because I was away in London.  This is where I post three things that I like or enjoy or make my day.  They're eclectic, sometimes to do with the Middle Ages, but frequently not.

Off The Leash:
I follow Rupert Fawcett's daily dog cartoons at Facebook.  They always make me smile at coffee break! 
I had Rupert adapt this one to portray our two terriers Pip and Jack

Talking of coffee breaks, I quite often indulge in a biscuit from Bothams of Whitby.  I met one of the bakers and business owners on Twitter - a keen reader, punster, and all round lovely chap, although dangerous if you're counting calories. @MikeJarman  My mother has become addicted to the ginger brack and goes so far as to hide it from my dad!   

A desert Island keeper research book.  I love this because it covers so much ground and in depth but with a light touch to the writing.  If you had to, you could write a novel about the late Norman or Angevin period with just this book for reference. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Isidore of Seville on the matter of men and women

Today's research snippet.

Ravensburger Madonna circa 1480
The medievals depended on various scholars of earlier times for much of their medical and general knowledge.  Isidore of Seville was one such scholar, who lived in Spain between 570 and 636. He became Archbishop of Seville and wrote an encyclopedia of knowledge 'Etymologiae'. It was extremely popular throughout Europe and was cited for centuries.
This is what he has to say about men and women...

Man (vir) is so named, because there is greater force (vis) in him than in women (feminis) hence also the word 'strength' (virtus) - or he is so named because he controls woman (feminam) forcefully (vi). Woman (mulier) gets her name from 'softness' (mollitie), or as it were 'softer', mollier, with a letter taken away or changed. For the two sexes are differentiated in he strength (fortitudine) and weakness (inmbcillitate) of their bodies. Thus there is the greatest strength (virtus) in man (vir) and less in woman(mulleris) so that she might be forbearing to man; otherwise, if women were to repel them, sexual desire might compel men to desire something else or rush off to another sex...

What is now called a 'female' (femina), antiquity called vira (i.e. the female of vir meaning man).  The word 'female' (femina) derivesd from the area of the thighs (femorum) where her gender is distinguished from a man's.  But some think she is called 'female' (femina) through the Greek etymology for 'burning force,' because of the intensity of her desire. For females are more lustful than males , among women as much as among animals.  Hence the word 'effeminate' was applied to an excess of love in antiquity.'
The above notion was very widespread in the Middle Ages, so sexual restraint was viewed as a healthy thing to practise.

Isidore on procreation
A father is the one from whom the beginning of the family line derives its origin. Hence he is termed the head of the family (paterfamilias) The father is so named because he procreates a son by carrying through an accomplishment (patratione); for this 'accomplishment' is the consummation of the business of Venus.  Those who 'engender' (genitores) are named from 'bringing forth' (gignendo) while 'parents' are those who 'bear' (parientes). The same is true of 'creators' (creatores) - the semen of the male whence the bodies of animals and humans are conceived is 'growth' (crementum)  hence parents are called 'creators'. A mother (mater) is so called because from her something is made: for 'mother' (mater) is as it were 'matter' (materia) while the father is the cause.

On menstruation
The menstrua are the superfluous blood of women. They are called menstrua after the cycle of the moon, in accordance with which this flow usually comes - the moon being named 'mene' in Greek. They are also called 'womanish things' since woman is the only menstruating animal.  From contact with this blood, fruits fail to germinate, grape-must goes sour, plants die, trees lose their fruit, metal is corroded with rust, and bronze objects go black. Any dogs which consume it, contract rabies. The glue of bitumen, which resists both metal and water, dissolves spontaneously when polluted with that blood.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

'Full of juice' Horses in 12th century London

horseshoe from the city of London circa 1300
Today's research snippet comes from William FitzStephen's Norman London, written in the later 12th century as a short description of the city and its activities. Here the author talks about horses, horse racing and joust training in the city.

"On every sixth day of the week, unless it be a major feast day on which solemn rites are prescribed, there is a much frequented show of fine horses for sale. Thither come all the Earls, Barons and Knights who are in the City, and with them many of the citizens, whether to look on or buy. It is a joy to see the ambling palfreys, their skin full of juice, their coats a-glisten, as they pace softly in alternation raising and putting down the feet on one side together.
Next to see the horses that best befit Esquires, moving more roughly, yet nimbly, as they raise and set down the opposite feet, fore and hind, first on one side and then on the other.
"Then the younger colts of high breeding, unbroken and high stepping with elastic tread, and after them the costly destriers of graceful form and goodly stature with quivering ears, high necks and plump buttocks. As these show their paces, the buyers watch first their gentler gait, then the swifter motion, wherein the forefeet are thrown out and back together, and the hind feet also, as it were, counterwise.
When a race between such trampling steeds is about to begin, or perchance between others who are likewise, after their kind, strong to carry, swift to run, a shout is raised, and horses of the baser sort are bidden to turn aside. Three boys riding these fleet-footed steeds, or at times two as may be agreed, prepare themselves for the contest. Skilled to command their horses, they curb their untamed mouths with jagged bits and their chief anxiety is that there rival shall not gain the lead. The horses likewise after their fashion lift up their spirits for the race; their limbs tremble, impatient of delay, they cannot stand still. When the signal is given, they stretch forth their limbs, they gallop away, they rush on with obstinate speed. The riders, passionate for renown, hoping for victory, vie with one another in spurring their swift horses and lashing them forward with their switches no less than they excite them by their cries.
In another place apart stand the wares of the country-folk, instruments of agriculture, long-flanked swine, cows with swollen udders, and wooly flocks and bodies huge of kine. Mares stand there, meet for ploughs, sledges and two-horsed carts; the bellies of some are big with young; round others move their offspring, new-born, sprightly foals, inseparable followers."

William FitzStephen also tells us that every Sunday in Lent after dinner 'A fresh swarm of young gentles goes forth on warhorses steeds skilled in the contest, of which each is apt and schooled to wheel in circles round.
From the gates burst forth in throngs the lay sons of the citizens, armed with lance and shield, the younger with shafts forked at the end but with steel point removed. They wake war's semblance and in mimic contests exercise their skill at arms. Many courtiers come too, when the King is in residence; and from the households of Earls and Barons come young men not yet invested with the belt of knighthood, that they may there contend together. Each one of them is on fire with hope of victory. The fierce horses neigh, their limbs tremble, they champ the bit; impatient of delay they cannot stand still. When at length the hoof of trampling steeds careers along, the youthful riders divide their hosts; some pursue those that fly before, and cannot overtake them; others unhorse their comrades and speed by."

Monday, April 08, 2013

Feeling cheesy

Today's research snippet: 

Feeling Cheesy

In general terms there were 5 kinds of cheese known in medieval England. These were classified in the 16th century by writer Andrew Boorde, but he was speaking of long tradition. There was ‘green’ cheese. This didn’t mean it was literally green, but it was new. It was made from either whole or semi-skimmed milk and was eaten in a fairly fresh state. I
t was pressed sufficiently to retain its shape but was still moist and probably akin to modern Lancashire and Caerphilly cheeses which ripen with a few weeks.
Modern Caerphilly cheese

Then there was soft cheese. One might immediately think of cream cheese, but not so. Soft cheese was again made from either whole or semi skimmed milk and turned out similarly to today’s regional cheeses such as cheddar, Cheshire and Double Gloucester. They were firm and waxy in texture and were called soft because they were in comparison to the next variety which hard cheese.
Hard cheese was the staple cheese of the poor. It was made from skimmed milk and therefore its low fat content meant that it kept well. The downside was that it was very tough and took some chewing. A dialect name for it was ‘whangby’ meaning that it was as tough as leather bootlaces! Not that I’ve had it authenticated, but I’d imagine its texture would be a bit like Parmesan!
A fourth cheese was spermyse, which was a cheese that was made with additions such as herbs and herb juices, and was pretty individual. The only survivor to today in Britain of that tradition is the Sage Derby cheese which has additions of sage which gives the cheese green mottling.

Modern Sage Derby cheese

Cheese number 5 was the Rowan cheese, which was produced from animals that had fed on grass that sprang up in the autumn meadows after summer mowing. The milk from this fodder produced a curd which retained moisture and had a particular flavour and texture.
Then of course there was curd cheese made from sour milk which was an overnight thing.
Provenance for the now famous blue cheeses is vague, but they must have formed part of the repertoire. There is a cheese of long provenance known as ‘Blue Vinny’ and the word ‘Vinny’ is suggested to come from an Anglo Saxon word meaning to go mouldy, so perhaps one can add blue cheese to the mainstream repertoire.
Of course with regional and local variations there were hundreds of cheeses available, but the above are the main types rather than the individual.

Wallace and Grommit would have needed a truckload of crackers!