The medieval aristocracy lived a life of ostentatious display. From the moment of their birth to the day of their interment—and indeed even beyond that point, since commemorative rituals were part of the cult of perpetuating their memories—nobles participated in, and were at the centre of, a theatrical round of display and celebration. Their residences and lifestyle set them apart; so did their troupes of servants, retainers, and guests. Conspicuous display and conspicuous expenditure were not optional extras; they were at the very heart of contemporary notions of lordship. If a lord was to earn the ‘worship’ of followers and dependants he must do so recurrently by displaying his pre-eminence and by parading his largesse, and by doing so publicly. That is why social commentators in the later Middle Ages deplored the growing tendency of the nobility to withdraw into their chambers rather than conduct their domestic lives in public. More comfortable and intimate such private living might have been; but it weakened the necessary visibility and public impressiveness of lordship. Robert Grosseteste had put the point forcefully in his famous advice to nobles in the mid thirteenth century: ‘you yourself be seated at all times in the middle of the high table, so that your presence as lord and lady be made manifest to all.’ It was in that fashion, he added, and by having a well-drilled staff of servants, that the lord would earn ‘great fear and reverence’.1‘Fear’, ‘reverence’, ‘worship’ were central concepts in the cult or lordship; they were inculcated and sustained by a constant and visible emphasis on the superiority and apartness of lordship.
Greater lords needed to be set apart from the generality of lords (domini) in a variety of ways. One was by the bestowal or appropriation of exclusive titles. By the fifteenth century the higher echelons of the aristocracy had developed a suite of honorific titles—baron, earl, marquis, viscount, duke—which declared terminologically the distance between them and the rest of knightly and gentle society. It was part of the process of stratification (to borrow McFarlane’s phrase) and increasing social exclusivity which characterizes the later Middle Ages. Of these labels of superiority, ‘earl’ was much the oldest. It was in origin no more than a term for a man of high birth; but in the limited fashion it was employed and conferred in England after the Norman conquest it became, and remained,1
1 Walter of Henley and other Treatises on Estate Management and Accounting, ed. D. M. Oschinsky (Oxford, 1971), 403.
a very restricted and singular honour.2 At no time between 1100 and 1300 was the title borne by more than twenty-five men at any given time. In fact such figures were rarely achieved. The number of earls dwindled steadily across the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries; by 1300 the title was reserved for eleven men (albeit several of them holding more than one earldom). Earls were the creme de la creme of the higher aristocracy, their honorific titles setting them clearly apart from, and above, the rest of the aristocracy. The other honorific title—‘baron’—had undergone a rather similar evolution. Originally in the Norman period it was a term used to refer simply and generically to the leading vassals and followers of great lords. During the thirteenth century, however, it began to acquire connotations of social exclusivity and superiority and shed its feudal connections.3Ambitious lords adopted and flaunted the term ‘baron’—for example ‘the baron of Stafford’—to indicate the social and status distance between themselves and lesser lords. Combined as it was—or frequently came to be —with an individual summons to parliament, the baronage became in effect a titled nobility, a grade within the peerage. Richard II acknowledged the transformation in 1387 when he raised his confidant, John Beauchamp, and the male heirs of his body to ‘the status and title of lord of Beauchamp and baron of Kidderminster’ by letters patent.
‘Earl’ and ‘baron’ were at least old terms, albeit that they had now become more exclusive in their usage. But the search for an exclusive social terminology for the higher aristocracy—‘illustrious personages’ as Edward III termed them when he created a batch of six new earls in 1337—was not satisfied by these two well-established labels. In that very year 1337 the title of duke was conferred for the first time, on the king’s eldest son, Edward. It was a title largely reserved for members of the royal family; but already in 1351 it was bestowed on a non-royal peer when Henry, earl of Lancaster, was promoted to be duke of the same county. The title of duke remained a rare privilege: only forty-five dukes were created 1337—1500 and even the extravagant Richard II limited ducal creations during his reign to nine (including promoting Margaret Marshal from countess to duchess of Norfolk). Typically it was Richard II who also introduced a novel rank in the English peerage when in 1385 he created his favourite, Robert de Vere, marquis of Dublin. But it was not to be a rank or title which found favour in England. Indeed in 1399 John Beaufort declined to resume the title of marquis of Dorset because, in his own words, ‘the title of marquess was a strange title in this realm.’4 The same fate was to befall the final title of honour—viscount—which was first bestowed in 1440. What this proliferation and refinement of titles indicates is the growing habit of the higher aristocracy to demarcate itself terminologically from the rest of noble society and, then, to introduce a hierarchy of titles even within its own restricted ranks. Disputes about
2 Crouch, Image of the Aristocracy, 41—83.
3 Ibid., 107—10.
4 Rot. Parl. III, 488. [See now, PROME VIII, 164-5.]
precedence—on such issues as seating arrangements—were bound to follow. What could not now be doubted was that England had a graduated peerage, demarcated institutionally and terminologically from the rest of noble society. This was part of the cult of apartness of the higher aristocracy.
Titles were for the king to bestow, and withhold; that was a reminder that aristocratic society, especially in England and English Ireland, was kingship- focussed and kingship-dominated. The general, though not universal, custom in England in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was that the title of earl could not be assumed (even where the hereditary descent was clear) without a formal process of investiture with sword and belt by the king. This was to remain clearly the practice with regard to new creations in the later Middle Ages.5 Thus on 6 April 1385, Richard II created Michael de la Pole earl of Suffolk and girded him with the sword. Creations could be conditional: thus when Thomas Beaufort was promoted from earl of Dorset to be duke of Exeter in November 1416, it was specifically stated that the latter dignity was to be his for life only. Royal largesse could bestow, but royal spleen—or niggardliness—could also withhold. Hugh Courtenay knew that all too well. He had succeeded his father in 1292; in the following year he became technically the heir of the countess of Devon and Aumale. But Edward I’s ambitions thwarted any expectations he may have entertained, and he had to wait over forty years, until 1335, before he was eventually accorded the title of earl of Devon.
The royal will could make, and unmake, the titled nobility; it did so regularly. But even the royal will had to operate within a framework within which the recognition of aristocratic power and the assumption of heritability of honours as well as of land were well-established norms. So it was that the presumption that honorific titles—such as earl or baron—were hereditary in character increasingly established itself, much in the same way (as we have seen) that individual summonses to parliament became increasingly hereditary within families. The practice with regard to succession to earldoms is particularly revealing in this respect. For most of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the heir to an earldom did not succeed to the dignity of earl until he had been ceremoniously girded with the sword of the county. The ceremony was a reminder that earldoms were royal creations and that indeed they had an official responsibility, at least historically, for the administration of the county with which their names were associated. The last known occasion when the heir to an earldom was girded with the sword of the county was in 1272, when Edward I invested his cousin, Edmund of Almaine, with the earldom of Cornwall. Earldoms in England can be said to be from that date formally hereditary. It is a reminder that the nexus of power in later medieval monarchies (including England and Scotland) was composed of a delicate and nuanced balance between royal will and aristocratic ambition.
5 GEC IV, Appendix H.
Earldoms may have become hereditary; but the scope for royal creation and intervention, and therewith for lavish ceremonies to display the royal munificence to all the world, was still ample. Kings could and did decide regularly on disputed or ambiguous succession; they could show favour to the non-comital husband of a comital or ducal heiress; they could create a batch of new titles (as Edward III did in 1337 or Richard II in 1397); they could promote men from one rank to another within the peerage. All these were occasions when king and magnates could display their love of pomp and ceremony to the full. No one excelled Edward III as the master of such ceremonies. When he created his second and third sons dukes of Lancaster and Clarence respectively on 13 November 1362 he did so in the full publicity of parliament, girding them with a sword and conferring fur-trimmed caps and coronets on them. The Scottish kings soon picked up the title and the ceremony as means of entrenching the house of Stewart visually and honorifically at the apex of aristocratic society. King Robert III chose the monastery of Scone as the venue in April 1398 for elevating his son and brother to be dukes of Rothesay and Albany. He decorated them and bestowed fur mantles on them solemnly along ‘with other insignia appropriate only for dukes’.6 Medieval society exulted in the visual; nothing demonstrated better its love of display and its cult of calibrated social and honorific hierarchies than the ceremonies which set the titled nobility apart from the rest of society, including gentle society.
This cult of exclusivity was also paraded in the formal titles and addresses of the aristocracy. As titles aggregated in fewer hands, their style became a roll call of the multiple sources of their power. So it was that Henry of Grosmont (d. 1361) flaunted the title ‘duke of Lancaster, earl of Derby, Lincoln and Leicester, steward of England, and lord of Bergerac and Beaufort’. Even more striking were the epithets of power and superiority which came to characterize their correspondence. Thus ‘noble’, ‘powerful’, and ‘valiant’ (strenuus) were the adjectives which the countess of Pembroke in 1368 deployed to describe her husband, John Hastings. Similar terms of flattery and respect were used to address Scottish earls: ‘noble and powerful lord’, ‘most revered prince’, ‘noble and powerful and dread lord’. Addresses outbid each other in the grovelling formulae they used: ‘To the magnificent, noble and powerful lord, Alexander Stewart, earl of Buchan, lord of Ross and Badenoch, lieutenant of the lord our king and justiciar in the land north of the river Forth’.7 There seems to be an undoubted inflation in the language of deference across our period and the greater aristocracy were its prime beneficiaries. So it was, for example, in 1422 that a Wiltshire man in making a grant felt obliged to have it confirmed
6 Registrum Episcopatus Moraviensis, ed. C. Innes (Bannatyne Club, Edinburgh 1833), no. 303.
7 For the will of Agnes Hastings, 1368, see Registrum Simonis de Langham Cantuariensis Archiepiscopi, ed. A. C. Wood (CYS, Oxford, 1956), 344 — 5. For Lancaster, Nichols, Wills, 83; Mort. Reg., II, nos. 109, 129, 162, 180; Moray Reg., 167—8.
by ‘the seals of my most dread lords (metuendissimorum dominorum meorum), the earls of March, Devon and Salisbury’.8 This inflation of terms of deference continued to soar, as the higher nobility were greeted as ‘right high and mighty prince’. As the usage of the word ‘prince’ suggests, one of the consequences of the inflation of the language of deference was the need to calibrate further the gradations of power and honour within the elite itself. Princes of the royal blood were in particular anxious to stress that they belonged to a superleague even within the higher aristocracy. So it was that John of Gaunt, as duke of Lancaster and the surviving eldest son of Edward III, exacted the most demeaning submission from Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland, in November 1381. Percy was required to acknowledge Gaunt as ‘the greatest lord and highest person of the realm’.9 We might dismiss such flattering references as formulaic and hyperbolic; but that would be to miss their point. They were part of the terminology of exclusivity and superiority; they proclaimed to the world the reputation and eminence of their bearers. Thus when Alexander Stewart earl of Mar (by marriage) died in 1435 he was appropriately memorialized as ‘a man of great wealth and lavish expenditure, holder of a celebrated name, the object of much talk in distant places’.10 Nobility had to be seen, acknowledged, and paraded.
Great wealth lavishly and proudly displayed was one of the hallmarks of lordship. Consumption, expenditure, largesse were essential manifestations of a hierarchy of status. Nothing less was expected. It is true that, at life’s end or in moments of spiritual introspection, doubts might creep in as to the propriety of such practices. Duke Henry of Lancaster (d. 1361) in his spiritual selfexamination, Le Livre de Seyntz Medicines, aired his conscience on the matter. The pious bachelor Earl Humphrey of Hereford (d. 1361) went further. In his will he instructed that ‘all those jewels which we have delighted to look at during our lifetime’ should be ‘sold and the money so raised used for alms’. Earl Humphrey’s conscience was particularly tender for he instructed his executors to spend a further ten thousand marks (£6,666 13s. 4d.), by the advice of friars, in chantries and works of charity.11 The nobility was extravagant in all that it did: in alms-giving and bequests as much as in lifestyle. But extravagance of remorse could not conceal or undo the fact that extravagance of display lay at the heart of lordship.
It manifested itself in a whole variety of ways, which will only be touched upon cursorily here and to some of which we will return later. Fine and expensive
8 Sir Christopher Hatton’s Book of Seals, ed. L. C. Lloyd and D. M. Stenton (Oxford, 1950), no. 31.
9 Reg JG, II, no. 1243.
10 Walter Bower, Scotichronicon, VIII, 293.
11 Nichols, Wills. Most of the wills cited in this chapter are to be found in published form in either Nichols, Wills or, very abbreviated, in Test. Vet. Individual citations are not normally given below unless the will in question is quoted from another source.
dress was a striking way of setting the aristocracy apart.12 The quality of the various cloth, silks, and fine linens from which their clothes were cut was of the finest and made even finer for the eye by being studded with brocade, jewels, and gold and silver embroidery. Henry Bolingbroke as earl of Derby kept his tailor employed for 244 days on end in October 1387—June 1388 in the lord’s wardrobe at London preparing the earl’s clothes. A single outfit might cost a substantial sum: £13 6s. was spent on one outfit (including gold cloth and lined with fur) for the young earl of March (d. 1398) in 1393 and a further £9 for gold cloth decorated with golden lions for the earl and George Felbrigg, one of his confidants. Figures of this order are in no way exceptional. And as the example of Felbrigg suggests, the lord’s extravagance in dress extended to encompass his servants, retainers, and followers, dressed in his own livery. The strain that such sartorial display placed on seigniorial finances is amply illustrated in household accounts. The account of the clerk of the great wardrobe of Henry Bolingbroke for 1395—6 may serve as an illustration: of total expenditure (exclusive of the costs of Henry’s children) of £791, drapery accounted for £73, mercery £219, furs and pelts £146, and goldsmith work £70. At the end of the account is a list of the rich London merchants who profited from Henry’s extravagance. The wealth and commerce of London underpinned the ability of aristocratic lordship to display its power and largesse.13
Aristocratic wealth was, of course, displayed in many other forms. Their residences and parks were a manifestation of their apartness; so were their lifestyles and leisure activities. To these we will return. For those admitted to their halls and houses, their tapestries and hangings, their coffers and beds, their rich ecclesiastical vestments and items of their chapels all proclaimed their wealth and apartness. The care with which individual items were described in their wills or listed in their inventories or catalogued by royal commissioners (as happened to the personal effects of Thomas, duke of Gloucester (d. 1397) at his house in London and residence at Pleshy in Essex) reveal the delight they took in their household goods, especially those with strong family associations.14 Roger Mortimer, first earl of March (d. 1330) was the proud owner of a white bed of buckram powdered with butterflies (butterflies seem to have been a favourite motif in the decor of his home); Elizabeth de Burgh, lady of Clare (d. 1360) and one of the co-heiresses of the earldom of Gloucester, drew up a detailed list of her cutlery, plates, saucers, pots, and so forth in 1332, noting which were
12 See most recently F. Lachaud, ‘Dress and Social Status in England before the Sumptuary Laws’, in Heraldry, Pageantry and Social Display in Medieval England, ed. P. Coss and M. Keen (Woodbridge, 2003), 105-23.
13 TNA DL 28/1/2 f.17v (Henry Bolingbroke); BL Egerton Rolls 8740 (Mortimer); W. P. Baildon, ‘A Wardrobe Account of 16-17 Richard II, 1393-4’, Archaeologia, 62 (1911), 497-514, at p. 508 (Mortimer, but wrongly ascribed to Richard II); TNA DL 28/1/5 (Bolingbroke’s great wardrobe account).
14 CIM 1392—9, no. 372; Viscount Dillon and W. J. St. John Hope, ‘Inventory of the Goods. . . of Thomas, Duke of Gloucester’, Archaeological Journal, 54 (1897), 275-311.
marked with her arms; while Edmund Mortimer, earl of March (d. 1381) took the trouble to describe a salt cellar in the shape of a lion and another in the shape of a dog in his will.15 (Salts were high-prestige objects and were placed at the lord’s right hand on the table.) Examples such as these abound; they reflect the delight in the visual and in items of opulence.
A delight in sumptuous clothes, rich furnishings, and valuable household goods was not, of course, confined to the higher aristocracy; but in a strictly hierarchical society there was, and was expected to be, a correlation between opulence, wealth, and status. It was for that very reason that contemporaries believed that an earl, for example, should have sufficient income in lands and wealth—a ‘competence’ as they termed it—to sustain his status and lifestyle. Hence they set the minimum yearly competence for an earl at a thousand marks (£666 13s. 4d.). But there were also insignia which set the greater aristocracy apart. Coronets increasingly figure in the historical evidence in the fourteenth century and not only for royal dukes: the earl of Arundel in his will in 1376 left his best coronet (which suggests that he had several) to his son, and the earl of March in 1381 left a particularly splendid coronet adorned with jewellery and pearls to his daughter, and referred to another coronet with roses. On what occasions such coronets might with propriety be worn is not altogether clear; but their very existence is another indication of the inflation of splendour and apartness in the ranks of the greater nobility. So likewise were the banners which had long since been one of the signs of aristocratic status: the Mowbray earl of Norfolk (d. 1432) commissioned a painter to prepare nine pennons and twenty standards of worsted of the arms of Mowbray in 1415 as well as a trapper for the earl’s horse displaying the arms of Marshal, Segrave, Mowbray, and Braose (all of them families from whom John Mowbray could claim descent). He also spent £10 on eight tunics for his herald of arms.16 Heralds—along with henchmen, pursuivants, and sword-bearers—were among the personnel who helped to proclaim the distinctiveness and splendour of the aristocratic menage to the world as it progressed across the county and attended jousts and tournaments. Edmund Mortimer (d. 1381) rewarded his herald of arms, ‘naming him March’, with the not inconsiderable fee of ten marks annually. John of Gaunt was regularly attended by a troupe of heralds, especially on major social occasions such as the feast of Epiphany or at jousts.17
Aristocratic power and apartness were not only displayed in sumptuousness of dress and lifestyle but also in the power of command their holder could exercise over his followers. This is a topic already alluded to above and to which we will
15 GEC, IX, 284, n. (f.); J. Ward, English Noblewomen in the Later Middle Ages (Harlow, 1992), 81; will of Edmund Mortimer in Nichols, Wills.
16 *Berkeley Castle MSS., account of Receiver-General of the Earl Marshal 1414—15.
17 CPR 1381-5, 156; BL Egerton Roll 8734; Reg. JG, II, nos. 327, 556 (p. 180), 803 (p. 259).
return below. A lord’s standing was measured not only in wealth and estates but in the depth and extent of the numbers whom he attracted, directly or indirectly, into his service and following, be it as servants, dependants, clients, or retainers. Both parties wished this relationship to be celebrated publicly so that all the world could take note of it, and there was no better way of doing so than by the distribution of livery, collars and badges bearing the lord’s colours or insignia. The evidence is abundant. Thus when Sir Adam Swillington entered the service of Thomas earl of Lancaster (d. 1322) in 1317 with ten men, of whom three were to be knights, it was stipulated that when Swillington came at the earl’s beck to parliament or other assemblies, his knights should be dressed in the earl’s robes.18 Wearing the lord’s livery was a sure indication of personal commitment, as the supporters of the duke of Gloucester and the earls of Arundel and Warwick in autumn 1397 found to their cost when Richard II staged his coup against them.19 Livery badges and collars—such as the famous Lancastrian linked S—were increasingly popular ways of displaying the bond between lord and follower; they were at once badges of honour and badges of service. And at moments of high political drama a lord might distribute a distinctive uniform even more generally to followers who were not tied to him by any formal or permanent bond. When Earl Roger of March (d. 1398) returned from Ireland to the highly charged political atmosphere in England in early 1398, a vast crowd of supporters, wearing hoods in his colours of red and green, went out to meet him.20
Robes, liveries, badges and collars have, of course, long figured prominently in the historiography of the later medieval aristocracy; but perhaps they have too often been packaged as part of the analysis of ‘bastard feudalism’ and marshalled in arguments about the loyalty (or otherwise) of dependants and retainers. These are clearly valid and rewarding approaches; but it could be that academic historians—who lead lives of cloistered routine and studied understatement—underestimate the calculated dazzle, the visual theatre, and the semiotics of material wealth and display which were at the heart of aristocratic, as of royal, power. Nobles strove to impress in a whole host of ways. It was not without reason that the public venue of the lord’s living was known as the domus magnificencie, the household of magnificence (as opposed to the domus providencie, the household below stairs). Great magnates, like kings, held courts splendidly, especially at the high religious festivals of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsun, and doubtless invited large numbers of guests to attend. Richard earl of Gloucester (d. 1262) held court in a particularly splendid manner near Gloucester in 1248; while the earls of Warwick, according to tradition, celebrated the high feasts successively at Warwick castle, their hunting lodge at Sutton Coldfield, and
18 ‘Private Indentures’, no. 24; Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster, 41.
19 CPR 1396—9, 137—8; Walker, Lancastrian Affinity, 94—6.
20 Adam Usk, Chronicle, 38—9; Dugdale, Monasticon, VI, i, 354.
Claverdon and Tamworth in Arden.21 The Anglo-Irish magnates followed suit especially when they came to Dublin: in 1329 the city was overwhelmed with high living as the earl of Desmond gave a great feast in St Patrick’s cathedral, the earl of Ulster in the castle, and the justiciar at Kilmainham.22 These were acts of gastronomic propaganda—displaying largesse and winning hearts and minds through social flattery. The numbers involved could be very large: it was calculated that even a second-rank lord, Thomas Berkeley (d. 1361), fed at least 300 persons each day at his table. Nor was it merely a matter of numbers; it also involved sensitive calculations as to who was invited to sit where and what number of dishes they were, or were not, served. Thus when Philip Darcy agreed to serve Henry, earl of Lancaster (d. 1345) in 1327, it was stipulated that he and his men of arms would eat in the lord’s hall (mangerount en sale).23
What is striking about these various aristocratic activities is the calculated care and strict etiquette which governed them. Much of it was no doubt formal but all of it, consciously or otherwise, was meant to redound to the lord’s honour and reputation and to affirm, and confirm, the social hierarchy over which he ruled. Events were conducted with calculated publicity. Thus when Sir Adam Swillington (see above) swore to be a good and loyal retainer of Earl Thomas of Lancaster in 1317, he took his oath on the Gospels ‘in the presence of the said earl and of bannerets and other bachelors’. The context of the ceremony on 28 February 1377 in the chapel of the Savoy palace was rather different, but the emphasis on publicity was the same. There, surrounded by members of his council and household, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster (d. 1399) solemnly appointed Thomas Thelwall to be chancellor of the duchy and county of Lancaster.24 Lordship was conducted in the public gaze; it was display and publicity which manifested its power. Its largesse was likewise publicly and regularly displayed, extending its network of obligation and gratitude over a wide social and geographical spectrum. Thus a few entries from the register of the Black Prince showed how he lived up to his self-proclaimed reputation that he was so great a lord that he could make all those who served him rich. Jewels, horses, oaks, venison, and other items were showered on beneficiaries, great and small; more than twenty recipients shared twenty-seven pipes of wine through his munificence; Lady Isabel de Trokesford was granted a small gold ring when she dined with the Prince; and a lucky minstrel who was present at a tournament at Bury came away with a horse. And to this regular distribution of individual gifts should be added the annual round of New Year gifts.25
21 Matthew Paris, Chronica Majora, ed. H. R. Luard, 7 vols. (London, 1872—83), V, 47; CIPM, VII, no. 417.
22 Gilbert (ed.), Chartularies of St. Mary's, Dublin, II, 369.
23 Smyth, Lives of the Berkeleys, I, 309 (Berkeley); ‘Private Indentures’, no. 32. See also the discussion in Wormald, Lords and Men in Scotland, 98—9.
24 ‘Private Indentures’, no. 24; Somerville, Duchy of Lancaster, I, 57.
25 Reg. BP, IV, 53-71.
The aristocracy lived, therefore, a life of calculated and ostentatious display. But—as with all orders of society—there were occasions and rites of passage when such public display was particularly carefully choreographed for maximum effect. Birth and baptism were one such occasion. Baptism normally followed within a few days of the birth (though it might be delayed by the late arrival of a distinguished ecclesiastic or godparent). In the case of the four children of Edmund, earl of March (d. 1381), for which we have unusually full records, the gap ranged from four to nine days. A local bishop or prior performed the christening, and the godparents were chosen from leading ecclesiastics and lay men and women. Thus Earl Edmund’s fourth son, another Edmund, was born at Ludlow on 9 November 1376 and baptized there by the abbot of the Mortimer monastery of Wigmore nine days later. The abbot of Evesham and Lady Audley served as godparents, the bishop of Bangor arriving too late for the ceremony. The news of the birth would be broadcast far and wide, not only to close members of the family but to tenants and dependants. In 1372 the tenants of Richard’s Castle took the trouble to record the birth of the son and heir of John Talbot in the missal of the local church ‘because they intended the said heir in the future to be their lord’. It is a reminder that a private event was in the world of lordship an occasion of public significance and was recognized as such.26
It was also an occasion for family solidarity and lavish gift-giving. Seigniorial accounts regularly record the handsome gifts which were given to messengers bringing news of a family birth. But such gifts were only the beginning of a splurge of largesse. One example (albeit at the highest level of the scale of munificence) will serve as an example. When John of Gaunt heard the news that the wife of his brother, Thomas of Woodstock, earl of Buckingham (d. 1397), had given birth to a daughter Anne (the future countess of Stafford) in September 1382 he opened the sluice gates of his generosity to the full. His baptismal gifts to his infant niece included a pair of silver bowls, gilded and engraved on their borders with collars and swans and fountains with escutcheons with the arms of ‘our brother of Buckingham’ (£47); one silver ewer (£5), a great ‘triper’ and a hanap with a lid of silver (£44). It was not only the young baby who benefited from the ducal munificence: money gifts totalling £18 6s. 8d. were distributed to two of the ladies-in-waiting of the baby’s mother, nurse, midwife, valet and page, the messenger who brought the glad tidings to the duke, and to the rocker (‘rokestare’) of the baby on behalf of the duke and his son the earl of Derby. All in all, the round of presents had cost the duke about £115, equivalent to a very comfortable annual income for a substantial knight. Great lords clearly did not stint in gift-giving.27
26 Wigmore chronicle in Dugdale, Monasticon VI, 1, 354; L. B. Smith, ‘Proofs of Age in Medieval Wales’, Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, 38 (1991), 134—44, at p. 142.
27 Reg JG, II, no. 803.
The next rite of passage in which the young aristocrat was involved was the ritual of knighting. It was the solemn entry into the order of chivalry and as such was an inevitable occasion for sumptuous display and magnificence, often accompanied by jousts, feasts, and round tables. Families treasured the memories of such occasions: the Mortimer chronicle, for example, recorded the knighting ceremonies of Edmund (d. 1304), Roger (d. 1330) and Edmund (d. 1331) in some detail. The knighting of Roger was particularly memorable, for it was part of the remarkable Feast of the Swans held at Westminster at Whitsuntide (22 May) 1306. This was the hugely theatrical occasion when Edward I knighted his eldest son Edward, alongside almost 300 other aspirant knights.28 This was a grand political act, a calculated act of involving the chivalrous class—now a much more selective and exclusive group than it had been a century earlier—in Edward I’s commitment to take vengeance on the treacherous Scots. To be knighted by the king in person was no doubt the aspiration of all great noblemen and their sons. But the aristocracy also used the ceremony of dubbing new knights as a way of publishing its social superiority. So it is that we hear, for example, of Richard de Burgh, earl of Ulster (d. 1326), holding a great feast at Pentecost 1308 at Trim where he knighted Walter and Hugh Lacy. Edmund Butler (d. 1321), the ancestor of the earls of Ormond, was more ambitious, creating thirty knights at a feast in Dublin in 1313.29 Chivalrous practices had also long since entrenched themselves in Scottish aristocratic culture, so it comes as no surprise to learn that Alexander Stewart, earl of Mar (d. 1435), knighted five of his kinsmen and supporters on the eve of a continental campaign.30
Most aristocratic knightings were probably done individually and as such are rarely recorded. But the conferment of knighthood was a further bond between a lord and his dependants; it was a visual act of aristocratic bonding. So it is that we hear that Edmund, earl of March (d. 1381), knighted his brother Thomas—the man who was in effect to manage the Mortimer estates after Edmund’s death—and granted him a life annuity to maintain his status; the same Earl Edmund likewise gave the order of knighthood to one of his close followers, Sir Henry Conway.31 Indeed lords might jealously guard the privilege of granting the arms of knighthood to their followers. When the Anglo-Irish lord James Butler, earl of Ormond (d. 1382), retained the services of Oliver Howell in 1356, Oliver agreed that he would receive the arms of knighthood from the earl rather than from other lords, provided the earl behaved towards Oliver ‘as any lord ought to do so to the person who received military arms from him’.32 Conferring the arms of knighthood was not only an initiation ceremony into the order of chivalry and all that was associated with it, it was also an occasion
28 C. Bullock-Davies, Menestrellorum Multitude: Minstrels at a Royal Feast (Cardiff, 1978).
29 Gilbert (ed.), Chartularies of St. Mary’s Dublin, II, 338.
30 M. H. Brown, ‘Regional Lordship in North-East Scotland: The Badenoch Stewarts II. Alexander Stewart Earl of Mar’, Northern Scotland, 16 (1996), 31 — 54.
31 Holmes, Estates, 61; ‘Private Indentures’, no. 70. 32 ‘Private Indentures’, no. 43.
for a great lord such as the earl of Ormond or the earl of March to display publicly the ceremonial powers he controlled and his role as master of chivalry. For knightings were occasions for expressing aristocratic wealth and pageantry to maximum effect. Thus Joan de Valence, countess of Pembroke (d. 1307) assembled a crowd of 250 to celebrate the knighting of Sir John de Tany at Moreton Valence on 18 August 1297.33
Marriage was the next rite of passage in which aristocratic largesse and munificence were at a premium. Indeed betrothal might long pre-date knighting, for the children of the aristocracy (as of kings) were often betrothed as infants—subject, of course, to the requirement that betrothal could only be converted into a marriage when the partners were of an age to give their consent freely and to consummate the marriage. So it was that Edward III’s second son, Lionel, was betrothed at the age of three to the rich heiress, Elizabeth de Burgh, five years his senior. The ceremony took place at the Tower of London and was followed by a lavish tournament attended by many of the leading earls of the realm.34 When marriage (as contrasted with betrothal) eventually took place the celebrations were even more prolonged and opulent. We catch their character in the description of the Monk of Westminster of the wedding ceremony at Arundel castle in July 1384 when Thomas Mowbray, earl of Nottingham, married the earl of Arundel’s daughter. It was clearly the wedding of the season; and the exceptionally wealthy earl of Arundel saw to it that no expense was spared.
The festivities lasted for a week or more, and all who wished to enter or leave were free to come and go. The wedding was attended by the king and queen with their entire household; all received a smiling welcome from the earl, who gave each of them a present according to his rank.35
Celebrations took a variety of forms and could extend over several weeks. Here, as in all festivities and pageants, no one could, or should, outdo the king. The summer of 1290 was particularly spectacular in that respect. Edward I married two of his daughters: the one, the eighteen-year-old Joan of Acre, to the elderly earl of Gloucester (d. 1295), the other, Margaret, to John son of the duke of Brabant. The marriages were part of a grand family and diplomatic strategy, as Edward settled the descent of the kingdom at a particularly critical juncture—in the wake of the death of his wife and three of his four sons. Hard bargaining about the terms of the marriages had been in train for months and indeed years, bargaining in which the king clearly had the whip hand and exercised it to his maximum advantage. But once the terms had been settled, no expense was spared in giving the maximum publicity to the nuptials. We can guess the scale of the festivities when we recall that the king’s harper distributed £100 to
33 C. M. Woolgar, The Great Household in Late Medieval England (New Haven, 1999), 103—4.
34 J. Vale, Edward III and Chivalry: Chivalric Society and its Context, 1270—1350 (Woodbridge, 1982), 64.
35 Hector and Harvey (eds.), The Westminster Chronicle, 88.
426 minstrels ‘as well English as others’ at the marriage of Margaret. Nor did the celebrations end with the royally sponsored wedding. Two months after his marriage to Joan in May 1290, the earl of Gloucester laid on a great banquet at Clerkenwell in honour of his youthful bride.36 Festivities often included a celebratory tournament such as the one held at Leicester in 1344 on the occasion of the marriage of Ralph Stafford (the future first earl of Stafford) to the daughter of Henry of Grosmont, earl of Lancaster, or a round table such as the one which was held in the presence of the king, earls, and barons at Waltham abbey on the marriage of the young earl of Gloucester (d. 1314) to the daughter of the earl of Ulster, Richard de Burgh (d. 1326). And as at baptism, so at marriage an obligatory ritual of gift-giving—precisely calibrated in value according to the status of donor and donee—followed. Thus John of Gaunt gave a silver ewer and other valuables worth £9 to Lady Ferrers as a gift on the day of her marriage, but was understandably much more lavish in the presents he gave to his son, Henry Bolingbroke, on his marriage to Mary, co-heiress of the Bohun earldom of Hereford—including rewards to the ten minstrels sent by the king and four by Edmund of Langley to liven up the occasion.37 Weddings and betrothals and the rituals and pageantry which characterized them were great social and celebratory occasions at all levels of society; but aristocratic weddings were a particular and public occasion for affirming the bonds and common ethos of aristocratic society (whatever private animosities lay behind the veneer of sustained jollity) and for displaying the wealth and opulence of the most exclusive club in the land.
Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester (d. 1295) had married his adolescent bride—and in effect disowned his children by a previous marriage—on 30 April 1290. By 7 December 1295—having in the meantime fathered four children—he was dead. And so we come to the last of the rites of passage in which the aristocracy, like other orders of society, could manifest its status: death. Short of death itself, there might be occasions of leave-taking during lifetime which were converted into occasions for proclaiming the lord’s standing and the depth of the loyalty he commanded. Departure on crusade, on campaign, on pilgrimage, or to a tournament (as in the famous representation of Sir Geoffrey Luttrell leaving for the jousts shows vividly), or to parliament could all be occasions in which a lord’s servants and followers might assemble, some of them to accompany the lord (in what was called his travelling or forinsec household) and some simply to bid him a tearful farewell. And when the lord returned from his travels, he could expect an impressive reception party to meet him. Thus when Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (d. 1439), returned to England in 1409 his chief officials, a bevy of squires and many valets, travelled to London
36 Manners and Household Expenses of England in the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, ed. H. Turner (Roxburgh Club, London, 1841), lxix—lxx.
37 Reg JG, I, no. 1659; II, no. 556.
to await his arrival.38 Short of death itself, the enforced political exile of the lord could provide an occasion to demonstrate the support and affection which good lordship could command. 1397—8 was, in the words of one of the officers of the earl of Warwick, such ‘an year of tribulation’. One of its victims was Thomas Mowbray, recently promoted duke of Norfolk (d. 1399). Now a victim of Richard Il’s spleen, he was driven into exile. He took the sensible step of appointing eight of his confidants—including his brother-in-law (Sir Thomas Guy of Heton), two other knights, and two clerks—to be his ‘entire and continuous council’ during his absence. But it is what happened on a quayside in Suffolk on 19 October 1398 which most vividly illustrates the drawing power of lordship. The duke boarded ship with thirty attendants, bound for exile. On the quayside a crowd of over a thousand—including some of his closest associates (Lord Wells, Sir William Elmham, Sir John Calveley, Sir Nicholas Langford) and eighty squires and gentlemen—bade him farewell.39 Stage-managed the occasion might have been; but it was also—as with the crowds which turned up to welcome the young Roger Mortimer, earl of March, on his return from Ireland in spring 1398 —a demonstration that personal lordship had the capacity to attract fierce and public support even in the most dangerous political times.
If departure for exile was so publicly choreographed, funerals were even more carefully planned and staged. Magnates often left very precise and detailed arrangements for their interment in their wills. There was often a substantial delay between death and interment, when the body would be embalmed and all the other arrangements—including clothing the household servants in black—were put in place. The Black Prince died on 8 June 1376, but his interment at Canterbury did not take place until 29 September. John of Gaunt specifically stipulated that he should not be buried until forty days after his death.40 The deceased often chose their place of burial in advance: the earl of Hereford (d. 1361) wanted to be buried before the high altar in the choir of the church of the Austin friars in London; John, the last Warenne earl of Surrey (d. 1347), stipulated that he was to be buried at the church of St Pancras, Lewes, in ‘an arch near the high altar beside a window which he had caused to be built’. The choice of the place of burial was determined not only by family affection and personal choice but also by a deep sense of loyalty and indebtedness. The case of Sir William Beauchamp (d. 1411) is particularly striking in this respect. He chose not to be buried with his own family but in the Dominican church at Hereford ‘next and beneath the tomb of John de Hastings, earl of Pembroke’.41
38 BL Egerton Roll 8772 (account of the receiver general of the earl of Warwick, 1408—9).
39 BL Egerton Roll 8769 (‘year of tribulation’ in the account of the receiver of the earl of Warwick 1396—7); Rot. Parl. III, 384. [See now, PROME VII, 424—6.]
40 Walker, Lancastrian Affinity, 100: J. B. Post, ‘The Obsequies of John of Gaunt’, Guildhall Studies in London History, 5 (1981), 1 — 12.
41 Testamenta Eboracensia. Part I. (Surtees Society, London, 1836), 41 — 5, at p. 42; *Reg. Thomas Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury, f.158r.
The explanation is not far to seek: when the last Hastings earl of Pembroke died in a sporting accident in 1389, William Beauchamp succeeded to many of his lands (including the large Marcher lordship of Abergavenny, hence his title ‘of Bergavenny’) by the terms of an enfeoffment made by Hastings’s father. Now by choosing to be buried next to Hastings, William Beauchamp—a fourth son, an Oxford graduate, and a former canon of Salisbury—was acknowledging in death whence his landed fortunes were derived.
Widows might likewise use the choice ofburial place to indicate in death where their true affections lay, whatever may have been their conventional obligations in life. So it was, for example, that Philippa, countess of March (d. 1382), opted out of the Mortimer family mausoleum at Wigmore abbey and asked to be buried, instead, ‘in the second arch of the altar of St Anne’s’ at Bisham abbey, opposite her father the earl of Salisbury (d. 1344). Countess Philippa could assert her independence since she had outlived her husband by over twenty years. Had she predeceased him, then she might well find that her husband’s wishes—prompted no doubt by genuine affection—reached beyond her grave. So it was that Richard, earl of Arundel (d. 1397), left instructions that the body of his first wife (Elizabeth, daughter of William Bohun, earl of Northampton) should be conveyed from her present tomb to his own burial spot in Lewes priory, to be united in death as they had once been in life.42
Funerals were, by definition, expensive affairs. They were, after all, occasions not only to express sorrow but also to display power and status—in the alms distributed, the troupes of professional weepers, the expenditure on candles, tapers, and cloth, and in the obligatory feasts. Humphrey, earl of Hereford (d. 1322), set aside a thousand marks (£666 13s. 4d.) for the general expenses of his funeral and commanded that the tombs of his father, mother, and wife be hung with cloth as rich as his own.43 John of Gaunt—admittedly far and away the richest magnate in England—spent £600 on the burial costs of his second wife, Duchess Constance.44 In the case of the funeral of Thomas, duke of Clarence, who was killed at the battle of Bauge on 22 March 1421, we are privileged to have a detailed account of the expenses. They amounted to £136, including livery for eighty men carrying torches around his body; and doubtless there are other expenses which are not included.45
Funerals were an occasion to parade noble status and opulence to maximum effect. The Black Prince certainly meant his funeral to be of the grandest.
We will that at the time that our body is brought through the town of Canterbury as far as the priory, two war horses covered with our arms and two men bearing our arms and
42 Nichols, Wills, 98; Test. Vet, 129.
43 The will of Humphrey, earl of Hereford (d.1322) is published in full in H. T. Turner, ‘The Will of Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Essex, with Extracts from the Inventory of his Effects, A.D. 1319-1322’, Archaeological Journal, 2 (1846), 339—49.
44 Walker, Lancastrian Affinity, 94.
45 Household Accounts, II, 679 — 82.
helms shall ride before our body, that is to say one for war bearing our quartered arms, and the other for peace bearing our badges of ostrich plumes, with four banners of the same design, and that each of those who carries the said banners shall have on his head a hat bearing our arms.
And so he continues in the same vein. As it happens, many of the Prince’s accoutrements—his ‘achievements’ as they were called—which were carried into the cathedral are still extant—including his helm, crest, shield, gauntlets, and coat armour or gipon. These were the mementoes by which he wished to be remembered in death.46
Not all magnates paraded their status and prowess so ostentatiously as did the Black Prince. Yet no one would have doubted that this was a proper way of displaying his status in society. The earl of Surrey/Warenne (d. 1347) had likewise commanded that four of his great horses dressed with his arms should be led before his body on the day of his interment. Perhaps more surprising is it to note that among the stoutest defenders of grand funerals for the aristocracy were some of the longest-lived and hard-headed widows of medieval England. The thrice-widowed Elizabeth de Burgh (d. 1360), who had outlived her third and final husband by almost forty years, did not stint on her funeral expenses, which included 200 pounds of wax for lights round her body and £200 for disbursements on the eve and day of burial. Equally impressive must have been the funeral rites of Elizabeth, countess of Salisbury (d. 1415): the costs are not itemized (beyond a long list of charitable bequests) but the spectacle of twenty-four poor men in gowns and hoods of russet carrying torches as the body was borne into Bisham priory on a ‘herse’ covered with black cloth and five great candles (each weighing twenty pounds) must have been impressive. Unsurprisingly, perhaps the greatest stickler for appropriate recognition to be made of her elevated social status comes in the statement made by the formidable Joan Beauchamp (d. 1435), daughter of the earl of Arundel and widow of the lord of Abergavenny. She made it unambiguously clear that she was ‘to be carried to the place of my burying. . . with all the worship that ought to be done to a woman of my estate’ (my italics). A thousand marks was set aside for the costs of the interment; a further hundred marks for the poor attending the ceremony, and three hundred marks for priests to say masses for Joan’s nearest and dearest. It must have been a grand and crowded occasion.47
But proud and status-conscious as Joan was, her will also demonstrated the deep doubts that entered into the aristocratic mentality in the fourteenth century about the pomp and expense of funeral ceremonies. In an age of the increasing internalization of religious devotion and of personal religious practices and self-analysis, an extravagant display of social standing in lavish funerals seemed out of place—and not only among radical religious groups. Even the haughty
46 Nichols, Wills, 68; Age of Chivalry, nos. 626 — 33.
47 Reg. Chichele, II, 14—18, 534 — 9.
Joan Beauchamp prefaced her will with a preamble which spoke of her simple and wretched body and of this wretched and unstable life on earth. Others went far beyond the pious words of preambles. None more so than the retiring, priest-dominated, bachelor earl of Hereford, Humphrey de Bohun (d. 1361). His list of prohibitions is eloquent: no distribution of goods to poor people, no invitation to great men, no ‘herse’ over his body which was to be taken to London secretly (tout privement), no meal to be prepared on the day of the funeral except for a bishop, friars, and his household servants (mesnie). Secular extravagance was banned; but this was counterbalanced by spiritual welfare for the soul of the deceased: fifty friars were to pray for his soul for a year. Earl Humphrey was exceptional in his self-proclaimed abstinence; but the practice of avoiding grand interments and of making protestations about the vanity of worldly glory became fashionable among the later medieval aristocracy.48 There was no greater warrior than Duke Henry of Lancaster (d. 1361) and no greater lover of the delights of the sporting and military life (as his analogies in his Le Livre de Seyntz Medecines vividly show); but he specifically commanded that there should be no extravagance—such as men-at-arms or caparisoned horses—at his funeral. Many other noblemen—including Edmund Mortimer, earl of March (d. 1381), whose executors were commanded not to make ‘great and outrageous costs’ at his interment; or Earl Richard Fitzalan of Arundel (d. 1397), who prohibited men-at-arms, horses, or any extravagance at his funeral and capped the funeral expenses at a thousand marks; or John of Gaunt (d. 1399) who likewise stipulated that no solemnity or feast should be associated with his burial—followed suit. The tension between the appropriate display of status and the spiritual introspection which begat self-abasement is a recurrent feature of the mental world of the late medieval aristocracy.
Funeral costs were not, of course, confined to interment rituals; they would be greatly augmented by the construction of a monument or effigy to the deceased. Wills generally stipulated the church in which the deceased should be buried and often the precise spot within the church; they might also indicate the kind of memorial to be erected. Family traditions were often so strong that the individual had very little choice in the matter.49 At least fourteen members of the Mortimer family—and doubtless their spouses also—were buried at Wigmore abbey 1185 — 1398 (even if, as in the case of Roger Mortimer the first earl of March (d. 1330), they had initially been buried elsewhere). Likewise the de Vere family—earls of Oxford and one of the most exceptionally long-surviving comital families of medieval-early modern England—favoured Colne priory
48 See in general J. Catto, ‘Religion and The English Nobility in the Later Fourteenth Century’, in History and Imagination: Essays in Honour of H. R. Trevor-Roper, ed. H. Lloyd-Jones, V. Pearl and B. Worden (London, 1981), 43-55.
49 See in general B. and M. Gittos, ‘Motivation and Choice: The Selection of Medieval Secular Effigies’, in Heraldry, Pageantry and Social Display in Medieval England, ed. P. Coss and M. Keen (Woodbridge, 2003), 143-69.
(Essex) where fourteen of its effigies were extant. Where a family tradition did not exist, it could be created so that the family’s continuity through time could be made manifest in its effigies. So it was that Hugh Despenser (d. 1349) set about to reshape the eastern arm of the abbey church at Tewkesbury with a grand mausoleum for his family. Individual magnates not infrequently gave directions as to the kind of monument which should be erected in their memory. John Hastings, earl of Pembroke (d. 1375) instructed that his tomb ‘be made as like as possible to the tomb of Elizabeth de Burgh who lies in the Minories, London’ and left £140 for the purpose. In a similar fashion, Sir Walter Mauny (the second husband of Margaret, the Countess Marshal), commissioned ‘an alabaster tomb like the one for Sir John Beauchamp in St Paul’s’. Other nobles avoided the path of emulation and instead gave precise instructions regarding their funerary monuments. Sir John Montagu, the brother of the earl of Salisbury, directed that his tomb should have an image of a knight bearing the arms of Montagu, with a helmet beneath his head. More remarkable was the very precise description which Isabel, countess of Warwick (d. 1439) prepared of ‘my statue ... all naked, with my hair cast backwards, according to the design and model which Thomas Porchalion has for that purpose’.50
Such monuments did not come cheap; they were an extra charge which heirs and executors had to bear in mind. John of Gaunt may have been in a super-league in terms of wealth; but the costs he incurred in erecting a worthy tomb for his first wife, Duchess Blanche, may indicate the scale of the outlay. Six carts were commandeered to carry alabaster to London for a new tomb at St Paul’s: Henry Yevele, the great master mason who designed some of the most lavish tombs and buildings for English kings and aristocrats in the late fourteenth century, was paid £486 for the construction of the tomb itself.51 Sometimes the tomb was topped with a brass memorial, indicating how the taste for brasses—so favoured by the English knightly and mercantile classes in the period—had also captured the imagination of the aristocracy. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the splendid brass on the Purbeck marble tomb of Eleanor, duchess of Gloucester (d. 1399), at Westminster abbey. Monumental sculpture for the English aristocracy was to reach its apogee in the resplendent gilt-bronze effigy which was constructed in memory of Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (d. 1439), some years after his death.52
The Beauchamp monument was housed in a specially designed new chapel constructed for the purpose at St Mary’s church, Warwick. This is a reminder to us that the munificence and largesse of the aristocracy was posthumously and
50 Nichols, Wills, 92 — 5 (Hastings); Registrum Simonis de Sudbiria Diocesis Londoniensis, 1362—75, ed. R. C. Fowler, C. Jenkins, and S. Radcliff, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1927—38), I, 1—4; Register of William Courtenay, archbishop of Canterbury, f.236 (John Montagu); Test. Vet. 39 (countess of Warwick).
51 Reg. JG, I, nos. 1394, 1659.
52 Age of Chivalry, no. 697; Marks and Williamson (eds.), Gothic: Art for England, no. 87.
recurrently manifested in acts which commemorated their lives and their wishes. Anniversaries were scrupulously and lavishly celebrated. Thus John of Gaunt held a great feast on the anniversary of Duchess Blanche’s death, attended by magnates and the chapter of St Paul’s. Twenty-four poor tenants perambulated round her tomb holding a burning torch each, and alms were distributed to the canons of St Paul’s, the poor and the prisoners of Newgate, Ludgate, and the Fleet.53 Nor were these arrangements in anyway exceptional. The distribution of alms in accordance with the testator’s will was a primary call on executors. The bequests made by the redoubtable Joan Beauchamp, lady of Abergavenny, may stand for scores of similar examples: one hundred marks for the poor attending her funeral; two hundred marks to be divided among poor tenants; £100 for clothing, bedding, horses, oxen, and other necessaries within six months of her death to be given to bedridden and poor men ‘dwelling in the lordships I have’; £100 for marriage of poor maidens in the same lordships; £100 for feeble bridges and foul ways; and £40 for the deliverance of poor prisoners. The grand total of Lady Joan’s bequests of this kind amounted to £520. It was not a punitive sum given that the landed valuation of her English estates amounted to more than £2,000 annually to which should be added £500 or so for the Marcher lordship of Abergavenny. But she no doubt regarded it as charitable giving at death commensurate with her status (of which she was inordinately proud) in life.54
Lady Joan’s bequests were a non-recurrent charge on her assets. Ultimately a much more substantial and long-term drain on noble finances were the various religious bequests which the aristocracy made to ease their passage into the next world.55 Prayers for the dead (and sometimes for members of his or her family) headed the list. The pious earl of Hereford (d. 1361) was perhaps on the extravagant side in instructing fifty friars to pray for his soul for a year after his death; but others—such as the countess of Salisbury (d. 1415)—who inter alia left a bequest for three thousand masses to be sung after her death ‘in all haste’—were not far behind.56 At least these were time-limited bequests. Ultimately much more draining of a family’s assets over time were the religious bequests which were, as it were, sine die. Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel, could afford to be particularly prodigal given his immense personal wealth. So it was that he instructed that two monks of Lewes priory should celebrate two masses perpetually. He also established a college of six priests and three choristers to celebrate divine service annually in the chapel of Arundel castle. Religious houses and churches on the lord’s estates were showered with donations: Edmund Mortimer, earl of March (d. 1381), bequeathed money and gifts to almost forty
53 Reg. JG, I, no. 1585; TNA DL 28/3/5 f.10.
54 Reg. Chichele, II, 534-9.
55 J. Rosenthal, The Purchase of Paradise: Gift Giving and the Aristocracy, 1307—1485 (London, 1972).
56 Reg. Chichele, II, 14-15.
religious houses with which he and his family were associated, ranging from £1,000 for new building at Wigmore priory down to twenty marks each for some minor houses. If to such bequests we add the costs of the foundation and maintenance of chantries and colleges (of which perhaps the most remarkable was the college and hospital of St Mary Newarke at Leicester, founded by Duke Henry of Lancaster), the distribution of alms, the arrangements for anniversaries, we begin to realize what a huge drain death and the hereafter were on aristocratic finances. And also on aristocratic consciences: Richard, earl of Arundel (d. 1397), was clearly haunted by the conviction that he had not fully observed the terms of his father’s will and that his own son in turn might be likewise cavalier in observing his own testament. The detailed care and attention that the aristocracy gave to the composition and terms of their wills—often the nearest we get to a personal insight into their characters—make it clear that proper preparation and down-payments for the hereafter were not only genuine acts of personal piety but were also the obligatory discharge of the social expectations of their exalted position in life. There is little in the essence of aristocratic testamentary directions which distinguishes them from the wills of ordinary believers; but the scale of largesse and calculated transfer of wealth which they incorporate indicate that in commemoration and memorialization, as in all other respects, the greater aristocracy stood apart.
Most of the acts and rituals of display and magnificence outlined above were self-referential, in that their purpose was to display and confirm the exalted status of the greater aristocracy. They were part of the self-affirmation of its social pre-eminence. But ultimately in the social theory and assumptions of the period the justification of lordship lay in the role it played in relation to the social fabric and to the orders of society in general. Lordship was in the final analysis—like kingship—more than power, more than exploitation, albeit that these are the facets of it which were often brutally to the fore and which can be documented in terms amenable to modern economic and social analysis. Lordship was also a ministerium, an office. That is why contemporaries talked frequently of ''good lordship’, which could clearly be distinguished from the mere exercise of power, just as kingship could be distinguished from tyranny. To such issues we will return.57 We touch upon them here because it was the duty of good lordship to display itself not only to its peers but also to those who were within the orbit of its dependence and social responsibility.
We have already seen that, though the primary calls on the lord’s conscience as death approached was to ease his own passage in the hereafter, and thereafter to discharge his debts and to reward his servants and followers, high priority was also given to the distribution of alms to the poor and distressed. Moreover, as the
57 Prof. Davies’s original text reads 'To such issues we will return in the second part of this book.’
alms-giving of Joan Beauchamp, lady of Abergavenny, cited above makes clear, such alms were specifically targeted on men and women in need ‘dwelling in the lordships I have’. This was the visible discharge of the obligations of lordship on the lord’s own lands and to his own tenants and dependants. It is a reminder to us that medieval lordship was ultimately personal and patriarchal. So it was that William Montagu, earl of Salisbury (d. 1397), in a will made ten years before his death, made bequests to poor tenants of twenty-one of his English manors and ‘all tenants, English and Welsh, of my lordship of Mold’.58 Nor should we be necessarily unduly cynical about such gifts: there was a mutuality about the relationship of lord and tenant which, at its best, was recognized by both parties in terms of the social order. Thus the charity that the earl of Salisbury showed to his tenants was to be matched by the prayers they should proffer for his soul. Tenants and dependants should share in the acts of commemoration. That is why Alice, duchess of Suffolk (d. 1475) gave money to build a new bell-tower at the church of Eye so that ‘there should be a perpetual memorial among the tenants of the lord (inter tenentes domini) for the soul of their most beloved lord, William, late duke of Suffolk’.59
Since the bond of lordship was irreducibly, if largely formally for many purposes, a personal bond, the public affirmation of that bond should be the initial act of lordship. Such affirmation was the purpose of the twin acts of homage and fealty, the one a physical obeisance to the lord, the other a pledge on oath to accept him as lord and all that followed from such acceptance. The formulae for both ceremonies were solemnly copied into seigniorial archives, and the lord’s officers sought to ensure that tenants and dependants did not overlook their obligation to perform them. By the fourteenth century both homage and fealty had largely become formal adjuncts of tenure, performed at the moment of entry into a tenement or holding. But lords did not overlook the theatricality of the occasion as a way of expressing their rights as lord. So it was that the Black Prince ordered all who were bound to do homage and fealty to him to come to London to do so; the gentry of Cornwall turned up at Restormel castle to discharge their homage and fealty; others did so ‘in the chamber within his palace’ at Exeter. Likewise, at a much more modest social level, the abbot of Ramsey insisted that all tenants in arrears with their homage and fealty should be distrained.60 No doubt considerations of control and profit—such as fines for the non-performance of suit of court—dictated such exercises; but we should not underestimate the emphasis on the personal and physical acknowledgement of lordship which, ultimately, lay at their root.
58 Register of Thomas Arundel, f.159—159v.
59 *BL Egerton Roll 8779 (account of receiver of duchess of Suffolk, 1453—4).
60 Reg. BP, II, 23, 62 — 3, 67—8; cf. Reg. JG, II, no. 457; Court Rolls of the Abbey of Ramsey and of the Honor of Clare, ed. W.O. Ault (New Haven, 1928), 82.
This becomes abundantly clear if we take note of the great collective acts of acknowledgement of lordship, especially new lordship, which figure in the records. They are yet another reminder to us how close the parallels were between kingship and lordship in this, as in many other respects. Just as a new king had to be acclaimed popularly at his inauguration or just as Edward I had insisted that hundreds of Scots swear fealty to him—and such fealties were recorded in the thirty-five membranes of parchment in the Ragman Rolls—in 1296, so lords inaugurated their lordship by securing massive declarations of fealty, either in person or by proxy. So it was—to cite only a couple of instances—that in 1284 twenty-nine leading men of the lordship of Bromfield and Yale (north-east Wales) did homage to the son of the earl of Surrey (the new lord of the lordship), followed by a communal act of homage by the rest of the tenants ‘with hands raised and joined unanimously’; and so it was in December 1404 outside the walls of Kildrummy castle that the free tenants of the earldom of Mar accepted Alexander Stewart as their new earl.61 Whenever a lordship changed hands—through death, transfer, or political forfeiture—it was imperative that the authority of the new lord be publicly acknowledged. Two thousand Welshmen were said to have attended such a ceremony in Brecon in 1302, and likewise when Roger Mortimer of Wigmore seized the Fitzalan lordship of Clun in 1321 he immediately took the fealty and homage of its men.62 Such ceremonies had practical consequences: men who had sworn fealty were justiciable by him and answerable to him—as the words of the formula expressed it—‘in life and members and earthly honour’. But above all they remind us that there was a patriarchal and personal dimension to medieval lordship—especially in areas outside the claustrophobic reach of royal power—which we ignore at our peril.
Since lordship was personal it was important that it be personally displayed, especially at its inauguration. Medieval aristocrats spent most of their own time attending to their own pleasures and responsibilities; but few of them overlooked their obligation to show themselves to their tenants and dependants, especially on their first entry into the lordship. The young Roger Mortimer (d. 1398) was given seisin of his lands in 1393 and proceeded at once to visit his manors in East Anglia and then undertook a forty-day progress through his estates in Wales and the March.63 He was in effect showing himself to his subjects; they for their part were expected to ‘acknowledge his lordship over them’ (in the contemporary phrase) and to show their delight by granting him handsome gifts or subsidies. Such progresses could be repeated at intervals: Henry Bolingbroke and his retinue mounted on forty horses rode to Brecon in
61 Davies, Lordship and Society, 132—3; Brown, ‘Regional Lordship in North-East Scotland’, 31.
62 CIM 1219—1307, no. 1870; Davies, Lordship and Society, 132—3 (and the instances cited there).
63 BL Egerton Rolls 8736, 8740—1 (accounts of Roger Mortimer, 1390s).
1397 to remind its people who their lord was and that he had recently been promoted to be duke of Hereford. It was a costly honour for the men of Brecon, as they were required to give the duke a massive gift of two thousand marks (£1333 6s. 8d.).64
The carefully stage-managed visit of Henry Bolingbroke, duke of Hereford to his lordship of Brecon in 1397 epitomizes the twin faces of aristocratic lordship—patriarchal and acquisitive, ostentatious and extortionate. Keeping some degree of acceptable balance between these twin faces was one of the most delicate demands of lordship. It was so at all times, but the balance was particularly difficult in the harsh economic and social conditions of the later Middle Ages, as population fell catastrophically and as many of the mechanisms of seigniorial control and exploitation were challenged or bypassed. For the most part the centrality of lordship—be it that of the lord of the manor or that of the great lay and ecclesiastical magnate—as a cornerstone, for good or ill, of the social order was not effectively called in question. And so long as lordship was central, so would also be the display and magnificence which were the visual demonstration of its status, power, and apartness. In a profoundly hierarchical social order, it could hardly be otherwise.
For the role of the crown in aristocratic display, H. Collins, The Order of the Garter, 1348—1461: Chivalry and Politics in Late Medieval England (Oxford, 2000). For increasingly florid modes of address, P. Coss, ‘An Age of Deference’, in A Social History of England, 1200—1500, ed. R. Horrox and W. M. Ormrod (Cambridge, 2006). For an example from fifteenth-century Ireland, K. Simms, ‘The Archbishops of Armagh and the O’Neills, 1347—1471’, IHS, 19 (1974), 53. For expensive attire, W. Childs, ‘Cloth of Gold and Gold Thread: Luxury Imports to England in the Fourteenth Century’, in War, Government and Aristocracy in the British Isles c.1150—1500: Essays in Honour of Michael Prestwich, ed. C. Given- Wilson, A. Kettle, and L. Scales (Woodbridge, 2008). For aristocratic diet, C. M. Woolgar, ‘Fast and Feast: Conspicuous Consumption and the Diet of the Nobility in the Fifteenth Century’, in The Fifteenth Century II: Revolution and Consumption in Late Medieval England, ed. M. Hicks (Woodbridge, 2001), and the contributions to Food in Medieval England: Diet and Nutrition, ed. C. M. Woolgar, D, Serjeantson, and T. Waldron (Oxford, 2006). For the splendour of the court, M. Vale, The Princely Court: Medieval Courts and Culture6
64 TNA JUST I. 1/1152 (pro recognicione domini sui super eis habito); for gifts on lord’s visit: *Staffordshire Record Office D 641/1/2/4 (first visit of the earl of Stafford to Thornbury, 1390— 1); Reg. JG, I, no. 1052; Davies, Lordship and Society, 59—60 (Bolingbroke’s Brecon visit).
in North-West Europe, 1270—1380 (Oxford, 2001), and C. M. Woolgar, The Senses in Late Medieval England (New Haven, 2006), chs. 10 and 11.
For aristocratic display in death, D. M. Hadley, Death in Medieval England: An Archaeology (Stroud, 2001), chs. 3 and 5. For the tomb of Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, P. Coss, The Lady in Medieval England, 1000—1500 (Stroud, 1998), ch. 3. For Scotland, R. Fawcett, Scottish Medieval Churches: Architecture and Furnishings (Stroud, 2002), ch. 4. For funerary monuments in English Ireland, S. Fry, Burial in Medieval Ireland, 900—1500 (Dublin, 1999), ch. 5 and R. Moss, ‘Permanent Expressions of Piety: The Secular and the Sacred in Later Medieval Stone Sculpture’, in Art and Devotion in Late Medieval Ireland, ed. R. Moss, C. O Clabaigh, and S. Ryan (Dublin, 2006). For representations of Gaelic lordship, F. Verstraten, ‘Images of Gaelic Lordship in Ireland, c.1200—c.1400’, in Lordship in Medieval Ireland: Image and Reality, ed. L. Doran and J. Lyttleton (Dublin, 2008).