The northern European nobility was, for the most part, a country-dwelling elite. The great lords of the British Isles were no exception. The countryside, after all, was the major source of their regular wealth and power—in manors, demesnes, tenants, rents, services, tributes, and the control of the men and the natural resources (including forest, pastureland, waste, and waters) of their estates. They were domini terrae. The countryside likewise was the venue for their pastimes and leisure, notably for the hunting and the falconry to which they were almost all addicted. It is true, of course, that active and able-bodied male lords would spend a great deal of time away from their landed estate—on military campaigns and diplomatic missions, on a social round of tournaments and celebrations, or attending court, council, or parliament. But it was to their residences in the countryside that they regularly returned; and it was on these residences that they lavished much of their wealth. This was their natural habitat.
They were spoilt for choice, or at least potentially so. The landed fortunes of the greater aristocracy were often very widely dispersed geographically; particularly was this true of the greater English aristocracy. This meant that the residences of the aristocracy—be they castles, manor-houses, hunting lodges, country mansions, or (particularly in late medieval Scotland and Ireland) tower- houses—were also widely dispersed. Thus Henry of Grosmont, duke of Lancaster (d. 1361), could select his residence from a list of at least twenty-three castles in England and Wales.1 Not all castles and manor-houses were kept in an adequate state of repair or comfort to offer acceptable accommodation to a great lord and his menage. Even so, since it was one of the expectations of effective lordship that the lord should show himself periodically in his ‘country’, a goodly number of the lord’s residences had to be kept in at least a minimum state of good repair in anticipation of a seigniorial visit. John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster (d. 1399), had a greater stock of possible residences to choose from than any other English lord. He was particularly fond, when in England, of extended stays at his palace of Savoy near London or his castle of Hertford (which was greatly upgraded for his personal comfort); a man of his eminence, after all, needed to be within earshot of the royal court and its pulsating social and political life. But he did not ignore his midland and northern residences: Higham Ferrers, Leicester,
1 Fowler, Kings Lieutenant, 172.
Kenilworth, Tutbury, Tickhill, Knaresborough, Pontefract, and Pickering were all castles which he visited with some regularity.2
In spite of being spoilt for choice, there were compelling reasons why great lords concentrated their extended stays at a few favoured residences. Individual preferences and circumstances no doubt played their part. The reason why Earl Thomas of Lancaster (d. 1322) spent most of the period 1317—22 based at Pontefract was doubtless explained by his growing political disenchantment and his anxiety to establish a regional power base for himself in dangerous times.3 His nephew, Duke Henry (d. 1361), lived in politically much calmer times and, when he was not busy on military or diplomatic business on the continent, chose Leicester castle at the heart of the midlands as his favourite residence. It was there appropriately that he refounded a great collegiate church to pray for the Lancastrian dynasty; but it may well be that the prime attraction of the area for him lay in the proximity of excellent hunting in nearby Leicester forest. His spiritual memoirs make it abundantly clear that rural sports were an abiding passion for him.4 A family’s favoured residence might indeed change over time as it acquired new estates through marriage and inheritance. Wigmore (Herefordshire) had been the base for the Mortimers since they arrived in England soon after the Norman conquest; but by the early fourteenth century its days of glory were already past and it was dismissed in a survey as a place ‘more of honour than of profit’.5 The Mortimers waxed rich as they acquired first the Geneville inheritance and then the vast estates of Elizabeth de Burgh (d. 1360). Two of the premier castles of these two acquisitions—Ludlow and Usk respectively—now became favourite residences of the Mortimers, as is suggested by the recorded birthplaces of their children;6 both were extensively refurbished in the fourteenth century to make them comfortable seigniorial homes.
Seigniorial residences were much more complex buildings than the gaunt ruins of most medieval castles would suggest today. Two of the very contrasting residences occasionally used by Roger Bigod, earl of Norfolk (d. 1306), may serve to make the point. In spring 1273 Earl Roger and his wife spent nine weeks in the manor-house at Forncett (Norfolk). They would have found the accommodation there more than adequate, ‘almost palatial’. The central hall—where public entertainment would be staged—was flanked by up to twelve chambers (including the earl’s chamber and the knights’ chamber). There were a range of domestic quarters (kitchen, buttery, larder, bakehouse, dairy), three stables and barns, an orchard and vineyard. Forncett was a working demesne
2 Reg. JG, II, xvii—xviii; Goodman, John of Gaunt, 302—4.
3 Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster, 10.
4 Fowler, King's Lieutenant, 187—93, 215; also L. Fox and P. Russell, Leicester Forest (Leicester, 1948).
5 Quoted in a survey of 1328 in B. P. Evans, ‘The Family of Mortimer’ (University of Wales Ph.D. thesis, 1934),398.
6 The birth places are recorded in the Wigmore chronicle in Dugdale, Monasticon, VI, I.
manor with a full-time labour force of eight or nine servants. It was a convenient stopping place on the travels of the servants, knights, officials, and huntsmen of the earl.7
Forncett may have been adequate; but it paled in grandeur compared with some of Earl Roger’s other residences. The late thirteenth century was a great age for highly ambitious seigniorial building; Earl Roger of Norfolk was one of its great exponents. He made extensive alterations and extensions at his two Suffolk castles at Framlingham and Bungay; constructed splendid manor-houses at Walton (Suffolk) and Hamstead Marshall (Berkshire); and erected a hunting lodge at Cas Troggy in Wentwood Forest (in the lordship of Strigoil/Chepstow). He was also the principal benefactor of the rebuilding of the great new Gothic church at Tintern abbey in the Wye valley. But his most sumptuous, and for us most significant, achievement was the redesigning and rebuilding of the lower bailey of Chepstow castle.8 The work appears to have been undertaken under the direction of a London master mason, Ralph Gogan. The refurbished castle redounded to the greater glory and comfort of Earl Roger. A splendid suite of private apartments—housing a hall, cellar, earl’s chamber, kitchen, and service rooms—was constructed overlooking the river Wye; a new, lavishly appointed and self-contained set of apartments was built in the new (or Marten’s) tower in the south-east corner; and the great tower (whose origins date back to a few years after the Norman conquest) was extended and embellished. The imperative behind this extravagant building enterprise was not strictly military (since the Welsh had ceased to be a threat in this extreme south-east corner of Wales); rather was it display and magnificence. Chepstow was almost certainly Earl Roger’s favourite residence; here he could flex his seigniorial muscles to their full extent since Chepstow lay, at least administratively and judicially, beyond the reach of the machinery of English royal government but within the social and economic orbit of English seigniorial life.
Earl Roger sank a large fortune into the rebuilding and redesigning of Chepstow. He was not unusual in this respect. The primary call on the seigniorial budget was money to feed and clothe the lord and his household; that was a recurrent and major item of expenditure.9 But once those costs were met, the upkeep and refurbishment of buildings (primarily in this context the lord’s castles) were a major charge. Earl Thomas of Lancaster (d. 1322) spent almost £2,000 (some 17 per cent of his income) on his castles in 1313—14; John of Gaunt likewise spared no expense in making his major castles more impressive
7 F. G. Davenport, The Economic Development of a Norfolk Manor, 1086—1565 (Cambridge, 1906), 20-24.
8 The excellent revised version of the CADW Welsh Historic Monuments guide to Chepstow is R. Turner, Chepstow Castle (Cardiff, 2002).
9 C. Dyer, Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages: Social Change in England, c.1200—1520 (Cambridge, 1989), 55-70. John of Gaunt’s household expenses in the 1390s averaged £6,500- £7,000 annually; Walker, Lancastrian Affinity, 19.
and comfortable. Kenilworth was a particular favourite of his. He assigned at least 400 marks annually in the 1380s to construct ‘a new palace complex’ there whose centrepiece was a magnificent unaisled great hall, 90 x 45 feet in dimensions, and covered with a huge hammer-beam roof. The outer buildings of the castle could accommodate up to 200 servants and retainers.10 Here Gaunt could hold court in a style worthy of a man who was titular king of Castile as well as duke of Lancaster. Other earls followed suit, albeit on a more modest scale. The Beauchamp earls of Warwick spent regularly and lavishly especially on Warwick castle; the Fitzalan earls of Arundel did the same at the castles of Shrawardine and Arundel, the headquarters respectively of their Shropshire and Sussex estates; so did Thomas, duke of Gloucester, on Pleshey (Essex) and Caldicot on the Severn estuary which came to him as part of his wife’s inheritance.11 Nor did the greatest of the Scottish magnates lag far behind, though the idiom of building and the function of the castle were in some respects different in a Scottish context. It was the first earl of Douglas (d. 1384) who was probably responsible for rebuilding the splendid castle of Tantallon (East Lothian) with its curtain walls and towers perched high above the sea. The third earl, Archibald the Grim (d. 1400) chose a very different design when he opted for a free-standing, massive, rectangular tower-house as his new headquarters at Threave in Galloway.
As new families entered the higher ranks of the aristocracy through marriage, service, and patronage, one of their first acts of self-advertisement was to build an up-to-date castle or to refurbish an existing one to announce their arrival. So it was that Ralph, created earl of Stafford in 1351, paraded his new-found wealth and status by building castles at Stafford and Madeley (Gloucestershire).12 Equally striking are the building enterprises of the two northern families, Percy and Neville, who both climbed into the comital league in the later fourteenth century (in 1377 and 1397 respectively). Warkworth castle had come into the hands of the Percy family in 1332 but it was in the closing decades of the fourteenth century that the first Percy earl of Northumberland (d. 1408) redesigned it into the remarkable edifice whose splendid outline still survives today. Its interlocking site of over twenty rooms, its semi-polygonal projecting towers, and the splendid symmetry of the whole design proclaimed to the world that the Percies had arrived—indeed the family’s lion rampant on the walls of its northern salient made that point visually—and that they could build as grandly and innovatively as any of their peers in midland and southern England.13 Henry Percy had even planned a collegiate church within the precincts of his refurbished castle—echoing the royal example at Windsor or the practice of some of the
10 Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster, 25; Goodman, JohnofGaunt, 305—6; Walker, The Lancastrian Affinity, 96—8.
11 A History ofthe County of Warwick. Volume VIII: The City of Coventry and Borough of Warwick, ed. W. B. Stephens (VCH, Oxford, 1969), 456—7 (Warwick); Davies, Lordship and Society, 56 n. 71 (Shrawardine); 75 n. 32 (Caldicot).
12 McFarlane, Nobility, 203. 13 Age of Chivalry, 247—8.
grandest English families, such as the houses of Lancaster and Arundel. Nor were the Nevilles, the neighbours and rivals of the Percies in the north, to be outdone. John Neville (d. 1388) substantially rebuilt Raby castle (Co. Durham) and was given a licence to crenellate another Neville castle at Sheriff Hutton (Yorkshire). His son, Ralph Neville, the first earl of Westmorland (d. 1425), followed suit—doubling the entrance gateway at Raby and rebuilding Sheriff Hutton so that, in John Leland’s words, ‘no house in the north [was] so like a princely lodging.’14 Many other families of baronial and comital rank followed suit, for the castle was still in the later Middle Ages the status symbol par excellence of aristocratic standing and prestige.
Not the least of the attractions of the castle was its multi-purpose character. Its military role was far from being redundant, self-evidently so in the north of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Even in lowland England the castle could still play its role in an act of military defiance: so it was that the earl of Arundel fortified Reigate castle (Surrey) when he faced arrest at the hands of Richard II in the tense autumn months of 1387.15 In more normal conditions the castle continued to perform both a psychological and practical role as the visual expression of seigniorial domination and power. Psychologically it expressed the awesomeness of lordship. That is why, for example, John of Gaunt built a massive new gatehouse at Kidwelly in south-west Wales in the late-fourteenth century. Kidwelly was not one of Gaunt’s regular residences nor was there, at that stage, any suggestion that it had any longer a military role to play; but the castle was a visible reminder of who was lord of the district. It was, in the words of a near contemporary Welsh poem about another Welsh castle, ‘the tower of the bold conqueror’. Practically Kidwelly—in common with many other castles—was the fulcrum of the lord’s authority and governance of the district. It was the seat of the lord’s major local officials, his steward and receiver; his auditors and other officials visited it regularly on their investigative circuits; it was to its treasury that the tenantry and local officials of an extensive area paid their dues; and it was there that the lord’s justice was meted out in his courts.16
But the prime reason for extending and upgrading a castle in the later Middle Ages was to provide acceptable accommodation for the lord and his retinue on their extended visits. The emphasis was increasingly on domestic comfort and privacy. Hence the addition of withdrawing rooms and private apartments, glazed windows and chimneyed hearths. Castles such as Kenilworth—which now boasted a room called ‘le parlour—increasingly resembled the country house of the future rather than the military fortress of the past. Nor should we underestimate the role of seigniorial wives and dowagers in promoting
14 The territorial fortunes and activities of the Percy and Neville families are discussed, and mapped, in C. Given-Wilson, The English Nobility in the Late Middle Ages: The Fourteenth-Century Political Community (London, 1987).
15 A. Goodman, TheLoyal Conspiracy:The Lords Appellant under Richard II (London, 1971), 23.
16 R. R. Davies, The Revolt of Owain Glyn DWr (Oxford, 1995), 15 — 16, 269—72.
such changes. Richard, earl of Arundel (d. 1397), renamed Shrawardine castle (Shropshire) Castle Philippa in honour of his wife, Philippa Mortimer, and doubtless transformed it to suit her tastes and needs. Earl Richard’s uxoriousness was more than matched by that of his close colleague, Thomas, duke of Gloucester (d. 1397). He spent lavishly on the castle at Caldicot on the Severn estuary, including installing a chamber called ‘the Dressinghouse’ and inserting stone blocks with his own name and that of Eleanor, his wife (through whom he had inherited the castle and estate) into the masonry of the new tower. Even hardbitten dowagers had to keep up with the latest fashion: Joan Beauchamp, lady of Abergavenny (d. 1435) had a minstrels’ gallery, a green chamber, and a parlour installed in her residence at Rochford (Essex) and commissioned a painter from London to paint the wooden buttresses of her great hall ‘in the colour of marble’.17
Lady Joan’s home at Rochford boasted at least two named gardens—the great garden and the west garden. In this respect also she was following seigniorial fashion: John of Gaunt certainly had a garden at Kenilworth (one of his favourite country residences) and at his palace at Savoy; the earl of Warwick had a garden and a vineyard at Warwick.18 Castles—or at least those that were regularly favoured as residences and accordingly refurbished and upgraded—were becoming relatively comfortable and well-appointed residences rather than the gaunt and bare ruins that are normally all that survives of them today. Some of the leading architects, master masons and master carpenters were hired to reconstruct and repair them—including Henry Yevele and William of Wintringham in the service of John of Gaunt. Such experienced professionals set their stamp on some of the best aristocratic building of the period: John Lewyn, for example, appears to have had a key role in a remarkable campaign of aristocratic castle building (John of Gaunt, the Nevilles, the Percies, and the Scropes were among his clients) in northern England in the late fourteenth century. But the impetus, and even occasionally the exact specifications, came from the lord himself or from his council. John of Gaunt gave clear instructions to John Lewyn for the work he was to undertake on the great tower at Dunstanburgh and, even more precisely, directed that the great chamber at Hertford (one of his favourite castles) should be moved from one spot to another ‘where we have decided it should be sited’. Such detailed personal attention to the planning and execution of castle refurbishment should not surprise us.19
The great lords lived in the countryside, but they had to come to town regularly. Particularly was this true of the English higher aristocracy; the rhythms and demands of their social, political, and economic life meant that they needed
17 Ibid., 13 (Caldicot); *BL Egerton 8347 (account of clerk of works at Rochford, 1430—2).
18 Reg. JG, I, no. 1566 (Gaunt); BL Egerton 8769—70 (Beauchamp receiver general’s accounts, 1397, 1403); see also Dyer, Standards of Living, 64.
19 Somerville, Duchy of Lancaster, I, 100 n. 2; Reg. JG, II, nos. 723, 815, 922.
a foothold—be it a permanent residence or a rented inn or hostel or lodgings at a religious house—in London.20 Westminster was now the focal point of the country’s political and governmental life; it was there that councils and parliaments met, and that the kingdom’s judicial, secretarial, and financial services were concentrated. In a king-centred polity such as England, no magnate could afford not to have a periodic presence—either in person or through his officers or attorneys—at Westminster. But London was inescapable for other reasons also. It being the richest and most populous city in England its leading merchants were in a league of their own in providing the goods, especially the luxury goods—the silverware, jewels, furs, expensive cloths—which were the hallmarks of aristocratic life. The great lay lords must have ranked among the most valuable customers of London merchant oligarchs. Even the most country-dwelling magnate needed a base—be it only a wardrobe—in London where purchased goods could be deposited before onward transit to the lord’s household. That is why the great wardrobe—the reserve stockroom in effect—of most aristocrats was located in London, to be close to its suppliers.
The nexus of relationships which bound the greater aristocracy to the merchant oligarchy of London was complex and mutual, extending to credit facilities as well as to the provision of luxury items. The outstanding debts of Henry Bolingbroke, by then duke of Hereford, in 1397—8 illustrate the point; they included £115 owed to John Clee, draper, £217 to John Wodecock, mercer, and £203 to Robert Makeley, skinner. Bolingbroke owed his creditors on this account alone £825.21 He was living beyond his means and his debts would have been significant were he not regularly allocated subsidies by his father, John of Gaunt.
So it comes as no surprise that almost all of the English magnates for whom we have records had a London address. This was even true of a northern family such as the Percies: they kept a tenement in the parish of St Agnes within Aldersgate ‘as an inn for themselves and their servants’ (and, incidentally, a similar inn at York).22 Many other noble families—including Valence, Mortimer, Mowbray, Fitzalan, and Stafford—followed suit. So did dowagers and heirs: Elizabeth de Burgh, lady of Clare (d. 1360), spent £172 in 1352 on building a London house for herself in the precinct of the abbey of the Minoresses outside Aldgate; the young Henry Bolingbroke, John of Gaunt’s son and heir, had his London lodgings at Bishopsgate.23 Other magnates preferred to rent accommodation in the city from religious houses: Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester (d. 1397), stayed at the house of the Minoresses outside Aldgate and it was there that his wife died in 1400. Nor was such rented accommodation spartan or temporary, as the list of Gloucester’s effects in London which were seized
20 See in general C. Barron, ‘Centres of Conspicuous Consumption: The Aristocratic Town House in London, 1200—1500’, London Journal,20/1 (1995), 1 — 17.
21 TNA DL 28/1/6 f.40v.
22 CIPM, XII, no. 242, p. 221.
23 Ward, English Noblewomen, 84 (de Burgh); TNA DL 28/1/6 f.31v (Bolingbroke, account of clerk of the wardrobe 1395—6).
on his arrest in July 1397—including splendid tapestries, sumptuous beds and testers, cushions and curtains, plates, saucers, and cutlery bearing the duke’s arms, an organ, a chess set, and two chariots—vividly demonstrates.24 Thomas of Woodstock lived well in London; but his lodgings did not compare in size and sumptuousness with the London base of his brother, John of Gaunt. This was the palace of Savoy, which Gaunt’s father-in-law, Henry duke of Lancaster (d. 1361), had built at vast expense—the sum of £35,000 was the contemporary estimate—from 1349 onwards, allegedly out of the profits of his military campaigns in Aquitaine. Contemporary chroniclers were awestruck by its opulence: ‘no prince in Christendom had a finer wardrobe and scarcely any could even match it. . . . There were such quantities of vessels and silver plate . . . that five carts could hardly suffice to carry them.’25 It is no wonder that such brazen opulence became the target of the rebels’ destructive fury in June 1381. So devastated was Gaunt by the destruction of the Savoy and the pillaging of its contents that he did not rebuild it; hereafter he preferred to lease the bishop of Ely’s house in Holborn or made use of Westminster abbey’s manor of La Neyte when he stayed in London.
Toing and froing between their country residences and their London lodgings was but one aspect—albeit possibly the most important—of the itinerating habits of the greater aristocracy. It may well be (as several historians have claimed) that the aristocracy was less restlessly itinerant by the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries than it had been previously; it is certainly true that lay magnates were far less itinerant in their habits than were many ecclesiastics for whom we have records (such as Richard Swinfield bishop of Hereford 1283—1317 and Walter de Wenlok, abbot of Westminster 1283 — 1307).26 In general it appears that magnates stayed for much longer periods at a few selected residences (as John of Gaunt did at the Savoy, Hertford, and Kenilworth), paying only short visits to their other outposts. None of this should surprise us. The standards of domestic comfort and privacy expected by greater magnates were rising steadily and could only be adequately met by a few of their residences. Furthermore the logistical problems of moving a lord and his retinue of servants and followers from place to place were formidable: the main furnishings of hall, chapel, chamber, and service rooms had to be transported; stabling and fodder for a hundred or more horses and palfreys had to be arranged; supplies of food and drink had either to be carried in carts or bought in advance by agents at local markets and from local merchants; boats had to be commandeered for river or estuary crossings (though the greatest lords, such as John of Gaunt and Henry Bolingbroke, had their own barges and teams of bargemen, dressed in their lord’s livery); and guides had to be hired to select the easiest routes in difficult country.27
24 CIM, VI, no. 377; BL Add. Roll 40859A (account of his treasurer of war, 1392).
25 Knighton, Chron., 214.
26 Harvey,‘Aristocratic Consumer’, 25.
27 Woolgar, Great Household, chap. 9.
The disincentives to travel were indeed very substantial and are very vividly illustrated for us by the complexity and cumbersomeness of some of the aristocratic journeys for which we have detailed accounts. Such was the journey undertaken by Edward, duke of York (d. 1415), from Cardiff castle to Hanley (Worcestershire) in October 1409: it entailed travel both by land (through Newport, Monmouth, Ross-on-Wye, and Ledbury) and by water (via Bristol and Gloucester); an escort of more than twenty men for the lord and his household; the purchase of cattle to meet the needs of the party en route and to stock the larder at Hanley; and the transport of 33 loads of material from the banks of the Severn to Hanley castle itself.28 It was a complex operation; but it was part of the cursus of the life of a great lord. The imperatives for itineration still remained pressing. Sometimes it was public service which was the incentive: to attend parliament or the court, to prepare for a military operation, or to travel on a diplomatic errand (as did the earl of March in May—June 1378 as he travelled across England to conduct negotiations with the Scots at the border).29The social round of the aristocratic calendar was also an incentive to travel, be it to a christening, a wedding, or a funeral, on a hunting party or to a tournament or on a pilgrimage. But travel was a necessity as well as a luxury for a lord. It was imperative that the lord visited his lordships from time to time, on a formal progress through his estates. So it was that Roger Mortimer, earl of March (d. 1398), went on a grand tour of his English and Welsh estates when he took formal control of them in 1393; so likewise Henry Bolingbroke, recently created duke of Hereford, went on a progress through his great lordships in the March of Wales in 1397 and followed it with a great circular tour of his father’s estates in summer 1398.30
Such progresses were meant to impress and they assuredly did so. Noble households on the move must have been a familiar sight, especially in midland and southern England. When Elizabeth de Burgh travelled from Usk (in southeast Wales) to Clare (Suffolk) in 1350 her caravan was composed of 130 horses, twenty-eight hackneys, twenty-two oxen, two esquires, sixty grooms, and nineteen pages. The duchess of Clarence was a grander person and was on a more important journey (to join her husband in France) in 1419, so it comes as no surprise that her retinue totalled over 140 (including a dean and twenty-four chaplains).31 Such retinues trundled their way across the countryside, averaging twelve-twenty miles per day (though greater distances could be covered if necessary). The carts and sumpter horses of the household offices often proceeded first, preparing lodgings and stabling in advance; the coaches (such as that famously depicted in a miniature in the Luttrell Psalter) and horses of the lord, lady, and major
28 * Northamptonshire Record Office, Westmorland (Apethorpe) Collection, 4.xx.6.
29 The expense account of his journey is published in Household Accounts, I, 246-61.
30 For Mortimer’s grand tour see BL Egerton 8736, 8740-1; for Bolingbroke’s progress: TNA DL 28/1/10 f.7v-f.9; S. Walker, Lancastrian Affinity, 204 n.132.
31 Ward, English Noblewomen, 89; Household Accounts, II, 651-6.
guests followed at a distance. Abbeys and towns might be forewarned of the impending arrival of the travelling party and might well prepare a grand dinner and entertainment of minstrels and jesters. If the destination of the journey was one of the lord’s own lordships, his officers in the locality would be expected to assemble crowds of tenants to greet him—and then to award him a gift (donum) as a recognition of his lordship. Seigniorial progresses had many functions but not the least of their purposes was to parade lordship visually to all and sundry, particularly to its own dependants.
Within their residences the greater magnates lived, by contemporary standards, a life of ostentatious luxury and comfort which put them in the league of kings, princes, and greater ecclesiastics and far removed from that of county knights.32 Little of the visual splendour of their domestic surroundings and personal style has survived until today. We can perhaps best recapture some of its sumptuousness from idealized iconographic representations (most famously in the calendar of the months in the ‘Tres Riches Heures’ of John, duke of Berry (d. 1416), and, much more prosaically, from inventories of the contents of their residences). Two sets of such inventories—compiled within weeks of each other in the wake of a single act of political revenge—will be drawn upon here to try to recapture the domestic ambience of aristocratic living. One is the inventory of the confiscated goods of Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel (d. 1397), at Shrawardine castle, his favoured residence in Shropshire. (We need to recall that, though his Shropshire and Marcher estates constituted an immensely important power block for Fitzalan, his most important residence and, therefore, the most sumptuously furnished home was Arundel castle.) The other inventory is that of the effects of Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester (d. 1397), at Pleshey castle (Essex) which was part of the Bohun lands which came into the duke’s control through his marriage to Eleanor Bohun. Pleshey was clearly a very important residence for Duke Thomas, though he had also a very well-appointed house in London and other residences throughout England and the southern March of Wales.33 The Pleshey inventory opened with an itemized list of tapestries and hangings, the most immediately striking emblems of aristocratic opulence. They accounted for 20 per cent of the total value of the duke’s effects at Pleshey, two of them alone being estimated as worth £49 and £45 each. The motifs of the tapestries reflect some of the most popular themes of court literature, secular and sacred—including the history of Charlemagne, the capture of Jerusalem, Gamelyn and Lancelot, the legend of St George, and the Nativity of Christ. The tapestries and hangings at Shrawardine are not itemized and in any case could not compare in number or luxuriousness with those at Pleshey. Where the
32 Dyer, Standards of Living,76—7.
33 The inventories are to be found, respectively, in CIM., VI no. 237 and Dillon and St. John Hope, ‘Inventory of the Goods’, 275—311.
Shrawardine list excels is in itemizing the mundane furniture which was essential in any aristocratic hall—including two tables for high days, two for yeomen, eight hall tables, and at least seventeen pairs of trestles. For much of the time the halls at Pleshey and Shrawardine must have been cavernously empty, the wooden furniture stacked, and the wall-hangings unhung and folded away, or even taken with the lord and his lady as they made their way to their London house or elsewhere. But, clearly, at fairly short notice both halls could be prepared to display lordship in all its colourful magnificence and munificence.
Duke Thomas may have been inordinately proud of his collection of tapestries; but the most valuable item at Pleshey (£182) was a great bed of gold, with a coverlet, a canopy, a valance of fine blue satin decorated with garters of gold, three curtains of ‘tartaryn’ beaten to match, and two long and four square pillows. There were a further fifteen beds of gold or silk embroidered with motifs. Nor are these figures in any way unusual. At Shrawardine likewise there were at least sixteen beds, several of them of blue or red silk, as well as an ample stock of cushions, curtains, bolsters, mattresses, and blankets. Beds were highly prized items of aristocratic property; that is why they figure so prominently in aristocratic wills. Earl Richard Fitzalan (d. 1397) bequeathed five carefully described beds in his will to his wife, two of his sons, and two daughters.34 They were indeed so prized that they were transported from place to place with the lord: hence Earl Richard referred to one of the beds he bequeathed as being ‘normally at Reigate’ and another ‘usually at London’. After all, the bed was often the only truly comfortable item of furniture in a seigniorial household: it was used not only for sleeping but as the major seating in the day in the lord’s chamber.
Alongside the hall and the chamber, the third major room in any aristocratic residence was the chapel. The chapel at Shrawardine was fully equipped with an altar of silk, a table with an alabaster crucifix, an alabaster image of Our Lady, three portable altars, seven lecterns, and other ecclesiastical equipment. But it was plain and restrained compared with Thomas of Woodstock’s lavishly furnished chapel at Pleshey. The inventory listed seventy-five items in the chapel there, including a cope ‘of blue worsted with divers beasts and birds . . . with garters inscribed Hony soit qui maly pense (valued at £60) and another cope of ‘gold of Cyprus worked all over with. . . stories of imagery of the Passion’ (valued at £67). Furthermore there was a collection of over forty Bibles, massbooks, antiphonaries, legends, psalters and two pontificals in the chapel, several described as ‘well written’ or ‘well illuminated’. Many of these books had doubtless come into Duke Thomas’s possession through his marriage to Eleanor Bohun, for the Bohun family is known as the owners and sponsors of the most important collection of English illuminated manuscripts of the second half of the fourteenth century.
Beyond the major rooms—hall, chamber, chapel—every seigniorial residence would have a suite of service rooms where stores were kept, food prepared, and
34 Test. Vet., II, 130—1.
cutlery and napery kept. At Shrawardine there was a pantry, buttery, and cellar; among their listed contents were large numbers of silver spoons and dishes, ewers, vases, leather and earthen pots, tablecloths and a variety of linen towels. Reserve stocks for large banquets were kept in a storehouse, where 448 dishes and platters of wood are recorded in the inventory, as are torches and tapers. The kitchen was likewise well provided with buckets, frying pans, gridirons, various spits and knives, salt, a mustard quern, and four salted fallow deer. There was also a bakehouse and an ample load of charcoal and thirty cart-loads of brushwood to meet the heating requirements of the castle. Shrawardine was a modest residence (especially when compared with Pleshey, Arundel, Kenilworth, or Hertford); but it had the wherewithal for the earl of Arundel to live comfortably there on his occasional visits and to hold grand feasts when he wished to entertain neighbours and dependants and impress on them the power and opulence of his lordship.
Opulence was, of course, manifested in dress as well as in food and furnishings. Towards the end of the Pleshey inventory there is a list of robes and gowns, including a ‘long gown of red velvet and a cloak of the same edged with minever’ and valued at over £13. Forty-five such robes in all are individually listed. In the duke’s London house there was another very valuable collection—twenty-four gowns in all—which belonged to the Duchess Eleanor. These were the kind of prized robes which also frequently appear in aristocratic wills. They helped to distinguish the greater aristocracy sartorially from the rest of gentle society, notably in their use of silk, linen, and superior woollens and in being lined with fur and embroidered with jewellery. Display and fashion were of the essence of such ‘power-dressing’. In 1393—4 the dashing young Roger Mortimer, earl of March (d. 1398), ordered one gown to be made for himself for the feast of St George and another for a tournament at Christmas. He also commissioned nine green hunting gowns to be cut for nine of his close friends. But he reserved his most extravagant expenditure for a dancing doublet and hanselin (jacket) in white satin and embroidered with whelks, mussels, cockles, and a hundred orange trees. The overall cost of this one item was £24, equivalent to a respectable annual income for a member of the country gentry.35
Inventories and inquisitions help us to get some impression of the furnishings of aristocratic residences and the sumptuousness of their dress. The growing proliferation of a variety of household accounts, which survive in increasing numbers from about the mid—late thirteenth century, likewise allows us to measure accurately the consumption of food in itemized detail and the proportions of different cloths, materials, and utensils purchased for the aristocratic household.36 From the mid fifteenth century there also survive household ordinances
35 Baildon,‘Wardrobe Account, 16—17 Richard II’, 510.
36 The accounts printed in Woolgar’s Household Accounts are exceptionally helpful in this respect, as is his detailed discussion in Great Household.
and regulations which stipulate, at least formally, the pattern of the day in an aristocratic court, including the periods assigned to religious services, meals, and the opening and closing of the gates of the household.37 All this adds texture to our understanding of the rhythms of aristocratic life; but stops short of telling us how great magnates passed their time. Paradoxically, we may well be better informed on this score when they were on ‘public’ duty—serving in the army or acting as envoys for the king. At home they are much more anonymous. It is rare indeed for us to be able to capture the flavour and preferences of a nobleman’s domestic life. One such rare glimpse comes to us, indirectly and unintentionally, in the volume of spiritual self-examination which Duke Henry of Lancaster (d. 1361) wrote under the title Le Livre de Seyntz Medecines.38 What comes across in the work is the duke’s delight in the sensuous luxuries of aristocratic life—his fine rings, his garters, his ability as a dancer, his love of rich food, well-spiced and served with strong sauces, and his passion for wine, ‘for it is a good feeling to be merry’. Duke Henry was one of the richest men of his day, and one of the great captains and envoys of Edward Ill’s reign; but his sensitivities were also well attuned to the domestic delights of life in his many castles and to the thrill of the chase in his favourite forest at Leicester.
Individual magnates no doubt had their individual tastes; but they also shared a common set of values and outlook. They were bonded into a common aristocratic culture from an early age, often being reared at the house of a great earl or dowager and being initiated early into the habits and pastimes of chivalric society.39 Duke Henry himself took young knights into his household ‘to be doctrined, learned and brought up in his noble court in school of arms and for to see noblesse, courtesy and worship’. These latter virtues were at the very heart of aristocratic culture since at least the twelfth century—whether in the guise of the Latin term mansuetudo or its Anglo-French equivalent gentilesse. They certainly involved a broad-based education by the fourteenth century. Duke Henry specifically referred to the ‘school of arms’, and rightly so, since horsemanship and a training in arms were essential features of the young aristocratic male’s education from an early age. But these practical skills were complemented by a solid grounding in grammar, reading, and increasingly writing.40 After all, in later life these young aristocrats would be the heads of complex business organizations and would expect, and be expected, to keep an overall eye on estate affairs, however much they delegated day-to-day business to their councils and officials. Their tutors were often priests or members of religious orders and would attend closely to their
37 Woolgar, Great Household, ch. 5.
38 Le Livre de Seyntz Medicines: The Unpublished Devotional Treatise of Henry of Lancaster, ed. E. J. Arnould (Oxford, 1940).
39 N. Orme, From Childhood to Chivalry: The Education of English Kings and Aristocracy, 1066-1530 (London, 1984).
40 The classic discussion is McFarlane, Nobility, 228—47.
religious and moral instruction. Beyond their formal education, they would also be initiated directly or indirectly in the behavioural conventions of aristocratic life—the arts of ‘courtesy’—which would henceforth form the framework of their daily behaviour. They were being shaped from an early age into ‘parfit, gentil knights’.
One of the primary diversions of such knights was the hunt. It had been so for centuries, both in England and on the continent. ‘Greatly did his hounds love him’ was the revealing compliment paid to one early noble devotee of the chase.41 When they were not represented in full military splendour—as was the norm on aristocratic seals and effigies—it was in the guise of hunters that the magnates might choose to be portrayed—as was Earl Simon de Montfort (d.1265) of Leicester, shown on his seal riding through a wood blowing a horn, wearing hunting garb, and with a dog at his side. Likewise we catch a glimpse, in a legal source, of Earl Simon’s contemporary, Earl Richard de Clare of Gloucester (d. 1262), walking after dinner with some of his companions and their dogs in the earl’s chase at Michelwood. The words which were applied to Thomas, lord of Berkeley (Gloucestershire) (d. 1321) could have been the epitaph of so many magnates: ‘hawkes, hounds and other doggs which all his life had solaced him’.42 Among them would be Henry of Grosmont, duke of Lancaster (d. 1361), whose spiritual meditations have just been cited. His metaphors and images are often borrowed from the world of the hunt and from the joys of nature—the digging and smoking out of foxes, the barking of hounds, the song of the nightingale, and the smell of roses and violets. Duke Henry was the epitome of the country-loving gentleman as well as a great soldier and diplomat. So was his even more famous son-in-law, John of Gaunt. Indeed so personally interested in the chase was Gaunt that he gave personal instructions when he stayed at Pontefract as to where precisely a trench should be dug to best advantage in the park.43 Hunting and talk of hunting must have filled many an hour in the aristocrat’s life. After all, in chivalric literature knowledge of the art and vocabulary of venery was a sign of high birth. Gaunt’s nephew, Edward, duke of York (d. 1415), even went to the trouble of translating the treatise of Gaston Phebus, count of Bearn, on the chase into English, under the title The Master of Game.44
Such devotees of the chase spent lavishly on their sport. They kept large packs of greyhounds, spaniels, mastiffs, and hounds, and spared no expense —as the wardrobe account of Roger, earl of March (d. 1398), makes clear—in the purchase of expensive collars for the lord’s hounds and hunting equipment
41 Quoted in M. Bloch, Feudal Society (English translation, London, 1961), 304.
42 Crouch, Image of the Aristocracy, 305 (Montfort); Select Pleas of the Forest, 1209—1334, ed. G. J. Turner (Selden Society, 1901), 34, 98 — 9 (Clare); Smyth, Lives of the Berkeleys, I, 188.
43 Goodman, John of Gaunt, 358—60.
44 The Master of Game: The Oldest English Book on Hunting, ed. W. A. and F. Baillie-Grohman (London, 1909).
for the lord himself. John of Gaunt had a master of game and rewarded him handsomely.45 Parks were carefully laid out, their fences and palisades regularly repaired, and a phalanx of officials paid to police them and to protect the lord’s game jealously. The earl of Norfolk’s parks at Framlingham and Saxtead eventually covered more than a thousand acres and at their peak were home for 1,600 deer.46 Alongside hunting, falconry was a favourite aristocratic sport. John of Gaunt was particularly addicted to it: he bought falcons and hawks at great expense; treasured presents of falcons from foreign dignitaries such as the duke of Milan and the grand master of the Teutonic Order; and paid his falconers handsomely.47 Gaunt’s purchases and presents may have been exceptional because of his wealth; but his tastes were those of most of his fellow aristocrats. They shared their enthusiasm together in great hunting parties, such as the one lasting five days which John of Gaunt arranged in July-August 1390 attended by the king, the queen, the archbishop of York, the dukes of York and Gloucester, the earls of Arundel and Huntingdon, ‘with other bishops and a great many lords and ladies’.48
Hunting and falconry were physically demanding activities, confined to daytime. Much less demanding of energy were a variety of games to which the aristocracy were partial. The more cerebral of them played chess: Duke Thomas of Gloucester (d. 1397) had a chessboard with its pieces among his effects in his London lodgings.49 Much more common were a variety of dice and card games which were a daily indulgence for many aristocrats, just as the lure of the casino would be irresistible for their successors. Some magnates were inveterate gamblers and playboys. Edmund, the last Mortimer earl of March (d. 1425), has a reputation as one such, largely because an account of his gaming losses has survived.50 In the month 13 September-13 October 1413 alone, his losses on a whole variety of games—cards, ‘tolman’, raffle, chance, ‘devant’ among them—almost totalled £70. Edmund Mortimer’s gaming addiction was, perhaps, unusual; but dice games were a favourite diversion for most magnates—including Edmund’s father, Earl Roger, the Black Prince, and John of Gaunt. They helped to relieve the tedium of court life and travel.
So also did the music, revels, banquets, and exchange of visits which were part of the life of the aristocratic court. Music-making and dancing were particularly favoured activities. Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV) was a talented musician and so probably was his wife, Mary Bohun. They gave their children a musical education. Bolingbroke was also much given to be entertained by minstrels, trumpeters, clarioners, and other instrumentalists, both his own and
45 Baildon, “Wardrobe Account of 16-17 Richard II’, 506-7; Goodman, John of Gaunt, 359.
46 Medieval Framlingham: Selected Documents, 1270—1524, ed. J. Ridgard (Suffolk Record Society, Woodbridge, 1985).
47 Reg. JG, I, no. 1659; Goodman, John of Gaunt, 359.
48 Knighton, Chron., 5 34 - 6 .
49 CIM, VI, no. 317; Age of Chivalry, no. 146.
50 Household Accounts, II, 592-603; BL Egerton Roll 8747.
his visiting ones.51 On his crusading expedition to Prussia in 1392—3 he was regularly serenaded in his chamber by minstrels and choristers. Bolingbroke’s musical tastes may have been particularly refined and well-informed; but in other respects he shared the habits of his fellow magnates, including those of his father (John of Gaunt) who employed a large number of musicians wearing his livery, and charged ‘the king of minstrels’ of the honour of Tutbury to ensure that all local minstrels were present to perform at the annual feast of the assumption of the Virgin Mary.52
Aristocratic courts must have resounded to the sound of music and the joys of dancing and revels, especially on high feasts. Jesters provided further entertainment, and plays, ‘disguisings’, and ‘subtleties’ were laid on especially around Christmas and the New Year. We hear, for example, of‘divers disguisings’ being staged for the countess of Warwick, with six players coming from Slimbridge and four from Wooton as well as two minstrels on secondment from the entourage of Joan Beauchamp, lady of Abergavenny.53 Public eating was, of course, a regular and time-consuming feature of the aristocratic timetable. As well as the lord and his immediate family, a large number of guests were frequently entertained—friends, relatives, fellow aristocrats, and local ecclesiastics but also officials, neighbours, pilgrims, burgesses, and even the occasional tenant. Thus the surviving household account of Elizabeth, countess of Warwick (d. 1422), for 1420— 1 reveals a constant flow of visitors of all ranks of society to dine at her table. 54 Some thirty to thirty-five lunched or dined regularly with her, the figure rising to 100 in March 1421 when her husband joined her from his military enterprises. Similar, indeed considerably larger, numbers were commonly fed in most aristocratic households. At the great festivals of the Christian year or on special occasions—such as the meetings of parliament in Westminster—even more lavish banquets would be prepared. Henry Bolingbroke, earl (and soon to be duke) of Hereford, laid on a magnificent dinner for the king, the queen, and his fellow magnates at the house of the Carmelites in London in 1397. Trestles, tables, and dressers were assembled for the occasion. A professional painter was commissioned to paint curlews, pigeons, and popinjays in gold, silver, and other colours for the occasions, and a team of men were set to work to prepare ‘subtleties’ in paste and wood.55
Grand banquets were only part of a whole network of contacts which kept the aristocracy regularly in touch with each other. Hunting parties, jousts,
51 TNA DL 28/1/2 f.6v (for purchase of strings and tuning fork); 1/3 f.21, 16 f.7 (for visiting musicians); K. B. McFarlane, Lancastrian Kings and Lollard Knights (Oxford, 1972), 22.
52 Expeditions to Prussia and the Holy Land Made by Henry Earl of Derby, ed. L. Toulmin Smith (Camden Series, London, 1894), 107—9; Goodman, John of Gaunt, 318.
53 *Marquess of Bath, Longleat House MS. Misc. IX (household book of earl of Warwick, 1420—1), f.56v.—f.57. Ward, English Noblewomen, 74 — 5.
54 C. D. Ross, ‘The Household Accounts of Elizabeth Berkeley, Countess ofWarwick, 1420—1’, Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society 70 (1951), 81 — 105.
55 TNA DL 28/1/9 f.17v.; f.19 (journal of keeper of household).
tournaments, weddings, and christening gatherings were regular features of the active aristocrat’s calendar. So, indirectly, was the exchange of news and gossip through messengers. As a great magnate toured his estates he would expect to be entertained en route and to reciprocate in kind. When Henry Bolingbroke travelled to Devonshire in 1395 he was entertained by Edward Courtenay, earl of Devon (d. 1419), and the visit was completed by the exchange of gifts by members of both households. Gift exchange was indeed a highly ritualized feature of aristocratic life, reaching its peak in the exchange of New Year gifts. The list of such gifts given by Henry Bolingbroke in January 1395 may again serve as an example. They were carefully graded in hierarchy according to the status of the recipient. The thirteen gifts he distributed—including gifts for the king, the queen, the duchess of Gloucester (sister of Bolingbroke’s wife), and the countess of Hereford (his mother-in-law)—cost him £53.56
Ritualized gift-giving was an aspect of the public sociability which encompassed the life of the aristocracy. The opportunities for sustained privacy and for cultivating one’s personal tastes were severely restricted for them. Books might have provided private solace for some of them. There can no longer be any doubt that the great majority of the aristocracy were literate—not only in the sense that they could read but also in the sense that they could construe Latin and French, the languages par excellence of the written word until the late fourteenth century. Some were considerable book collectors: Guy Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (d. 1315), was described as ‘bene literatus’ by a contemporary chronicler, and his grandson bequeathed thirty-nine manuscripts to Bordesley abbey (Worcestershire); and at the other end of the century Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester (d. 1397), had a library of at least eighty- three books.57 Nor were aristocratic women wanting in literary tastes; Margaret, countess of Devon, had a Tristam, a book called Arthur of Brittany, and another called Merlin, while Eleanor (the wife of Thomas of Woodstock) possessed a French chronicle, a history of the Order of the Swan, and a French Bible among other books. Books, especially romances, were also borrowed from the stock kept in the royal privy wardrobe; Roger Mortimer (d. 1330) borrowed twenty-three such volumes.58 The majority of books cited in aristocratic wills and inventories were devotional and liturgical in character; but there was also a fair selection of romances, chivalric literature, histories, and even legal works. Literary tastes were probably broadly similar in Scotland and English Ireland (where we know that Anglo-Norman was still in use in courts of law). Around
56 TNA DL 28/3/4 f.33v. (account of receiver-general 1392 — 3); DL 28/1/4 f.19 (account of the clerk of the wardrobe, 1394—5).
57 McFarlane, Nobility, 234—5 (Guy ofWarwick); Dillon and St. John Hope, ‘Inventory of the Goods’, 275—308 (Thomas of Woodstock). See also V. J. Scattergood, ‘Literary Court Culture at the Court of Richard II’, in English Court Culture in the Later Middle Ages, ed. V. J. Scattergood and J. W. Sherborne (London, 1982), 29—44, esp. 34 — 5.
58 Test. Vet., I, 127—8, 146 — 9; Vale, EdwardШand Chivalry, 49 — 50.
1390 James Douglas, lord of Dalkeith (Midlothian), made a bequest of all his books ‘both of the statutes of the realm of Scotland as of romance’.59 This juxtaposition of utilitarian (legal texts) and imaginative literature (romances) is a timely reminder of the multiplicity of worlds from which great aristocrats constructed the universe of their intellectual experience. Some of them even went a step further and composed their own works—such as the treatise on jousting by Thomas, duke of Gloucester (d. 1397), or the translation of the manual on hunting by his nephew, Edward duke of York (d. 1415). John Montagu, earl of Salisbury (d. 1400), composed some poems, even though they no longer survive. Such instances should remind us that we should not underestimate the literary ambitions and sensitivities of the later medieval magnate.
Nor should we overlook his religious sensibilities. The aristocratic household was a religious as well as a social centre. The focal point of the nobleman’s devotion was his private chapel, lavishly equipped—as was that of Thomas of Woodstock at Pleshey—with several altars, rich ecclesiastical vestments and plate, and an ample supply of missals, antiphons, and psalters. The lord or lady would have his or her own personal confessor, often a friar; but there would also be a body of clerks or chaplains. Joan de Valence, countess of Pembroke (d. 1307) had at least nine clerks and one friar in her household.60 Some of the greatest magnates set their personal ecclesiastical sights even higher: none more so than Duke Henry of Lancaster (d. 1361). In 1353 he converted the hospital at Leicester which his father had founded in 1331 into a college of secular canons to be served by a dean, twelve canons, thirteen vicars, and three other clerks and a verger. It was also to accommodate 100 poor folk and ten women attendants. It was as has been appropriately observed, ‘a domestic, ducal version of the Sainte Chapelle’.61 Thomas of Woodstock likewise in 1394 set aside properties for a similar college at Pleshey. When the lord travelled, his clerical entourage might well accompany him: when Margaret, duchess of Clarence, travelled to Normandy to meet her husband in November 1419 she was accompanied by the dean, at least ten chaplains and clerks (out of a complement of twenty-four), and four choristers from the duke’s household. A college of chanting priests and choristers, financed from a landed endowment, became by the late fourteenth century the preferred form of aristocratic religious benefaction. Whether travelling or at home, the lord would normally be expected to attend some of the religious services—matins, mass, and evensong—which punctuated the daily timetable of every well-run noble household.62
Nor did this in anyway exhaust the religious duties of the least pious nobleman. Alms-giving was a regular call on his resources. John of Gaunt distributed 12s.6d. in alms every Friday and 10s. on Saturday. Even the extravagant rake Edmund
59 Mort. Reg., I, no. 193.
60 Household Accounts, II, 651—6.
61 Fowler, King's Lieutenant, 188—93; Walker, Lancastrian Affinity, 97.
62 Household Accounts, II, 651— 6.
Mortimer, earl of March (d. 1425), gave alms regularly—his normal donation was 3s.4d. each time—as he travelled round the country in 1415. He also distributed food worth 48s. to the poor on 28 March and 20s. to a recently baptized infant on 6 April.63 But such sums were paltry compared with his gaming losses, and they pale into insignificance when set beside the dinner for 800 paupers which Eleanor, countess of Leicester (d. 1275) arranged on 14 April 1265. Alms were but one aspect of the religiously inspired charity which was an obligatory claim on the nobleman’s coffers. He could also be expected to contribute handsomely to building bridges and repairing churches. John of Gaunt would have hardly noticed the 100 marks which he gave for the repair of the church of St Mary at Leicester; more generous was the sum of 350 marks which the remarkably long-lived and rich Margaret Brotherton, countess (and later duchess) of Norfolk (d. 1399), donated towards the making of a new choir stall in the church of Greyfriars.64 Others directed their charity to educational purposes, none more so than some of the wealthy dowager ladies of the fourteenth century. So it is that Pembroke and Clare colleges in Cambridge still testify to the generosity of their founding ladies—Mary of St Pol, countess of Pembroke (d. 1377) and Elizabeth de Burgh, lady of Clare (d. 1360).65 Founding a college (or, more correctly, a hall) required a huge investment, long-term planning, and persistence. But there were less demanding and more short-term forms of educational charity: such as establishing an endowment-chest at Oxford on which poor students could draw (as did the countess of Warwick in 1293) or sponsoring the talented son of a local tenant in his studies (as happened to an ever-grateful Adam Usk at the hands of Roger Mortimer, earl of March and lord of Usk (d. 1398)), or patronizing the studies of one’s own clerks (as Elizabeth de Burgh did, sending four of them to seek a legal education in London and another two to study under a master in Oxford).66
Nor could the aristocracy overlook their inherited family obligations, notably as patrons of monasteries founded by their ancestors. These long-established monasteries continued to press for support, all the more so, arguably, as they noticed how the religious munificence of the aristocracy was being increasingly drained into hospitals, schools, chantries, collegiate churches, and the more austere orders (notably the Carthusians). Their lobbying did not go unheeded. Three examples may serve to show how aristocratic wealth was still being lavishly channelled in certain instances to the older religious houses. It was the wealth of the last Bigod earl of Norfolk (d. 1306) which alone almost certainly provided the means for the Cistercians to build a magnificent new church for themselves as Tintern abbey. St Albans was one of the oldest and best endowed of Benedictine
63 Reg. JG, I, no. 932; BL Egerton Roll 8747.
64 Woolgar, Great Household, 64; Reg. JG, II, no. 145; R. E. Archer, ‘The Estates and Finances of Margaret of Brotherton, c.1320—1399’, BIHR, 60 (1987), 264 — 80 at 276.
65 Ward, English Noblewomen, 158 — 9.
66 Adam Usk, Chronicle, 158; CPR 1381—5, 115; Ward, English Noblewomen, 157—8.
houses in England but it remained grateful for the support it received from the countess of Norfolk and entered her name in its book of benefactors. Another munificent patron of monasteries was Edmund, earl of March (d. 1381): he financed the rebuilding of the church of Wigmore abbey and endowed it handsomely with lands, liberties, churches, and stock but he also left gifts to more than thirty other religious houses—many of them closely associated with his own estates—in his will.67
The religious sensibilities of Earl Edmund were conventional, even conservative; they would not have been out of place two centuries earlier. By the mid—late fourteenth century, religious sensibility was becoming more introspective and individual, less corporate in its manifestations. This did not lead to any direct challenge to existing forms of worship; rather was it a search for a more private and personal outlet for individual piety. The aristocracy with its ready access to books and confessors and its high level of literacy was particularly well placed to swim with this religious tide. Henry of Grosmont’s Le Livre de Seyntz Medicines, which has already been cited several times, is perhaps the most remarkable example of the genre of self-examining penitential works which sought to bridge the chasm between the active and the contemplative lives. Likewise the fact that Duke Thomas of Gloucester (d. 1397) owned an English Bible in the Lollard translation suggests that here was a great nobleman whose exploration of religion extended into the rather suspect world of vernacular translations of the Bible. There is no need to suspect Duke Thomas of heresy (though his brother, John of Gaunt, had earlier given partisan support to John Wycliff for political reasons). It is in the late fourteenth century that books of hours became common among the upper classes, allowing them to pursue their search for a more personal religion in the privacy of their own chambers rather than, or perhaps as well as, in the public liturgical chanting of the psalter in their presence. None availed themselves of these opportunities more avidly than the two daughters and heirs of Humphrey, the last Bohun earl of Hereford (d. 1373). One daughter, Eleanor, married Thomas of Woodstock and noted in her will how she had ‘much used a book of psalms, primes and other devotions’. Her sister, Mary, married Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV): she inherited her father’s psalter and added to it some personal prayers with the intention of inspiring ‘the heart with an intense sweetness’.68
These episodes give us some insight into the spiritual lives and practices of the higher aristocracy and their womenfolk. We must not, of course, generalize from a few examples; piety, as with all other aspects of life, was a matter of individual taste and priority. But the greater danger surely is that our historical analyses do less than justice to the range of activities and sensitivities which could
67 Seeabove, pp. 46—7, 84 (Wigmore);Archer, ‘Estates and Finances’, 276 (Norfolk);Monasticon, VI, I, 353 (Mortimer).
68 Catto, ‘Religion and the English Nobility’, 49.
characterize the life of the higher aristocracy in the later Middle Ages. We see them pre-eminently at two levels: one at the level of their ‘public’ careers as military leaders, courtiers, and leading participants (often confrontationally so) in ‘political’ life; the other—through their household and estate accounts—as the heads of large business enterprises. Our historical sympathies need to take note of other aspects of their lives—in the hunt, at tournaments, at their gaming tables, in their devotions, and in their acts of charity, to name but a few. It is only by attempting to see their careers and concerns in the round, and on their own terms, that we can begin to do justice to their role and their power, all the more so given the centralist and royalist bias of so much modern academic historiography.
Great aristocrats lived their lives in the public gaze. Wherever they went, they were surrounded by a bevy of dependants, retainers, guests, and servants. A lord’s standing was measured in good part by the magnificence and efficiency of his household. It was there that his authority and power was displayed on a daily and immediate basis; it was the resources and effectiveness ofhis rule ofhis household that enabled him, literally and metaphorically, to live like a lord.69 His success as a lord could in many respects be judged at once by the way he exercised his authority and expressed his personality in his household, the domestic centre as it were of his whole world. The shrewd Burgundian commentator Georges Chastellain had no doubt on that score: ‘After the deeds and exploits of war, which are claims to glory’, so he remarked, ‘the household is the first thing which strikes the eye, and that which it is, therefore, most necessary to conduct and arrange well.’70
The noble household varied in its character and size according to the personality, needs, and career of the individual lord. At its core would be a resident and largely permanent staff of menial servants, professional, salaried officers, and a group of knights, squires, and yeomen. But this core would be augmented frequently by the arrival of guests, retainers, and visitors of all kinds. We can see this most dramatically, and probably uncharacteristically, in the household account of Earl Thomas of Lancaster (d. 1322) at Pontefract in 1318—19: the number of horses stabled at the earl’s expense, and thereby charged on his household book (liber hospicii) daily, ranged from 186 to 1,237.'71 Earl Thomas’s household, as we shall see, was of an extravagant size and the huge figures of horses stabled reflect extraordinary calls on the earl’s resources (for a meeting of a parliament
69 For many of the issues touched on in this section, reference may be made to the following general studies. Given-Wilson, English Nobility, ch. 4; C. Given-Wilson, The Royal Household and the King’s Affinity: Service, Politics and Finance in England, 1360—1413 (New Haven, 1986); K. Mertes, The English Noble Household, 1250—1600: Good Governance and Politic Rule (Oxford, 1988); Woolgar, Great Household.
70 Quoted in Given-Wilson, Royal Household, 259.
71 TNA DL 28/1/14 (the household book of Earl Thomas of Lancaster, 1318).
at York and for a muster for a proposed Scottish campaign). To that extent, the figures are not at all representative. But it is amply clear from other household accounts that the size of the household varied from day to day and certainly from week to week—as the lord’s servants left the court (extra curiam) on official or personal business, as high feasts were celebrated, as knights and gentlemen (who would normally reside on their own estates) came with their attendants to spend a period at the lord’s table (bouche de court), and as the lord’s business took him away (on campaign, to parliament, on visits, to tournaments). On these latter occasions the household might be formally divided into two—an inner or intrinsic household which remained resident at the lord’s principal residence and a ‘riding’ or ‘foreign’ household which accompanied him on his travels.72
The household was overwhelmingly a male establishment. Dowagers, of course, had their own households and only slightly smaller than those of the average magnate. Thus the household of Joan de Valence, countess of Pembroke (d. 1307), at Goodrich castle (Herefordshire) in 1296—7 numbered 135 and a further twelve grooms. Aristocratic wives might also have their own households during their husbands’ lives,73 though they were often modest in size and subsidized by an allowance from the lord’s coffers. But even female establishments were mainly staffed by men, supplemented by a few attendant gentlewomen, female servants of the chamber, nursemaids, and laundresses. The household was a strictly stratified and hierarchical institution, reflected in seating arrangements in hall, the number of dishes (ferculae) allotted per meal, the allowance and quality of cloth given as livery, shoe allowance, and the daily wages for those living in the household (infra curiam) and those away from the court (extra curiam). In the household of Henry Bolingbroke in 1397—8 there was a tariff of resident household wages—at 2d., 4d., 7 1/2d., and 12d. per day, with the highest rate reserved for a handful of the earl’s confidants, such as Hugh Waterton, his devoted chamberlain.74
It is obvious that there would be a difference in size and character between the household of a retiring dowager and that of an active military lord; but the difference would not be so great as might perhaps be expected, because all lords, men and women, were expected to have a household commensurate with their social status. We have just observed that Joan de Valence in 1296 had a household of 135; that of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, stood at 150 or so in 1390 (though that figure may err on the low side)/5 Such figures are modest compared with those for the royal household (that of Edward III stood at 400
72 For examples McFarlane, Nobility, 110; Rawcliffe, Staffords, 68—9.
73 Woolgar, Great Household, 53. For an excellent discussion of the households of aristocratic women, see Ward, English Noblewomen, ch. 3.
74 TNA DL28/1/9—10 (accounts ofthe household expenditure of Henry Bolingbroke, 1396—8).
75 Woolgar, Great Household, 53; Walker, Lancastrian Affinity, 10—13 (since this figure is based on checker rolls and stable accounts, it may underestimate the number ofgrooms, valets, and pages). For a useful table of household size, see Woolgar, Great Household, 12—13.
at least, rising to almost 600 by the later years of Richard II) and with those for some contemporary French ducal courts (280 for the duke of Berry, 350 for the duke of Burgundy). On such a scale English noble households were certainly large but not extravagant. What extravagance could mean is well illustrated in the case of Earl Thomas of Lancaster (d. 1322). In the two years for which we have accounts (1313—14 and 1318 — 19), his household expenses reached a staggering £7,500 (not very far short of the crown’s household budget), of which £3,000—£4,000 was spent on daily expenses of food and drink, £700—£1,100 on livery of robes, and £500—£600 on fees of servants and retainers. The total size of the household in 1318—19 stood close to 700.76 These were extraordinary figures for an extraordinary earl in extraordinary times, all the more so since Earl Thomas’s resources, impressive as they were, did not compare with the totality of income at the disposal of John of Gaunt. They are a reminder to us that the size and character of a noble household was ultimately determined by the personality and ambitions of the lord himself.
The household was the nodal point of lordship and as such it served at least two distinct, though not unrelated, purposes. At one level its purpose was to provide a venue where the lord’s authority and power were displayed, where he could consort with advisers, officers, followers, and guests, and where he would pass much of his time when he was resident at home. This was the domus magnificencie, the household above stairs in the parlance of a later age. It would be formally staffed by a cadre of officers, normally drawn from his confidants and generally more or less permanently resident at his court.77 It was headed by a steward, normally a layman of good birth; a treasurer, generally a cleric and often rewarded with one of the lord’s livings; and, in some households, a chamberlain and/or wardrober. These were generally the key officials in most noble households, and it is their daily and aggregated audited accounts which are the best surviving guides to the business of the household. Beneath them was a further group of departmental officers—such as the marshal (in charge of the crucial business of stabling the lord’s horses and those of his guests), the butler, the clerk of the kitchen, the chief clerk of the chapel, and others. Each had his own clearly defined sphere of responsibility. There might also be a great wardrobe under its clerk: this was the lord’s storehouse of arms, cloths, and equipment; it might often—as in the case of Gaunt’s great wardrobe and that of his son, Henry Bolingbroke—be based in London, away from the lord’s normal residence but in easy reach of its major suppliers, the leading metropolitan merchants. In some households there could be other specialized officers—such as Thomas of Woodstock’s secretary or Gaunt’s keeper of jewels.
The second—and more populous—level of the household was the domus providencie, the household below stairs. It was composed of a range of domestic
76 Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster, 27—8.
77 For example, Simon Bache, treasurer of the household of Henry Bolingbroke, spent 334 days infra curiam in the year 1 October 1397—30 September 1398: TNA DL 28/1/10.
departments including kitchen, pantry, buttery, chamber, larder, wash house, and stable. As the names of the departments suggest, its primary function was to buy and prepare the food and the drink and to arrange the stabling for the lord and his household—no mean task when we consider that the average number to be fed at the lord’s table might range from 50 to 100 daily. These household departments were staffed by a huge body of valets, pages, and grooms, often rewarded at differential and hierarchical rates. Thus John Mowbray, earl (and later duke) of Norfolk (d. 1432), had six valets of the chamber, twenty-five valets of the lord, and thirty others on his books as well as a further eleven pages on his travels (pro viagio) in 1422—3.78 Recruiting, organizing, and controlling such large numbers of servants could not have been easy, all the more so as a good number of them were expected to travel with the lord. Their role was essentially domestic and menial; but since they lived under the lord’s roof and served him at his table, they were often—within the bounds of convention—familiar with him. Most noble wills give a high priority to paying outstanding wages to long-standing servants and discharging them honourably on the lord’s death. Others, touchingly, went further, naming favoured servants individually and leaving them small bequests: Earl Humphrey of Hereford (d. 1361) rewarded thirty-eight of his household servants; Thomas, duke of Exeter (d. 1426), left bequests to sixty-one of his esquires and servants.79
Satisfying the demands of large seigniorial households, especially given the problems of transport and the market, posed formidable problems. Grain had to be transported from local manors and markets; fuel and fodder in large quantities had to be secured; wines would have to be shipped up ever-obstructed rivers; fish would need to be purchased in abundance for the weekly abstinence from meat on three days and for Lent; ample stores would have to be laid up days or even weeks in advance, and forward parties would have to be despatched in advance to prepare stables, rooms, and supplies for the lord’s itinerary. The list of food and wine—incomplete as it is80—consumed by the household of the rich and twice-endowed Margaret, countess of Norfolk (d. 1399), in 1385—6 gives an indication of the voracious consumption demands of such a household. It included 60,121 loaves made from 235 quarters of wheat, 28,962 gallons (lagenae) of ale and 4,377 ofwine, 698 sheep, 151 pigs, 140 oxen and steers, 616 rabbits, 520 pigeons, 491 partridges, 49 cygnets, 196 capons, 31 pheasants, 122 bucks and does. The list is by no means complete; it would no doubt have been exceeded by the demands of the household of an active male lord.81
Household expenditure regularly stood at 40—70 per cent of a major lord’s overall disbursements. John of Gaunt was, of course, exceptionally rich with a
78 *BL Add. Roll 17209.
79 Nichols, Wills, 44 — 56; Reg. Chichele, II, 358.
80 Such lists would exclude items bought on a daily basis, as opposed to bulk purchases.
81 BL Add. Roll 17208, now published in Ridgard (ed.), Medieval Framlingham, 86—128. Similar figures can be calculated from the household account of Elizabeth countess of Warwick for 1420—1; Ross, ‘Household Accounts of Elizabeth Berkeley’, 81 — 105.
disposable landed income in the 1390s not far short of £11,000 annually; but the proportion of that vast income he earmarked annually for recurrent household expenses—£5,000 for the treasurer of his household, £1,333 6s. 8d. for his great wardrobe, and a further £666 13s. 4d. for his duchess’s chamber—was not out of line with what can be calculated for other magnates.82 Of these large sums, normally at least half was accounted for by the costs of food and wine. So it was that Joan de Valence, countess of Pembroke, spent two-thirds of her domestic outgoings in 1296—7 on food and drink, while a quarter of Earl Thomas of Lancaster’s budget was spent on food alone.83 It is in fact often very difficult to calculate accurately the total food and wine budget, because household accounting procedures often excluded both victuals consumed from the lord’s own produce or stock and also small, daily purchases. Two items do, however, regularly stand out—fish and wine. Fish, especially herrings and white fish, were consumed in huge quantities and had often to be transported over long distances, thereby adding to the costs. Countess Joan de Valence purchased 24,000 herrings in Southampton in February 1297 and had them transported by cart to Gloucester and thence to her kitchen at Goodrich castle (Herefordshire), while her supplies of dried cod were simultaneously shipped from Pembroke to Chepstow via Bristol and thence taken by packhorse to Goodrich.84 Wine had, of course, to travel even further. It was very much the status drink of the lord and his immediate company and was often given as a present by magnates. Countess Margaret of Norfolk—whose household account for 1385—6 has just been cited—shipped most of her wine through Ipswich and then had it transported overland to Framlingham castle. She purchased mainly red Gascon wine, supplemented by white Rhenish and St Emilion wine. Her wine bill for that year alone stood at £137—and that at a time when £40—£60 would be a handsome annual income for a modest county knight.
The consumption demands of a great household would obviously play an important role in the economy and marketing practices of the country, all the more so when we recall the number of such households and the way the tentacles of their activities reached throughout the country. How then were those consumption demands met? In early centuries magnates may literally have eaten their way around their estates—partly no doubt because itineration (as we have seen) was a way of manifesting lordship personally, and partly because the mechanisms of the market were insufficiently developed to cater effectively for the needs of a large seigniorial household. Such practices certainly continued
82 TNA DL 28/3/2 (account of receiver-general, 1392—3). He also allocated a thousand marks to his son’s household annually.
83 Woolgar, Great Household, 111 — 13; Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster, 27.
84 Woolgar, Great Household, 119. The cash, corn, and stock account of the household of the twelfth earl of Oxford for 1431—2, published in Household Accounts, II, no. 20, illustrates admirably the scale and character of a magnate’s food purchases.
in a measure even among lay aristocrats in the later Middle Ages, though more often than not in the form of transporting the produce of the lord’s estates to one of his favoured residences. Earl Thomas of Lancaster (d. 1322), when he was resident in London, still secured supplies from his manor of Aldbourne (Wiltshire), wheat from Higham Ferrers (Northamptonshire), and venison from Needwood (Staffordshire), all of them his own estates.85 In the case of the long- lived Elizabeth de Burgh, lady of Clare (d. 1360), the wealth of the surviving documentation has allowed Jennifer Ward to tabulate the cost of her household supplies, indicating that at least a quarter of those supplies were derived from her own manors. The demands of Lady Elizabeth’s household were certainly not regularly on the same scale as those of Earl Thomas; but when we recall that in 1343 she distributed liveries of cloth and fur to almost 260 persons—including 15 knights, 93 esquires, 21 clerks, and 108 household and estate servants—we recognize that even a thrice-widowed and relatively retiring dowager lady had to maintain and occasionally feed a menage commensurate with her status and social expectations.86
Even when the lord’s household no longer relied on the lord’s demesne manors for its regular supplies, especially of cereals, it could still turn to them for specialized items. Salmon and lampreys were favoured fish dishes on the noble table, helping to relieve the tedium of seemingly endless servings of herrings and stockfish. It was well worthwhile travelling a long way to secure high-quality supplies of salmon and lampreys, and where could be a more reliable source than the lord’s own estates? So it was that Elizabeth de Burgh was partial to the salmon of her estates at Usk, John of Gaunt to the lampreys of his manor of Rodley (Gloucestershire) on the Severn estuary, and Margaret, countess of Norfolk (d. 1399), to the salmon and lampreys of Chepstow (south-east Wales) and cod from distant Pembroke in south-west Wales, both of them parts of her widely scattered inheritance and at a great distance from her normal residence at Framlingham (Suffolk).87 And so the pattern was repeated with other supplies: Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln (d. 1311), had cheese transported from his Welsh border lordship of Clifford to his table at Aldbourne (Wiltshire), while John of Gaunt regularly ordered dozens of rabbits—often on a weekly basis—from the extensive seigniorial warrens at Aldbourne when it came into his possession.88 But perhaps the most remarkable example of the way in which the widely scattered estates of a great lord could constitute their own self-contained economic network to meet the needs of the lord’s household was in the herds of animals which were driven across country to the lord’s larder. The households of the earls of Lincoln at Altofts (Yorkshire), of Elizabeth de Burgh at Bardfield (Essex), and the Black
85 Somerville, Duchy of Lancaster, I, 96.
86 Ward, English Noblewomen, 67—8; Holmes, Estates, 58—9.
87 Davies, Lordship and Society, 110—11 and the sources cited there.
88 TNA DL 29/1/2 m.2 (Lacy); Reg. JG, I, no. 1126, II, no. 739.
Prince in his hostel at London were regularly dependent on cattle supplies from Wales, Chester, and elsewhere in England.89 Perhaps one vignette can serve to show how this preference for the produce of the lord’s own estates (be it demesne produce or tenant renders) created economic bonds to be set side by side with the commercial marketing network. In 1349 twenty drovers drove over 400 head of cattle—mainly part of the biennial render given to the earl of Hereford as lord of Brecon from the Welshmen of the area—from Brecon across country to the Bohun household in Essex, to be followed in 1350 by similar herds being driven to Kimbolton (Huntingdonshire)—some 130 miles at least from Brecon—and Oaksey (Wiltshire).90 Doubtless many similar journeys were undertaken within England itself—such as the bullocks driven from the ranch in Barnard Castle (Co. Durham) all the way to the Beauchamp household in Warwickshire and in the London area, or the flock of 500 sheep driven from the Stafford manor of Maxtock (Warwickshire) to another Stafford residence at Writtle (Essex).91 Economic historians in their anxiety to trace the development of a money and market economy have perhaps not paid sufficient attention to such evidence. It is a reminder to us that the great aristocratic inheritance could be a functioning economic network as well as a source of financial, social, and political power.
Nevertheless it was inevitable that the supplies of noble households should mainly, and increasingly so over time, be met from the market rather than from demesne resources. The sheer volume of the household’s needs, the complexity of its itineration patterns, and the rising demands in terms of comfort and quality of domestic living reinforced such a development. We have seen that in the case of Elizabeth de Burgh—who was more stationary in her residential habits than most of her lay peers—75 per cent of the supplies for her household were purchased on the market. Such was likewise the proportion with other lords. Supplies were bought from a whole variety of sources—wholesale merchants, specialist dealers (especially in London for exotic goods such as spices), in local markets, by dispatching agents to scour the countryside, and by the virtual commandeering of goods from any source that lay to hand, especially when the lord was on a journey. The household account of Margaret, countess of Norfolk, for 1385—6 (already cited above) reveals that though she drew heavily on the produce of her own demesne lands and the rents of her tenants she also purchased corn and meat from merchants and at local markets in places such as Bungay (Suffolk) and Diss (Norfolk), while her agents had to travel to London for items such as rice and almond. Countess Margaret was resident for the year at Framlingham and so was well-placed to arrange her purchases in advance. Other lords had to do so, literally and metaphorically, on the hoof. When Edward, duke
89 TNA DL 29/1/2 m.2 (Lacy); TNA SC 11/799 (de Burgh); Reg. BP., I, 18, 78, 87, 103 etc.
90 Cited from the accounts of the receiver of Brecon in Davies, Lordship and Society, 116.
91 McFarlane, Nobility, 194; *BL Egerton Roll 2209 (account of treasure of great household of duke of Buckingham 1454—5).
of York (d. 1415), moved his household from Cardiff to Hanley (Worcestershire) in autumn 1409 and began to plan his Christmas sojourn, he sent his servants to surrounding towns and markets—Worcester, Ledbury, and Tewkesbury among them—to purchase supplies; secured his wine from Bristol and Chepstow; and hired a force of 184 men to fell and trim wood and to make it into faggots to keep out the winter cold.92 Duke Edward’s provision arrangements were rather ad hoc in character; other lords had to be more systematic in their purchasing policies. John of Gaunt, for example, appointed professional buyers to purchase the large stocks of meat, poultry, and fish which his household required, especially when he was in or near London.93
Great lords dealt in large sums of money, and needed to understand and manage their finances. The debts of Henry Bolingbroke have been mentioned above, but Bolingbroke was no spendthrift. Rather was he—in common with most of his fellow magnates—often short of ready cash and therefore borrowed it against the security of his anticipated income. Some magnates, it is true, seem to have been profligate. We have already cited the betting extravagances of Edmund, the last Mortimer earl of March (d. 142 5).94 Even more obviously reckless was Thomas Mowbray, earl of Norfolk (d. 1405). He was, to be fair, very unlucky in his inherited circumstances: his great-grandmother, Margaret Brotherton, countess and later duchess of Norfolk in her own right, had clung tenaciously to her lands (both by inheritance and jointure) until her death at a great old age in 1399; in the meantime, Earl Thomas’s father, another Thomas, fell foul of Richard Il’s spleen and died in exile. Such misfortunes should have persuaded young Earl Thomas to act with great circumspection in all matters, financial and political. He failed to do so. He borrowed recklessly from any source—from Roger Blickling of Norwich (£332), from his own men of Framlingham (£10), from the abbot of Fountains (£27), and from Richard Nevill of London (£459) among others. His creditors took advantage of his penury: Richard Nevill charged a brokerage fee of £5 and interest at 15 per cent (£39 3s. 2d.). The earl’s officials were driven to desperate measures: some of them travelled to London to discuss the rescheduling of his debts (pending the receipt of money owed him by the exchequer); other members of his council journeyed to Norfolk and Suffolk ‘to raise loans for the lord’. It is little wonder that another servant was sent to check out stories that William Mason was able to make silver from lead!95 Earl Thomas might eventually have recovered from his financial troubles; but nothing could save him from the consequences of his political folly. It may indeed be that his financial difficulties made him politically adventurous. Be that as it may, he was caught in one of the
92 * Northamptonshire Record Office, Westmorland (Apethorpe) Collection, 4.xx.4.
93 Reg. JG, II, no. 811; Goodman, John of Gaunt,320—1.
94 See above, pp. 96, 100.
95 BL Add. Roll 16556 (account of receiver of Earl Marshal 1402 — 3).
many political plots which shook England in the early years of Henry IV and suffered the ultimate penalty, being executed on 8 June 1405, when he was not yet twenty.
But we must not generalize from the sad tale of Earl Thomas’s brief career. What the late medieval nobility suffered from was not so much heavy indebtedness as chronic cash-flow problems. It was a situation compounded by the absence of an effective native banking system, by the difficulties of getting cash levies promptly from their scattered estates, and by the regular failure of the royal exchequer to pay their war wages at all promptly. In particular as they travelled abroad or prepared to serve the king on a military expedition, they were driven—as indeed was the king himself—to make desperate pleas for immediate cash. Such pleas figure regularly in the correspondence of John of Gaunt, the wealthiest aristocratic lord of his day.96 When John Mowbray, earl of Norfolk (d. 1432) agreed to serve Henry V in France in 1415—thereby helping to delete the taint of treason which his brother’s plotting had drawn upon the family in 1405—he was forced to borrow 1,000 marks from the earl of Arundel and lesser sums from others, such as the prior of Thetford and the rector of Framlingham.97 Magnates borrowed from a whole range of creditor: Italian bankers, rich bishops and abbeys, cathedral chapters, London merchants, borough corporations, individual townsmen, and even their own tenants.98
The evidence for such borrowing is abundant; but we must take care not to jump to the conclusion (often hinted at by historians) that the later medieval magnates were, therefore, living beyond their means and doing so to sustain bloated households and personal magnificence at a time of declining incomes for many of them. Such a conclusion is often based on a misreading of the evidence and on a misunderstanding of the totality of sources at the disposal of the aristocracy. Most of the loans that were contracted were temporary or short-term, generally repaid within the year. More often than not they were the result of immediate cash-flow problems rather than of chronic indebtedness. A temporarily cash-strapped earl knew that later in the financial year he could expect treasure-carts laden with monies to arrive at his household from his distant estates99 or that he would be given preferential tallies for the sums long owed to him by the royal exchequer. In the longer term his advisers might also remind him that he could expect a windfall when his dowager mother or grandmother at last died or when he succeeded to his father’s inheritance.
96 For example Reg. JG, I, nos. 940, 1761, 1790.
97 McFarlane, Nobility, 221; ^Berkeley Castle muniments, account of the earl’s receiver-general, 1414-15.
98 For examples of seigniorial loans, TNA DL 29/1/2 m.15 (Lacy from Italian bankers); Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster, 37-8; BL Egerton Roll 8727 (list of Edmund Mortimer’s creditors, 1375); BL Egerton 8769 (Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick).
99 For example, BL Egerton Roll 8730—for a treasure convoy carrying £1,400 from Wigmore to London in 1387, escorted by eleven archers.
Some magnates did not have to wait that long: Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel (d. 1376) was fabulously rich in his own lifetime. At his death his coffers in Arundel, in Holt and Clun in the March of Wales, and at St Paul’s, London (under the care of John Philipot), held a staggering £60,000 in cash (at a time when the standard lay tax for the whole kingdom was estimated at c.£38,000). With such vast sums of cash at his disposal he became the premier source of lending in England, especially in the later years of his life. The king, the Black Prince, and at least half a dozen dukes and earls borrowed large sums from him; but so did leading London merchants such as John Philpot and John Peche and a host of other figures.100 One of his creditors was none other than John of Gaunt. But Gaunt’s credit operations remind us again how easy it is to jump to false conclusions from the evidence of borrowing. The survival of the register of his correspondence for the years 1372—6 allows us to see how extensively he cast the net of his borrowing, no doubt in part to finance his expeditions to France.101 In 1372—4 alone he borrowed 11,000 marks from the earl of Arundel. But Gaunt was, of course, in terms of landed income the richest lay magnate in England in his day, and if to this regular income we add the windfalls of his war profits and the settlement of his claim to be king of Castile, we cannot be in doubt that he could have comfortably weathered any temporary financial storm. Indeed when we next catch up with his finances in detail in 1392—3 we find him not as a debtor but as a large-scale creditor. Among his clients were his brother Thomas of Woodstock and his (Gaunt’s) son, Henry Bolingbroke (2,000 marks each) and William Venour and other leading Londoners (almost £2,000).102
Individual magnates could, of course, fall on hard times financially—some- times as a result of an extravagant lifestyle, especially when their estates were encumbered with the dower- and jointure-claims of widows, indeed successive widows; more often, perhaps, by the misfortunes of war and politics—such as a crippling ransom or confiscation in the wake of a political misjudgement. But there is no reason to believe that there was as yet a ‘crisis of the aristocracy’ in financial terms by the late-fourteenth—early-fifteenth centuries. The seismic economic and social changes that came in the wake of the recurrent outbreaks of plague from 1348—9 certainly had an impact on seigniorial policy and, to some degree, income and authority; but the consensus of historical opinion has broadly confirmed the short- and medium-term resilience of the governing classes (including especially the great lay and ecclesiastical magnates) in the face of this challenge and the remarkable degree to which their incomes from recurrent sources stood up under pressure. Indeed recent scholarship has underlined the remarkable managerial resilience, even aggressive toughness, of the nobility in the
100 C. Given-Wilson, “Wealth and Credit, Public and Private: The Earls of Arundel, 1303—1397’, EHR, 106 (1991), 1-26.
101 Reg. JG, I, nos 1240-1, 1276, 1320, 1330, 1351, 1400-1, 1659 etc.
102 TNA DL 28/3/2 f.5.
face of such challenges. We are also more aware that reliance solely on the landed income of magnates gives us a partial and very incomplete view of noble wealth and power. A narrowly budgetary approach to noble income and expenditure threatens to obscure the social role and expectations of aristocratic lordship. Parsimony was not necessarily a virtue in such a world; rather were largesse, munificence, and display the keynotes. Lords were expected to live like lords.
We have tried to capture in this chapter some of the leading aspects of what we may call the domestic life of the greater aristocracy. These are aspects which often lie beyond the reach, or at least the direct reach, of the conventional historical documentation—be it the comments of chronicles, the cut-and-thrust of political and military narratives, and even the detailed minutiae of estate and household accounts. We have tried, as it were, to catch the aristocracy ‘off-duty’ politically, at leisure and in their homes. How, and how much, they spent their time in these activities would inevitably vary from individual to individual and indeed from place to place. But beyond such undeniable individualism, the aristocracy shared a corporate identity, notably a set of conventions of behaviour, lifestyle, and manners into which they were born and on which they were reared. It is aspects of this collective ethos and priorities which we have sought to capture.
But it is on a personal note that we should end. Lordship, like kingship, was ultimately personal, in tone and direction. This was so at least at two levels. First, however much of the day-to-day routine of business and supervision was delegated to the lord’s council and to his senior professional officers (especially when he was away on military service), it was the lord himself who often took the ultimate decisions. Few magnates can have been as busy as was John of Gaunt; but his direct control of, and interest in, the affairs of his inheritance shine out from the documents. ‘My lord’, so announces one of the warrants issued in his name, ‘ordered me in his own words in the presence of . . . his chancellor to make out a warrant’.103 The duke issued pardons and directions by word of mouth and declared in his will that he always kept his signet with him, so that he could issue commands wherever he was. He could declare his will orally to his servants and require them to report back directly to him. His officials had good reason to know that he was not a man to be crossed lightly: the receiver of Tutbury was told in no uncertain terms that his excuses were feeble and that the duke was much displeased with him; another who had offended him was warned not ‘to approach our court or our presence’.104 Gaunt was not unusual in this respect; it is simply that evidence about his directive role is more abundant.
A second sense in which lordship was irreducibly personal lay in the fact that the personality, abilities, and interests of the individual lord shaped the character
103 Quoted in Goodman, John of Gaunt, 313.
104 Somerville, Duchy of Lancaster, I, 120; Reg. JG., I, no. 65; II, nos. 303, 310; Walker, Lancastrian Affinity, 165—6.
of his lordship. The territorial, political, or military ambitions of a lord could clearly impinge, directly or indirectly, on the lives and fortunes of his dependants and tenants, opening doors of opportunity of service and favours but also posing risks if the wheel of fortune turned adversely. Even at the intensely personal level the temper and temperament of the lord could set the tone for his lordship and reputation. It was not without good reason that Henry Stafford, the second duke of Buckingham (d. 1483), was remembered as ‘a sore and hard-dealing man’, a reputation inherited by (and fully documented for) his son.105 No one who had known these men or had experienced their rule could doubt that their lordship was personal. And the women were no less masterful and arbitrary: it was the decision of Joan Beauchamp, the formidable lady of Abergavenny, to order the execution of three thieves on Ascension day 1401 which prompted an uprising in which her steward, Sir William Lucy, was killed and she and her husband were besieged in Abergavenny castle.106
Paradoxically the point is illustrated with even greater force by the hiatus of power which followed the death of a lord. This was particularly true in Scotland, English Ireland, or the March of Wales, lands of great regional lordship where the death of a lord could create a vacuum of authority and unleash tensions hitherto kept under control. It was such a vacuum that Thomas Chedworth feared in 1326—7 on the death of the earl of Ulster. It was imperative, he commented, that his heir should put in an early appearance so that his lands could be exploited and his kinsmen and tenants governed.107 In much the same vein in 1282, one of Edward I’s officers in mid Wales was concerned about the hiatus of power following the death of Roger Mortimer. He reported that ‘he found the inhabitants very fickle and haughty, . . . because they have no definite lord: . . . they will. . . not long remain in peace if their liege lord does not come to them.’108 Such a comment helps to explain why complaints about absentee lords were such a central contemporary explanation of the crisis of lordship and the frailty of power in fourteenth-century Ireland. That was proportionately more true in Ireland, Scotland, and the March of Wales than it was in England where there was a supplementary, even alternative, structure of power in the form of royal institutions. But even in England, the personality and role of the lords were key features in the equation of power and governance. Lordship was central; it was also personal.
Recent literature on castles in the late medieval British Isles abounds. A useful review is C. Platt, ‘Revisionism in Castle Studies: A Caution’, Medieval
105 Rawcliffe, Staffords, 164 — 80; McFarlane, Nobility, 50 — 3, 223—7.
106 Adam Usk, Chronicle, 130—2.
107 Sayles (ed.), Documents on the Affairs of Ireland, no. 155.
108 Cal. Anc. Corr., 131.
Archaeology, 51 (2007). See also, O. H. Creighton, Castles and Landscapes (London, 2002), chs. 4 and 5; C. Coulson, Castles in Medieval Society: Fortresses in England, France, and Ireland in the Central Middle Ages (Oxford, 2003); A. Wheatley, The Idea of the Castle in Medieval England (York, 2004); R. Liddiard, Castles in Context: Power, Symbolism and Landscape, 1066 to 1500 (Macclesfield, 2005); A. Emery, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, 1300—1500. 3 vols. (Cambridge, 1996—2006); The Medieval Castle in Ireland and Wales, ed. J. R. Kenyon and K. O’Conor (Dublin, 2003); A. Pettifer, Welsh Castles: A Guide by Counties (Woodbridge, 2000). For individual castles mentioned in this chapter and elsewhere in the book, M. Johnson, Behind the Castle Gates: From Medieval to Renaissance (London, 2002) [Kenilworth]; M. Morris, The Bigod Earls of Norfolk in the Thirteenth Century (Woodbridge, 2005) [Forncett and Chepstow]; J. R. Kenyon, ‘Masonry Castles and Castle-Building’ in The Gwent County History. Volume 2. The Age of the Marcher Lords, c.1070—1536, ed. R. Griffiths, T. Hopkins, and R. Howell (Cardiff, 2008) [Chepstow and Raglan]; M. Morris, Castle: A History of Buildings (Oxford, 2003) [Threave]; M. Potterton, Medieval Trim: History and Archaeology (Dublin, 2005). For the north of England, A. King, ‘Fortresses and Fashion Statements: Gentry Castles in Fourteenth-Century Northumberland’, Journal of Medieval History, 33 (2007). For‘aristocratic landscapes’, R. Liddiard (ed.), The Medieval Park: New Perspectives (Manchester, 2007). For examples from the west of Ireland, J. Malcolm, ‘Castles and Landscape in Uf Fhiachrach Muaidhe, c.1235—c.1400’, in Lordship in Medieval Ireland: Image and Reality, ed. L. Doran and J. Lyttleton (Dublin, 2008).
For the education of aristocratic children a recent case study is A. Marshall, ‘The Childhood and Household of Edward Il’s Half-Brothers, Thomas of Brotherton and Edmund of Woodstock’, in The Reign of Edward II: New Perspectives, ed. G. Dodd and A. Musson (Woodbridge, 2006). This article also deals with the peripatetic nature of the nobility, for which see also W. Childs, ‘Moving Around’, in A Social History of England, 1200—1500, ed. R. Horrox and W. M. Ormrod (Cambridge, 2006). Their reading habits are discussed in The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain. Volume II, 1100—1400, ed. N Morgan and R Thomson (Cambridge, 2008).
For the economic fortunes of the aristocracy see C. Dyer, An Age of Transition? Economy and Society in England in the Later Middle Ages (Oxford, 2005), ch. 3. For the reliance of the Butler earls of Ormond on the produce of their demesne manors, M. Hennessy, ‘Manorial Agriculture and Settlement in Early Fourteenth- Century County Tipperary’, in Surveying Ireland’s Past: Multidisciplinary Essays in Honour of Anngret Simms, ed. H. B. Clarke, J. Prunty, and M. Hennessy (Dublin, 2004). For an English lord using the resources of demesne land in Ireland for personal use and to pay debts, M. Murphy, ‘The Profits of Lordship: Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk and the Lordship of Carlow, 1270—1306’, in Lordship in Medieval Ireland: Image and Reality, ed. L. Doran and J. Lyttleton (Dublin, 2008). For noble dealings with merchants in general see P. Spufford, Power and Profit: The Merchant in Medieval Europe (London, 2002), ch. 2. The dealings of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century earls of Ormond with London merchants can be followed in ‘Calendar of Documents Relating to Medieval Ireland in the Series of Ancient Deeds in the National Archives of the United Kingdom’, ed. P. Dryburgh and B. Smith, Analecta Hibernica, 39 (2006).