Friday, January 18, 2008

Henry III's Elephant

Matthew Paris, c1255. Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, UK

An African elephant arrived at Whitsand, on the coast of England, in late November 1254, a gift from the king of France, Louis IX, to Henry III of England. The elephant was said to have been acquired by Louis during a crusade to Palestine. A mandate in the Close Rolls, dated 7 January 39 Henry III (1255), orders the Sheriff of Kent “with John Gouch, to provide for bringing the King’s elephant from Whitsand to Dover, and if possible to London by water” [The New York Times, 11 June 1882].

A royal menagerie was established at the Tower of London in 1235, when Henry III received a wedding gift of three leopards from Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor. Henry was presented a bear in 1246 by the mayor of Northampton. A Norwegian polar bear joined the menagery in 1252; it was controlled by a muzzle attached to an iron chain and, when secured by a strong rope, was allowed to catch fish in the Thames.

In 1255, Henry ordered elaborate arrangements to be made for the accommodation of his elephant at the royal menagerie in the Tower of London. “We command you,” he wrote to the Sheriff of London, “that ye cause without delay, to be built at our Tower of London, one house of forty feet long and twenty feet deep, for our elephant.”

Matthew Paris (1200-1259), a Benedictine monk of St. Alban’s Abbey, said of the beast, “We believe that this was the only elephant ever seen in England.” He drew the animal twice; the illustration posted here shows the elephant being fed by its keeper, “Henricus de Flor.”

In 1258, about three years after it began its captivity in the Tower, the elephant died—apparently the result of being given too much red wine to drink. Additionally, the chilly climate and cramped quarters likely did nothing to ensure the creature's longevity.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Household Ordinance of Edward II, 1318

Here's a fascinating glimpse into the daily comings and goings of the king's household. This ordinance (here considerably abridged) was drawn up at Edward's request by the steward, the chamberlain, the treasurer, and the comptroller of the wardrobe, to define the duties of the various officials and to establish needed reforms in the administration of the household.

The king should have a fit steward of the household, who, if he is a banneret,[2] is to have a knight, three squires, and a clerk for the pleas that pertain to the stewardship, [all of them] eating in the hall. And each night he shall receive for his chamber a sester of wine, twelve candles, two tortis pur viu,[3] and one torch, and more when he needs them. And [he is to have] bedding for the whole year and wood for the winter season — from the eve of All Saints to the eve of Easter — [to be obtained] from the usher of the hall. And [he is to have] a livery for his chamberlain: namely, a portion of bread, a gallon of ale, and a general serving (messe de gros) from the kitchen. And [he is to have] dinners and suppers when he wants them; and as fees 20m. a year, in equal instalments on the feasts of Christmas and Pentecost. And if he is a simple knight, he shall receive fees and robes like the other simple knights of the household, and shall have two squires and his clerk eating in the hall.

A treasurer of the wardrobe, who is to have a chaplain, a clerk, and two squires eating in the hall....[4]

A chamberlain, who, if he is a banneret, is to have a knight and three squires eating in the hall....

Item, a comptroller, who is to keep a counter-roll against the treasurer of the wardrobe for all receipts and issues pertaining to the same wardrobe; and he is to witness them in the exchequer in connection with the account of the said treasurer. And he shall attend the receipt of wines in gross and shall supervise all the offices of the household, such as the pantry, butlery, cellar, larder, spicery, dispensary of oats (avenerie) and other offices, [to see] that the wines and victuals that he finds in the said offices are good and suitable for dispensing in the said household.... And he is to go into those same offices every Monday to examine the remainders [of supplies] and to see that they, with the amounts dispensed in the past week, agree with the receipts of the aforesaid week. And he shall be in the kitchen for the cutting of meat and the division of fish.... And every day, if he sees reasonable cause, he shall be present at the account,[5] together with the steward and the treasurer. And this same comptroller of the wardrobe is to have a clerk and a squire eating in the hall....

Item, a cofferer, who shall be appointed for the treasurer and shall have a clerk eating in the hall....

Item, two clerks of the counting table, well able to write and perform all duties touching the wardrobe and its account under the [direction of the] cofferer....

Item, a fit clerk keeper of the privy seal, who is to have a squire eating in the hall....[6]

Item, a clerk purveyor of the great wardrobe,[7] who should sleep on guard when he is at court. And he shall have a squire eating in the hall....

Item, a clerk of the spicery, chief usher of the wardrobe, who shall receive from the clerk purveyor of the great wardrobe the wax, napery, linen, cloth, canvas, spices, and the other things of all sorts that pertain to his office, [and this] by indenture expressly mentioning price, yardage, weight, and cost.[8] And he shall cause to be weighed the wax which the chandler is to have worked, and shall reweigh it after it has been worked. And he shall oversee and cause to be recorded by his under-clerk the liveries of chandlery made each day in the wardrobe, and on the next day he shall supervise the putting away of the torches, the great candles, and the mortars.[9] Each day he shall record the parcels of all sorts of things delivered and dispensed from his office, as counted since the day before, and he shall answer concerning them at the account of the household. And he shall oversee the carriages belonging to the wardrobe, as well for the coffers and other things of his office as for the beds of the wardrobe clerks which ought to be carried. And he shall make allowance in his roll for the carriage and transportation reasonably used in connection with the king's journeys....[10]

Item, a serjeant under-usher of the wardrobe, who shall live in the wardrobe, sleeping within its door to safeguard all the things inside it. And he shall be answerable if peril is incurred by his default. And he shall obtain from the offices the liveries for all men of the wardrobe, and he shall carry out their orders....

Item, a porter of the wardrobe, who shall carry the coffers and the other furnishings of the wardrobe to the carts, and shall load and unload them. And he shall be on the cart [while it is] on the road. And at night, if the cart is outdoors wandering through the country, he shall remain on watch....

Item, a squire fruiterer, who shall receive and take from the clerk of the spicery confections and other spiceries, and figs and grapes for the king's mouth. And each day he shall record for the said clerk what has been expended on the previous day: as well the said spiceries and fruit, thus received from the said clerk, as apples, pears, cherries, and other fruits which the said fruiterer shall purvey....

Item, a serjeant chandler, who shall receive the wax and candlewicks by weight from the clerk of the spicery, and shall have them worked according to the assize contained in the statute....[11]

Item, a confessor of the king and his companion....[12]

Item, a chief chaplain, who is to have a squire eating in the hall ... and five chaplains ... and six clerks....

Item, an almoner chaplain, who is to have a squire eating in the hall....[13]

Item, a physician....

Item, a surgeon....

Item, a clerk of the market, coroner of the king's household, who shall enforce the assize of bread, wine, and ale; also the assize of all sorts of measures, weights, and yards within the verge of our lord the king's presence. And he shall have wrongdoers who have broken the assize, or who are found with false measures, punished by imposition or fine....

Item, the king shall have a squire inspector and keeper of viands for his mouth, and an inspector of his table; also a squire to carve before the king and a squire to serve him with his cup....

Item, the king shall have two squires ushers of the chamber, one of whom shall be serjeant purveyor of wood and bedding for the office of the chamber.... And the serjeant purveyor shall have a servingman to help him in making purveyance....

Item, eight footmen of the chamber, who shall serve in the chamber making beds, holding and carrying torches, and [doing] various other things according to the commands of the king's chamberlain....

Item, the king is to have thirty serjeants-at-arms, properly armed and mounted ..., who shall daily ride armed before the king's person while he is journeying through the country, unless they have other commands from the king or the steward....

Item, a knight chief usher of the hall, who shall have charge of the door of the hall, [seeing] that it is well kept by the serjeants and valets of the usher, as is fit. And he shall take care that the hall is well and honourably served, and that no one eats there except those who rightfully should, saving always that strangers are received and honoured as they ought to be. And each day he should enter and inspect the offices of the household, [to see] that the things sent by the purveyors are sufficient according to the purchase, and that no one is permitted in the same offices except those who ought to be there. And he shall have a squire eating in the hall....

Item, two serjeants ushers of the hall, of whom one shall be purveyor of wood and of bedding for the service of the hall.[14]...

Item, two knights marshals of the hall, of whom one shall have charge of lodgings and the other shall be on duty in the hall....

Item, two serjeants marshals of the hall, of whom one shall have charge of lodgings and the other shall be on duty in the hall....

Item, a serjeant overseer of the sideboard for the hall, who is to advise concerning the places that he serves, according as persons of high estate and others may be seated in the hall....[15]

Item, a chief clerk of the pantry and butlery, who ought to keep the records of his office. And he is to respond each day at the account of the household.... He shall be present at the receipt of bread, wine, and ale; and he shall inspect and examine [them, to see] that they are of the proper weight, measure, and value....[16]

Item, a serjeant chief pantler, who shall receive the bread in gross by view of the clerk or the under-clerk, and shall each day be answerable to the chief clerk for the enrolment of what has been dispensed....[17]

Item, a serjeant pantler for the king's mouth, who each day shall receive from the great pantry the bread for the king and for his chamber, and for no other place....[18]

Item, a waferer, who shall serve the king, the hall, and the chamber with wafers, as pertains to him....

Item, a serjeant baker, who shall bake all sorts of bread for dispensing in the king's household — as well round loaves for all the commonalty as demeine loaves for the king's mouth....[19]

Item, a serjeant naperer, who shall perform his office in the king's chamber and in the hall. And he shall receive the napery from the clerk of the spicery and shall be responsible for it at the account whenever he is asked....[20]

Item, a ewerer for the chamber, who shall perform his office in the said chamber....[21]

Item, a launderer for the king's chamber, who shall wash all sorts of linen cut for the king's body ...[22] and the covers used in the service of the chamber....

Item, a launderer of napery, who shall wash all sorts of cut linen pertaining to the said office of napery, and the covers from offices connected with the hall....

Item, a chief butler, serjeant purveyor of wines.... And he shall do that which pertains to him according to the content of the statute concerning his office below.[23]

Item, a serjeant butler of the household, who shall receive and dispense all wine and ale that are dispensed in the household....

Item, a serjeant butler for the king, who shall receive from the butler of the household all the wine and ale that are dispensed in the king's chamber....[24]

Item, a chief clerk of the kitchen, who ought to make the enrolments pertaining to his office. And every day at the account in the wardrobe before the steward and the treasurer he shall be responsible for the parcels delivered [in the kitchen] and for all other matters pertaining to his office. And he shall be present at the cutting of meat and the division of fish. And he shall oversee the purchase and the cost of meat and fish and of all other things pertaining to his office, with the aid of the comptroller, the knight usher of the hall or the knight marshal, and the sewer of the king's table....[25]

Item, two serjeants cooks for the king's mouth....[26]

Item, two serjeants cooks for the hall....

Item, a serjeant larderer, who shall receive the meat and fish that the buyers cause to be brought to the larder, or which comes as a present; also the venison which comes thither from the king's huntsmen or from any other source. And he shall deliver the aforesaid meat and fish to be dispensed for the household in parcels, and [this] under the inspection of the comptroller, the knight usher of the hall or the knight marshal of the hall, the clerk of the kitchen, the sewer of the king's table, and the chief cook. And he shall keep the food on the sideboard and each day he shall give to the said clerk a record of the parcels of the aforesaid meat and fish dispensed in the manner aforesaid....[27]

Item, a serjeant poulterer, who shall attend to purchases and purveyance of all sorts of things pertaining to his office....[28]

Item, a serjeant of the scullery, who shall buy and purvey wood, charcoal, and all sorts of vessels of brass, iron, and wood that belong to the kitchen; also the pots and various other things pertaining to his office....[29]

Item, a [second] serjeant of the scullery, who shall receive the silver vessels from the wardrobe by number and weight ..., and shall keep them and be responsible for them by number and weight in the same wardrobe at the end of the year....

Item, a serjeant of the saucery, who shall buy and purvey flour for all manner of sauces and other things needed for the office of the saucery and the king's household....[29]

Item, a serjeant porter, who shall guard the door where the king sleeps, so that none may enter except those who by right should do so....[29]

Item, a chief clerk of the marshalsea....[30]

(French) Tout, Edward II in English History, pp. 270 f.


[1] On the general significance of the document, see Tout, Place of Edward II in English History, ch. v, and Chapters in Mediaeval Administrative History, II, pp. 242 f.
[2] The banneret, as opposed to the simple knight or bachelor, had the right to bear a square pennon on his lance.
[3] Large candles "for view (? display)"; see Oxford English Dictionary under tortis. Henceforth the expression will be translated merely as "great candles."
[4] All the greater officials received liveries similar to that of the steward, but with considerable variation in the particular items. Besides, each normally had his own chamberlain, who was entitled to food and drink.
[5] Drawn up in the wardrobe; see no. 52C.
[6] Also four under-clerks with liveries.
[7] See above, p. 171, n. 8.
[8] This was a newly established reform, as is explained in the next paragraph of the text.
[9] Bowls of oil with floating wicks. [10] Also an under-clerk to assist him.
[11] I.e., a separate ordinance dealing with these matters. Two serving-men under the chandler worked the wax.
[12] With four horses and three grooms.
[13] Also a clerk and a serving-man.
[14] Under the serjeants were two serving-men; under the knight was a sewer, who had charge of setting the table.
[15] He was assisted by two squires sewers, who served the meals in the hall. Besides, twenty-four squires were on duty in the hall, to carry out the commands of the high officials.
[16] Also an under-clerk, who kept tallies for all bread, wine, and ale received.
[17] Also a serving-man and two porters.
[18] Assisted by a serving-man for the chamber, and one for the rest of the household.
[19] Cf. above, p. 66, n. 3. The baker was assisted by two serving-men, one for the oven and the other for the mill.
[20] Also a serving-man.
[21] Also a serving-man, who acted as ewerer for the hall.
[22] This portion of the text is very corrupt.
[23] A separate ordinance added at the end of the survey.
[24] Also enumerated in the service of the butlery: a serving-man of the cuphouse two drawers of ale and wine, a purveyor of ale, two serving-men of the pitcher-house, and two porters.
[25] As assistants he had an under-clerk and two buyers, who were to give money or tallies for anything taken by purveyance.
[26] Under each pair of cooks were five serving-men.
[27] Under him were an usher of the larder and two porters.
[28] Three serving-men assisted him in obtaining poultry and preparing it for the kitchen.
[29] Also two serving-men.
[30] Here the text gives a detailed account of all the services connected with the king's stables. The chief clerk, assisted by a purveyor of oats, had charge of all records pertaining to the office, including tallies given for oats, hay, straw, harness, etc. The actual care of the king's horses — palfreys, chargers, pack-horses, draught-horses, etc. — devolved on two serjeants harbingers and three serjeants marshals, under whom were numerous serving-men, porters, and grooms. The record then describes the officers in charge of the king's hunting, fishing, and fowling, and lists his trumpeters, musicians, messengers, and archers. It ends with a group of particular ordinances to regulate the duties of the chief butler, the arrangement of lodgings for the court, the daily account in the wardrobe, the exclusion from the household of undesirable persons, and many other matters.

Sources of English constitutional history: a selection of documents from A.D. 600 to the present, eds. Carl Stephenson & Frederick George Marcham, Cornell University. Harper & Row, 1937, ch. 57.

Coronation of Edward II, 25 February 1308

Example of a 14th-century coronation

The Oath:

The archbishop of Canterbury put the questions before the king was crowned; and, after he had given his oral responses, he personally swore on the altar that he would keep all his promises.

"Sire, will you grant and keep and by your oath confirm to the people of England the laws and customs given to them by the previous just and god-fearing kings, your ancestors, and especially the laws, customs, and liberties granted to the clergy and people by the glorious king, the sainted Edward, your predecessor?" "I grant and promise them."

"Sire, will you in all your judgments, so far as in you lies, preserve to God and Holy Church, and to the people and clergy, entire peace and concord before God?" "I will preserve them."

"Sire, will you, so far as in you lies, cause justice to be rendered rightly, impartially, and wisely, in compassion and in truth?" "I will do so."

"Sire, do you grant to be held and observed the just laws and customs that the community of your realm shall determine, and will you, so far as in you lies, defend and strengthen them to the honour of God?" "I grant and promise them."

(French) Statutes of the Realm, I, 168

Edward II's coronation oath demonstrates the barons' distrust of Edward from the beginning. Edward was thus compelled to accept an addition to his coronation oath in which the king swore that he would observe 'the rightful laws and the customs which the community of the realm shall determine.' The interpretation of the oath has led to much debate concerning who constituted the 'community of the realm' and how it was to choose or decide.

In their declaration at Boulogne in January 1309, the barons quoted the controversial clause of the coronation oath to reinforce their demand that Gaveston be exiled—the king they said being bound by his oath to obey their decision. I suspect the enemies of Gaveston knew full well they had an ace up their sleeve with these new provisions in the coronation oath. They need only await the proper moment to make their demands. The moment was not long in coming.

'The doctrine of capacity' declared that homage was not due to the king in person but only to the crown as an institution. The Declaration distinguished between the person and the office of ruler to justify violent opposition to one if it was in the best interests of the other, and stressed the barons' loyalty to the crown.

The Ceremony and Banquet:

The Pauline annalist, claiming to be an eyewitness, gives a vivid impression of Edward’s coronation ceremony. According to his story there was some problem about the barons’ carrying of the regalia of St. Edward by virtue of their “ancient service,” since these were relics that only clergy should handle. As for the choice of Gaveston to carry the crown, this predictably aroused indignation among laymen and clerics alike. The press of people was so great that a strongly constructed internal plaster wall collapsed, bringing down in its wake the high altar together with the royal staging, and crushing to death a certain knight, John de Bakewell, who on account of his reputation as an “enemy” of the monastery was accorded little sympathy by the chronicler. In consequence the ceremonies were concluded with irreverant haste.

The same source records that the subsequent banquet, which continued late into the night, was likewise mismanaged. There was a superabundance of food but insufficient supervision of its distribution. Worse still, the banquet gave occasion for conflict. Gaveston sought to outshine the king himself by appearing in purple garments resplendent with pearls. One of the earls wished to reprove him in public but was urged not to spoil the feast by creating a disturbance. Their day would come, he was told. As for the queen’s uncles, perceiving that the king preferred Gaveston’s couch to that of the queen they returned with great indignation to France.

Haines, King Edward II. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2003, p. 55

Monday, January 7, 2008

Last Testament of Joan, "Fair Maid of Kent," 1328-1385

Beauty is as perennial as the grass, and just as transitory...

Joan of Kent [1328-1385], commonly called the "Fair Maid of Kent," was the daughter of Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent, the latter who was executed by Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella for his alleged role in the plot to restore his half-brother, the deposed Edward II. Joan's marital history seems to confirm the fact that men, or rather certain men, found her simply irresistible. Joan's second marriage to William Montacute, earl of Salisbury, was declared bigamous after Thomas de Holand, returning from military service overseas, discovered that Montacute had taken advantage of his absence and appropriated his wife. The Pope ordered Joan returned to her rightful husband. Having perhaps learned an important lesson in matrimonial politics, Joan waited until Thomas was actually dead to marry husband number three: Edward, "the Black Prince," eldest son of Edward III. Whatever Joan may have thought of the interlude in her marriage to the earl of Kent, she nonetheless chose to be buried next to him.

Dugdale, in his Baronage (2:117), says "that in 8 Richard II [1384], the King being young, and guided by ill council, conspired the death of the Duke [John of Gaunt], but that having private intimation thereof from one of them who were of the plot, he [Gaunt] retired to his castle at Pontefract and used the best means he could, by manning and victualling it, to stand upon his guard. Likewise, that the Princess Joane [mother to the King], discerning the ill consequence which might be of this breach, though she was very corpulent, spared neither for pains nor charge in journeying too [sic.] and fro, till she had made a perfect reconciliation betwixt them."

This reconciliation was Joan's final act of diplomacy. Dugdale here cites a passage from the Chronicon Angliae of Thomas Walsingham, a Benedictine monk of St. Alban's. Walsingham remarks that Joan was "devoted to pleasure, and so fat from eating she could scarcely walk." Walsingham was not an unbiased witness of the habits and peculiarities of the Plantagenets: vitriolic in his condemnation of Gaunt, he may have granted himself license in his description of the middle-aged Joan, but his literal meaning cannot be misconstrued. Nonetheless, it is difficult to imagine that, in her 57th and final year, Joan could still be seen as a ravishing beauty--even by medieval standards. A lifetime of fine dining may well have faded her bloom.


In the year of our Lord 1385, and of the reign of my dear son Richard, King of England and France, the 9th; at my Castle of Walyngford, in the Diocese of Salisbury, the 7th of August, I Joan Princess of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Countess of Chester, and Lady Wake. My body to be buried in my chapel at Stanford, near the monument of our late lord and husband, the Earl of Kent. To my dear son the King, my new bed of red velvet, embroidered with ostrich feathers of silver, and heads of leopards of gold with boughs and leaves issuing out of their mouths. To my dear son Thomas Earl of Kent, my bed of red camak [sic.] paled with red and rays of gold. To my dear son John Holland, a bed of red camak. And I appoint the Venerable Father in Christ, my dear friend and cousin, Robert Bishop of London; William Bishop of Winchester; John Lord Cobham; William de Beauchamp, William de Nevill, Simon de Burlee, Lewis Clifford, Richard Atterbury, John Clanvow, Richard Stury, John Worthe, steward of my lands, and John le Vache, Knights; together with my dear chaplains, William de Fulburn and John de Yernemouth; and my loving esquires, William de Harpele, and William Norton, my executors. Witnessed by the Prior of Walyngforde and John James. Proved 9th December 1385.

Testamenta Vetusta, Being Illustrations from Wills, of Manners, Customs, &c., vol. 1, pp. 13-14. Nicholas Harris Nicolas, Barrister at Law, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. London: Nichols & Son, 1826.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Description of Henry II

Peter of Blois: Description of Henry II, 1177

To Walter, by the grace of God archbishop of Palermo, once associate, now lord and dearest friend in Christ, Peter of Blois sends greeting and wished continual success of your desires.

[Lengthy religious preamble snipped]

Since however you have demanded from me with all insistence that I should send to you the shape and habits of the lord king of England in an accurate description - which exceeds my faculties, and for which indeed the vein of Mantuan genius would seem insufficient enough - I nevertheless will communicate to you what I know without envy and detraction.

About David it was said [I Kings 16] to the commendation of his beauty, that he was red-haired; however you will know that the lord king has been red-haired so far, except that the coming of old age and gray hair has altered that color somewhat. His height is medium, so that neither does he appear great among the small, nor yet does he seem small among the great. His head is round, just as if the seat of great wisdom, and specially a shrine of lofty counsel. Such is the size of his head, that so it matches with his neck and with the whole body in proportionate moderation. His eyes are round, and white and plain, while he is of calm spirit; but in anger and disorder of heart they shine like fire and flash in fury. His hair is not in fear of the losses of baldness, nevertheless on top there is a tonsure of hairs; his leonine face is rather square. The eminence of his nose is weighed to the beauty of the whole body with natural moderation; curved legs, a horseman's shins, broad chest, and a boxer's arms all announce him as a man strong, agile and bold; nevertheless, in a certain joint of his foot the part of the toenail is grown into the flesh of his foot, to the vehement outrage of the whole foot. His hands testify grossly to the same neglect of his men; truly he neglects their care all the time; nor at any time, unless carrying birds, does he use gloves. Daily in mass, in counsels and in other public doings of the realm always from morning until vespers he stands on his feet. And, he never sits, unless riding a horse or eating, although he has shins greatly wounded and bruised with frequent blows of horses' hooves. In a single day, if necessary, he can run through four or five day-marches and, thus foiling the plots of his enemies, frequently mocks their plots with surprise sudden arrivals; he wears boots without a fold, caps without decoration, light apparel. He is a passionate lover of woods; while not engaged in battles, he occupies himself with birds and dogs. For in fact his flesh would weigh him down enormously with a great burden of fat, if he did not subdue the insolence of his belly with fasts and exercise; and also in getting onto a horse, preserving the lightness of youth, he fatigues almost every day the most powerful for the labor. Truly he does not, like other kings, linger in his palace, but traveling through the provinces he investigates the doings of all, judging powerfully those whom he has made judges of others. No one is more cunning in counsel, more fiery in speech, more secure in the midst of dangers, more cautious in fortune, more constant in adversity. Whom once he has esteemed, with difficulty he unloves them; whom once he has hated, with difficulty he receives into the grace of his familiarity. Always are in his hands bow, sword, spear and arrow, unless he be in council or in books. As often as he is able to rest from cares and anxieties, he occupies himself by reading alone, or in a crowd of clerics he labors to untangle some knot of inquiry. For while your king knows his letters well, our king is more literate by far. Truly I have judged the abilities of both in learned matters. You know that the king of Sicily was my student for a year, and had had from you the basic arts of versification and literature; he obtained more benefit of knowledge through my industry and solicitude. However as soon as I had departed the kingdom, that one turned himself over to abject books in imperial leisure. But yet in the household of the lord king of the English every day is school, in the constant conversation of the most literate and discussion of questions. No one is more honest in speech than our king, more polite in eating, more moderate in drinking; no one is more magnificent in gift-giving, no one more munificent in alms-giving: and therefore his name is like poured oil, and the entire church of saints describes the alms of such a one. Our king is peaceable, victorious in war, glorious in peace: he is zealous for the things to be desired in this world and he procures peace for his people. He considers whatever pertains to the peace of the people, in whatever he speaks, in whatever he does; so that his people may rest, he incessantly takes on troubled and enormous labors. It aims to the peace of his people that he calls councils, that he makes laws, that he makes friendships, that he brings low the proud, that he threatens battles, that he launches terror to the princes. Also that immensity of money aims at the peace of his people, which he gives out, which he receives, which he gathers, which he disperses. In walls, in ramparts, in fortifications, in ditches, in enclosures of wild beasts and fish, and in palaces there is no one more subtle, and no one more magnificent to be found.

His most powerful and most noble father the count [of Anjou] extended his borders greatly; but the king added to his paternal lands with abundance in his strong hands the duchy of Normandy, the duchy of Brittany, the kingdom of England, the kingdom of Scotland, the kingdom of Ireland, the kingdom of Wales; he increased inestimably the titles of his magnificent inheritance. No one is more mild to the afflicted, no one more friendly to the poor, no one more unbearable to the proud; he always strives to oppress the proud with the semblance of divinity, to raise up the oppressed, and to stir up against swelling of pride continual persecutions and deadly troubles. When however he may according to the custom of the kingdom have had roles in making elections of most important and most powerful, he nevertheless always had his hands pure and free from all venality. I merely touch upon, I will not describe these and other endowments of soul as much as body, with which nature has marked him out before others; truly I confess my insufficiency and would believe that Cicero and Virgil themselves would sweat under such a labor. I have briefly tasted this little morsel of his appearance and habits at your request; truly I shall seem either to have undertaken an unbearable work, or to have cut back much about the magnificence of so great a man through jealousy. Nevertheless I, serving your charity, do what I can do, and what I know without envy and without detraction, I communicate with most prompt good will, and also among other great men, who write in praise of my lord, I put my might of devotion in a treasure chest along with the poor widow.

Because however you asked about the death of the blessed martyr Thomas, I say in the word of the Lord and in the order of deacon to you, that in conscience I believe in no way that the king was guilty of this thing; and the most complete confirmation of this the lord Theodinus, bishop of San Vitale and the lord Albert the chancellor [the future Pope Gregory VIII] will make to you, who because of this matter investigated in our regions performing the office of legate; they confirmed the innocence of the man: and also they will assure you that this deed was done by certain men under his shadow, that all this iniquity came out from the sanctuary. For in fact, the canonical purgation having been accepted by them, they pronounced a judgment publicly by order of the highest pontiff, that he was free of this crime before God and men, and they bent back the mark of infamy on those very magnates, whose malice they had clearly proven in this matter.

Also you will have learned that the lord king has made the glorious martyr his chief patron in all his needs. For in fact on the very day when he first visited the tomb of the martyr, he subjected the king of Scots, persecutor and attacker most strong in prison chains. Thereafter he has triumphed most gloriously with the continual favor of successes by the help of the martyr over all his enemies. You know therefore most certainly what kind of love it was, by which once king and martyr loved each other mutually, which neither death nor the sword has abolished: For "love is strong as death"; [Song of Solomon 8:6] and while everything passes away, "love never faileth." [I Corinthians 13:8] This is the beautiful gate, which remained whole and intact in the destruction of Jerusalem; and while all is destroyed in death, love does not perish in death, to whose strength death itself succumbs.

Indeed the kingdom of England, which he won by the sweat of war from King Stephen, most strong in arms, although but a youth and of no account, his sons, with the counsel and aid of the neighboring princes, have thrown into confusion by grave sedition. That one however, destitute of his men, and attacked by foreigners, with the martyr helping him, in whose virtue one alone has put to flight ten thousand, prevailed over all, and the Lord delivered into his hands his enemies, "To bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron". [Psalm 149:8] That one therefore, who turned the hearts of the sons toward their father, himself stirred up or sent filial and devoted affection to the sons of our king; may he himself establish the seat of our father for a long time, and may he bring peace. For I know that if they stir up wars against their parents, the Lord will mow them down. For by the judgment and fatal law of God it is sanctified, that whenever they presume to assault that one from their own blood with wars, he will not even have half his days. This however we read in the book of experience now about many people, and we know it by visible proof.

Peter of Blois: Description of Henry II [Letter no. 66: to Walter, archbishop of Palermo, 1177]. Translated by Scott McLetchie.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Matilda (Maud) the Empress, 1102-1167

To Thomas [Becket] archbishop of Canterbury, Matilda the empress. 1165.

My lord Pope sent to me, enjoining me, for the remission of my sins, to interfere to renew peace and concord between you and the king, my son, and to try to reconcile you to him. You, as you well know, have asked the same thing from me; wherefore, with the more goodwill, for the honour of God and the Holy church, I have begun and carefully treated of that affair. But it seems a very hard thing to the king, as well as to his barons and council, seeing he so loved and honoured you, and appointed you lord of his whole kingdom and of all his lands, and raised you to the highest honours in the land, believing he might trust you rather than any other; and especially so, because he declares that you have, as far as you could, roused his whole kingdom against him; nor was it your fault that you did not disinherit him by main force. Therefore I send to you my faithful servant, Archdeacon Laurence, that by him I may know your will in these affairs, and what sort of disposition you entertain towards my son, and how you intend to conduct yourself, if it should happen that he fully grants my petition and prayer on your behalf. One thing I plainly tell you, that you cannot recover the king's favour, except by great humility and most evident moderation. However, what you intend to do in this matter signify to me by my messenger and your letters.

Wood, M.A.E. (ed.), Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain (1846), v. 1 letter 4.

Will of Henry II of England, 1133-1189

Henry, by the grace of God, King of England, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Anjou, to King Henry, to Richard, Geoffrey, and John, my sons, to Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, Archdeacons, Deans, Earls, Barons, Justices, Sheriffs, &c. and all other my faithful subjects, as well clerks and laymen of my territories, within and beyond the seas, greeting. Know ye, that at Waltham, in the presence of R. Bishop of Winchester; J. Bishop of Norwich; G. Chancellor, my son; Master Walter de Constantiis, Archdeacon of Oxford; Godfrey de Lucy, Archdeacon of Derby; Ralph de Glanville; Hugh de Morewic; Ralph fitz Stephen, Chamberlain; and William Rufo; I have made division of some part of my money in this manner: To ---, &c. To the religious houses of England MMMMM marks of silver, to be distributed by the hands of R Archbishop of Canterbury; R Bishop of Winchester; G. Bishop of Ely; and J. Bishop of Norwich; and Ralph de Glanville, Justiciar of England.To the religious houses of the land of the Earl of Anjou, my father, M marks of silver; towards the marriage of poor and free women of Normandy wanting aid C marks of gold, to be distributed by the Archbishop of Rouen, and the Bishops of Bayeaux, Avaranches, Sagiensis. Toward the marriage of poor and free women of the land of my father, the Earl of Anjou, C marks of gold, to be distributed by the Bishops of Main and Anjou. This distribution I have made at the place before written, in the year of the Incarnation 1182. And I charge you, my sons, by the fealty you owe me, and the oath ye have sworn to me, that ye cause it to be firmly and inviolably kept; and whoever shall oppose or contravene it, may he incur the indignation and anger of Almighty God, and mine and God's malediction. And I command you, the Archbishops and Bishops, by the oath ye have sworn to me, and the fealty ye owe to me and to God, that ye solemnly, in your Synods, with lighted candles, excommunicate, and cause to be excommunicated, all such as may presume to infringe my distribution. And know ye that our Lord the Pope has confirmed this my distribution, under his hand and seal, on pain of anathema.

Testamenta Vetusta, Being Illustrations from Wills, of Manners, Customs, &c., vol. 1, pp. 1-4. Nicholas Harris Nicolas, Barrister at Law, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. London: Nichols & Son, 1826.

Geoffrey V of Anjou

Founder of the House of "Plantagenet"

This surname comes from the Latin, "planta genista." Dynasty founder Geoffrey V, count of Anjou [1113-1151], had, according to tradition, the habit of wearing a broom sprig in his helmet, whence the French variant, Plantegenet, arose. Later traditions, equally unverifiable, claim that Geoffrey, in penitence for some unknown sin, scourged himself with branches from a broom plant. His descendants inherited the crown of England through his wife, Matilda, daughter of Henry I.

Geoffrey died suddenly on September 7, 1151. According to John of Marmoutier, Geoffrey was returning from a royal council when he was stricken with fever. He arrived at Château-du-Loir, collapsed on a couch, made bequests of gifts and charities, and died. He was buried at St. Julien's Cathedral in Le Mans France.

The useage of "Plantegenet" as a surname is not credited to any of Geoffrey's direct descendants until circa 1448, when Richard, duke of York, assumed it [The Complete Peerage, XII/2:905, note g].

Geoffrey's funerary plaque, 25''×13'', is made of enamel on gilt copper (see image above). The technique, known as Limoges enamel, originated around 1100 near Limoges, and consists of a copper plaque into which compartments have been gouged out and filled with ground glass of various colors, which is then heated to fuse the glass into enamel, and finally polished. Located in the Tessé museum in Le Mans, the plaque comes originally from the cathedral of Saint-Julien. It is not certain where the plaque was placed in the monument, the best guess is that it was hung on a wall above the tomb itself. The plaque, on stylistic grounds, can be dated to the period of the tomb, ca 1150-55.

Pastoureau, Michel: 'The use of heraldry in Limousin enamels," in John P. O'Neill et al. (eds.), Enamels of Limoges, 1100-1350. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996.

See also Geoffrey H. White's article, "The Plantagenet enamel at Le Mans," found in The Complete Peerage, vol. XI, appendix G, pps. 133-142.