23 January, 2018

Edward II's Bodyguard (Or, Lots of Men Called John)

Edward II had a personal bodyguard, garde corps le Roi, of eight archers on foot, who in July 1326 were said in Edward's chamber account to have remained "near the king at all times when he works." (Edward worked? Who knew?) The archers' names in 1326 were: Grenow or Grenowe ap Rynyt (who was obviously Welsh; this was an English scribe's best approximation at rendering his name), Adam Bullock, Henry Lynel, no fewer than four Johns - Staynbourne, Gift, Brikhull and Horwode - and Gibbe Coston, whose name sometimes appears as Gibbe de la Cros or atte Cros, i.e. 'at the cross'. Gibbe was a nickname for men called Gilbert. There's fourteenth-century England for you - eight men, and half of them were called John. It always make me laugh when I see novels set in England in medieval times that give their characters weirdly exotic names. Let's face it, if you're being at all realistic, your hero is called John and your heroine is called Joan. The most 'exotic' and rare name borne by an Englishman I've ever seen in Edward II's accounts is one of his chamber vadletz: Jordan or Jurdan de Maydenhuth, i.e. 'of Maidenhead'. The name Jordan looks oddly modern to me, but he pops up quite a lot in Edward's accounts of 1324/25 and left the king's service in 1325 to become a parker, and Edward once gave his daughter a generous gift of cash. I'm also looking at this precise moment at a list of twenty-five sailors who took Edward II from Gravesend in Kent to the Tower of London in June 1326, and ten - yes, ten - of them are called John. Five are called Robert, two are Thomas, two are Richard and two are Will. One appears to be called Malin, so that's nice.

But I digress. In May 1326, Edward II spent a total of eight shillings on worsted cloth so that each of his eight archers could have cotes (tunics) made for themselves. The following month, he paid thirty shillings for linen cloth to make chaus (hose) and soulers (shoes) for his eight archers. This last gift was said to be a thank-you gift for the men's good work in "running well and fast with the king in the hot weather." That's a very interesting entry, as it confirms what two chroniclers say: that the summer of 1326 in England was terribly hot, and that there was a drought, rivers dried up, and spontaneous 'conflagrations' broke out in towns and abbeys. Edward II changed his location most days, or at least every few days, with only a handful of exceptions such as spending 20 March to 29 April 1326 at Kenilworth in Warwickshire. As the archers were on foot, that meant that when the king rode from place to place with his household, they had to run, in front of and around Edward. Several times a week or even every day, running a dozen or twenty or twenty-five miles or whatever. Just imagine how fit they must have been, and no wonder the king had to keep buying them shoes. Sometimes in Edward's accounts, he pays men called corours, 'runners', to carry his letters or oral messages. Otherwise, the bearers of the letters are just called 'messengers'. Evidently the corours were particularly fast runners.

In Edward II's Household Ordinance of December 1318, it states that he was meant to have no fewer than twenty-four archers "who will go before the king when travelling around the country" and who would each earn three pence a day. In 1326, the king definitely only had one-third of the complement of archers he was meant to have, though there were hobelars (armed men on horseback) around him as well, not to mention his household knights and sergeants-at-arms, all of whom had considerable military training. The number of household knights varied but was usually several dozen, and Edward was also meant to have, according to the 1318 Household Ordinance, thirty sergeants-at-arms, who "shall ride armed every day before the king's person when travelling around the country." So that's thirty sergeants-at-arms, or however many of them happened to be at court at any given time, riding in front of the king, plus the eight archers running alongside him or also in front. I've also found the names of nine squires of his chamber in 1325/26, not to mention ushers and the like. So it's not as though he was ever left unguarded. The Household Ordinance also states that Edward was meant to have only eight chamber vadletz, though between 1324 and 1326 he had at least twenty-four and sometimes as many as thirty-three, so I suppose he just hired whatever staff he felt like. The chamber vadletz, incidentally, were also said to be "on foot" in the 1318 Household Ordinance and hence also had to run from place to place, unless they could cadge lifts on some of the many carts transporting the king's goods around. The archers, like the vadletz, were one of the categories of royal staff paid out of the chamber, and their boss, other than the king himself, obviously, was the chamberlain, i.e. Hugh Despenser the Younger.

And that's just some of the chamber staff, which was only one part of the royal household. There were also marshals and sergeants and ushers of the hall, the king's higher-ranking staff like steward and controller who had their own staff, purveyors, clerks, cooks, grooms, porters, launderers, literally hundreds of others. Then there was the large (180 people or so) retinue of the queen, and of course the king never travelled alone and there would always have been a number of earls, barons, knights and bishops with him, each with their own retinue. Plus all the merchants, prostitutes, petitioners and so on who would have followed the royal household. Imagine the sight of all these thousands of people, hundreds or thousands of horses, hundreds of carts, making their way along the roads of fourteenth-century England several times a week in all weathers. Incredible.


Anonymous said...

Was "John" a desirable name for bodyguards (something like "Thomas" being the preferred name of Henry VIII's advisors)? Or, is there simply a universal lack of imagination -- such as the number of "William"s in the Montacute family or the
"Hugh"s in the Despenser clan?


Kathryn Warner said...

As I pointed out as well with the sailors, it was just an incredibly common name. There was a dearth of given names in fourteenth-century England.

sami parkkonen said...

Fantastic info!

When I was doing my research for my book project some sources said that the sergeants in kings retinue = kings sergeants had tremendous prestige. They were representing the king in person and as such no one, not even most noble barons, sheriffs etc. could push them around because that would have meant the same as pushing the king around. So basically those guys were like super NCO's.

I also tried to get some idea how big the royal household on the move was and it must have been one travelling circus. At least hundreds of men, perhaps even a thousand strong, plus the animals, the tents, wagons, everything the king might need. Queens own travelling show was about the half the size but imagine when they came knocking on your door: no matter what kind of a castle you had, you and your staff moved out and that horde moved in, because, it was the King and his crew.

Steve said...

Jordan was one of those names that you saw in the Middle Ages (the first Bishop of Poland, for instance, was named Jordan, and so was the head of the Dominicans after St. Dominic died), but then it just stopped being used as a first name until the 20th century.

Anonymous said...

It always makes me smile to think of Edward taking his lion to Bannockburn - he clearly didn't believe in travelling light.