Indentures and the King’s Army

Source: Wikipedia

Put simply, an indenture was a contract written in two identical parts and divided irregularly—or indented—so that both halves could be joined together in the future. This post is mainly concerned with indentures made between King Henry V and his nobles for the invasion of France.

Funding an army was an intricate operation.  An astonishing amount of paperwork has survived from the reign of Henry V, informing us of the exactitude practiced by the exchequer clerks. Several steps along the way guaranteed that every soldier was accounted for. But how were they paid?

For the most part, the king did not pay the soldiers directly. He would be responsible for his own household, as well as recruiting specialists such as gunners, 119 miners, 100 stonecutters, 120 carpenters and turners, 40 smiths, 60 waggoners, and the like (Anne Curry, 1415 Agincourt, p.71). For the rest, the nobles indented to bring a certain number of men-at-arms and archers with them. By now, the old feudal system had mutated into what many historians now call Bastard Feudalism, more of a fee-based agreement between the king and noble, or noble (I’ll call him the Captain) and his retainers (or retinue). For military service, the indenture might be drawn up for one year or less, depending on the plan of campaign. For the Agincourt campaign, the indentures were for twelve months.

So when the Captain applied his seal to the indenture, he was paid, up front, one half of the first quarter’s wages (the king having raised the money through taxes and loans). The second half of the first quarter would be paid at the muster, when the Exchequer’s officials actually counted the men to determine that everyone showed up. For the second quarter, because funds were short, the Captain was given jewels or some equivalent collateral to be redeemed at a future point (some were still outstanding in the reign of Henry VI). He was expected to pay the second quarter’s wages out of his pocket. The third quarter’s wages were supposed to be paid after six weeks of that quarter, and so on, though as the months progressed, things got a little messy.

But, as everyone knew, the real fortunes to be made would come from booty and, especially, ransoms. This, too, had a very specific breakdown. For anything worth more than ten marks, the Captain was entitled to a third share from every man in his retinue, regardless of rank. The king took a third part of the Captain’s gains, and a third of a third from each soldier and archer. Prisoners of certain rank, like dukes, would automatically get turned over to the king, and the soldier would expect some sort of compensation.

Men were recruited in a three-to-one ratio: three archers to each man-at-arms. The latter included earls, bannerets, and knights. The earls, knights, etc. that were recruited by the great dukes would in turn recruit the men-at-arms and archers. From what I can gather, many servants doubled as archers, but not all. Some household servants were directly paid by their masters, and were not in receipt of military wages. Those numbers are unknown. The greater the noble, the larger his contribution. The Duke of Clarence, Henry’s brother, indented for one earl, two barons, 14 knights, 222 esquires, and 720 mounted archers. The Duke of Gloucester, the next brother, brought 800 men total. After that, the numbers fell considerably; York and Arundel brought 400 each, Suffolk 160 and Oxford 140. Many of the knights indented directly with the Exchequer for somewhere between 40 and 120. So there were many small indentures, all of which had to be accounted for. The men were counted on their return, as well, including those invalided home after Harfleur.

Wages were calculated on a daily basis. A duke earned 13s 4d, an earl would get 6s 8d, a baron 4s, a knight 2s. an esquire 12d, and an archer 6d—this at a time when a skilled craftsman earned between 3d and 5d per day. So the incentive for archers was high. The king was responsible for shipping to and from France, including horses, harnesses, and supplies—another huge expense, when it is calculated that over 25,000 horses were needed for this campaign.

Each of the king’s copies of the indentures was kept in a drawstring pouch at the Exchequer with the Captain’s name on it. Any documentation that accrued during the campaign was added to the bag, such as muster rolls and wage claims. What a pile that must have been! Interestingly, since the Agincourt campaign ended before the third quarter began and many had been invalided home, the accounting was considerably complex. Some men were left behind to garrison Harfleur, and of course, there were those who had died during the siege or had been killed in the battle. Ultimately, the king decided to fix the start and end dates of the campaign, and even determined to pay the men who had been killed the full amount. This generosity was not forgotten, at least by the yeomen. The nobles, on the other hand, who had paid the second quarter in full, were shortchanged by the king’s decision to end the campaign forty-eight days early.  It was left to them to petition Parliament for their loss. For some of the nobles, it was easier to compensate them with castles and land, and in some cases, admission to the Order of the Garter. Not everyone was happy, but who was going to complain to the hero of Agincourt?

The Anglo-Saxon Table

We can fill volumes with what we don’t know about what people ate in the Anglo-Saxon period. Forget about recipe books; we have to wait until Richard II’s reign for the first cookbook. Of course the Romans were way ahead of the game, and Apicius wrote several volumes about soups and sauces and the art of cookery. The oldest surviving manuscripts date back to the eighth and ninth centuries, though I suspect they were probably hidden away in some dusty monastery.

We must remember that the Norman Conquest marked a substantial change in customs, habits, and even access to provisions. By access, I mean the forest laws, imposed by William the Conqueror to protect his hunting animals and vegetation that supported those animals. This had to have come as quite a shock to the natives, who were not used to being prohibited from catching their own game.

The Anglo-Saxon aristocrats hunted, of course, and even practiced falconry. King Edward the Confessor was said to have loved the hunt and indulged himself at every opportunity. So we know that wild birds found their way to the table (often roasted), as well as boar, deer, and fox. As far as domestic meat goes, the pig was the only farm animal that was used exclusively for food; they bore large litters and grew fast, and it is believed they were slaughtered as needed rather than certain times of year. Beef was mostly only eaten by the wealthy, and herds consisted mostly of cows for the milk. They were usually slaughtered in November and salted or smoked to last the winter; their hides were tanned for leather goods. Goats were kept for milk, chickens for eggs, and sheep for wool. These animals were usually slaughtered only when they were old or unproductive, or possibly for holiday meals. So the average Saxon was more likely to have a vegetarian diet, with rare exceptions.

Fruits were a big part of every diet; pears, apples, plums, cherries and berries were plentiful in season and were also used in cooking. Honey was used for sweetener, and all these items could be made into alcoholic beverages. As for vegetables, peas and beans were widely used, as well as mushrooms, onions, garlic, turnips, cabbage, parsnips, and even carrots (not orange—they were white or purple). These ingredients were often brewed in stews and pottages. In fact, I would say the pottage was the primary food for many Anglo-Saxons, along with bread made from grains such as barley, oats, and rye and mixed with ground beans and peas. Wheat bread was reserved for the upper classes. In the medieval period they called the grains corn, which was not to be confused with maize, an American “modern” crop.

Steward pouring drinks, Cotton MS Tiberius B V, f. 4v, British Library

Fish was an important staple on the Anglo-Saxon table, especially on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, feast days, Lent and most of Advent. Inland folk would have to purchase salted, pickled, or smoked fish which could last for months. Shell fish was very popular, like oysters, cockles, eel, crab, and lobster.

The Anglo-Saxon feast would have seemed quite boring to later medievalists. All the food was served at once on wooden platters. Guests were expected to bring their own knives, spoons, wooden bowls, and drinking vessels. The roasted meats would be placed on platters before the guests, and stews would be spooned into their bowls. Cheeses, breads, and fruits would be served in bowls or platters. The local bard would provide songs and story-telling—an important part of the feast. Meanwhile, mead and ale would be consumed in great quantities, and cider in the autumn. Most everything was dependent on the season, and autumn provided the greatest abundance of choices.

The Norwood line (Descendants of Harold Godwineson) – A Revisionist History PART 2


Click HERE for Part 1

Some Norwood online trees trace their genealogy directly back to Jordanus de Sheppey, and then to Harold Godwineson as his father, basing this on Marion Norwood Callum’s researches – that cannot be true. The chronology does not hold; court documents for Jordan’s wife and children make it clear that he had to have been born long after Harold Godwinson was dead at Hastings, indeed in 1135.

Grave of Harold Godwinson
Grave of Harold Godwinson

All of the uncertainty surrounding the descendants of King Harold could be removed if, like Richard III, his body could be found. In the case of Richard, apart from the physical description of the body and its location close to the battlefield etc., proof was found through the DNA of modern supposed descendants. There are many branches of the  Norwood family  who would be very happy to offer their DNA as proof, including our own! There is controversy however over its location. He had been a benefactor of Waltham Abbey where they claim that a body which was originally under the chancel and was moved later to outside of the Church is Harold II.  He has a marked grave in the church yard and the town celebrates his presence; there is at least one society that champions him. But academic opinion is not convinced.

The most detailed medieval account of his location comes from the Waltham Chronicle. The author describes how two canons from Waltham, Osgod Cnoppe and Aethelric Childemaister, accompanied Harold from Waltham to Hastings. After the battle, they asked permission to recover Harold’s body, which could only be identified by his “concubine”, (their pejorative term as clergymen- she was his “hand fast” wife, a recognised Anglo- Scandinavian status) Edith Swans Neck, who recognised “secret marks” on it (only known from their intimate relations.) From Hastings the body was brought to Waltham and buried under the floor of the church. This story was related to the author of the Chronicle when he was a boy, by the Sacristan Turketil, who claimed to have himself been a boy at Waltham when Harold arrived en route from Stamford Bridge, and later witnessed the interment of the king. The author himself claims to have seen Harold’s body being disinterred and moved twice during the rebuilding work which started in 1090.

After the defeat at Hastings, Edith was said to have retreated to Minster on Sheppey where she joined, according to some accounts a nunnery. This too has been challenged, as there was no scope for giving sanctuary as a nun to a prominent figure like Edith, and neither was there an existing community of nuns as the Church had been ruined during the actions by Earl Godwine against Edward the Confessor and therefore it was not in a fit state to serve either as a refuge, or a home for nuns who had already moved on by 1050. The site had a very sad history right through the Anglo Saxon period from the location of a monastery there in 664 through to the 11th century as a result of raids by Vikings. The payment of Danegeld did little to alleviate its suffering. As buildings were made of wattle and daub, they had little resistance to pillage, so by the time of Edward the Confessor in 1042, there was little of the Priory left, probably just a rough settlement around the remains of the Church, and even less after Godwine had done his worst. It is the case however that much later the Abbey was restored and became a priory accommodating wealthy “brides of Christ”.

Moreover, although Edith had some land in Sheppey, according to Domesday, and Thanet her major holdings were in  Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and East Anglia which was a more natural retreat – she has been linked for example to the foundation to our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk. But nothing is known for sure and some have speculated that she joined her sons and her husband’s second wife in the abortive attempts to resist Williams rule at Exeter and Bristol. Harold’s wife Aeditha ended her days in St Omer. Edith is said to have died in 1087 but there is no proof that this was in Sheppey.

The family dispersed after the Conquest. Only two members of the family were allowed to live undisturbed in England under Norman rule. Edward the Confessor’s widow Edith, daughter of Godwin, lived in retirement, remaining in possession of all her private lands, until her death in 1075. She was buried near her husband in Westminster Abbey.  Her niece Gunnhild, daughter of Harold Godwinson, was an inmate of the nunnery in Wilton until 1093, when she was abducted by Alan the Red, a Breton who held the lordship of Richmond. She lived with him, and then with his successor Alan the Black, after which she disappears from history.  The Alans’ goal was evidently to consolidate their hold on land taken from Edith Swans Neck by marrying her daughter.

In the aftermath of the battle of Hastings Godwin’s widow, Gytha, (mother of Harold II) by then in her sixties, withdrew to the south-west of England, where she held vast estates and where resistance to the Conquest was mounting. William the Conqueror turned his attention to crushing this resistance at the beginning of 1068, and laid siege to the city of Exeter, but Gytha had already fled, probably with her daughter Gunhild and Harold’s daughter Gytha, and taken refuge first on an island in the Bristol Channel, probably  Flat Holm, and then at Saint-Omer in Flanders.

The young sons of Harold, Godwine and Edmund, and possibly also their brother Magnus, may have been at the siege of Exeter; certainly they made their way to the court of King Diarmalt of Leinster in Ireland, from where they launched two unsuccessful raids against south-west England. Two of the sons, probably Godwin and Edmund, survived to join their relatives in Saint-Omer. From there the whole party seems to have proceeded to Denmark in the hope that its king, Sweyn II, would help them regain their position in England. Sweyn failed them in this, but after a few years he arranged an advantageous marriage for the younger Gytha with Vladimir Monomakh, Prince of Smolensk and later Grand Prince of Kiev. Their descendants intermarried with royal houses across Europe, and transmitted the blood of the Godwins to, among many others, the present Queens of Great Britain and Denmark.

Harold, the youngest and probably posthumous son of Harold Godwinson, was taken by his mother to Dublin, and later went to Norway, where he was welcomed by the king. In 1098 he was one of the men Magnus III Barelegs took with him on an expedition to Orkney, the Isle of Man and Anglesey; the target of this operation, Dublin, was left untouched as the Norwegians retreated home. No further mention of Harold appears in any source. Before passing  to the Jordanus connection, it is worth noting that one historian suggests that Alnod/Ulf stayed on in Normandy after being knighted by Robert and changed his name to Loup Fitz Heraut (Wulf, son of Harold) whose  signatures have been found in attestations in late 11C charters. Little is known about this knight.

Minster, Isle of Sheppy, an 1830 engraving that appeared in Ireland’s History of Kent.- Wikipedia

Assertions have been made that Alnod/Ulf lays buried in the Minster Abbey, Isle of Sheppey. There is no proof of this.  There are however many other Norwood burials in the Abbey,  beginning with Jordanus’ s grandson, Roger de Northwode, which are less contentious. Roger’s father, Sir Stephen de Norwood (Northwood) born c. 1165 built two manor houses, the manor on the Isle of Sheppey was known as “Norwood Manor” within Sheppey and a manor in the Parish of Milton was known as “Norwood without Sheppey” and also known as “Norwood Chasteners.” Stephen is recorded as a son of Jordan de Sheppey, and lived during the reigns of Richard I and King John, (1189 – 1216). His Isle of Sheppey manor was granted by the crown, his mansion was moated around and encompassed within a park, it was well wooded, and said to be stored with an abundance of deer and wild boars. Hence, he assumed the name of Northwood, which was borne by all his descendants.

There is of course a mysterious tomb in the Minster church which was attributed in the Daly book on Sheppey to Jordanus. According to Daly “ In the reign of Henry 1 about AD 1126, the paramount Lord of Sheppey appears to be one Jordanus de Sheppey, or, as it was spelt then “ Sceapiege”. He resided at Northwood Manor, that is to say, the northern Manor immediately adjoining Minster. He died there and was buried, according to Hasted the historian at the Abbey Church of Sexbugha, where his tomb still remains without any inscription or character, though it once had the coat armour, which this family afterwards bore on it. A life size effigy, however, which is now ascribed to him, has been discovered since Hasted wrote (1776); it is deserving of particular attention and is believed to be unique. Of Purbeck marble, it represents a recumbent knight, and was dug up in the churchyard if Minster Abbey in 1833, from about 5 feet below the surface. The hands of the knight are upraised as if in prayer, clasping within them the unique sculptured figure of a soul in prayer also enclosed in a mysterious oval. The Vicar of Minster, the Rev Bramston, is of the opinion that this memorial was probably buried in the churchyard in the troublesome times of the 16th Century.”

In more recent times, the church is more reluctant to ascribe this figure to Jordanus, suggesting that it could belong to the Cheyne family who intermarried with the Norwoods. Close examination of the “soul” also suggests that it is more likely to represent a sheep, the source of wealth in Sheppey at the time. Interestingly, the figure exhibits none of the usual characteristics testifying to participation in the Crusades, such as crossed feet or appropriate weaponry.

When Jordanus died he left an only son Stephen, who assumed the name of Northwood and who succeeded to his father’s estates in Sheppey. He liked like his father in a manor house on the site of the existing more modern house called Norwood manor.

The first time the surname Norwood occurs, is in a court case in the year 1206. At this time, Stephen is also recorded as Stephen, son of Jordan of Sheppey or Stephen son of Cecily. The earliest dated occurrence of Stephen is in the tax rolls for the years 1198-1202 still existing in the public record office in Chancery Lane, London. He occurs with his mother, Cecily, and his brother William. Since Jordanus is not mentioned, he is assumed to be dead by this time.” Stephen’s approximate birthdate of 1165 is based on the fact that he paid to have King John re-confirm his grants that he received from King Richard I around the year 1185. He would have had to be of age at that time so his birthdate is guessed to be the near 1165 figure. [James Dempsey, “Norwood – Northwood families of Kent Warwickshire and Gloucestershire”, 1987]

Stephen’s name can be found in a variety of ways because before the year 1200, the use of surnames or spelling had not been rigidly adopted. In tax rolls for the years 1214 and 1219, Northwood Manor has become well-known enough for Stephen to identify himself as “Stephen of Norwood”.

By far the best short description of the Northwode/Norwood line out of Sheppey is contained in Chapter V11 of Sheila Judge’s book “The Isle of Sheppey” first published in 1983. Sheila details the line from Sir Stephen de Northwode, son of Jordanus, through to John de Northwode who was Constable of the Queensborough Castle in the reign of Edward IV. He was the last male of that line and the Norwood manor was sold and lost its importance. But according to Sheila “The Norwoods were a noble family with a long history. One of the first was a Crusader with Richard I and over the years different members were Sheriffs of Kent; Knights were sent to Westminster, and all of them undertook willingly the commissions that would be expected of a family of their standing. They were a large prolific family, owning large estates in different parts of Kent, where they continued to live for many years after they left Sheppey .”

In her excellent book “Conquered”, sub titled “The Last Children of Anglo Saxon England”, Eleanor Parker of Brasenose traces the lives of the generation of children from the ruling elite born on the eve of the Conquest whose adult lives would be shaped by the new forces. They were entering adulthood, some might choose to play an active part in rebellion against Norman rule, others chose to leave the country or were forced into submission, some did little but watch. They were the last generation of Anglo-Saxon England but they were also the fathers and mothers of the country England was to become.

It is clear that the raids from Ireland with the support of Diarmait, King of Leinster on Bristol, Devon and Cornwall were the last throw of the dice for Harold’s oldest children, Godwine, Edmund and Magnus. Gytha their sister left Flat Holm in the Bristol channel after her effort at Exeter failed  and the three eldest of Harold’s children were eventually reunited at the Danish Court. It is possible that Magnus returned to England at some point because there is a medieval monument at Lewes which commemorates Magnus “of Denmark’s royal race” who became an anchorite there. It is clear that by the end of 1066 the English leaders unwilling to accept William had turned to Edgar Aetheling, not the sons of Harold.

Although as written before, Ulf is mentioned in the records as having come into the power of Robert Curthose  who also held Duncan, the son of Malcolm of Scotland,  according to Parker the  Anglo-Norman records are then silent on  Ulf’s subsequent  fate. Her book goes extensively into  the contemporary myth making that produced the English hero  Hereward the Wake and the sanctification of Margaret of Scotland, the granddaughter of Edmund Ironside,  whose daughter Matilda married Henry 1. She observes that the almost complete disappearance of the grandchildren of Gytha and Godwine from English history after the Conquest is remarkable – although Harold and his brothers were written about in the run up to the 13th century.  These stories  propagated the myth  that  Harold  had survived Hastings and  had come  to terms with Norman rule, thereby  showing an interest in a King who had lost his kingdom, strength and status but had  acquired  spiritual power over his conquerors. But no stories   were written about his children.

Parker observes that this is more than a simple lack of information. No one is interested in telling stories because for historians in Anglo-Norman England the question of what happened to these children was an awkward subject. To consider their fates worth of investigation might seem tantamount to recognising Harold’s legitimacy as King which was impossible to reconcile with the dominant Norman narrative that “Harold was a grasping usurper who unjustly seized the throne” To address the issue of Harold’s sons and daughters was a more complicated issue and it was perhaps easier and more comfortable to forget the grandchildren of Godwine and Gytha rather than to acknowledge all that they  had lost.

Tomb of Robert Curthose
Tomb of Robert Curthose- Wikipedia

This explains why our knowledge of Ulf derives from the various records   that I have cited and  not from any broader narrative.  It would of course have suited Alnod/Ulf well in his process of normanisation if his Anglo- Saxon heritage was not a subject of myth making; Roger Curthose had set him on a new course that lead to the creation of a new generation of Norman knights in Kent.

We know so much about the history of the Norwoods because their genealogy was recorded between 1385 and 1405 with further additions some years later.  It was contained in a roll considered to be the work of Thomas Brumpston working for the family and is a very rare chronicle in the Surrenden collection now in the National Archives. However as Sheila Judge says in her book, it omits the perplexing Jordanus of Sheppey entirely. It is probable that unless some hitherto undisclosed documents are found in a forgotten archive, or the body of King Harold is disinterred and DNA tested, the missing link between the Norwoods and the Anglo Saxon King through Alnod/Ulf will never be established. In the meantime, perhaps members of the extended Norwood family should be content that they have an ancestor who fought alongside King Edward 1 at Caerlaverock, another ancestor who accompanied Richard I, Coeur de Lion in the Third Crusade and participated in the battle of Acre, leading to an eventual agreement with Saladin and yet a third fought alongside Henry V at Agincourt, one of the most famous victories in British History.

Whilst on the subject of DNA, if it is the case that Queen Elizabeth II was descended from Harold through Gytha’s marriage to Vladimir Monomakh, Prince of Smolensk and later Grand Prince of Kiev, then her DNA would provide some kind of verification of the Norwood link to Harold. Or, to put it another way, the absence of any common characteristics in the DNA of the Norwoods and the House of Windsor would suggest that the story of a connection with Alnod/Ulf is regrettably not true. I leave it to more intrepid members of the Norwood Clan to take up the matter with Buckingham Palace. Who knows, King Charles might be more amenable to making his DNA available?

Interested in more about the ancestry of John Norwood?

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The Norwood line (Descendants of Harold Godwineson) – A Revisionist History PART 1


Coronation of King Harold – Wikipedia


It has long been the case that members of the Norwood family in its many manifestations, claim descent from King Harold Godwineson, otherwise known as Harold II who was killed at Hastings in 1066, through his son Alnod or Ulf. I followed the convention in my book on John Norwood VC by citing the researches of Marian Callum Norwood, the noted genealogist and family historian who did much to develop the histories of the various branches of the family. I met her in the 1990s when she was already quite old but still full of enthusiasm.  In the many years since Marion’s death however, others who have followed her work more critically have taken issue with the absence of a credible connection between Jordanus of Sheppey, the 12th century patriarch of the family from whom the Norwood clan indubitably descended and Alnod or Ulf, the son of Harold.    

Marion goes wrong early in Volume Two of the Norwood books by referring to Alnod as the eldest son of Harold and Edith; he was not. The title of eldest son belongs to Godwine who fled to the continent after various attempts post-Conquest to achieve power. That said, her formidable research into heraldry and the translation of the Domesday Book for Kent by Lambert Blackwell Larking which she used, revealed that Alnod had very significant holdings indeed around Kent which after the Conquest fell into the hands either of Odo of Bayeux, or William himself or the Canterbury Archdiocese. We verified these findings ourselves by examining the same document at the Kent Archives in Maidstone in both translations of Domesday. Larking uses “Alnod Cilt” as his translation, but the modern interpretation in a  Domesday translation edited by John Morris is “the young Alnod”.  He will therefore be identical to Ulf who was a young teenager at the Conquest but who was endowed with significant land.

Also featuring large in the Domesday record is Wulfnoth, born circa 1035, the youngest brother of Harold. He was captured after Hastings, held in Normandy, transferred to Winchester Castle by William Rufus on his release in 1087 by William on his deathbed and then allowed to join a monastery where he died around 1094 in his late fifties – early sixties. His place in the family is often confused with the children of Harold.

According to the book “Harold, the Last Anglo Saxon King” by Ian Walker, the descendants of Harold and his hand fast wife Edith in terms of seniority were; Godwine, Edmund, Magnus, Gytha, Ulf and Gunnhild. He had a son Harold from his conventional second marriage to Aeditha, who was too young to play any role in the Conquest and indeed is thought to have been born after Harold’s death. However, he   may well be  the son involved years later in the abortive Norwegian attacks on Dublin and Anglesey and must be presumed to have settled in Scandinavia.

Alnod or Ulf was also seized after Hasting (where he was too young to fight) and confined in Normandy. But later, like Wulfnoth, he was released by William on his deathbed, reportedly at the urging of the church, as an act of mercy. There is evidence that William’s estranged son, Robert Curthose, the next Duke of Normandy, took a shine to Ulf and knighted him not long after.

Duke Robert Curthose with his army
Duke Robert Curthose with his army by Joseph Martin Kronheim, 1868 Source: Wikipedia

Robert Curthose has been ill served by historians who have failed to look behind tainted contemporary sources all of whom have their own reasons for a critical view. A recent book about him by William Aird, a lecturer in medieval history at Cardiff is more even handed. Aird brings out in particular that his leading role in the First Crusade (1095-99) made him one of the most famous warriors of his time, returning to Western Europe in 1100 as a chivalric hero with a reputation that extended from Palestine to Scotland.

Aird writes that in the 11th century the dubbing ceremony was the granting of weapons to a new Knight who was deemed capable of holding land and bearing arms to defend it; this honour was usually awarded to young men and had connotations of social status partly derived from personal ancestry but also by association with the Lord making the grant. It seems clear that Ulf’s privileged retention in Normandy after Hastings led to a close relationship with Robert which could only be recognised on the death of the Conqueror who evidently harboured a strong antipathy to the Godwins.

It is inconceivable that Ulf would not have remained close to his benefactor and fought with him during the many actions that troubled Normandy from the rivalry between Robert and his siblings, William Rufus and Henry. It is equally improbable that Ulf did not accompany him as a mature warrior when he went on the Crusade.  This service would have been the most evident route towards reacquiring and retaining his ancestral lands, the defence of which was an inherent element in the knight’s role.

Ulf’s aspirations to land were associated with Kent, so after his formal release in 1087, and after his belting as a knight, he is likely to have sought restoration. By this time, his Anglo-Saxon identity would have been transformed by 20 years of Norman tutelage.  It is clear that Alnod or Ulf once had major manorial holdings in Kent which overlap with the later location of the Jordanus/Norwood family, thereby consolidating the supposed connection. Alnod’s former lands are well laid out from Domesday in Marion’s third book and cover widespread manors in Alnod’s name from Rochester to Dover, embracing Canterbury, Whitstable, Sheppey, Thanet, Norwood, Chart Sutton and many more. These had been held by Alnod /Ulf from King Edward, presumably from childhood, but were subordinated to the feudal over-lordship of Odo of Bayeux, William’s half-brother and the Church after the Conquest. Marian asserts that Alnod recovered some of these and that they continued in the possession of Jordanus of Sheppey and the Norwoods for 300 years.

Aird states that there is no complete record of the knights who served Robert and who participated in the First Crusade which was known to be hazardous but Pope Urban had said that “by the will of God, he absolved all penitents from their sins from the moment that they took the cross of Christ”, which produced a surge of participants.  Around 60,000 soldiers took part in the Crusade of which around 6,000 were knights and a further 30,000 provided support. This is not the moment to detail the history of the Crusade but the crowning moment for Robert was in August 1099 when after victory in Jerusalem, the crusaders were confronted by an Egyptian Fatimid army at Ascalon, southwest of Jerusalem. Robert commanded the centre division of the Crusader Army and charging at the heart of the Egyptian camp, personally captured the Viziers banner and his tent. The Emir was lucky to escape leading to a great victory for which Robert’s part was much celebrated. After the battle and before beginning the return home, Robert completed his pilgrimage by immersing himself in the River Jordan. It was this act which encouraged crusaders to give themselves the soubriquet “Jordanus”.

Alnod/Ulf appears to disappear from history after 1087 but the change of name to either Jordanus and/or John of Northwoode may contribute to this apparent obscurity. If Robert was his master, the latter’s continuous attempts to challenge at first William Rufus and later Henry 1 for the throne of England, in between battling with his neighbours in France, eventually lead to ignominy.  He was bamboozled by Henry I into taking a very large pension in lieu of his claim, which was soon in arrears leading to conflict in which Robert ended as the loser. Henry invaded Normandy in 1106, defeating Robert at the battle of Tinchebray, he then imprisoned his brother in Devizes Castle for 20 years and later moved him to Cardiff where he ended his life in 1134; he is buried in St Peter’s in Gloucester. Tinchebray is in the Orne region of lower Normandy, the scene of much fighting after the D Day landings.

The obvious conclusions that one  draw from this story is that Alnod/Ulf  after his  release from nominal confinement in Normandy,  receiving his knighthood  and giving  service to Robert, was able to  claim back  at least some his lands. His 20 or so years in Normandy had “normanized“ him. He would have been required of course to offer continued service to Robert – after all, his knighthood involved obligations, but this did not mean that he had to stay in Normandy. It was timely to pursue land claims in the  late 80s in Kent because the Church under Archbishop Lanfranc had initiated proceedings, with William’s blessing to strip Odo of Bayeux of lands that he had misappropriated after the Conquest, especially from the Church but also from previous holders such as Alnod/Ulf.

The Trial of Penenden Heath may well have had a role in restoring Alnod/Ulf’s fortunes, although this occurred when he was still in Normandy, as its effects were far reaching. The Trial occurred in the decade after the Conquest  probably in 1076, and involved a dispute between Odo of Bayeux , the half-brother of William  and Lanfranc,  the Archbishop of Canterbury and others. Odo de Bayeux was previously Earl of Kent and the primary landowner of the region subsequent to his half-brother William the Conqueror’s victory in 1066. In 1070, Archbishop Lanfranc succeeded to  Canterbury and requested an inquiry into the activities of Odo (and Lanfranc’s predecessor, Stigand) who had allegedly defrauded the Church (and possibly the Crown) during his tenure as Earl of Kent.

William the Conqueror arrests Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, from John Cassell’s Illustrated History of England

It has subsequently been argued that most of the lands had been lost not to Odo, but to Earl Godwine  (Harold II’s father) and his family during Edward’s reign and perhaps even earlier and that Odo had simply succeeded to these encroachments. Therefore the conflict between Archbishop and Earl was to a large extent a reprise of that between Robert of Jumièges and Godwine in 1051-2, the suggestion being that Lanfranc, despite being the Prior of a Norman monastery was attempting to restore the pre-conquest landholdings for the Church of Canterbury.

William I determined that the matter should be settled by the nobles of Kent and ordered that an assembly be formed on the heath at Penenden (near present-day Maidstone) for the purpose. William I ordered that the findings of the inquiry or ‘trial’ of Odo de Bayeux were to be final. Various prominent figures in the country at the time were called, which included  Geoffrey de Montbray, Bishop of Coutances (who represented the King), Lanfranc (for the Church), Odo de Bayeux (defending himself), Arnost, Rochester Bishop, Athelric II (former Bishop of Selsey), Richard de Tunbridge, Hugh de Montfort, William de Arsic, Hamo Vicecomes and many others.

Athelric II in particular had been compelled by William I to attend as the authority on pre-Norman law. Described as:  “A very old man, very learned in the laws of the land “he was brought by chariot or other carriage to Penenden Heath “in order to discuss and expound these same old legal customs”.

The presence of a contingent of English (or Saxon) witnesses as experts in ancient laws and customs as well as the French-born representation is regarded as a significant indication of the basis of the Church’s claims being grounded in the ancient laws of the land. However it is unclear from the sources which of those laws were cited. Precisely when the inquiry was held is also unclear although many historians have determined it took place between 1075 and 1077. Similarly a number of varying transcripts or records of the trial exist and it is unclear which may be regarded as the definitive version of events. The trial of Odo de Bayeux lasted three days and ended in the partial recovery of properties for the church from Odo and others. Odo of Bayeux was later to be stripped of his properties entirely and imprisoned for five years following further challenges to his wealth and powers in 1082.

By all accounts the Penenden trial occurred prior to the Domesday survey and was an early attempt by the church to reclaim rights and interests from the Crown and its agents. Since the assessments of property and rights which followed the trial were of significance, Domesday Book has come to be seen as a response to a need to have a definitive record of the ownership and administration of Crown property.

The Domesday Book was commissioned in December 1085 by William the Conqueror. The first draft was completed in August 1086 and contained records for 13,418 settlements in the English counties

Alnod/Ulf would have been at least around 40 and possibly older when he challenged for the return of his land. His most likely date of birth is around  1050 and possibly later. As Harold’s older sons, starting with Godwine were of an age to contest the throne, post Conquest, it must be assumed that the hand fast marriage with Edith took place in the 1040s with children appearing at regular intervals.  This would have made Ulf a young teenager  at the Conquest, in his thirties  upon his release by William in 1087 and in his late forties during the First Crusade. What appears to be clear and is suggested by a number of references in Domesday is that Alnod/Ulf successfully reclaimed land that we know is associated with the subsequent Northwode holdings. Marion says that Alnod/Ulf had held 20 manors but at the Domesday Survey, none, as almost half had been conveyed to Odo of Bayeux. At Penenden Heath, Alnod’s name is cited as a recent subtenant of Manors which Odo had assumed. The thesis is that on his release and rehabilitation by Robert Curthose, Ulf seized back two parts of Kings Wood on Sheppey which he was allowed to keep not by feudal but by costumal tenure, which effectively recognized the earlier status of his ownership. The source for this is Henry Bracton (c.1210–c.1268) an English cleric and jurist. These properties were also held by gavelkind, which means that they were sellable and not just held in fealty to an Earl.

Notwithstanding these credible assertions, it stretches probability that Alnod/Ulf was the father of Jordanus of Sheppey, as the latter was born in 1135 making Ulf around 80 at the time of his conception. Not impossible but improbable. However, there is a possibility of a link between Ulf and Jordanus – the honorific title passing through a third person. As some commentators have suggested, Jordanus could be the grandson of Alnod/Ulf through an illegitimate or unrecognised son.

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Taking the War to Hitler: Britain’s Bombing Offensive in WWII, Guest Post by Helena P. Schrader

St. Paul’s Cathedral during the London Blitz in 1940. Photo in the Public Domain

The Second World War was a defining moment in British history, and the impact of the war on the daily lives of those who lived through it was profound. Virtually nothing was the same in 1945 as it had been in 1940. Not only had the British Empire’s place in the world been irreparably damaged, but the social fabric of Britain was starting to tear. Respect for authority had deteriorated, acceptance of the class-system undermined, and the role of women transformed. Furthermore, the material substance of Britain was battered, run-down and partially shattered.

The two most important factors contributing to these changes were: 1) the total mobilization of society necessary to continue the fight, something that entailed near universal conscription (industrial as well as military) and an economy characterized by shortages, and 2) the damage, threat and cost in lives of the air war.

With the wisdom of hindsight, it is easy to dismiss the impact of Hitler’s air war against Britain as paltry. Yet when the Germans opened their assault on London on 7 September 1940 with a raid involving nearly 1,000 aircraft, it represented a scale of aerial warfare no one had previously encountered anywhere in the world.

The all-out assault on London and other urban centers lasted unremittingly for roughly nine months, costing enormous damage, and sporadic conventional air attacks continued throughout the war. Nor was London alone the Luftwaffe’s target. Liverpool was bombed 60 times, Southampton 37, Birmingham 36, Coventry 21 times, while many other cities were bombed lesser numbers of times.  Nearly every raid left thousands of casualties and tens of thousands of homes and shops destroyed, scores of factories, dockyards and other installations damaged.

After the Allied landings in Normandy, Britain was subjected to a new terror from the skies when Hitler unleased his “vengeance weapons,” the V1 and the V2.  The V1s were essentially drones, while V2s were rockets which fell from 60 to 70 miles high at speeds of 3,600 mph — faster than the speed of sound. They came in too fast to set off air raid warnings or to be intercepted by fighters. The destruction they caused was unprecedented — an entire block or row of houses could be turned into rubble in an instant, while causing collateral damage in a quarter-mile radius.

Altogether, Hitler’s air offensive killed 60,447 people in the British Isles. Of those, 51,509 had fallen victims to conventional bombing, and nearly 9,000 (8,938) to Hitler’s “vengeance” weapons. In London alone, every sixth person had been made homeless during the Blitz which damaged nearly 1.1 million homes. After much had been repaired, the V1s and V2s damaged fully half of the housing in the British capital in 1944/1945.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the British public demanded and expected their government and armed forces to respond. One Air Marshal watching a night attack on London in 1940 was reminded of a phrase from the Old Testament (Hosea 8:7), and predicted: “They have sowed the wind,” he said, “and they will reap the whirlwind.” Truer words were rarely spoken — but the road was long and cost high.

An ariel photograph of Berlin in 1945. Public domain.

It was not until 1942 that the RAF could launch its first “thousand plane” raid against Germany. The casualty rates among bomber crews were also appalling. Although chances of survival varied over time depending on a number of factors (the type of aircraft, the targets, the timing of attacks, i.e. daylight or nighttime, the availability of fighter escorts, technological innovations in radar and counter-radar etc.), by the end of the war a total of 57,205 aircrew or 46% of all men who flew with Bomber Command had been killed in action. In addition, 8,403 had been invalided and 9,838 taken prisoner. The effective casualty rate was thus 60%. During the height of the bombing offensive, 1943 – 1944, casualty rates hovered around 5% per raid and each crew was required to fly 30 operational flights before they were eligible for a rest.

Yet all the men who flew with the RAF in whatever capacity were volunteers, and only one in ten of the men who served in the RAF during WWII actually flew. In other words, it took nine men on the ground to support (recruit, train, equip, house, feed, and maintain the equipment of) each man who flew. “Aircrew,” the men who flew in whatever capacity (i.e as pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, wireless operators, flight engineers or air gunners), were all viewed as an elite. They were given status and privileges above those of their non-flying comrades and enjoyed gestures of appreciation and admiration from civilians — particularly by the opposite sex.

Winning the coveted “aircrew brevet” was not easy, however. Many candidates “washed out” before qualifying. Pilot, navigator and wireless operator training took as much as two and a half years, and it was dangerous. Over 8,000 men training for Bomber Command alone were killed in training accidents and an additional 4,200 were seriously injured.

Sobering as this must have been for the participants, it had no apparent impact on the willingness of young men to volunteer.  The RAF always had more volunteers than they could absorb and to the end could afford to be choosy. (The image below shows one of the many “Wings Parade” at which cadets received the coveted cloth wings symbolizing their qualification as a pilot in the RAF. This particular picture shows the graduation at an airfield in the U.S. Throughout the war, the RAF sent tens of thousands of trainee aircrew overseas for their training — including to the U.S. until the U.S. entered the war the USAAF required all training facilities for itself.)

Photo courtesy of Adrian Stevens, whose father Sidney “Stevie” Stevens is the young man receiving
his wings in the foreground.

And yet! The realities of combat, brushes with death, the loss of friends inevitably took their toll on those on active service. “Shell-shock” and “PTSD” are familiar concepts nowadays. Yet the RAF leadership was shocked when increasing numbers of their carefully selected and meticulously trained volunteer aircrew refused to fly. The refusal to volunteer was hardly a breach of the military code, so the RAF needed another procedure for handling these cases since they otherwise threatened to undermine overall morale.

The term “Lack of Moral Fibre” (LMF) was invented, and any man who refused to fly without a valid medical reason or “lost the confidence of his commanding officer” could be immediately posted off a squadron and subjected to disciplinary measures for “LMF.” During the war itself, it was widely believed that aircrew found LMF were humiliated, demoted, court-martialled, and dishonourably discharged. There were rumours of former aircrew being transferred to the infantry, sent to work in the mines, or forced to do demeaning tasks. Although historical analysis of the records show almost no evidence of widespread humiliation, the rumours of draconian punishment served as a deterrent. Tragically, the threat of public humiliation may also have pushed some men to keep flying when they had already passed their breaking point, leading to errors, accidents, and loss of life. Yet we should not forget that behind the notion of LMF was the deeply embedded belief that courage is the ultimate manly virtue and that a man who lacks courage is inferior to the man who has it.

(Below a Lancaster crew immediately following an operation. It belongs to a collection of photographs concerning Sergeant William Frederick Burkitt (1922-1944). Burkitt flew as a flight engineer with No 9 Squadron.)

Photo courtesy of the International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive.

Moral Fibre takes you into the world of the RAF in 1944.  While the themes — the many faces of courage, the cost of love, the scars left by grief — are universal and timeless, the book is firmly grounded in the period in which it was set. The hero, Kit Moran, has been posted for LMF in the past, but when the book opens, he is returning to operations. As the pilot of a Lancaster, he is responsible for the lives of six other men — and he is prepared to die for them. Yet his desire for life is kindled by his love for Georgina, a trainee teacher who has already lost her fiancé in the air war against Hitler and is afraid of giving her heart again.

Riding the icy, moonlit sky, they took the war to Hitler. Their chances of survival were less than 50%. Their average age was 21. This is the story of just one Lancaster skipper, his crew and the woman he loved. It is intended as a tribute to them all.

Flying Officer Kit Moran has earned his pilot’s wings, but the greatest challenges still lie ahead: crewing up and returning to operations. Things aren’t made easier by the fact that while still a flight engineer, he was posted LMF (Lacking in Moral Fibre) for refusing to fly after a raid on Berlin that killed his best friend and skipper. Nor does it help that he is in love with his dead friend’s fiance, who is not yet ready to become romantically involved again.

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Meet Helena P. Schrader

Helena P. Schrader is an established aviation author and expert on the Second World War. She earned a PhD in History (cum Laude) from the University of Hamburg with a ground-breaking dissertation on a leading member of the German Resistance to Hitler, which received widespread praise on publication in Germany. Her non-fiction publications include Sisters in Arms: The Women who Flew in WWIIThe Blockade Breakers: The Berlin Airlift, and Codename Valkyrie: General Friederich Olbricht and the Plot against Hitler, an English-language adaptation of her dissertation. Helena has published nineteen historical novels and won numerous literary awards, including “Best Biography 2017” from Book Excellence Awards and “Best Historical Fiction 2020” from Feathered Quill Book Awards. For more on her publications, works-in-progress, reviews and awards visit:

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BnF MS Franc 81 fol. 283R Henry IV and Thomas Percy at Shrewsbury from Jean de Wavrin- Creative commons license

Henry IV’s relationship with the Percys went sour pretty soon after his coronation. He knew that he owed his crown to his northern earl; he also knew that an overly-powerful magnate was a recipe for trouble. So it wasn’t long before the king attempted to mitigate their dominance by promoting their rival, the Earl of Westmorland, who happened to be his brother in-law.

Matters came to a head after their decisive victory at Homildon Hill, where they decimated the Scottish aristocracy. Many were killed, even more were taken hostage—among them the powerful Earl Douglas. Stung by their prowess—in contrast to the humiliating failure he had just experienced in Wales—King Henry demanded they turn over their hostages. It was his right as king, but he couldn’t have made a worse miscalculation. Although Percy senior complied, his son Hotspur adamantly opposed him. King Henry had refused to pay a ransom for Hotspur’s brother in-law Edmund Mortimer—held hostage by the Welsh—and Hotspur saw this as double treachery. He and the king nearly came to blows, and if the chroniclers can be believed, Hotspur stormed out of the room, declaring “Not here, but in the field!” This was the last time they saw each other alive.

Although Henry tried to make amends by awarding lands in Scotland to the Percys—most of which happened to belong to Douglas. It was truly an empty gesture because they had to conquer those territories first. But, as they were acquisitive souls, the Percys decided to give it a try. Hotspur soon laid siege to Cocklaw Tower in Teviotdale, deep into Douglas territory, thinking this would be an easy target. It wasn’t. He was soon frustrated and negotiated a six-week truce, coming back to England with another idea in his mind. Why not take advantage of the truce and launch an offensive against the king?

I believe Hotspur caught his father by surprise. He must have been harboring resentment against the king that wouldn’t go away. Leaving his father to guard the border, Hotspur went to Chester and started raising an army against King Henry; the men of Chester were among King Richard’s most favored subjects and they were hostile to the usurper. They responded enthusiastically, especially as Hotspur promised that Richard would return from exile in Scotland and lead them into battle. Even when Hotspur later reneged on his promise, they agreed to fight anyway. With the help of Hotspur’s uncle Thomas, who left Prince Henry’s service with all of his troops, the rebels made for Shrewsbury, where the Prince was understaffed and vulnerable. They might have gotten young Henry into their hands, too, except for the unexpected arrival of the king, who forced them to battle.

Froissart Battle
Froissart Chronicles by Virgil Master, Source: Wikimedia

The Battle of Shrewsbury was the most serious threat to King Henry’s reign, and it was a very close call. This was the first time English archers faced each other across the battlefield. Only Hotspur’s death turned the tide; up until that point no one knew who was winning. Would the presence of Earl Henry Percy have made a difference? Almost certainly. Historians debate the reason why he was absent. Some thought his presence was never planned, although he did belatedly start south to support his son. Some thought it was Hotspur’s fight. Others blame Hotspur’s impetuousness and claim he “jumped the gun” so to speak, and screwed up the timing. Shakespeare said Percy was ill and couldn’t make it. Whatever the reason, Henry Percy was devastated by his son’s death; he was never the same man afterwards, and was pretty much driven by the need for revenge.

King Henry was set on punishing Percy, but because the earl wasn’t directly involved he was obliged to wait until the next Parliament. Unfortunately for the king, the lords were on Percy’s side and their response was merely to charge him with “trespass”—in other words, distributing his badge illegally. Percy was restored most of his lands, but the king refused to reinstate his wardenship or the constableship. The earl was in disgrace.

This unfortunate state of affairs lasted another two years. The king appointed his son John as Warden of the East March toward Scotland and Westmorland became Warden of the West March. Percy licked his wounds for a while before coming up with a new plan. In conjunction with Owain Glyndwr, the wily Prince of Wales, and Edmund Mortimer, uncle of the “true” heir to the throne (the child Earl of March), he concocted a new rebellion, this time originating in the North. Most of his supporters were in Yorkshire; as far as the Northumbrians were concerned, they weren’t quite as interested in rebelling against the king and didn’t respond enthusiastically to his overtures. No matter; Percy was on a mission.

Richard Scrope, Archbishop of York added his voice to this uprising. Once again, historians are divided as to whether Scrope went along with Percy, or did he devise a disturbance on his own that happened to correspond with Percy’s rebellion? The timing certainly favored the former explanation. Working the citizens of York into a righteous frenzy, Scrope led a large assembly to Shipton Moor, a few miles from the city. They were protesting high taxes and intolerable burdens on the clergy. The rebels were not a fighting force; they were local citizens. Nor did they possess cannons or instruments of war. The archbishop insisted that their intentions were peaceful. Some historians suggest that their purpose was to add legitimacy to Percy’s rebellion, which was to swing south and supplement its numbers with Scrope’s insurgents. But unfortunately for the archbishop, the expected rebel army never materialized and he was caught holding the proverbial bag.

The lynchpin of Percy’s rebellion was capturing Westmorland in advance, thus removing the only man capable of stopping him. But someone warned the Earl in time and he got away, foiling Percy’s plot. There was no “Plan B”. Had the Earl of Northumberland lost his nerve? He told his followers he was going to Scotland for help and bolted, leaving all of his co-conspirators to their own devices. Scrope wasn’t even warned about the change of plans. So when the Earl of Westmorland mopped up after the aborted rebellion, his ruse was to convince the archbishop he would present their reasonable manifesto to the king, and that the Yorkist citizens should just go home. Naively, Scrope agreed, only to find himself arrested along with his confederate, the doomed Thomas Mowbray, son of King Henry’s old enemy.

Who would have thought that the king would execute an archbishop? Scrope and Mowbray didn’t stand a chance. Once he arrived at York, the king rushed his judges through a trial and condemned the leaders, deaf to pleas from the Archbishop of Canterbury that he should refer the case to the Pope. Henry was not to be reasoned with, especially since Percy had slipped through his fingers once again. This time, there would be no Parliament to get in his way. He brought his cannons with him and besieged Percy’s castles all the way up to Berwick, ensuring that the traitorous earl would find no further refuge in England.

For the next three years, Henry Percy wandered through Wales and France, looking for support against the usurper king. But it was to no avail. The great earl had lost all credibility. When he was finally lured back into England with a new offer of support, he snatched at the opportunity, campaigning into Northumberland in the midst of the most bitter winter in living memory. Gathering a motley crew of country folk and local knights, Percy was confronted with a local detachment led by the very man who invited him south. He had nothing to lose and chose to risk everything on a last battle, meeting his pitiful end at Branham Moor, about ten miles from York, on 19 February, 1408. His head was delivered in a basket to King Henry and his body was quartered as befitted any traitor. Eventually his parts were collected and the great earl was reunited with his son, laid to rest near the great altar at York Minster.

But the Percy line was not extinct by any means. When Henry Percy took refuge the first time in Scotland, he brought with him Hotspur’s young son Henry, who spent the next ten years a virtual hostage. Henry V decided that a Percy in the North would suit his purposes, and the king arranged Henry’s return, creating him 2nd Earl of Northumberland in 1416. Part of the deal was young Henry’s marriage to Eleanor, the daughter of Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland. And so they came full circle. But never would they achieve the fame of the first earl, their doomed ancestor.


The Percys and the Lancasters

John of Gaunt by Lucas Cornelisz de Kock
John of Gaunt with his coat of arms attributed to Lucas Cornelisz de Kock source: Wikipedia

Henry Percy, father and son, were larger than life. The Percys went all the way back to the Norman Conquest, but it wasn’t until 1377 that Henry Percy became the first Earl of Northumberland—at Richard II’s coronation, no less. It took eleven generations to get there, but Henry Percy had arrived. It seems that much of his early good fortune can be attributed to John of Gaunt. He served as Gaunt’s right-hand man during the hundred years’ war. While Gaunt was regent during the end of Edward III’s reign, he was badly in need of allies and made Percy Marshal of England—one of the four great offices of state. The marshal’s job was to keep the peace within the Verge—a shifting twelve-mile radius of the king’s presence. Matters got ugly when Gaunt tried to extend the marshal’s jurisdiction into the city (replacing the mayor), even if it was outside of the Verge. The Londoners were furious at the potential loss of their liberties.

Shortly thereafter matters reached a climax when John Wycliffe—an academic theologian challenging the Church’s doctrines and authority—was summoned to answer for his anti-clerical views. This happened on 19 February, 1377 at St. Paul’s during a Convocation led by William Courtenay, Bishop of London. Matters grew ugly very quickly and Gaunt and Percy found themselves at odd with a rioting mob. They had to escape the city to save their skins, taking refuge in Kennington with Prince Richard and his mother, Joan the Fair Maid of Kent. Not an auspicious beginning!

It was five months after this fiasco that Percy was made earl. At the same time, he was created Warden of the East March of Scotland and gave up his Marshal’s baton. A few months later he was created Warden of the West March as well. This pretty much set him up as ruler of the North, for he was far away from the center of government and the rest of the country trusted him to control the borders. After all, he knew the peculiarities of this strange environment, where blood-feuds were expected, border raids were common, and local gangs called all the shots. Percy’s main antagonist was the Scottish Earl of Douglas, Warden of the Marches on the other side of the border. Their own personal feud became disruptive enough that King Richard decided to commission John of Gaunt as King’s Lieutenant in the Marches, placing the Duke in a superior role to the Warden and fatally poising his relationship with Percy.

Matters came to a head in 1381 during the Peasants’ Revolt. Gaunt was in Scotland at the moment, and when he heard of the uprising he hurried south, pausing at Alnwick Castle—only to be refused entrance. In fact, Gaunt was forbidden to enter any of Percy’s castles; the earl used the specious excuse that King Richard had sent orders forbidding entry to anyone unless under the king’s license. The implication was that Gaunt might be leading a rebel army of his own. Humiliated, the Duke had to take refuge in Scotland until the revolt was over, and his ire precipitated such a feud between him and Percy that it almost came to civil war. Their argument was eventually patched up, but things were never the same between them.

And so, eighteen years later, when Henry Bolingbroke landed at Ravenspur with a handful of followers to reclaim his rights, it was by no means certain that he would be able to rely on Percy’s support. The returning exile continued north to Bridlington, due east of York. Once there, he was surprised by a visit from Henry Hotspur (the younger Percy), who could easily have arrested him and ended the whole rebellion on the spot. But he didn’t. The Percys were having their own little spat with King Richard, who was demonstrating uncomfortable tendencies to diminish their power. They did not accompany the king to Ireland, though historians are unsure whether they refused to go on principle, or were they merely protecting the borders?

Percy captures King Richard II
Percy captures King Richard BL Harley 1319 Histoire du Roy d’Angleterre Richard

It didn’t take long for the Percys to throw their weight behind Lancaster (John of Gaunt had died four months earlier). It seems relatively certain that they expected Bolingbroke to show his gratitude; after all, without their assistance, he probably would not have succeeded in his bid for the throne. Not only did Percy furnish the bulk of Henry’s army, he was personally responsible for persuading King Richard to give himself up to Bolingbroke’s tender mercies. As soon as the king was safely removed from Conwy Castle, Percy betrayed Richard’s trust, surrounding him and his handful of companions with a hidden company of men-at-arms. The end justified the means! Percy was working for Henry Bolingbroke now, who had already granted him (under his Ducal seal) the Wardenship of the West Marches. The appointment may have been somewhat irregular—this was the king’s grant—but it demonstrated Henry’s commitment. More commissions were guaranteed to follow.

And indeed they did. After the usurpation, King Henry was totally reliant upon the Percys to control the Scottish border and North Wales for him. Whether he wanted to or not, Henry was obliged to appoint them to key positions. In addition to his wardenship, Percy was made Constable of England. Hotspur was made Warden of the East March and given the lordship and castle of Bamburgh. He was also appointed Justice of North Wales and Justice of Chester and given constableship of the castles of Chester, Flint, Conwy and Caernarfon as well as the lordship of Anglesey.

Unfortunately, this was not to last. Like his predecessor, Henry IV saw the risk of entrusting too much power to the Percys. Besides, there was another, more tractable earl he could rely on: Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland. Neville had recently married Henry’s half-sister Joan Beaufort, which brought Westmorland into the royal family. His clan, too, had been in the North for generations, although they did not exert the influence that the Percys employed. Not yet, anyway.

Little by little, King Henry awarded Westmorland land and commissions. He was made Marshal—Percy’s former position—and granted the Honour of Richmond for life. The king even took the Keepership of Roxburgh away from Hotspur (who was supposed to hold it for life) and granted it to Westmorland. Then, to add insult to injury, the king promptly reimbursed Neville his expenses while owing the Percys upwards of £20,000 for their services (roughly 29 million dollars in today’s money)—and making excuses for nonpayment. Needless to say, the Percys took this slight personally.

    Battle of Homildon Hill

Nonetheless, they continued to protect the North. In September of 1402, the Scots came across the border in a furious chevauchée all the way to the Tyne. Unable to stop them, Hotspur raised a force to block their return to Scotland. Loaded with plunder, the invaders were intercepted at Homildon Hill, and a great battle was fought. It was a disaster for the Scots. A large number of captives were taken, including the Earl of Douglas, four other earls and at least thirty Scottish knights. It was a tremendous victory for the English, in contrast to the humiliating failure King Henry had just experienced in Wales.

The king’s reaction was less than gracious. Rather than award the Percys, Henry demanded that they turn over the hostages, with the understanding that they would be suitably compensated. It was his right as king, but he couldn’t have made a worse miscalculation. Although Percy senior complied, Hotspur adamantly opposed him. King Henry had refused to pay a ransom for Hotspur’s brother in-law Edmund Mortimer—held hostage by the Welsh—and Hotspur saw this as double treachery. He and the king nearly came to blows, and if the chroniclers can be believed, Hotspur stormed out of the room, declaring “Not here, but in the field!” This was the last time they saw each other alive.

Class System in Victorian England, Guest Post by Richard Marrison

The British Bee Hive by George Cruikshank – British Library Creative Commons License

The Victorian era, like any other ancient time, had a peculiar class system that divided the social setting. It was based on power, riches, working and living conditions. Society was divided into Upper Class, Middle Class, and Lower Class, also known as the Working Class.

People belonging to the royal family, aristocrats, nobles, business owners, and wealthy families working in the royal courts were classed into the Upper Class. They were in powerful positions, had the utmost authority, had lavish lifestyles and enjoyed exceptional facilities.

Whereas, the middle class included either owned or managed business empires or the merchants. They were classified by earned wealth and not inherited wealth and lived a pretty sound life as well.

Lastly, the working class resided at the lowest level of the hierarchy. They were mainly labored workers who lacked money and hence, had a poor way of living.

The class system was also classified based on the clothes they wore. The Victorian era fashion trend during the Victorian Era was the expression of the estate one belonged. The elaborate pieces were worn by the women belonging to the upper class, middle class women wore modest dresses, and the women belonging to lower class wore what they could afford.

Property, rent, and interest provided income to the very small and very rich upper class. The upper class possessed titles, riches, land, or all three; they controlled local, national, and imperial politics; and they held the majority of the land in Britain.

The upper class inherited royals. It consisted of aristocrats, and all the titled people like the ones from the royal families, Lords, and Ladies, Earls, Dukes, and Duchesses. They did not have to work for generations and could afford to live a luxurious life. There were also business owners who had large-scale mining or shipping industries. As they inherited massive wealth from their previous generations, it gave them great access and authority. They were provided with inherited seats in the House of Lords. This gave them the power to vote on political affairs as well.

The education of the upper class was uncompromised, with the best tutors provided. The finest education and their royal background were always a plus point for them wherever they went. Usually, the upper-class boys were sent to boarding school at a very young age. The girls generally stayed home and received education from a governess. The eldest son was taught to run the family business and take care of the employees and their younger siblings. The younger ones went off to the army, navy, or church. The girls were taught etiquettes and mannerisms suitable for their status. They were expected to marry a man from similar backgrounds and start a family soon.

Thrift, responsibility, and self-reliance were significant components of Victorian middle-class culture that could be used to characterize a society where individual tenacity and energy were required for success.

Although very few families belonged to the middle class, it was a pleasant life for the middle class in the Victorian era. The middle class was different from the upper class in terms of the history of their wealth. The wealth they had was earned wealth, as in they either owned or managed large businesses and collected a pretty good amount of wealth.

The industrial revolution brought a massive transition for the people of the Middle Class in terms of increased job opportunities and decent earnings. This transformed their way of living and their education as well. Their class consisted of merchants who were involved in trading goods for money. For the purpose of trade, they owned ships used to trade British goods for Indian goods like tea, coffee, and spices. They sold these products back in Britain and made huge profits out of it. They employed captains and crews and laborers and sufficed their livelihood. Similarly, the factory owners employed hundreds of laborers.

Doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, and bankers were some of the other professions of the middle class. They were paid very well, lived a pleasant life, and could afford properties. As the work opportunities started to increase among this class, it soon became the most populated class with abundant wealth.

Their children were also sent to boarding schools, where boys were taught to run the family business. The girls here as well were taught proper etiquette and trained to become good wives to a man of similar backgrounds and run a family.

People from the working class were sometimes forced to live in confined poor quality homes, and families were frequently crammed into a single room. The industrial revolution resulted in overcrowding, which led to poor public health.

The working class ranks in the lowest part of the social hierarchy and is sub-categorized into skilled and unskilled workers. This class summed up the majority of the Victorian-era population. They are not included in political affairs and have a very poor lifestyle. They had a low supply of food, and due to their poor background, most of their children worked for extra family income. Even women had to work despite having children.

Laborers, sailors, fishermen, mine workers, and servants were included in their job type and paid on an hourly basis. The family would be forced to live on the streets if the primary income generator died due to a lack of money. Most of them lived in rented houses, and their houses were as big as they could earn. Most of them lived in a single room for an entire family.

Education was merely an option for the working class children, and they got married to people of their own background, creating a never-ending cycle of poverty. Still, the lower-class farmers tried to provide their daughters with an education along with the boys. The boys lived in hostels as they gained their education, and schools were built specifically for farmers.

During the industrial revolution. Most of the skilled workers got an opportunity to work in their craft and uplevel their status on some levels. However, the unskilled workers could never rise to a good life as they continued working as laborers and servants for the upper and middle-class people. This resulted in a rough life for the working class, and was hit by an even worse form of poverty. They lost all their previous rights as citizens and had little to no independence. Their income was unstable, and the little money they earned was barely enough to sustain their everyday life.


Hence, it was mainly the wealth that defined a person’s class during the Victorian era in Britain. More money meant a more lavish life and more access to various opportunities. Each system had its own rules. However, these rules started to fumble as the Victorian era progressed.




Richard II’s London

The death of Wat Tyler in 1381While researching this novel I had the good fortune to stumble across the book “The Turbulent London of Richard II”—not, as it turns out, because of the content. It was way too specialized for me. But it came with the most awesome fold-out “sketch map of London in the time of the Peasant Revolt” that I photocopied and taped to my wall. It’s still there, three novels later. I spent hours scrutinizing it until I had a faithful understanding of England’s most important city, most of which was still tucked inside of the old Roman walls.

This was important, for at the time of the Peasants Revolt, the city officials relied on the wall to keep the rebels out. There were seven gates in the Roman wall: Ludgate (facing west), Newgate (where the prison was), Aldersgate (facing Smithfield), Cripplegate, Bishopsgate, Aldgate (east, facing Mile End), and the Postern Gate at the Tower of London (pedestrian only). The only other way into London was over the London Bridge, which had a drawbridge at the Southwark end. Of course, the mayor of London was dependent on the loyalty of his gatekeepers, and this ultimately failed him. Once Aldgate was opened and the insurgents came pouring into the city from the east, he had no choice but to lower the drawbridge and give passage to the Kent rebels.

Old London Bridge by Peter Jackson

London Bridge was a world all its own, populated by every conceivable business except taverns—for they had no cellars. The shops occupied the ground floor with their colorful signs nine feet above the pavement so a horse and rider could pass underneath. Every sign displayed an image representing a trade so it could be identified by anyone, literate or not. The bridge was twenty feet wide, lined on both sides by buildings cantilevered over the edge, supported by huge wooden struts. Each house only occupied four feet of the stone platform; which meant that only twelve feet was left to accommodate the road. Two and three stories high, the houses blocked out the sun like a tunnel, especially since many of the top floors were connected by an enclosed walkway. This would have been the conduit through which thousands and thousands of rebels pushed their way into the city. At this stage of the rebellion they were exhorted by their leaders to be well-behaved, though I can only imagine the trepidation felt by the hapless shopkeepers.

Interestingly, one of the rebels’ first targets was John of Gaunt’s great Savoy palace, which was the most elegant townhouse in all of London. It bordered the river, upstream on the way to Westminster along the Strand. The Strand was the London version of Millionaire’s Row: wealthy riverfront properties free of the stink and pollution of the city. To get to the Strand, you had to pass out through Ludgate then cross the Fleet, an open sewer polluted by the butchers and tanners dumping their refuse into the River Holborn—not to mention the prison sewage. The Fleet in turn poured its stinking offal into the Thames. And that’s not all: at certain docks along the river contained laystalls (think Dicken’s Puddle Dock, at Black Friars). This is where the night soil, or human excrement, was piled up, eventually to be taken away by five barges located downstream. You can just imagine the horrific stench.

Anyway, the rebels had to pass the famous Knights Hospitaller Temple along the way to the Savoy (they would be back—that’s where the lawyers lived). You also had Durham House (residence of the Bishop of Durham), York House (for the Bishop of York), the convent of the White Friars…you get the idea. I don’t think any of these palaces escaped the attention of the insurgents. Once they destroyed the Savoy—literally, for they accidentally blew it up with barrels of gunpowder, trapping many of the rebels in the cellar—they rampaged their way back into the city, spreading out in their efforts to eliminate the hated foreigners who competed for jobs and took food from their mouths. Oh, and to see how much plunder they could amass.

During the early phase of the Peasants’ Revolt, the king and his few nobles took refuge in the Tower of London, alleged to be invulnerable to attack. And it probably would be, though any fortress is only as strong as its human defenders. While Richard and party were at Mile End negotiating with the rebels on day two, the troublemakers remaining in the city forced their way in and seized the Archbishop of Canterbury and Treasurer Hales, decapitating them in the process. How? No one knows, but since the Tower defenders were commoners, one can only assume they were persuaded to join the cause.

Tower Water Gate: Wikipedia

After two days of rioting, the rebels finally agreed to meet King Richard at Smithfield, approached through Aldersgate. Just north of the city walls, Smithfield was an open space so large it would take about ten days for a yoke of oxen to plow it. Every August since the time of Henry I, the famous Bartholomew Fair was held there, bringing people from all over the country. Otherwise, Smithfield was most often used as a horse market, though sometimes it hosted sporting games, tournaments, and even executions. The Scottish rebel, William Wallace, was hanged, drawn, and quartered in this very spot, under the elms in the far northwest corner. This time it was the turn of Wat Tyler, who led his rowdy followers to Smithfield in an attempt to wrest more concessions from the king. Unfortunately for Wat, this would be the site of his untimely end, as well. And in the confusion, the rebels had nowhere to go but north toward Clerkenwell Fields, for the way out was blocked by the Roman wall to the south, the Fleet to the west, and the Priory of St. Bartholomew to the east. A brave and resilient King Richard led the way and the chastened rebels followed. Once they were brought under control, the Essex rebels scattered to the north, but the Kent contingent was led back through the city and over the London Bridge again; this time their behavior was impeccable (under pain of death).

By all accounts, a tremendous amount of damage was done to London during the Peasants’ Revolt, but of course it survived. One wonders why it didn’t go up in flames like the Great Fire of 1666, but perhaps the violence was directed more against people than structures?


The tournament of Saint-Inglevert, in the Harley Froissart, Harley MS 4379, f. 43r, British Library Creative Commons license

Aside from a slight digression to Scotland in order to prove his manhood, Richard II was not interested in warfare. But there’s no getting away from the fact that the Age of Chivalry had reached its apex by the end of the fourteenth century. When we think of knights armored from head to foot in articulated plate with splendid crests atop their helmets and gay caparisons flowing from their stallions, this is the period that comes to mind. Europe may have experienced a brief hiatus in warfare, but the knights gave themselves plenty of opportunity to excel in arms: the tournament.

I would say the most famous tournament of all time were the Jousts of St. Inglevert, held in 1390 and described in detail by Jean Froissart. Three famous French knights, Jean Boucicaut (soon to be marshal of France), Renaud de Roya, and the lord de Sempy challenged one and all to meet them at St. Inglevert, a religious house between Boulogne on the sea and Calais. This was to be a month-long event, and all of Christendom were keen to attend.

The French knights erected three rich vermilion-colored pavilions. Each was hung with two shields, emblazoned with their arms: one shield represented the “joust of peace”, requiring blunt lances, and the other, the “joust of war” requiring sharpened steel lances. Each challenger (or his squire) was to ride up and touch his shield of preference with a special wand, and the resident herald would record his name, country, and family.

King Richard II did not attend; he was still recovering from the trauma of the Merciless Parliament of 1388. Henry Bolingbroke, on the other hand, led a solid contingent of over one hundred knights and squires, including John Holland, earl of Huntingdon (the king’s half-brother), Thomas Mowbray, the Earl Marshal, John Beaufort, Thomas Swynford, Harry (Hotspur) Percy and his uncle Thomas Percy.

According to Froissart: “Sir John Holland was the first who sent his squire to touch the war-target of Sir Boucicaut, who instantly issued from his pavilion completely armed. Having mounted his horse, and grasped his spear, which was stiff and well steeled, they took their distances. When the two knights had for a short time eyed each other, they spurred their horses and met full gallop with such force that Sir Boucicaut pierced the shield of the Earl of Huntingdon, and the point of his lance slipped along his arm, but without wounding him. The two knights, having passed, continued their gallop to the end of the list. This course was much praised. At the second course, they hit each other slightly, but no harm was done; and their horses refused to complete the third. The earl of Huntingdon, who wished to continue the tilt, and was heated, returned to his place, expecting that sir Boucicaut would call for his lance; but he did not, and showed plainly he would not that day tilt more with the earl.

Sir John Holland, seeing this, sent his squire to touch the war-target of the lord de Sempy. This knight, who was waiting for the combat, sallied out from his pavilion, and took his lance and shield. When the earl saw he was ready, he violently spurred his horse, as did the lord de Sempy. They couched their lances, and pointed them at each other. At the onset, their horses crossed; notwithstanding which, they met; but by this crossing, which was blamed, the earl was unhelmed. He returned to his people, who soon re-helmed him; and, having resumed their lances, they met full gallop, and hit each other with such force in the middle of their shields, that they would have been unhorsed had they not kept tight seats by the pressure of their legs against the horses’ sides. They went to the proper places, where they refreshed themselves and took breath.”

After Holland chose the shield of war, no one else chose the shield of peace for fear of being declared coward. There were lots of sparks flying from helmets, shattered lances, and pierced targets. Most knights ran up to 5 courses. All told, 137 courses were run during the month and all three French challengers survived the ordeal, to their everlasting glory (somewhat the worse for wear but intact). At times they needed a few days to heal from wounds, whereupon their surviving companions covered for them. Henry Bolingbroke was said to have made a spectacular showing and Boucicaut later invited him to accompany him to two crusades.

Not to be outdone, King Richard II hosted another famous tournament at Smithfield in October of the same year. This was the same location where he confronted Wat Tyler during the Peasants’ Revolt nine years previously. Sixty fully-armored knights paraded through the streets from the Tower, down Cheapside to Smithfield, led by sixty ladies mounted on palfreys, richly ornamented and dressed. The ladies led their knights by a silver chain, and all were accompanied by minstrels and trumpets. The king and queen attended, accompanied by dukes, counts, and lords, and after a full day’s jousting entertained their guests with a magnificent banquet. The jousting went on for five days, then the court moved on to Windsor castle.

Solemn_Joust_on_London_Bridge tapestry by Richard Beavis, Wikipedia

One of the more interesting jousts was actually held on London Bridge. Many Scots and English participated in the tournament, but the main event was a personal challenge between the English Ambassador to Scotland, Lord Wells, and Sir David de Lindsay, a Scottish knight; they engaged to  joust a l’outrance, or to the death. Held before King Richard, the knights ran two courses without incident, and on the third pass Lord Wells was unhorsed. They proceeded to fight on foot and again Sir David held the advantage. But just as the Scot was ready to deliver the killing blow he relented and helped Lord Wells to his feet, gaining the approval of the crowd.

The most famous trial by combat in the fourteenth century was between Henry of Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV) and Sir Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. Unfortunately, the combat never took place; the King stopped it at the last minute. But the ceremony and protocol were all there; we get a colorful description in the Chronicque de la Traison et Mort de Richart Deux Roy Dengleterre (the author was probably an eye-witness).

According to la Traison, “The lists were to be sixty paces long and forty wide; the barriers seven feet high. The sergeants-at-arms were not to let the people approach within four feet of the lists… the penalty for entering the lists, or making any noise, so that one party might take advantage of the other, was the loss of life or limb, and also of their castles, at the pleasure of the King.” This was serious stuff! Again, according to la Traison, “The weapons allowed by the marshal and constable were the “Glaive”, long sword, short sword, and dagger. The long sword was straight, and called by the French “estoc”, whence estocade, a thrust.”

The King ordered that they take away the pavilions and “let go the chargers, and that each should perform his duty”. Apparently Bolingbroke first advanced a few paces when the King threw his threw his staff (warder) into the list, crying, “Ho! Ho!” For the King to interfere in the duel was not unheard of, though it seems that the crowd was bitterly disappointed to be denied their entertainment; never mind that the fight was to the death. Apparently there were no other amusements on the agenda. The contestants were equally skilled in tournament fighting, and by no means was the result a foregone conclusion. The king withdrew with his council—including Bolingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt—and discussed the matter for two hours while the attendees waited. Finally it was announced that Bolingbroke was to be exiled for ten years and Mowbray for life. From most accounts, the crowd was incensed at Bolingbroke’s treatment; after all, he had done nothing wrong. Few seemed to object to Mowbray’s fate; was he guilty until proven innocent? Nonetheless, everybody went home unhappy, not least of all the main contestants.

Trial by combat seems to have died out by the 15th century, and I haven’t found anything quite as dramatic as this contest. The amount of preparation for such a non-event was staggering. If you happened to be versed in medieval French, you can learn more about tournament ceremonies in this book, reproduced in Google Books: “Ceremonies des gages de batailles selon les constitutions du bon roi Philippe de France”.

Further reading: ROYAL JOUSTS AT THE END OF THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY by Steven Muhlberger, Freelance Academy Press, Wheaton IL, 2012