This group meets at The Sun Inn every 1st Thursday from 10.00 am – 12.00 pm. The contact for the group is Janet Kirk, tel 01773 770 183, email email@example.com
Thursday 6th December – King John
This month we looked at a variety of things:
First the crusades, which were an attempt to conquer the Holy Land , which had fallen to Islamic expansion as early as the 7th century. The People’s Crusade failed but was immediately followed by the successful Princes Crusade, which was a well organised military campaign. This was followed by 2 failing crusades before the well known 3rd Crusade of Richard I which ended with a 3 year truce – The Treaty of Jaffa. Many more crusades happened in succeeding years with various levels of success and failure.
Peasants in the 12th and 13th century.
The word ‘Peasant’ means ‘Country Man’. Ten percent of the population were slaves in the Middle Ages; people who were bought and sold and could not own property. A further 75% were cottars, bordars or villeins, who worked the land for their Lord. It isn’t true that peasants were uncouth. Excavation of a medieval village in Yorkshire showed that they had a neat, planned village and lived in families much as we do now. The villeins organised care of their Manor through the Manor Court, planning how fields were to be farmed, dates for planting and harvesting, and the boundaries of the strips of land held by each villein. The courts also determined the dates on which the animals were allowed to graze in different fields. They worked together to the benefit of the village as a whole.
In the 12th century medicine was made up of 3 different parts: Doctors, Pilgrimage and Witchcraft. In the 12th century the most famous medical school was in Southern Italy, where both male and female could study. It was reputedly founded by a Christian, an Arab and a Jew. People also took pilgrimage to a Holy shrine and many sick people received miraculous cures. As the Doctor cost too much for most people, they turned to witches who had potions and ointments passed down from their mothers.
We also looked at the impact of Sherwood Forest on the East Midlands. William the Conqueror created the Norman forest system in England which claimed exclusive hunting rights for the King. No-one but the King was allowed to kill deer, wild boar, hares, rabbits, wildfowl and birds used in falconry, or to fish in ‘forbidden rivers’ or to chop down trees and other forms of vegetation which afforded food and shelter for game. Henry II enforced the laws firmly and enlarged the forests. Forest inhabitants were not allowed to have bows and arrows or any other tool that would allow them to kill game. Their rights to cut wood for building and fuel and to pasture their animals on the wasteland was restricted. Many people became ‘outlaws’ under this strict regime.
In October we looked in detail at Richard I. He was also known as Richard the Lionheart, a title he gained in the 3rd Crusade to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims. He came to the throne at the age of 34. Richard’s opinion of England was that it’s always cold and raining. He reigned for 10 years but spent no more than 6 months here. His wife Berengaria never set foot in England.
He was Eleanor (his mother) of Acquitaine’s favourite child and she wanted him to rule her kingdom in France. He fought alongside his brother, against his father, for her French lands but lost the battle. His father forgave his sons but he didn’t forgive his wife for conspiring against him and Eleanor was imprisoned until Henry II died.
Richard left the Holy Land in 1192 and in January 1193 he was captured and delivered to Emperor Henry VI. The dowager Queen Eleanor, at the age of 70, arranged his freedom. In 1199 at the siege of Chalus he was wounded and died several days later when the wound turned septic.
We also looked at several Medieval English phrases which we still use today e.g. Throw down the gauntlet – a knight would cast one gauntlet to the floor to challenge a fellow knight or enemy; Hue and cry – the French word ‘huer’ meant to shout out. In the middle ages you were obliged to shout and make a noise to warn the community to give chase if you saw a crime being committed; etc.
This month the group continued to investigate the Plantagenets and also looked at the food that was eaten in the Middle Ages.
Many of the eating habits were dictated by the rule of the Catholic Church with many fast days. Food was seasonal and eating it was dependent on complex systems of trade. The rich ate lots of fish and meat, enhanced with exotic spices and honey. They imported and used a large number of almonds and drank almond milk in preference to cow’s milk
Poor people had a much less varied diet: mainly pottage made from peas and beans. They also ate rye or barley bread, perhaps a bit of bacon. Grain provided 65-70% of calories in the early 14th century. So, their health was very dependent on the success of the harvest. Along with their grains, peasants ate cabbage, beets, onions, garlic and carrots. Cheese was the most common source of animal protein for the lower classes and many of the varieties would look familiar today, like Edam, Brie and Parmesan.
Medieval Europeans typically ate two meals a day: dinner at mid-day and a lighter supper in the evening. During feasts, women often dined separately from men due to social codes; or they sat at the table and ate very little. Plates were non-existent. Instead, people used the bottom part of a loaf of bread; or in lower-class households, they ate straight off the table.
Henry II is sometimes known as the “Father of the Common Law”. He reformed the law and set up the jury system. He ordered that only royal judges (Justices) could try criminal cases and cases involving disputed ownership of freehold property. The Justices were sent to tour the Counties on a regular basis (Circuits). Throughout the medieval period it was believed that the only way to keep order was to ensure that people were scared of punishments handed out for crimes; from stealing to murder, they were all harsh. Although there were gaols, these were generally only used to hold prisoners awaiting trial.
Henry was an opportunist, exploiting chances he was given to consolidate power. He never went to war personally, but persuaded others by offering inducements to rule territory, while keeping them beholden to him, therefore creating a vassalage system in which the personality of the King is central. He saw himself as Lord of his domain, which included England, Normandy, Maine, Anjou and on the periphery, Brittany and Wales.
Henry mounted 3 punitive campaigns into Wales between 1157 and 1163 which reasserted Royal authority; however he over-reached himself in 1163 attempting to define his rights as feudal overlord of the Welsh Princes by demanding oaths of vassalage of them. The Welsh rebelled and Henry responded in 1165 with the largest military campaign in Wales but he was defeated by the difficult terrain and bad weather. The Welsh meanwhile continued to encroach on the land of the Norman Barons and was the reason that the Normans moved into Ireland. Initially unconcerned, Henry eventually closed all the ports to Ireland, ordering all those who had crossed to return and threatening to confiscate their lands if they didn’t return. In the meantime, the men of Wexford had risen up against Robert the Normans. The Irish appealed to Henry for aid and the men of Wexford offered Robert FitzStephen as the man who had initiated the Norman encroachment into Ireland. Robert languished in prison until 1172.
Henry landed in Ireland in 1171 and was met by the sub-kings of Leinster and other kingdoms, who did homage to him. Henry left Ireland in 1172 leaving Strongbow in charge of Leinster, but with the importantly strategic locations of Wexford, Leinster, Cork and Wicklow castle in royal hands. Like Wales, once the situation of Ireland had been resolved Henry seemed to have lost interest. He seemed much less concerned with conquering territory than with exerting, what might be termed, as feudal control over his neighbours.
At the July meeting the group began to look at the Plantagenets. We learnt that the name Plantagenet came from Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, who wore a yellow broom flower (planta genista) in his helmet. He married Empress Matilda, the daughter of Henry I and their eldest son became Henry II.
The Plantagenets were the longest reigning English dynasty and many elements of what we today know as England were founded in this time. Borders of the realm were established; principles of Law and Institutions of Government that have endured to this day were created; A rich mythology of national history and legend was concocted and cults of two of our national saints, Edward the Confessor and St George were established.
Military tactics were revolutionised from the Norman age of siege craft to pitch battles with the English men at arms and the deadly mounted archers – the scourge of Europe. England also began to explore war on the open seas. In the middle of the 14th century something resembling an English Navy could be deployed to protect the coasts and attack enemy shipping.
By the end of the Plantagenet reign England had been transformed into one of the most sophisticated and important kingdoms in Christendom. This period ended with the War of the Roses and took us out of the Dark Ages into the nation we recognise today.
We also looked at significant buildings from the period:
St Julienne Cathedral in Le Mans, France where Geoffrey Plantagenet and Empress Matilda were married and Geoffrey was buried. Henry II was also baptised there and he funded refurbishment which included buttresses: a new development in this period.
Canterbury Cathedral where Henry II’s knights hacked Thomas Becket to death and Henry was ritually flogged by all the monks of the cathedral as penance.
Kenilworth and Caerphilly Castles, where water defences were created and the design included concentric rings of walls which proved to be a turning point in the history of the castle in Britain. Both of these castles were significant in the overthrow of Edward II in 1326/7
Henry II and Eleanor (Alienor), Duchess of Aquitaine
We learnt that Henry II was full of energy and drive; he was keen to assert his authority and restore the lands and privileges held by his grandfather Henry I. By the end of 1155 he had restored a semblance of order and sound administration to much of England. As Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou he had control over Normandy, Anjou, Maine and Touraine; and by marrying Eleanor he extended his land to include Aquitaine. His French lands stretched from the English Channel to the Pyrenees and covered ten times as much of the country as the French Kings’ possessed. By 1172 he controlled England, large parts of Wales, the eastern half of Ireland and the western half of France, an area that would later come to be called the Angevin Empire.
Henry and Eleanor had 8 children and their descendents ruled for 2 centuries. Two of their sons Richard II (Lionheart) and John followed Henry as rulers of the Angevin Empire.
The Norman Kings
This period of history began with William I – William the Conqueror – in 1066. After the Battle of Hastings on 14th October, he was crowned at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066. He is credited with the introduction of Feudalism Law and a survey of England know to us as The Domesday Book.
Next in line was William’s 3rd son William II – Rufus or The Red King. He reigned from 1087 to 1100. He proved to be most unpopular, especially with the church because of his opposition to reform. He also used church revenues for his own use and his promiscuous homosexual lifestyle. He had no children.
Henry I – reigned 1100 to 1135. William II’s younger brother Henry I secured the throne while his older brother Robert was absent on a crusade. He was crowned King at the age of 32 and he reigned for 35 years. He had 21 illegitimate children. He was a good diplomat and was known as the Lion of Justice. He declared his daughter Matilda his Heiress.
Stephen – reigned 1135 to 1154. On the death of Henry I, Stephen claimed the throne, despite the fact he had sworn to help Matilda succeed her father. Historians generally agree that Stephen was the worst King of England. Most of his reign was at war. In 1148 Matilda left the country for France and in 1153 her son Henry was old enough to take up the fight for the throne. Henry agreed with Stephen at the Treaty of Winchester that he would leave Stephen to rule if Stephen named him as his heir. On Stephen’s death Henry became King Henry II and started the House of Plantagenet.
The Norman Battles
In January 1066 Edward the Confessor died childless. He had promised the throne to both Harold Goodwinson and Harald Hardrada (King of Norway), although several other people wanted to be king, including William of Normandy. On Edward’s death Harold Goodwinson was immediately crowned King Harold II.
Harald Hardrada invaded Yorkshire with approx. 300 longships, and defeated the northern Saxon army at the Battle of Fulford. Harold II marched North, gathering more army recruits on his way. He took Hardrada by surprise and defeated him at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on the 25th September 1066.
While Harold II was in the North of England, William, Duke of Normandy, invaded Sussex with a fleet of 700 ships and a large army. King Harold rushed back to the South. On the 14th October 1066 the 2 sides met at Senlac Hill, Near Hastings. William had a well-equipped army, with Knights on horseback and archers with crossbows, whilst Harold II’s army were on foot with only axes and the Fryd (working men – mainly farmers – called up by kings to form an army) had anything that they could use to fight. William used his archers to break up the shield wall and Harold’s soldiers then surrounded him for protection, but he was killed, possibly with an arrow in his eye.
William was crowned King of England on Christmas Day 1066, but it took years more fighting to conquer the Country. Some English people rebelled against the new leader, including Hereward the Wake in East Anglia and Eadric the Wild in Shropshire. The biggest rebellion was in Northern England in 1069. In the North East of England, he ordered villages to be destroyed and people to be killed, together with herds of animals and crops being burnt. Most of the people who survived starved to death, even, allegedly turning to cannibalism. This is called “The Harrying of the North”.
The Norman Conquest broke all links with Denmark and Norway and connected the country to Normandy and Europe. William got rid of all Saxon nobles and imposed the feudal system on England. William reorganised the Church in England and brought in men from France to be Bishops and Abbots. Great Cathedrals and huge monasteries were built. Tensions between the English and their new French rulers lasted for over three centuries.
Before the Normans arrived there had not been much construction for defensive purposes. The castles they built initially were motte and bailey – an internal stronghold with a larger enclosure surrounding it. Within this enclosure were various wooden buildings such as stables, kitchens etc. These castles could be constructed quickly with materials that were ready to hand and were easily defended by a small number of troops. Over 500 motte and bailey castles were built in William I’s reign, although many were built by the barons he appointed in order to secure their own land. The earthwork form of several mottes has survived to the present time.
William built his castles as he moved up country and he thought nothing of destroying existing buildings along the way. He wanted to show Norman superiority. He faced a lot of uprising, especially in the North.
By the middle of the 12th century many castles had been rebuilt in stone or had stone structures added. The White Tower of London is the best example of a Norman keep. The height of the keep and the massive walls (e.g. Dover Castle walls 20ft thick) meant that the enemy were unable to demolish them and gain entry to the castle. However they were vulnerable to attack on the corner of the rectangular keeps and by the late 12th/early 13th century circular and polygonal keeps were emerging.