Guest Post: Trial by Combat – Rough Justice by Toni Mount

It is an absolute pleasure to welcome author and historian Toni Mount back to the blog, with an article based on her research for her latest non-fiction book, How to Survive in Medieval England. Toni has a wonderful way with words to the extent that her books – fiction and non-fiction alike – are a pure pleasure to read.

So, without further ado, it is over to Toni:

Trial by Combat – Rough Justice

My new book, How to Survive in Medieval England, published by Pen & Sword, is a guide to travelling in history: what to expect, how to dress, how to stay safe and what to look for on the menu.

If you were able to go back in time to medieval England, so much would be very different and so many things missing – all technology, from engines to the Internet. All work would be done by hand. In medieval England, the law sometimes works quite differently from the way we expect today. Trial by Ordeal was a means of deciding who was innocent and who was guilty. A suspect or the accused would be taken to a church and with a priest presiding, subjected to one of a number of horrific acts.

Trial by Fire – a priest (centre) blesses the ordeal as the accused (left) takes the red-hot iron in hand.
[Readers may note the accused wears ‘motley’ – parti-coloured cloth – a sure sign of untrustworthiness.’

A favourite was Trial by Fire. In this case, a piece of iron was heated to red-hot in a brazier and the accused had to remove the metal from the fire – by hand! His burns would be bandaged and left for a week. When inspected by the priest at the end of seven days, if they were healing well this was God’s decision and the accused was innocent. But if the burns were septic and weeping, that was also God’s doing and proved the accused was guilty because God was not on his side.

Trial by Water could be similar with the accused having to plunge his hand into a cauldron of boiling water. Or, an alternative Ordeal by Water involved throwing the accused into a pond or river, though this one always seems most unfair to me. If the accused sank and, therefore, probably drowned, he was innocent because the water, having been blessed by a priest, ‘accepted’ him. If he floated, he was guilty because the blessed water refused him. In which case, he would be hanged, so he died either way.

Another method was Trial by Combat in which the accuser and the accused fought it out with weapons. God would cause whoever was telling the truth to win the battle.

In 1249, a gang of thieves was terrorising Winchester, Salisbury and Guildford, specialising in stealing expensive clothing and shoes. The gang was often violent and, although folk in the area knew who they were, they were too scared to accuse them.

Top right corner – Walter (left) fighting Hamo (right) and Hamo (top centre) being hanged after he lost
[https://blogs.loc.gov/law/2018/09/judicial-combat-barbarous-relic-or-timeless-litigation-strategy/]

In my new book, I include some imagined interviews with real people of the time as a means of telling about true aspects or incidents in their lives. Let’s speak to Walter Blowberme, a member of this notorious gang of thieves:

‘Now Walter, you were caught in the act, I believe, and admitted your crimes. Tell us what you did.’

‘Well, see, we stoled all this valuable stuff, didn’t we? Good cloth, shoes, some jewellery and silver cups. Made a fine profit ’til I got caught, filching a gold brooch. I knewed this meant a date wi’ the hangman for me so I told the sheriff I’d be an approver.’

‘What is an approver?’

‘You don’t know? What a dim-wit. It means my life’ll be spared if I telled the court the names of ten others involved in the crimes. I didn’t want t’ do it, ’cos they was my mates but a man has t’ lookout for hisself.’

‘So you snitched on your fellows. What happened then?’

‘I named six fellows from Guildford who was all members of the gang. They was all arrested, tried and condemned. I didn’t feel too bad about them ’cos I never liked most of ’em, except Tom. It was a shame about him. But I still needed another four fellows convicted to save my own neck, so I accused three from Hampshire. They wasn’t in the gang; just fellows I knowed and didn’t like much. They was found not guilty and released so I had t’ name four others as gang members. It’s a good thing I know so many folk and don’t like none of ’em. These four was nasty bits o’ work, I can tell you, but when the sheriff tried to take ’em, three managed to escape. But because they never turned up in court, they was found guilty anyway. The fourth fellow, Hamo Stare – my sister’s husband what I never liked – was brung to trial but things was so complicated, the judge offered Hamo a trial by ordeal.’

‘I thought trial by ordeal was made illegal by the Church?’

‘Don’t ask me; I’m not the judge. Anyhow, Hamo chosed trial by combat and I, as his accuser, had to be his opponent. We had wooden clubs and shields and fighted ’til we was both bloody but Hamo gave in first. The judge declared God had gived me most strength, so I must have spoke truly against Hamo. Hamo was hanged – good riddance – and I’d managed to get ten fellows convicted, so my life was spared but I got banished from the district forever ’cos I admitted being guilty of so many crimes.’

‘But you didn’t mend your ways, Walter?’

‘Nay. Couldn’t resist some silver bits, could I? I comed t’ London and just six months later I got caught, thieving a chalice and candlesticks from St Mary-le-Bow church.’

‘And this time there is no second chance for you, is there, Walter?’

‘Nay. This time it’s the gallows for me. T’morrow. Pray for me soul, won’t you?’

Judicial tests and ordeals had been abolished at an important Lateran Council meeting, held by the pope in 1215, stating that churchmen may ‘neither pronounce nor execute a sentence of death. Nor may they act as judges in extreme criminal cases, or take part in matters connected with.’ This meant trial by ordeal no longer had God’s sanction – a priest had to be present as His representative – since it was God who determined the outcome. However, obviously, such trials must have continued for at least another thirty years.

A naughty priest in the stocks along with his mistress – churchmen’s punishments were not so bad.
[https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/monks-sex-drink-gamble-history-pope/]

Churchmen could no longer sit in judgement but neither could they be tried in a state court. They had to be tried in church courts by their fellow clerics and a death sentence could never be past, even for murder. So, in medieval England, if anyone could prove they were a man of the cloth, or a nun, then they could, literally, get away with murder. Here’s how: only trained clerics can read Latin; so if the accused can read the Bible – always in Latin – he must be a churchman. To prove a person can read, the same passage is always required to be read aloud from the Bible: ‘Oh loving and kind God, have mercy. Have pity upon my transgressions.’ (Psalm 51, Verse 1.) This meant that any forward-thinking criminal learned this verse by heart, in Latin, even if he couldn’t read a word. It saved the necks of so many miscreants, it was known as the ‘Neck-Verse’ and got a great number of very guilty people out of trouble.

Readers can find out far more about medieval lives, meet some of the characters involved and get a ‘taste’ of the food of the time in How to Survive in Medieval England, my new book from Pen & Sword, published on 30th June 2021 and available for pre-order now on Amazon.

About the book:

How to Survive in Medieval England by Toni Mount
Pen & Sword History (30 Jun. 2021)

Imagine you were transported back to Medieval England and had to start a new life – without mobile phones, ipads, or social media. When transport meant walking or, if you’re lucky, horse-back; how will you know where you are or what to do? Where will you live? What is there to eat? What shall you wear and how can you communicate? Who can you turn to if you fall ill or are mugged in the street,? All these questions and many more are answered in this new guide book. How to Survive in Medieval England is a handy self-help guide with tips and suggestions to make your visit to the Middle Ages much more fun. Learn the rules so you don’t get into trouble or show your ignorance in embarrassing
situations and read interviews with the stars of the day, from a celebrity chef to King Richard III himself. Have an exciting visit but be sure to keep this book to hand.

About the Author

Toni Mount is a history teacher and a best-selling author of historical non-fiction and fiction. She’s a member of the Richard III Society’s Research Committee, a regular speaker to groups and societies and belongs to the Crime Writers’ Association. She writes regularly for Tudor Life magazine, has written several online courses for http://www.MedievalCourses.com and created the Sebastian Foxley series of medieval murder mysteries. Toni has a First class honours degree in history, a Masters Degree in Medieval History, a Diploma in English Literature with Creative Writing, a Diploma in European Humanities and a PGCE. She lives in Kent, England with her husband and has two grown-up sons.

Web http://www.tonimount.com

Social https://www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10/ https://twitter.com/tonihistorian https://www.instagram.com/toni.mount.10/

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My Books

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

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©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Toni Mount

Book Corner: The Colour of Evil by Toni Mount

Every Londoner has money worries. Talented artist and some-time sleuth, Seb Foxley, is no exception.

When fellow craftsmen with debts to pay are found dead in the most horrid circumstances, fears escalate. Only Seb can solve the puzzles that baffle the authorities.

Seb’s wayward elder brother, Jude, returns unannounced from Italy with a child-bride upon his arm. Shock turns to dismay when life becomes more complicated and troubles multiply.

From counterfeit coins to deadly darkness in London’s worst corners; mysterious thefts to attacks of murderous intent, Seb finds himself embroiled at every turn. With a royal commission to fulfil and heartache to resolve, can our hero win through against the odds?

Share Seb Foxley’s latest adventures in the filthy streets of medieval London, join in the Midsummer festivities and meet his fellow citizens, both the respectable and the villainous.

The Colour of Evil by Toni Mount is the 9th book in Toni’s marvellous Sebastian Foxley Medieval Mystery series. If you haven’t read any of these books yet, you are really missing a treat!

Toni Mount has a unique, engaging writing style. Her beautiful prose and clever use of language instantly transports you back to 15th century England. The story revolves around a series of murders linked to counterfeit coins, into which Seb Foxley is brought as a consultant by the local bailiff.

The eponymous hero of the story, Seb Foxley, is a wonderful, intelligent character, who is, perhaps, a little too straitlaced and naive for his own good. His brother is a little too worldly-wise and entitled, but much less self-aware than is good for a grown man – I wanted to punch him on a number of occasions (and I’m not a violent person). The Colour of Evil places these brothers at the heart of the story, highlighting their conflicts and rivalries as London is in the grip of a series of gruesome murders.

As the mystery deepens, the reader is absorbed into the sights, smells and story of London; the excitement, fear and mystery is palpable. The Colour of Evil is an absorbing thriller.

Over ale, Thaddeus told me of the man – the thief we had taken in possession of his ill-gotten gains.

‘His name is Philip Hartnell, a most respectable citizen and a cutler by craft. He said he was walking along Bladder Street, passed the house with its window wide to the pleasant evening air when he saw the candlesticks by the open casement. At a glance, he was quite certain they were the same ones he had bought his wife as a wedding gift ten years since. His wife has much fondness for the sticks, so he took them, thinking to please her.’

‘Had they been stolen away from him previously, then? Is that the way of it?’ I sipped my ale. Thaddeus did likewise afore continuing.

‘That was my first thought. I tell you, Seb, it took a deal of cajoling and probing to get the truth out of Philip Hartnell. The candlesticks weren’t stolen from him but he apparently gave his goodwife to think they had been taken. The truth is that Hartnell has fallen into debt. He took the candlesticks to a goldsmith and sold them to pay off a sizeable loan. When his wife found them gone, she was much upset – more so than Hartnell ever expected. Thus, he told her they had been stolen, rather than admit his actions and the fact that he was over the ears in debt to a moneylender.’

‘An unfortunate situation but how does that excuse his actions of yestereve?’

‘It doesn’t. Besides, the candlesticks he stole from the house in Bladder Street were never his. Similar in shape but not the same ones.’

‘He has no right to them, even had they been the same. He sold them and has had the profit from the sale. Hartnell is a thief and we caught hm. He deserves just punishment, does he not? I do not see any reason for your difficulties in this matter, Thaddeus.’

‘He had never had any dealings with the law before, Seb. He’s a respected member of the Cutlers’ Company and a churchwarden. He loves his wife and family, works hard and earns a good living.’

‘Not good enough, so it would seem, else why would he be in debt?’

‘A foolish mistake, he said though he withheld further details. I had the feeling another woman was involved. In every other respect, Hartnell is a decent citizen. I think he deserves a second chance.’

‘What of the house in Bladder Street? The folk he robbed? Not to mention all the neighbourhood having to rally to the hue-and-cry.’

‘The candlesticks were returned – dented, it’s true but Hartnell says he will pay for their repair. The householder is agreeable. Besides…’

Thaddeus drained his ale.

‘Besides?’

‘Philip Hartnell is not alone, Seb. He is the fourth… no, the fifth respectable citizen that has come to my notice, by one means or another, who has found himself in debt and unable to repay. There’s something going on in London, concerning underhanded financial dealings, and I don’t like the smell of it.

‘Watch your purse, my friend. Every one of them is of middling status like you. Outwardly decent and honest yet they find themselves in dire need, monetarily. I wouldn’t want that to happen to you.’

‘Fear not, I owe no man so much as a ha’penny. So you will let Hartnell go?’

‘Aye, I think so. Both Newgate and the Counter are overfull of vile inmates. Hartnell is not of their kind. They’d make a hearty supper of him on his first day inside.’

The Colour of Evil by Toni Mount paints a wonderful, full-colour image of London in the time of Edward IV. The streets, taverns, work places and dark alleys are brought to vivid, vibrant life by Toni Mount’s beautiful prose and fantastic imagination. The author’s research is impeccable, her knowledge of 15th century medieval England allowing the reader to sit back and be transported back in time. Toni Mount clearly demonstrates how the guilds, the law and money, works and how it was all an integral part of life in medieval London. She recreates the world of 500 years ago to give the reader not only a great story, but the experience of being amongst the people and places of the time.

The characters are wonderfully individuals, each with their own strengths and flaws – though some have mostly flaws and very few strengths. I always think the sign of a good book is when you find yourself frustrated with the actions of a favourite character – or wanting to punch one who seems thoughtless or heartless; or when you find yourself egging a character on – or wanting to shout ‘no, don’t go down there’. The Colour of Evil certainly takes you through all these emotions and more.

The Colour of Evil by Toni Mount is a beautifully crafted mystery that brings the dark, dangerous streets of medieval London to life. Toni Mount is a magician with words, weaving a captivating story in wonderful prose. The Colour of Evil is, to put it simply, a pleasure to read.

If you haven’t read a Seb Foxley book before, don’t worry, each book works as a standalone. Though I have to warn you – after reading one, you will want to read the rest!

To buy the Book: http://getbook.at/colour_of_evilhttp://mybook.to/Colour_Evil

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About the Author

Toni Mount earned her Master’s Degree by completing original research into a unique 15th-century medical manuscript. She is the author of several successful non-fiction books including the number one bestseller, Everyday Life in Medieval England, which reflects her detailed knowledge in the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages. Toni’s enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her Sebastian Foxley medieval murder mysteries. Toni’s first career was as a scientist and this brings an extra dimension to her novels. It also led to her new biography of Sir Isaac Newton. She writes regularly for both The Richard III Society and The Tudor Society and is a major contributor of online courses to MedievalCourses.com. As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, coordinates a creative writing group and is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.

You can find Toni at: Her website; Seb Foxley’s website; Seb Foxley’s Facebook page; Toni’s ‘Medieval England’ Facebook page; Toni Mount’s Facebook page; Toni Mount online courses.

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My books

Coming 31st May:

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Guest Post: The Root of all Evil by Toni Mount

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author and historian Toni Mount to the blog, as part of Toni’s blog tour for her fabulous new novel, The Colour of Evil, which is released on 25th March.

The Root of all Evil – Money to spend in Medieval London

Portrait of Sebastian Foxley by Dmitry Yakovsky @ Madeglobal Publishing

The theme in my latest novel in the The Colour of … series is money, whether earning it, owing it, forging it or even murdering because of it. Our hero, Seb Foxley, has to solve the mysteries, however he can. So I thought an article about medieval money might interest readers.

Silver penny of Henry II – note the cross-shape on the reverse so it could be cut accurately into halfpennies or farthings

From Anglo-Saxon times, England’s currency system was based on the penny which contained one pennyworth of silver. These were minted from high quality ‘sterling’ silver, so called because the earliest coins were known as steorlings or little stars; perhaps a star was part of the original design. By the time of William the Conqueror [1066-86] a pounds worth of starlings was accepted as well-respected money across Europe. However, not all Kings of England took care to keep constant the value of silver in a penny. Henry I’s reign was a particularly bad time for the coinage and in 1124 the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded that ‘pennies were so adulterated, a pound at market could not purchase twelve pence worth of anything’. Since 12 pence = 1 shilling and 20 shillings = £1, this meant a penny wasn’t worth one-twentieth of its original value back in 1066. The reign of King Stephen [1135-54] didn’t help as it was a period of almost constant civil war. In fact, things became worse because different factions set up their own mints and coins became mere tokens, often spendable only within the jurisdiction of a particular faction. Somebody had to sort out the mess.

Fortunately for the reputation of England’s monetary system, Henry Plantagenet became King Henry II in 1154 and from 1158 he issued an entirely new set of currency, asserting royal control over just thirty designated mints and restored not only the silver content of the pennies but confidence in English money. And this was a good time to do so because trade across Europe was changing from the barter system, when a dozen eggs could pay for a pair of shoes to be mended, or a day’s work might be repaid with a sack of flour, to the purchase of goods and services using money.

It was easier also to gather taxes and customs duties for the king in coin, rather than in kind, and Henry demanded efficiency in their collection. In fact, the system worked so well in England that when Henry’s son, Richard the Lionheart, was held to ransom in 1192 for the incredible sum of £100,000 [about $17.5 million today], most of it was gathered in England and paid in English pennies, despite Richard’s realm including much of France at the time.

Westminster Hall where the Trial of the Pyx were first held

Having put the monetary system in good order, the ‘Trial of the Pyx’ was invented to keep it that way and safeguard the value of new-minted coins. It is thought that this institution began in the twelfth century but in 1282 Edward I made it official and records have been kept ever since. Conducted like a public legal trial, twelve ‘discreet and lawful’ citizens of London and twelve members of the Goldsmiths’ Company sat as a jury to judge the legitimacy of the newly minted coins. Coin samples were taken from every minting and set aside for assay in secure chests called pyx – hence the name of the trial. It’s the same word used for the box in which consecrated bread is kept at Holy Communion, showing the significance of this procedure. For centuries they were stored in the Pyx Chamber in Westminster Abbey, along with other important items belonging to both state and church.

Early trials were held first in Westminster Hall and later in the Exchequer at Westminster, taking place annually. The jury was summoned by and the trial presided over by the King’s [or Queen’s] Remembrancer of the Royal Courts of Justice. The size, weight, silver purity and content of the coins were all examined and verified, the jury passing its verdict on the results. The trial was held at the beginning of the year on the previous year’s samples, allowing two months for the proceedings and a third month for the assayers’ testing and reports before the Remembrancer announced the result of the trial.1

The medieval monetary system of England was complicated, to say the least. As I write this, it’s fifty years since the decimalisation of our coinage in Britain [15th Feb 1971] and our own pre-decimalisation coinage was still based upon the medieval system: 12 pennies [12d] = 1 shilling; 20 shillings [20s] = £1 and, therefore 240 pennies = £1. It made accounting tricky and you had to know your 12 times table. But until 1489, there was no coin of the value of £1 and there were no shilling coins until 1504.

Richard III groat (1483-85)

In some ways, to the average carpenter, shoemaker and housewife, this didn’t matter very much because with a skilled man’s wages counted in pennies, the chance of him requiring, handling – or even seeing – a coin of denomination larger than a groat was slim indeed. A groat was a silver coin worth 4 pennies, the word ‘groat’ being a corruption of the French word gros, meaning large because, in 1279, when Edward I first issued it, it was the biggest coin in circulation. 3 groats = 1 shilling but even then a groat was engraved with a design to divide it exactly into four quarters so it could be reduced to 2 half-groats [worth 2d each] or even 4 equal pennyworths of silver. The round 1 penny coins [1d] were similarly engraved so they could be cut into 2 halfpennies and again into 4 farthings [originally ‘fourthings’]. England still used farthings as proper, circular coins, not cut-downs, into the 1950s. These were the coins of everyday use in medieval times.

But there were people who dealt in larger sums than pennies. A medieval merchant’s cargo of wine imported from Bordeaux was going to cost more than a few pence, as would the hire of the ship and the customs duties to be paid. Counting out hundreds of tiny coins, some of them wedge-shaped from being cut down, was a time-consuming business and time – as ever – was money. So it made sense to have some higher value coins in use for such transactions. Pounds and shillings, maybe? No. Nothing so simple as that. The account ledgers might show business conducted in pounds, shillings and pence but the coins changing hands bore little resemblence to what was noted down. A common amount used in both theoretical and practical accounting was the mark.

Edward IV gold angel, worth 6s 8d or half a mark
note the image of the Archangel Michael slaying the devil

The mark had been around since Anglo-Saxon times and had varied in value but, by the fifteenth century, a mark was worth 13s 4d. This may seem an arbitrary amount but is 160 pennies = two-thirds of £1. The half-mark [6s 8d, one-third of £1 or 80 pence] was an actual coin so that three half-marks equalled £1 in total comprised of just three coins that were so much easier to count and handle. There were even quarter-marks worth 3s 4d. This explains the frequent appearance of these values in medieval accounts ledgers. The half-mark was minted in gold and at various times was known as the noble, the rose-noble and the angel – this last after the image of St Michael the Archangel on the reverse. There was also a short-lived gold ryal [or royal] from 1465 worth 10 shillings.

Henry VII was not only determined to refill his empty coffers, by fair means or otherwise – his tax-gatherering methods were notorious – he wanted to be certain the actual coins were worth their face value, so one of the first things he did after becoming king was overhaul the coinage. Firstly, in 1489, he invented the £1 coin, called it a sovereign and had it minted in gold with his own image on the the obverse – a declaration that the Tudor king had arrived, if ever there was one.

The 10 shilling ryal and the 6s 8d angel were both reminted as silver coins, their previously gold counterparts having often been hoarded or melted down into cups, plates and jewellery. Pennies, half-groats [2d] and groats were all redesigned and their silver content assured, as well as the new silver shillings by 1504.

Henry VII gold sovereign worth £1

Readers may think that the writing of cheques cannot predate the banking system – the Bank of England was first set up in 1694, although Italian bankers go back centuries before that. Surprisingly, the first ‘cheques’ were invented by ordinary citizens and had nothing to do with banks. Rather, it had to do with keeping heavy valuables safe. In medieval times, people kept their assets in solid form, as gold plate, silver gilt candlesticks, fine goblets, jewellery and even expensive textiles and books. The crown jewels were frequently used as collateral to borrow money by kings in need of ready cash. A wary citizen would want his bulky treasures stored safely where thieves couldn’t help themselves and even the Royal Treasury at Westminster was looted on one occasion in the fourteenth century – the thieves were apprehended in the end but not all the swag was recovered. However, few folk had the facilities for storing their treasures. Important documents were sometimes locked in a chest at the parish church to which only the priest and the churchwarden had keys. But there wasn’t room for stacks of gold plate or suchlike. In London, the Goldsmiths’ Company kept their precious resources in their vaults underneath Goldsmiths’ Hall and were willing to rent out space to others to store their assets. This kept everything secure but what happened when, say, a wealthy merchant wished to use his set of gold plate to purchase a house from a rich widow? Instead of going to the goldsmiths, demanding his plates and then carrying the heavy weight across the city, risking robbery along the way, and handing them to the widow who would probably then have to arrange the plates’ return to the goldsmiths’ for safe-keeping, the cheque was invented. The cheque was simply a written document to inform the goldsmiths that the wealthy merchant’s gold plate stored in their vaults had now been transferred to the property of the rich widow. No physical effort, inconvenience or risks of loss were involved.

A cheque dated 16th February 1659
No medieval cheques are known to survive but would have looked similar, probably with a red wax seal, as here

In fact, bank notes, invented much later, were simply ready-written cheques made out for specific sums and, in theory at least, like the earlier cheques, could be used to redeem the valuables themselves. Today, Bank of England notes still say in very small print ‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of five pounds’, or whatever the value, signed on behalf of the Government and Company of the Bank of England by the bank’s Chief Cashier. I wonder what they’d do if I did present my fiver and demand the equivalent in silver or gold? Laugh themselves silly, probably.

Footnote:

1 For more information on the history and the conduct of the Trial of the Pyx in the 21st century see https://www.assayofficelondon.co.uk/about-us/trial-of-the-pyx

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Huge thanks to Toni for a fantastic article and good luck with the new book. To look back on the rest of the blog tour:

About ‘The Colour of Evil’:

Every Londoner has money worries. Seb Foxley, talented artist and some-time sleuth, is no exception but when fellow indebted craftsmen are found dead in the most horrible circumstances, fears escalate. Only Seb can solve the puzzles that baffle the authorities and help Bailiff Thaddeus Turner to track down and apprehend the villains.

When Seb’s wayward, elder brother, Jude, returns, unannounced, from Italy with a child-bride upon his arm, shock turns to dismay as life becomes more complicated and troubles multiply.

From counterfeit coins to deadly darkness in the worst corners of London, from mysterious thefts to attacks of murderous intent – Seb finds himself embroiled at every turn. With a royal commission to fulfil and heartache to resolve, can our hero win through against the odds?

Share Seb Foxley’s latest adventures in the filthy streets of medieval London, join in the Midsummer festivities and meet his fellow citizens, both the respectable and the villainous.

The Colour of Evil comes out on 25th March.

To buy the Book: http://getbook.at/colour_of_evilhttp://mybook.to/Colour_Evil

About the Author

Toni Mount earned her Master’s Degree by completing original research into a unique 15th-century medical manuscript. She is the author of several successful non-fiction books including the number one bestseller, Everyday Life in Medieval England, which reflects her detailed knowledge in the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages. Toni’s enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her Sebastian Foxley medieval murder mysteries. Toni’s first career was as a scientist and this brings an extra dimension to her novels. It also led to her new biography of Sir Isaac Newton. She writes regularly for both The Richard III Society and The Tudor Society and is a major contributor of online courses to MedievalCourses.com. As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, coordinates a creative writing group and is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.

http://www.tonimount.com (my website) http://www.sebastianfoxley.com (Seb’s own website) http://www.facebook.com/sebfoxley (Seb’s Facebook page) http://www.facebook.com/medievalengland (my ‘Medieval England’ Facebook page) http://www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10 (my general Facebook page) http://www.medievalcourses.com (seven of my history courses ‘online’ for download)

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My books

Coming 31st May:

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

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You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Guest Post: Frost Fairs by Toni Mount

Today it is a pleasure to welcome historian Toni Mount to History…the Interesting Bits, with an article on the Frost Fairs on the River Thames.

Frost Fairs

Anyone who was in the UK, Ireland or much of Europe in February and March 2018 will probably remember the weather phenomenon of anticyclone Hartmut, better known as ‘The Beast from the East’. The Beast began its onslaught on 22nd February, bringing heavy snowfall and unusually low temperatures which lasted into the first week of March. Across Europe, it caused 95 deaths, seventeen of them in the UK. The deepest snowfall in England was 22 inches [57 cm] in Gloucestershire. The lowest temperature, measured in the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland was -14℃ [7℉] with winds up to 70 mph [110 km/hr]. Two weeks of such intense cold weather is unusual in the UK today, though who knows what may lie ahead in the future with the effects of climate change. However, climate change is nothing new. The lifetime of Isaac Newton, from 1642 to 1727, saw far worse winter weather during ‘The Little Ice-Age’, as it is known, and the period from December 1683 to March 1684 saw an unprecedented cold spell in England.

Engraving of the Frost Fair on the Thames in London, 1683-84 [British Museum Collection]

Thermometers were a recent invention and a universal scale of temperature readings had yet to be established but descriptions of the thickness of ice formed on ponds in a single night suggest the long spell of exceptional freezing weather was worse than any winter before and has still to be surpassed. December 1683 began with a hard frost, followed by a bitter east wind laden with snow. In London, the snow melted on the 7th but a sharp frost on the 12th was succeeded by a week of heavy snowfall and a north-easterly wind. Places other than London suffered similarly. Bristol suffered badly on the 19th; Durham on Christmas Eve and Oxford had its worst snow on Christmas Day, although London only saw snow showers that day.

The previous October 1683 had seen temperatures more than 4°F below the average, so the ground was already colder than normal when the bad weather began in December. Daily thermometer readings – however inaccurate – were recorded by Dr John Downes in London. According to him, the greatest cold occurred on 15th-16th January when ‘the spirit fell within the ball’ of his thermometer so gave no reading. His thermometer probably hung indoors, close to a window was the usual position for such instruments, suggesting a likely reading of 25°F indoors when he took note of it, mid‐morning. This would probably indicate a temperature of below 10°F outdoors. It was almost as cold in the first days of February.

In Durham, farther north in Teesdale, a fellow scientist, Mr Sanderson, made occasional records of the thickness of ice formed ‘where John Aislaby gets his water, on 12th-13th February, ice formed two inches thick overnight’. He then adds ‘it was in my gazette [newspaper] that at the Downs [part of the English Channel off the coast of Kent] the water was frozen a mile into the Sea, which was never known before’. This occurred during the latter part of January. From other sources we learn that, for fourteen days, in the English Channel, packet‐boats with the mail could not leave the Belgian coast and that ‘the sea was frozen for two leagues off Caen [in Normandy, France]’. Near Manchester, Sanderson noted, ‘it did freeze ice more than half a yard thick, and some ice continued till 25th March’.

Undeterred by the cold, the people of Leeds in Yorkshire held a frost fair on the frozen River Aire. According to Ralph Thoresby, an ox-roast was set up there and various sporting activities organised. January saw no improvement and in the south, by the end of the month, the Thames estuary was frozen a mile out to sea and wagons were hauling goods downriver from London as far as Gravesend in Kent.

In London, John Evelyn’s diary provides a wealth of information, noting that brewers and other tradesmen reliant on a water supply were out of work because all the pipes were frozen. He was greatly concerned that:

The fowls, fish and birds and all our plants and greens universally perishing. Many parks of deer are destroyed and all sorts of fuel so dear that there were great contributions to keep the poor alive. … London, by reason of the excessive coldness of the air hindering the ascent of the smoke, was so filled with the fuliginous steam of sea-coal that one could hardly see across the streetes… and no one could scarcely breathe.

Evelyn also tells us that ‘every moment was full of disastrous accidents’ and trees were being cracked asunder by the frost as if by a lightning strike. Despite these gloomy realities, Londoners made the best of the weather conditions. A broadsheet of the time calls it ‘Great Britain’s Wonder or London’s Admiration: a prodigious frost which began about the beginning of December and continued till the fourth day of February following’. The Thames had frozen over before but never had the freeze lasted so long. The river ice was more than a foot thick [30cms] enabling it to be crossed by coach, carriage, sledge or on foot. Enterprising boatmen, robbed of their livelihood otherwise, put wheels under their boats to ferry passengers across the river. By 1st January, a fair and marketplace had been set up on the ice.

King Charles II and members of the royal court visited the makeshift town, enjoying eating meat from an ox-roast, taking part in a fox-hunt on ice and having souvenir cards printed in a booth where a printer had set up his press. The cards proved popular, the printer reckoning to make at least £5 per day at sixpence a time. In other words, he was printing around 200 cards every day and making an excellent income from his ingenuity. Food stalls sold everything from pancakes to roast beef and there were numerous taverns, goldsmiths’ shops, a toy shop, coffee-houses, a lottery booth, a music booth and even a brothel: all doing a brisk trade on  ice. A circus was put on by Mr Chipperfield: the first known performance of a family business that still continues today, if in a very different health-and-safety, animal-welfare conscious, twenty-first-century format. No such niceties concerned the entrepreneurs who arranged the bull- and bear-baiting spectacles either.

John Evelyn wrote that:

Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple… to and fro, as in the streets; sleds, sliding with skeetes [skates], a bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes [short dramatic sketches], cooks, tippling [drinking] and other lewd places, so that it seemed to be a bacchanalian triumph, or a carnival on water.

Others noted sporting activities, including football and skittles being played. The ice began to thaw a little on 4th-5th February and the booths began to be dismantled but it froze again so that Evelyn could still cross in his coach to Lambeth Palace to dine with the Archbishop of Canterbury. On other occasions, he walked upriver on the ice from his home in Deptford.

In Newton’s long lifetime the Thames would freeze over again in 1709 but the ice did not last so long as to allow another frost fair that year. However, the winter of 1715-16 was sufficiently severe and long-lasting that the river was frozen for almost three months and a fair was set up once more. On this occasion, there was far more snow than in 1683-84, ‘vast quantities fallen at different times in the season’, so that London was described at the time as being ‘almost impassable’.

Below, is an excerpt from a poem written in 1684:

BEHOLD the Wonder of this present Age,

A Famous RIVER now becomes a Stage.

Question not what I now declare to you,

The Thames is now both Fair and Market, too.

And many Thousands dayly do resort,

There to behold the Pastime and the Sport

Early and Late, used by young and old,

And valu’d not the fierceness of the Cold….

Back in history, the Thames had been frozen before. For example, in the reign of King Stephen, in 1150, ‘after a very wet summer there was in December so great a frost that horses and carriages crossed it [the Thames] upon the ice as safely as upon the dry ground, and that the frost lasted till the following month of March’. Again, in 1281, the Thames was frozen over and when the ice broke up at last, it carried away five of the stone arches of London Bridge, causing it to partially collapse and making this entrance into the city impassable until it was repaired. In 1434, ‘the Thames was so strongly frozen over, that merchandise and provisions brought into the mouth of the river were obliged to be unladen, and brought by land to the city’. In 1515, too, carriages passed over on the ice from Lambeth to Westminster and once more, when the ice melted a number of arches of London Bridge were ‘borne downe and carried away with the streame’. On the 21st of December 1564, during a lengthy hard frost, football and ‘shooting at marks’ were played on the Thames. Courtiers came from Whitehall Palace to mix with common citizens and watch the fun. Tradition says that Queen Elizabeth I herself walked upon the ice but all was gone by 5th January. However, Londoners had the chance to play all manner of sports and visit trading stalls on the river again in 1620, in the reign of James I.

The River Thames last iced over completely, enough to hold a Frost Fair on its frozen waters, in 1814 but, since then, the building of the Victoria and Albert Embankments has made it faster-flowing and less likely to ice up. However, it partially froze in the harsh winters of 1947 and 1963.

Who can say whether or not even more extreme weather events may happen in the future as a result of climate change? Only time may tell if another Frost Fair, like those experienced by Isaac Newton and his colleagues, will ever be held again on the Thames.

The World of Isaac Newton by Toni Mount

For nine decades Isaac Newton strode the world of science and discovery, religion and thought – from 17th century Lincolnshire farm-boy to one of the most influential scientists of all time – his discoveries have relevance for us today and for our future.  This fascinating new biography looks at his world, his times, the people he influenced and the breakthroughs in science and thought that would change the world.

About the Author

Toni Mount’s first career was in science, leading to many years in a second profession in teaching. Her love of history led to a third career as a writer with her first book, released by Amberley Publishing in 2014, Everyday Life in Medieval London. She continues to teach history to adults both in person and online and has now written many successful non-fiction and fiction books. This latest study allows her to return to her first love, science, and the chance to bring a fresh look at one of the world’s most famous characters.

Links

www.tonimount.com

www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10

www.twitter.com/tonihistorian

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My Books

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England  looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

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You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2020 Toni Mount

Guest Post: Whores and Winchester Geese – Prostitution in Medieval London

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Toni Mount to History … the Interesting Bits as a stop on her ‘The Colour of Shadows’ Blog Tour. The Colour of Shadows is the latest instalment in Toni’s Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mysteries series.

So it’s over to Toni

Whores and Winchester Geese – Prostitution in Medieval London

by Toni Mount

In my new Sebastian Foxley murder-mystery novel The Colour of Shadows, set in medieval London, some of the action takes place on the south side of London Bridge, in a seedy brothel known as ‘The Mermaid’. Mermaids were believed by medieval folk to seduce mariners, luring them to their deaths at sea. This nasty trait made ‘The Mermaid’ a most suitable name for a house of ill-repute in medieval Southwark but what was life really like for the unfortunate women, forced to earn their living in such places?

Prostitution is said to be the oldest profession. If you’re wondering, the second oldest is spying – both are mentioned in the Bible. Throughout history, prostitution has been seen as a necessary fact of life, for the most part tolerated by civic authorities, if rarely approved. In medieval London, the city tried to regulate the work of ‘common women’, confining them to particular areas, such as Cock Lane, in the north-west, near Newgate. But better yet was to keep them outside the city, out of sight and, hopefully, out of mind, across the Thames in Southwark, where they wouldn’t sully the city’s precious reputation. The Liberty of the Clink was an area in Southwark that, although actually in Surrey, was exempt from the jurisdiction of the county’s sheriff and came under the authority of the Bishop of Winchester. The bishop’s London residence, Winchester House, was built in the liberty, originally surrounded by parkland. Because the liberty lay outside the jurisdiction of the City of London and that of the county authorities of Surrey, some activities forbidden in those areas were permitted here.

In 1161 the bishop was granted the power to license prostitutes and brothels in the liberty and the women became known as ‘Winchester Geese’. To be ‘bitten by a Winchester goose’ meant to contract a venereal disease and ‘goose bumps’ was slang for the symptoms of the disease. Medieval attitudes to prostitution were mixed. Sex was only for procreation but, if it couldn’t be helped, at least the geese prevented good Christian men falling into even worse practices – like sodomy or masturbation – seen as mortal crimes by the church – so prostitution was a kind of safety valve for wicked desires and had the added benefit of filling the bishop’s coffers. When the poor Geese died, they had the final indignity of being buried in unconsecrated ground. The Cross Bones graveyard in Southwark has been preserved by local residents and a little memorial set up to commemorate the Winchester Geese.

Clients would come by boat from a jetty at Stew Lane in the city across the river to avoid being questioned if they went through the gates at London Bridge and, of course, the gates were closed after dusk. As clients approached the south bank, they’d see signs with the brothels’ names, painted on the white walls of detached houses surrounded by gardens. In early Tudor times, there were the Bear’s Head, the Cross Keys, the Gun, the Castle, the Crane, the Cardinal’s Hat, the Bell and the Swan. Under the direction of the Bishop of Winchester there were some restrictions: the brothels were not permitted to open on Sundays or religious days. There was also some attempt to stop prostitution getting out of hand, with a fine of twenty shillings should any ‘woman of the bordello… draw any man by his gown or by his hood or any other thing’. And the ordinances were meant to protect the prostitutes as well, requiring that women were not held against their will. Whether that actually happened is up for debate. We have some fascinating poll tax records documenting the extent of the ‘trade’, including those from 1381, recording seven local ‘stew-mongers’ each keeping between two and six ‘servants’, the latter probably a mix of both servants and prostitutes. Others are said to have worked on a ‘freelance’ basis, operating out of the likes of Paris Garden, the manor next to the Clink, or St Thomas’ Hospital.

By the time Henry VI came to the throne in 1422, the Southwark stews were at the peak of their profitability and the money flooding in allowed many stew-holders to buy themselves freehold property elsewhere in Southwark. Some used these additional properties to open inns or taverns which doubled as illegal brothels in Borough High Street, but that was only the beginning of the trouble their new riches brought. In order to serve on a fifteenth-century jury, you had to be a property-owner, which was taken as evidence you had a stake in society and could be trusted to take your responsibilities in court seriously. This gave the newly propertied stew-holders another opportunity for corruption. By hiring out their services to the highest bidder, stew-holders on the jury could deliver whatever verdict their paymasters required.

In 1473, Elizabeth Butler was visiting a friend’s London house when she met Thomas Boyd for the first time. Boyd offered her a job as a domestic servant at what he said was a Bankside inn, promising good pay and excellent working conditions. She accepted and went with him to the inn, where she quickly realised the place was actually a brothel and Boyd was its manager. Far from the light housekeeping duties his original offer implied, Boyd’s real plan was for Elizabeth to join his stable of whores. ‘He would have compelled me to do such things and service as other his servants done there’, she later testified. When Elizabeth refused to sell herself, Boyd claimed she owed him rent and took her to the Bishop of Winchester’s court, demanding a cash sum so large he knew she could never hope to pay it. The court found Elizabeth Butler guilty and gaoled her when she admitted she had no money. That was exactly what Boyd had hoped would happen. He’d be happy to get her out of gaol by cancelling her debt, he said – but only if she did what he wanted on Bankside. Elizabeth was stubborn and still refused. After three weeks in the Bishop’s Clink prison, she somehow managed to get a petition to the Bishop of Durham, pleading with him to get her case heard in the higher court of Chancery. She got as far as a hearing before London’s City Chamberlain, but frustratingly that’s where the records run out.

We have a couple of other fragments of court cases from the fifteenth century which also shed a little light on crime and punishment in the stews. In April 1439, for example, a known bawd named Margaret Hathewyck was charged with procuring a young girl called Isabel Lane for a group of men from Lombardy. ‘Isabel was deflowered against her will for money paid to the said Margaret’, the City Chamberlain’s court rolls say. After the Lombards had finished with Isabel, Hathewycke delivered her to a Bankside brothel ‘for immoral purposes with a certain gentlemen on four occasions against her will’. Hathewyck’s name appears at about this time among the list of prisoners sent to the Clink, where she seems to have served a long twenty-year sentence – such sentences were unusual, except for debt. Either that, or Hathewyck may have been a repeat offender who happened to be ‘inside’ each time the inmates were listed.

Another Bankside stewholder got what was coming to him in 1494 – and for a very similar offence to Boyd’s crime above. ‘Upon the second day of July, was set upon the pillory a bawd of the stews named Thomas Toogood’, Fabyan’s Great Chronicle reports. ‘The which before the mayor was proved guilty that he enticed two women dwelling at Queenhythe to become his servants and to have men in common within his house’.

Health issues

John of Gaddesden, an English doctor writing in the early 14th century, had some advice for women on how to protect themselves against venereal disease. Immediately after sex with any suspect man, he said, the woman should jump up and down, run backwards down the stairs and inhale some pepper to make herself sneeze. Next, she should tickle her vagina with a feather dipped in vinegar to flush infected sperm out of her body, then wash her genitals thoroughly in a concoction of roses and herbs boiled in vinegar. It’s hard to imagine anyone actually following this advice – let alone one of the girls in Southwark’s stews. It would have puzzled the customer she’d just serviced for one thing, and running backwards downstairs sounds an excellent way to break your neck. Other doctors writing at about the same time as Gaddesden had equally eccentric remedies of their own, but at least everyone now recognised that diseases such as gonorrhoea were spread by sexual intercourse and that in itself was a big step forward.

In 1321, King Edward II had founded the Lock Hospital in Southwark as a treatment centre for ‘lepers’, the name then used for anyone with sores and skin lesions. It was located less than a mile from the stews of Bankside and, unsurprisingly, it soon started to specialise in VD cases. ‘Lock Hospital’ can still be found in slang dictionaries today as a generic term for any VD clinic. Southwark’s lucrative trade gave it such place names as Codpiece Lane, Cuckold Court and Sluts’ Hole.

During the Plague, in 1349, Edward III suspended Parliament to let MPs escape London for the relative safety of the countryside. Anyone else rich enough to flee the capital got out too. But Southwark’s brothels remained open throughout the plague years, despite official warnings that casual copulation with multiple partners increased the risk of infection. Henry Knighton, a fourteenth-century chronicler who lived through the Black Death, says the stews were actually busier than ever during the plague years.

Legislation

In 1351, the City of London passed an ordinance that ‘lewd or common women’ must wear a striped hood to identify themselves and refrain from beautifying their clothes with any fur trim or fancy lining. At that time, any woman not of noble birth could be described as ‘common’ so the ordinance seemed to cover almost every female in the city. London’s proud womenfolk weren’t going to have men dictating what they could wear, so most ignored the ordinance and challenged any constable to arrest them, if he dared. When Edward III added his own authority to this law three years later, he was careful to specify it applied only to

London’s ‘common whores’. The striped hoods and lack of decorative trim, his proclamation declared, would ‘set a deformed mark on foulness to make it appear more odious’.

Some working girls continued to live inside the city walls but commuted to Cock Lane near Newgate or over the bridge to Southwark to earn their daily crust – perhaps finding somewhere to change on the way. But it wasn’t long before they were banned from even lodging in the city and subject to very heavy penalties for doing so. A 1383 ordinance required whores caught in London to have their heads shaved and then be carted through the streets in a special wagon while minstrels played all around them to attract a crowd. The girl herself would have to wear that trademark hood as the cart carried her through town to the nearest prison, where she’d be placed in a pillory and publicly whipped. In 1393, these rules were tightened further, saying no prostitute must go about or lodge’ in London or its suburbs, but ‘keep themselves in the places thereto assigned, that is to say, the stews on the other side of the Thames and in Cock Lane’. Offenders could face all the penalties I’ve mentioned and have their identifying hood confiscated too.

Henry V’s contribution was to ban London’s City aldermen and other respectable citizens from letting out any building they owned to tenants ‘charged or indicted of an evil and vicious life’. This was clearly aimed at the many churchmen, noblemen, City officials and wealthy merchants who happily rented out their property to known stewholders. There were only so many houses to be had in the Bankside’s licensed area, so anyone lucky enough to own a building there could command premium rents if he let it be turned into a brothel so there was a powerful financial incentive to accept stewholders as tenants and that’s what the king’s ordinance was up against. It must have been simple enough to arrange your affairs to circumvent the new law – perhaps by renting your building out through a middleman – whatever the case, the ban had little effect.

In 1436, Parliament heard an urgent petition from a group of Southwark citizens complaining that illegal brothels were still operating along the length of Borough High Street. ‘Many women have been ravished and brought to evil living’, the petition said, ‘Neighbours and strangers are oft-time robbed and murdered’. Parliament responded by declaring once again that stewhouses must be restricted to the licensed area provided – but gave no clue as to how this might be achieved. In 1460, Henry VI set up a commission of twenty respectable citizens from both Southwark and London to consider the problem. They recommended that the City of London send men into Southwark to remove any prostitutes or stewholders found operating away from Bankside and if necessary imprison them, but the War of the Roses deposed him just a few months after the commission’s report, so he had little chance to act. The new king, Edward IV, took a more relaxed view of the Winchester Geese – perhaps because his own habits left him little room to criticise what went on in Southwark. The only significant measure he took to regulate them was a 1479 royal proclamation that all the licensed Bankside stews should clearly identify themselves by painting their riverside walls entirely white. Each house had its own symbol painted like a pub sign on the same wall and – as often as not – a couple of enticing whores shouting from a riverside window to attract boat-bound customers. There are also references to Edward IV banning whores from wearing aprons – an ordinary woman’s badge of respectability – so they couldn’t pretend to be decent townsfolk. But another source says the apron ban was a twelfth-century ordinance.

Another matter

In London, on 11th December 1395, John Rykener was arrested in a stable in Sopers Lane, just off Cheapside, caught in an ‘unmentionable act’ with John Britby. Rykener was dressed as a woman, calling himself ‘Eleanor’, an embroideress. When he appeared before the mayor, still in women’s clothing, he admitted to similar offences with one Carmelite friar, two Franciscans, three Oxford scholars, three chaplains and six foreign men, charging them for the pleasure. However, he’d also given his services – as a man – to numerous women, including nuns, for free. It seems the authorities were mystified by such behaviour and, rather than punishing him for his ‘unmentionable acts’, which could have resulted in Rykener burning at the stake, they prosecuted him for misrepresenting himself as a woman and, therefore, ‘confusing’ his male customers and failing to provide them with the ‘womanly services’ they’d paid for. In other words, he’d broken the ‘trades’ descriptions act’, medieval style.

About the Author: Toni Mount

I’m an author, a history teacher, an experienced speaker – and an enthusiastic life-long-learner. I’m a member of the Research Committee of the Richard III Society and a library volunteer where I lead a Creative Writing group. I regularly give talks to groups and societies and attend history events as a costumed interpreter. I write for a variety of history magazines and have created seven online courses for http://www.MedievalCourses.com

I earned my Masters Degree by Research from the University of Kent in 2009 through study of a medieval medical manuscript held at the Wellcome Library in London. My BA (with First-class Honours), my Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing and my Diploma in European Humanities are from the Open University. My Cert. Ed (in Post-Compulsory Education and Training) is from the University of Greenwich.

I have a strong online following with my various social media and web pages: http://www.ToniMount.com http://www.SebastianFoxley.com http://www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10 http://www.facebook.com/medievalengland http://www.facebook.com/medievalmedicine http://www.facebook.com/sebfoxley http://www.twitter.com/tonihistorian

My works to date include:

Self-Published:

2007 The Medieval Housewife and Women of the Middle-ages; 2009 (updated 2015) Richard III King of Controversy; 2013 Dare they be Doctors.

Amberley Publishing:

2014 (Hb) Everyday Life in Medieval London; 2015 (Hb) Dragon’s Blood and Willow Bark: the mysteries of medieval medicine; 2015 (Pb) The Medieval Housewife: & Other Women of the Middle Ages; 2015 (Pb) Everyday Life in Medieval London; 2016 (Pb) Medieval Medicine: Its Mysteries and Science (the renamed paperback version of Dragon’s Blood & Willow Bark); 2016 (Hb) A Year in the Life of Medieval England; 2019 (Pb) A Year in the Life of Medieval England; 2020 (Hb) The World of Isaac Newton

Pen & Sword:

2021 (Pb) How to survive in Medieval England; 2021 (Pb) An affectionate look at sex in medieval England

MadeGlobal Publishing:

The Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mysteries series: 2016 The Colour of Poison; 2016 The Colour of Gold; 2017 The Colour of Cold Blood; 2017 The Colour of Betrayal; 2018 The Colour of Murder; 2018 The Colour of Death; 2019 The Colour of Lies; 2020 The Colour of Shadows

2018 The Death Collector (A Victorian Melodrama)

MedievalCourses.com:

2015 Everyday Life of Medieval Folk 2015 Heroes and Villains 2016 Richard III and the Wars of the Roses 2016 Warrior Kings of England: The Story of the Plantagenet Dynasty; 2017 Crime and Punishment; 2017 The English Reformation: A Religious Revolution 2018 The Roles of Medieval and Tudor Women

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My Books

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England  looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

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You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Toni Mount

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author Toni Mount to History … the Interesting Bits with a fascinating guest article based on her new novel The Colour of Lies.

Silk-women, femmes soles and Ellen Langwith

In my latest Seb Foxley medieval murder mystery, The Colour of Lies, set in London in the 1470s, the adventure involves Seb’s wife, Emily, and her fellow silk-women. We meet Dame Ellen Langton once more – she has appeared in most of the novels in The Colour of … series – a character closely based on a real life London silk-woman of the period: Ellen Langwith. In this article, we will look at the lives of Ellen and other silk-women of London, what their work required and how they organised their business.

Silk manufacture has always involved a sequence of skilled processes. Firstly, the silk filaments had to be wound off the cocoons by heating the cocoons in water to loosen the natural glue (sericin) which holds the silk together. Then, as the loosened ends floated free, the raw silk could be unravelled and wound on to spools. The fineness of the silk depended on how many filaments were wound together, a single filament being too fine to work with; four was usual. This part of the process was done at source – southern Spain, the Middle East or even farther afield – because the cocoons were too fragile to transport, so it was traded as these reels of raw silk. During the medieval period, England didn’t weave her own silk textiles: these luxurious cloths always had to be imported, but London did have its own thriving industry run by silk-women. They converted the raw silk into yarn, a process called ‘throwing’, then wove the thrown threads into ribbons, laces and girdles, making up hairnets, decorative fringes and tassels. To learn the craft of silk weaving, a young woman had to serve a long apprenticeship – usually seven years. Some London silk-women ran extensive workshops, taking apprentices from as far away as Yorkshire.

It would seem from the statutes of the City of London for the 1450s that silk working was strictly a woman’s business, unlike embroidery, knitting or even laundering, because the statutes say:

…Many a worshipful woman within the city has lived full honourably and therewith many good households kept, and many gentlewomen and others, more than a thousand, have been apprenticed under them in learning the same craft of silk making.

The language of the statutes implies that this craft was carried out by the most respectable women and was seen as a suitable occupation for ladies of gentility, as well as bringing in sufficient profits that ‘many good households’ depended upon it for their livelihood. Since it was so important, it is surprising the craft never formed its own formal guild, probably because men weren’t involved in the work. Instead, the silk-women regulated and co-operated among themselves, very much as guild members would have done, but unofficially. Having completed her apprenticeship, instead of being admitted to a company of fellow artisans, the young woman would remain with her mistress until she was able to marry and set up her own shop and, maybe, take on apprentices of her own, to pass on her skills.

The London silk-women carried out each skilled process of their craft and trade. As throwsters, they turned raw silk into yarn; as weavers, they produced ribbons, laces, and other small silk goods; as craftworkers, they made up silk laces and other trappings; and as traders in silk, they undertook large and lucrative contracts. This work wasn’t a mere sideline to domestic duties, something a wife pursued in moments free from housework, child care and labour in her husband’s workshop. Wives often continued to work in silk, no matter what the occupations of their husbands. It was a craft with secrets of production and trade passed on from mistress to apprentice. The women ran workshops, invested large amounts of money in purchases of raw materials and trading ventures, often continuing throughout their working lives. They also banded together for mutual aid. On six occasions between 1368 and 1504, the London silk-women sought protection for their craft through petitions (presented to either Parliament or the Lord Mayor of London), and many of their requests were granted.

Most working women were regarded, by law, as being ‘covered’ by their husbands and, therefore, in records of court cases, business contracts and debt collection, the activities of these women are, literally, concealed from view under their husbands’ names. The legal term is femmes couvertes and such women only appear in the records once they are ‘uncovered’ on becoming widows. But some women preferred to run their businesses in their own right, as femmes soles, even when their husbands were still alive, particularly in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries – perhaps this has some connection to the advent of the plague, when so many social changes were underway. In this case, the women were responsible for their own debts and could be sued through the courts. On the positive side, any profits made were theirs, not their husbands’, and they could sue others if money was owed to them or a contract was reneged upon to their loss. Silk-women were among those who opted to be femmes soles – with their husbands’ permission, of course. Often their husbands were merchants, especially mercers, who brought in the reels of raw silk for their wives along with other textiles imported from abroad.

Ellen Langwith – we don’t know her maiden name – probably came from Beckenham in Kent to London, to serve an apprenticeship as a silk-woman, sometime in the early fifteenth century. Her first husband, Philip Waltham, was a cutler who also owned a brewhouse: ‘Le Hertishorne’, just outside Newgate. But Ellen was already a successful silk-woman. In his will of 1425, Philip named his three apprentices: Agnes Walshale, Agnes Sampson and Alice Dunnowe, leaving them 6s 8d each on the condition that they behaved courteously, in both word and deed, towards his wife Ellen, their mistress, at whose discretion the money was to be given. From the wording of the will, it is impossible to say whether the three girls were apprenticed as cutlers or silk-women. Perhaps they were making high fashion silk scabbards for the knives Philip manufactured. Ellen was a widow by May 1426, the main executor of her husband’s will, sole owner of all his movable goods and the Hartshorn brewery.

By 1437, she had married again. Her second husband was John Langwith, a well-established London tailor who had become a freeman of the city in 1418 and took on his first apprentices in 1425. Since masters were required to have wives to care for the apprentices, it seems probable that John had been married previously, before he wed Ellen since, at this date, she was still Philip Waltham’s wife. John was elected Master of the Tailors’ Company in 1444 and, in the summer of 1445, he led the company in the elaborate processions to welcome Margaret of Anjou to London as the bride of Henry VI. The tailors spent £3 on blue livery gowns for the Master and Wardens to look their impressive best for the occasion. Did Ellen supply any silken trimmings for the robes? We don’t know, but that year she was admitted, free of charge, to the Tailors’ Fraternity of St John the Baptist. It was in the chapel of St John the Baptist, in their parish church of St Mary Abcurch, that both John and, later, Ellen would be buried. The Langwiths lived in a tenement on the north side of Candlewick Street, one of a group of properties, owned by John, which shared a courtyard.

After marrying John, in 1439, Ellen was one of a group of London silk-women who bought £30 worth of silk from Venetian merchants visiting the capital. In February 1443, she purchased a fardell (a bundle) of silk for herself at the incredible cost of £60 11s 8d, showing how her business had grown. Ellen certainly had apprentices but may also have distributed work to others, to do at home. At this time, another silk-woman, Katherine Dore, was putting out work to women living in Soper Lane. While John was training lads as apprentice tailors, one indenture for a girl survives: Elizabeth Eland was taken on in July 1454 by both John and Ellen, to train as a silk-woman. She may have joined other girls under Ellen’s tutelage; if so, their indentures haven’t survived. We don’t know whether Elizabeth completed her apprenticeship or what happened to her. She isn’t mentioned in Ellen’s will but that’s not surprising since it wasn’t drawn up until 1481, twenty-one years after Elizabeth should have finished her training.

In 1465, Ellen gained royal patronage when she was commissioned to supply silk banners and trappings for the saddle and pillion for Edward IV’s queen, for her coronation. Ellen had to deliver the goods ‘into the hands of Thomas Vaughn one of the esquires of our [the king’s] body to the use of our most dear and entirely beloved Queen…’ and was paid £27 10s. John Langwith died in July 1467 and, like Philip Waltham before him, made Ellen his executrix, leaving her responsible for an ‘estate of lands’ at Beckenham in Kent which may have been her own inheritance. Ellen was now a very wealthy widow without an heir so she too drew up a will, though she would outlive John by over thirteen years. Her will was artfully worded: she left much of her property to the Tailors’ Company with the proviso that if they failed in its adequate administration, all would be forfeit to the Cutlers. In this way, she was well favoured by both companies, invited to their feasts on special occasions and sent gifts of food and wine to keep them in mind. In 1476, the tailors spent 2s on a pike and wine for Mistress Ellen Langwith, while the less wealthy cutlers sent her a rabbit and a hen costing 8d.

In her will, Ellen left 10s to pay for her funeral in St Mary Abchurch which included money to the parish clerk to ring the bells. There were alms to the poor and the Tailors’ Company was to use money from the rents paid to them from the Langwith properties, to buy 26 quarters of coal for thirteen poor men and women of the parish, on the anniversary of Ellen’s death. Before she died – sometime between January and June 1481 – she left an additional, modest will, leaving most of her household goods to her current apprentice, John Brown (presumably an apprentice tailor). She leaves a bequest of 40s to Richard Wiott, the son of a shearman, when he should come of age, and money and goods to her servants, John England and Emmott Bynchester. Otherwise, all her bequests are made to women: Margaret, wife of John Wareng, one of her two executors, is to have a gold ring set with a diamond and an image of Our Lady from Ellen’s chamber; Mary, wife of John Jakes the draper, the second executor, is to have her blue silk girdle with silver gilt decorations. Katherine, wife of Hugh Pemberton, the overseer of Ellen’s will, is to receive a gold ring set with turquoise. A gown of black medley (a wool mixture?), trimmed with white lamb, was left to her cousin Mistress Bowyer of Northampton, and her best blue gown, trimmed with marten fur, was bequeathed to another cousin, Mistress Bounesley of Nottingham. Her personal belongings and considerable household goods and furnishings, mentioned in her will, suggest Ellen was a prosperous and dignified elderly woman who had had a very successful career, whether as the wife of a cutler and a tailor, or as a craftswoman in her own right.

In my new novel, The Colour of Lies, Emily and the other silk-women set up a profitable stall at St Bartholomew’s Fair and Dame Ellen Langton is going to name one of them as her successor in taking on her business. All is going well for them until an accident occurs… It’s down to Emily’s husband, Seb, to solve the mystery and get the silk-women out of trouble.

If readers would like to know more about silk-women and many other craftsmen, traders and life in medieval England in general, there is a series of online courses available from medievalcourses.com which includes The Roles of Medieval and Tudor Women and Everyday Lives of Medieval Folk. There are also my books, both published by Amberley, Everyday Life in Medieval London, which was chosen as ‘the best factual history book of 2014’ by GoodReads, and A Year in the Life of Medieval England, among other titles. All are available from Amazon as both Kindle, hardback and paperback editions.

About the Author

Toni Mount MA

Toni is a history teacher, a writer, and an experienced public speaker – and describes herself as an enthusiastic life-long-learner; she is a member of the Richard III Society Research Committee and a library volunteer, where she leads the creative writing group.

Toni attended Gravesend Grammar School and originally studied chemistry at college. She worked as a scientist in the pharmaceutical industry before stopping work to have her family. Inspired by Sharon Kay Penman’s Sunne in Splendour Toni decided she too wanted to write a Richard III novel, which she did, but back in the 1980s was told there was no market for more historic novels and it remains unpublished.

Having enjoyed history as a child she joined an adult history class and ultimately started teaching classes herself. Her BA (with First-class Honours), her Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing and Diploma in European Humanities are from the Open University. Toni’s Certificate in Education (in Post-Compulsory Education and Training) is from the University of Greenwich. She earned her Masters degree from the University of Kent in 2009 by the study of a medieval medical manuscript at the Wellcome Library.

After submitting an idea for her first book, about the lives of ordinary people in the middle-ages, Everyday Life in Medieval London was published in 2014 by Amberley Publishing – the first print run sold out quickly and it was voted ‘Best history book of the year’ at Christmas 2014 on Goodreads.com. The Medieval Housewife was published in November 2014 and Dragon’s Blood & Willow Bark, the mysteries of medieval medicine (later renamed in paperback as Medieval Medicine it mysteries and science) was first released in May 2015. A Year in The life of Medieval England, a diary of everyday incidents through an entire year, was published in 2016.

Having taught history to adults madeglobal.com recruited her to create a range of online history courses for medievalcourses.com, but she still wanted to write a medieval novel: The Colour of Poison the first Sebastian Foxley murder mystery was the result, published by madeglobal in 2016. Shortly before publication Tim at madeglobal asked if this was going to be a series – although nothing else was planned, Toni said “yes” and now The Colour of Lies (published in April 2019) is the seventh book in that series.

Toni is married with two grown up children and lives with her husband in Kent, England. When she is not writing, teaching or speaking to history groups – or volunteering – she reads endlessly, with several books on the go at any one time. She is currently working on The Colour of Shadows the next Sebastian Foxley murder mystery and The World of Isaac Newton, her next non-fiction.

Her websites include: http://www.ToniMount.com http://www.SebastianFoxley.com http://www.ToniTalks.co.uk

You can follow Toni on social media at: http://www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10 http://www.facebook.com/sebfoxley/ http://www.facebook.com/medievalengland/ http://www.twitter.com/tonihistorian

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Toni Mount

Guest Post: George, Duke of Clarence and the infamous ‘butt of Malmsey wine’ by Toni Mount

It is a pleasure to welcome Toni Mount to the blog, for Day 5 of her Blog Tour for the launch of The Colour of Murder this month.

The Colour of Murder is the latest whodunit in the popular ‘Sebastian Foxley’ series of medieval murder mysteries by author and historian Toni Mount.

George, Duke of Clarence and the infamous ‘butt of Malmsey wine’.

540 years ago, on the 18th February 1478 the Duke of Clarence was, famously, drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. Did he jump or was he pushed? The question has never been answered, so this was an opportunity for the intrepid investigator Seb Foxley – to finally solve the mystery.

On this day, 18th February 1478, news was leaked that the brother of King Edward IV, George, Duke of Clarence, had somehow managed to drown in a butt of malmsey wine. Did he fall or was he pushed? A contemporary chronicler, who otherwise seems very well informed, could only write: ‘… a few days after the execution, whatever its nature may have been, took place … in the Tower of London…’

From the Croyland Chronicle, c. 1486, pp.479-80:

George of Clarence had never been very reliable nor faithful to King Edward, his elder brother. When his beloved wife, Isabella Neville, died soon after giving birth, probably of childbed fever, George was convinced that a lady-in-waiting, Ankarette Twynyho, had poisoned her. He tried Ankarette in a rigged court and arranged her execution. King Edward decided George had gone too far this time, taking the law into his own hands. Then George became involved in a further plot to dethrone Edward. Matters deteriorated when he accused the Edward’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville, of witchcraft, saying she was behind the death of his wife. Finally, the king lost patience and George was imprisoned in the Tower of London in the summer of 1477.

Brought to trial before Parliament, only the king gave evidence against George, listing all his earlier mercies to him, how he had pardoned him for previous acts of treachery and showered titles and riches on him, only to receive ingratitude and further treachery in return. Meanwhile George had spread rumours that the king was a bastard with no right to wear the crown, practising necromancy and poisoning those who displeased him.

Parliament sat in embarrassed silence as the king and his brother accused each other, shouting and arguing in a most unseemly and vulgar display. But the eventual outcome was never going to be in doubt: Parliament found in the king’s favour, George was guilty of high treason and sentenced to death. He was returned to the Tower of London while the king wrestled with his conscience over signing his brother’s death warrant until the Speaker of the House intervened, demanding that sentence be carried out. George, Duke of Clarence, was executed privately in the Tower of London, spared the ignominy of a public beheading.

However, an execution behind closed doors soon caused rumours to spread that Clarence had been drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. A butt is a large barrel and an imperial measure of one hundred gallons – more than enough to drown in, but the story is almost certainly a later invention. Perhaps George was partial to the sweet white wine, so the tale was an ironic joke. It has been suggested, perhaps not seriously, that George was allowed to choose his manner of death, or even that a ‘well-wisher’, wanting to spare the king the grief of committing fratricide, sent Clarence a gift of wine, laced with poison. We will probably never know the truth.

About  the author

Toni Mount is a popular writer and historian; she is the author of Everyday Life in Medieval London and A Year in the Life of Medieval England (pub Amberley Publishing) and several of the online courses for http://www.medievalCourses.com

Her successful ‘Sebastian Foxley’ series of medieval whodunits is published by MadeGlobal.com and the latest book in this series The Colour of Murder is now available as a paperback or on Kindle. http://getbook.at/colour_of_murder

If you would like to follow the rest of Toni’s blog tour, just click on the links below:

26/1/18 – Digitalis & Other Plant Poisons in Medieval Times – www.thewarsoftherosescatalogue.com/  c/o Debra Bayani

3/2/18 Author Interview – The Review – www.thereview2014.blogspot.com c/o Diana Milne

10/2/18 Royal Witchcraft – www.onthetudortrail.com c/o Natalie Grueninger –

17/2/18 George Duke of Clarence – www.historytheinterestingbits.com  c/o Sharon Bennett Connolly

24/2/18 Bedlam Hospital www.theanneboleynfiles.com c/o Claire Ridgeway

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My Book:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: A Year in the Life of Medieval England by Toni Mount

tmThe medieval era is often associated with dynastic struggles, gruesome wars and the formidable influence of the Church. But what about the everyday experience of the royal subjects and common people? Here, alongside the coronations, diplomatic dealings and key battles, can be found the fabric of medieval life as it was really lived, in its folk songs, recipes and local gossip. With a diverse range of entries – one for each day of the year – historian Toni Mount provides an almanac for lovers of all things medieval.

Toni Mount’s latest book, A Year in the Life of Medieval England, is a veritable treasury of miscellaneous snippets of medieval history. A true gem in every sense, it is one of those books that you pick up and flick through ‘just for 5 minutes’ – only to find that when you close the book again you’ve lost the last 2 hours!

Chock full of fascinating information, told in diary format, the book takes us through the year from 1st January to 31st December. Some days have just one entry – the shortest being in June;

25th – Midday Eclipse

A midday eclipse was recorded on 25th June 1191.

While other entries run to several pages, there is at least one entry for each day, and often 2 or 3. The book gives us insights into medieval court life and the great players on the national stage; offering us glimpses into their Christmas traditions, family life and political machinations. We are treated to abdications, usurpations, coronations, births and weddings; all told in a wonderfully friendly, entertaining style.

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The Peasants’ Revolt

However, where this book shines is in the entries about ordinary people; drawing from wills, letters and chronicles Toni Mount builds up a picture of daily life, of the trials and labours of the man – or woman – next door. We see how the influences of Church and King dictated their lives; how the extremes of weather could lead to feast or famine and how neighbours looked out for each other.

May

10th – A Village dispute

On this day, at Woodbridge in Suffolk, a dispute arose between William the Piper, aged twenty-four years and more, and John Scanlon of the same [place], and they struck each other with their fists … John Bray, chaplain, and others took John Scanlon by the neck … He resisted and William struck John Scanlon while he was being held … forthwith, John Scanlon took a knife out of the sheath of John Bray without [him] knowing it and struck William feloniously with a wound in the chest nine inches deep and one inch in latitude from which wound William died, languishing for nine days following the dispute … Alice, wife of William was with him in his home when he died.

This book is a treasure trove for any fan of medieval England. Each day holds a wonderful snippet of information; either a story or an event, or an explanation of a tradition or saint’s day. The author has managed to cover a wide range of medieval life and events. With stories taken from the towns and fields of rural England, the law courts of London or the royal court itself, it would be impossible to read this book without learning something new – and fascinating.

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Medieval York

Toni Mount has succeeded in building a picture of medieval life through all levels of society. On the same page we can read about a mercer’s will, and woman accused of witchcraft – and the death of the Black Prince. The entries are, at times, touching – such as a letter from Joan of Arc to her English captors – and at other times amusing, such as a poem about table manners for children. And amongst it all we can find recipes for herb fritters and remedies for gout!

Supported by colourful images of medieval life and court pageantry, this book is a wonderful read; from the medieval scholar to the armchair historian, it has something for everyone. Whether you read it chronologically, or head straight for your birthday (yes I did);

On this day in 1141, a strange phenomenon was recorded in London: the tide in the Thames went out and failed to flow in again for an entire twenty-four hours.

A Year in the Life of Medieval England is a wonderful, fascinating read. From the story of Aethelflaed to the Battle of Bosworth; the challenge for any reader will be putting it down!

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Pictures taken from Wikipedia.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.