The following reports  for some of our  2016 meetings  are by our Secretary Penny Lawton.



Few people in the middle ages had access to books which were the province of the wealthy and the church. Although literacy (in English, at least) was increasing, especially in towns, for most it was a visual and aural culture.

Religion was an essential part of life, yet few would have understood the words of the mass and other services. (This is the origin of the "mass bell" which was rung to attract the attention of the uncomprehending congregation to the elevation of the transubstantiated host, which they were to worship.) Possession of an English bible was forbidden, although members of the aristocracy and gentry did possess them without being persecuted, for lesser folk it would lead to trouble: the Lollard Coventry Martyrs were discovered when their children were heard saying the Lord's Prayer in English.

Most people then, learned whatever they knew of religion from listening to preachers, whether their own parish priest or travelling preachers, such as friars and pardoners (who had to be licensed by the diocesan bishop). Their other source of religious instruction was visual. The walls of their parish church would have covered in paintings depicting scenes from the bible and the lives of the saints, illustrations of the cardinal virtues and most frequently, the seven deadly sins and the day of judgement. Wealthier churches would also have had stained glass windows displaying the same themes. In the great cathedrals, the selection of images in a single window could express doctrinal ideas  and biblical exegesis by their juxtaposition: the great windows of York minster being a fine surviving example.

The portrayal of saints, whether in glass, paint or sculpture, was emblematic, the figure holding a particular object to make them identifiable and to remind the onlooker of their story. These emblems became symbolic of a particular saint and pilgrims to their shrines purchased badges of these same emblems as souvenirs and evidence to others of their pilgrimage: the cockleshell of St Iago de Compostella being one of the best known.

This emblematic approach to identity is very apparent in the secular sphere of heraldry, where individual personal identity, genealogy and property are all symbolically represented in a single design which could be recognised by contemporaries, both on and off the battlefield. Additionally, the aristocracy and gentry adopted personal badges, which they gave to their followers. (A reflection of the "badges" of the saints.)

Another source of both religious instruction and portrayal of contemporary medieval society survives in the "Mystery" plays. Complete cycles of plays performed by the town guilds have survived from Wakefield, York and Chester, plus another cycle know as the "Ludus Coventriae", which, it has long been known, does not come from Coventry but from the East Midlands.  The surviving "Mystery" cycles all follow the same sequence, showing key events in "redemption history", from the Fall of Lucifer to the Day of Judgement, via the life of Christ, the redeemer of fallen man. Fragments of cycles survive from other towns, including Coventry, Norwich, Northampton. Brome (Suffolk) and Newcastle-on-Tyne and there are references in civic records which indicate that cycles were performed in Aberdeen, Bath, Beverley, Bristol, Canterbury, Dublin, Ipswich, Leicester, Worcester and probably Lincoln and London. There are surviving plays from London which do not follow the typical pattern of a cycle and also from Cornwall. This indicates that the performance of plays was widespread in the towns and it is likely that people from the surrounding countyside would go to see them. Perfomances of the plays continued after the Reformation, they were popular and a source of civic pride and whatever they thought of them, no doubt the reformers realised that supressing them would be counter-productive and that they might be "tweaked" to better reflect post-reformation doctrine. The cycle known as the "Ludus Coventriae", unusually, contains stage directions: in the sequence dealing with the betrayal and council of the Jews, Annas is to be "be-seyn after a busshop of the hoold lawe  ... and a mytere on his hed after the hoold lawe  " and Ciaphas likewise, two "Doctorys with him arayed ... aftyr the old gyse ...", surely a post Reformation way of getting a message across visually.

In church people would have heard music, mostly plain chant, though the quality and complexity of it would of course vary according to the wealth and status of the church. Access to other forms of music would also vary with wealth. The aristocracy kept their own musicians and patronised composers. Some cities and wealthy towns had their own corporate musicians, for example the Coventry and York "waites", to grace their civic occasions. Itinerant musicians travelled the countryside and no doubt in many villages there were individuals who could play a simple, perhaps home-made, instrument. And people could sing.

Popular secular culture was expressed in "tales". These were often told in rhyming or metrical verse  with a  simple musical accompaniment. Songs or ballads, typically also carried a story. Travelling musicians, singers of ballads and reciters of tales visited market towns and performed in the open or in the inns, where Langland's Sloth learned "rymes of Robyn hood and Randolf erle of Chestre".

Gaming, especially dice, was enjoyed at all levels of society. Two other forms of gaming: chess and playing at cards were probably pursuits for the gentry and aristocracy because of the cost of hand carved chess sets and hand painted cards, especially the latter, before the advent of printing. Playing cards are thought to have reached Europe in the late 14th century. Their forms varied: four "suits"  could reflect the four elements or "humours"; the Mantegna Tarocchi illustrates the hierachy of persons, the Muses, the liberal arts and sciences, the seven virtues, Primium Mobile and Premium Causa. There are references to games of "Trionfi" (Trumps) and Tarocchi. The cards lent themselves to "divination" or fortune telling, which was roundly condemned by the Church. Surviving early (often incomplete) packs of cards both illustrate and reflect aristocratic life and preoccupations.

The common man and woman could and did express themselves visually. The carvings that adorn the great cathedrals and lesser churches were done by artisans and though a more-or-less standardised iconography might apply to some images, particularly those of the saints, in many corners, on capitals, roof bosses and the undersides of misericords, these artisans left their own marks, expressed their ideas and commented on the their world, often showing a mischievous and ribald sense of humour. The misericords at Chester cathedral and at Nantwich are particularly fine examples.

By the late middle ages, the production of manuscripts had largely passed from the monasteries to lay workshops and women also worked as scribes and illuminators. There are records from as early as the 13th century of women being employed in the workshops around the university of Paris. It is not difficult to see why: the skills required, of meticulous attention to detail, patience and manual dexterity, are much the same as those required for embroidery. Illuminated manuscripts could only be afforded by the rich, yet so often the illuminations illustrate not the lives of their wealthy owners but the lives of the common people among whom the artisans lived, the Lutterel Psalter being one of the best known examples. Here again, even surrounding the sacred texts, we find illuminations and marginalia expressing a mischievous sense of humour, as for example in "Monde Reversé" illustrations where animals, (often rabbits and hares) hunt men or or animals engage in human activities such as warfare or playing musical instruments. Some marginalia, including that surrounding sacred texts, is distinctly ribald. What are we to make of a book in which prayers and devotions are surrounded by marginalia including: a bishop naked except for his mitre, chastising a bare bottom farting monk or one hybrid creature with a human face, licking the arse of another hybrid? If these were reflections of what an artisan thought of those in authority, why were those in authority, who alone possessed the wealth to own illuminated manuscripts, apparently not offended but content to purchase the books. Clearly there is much we have to learn about the medieval mind.

Medieval knowledge and ideas about far-away places was a topic we touched on last month. The strange and exotic creatures which live in them are featured in bestiaries, along with details about them.They were often the product of clerics and reflected the belief that nature is a book in which God's purpose can be read. The possession of  a bestiary was of course the province of the wealthy but no doubt tales of the beasts they featured would filter down as "recieved wisdon". From these bestiaries we learn for instance, that elephants sleep leaning upon a tree. The way to catch an elephant is to cut down the tree it is leaning upon so that it falls over. The elephant cannot get up because it has no knees, the only thing that can help it is a small elephant which can get beneath it and raise it. This is a figure of fallen man and the redemption of Christ. The weasel gives birth through its mouth and is therefore a "figure" of the Virgin Mary who gave birth by the word of God alone. We also learned that the way to defend yourself from an attack by wolves is to strip off all your clothes and bang stones together.

We speculated that surely there must have been people in England who had experience of wolves as well as weasels.  To what extent did our ancestors really believe these tales to be absolutely true? Perhaps they believed such things were really possible in mystical unknown lands but perhaps also to some extent,  they they simply enjoyed them, as we today enjoy, science fiction and Harry Potter. All fiction is told as if it were true and the enjoyment of it (like theatre) depends upon the willing suspension of disbelief.



            The most basic way of travelling in the Middle Ages was, of course, to walk. Forensic examination of skeletons of the period has shown that people had strong legs and used to walk a lot. Far from being a static society, many people travelled considerable distances in the course of their work or business: merchants, messengers, minstrels, artisans and builders moved from site to site, shipmen carried cargoes on the rivers, religious preachers and pardoners, tax collectors and others all travelled quite extensively. Peasants mostly travelled to their local markets and the granting of market charters was based both on patronage and on a calculation based on travelling time on foot. This divided the day into three equal parts: to travel to the market, to trade there and to travel back and concluded that a catchment radius of seven miles was about right and so geneally granted market charters to towns approximately fourteen miles apart, though of course patronage also played a part in the decisions. (Too close together could lead to quarrels).

            In many parts of England, particularly the more remote parts, parishes could be geographically very large and although some communities would have been served by a chapel, only the parish church had the right of burial of the dead, so the dead had to be taken there.. This led to the existence of "corpse roads", many of which were used for little else. Examples in northern England include Swaledale, where corpses were carried in baskets from Keld at the top of the dale over 12 miles to Grinton. In Derbyshire, the dead from Edale were taken over Hollins Cross (on the ridge extending to Mam Tor) and down to Castleton, a very steep route.

            On horseback, a distance of thirty to thirty-five miles per day was usual for travellers and this was also usual for a professional messenger riding his own horse, although a messenger riding post haste, changing horses every twenty miles, could cover fifty to fifty-five miles in day. Professional messengers were hired by the wealthy or were attached to a magnate household; others who needed to convey a message could hire a horse.

            Carts were cumbersome and were generally only used for carrying bulky loads short distances, as at harvest time when the cut corn was brought from the fields to the barns in the village for winnowing and storage. For this reason, lanes leading from the fields to the village were often paved and survive as "hollow lanes". Surviving town records show that the main thoroughfares were generally paved, with the extent of paving being extended throughout the period. For longer distances pack horses were more often used and cross country routes were generally not hard-paved as this does no favours to the horse, which is more confortable on turf. This does not mean that there was no maintenance of these routes: there are references to repairing muddy patches and digging and clearing ditches to provide drainage. Many of those old routes which have not become our modern roads, still survive as footpaths and bridleways. Although they may cross private land they remain public rights of way because they pre-date the enclosure movement.

            If carts were only generally used locally, the other important way of moving bulky goods was by water. Many of the rivers of England were navigable along at least some of their length and these inland waterways were as important for transporting goods in the Middle Ages as the canals would later be to the industrial revolution. In fact, one canal was already in existence: the Fosse Dyke, originally cut by the Romano-British. It runs from the Trent at Torksey (between Newark and Gainsborough) to Lincoln and joins the Witham where the river becomes navigable east of city, thus providing a route from the east midlands to the port of Boston. Any canal requires maintenance and  records show that Henry I caused it to be renovated in 1121 and Katherine Swynford is credited with organising a petition to get it repaired and dredged in 1375.

            In 1228 the lord of Torksey was entitled to take tolls: 4d for ships with oars, 2d for boats without oars and 1d for small boats although the men of London, Lincoln, Nottingham, York, Beverley and Torksey were exempt. Goods listed for the tolls included fish, corn, wine, timber, stone, ashes, woad, alum and teasels. Tolls were not charged on coal, turves, hay, manure, chalk and thatch.

            The Trent was one of the principal waterways of medieval England as well as being a major landmark and political boundary. Many administrative offices of the period were described as having jurisdiction either north or south of Trent. The river was certainly navigable from the Humber estuary to Nottingham and a further 18 miles up river to the village of Swarkestone. It is considered possible that  may have been navigable a further 9 miles to the more important town and abbey of Burton on Trent. However, the significance of Swarkestone was probably that it is adjacent to Chellaston, England's premier alabaster quarry.

            The Trent, like other rivers, was also an important source of fish and this often led to a conflict of interests. Court records and other sources show that throughout the period there were continual complaints about wiers and fish-garths impeding navigation, not only on the Trent but other major rivers. 

            There were maps in the Middle Ages but very few, they were not to scale and were intended more for administrative purposes than for aiding travellers. The best of them, the Gough map is on thick parchment the size of a door - so not something to stuff in your rucksack! Few people would have the opportunity to study a map, even in situ, before setting off, though perhaps the few who did have access to one would study it. Though not to scale, a map could give some idea of the succession of towns along a route, which the prospective traveller could memorise, so as to be able to ask the way from one town to the next. Otherwise, having at least some idea of the general direction would be necessary. However, people contemplating a journey would have a reason for wanting to go to a particular place and would have some idea whether it was north, south, east or west. Compasses were not in general use yet in northern Europe but most people would be quite capable of using the sun. They would know which way the routes from their local village or town led, as would the inhabitants of the next village or town they came to and whom they could ask. They could also ask people who habitually travelled, such as the merchants coming to the local markets. In our area, the salters would have been a valuable source of information.

            Nevertheless it is clear that some people at least had a grasp of the greater picture. This is evident particularly when looking at the conduct of military campaigns. Armies were capable of manoevering around the country to confront or evade eachother and military commanders chose their battlegrounds with care. Most of the aristocracy owned estates in different parts of the country, travelled between them and would therefore have known the routes: the more widespread their estates, the more extensive is likely to have been their grasp of geography. Major routes, like the Great North Road and the route from London to the Cinque Ports would have been well known to those who conducted campaigns in Scotland or France. One important consideration would have been river crossings, since the places where major rivers could be crossed were limited in number.             Edward IV displayed a very good grasp of geography in his pursuit of the Lancastrian army which led to the battle of Tewkesbury. He force-marched his men along the ancient road which runs along the high western ridge of the Cotwolds where they had better marching conditions and moved faster than the Lancastrians in the "foul country" of the Severn valley, so enabling him to catch them up. He sent messengers to Gloucester instructing the governer to close the gates to them, (which he did) thus preventing them from crossing the Severn there and giving them no choice but to press on to the next crossing, the ford at Tewkesbury. Meanwhile, Edward descended with his troops from the high wold at Cheltenham and intercepted them at Tewkesbury before they could cross the river. Clearly he was able to think strategically of the geography. Many battlefields are adjacent to bridges or fords while many others are at crossroads, or straddling major routes.

Pilgrimages were very popular in the Middle Ages and after Canterbury, the most popular shrine in England was Walsingham. A separate paper on pilgrimages to Walsingham is now on our website.

Quite recently a pilgrimage route has been re-created. It is known as the "Two Saints Way". The two saints are St. Werburgh of Chester and St. Chad of Lichfield. Werburgh was a daughter of the Mercian king Wolfhere, who defied her father's command to marry and became a nun. She founded convents in Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire and Staffordshire and her body was later translated to Chester. Chad was born in Northumberland and studied at Lindisfarne under St. Aidan. He arrived in Lichfield in 669 and founded the church, later cathedral, where his remains were buried.. The re-created pilgrim route is 88 miles long and typically would take about 7 days but of course sections can be walked separately.  In the middle ages, in addition to the usual reasons for going on pilgrimage, the church courts would sometimes impose this pilgrimage as a punishment for fornication.

Two very different pilgrim travellers were Henry earl of Derby and jure uxor, Hereford, the future Henry IV and the eccentric Margery Kempe. Yet surprisingly they both visited some of the same destinations in their extensive travels.

            Already a champion jouster, Henry determined upon going on crusade and having been twarted in his attempts to join a crusade against the Moors in Spain by the failure of the French king to provide the necessary letters of safe conduct, Henry decided on Lithuania. This might at first glance seem a surprising destination but the Teutonic knights seem to have organised almost annual crusades against pagans in Lithuania and quite a few aristocratic young men of the English court had joined them for a season, including Henry's father-in-law Humphrey Bohun earl of Hereford, Thomas Holland earl of Kent, the sons of the earl of Devon, members of the Ufford family, Henry Percy (Hotspur) and Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick with his brothers.

            Henry, in addition to his own two earldoms, was the son of the almost limitlessly wealthy John of Gaunt, earl of Lancaster who was determined that his son should travel in a style befitting both their ranks. The ship, fitted out at Boston (with luxury panelled cabins and hammocks) was likely to have been one of the largest of the day but was still only 100 feet long. Nevertheless it somehow managed to accommodate 300 men, their armour, horses, (horse fodder) cooking equipment, tents, vast quantities of meat (40 sheep alone). ale, wine, cages of live chickens plus 3,400 eggs, and a cow. Plus, apparently, the entire contents of several sweetshops.

            It took three weeks to sail from Boston to Rixhoft in Poland. From there they rode via Danzig, Elbing, Brandenburg and Koningsberg to the Teutonic knights' castle of Insterberg from whence the crusade culminated in the cold wet seige of the fortified town of  Vilnius. Yet despite the hardships there, Henry decided to go again, only to find when he got to Danzig, that peace had broken out and there was no crusade this season. So he decided to go instead to Jerusalem. (As you do, if you find yourself in Poland and the fixture is cancelled!) The journey would take him through Poland, Bohemia, Austria and Italy and then across the sea to the Holy Land. He got letters of safe conduct for the first part of the journey, then progressed, (preceded by his valets and heralds who arranged accommodation), built up his supplies in trading towns, was entertained by king Wenceslas, King Sigismund of Hungary and Duke Albert of Vienna. The Venetians also lavishly entertained him and gave  him a ship as a gift. Henry paid for the provisioning of his ship by means of a money transfer from John of Gaunt through the bank of the Albertini. In the Holy Land he and his knights visited the shrines on what we would now call the "tourist trail". He travelled back to England via Cyprus, where the king gave him leopard to add to his souvenirs.

            Margery Kempe also visited Jerusalem though she did not travel in such style. Accompanied by her maid, she left her home town of Lynn and went to Yarmouth where she boarded a ship with other passengers bound for the Holy Land. They, however, soon got tired of her excessive and emotionally expressed religious fervour and abandoned her at Constance, where she then joined forces with a man she met and travelled with him to Bologna. There she met up again with her former pilgrim companions who soon tired of her and were going to exclude her again, so she made preparations to sail in another ship, and told them that God had warned her not to sail in the original one - whereupon they all decided that it might be safer to join her. In Jerusalem she too visited the shrines, exhibiting extremely emotional behaviour which caused her companions once again to disassociate themselves from her but she seems always to have been able to get help from someone, not least the Saracens. Her God commanded her to return home via Rome and her original companions having once again refused her company, she paid a hunchback Irishman to escort her. On the way they joined up with a two friars and a nun and then at Assisi, a lady who had a considerable entourage. This she says they did to prevent them being set upon by thieves, the only mention she makes in her narrative of any possible danger.

            In her second pilgrimage abroad, she does seem to have had more sense of danger. Like Henry, she too went to Danzig. Despite being born and brought up in the port of Lynn, she was afraid of the sea and she was also worried about the fact that the states through which she would travel overland were at war. Again, she was accompanied by a man, a fellow pilgrim but he too got irritated by her endless weeping and would stride away ahead, making it difficult for her too keep up because she was by now 60 years old and describes herself as lame. Despite her age, at an inn en route, she was subjected to improper behaviour by two priests. She subsequently joined a group of poor folk who wer ging to Achen but was embarrassed by their begging on route and their habit of sitting naked picking fleas off eachother. For some parts of her journey she managed to get lifts in carts but must have walked the greater part of the way. What is striking about her narrative is that not only was she able to find her way but she makes no mention of anybody expressing amazement at a woman travelling alone.

Whether the author who called himself Sir John de Mandeville really had visited all the places he claimed is doubful in the extreme, not least because his "travelogue" includes such wonders as the blemmyae, (men with no heads and faces on their chests), the phoenix, Prester John, and the hills of gold that Pismires keep, as well as Constantinople and Jerusalem. In fact much of it was probably gleaned from earlier works. Ctesias, Pliny and Solinus had written about monstrous races which inhabited distant lands and their tales were reshaped in the late tenth century into an Anglo Saxon text known as the Wonders of the East, which circulated between c970-1150 in both both Latin and Old English. Whether he had personally travelled any of them or not, Mandeville does include descriptions of routes: his first chapter is, "To teach you the way out of England to Constantinople" and later "Of the way from Constantinople to Jerusalem" and "Of three ways to Jerusalem, one by land and by sea, another more by land than by sea and the third way all by land".

            The earliest known manuscript of Mandeville's work has been dated to 1371 and copies were made throughout the middle ages and beyond. In 2011, an illuminated copy dated circa 1440 sold at auction for £289,250. Christopher Columbus owned a copy and it was probably a source of inspiration for international best selling author, Umberto Eco's novel "Baudolino" (pub. 2000). Mandeville too was an international best-seller throughout the middle ages, his work translated from the original French into Latin, English and several other languages, demonstrating the keen interest medieval people took in travel and far away lands.




It was the 14th century rather than the 15th which seems to have suffered the worst from natural disasters, including those caused by the weather. Global occurances, of which the people of 14th  century Europe would have been unaware, indeed in places of whose existance they would have been unaware, caused havoc with the weather: for example, the massive eruption of Mount Fuji in 1427 caused torrential rain 1428-9, which destroyed crops and caused the sheep to die. In 1348 at the height of the Black Death, a massive earthquake struck central Italy. Another struck Basel, Switzerland in 1356.

The worst famine in England occured in 1316-7. The autumn of 1314 was wet and in 1315 it poured with rain all summer. The grain harvest failed. Sheep are vulnerable to constant wet and as many as half died. There was even a shortage of salt because the coastal salt pans could not dry out. People were malnourished or starving and epidemic disease followed. In 1318-19 a murrain killed many cattle. The chroniclers' horror stories of cannibalism are probably exaggerated but the complaints of the Berwick garrison ring true: as horses died the officers boiled and ate the meat leaving only the bones for the footsoldiers. The harvest of 1321 was again disastrous. In 1326 the opposite problem occurred: in the long hot dry summer lakes dried up and the Thames was permanently salty.

In October 1347, Genoese trading ships put into Messina, Sicily, with dead and dying sailors on board. The Black Death had arrived in Europe and its progress was relentless. It reached England in 1348 and continued north. A ship drifted into Bergen, Norway, carrying a cargo of wool and a dead crew. It continued unabated through Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Prussia and on, to Iceland and Greenland. According to the French physician Simon de Covino, it seemed as if one sick person "could infect the whole world".

Swellings the size of an egg or an apple appeared in the armpits or groin, which oozed blood and pus with boils and black blotches all over the skin from internal bleeding. A second form infected the lungs bringing fever, sweating and spitting of blood. Everything that issued from the body: breath, sweat, blood from the buboes and lungs, bloody urine and blood blackened faeces, all smelled foul. Victims died within 5 days, sometimes, (mercifully) in 24 hours.

They died in agony and terror, having no-one to administer the last rites to help them to heaven. In England a bishop gave permission for laymen to confess to each other or "even to a woman". Clement VII granted remissions to all who died of plague because they could not be attended by priest.

All over Europe the graveyards filled up and bodies had to be buried hastily in mass burial pits. In London, the corpses were piled layer upon layer until the pits overflowed. Families attempted to bury their relatives but the graves were too shallow so, "that dogs dragged them forth and devoured their bodies"., Or, despairing, they just pushed the bodies out of the door, where they lay for days putrefying in the street.  According to a chronicler of  Siena: "No bells tolled and nobody wept no matter what his loss because almost everyone expected death ... And the people said and believed, 'This is the end of the world'.". In England the chronicler of the Brut likewise wrote: "In these days was death without sorrow, wedding without friendship, wilful penance and dearth without scarcity and fleeing without succour."

Froissart wrote, "a third of the world died". This is now considered quite accurate.

Responses to the plague varied. While physicians on the Continent wrote treatises on the pestilence, English physicians concentrated on more straightforward matters, like John of Arderne who expiated at great length on the bowels. Pogroms of Jews occurred in Europe but in England there were no Jews. Complaints were made to the government about the foul condition of the London streets and the government appointed commisions of the sewers and ordered the draining of ditches, (stagnant water was believed to be source of evil humours). The phenomenon of the "flagellants" which was common in Europe, did not spread to England either: when a group of them crossed from the Low Countries they were observed with curiosity but no Englishman could be persuaded to follow their example.

On Saturday 15th January 1362, "around the hour of vespers", England was struck a great wind.  The anonymous chronicler of Canterbury describes, "dreadful storms and whirlwinds such as had never been seen or heard of before... causing houses and buildings to come crashing down ... trees ... were wrenched from the earth by their roots with a great crash as if the Day of Judgement were at hand and fear and trembling gripped the  people of England to such an extent that no-one knew where he could safely hide, for church towers, windmills and many dwelling houses collapsed to the ground, although without much bodily injury." 

Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands were also caught in the grip of the storm and suffered much higher casualties. In the Netherlands it was called the "Grote Mandrenke", Great Drowning of Men/People, because massive surging flood waters washed away whole towns and villages, leaving tens of thousands dead.

The Canterbury Chronicler also noted that many buildings were left unrepaired for lack of workmen. Less than a generation since the Black Death labour was still in short supply.

The 15th century does not seem to have been subject to disasters on the scale of those of the 14th, though the harvest of 1481 was the worst that England and Europe had known for many years and the following winter unusually harsh. Richard duke of Gloucester obtained licence from Edward IV to purchase grain and vegetables anywhere they could be found in England, Wales or Ireland, to supply the garrisons of the northern borders against the Scots and maintain the seige of Berwick.

Details of payments in the accounts kept by Master William Easingwold, clerk to the Mayor of Nottingham, indicate that the winter of 1485-6 was severe, Easingwold refers to "the great frost", in late November - early December and the year ended with "the great wind". Payments were made on the 9th December to two workmen, for "brekyng of ise ... by the space of 15 dayes at morn and at even after the grete frost", and on the same day for "7 long polles for to make hokes and poyes and 4 colprasses [components of levers] for the said ise"; "for 4 grete malles [mallets]; "a grete hoke of iren weying 10 lbs"; "a long rope to hole up the bote with when they brake ise" and "for a grete fellyng axe to hewe ise with". The great frost seems to have continued for some time because a further payment was made on the 15th December "to 5 warkmen kepyng ise and hewyng ise from the banks, by the space of 2 dayes".The ice obviously caused considerable damage to the banks: repairs were still underway the following August when payment was made on the 5th to "4 warkmen dryving pyles and carying tynsell {brushwood] ... and carying erth to fyll the bank that the ise drave away". The great frost was followed by a storm at the end of December: on 2nd January payment was made "for gederyng up of thak [thatch] that the grete wind blewe of the house [chapel on the Trent bridge] and "to John Shipman for helpyng to bring in the bote into the dokke in the grete wynde".

The chaotic battle of Barnet demonstrates the pivotal role weather conditions could play in determining a political outcome. On the eve of the battle Edward IV's scouts reported that the earl of Warwick had drawn up his army on a ridge about half a mile north of the town, east-west straddling the St. Albans road. By the time Edward reached Barnet it was already dark but not wishing to fight in the streets of the town (which makes it harder to control the battle and gives an advantage to the smaller army because no massed charge is possible) he ordered his men quietly forward to camp north of the town. Unable to see in the pitched dark, Edward accidentally drew up his men much closer to the enemy than he would otherwise have done, a fact he only realised when Warwick opened fire with his cannon to harass them and the fire overshot them and did them no harm. Sensibly Edward ordered his men to keep very quiet. When morning dawned, despite being so close, the armies still could not see each other because of a thick fog They did not realise therefore that their battle lines were mis-aligned. When battle commenced, the Lancastrian right wing commanded by the earl of Oxford, overlapped and rolled up the Yorkist left, which broke and fled back through Barnet, (some as far as London, where they told everyone that all was lost for Edward and the news was dispatched to the Continent before it could be corrected). Oxford's pursuing troops started pillaging Barnet. He eventually managed to round them up and get them back to the battlefield. Meanwhile, unable to see, the rest of the battle had continued oblivious to what had happened but the mis-alignment had caused the battle lines to swing round 90 degrees so that they now lay north-south along the road. This caused Oxford's returning troops to make contact with their own side rather than the enemy. They, seeing only indistinctly through the fog, mistook Oxford's star with streams for Edward's sun with rays and attacked their own side. Cries of treason went up causing panic and with the Lancastrian right and left wings now fighting each other, the Yorkist right and centre gained the upper hand and Edward won the day.






Joan was born c. 1379, youngest child of John of Gaunt and his mistress, Katherine Swynford, either at Kettlethorpe, Lincolnshire or Beaufort, France. The Beaufort children were legitimised in 1397s by Richard II, no doubt as a favour to their father. Henry IV reissued the letters patent of legitimisation but the words "excepta dignitate regale" had been added, to exclude them from inheriting the crown.

Joan was apparently educated, records show her as possessing several books. In about 1413 she had a visit from the eccentric mystic Margery Kempe.

She was married in 1386 to Sir Robert Ferrers, the heir to the barony of Wem (Shropshire) by whom she had two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary. After his death in 1395  she married the recently widowed Ralph Neville, baron Raby who became Earl of Westmorland the following year. She bore him 14 children and is chiefly remembered as the mother and grandmother of several of the central figures in 15th century history.Her children included Richard earl of Salisbury;  Robert, bishop of Salisbury then Durham and Katherine, who was scandalously married at the ages of 65 to her 4th husband, the 19 year olf John Woodville and outlived him!  Warwick the king maker; Edward IV, George duke of Clarence and his wife Isobel, Richard III and his queen Anne, were all Joan's grandchildren.

 When Ralph Neville died, his title and some of his manors went to his eldest surviving son by his first wife, Margaret Stafford but he left the bulk of his lands to Joan. This led to years of bitter conflict between Joan and Ralph's first family but Joan's royal blood and powerful connections enabled her to prevail and when Joan died the lands were inherited by her children.

Joan was buried beside her mother, Katherine Swynford, in Lincoln cathedral but the tomb was badly damaged 1644, during the civil war.



The eldest son of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, as a young man, he took part in two crusades: in north Africa and Lithuania. He was created earl of Somerset 1397 and the same year was appointed Admiral of the Fleet, Constable of Dover Castle and Warden of the Cinque Ports.  In the so called "Counter Appellant" parliament held the same year, John was one of the lords who appealed the "Lords Appellant" of the 1380 "Merciless Parliament", of treason, a set piece which enabled Richard II to take his long nurtured revenge for the actions of the "Merciless Parliament". Probably as a reward for his support but also in recognition of his marriage to the king's neice, Margaret Holland, Richard II created him Marquess of Somerset, Marquess of Dorset and made him a knight of the Garter. Richard II was deposed by John's half-brother who became Henry VI. Henry rescinded the titles of Marquis and John reverted to the title of earl of Somerset. However, he served his half brother on diplomatic missions and military campaigns, was named Constable of England  in 1404 anad further rewarded with the confiscated estates of Owain Glyndwr.



The second son of John, 1st Earl of Somerset, John succeeded his childless elder brother, Henry, as earl of Somerset in 1425.

His career began when he accompanied his cousin Henry V on his campaigns in France in 1419 but given that he would then have been only 15, he was probably not involved in any fighting but would have attended as a squire, looking after the horses and helping the knights to arm. In 1421, he accompanied the king's younger brother, Thomas, to Anjou where he was captured at the battle of Baugé. He was not ransomed until 1438.

The following year he married Margaret Beauchamp of Bletso. He became one of the leading commanders in France. Despite initial success at Harfleur which, in co-operation with the great Talbot, was recaptured by the English, John Beaufort proved to be a poor commander and was widely blamed for the loss of much of England's territories in France. This led him into conflict with Richard duke of York, made worse by the fact Somerset was paid while the duke of York was owed tens of thousands and had had to sell some of his property in Ireland to pay his troops. After an expedition through Gascony and Maine which consumed valuable resouces without producing any result, he returned to England a sick man. He was widely blamed and criticised for the losses in France and his death in 1444 was rumoured to have been suicide. He was succeeded by his brother Edmund but the quarrel with York escalated and led directly to the first battle of St. Albans.



While John Beaufort 3rd earl, was in (presumably quite gentlemanly) captivity in France he fathered two illegitimate children: John and a daughter, Tacine. Tacine came to England, presumably with her father on his eventual release in 1438. In 1443 ..."the king graunted ....that Tacyn doughter bastard to my said Lord of Semerset and her heires of her body lawfully begotten deniszenes ...". She married Reginald, Lord Grey of Wilton by whom she had a son, John. She is named in two grants of land which she and her husband made in 1447 and 1469, the latter being the last written record of Tacine.

Lady Margaret's mother, Margaret Beachamp of Bletso, married three times. Lady Margaret was her only child by her second husband, John Beaufort 3rd earl of Somerset. By her first marriage, to Sir Oliver St. John, she had had seven children: John, Oliver, Edith, Mary, Elizabeth, Agnes and Margaret. After John Beaufort's death, she married Lionel de Welles, 6th baron Welles, by whom she had a son, John, 1st Vicount Welles, who, after the accession of Henry VII, was given Edward IV's daughter, Cecily, in marriage, probably at the behest of "The King's Mother",  his half sister, Lady Margaret.

Lady Margaret seems to have valued and been on good terms with her half siblings for whom she obtained preferments.



The Good Parliament of 1376 provides a background against which to view the emergence of Lollardy. Edward III was failing and would die a year later. His eldest son and heir, Edward the Black Prince, died of dysentry during the parliament, leaving a ten year old boy, Richard, to succeed his grandfather. John of Gaunt, already a patron of Wycliff, was effectively in control. 

The Parliament took place during the period of the Great Schism. One of the two contending popes resided at Avignon and England was at war with the French. The great victories of Crecy and Poitiers were decades past, the riches of booty were drying up and the war was becoming expensive. It is posssible that one of the reasons that John of Gaunt allied himself with popular anti-clericalism and patronised Wycliff was to shore up the government's finances with the wealth of the church.

The Commons were almost certainly prompted by John of Gaunt in the presentation of their petition and must have known that their complaints and expressions of anti-clericalism would be welcomed but nevertheless it is surprising that they could be so openly expressed in parliament itself. However there is nothing in the petition that reflects Wycliff's eucharistic theology: the petition concentrates on financial considerations, corruption and that the money is going out of the country to enemies of the realm: significantly the papacy is often referred to as "The Court of Rome".

The petition asked that the king and his council would take such remedial action as would be "most pleasing to God, most gracious to Holy Church and most profitable for him and his realm." The complaints included:

That all the Church's possessions had been given in devotion by the faithful and the profits should be spent on those things which were the intention of the doner, such as the maintenance of the churches, hospitals, alms and works of charity and for the services of chaplains and maintenance of the poor beadsmen who would pray night and day for the king and the realm and especially for the souls of those buried there. Law and reason require that the proceeds should be used according the devotion and wishes of the doner and not pass out of the realm to our enemies.

They also "brought to mind" how past kings had granted and the "Court of Rome" had confirmed to cathedrals free elections of their bishops and also that other benefices should be bestowed without any scruple of covetousness or symony, to the most fitting men, of cleanness of life and holy conversation who would live in their benefices, preaching, visiting and confessing their parishoners  but that these good customs had been perverted by covetousness and symony bringing to the formerly prosperous realm all manner of adversities, such as wars, pestilences, famines, murrains of beasts and deadly diseases of men and all other grievances. Another similar clause remembers how freedon of election was confirmed by king John and the then pope, a reference to Magna Carta.

That the Court of Rome which should be the fountain of all sanctity and the enemy of covetousness was appropriating to itself collations from all manner of benefices which amounted to five times all the profits of the taxes which go to the king.

That because when a bishop was newly appointed to benefice, the first year's income or first fruits from the benefice went to the pope, if one benefice falls vacant, the pope makes four or five translations of bishops in order to have the first fruits of each see, to great impoverishment of the church in England.

No king in all of Christendom is so rich that he has has even a quarter of the treasure that is taken out of England by these means.

That many in the Court of Rome purchase their benefices and farm them out and themselves live in and around Avignon. And so it happens that a caitiff who does nothing can get benefices worth a thousand marks while a man with a doctorate or a master of divinity will be fortunate if they can get a little benefice worth twenty marks. For which reason gentlemen are ceasing to send their children to school and clergy [learning] is in decline.

That if the pope wants money to maintain his wars in Lombardy or to ransom his French friends who have been taken prisoner by the English, he demands a subsidy from the clergy of England.

That the pope's Collector in England is an alien under the obedience of France and also many other enemies and spies of the secrets of England live in the city of London and are procurators and exploiters for them, to spy out vacant benefices and continually send letters to the Court of Rome, to the Cardinals and others living there, who are for the most part enemies, in order to purchace the said benefices. And also of a certainty, send the secrets of this realm, to the great prejudice of this realm.

That aliens, enemies to this country and others living overseas, have benefices, riches and rents of holy Church in England, who never come or visit their parishoners or do anything else for their benefices and works of charity which should be done are left undone, so that the places are in ruins and their parishoners perish in body and in soul and so is Holy Church more destroyed by such wicked Chrisitans than by all the Jews and Saracens of the world.

They ask that it will please the king to think how that he has now come to the 50th year of his reign, which is called the year of Jubilee, which should be a year of grace and joy and what would be the greatest grace and joy that could come to his realm and the the most pleasing thing to God and to Holy Church and to all those who love God and Holy Church and the best that could be done, than to ordain suitable remedy for the matters above said, which destroy the realm and Holy Church.

The protection Wycliff received and the early tolerance of Lollardy is not surprising when such complaints and anti-clerical sentiments could be publicly expressed in parliament.





Richard III possessed an English "Wycliff" bible, probably out of intellectual curiosity rather than any tendencies to heresy or reform but this prompted our interest in Lollardy.

The term Lollardy is of uncertain origin but is thought to derive from the middle Dutch, lollaerd meaning mutterer or mumbler and was originally applied to a group of buriers of the dead during the Black Death, on account of their mumbled prayers for the dead. It came to be a derogatory term applied to any suspected of heresy.

Lollardy existed in England from the mid-fourteenth century up to the Reformation into which it was eventually absorbed. It was initially led by John Wycliff, (1331-84) an Oxford academic theologian, often referred to as "the morning star of the Reformation". His studies led him to believe that the Bible was the the only true authority for Christians and to attack the institution of the Church and to declare that there was no scriptural justification for the papacy. He expressed a strong belief in predestination, rejected the concept of purgatory, praying to saints and attacked pilgimages, selling indulgences and disapproved of clerical celebacy. In De Ecclesia" 1379, he defended the privileges of the state and claimed the supremacy of the king over the priesthood. His ideas were condemned in 1377 but he continued writing, ever more strongly, against the temporal rule of the clergy and for clerical poverty.

The tendency for high offices of state to be held by the clergy was resented by many of the nobles, led by John of Gaunt, who became increasingly powerful in England as Edward III (died 21 June 1377) sank into senility and the Black Prince (d. 8th June 1376) slowly died of dysentery. The situation was exacerbated by the schism and the fact that one of the popes was at Avignon when England was at war with the French. Gaunt may have used Wycliff as a tool in his political policy and is likely to have been responsible for Wycliff's being appointed to the crown living of Lutterworth which he retained until his death.

At first Wycliff and his followers were protected by John of Gaunt and other anti clerical nobility The university of Oxford also continued to protect Wycliff, as not to have done so would have been prejudicial to their claims for self-government and academic freedom. Although Wycliffe himself was not a sympathiser with the Peasant's Revolt 1381, John Ball and the peasants expressed themselves in terms which reflected Lollard principles. This ended the patronage of Lollardy by the  nobility, many of whom had ties of family and politics with eclesiastical circles and who now perceived it as a threat to their status and existing fabric of society. However, a number of Lollard knights continued to hold important positions at the court of Richard II.

Between them, the chroniclers Thomas Walsingham and Henry Knighton identify: Sir William Neville, Sir John Clanvowe, Sir John Montague, Sir William Bauchamp, Thomas Latimer, John Trussel, Lewis Clifford, John Peachey, Richard Storey and Reginald Hilton. The knights were interconnected by marriages and kinships but perhaps not too much should be made of this since most of the aristocracy and gentry were interconnected in this way. Sir Lewis Clifford was a friend of Geoffrey Chaucer and godfather to Chaucer's son and Sir John Clanvowe, poet and author of "The Book of Cupid or the Cuckoo and the Nightingale", was also a friend of Chaucer's but there is no evidence that Chaucer himself shared their beliefs, though, in the "Canterbury Tales",  he certainly satirised the clergy.

The relationship between Sir John Clanvowe and Sir William Neville and the nature of their beliefs is intriguing. They had known eachother since at least 1376 and the charge of Lollardy against them was made by Walsingham a year later. Clanvowe indentified himself with Lollardy in his tract "The Two Ways". Neville was a regular attender at council meetings and held several offices including Justice of the Forest North of Trent and Constable of Nottingham castle for life. As Constable he petitioned that Nicholas Hereford, a known follower of Wycliffe, who had been arrested in Nottingham, be transferred from the town gaol into his custody at the castle "because of the honesty of his person".  In 1390 however, he and Clanvowe went to fight the Muslims in Tunis and later continued on pilgimage to Constantinople, unusual activities for Lollards who certainly disapproved of pilgrimages and often held pacifist beliefs. They died  near Constantinople (Istanbul) on 17th and 19th October 139I and were buried in a joint tomb which was discovered in 1913. Their bodies had been placed lying with their helmets facing eachother as if kissing, their sheilds ovelapping and their coats of arms impaled as those of a husband and wife.

Richard II was deposed and Henry IV, John of Gaunt's son took the throne.  In 1401 he passed "De Heretico Comburendo" (Of the Burning of Heretics). Burning heretics was not new, it had become the practice in Continental Europe by the second half of the 12th century but it was new to England. The Act passed in 1401 was specifically against "divers false and perverse people of a certain new sect" . It was followed almost immediately by the burning of William Sawtrey, a London priest who had refused to declare his belief in transubstantiation or to recognose the authority of the church.   However, the Act provided provided that only obdurate and relapsed heretics were to be burnt, so while it may have been intended to initiate the investigation and persecution of those whom the ruling classes perceived as a threat, it may also have been intended to protect the merely ignorant or misguided and ensure some restraint. It was not until 9 years later that the first layman, John Badby, was burned at the stake in 1410.

Under Henry V, measures became more draconian with the Suppression of Heresy Act 1414, which declared heresy to be a felony in common law and treason against the king: lay office holders were to assit the Church in apprehending heretics, they were to be denied benefit of sanctuary, would foreit all land and property and be hanged for treason before being burned for heresy. and After the rebellion of Sir John Oldcastle, former friend of Henry V, persecution became more draconian and the movement was driven further underground. The absence of the printing press meant that Lollardy was spread largely by word of mouth and personal contacts. Despite this, some 150 Wycliffe bibles survive.

The Council of Constance 1415 ended the schism and the papacy was able to re-assert its authority. Wycliff was condemned on 4th May 1415 over 30 years after his death. Jan Hus, a Czech priest and philosopher who was a follower of Wycliff was summoned tot he Conference under a letter of safe conduct, tried found guilty and handed burnt at the stake. After his execution, his followers, Hussites, rebelled against their Roman Catholic rulers and defeated 5 consecutive papal crusades against them: a century later as many as 90%of the inhabitants of the Czech lands were non-Roman Catholic. The Basel Compacts which ended the Hussite wars allowed for a reformed church in the kingdom of Bohemia almost a century before the Lutheran reformation. Huss's teachings had a strong influence in Europe, not least on Martin Luther himself.

In spring 1428 Bishop Fleming of Lincoln had what were supposed to be Wycliff's remains dug up, burnt and the ashes cast into a nearby stream. This seems to have been the beginning of a renewed persecutionof Lollardy. One area in which this took place was in the diocese of Norwich from  1428-31. A surviving manuscript covers the trials of sixty men and women.

The defendants beliefs show core consistancies, though often with individual (sometimes eccentric) variations. The whole authority of the church and the priesthood was rejected:"every man and every woman beying in good lyf oute of synne is as good prest and hath as muche poar of God in al thyngs as ony prest ordred be he pope or bisshop." Transubstantiation was rejected: "no prest hath poar to make Goddys body in the sacrament of the auter, and that aftir the sacramental wordis said of the prest at messe ther remayneth nothing but oonly cake of material bread."

All prayers should be directed to God and "to noon other seyntes, for it is doute, if thar be ony suche seyntes in hevene as these singemesse approven and commaunden to be worsheped".  Another reason mentioned was that all saints were made by the ordinances of popes.  Therefore, "no pilgrimage oweth to be done ne be made for all pilgrimage servyth of nothying but oonly to yeve prestes goood that be to riche and to make gay tapsters and proude ostelers."

Imagary, especially statues of the saints, was widely condemned. Baptism and confirmation were often considered unnecessary if the child's parents were Christian, with reasons given as being because Christ's people were sufficiently baptised in his passion or because a child's soul was infused with the Holy Spirit as soon as it became united to the body of its mother in the womb. Oral confession to a priest was of no value because God alone could forgive and remit sins. The consent, in the love of Jesus Christ, of the two partners and the agreement of their friends was sufficient for marriage and made a ceremony in church unnecessary (though one defendant had wanted marriage to be abolished altogether for some time and all wives held in common! )

Lollardy preserved, albeit in simplistic and colloquially expressed terms, core ideas of Wycliff's theology and so foreshadowed Protestantism. Wycliff's scholarship was transmitted to Huss, who in turn influenced the German reformers, not least Luther and so Wycliff's theology returned, as it were, to England and was absorbed into the Reformation and Protestantism.

Richard III's possession of a Bible in English shows more his intellectual curiosity and closeness to his Englsh roots than any tendency to heresy. He was certainly a child of his time, adhering devoutly to standard Roman Catholic belieifs but perhaps also the child of a time when the authority of the church was questioned and piety, however conventional, was becoming inceasingly personal. He was the first king to have the laws passed in his parliament translated and published in English so that everyone could know what they were. Had he lived longer, would he have forshadwed Henry VIII in granting Bibles in English to every parish?

Closer to home, we have the legend of the Lollards of Lud church. Lud church is a great natural fissure in the rocks of the Roaches, north of Leek and a source of many tales. One of these is that it was a meeting place for a group of Lollards, led by one Walter de Lud Auk. Despite many searches being made for them, they were able to worship there for many years undiscovered because the chasm was well hidden in the forest. Walter was, at the time of their eventual discovery, about 70 years old.  His grandaughter Alice had a particularly beautiful singing voice and tragically it was the sound of her singing the alerted the soldiers searching nearby. The soldiers rushed into the chasm shouting at them to surrender in the name of the blessed church and king Henry. The Lollards went to seize their weapons but Walter commanded them to surrender and all did so, except for one Heinrich Montair, the head forester, a giant of a man, who threw the frontmost soldier back into the others with great force. One of the soldiers  fired his arquebus at Heinrich but missed him and killed Alice. Her Grandfather, Walter, buried her a few yards from the entrance to the chasm, where an oak tree now grows. On their way to London, Heinrich the forester escaped to deliver important papers to France where he joined forces when the English invaded. Some of Walter's followers were sent to prison and Walter is supposed to have died there.

No-one has so far been able to substantiate any of this tale.

About 1862, Sir Philip Brocklehurst, a nearby landowner who accompanied Shackleton on his Antarctic expedition, placed the figurehead of a woman from his ship "Swythamley" in a niche by the entrance to Lud Church in memory of Alice, the Lollard maid who was killed there. It was still there in 1930's but by the 1960s had fallen, rotten, to the floor of the chasm. A local brewery has named its excellent bitter after Sir Philip.





Salic law was issued between 507 -511, by Clovis, then king only of the Salian Franks, hence Salic law. (The unification with Francia, by which Clovis became king of all the Franks was after the laws were first issued.) Although it has become synonimous with laws of inheritance and succession, it originally covered all aspects of law, including criminal.

The form of inheritance with which Salic law has become synonimous is that of agnate succession. This completely excludes females from the line of inheritance, which must pass only through males, so if a man has no son, then succession goes to, or passes through, the nearest male relative through the male line line. However, it is not clear, in the ancient texts whether this or whether the form of succession known used in England, known as cognate male primogeniture, was intended.

We noted that what is popularly known as "Salic law" was not the practice in England. William the Conqueror died leaving three surviving sons and a daughter, Adela who was married to Stephen of Blois-Chartres. William left Normandy to his eldest son, Robert and England to the second son, William. William was killed in the New Forest and Henry, the youngest son, took the throne. After Henry's son was drowned in the sinking of the white ship, Henry made the barons swear allegeance to his only surviving legitimate child, Matilda but on his death, the barons preferred her cousin, Stephen of Blois, a man. Stephen was the son of Stephen of Blois-Chartres and Adela so his claim to the throne lay through his mother. After the death of Stephen's son, Eustace, Stephen recognised Matilda's son Henry as his heir. So both Stephen and Henry II's claim lay through their mothers.  This is cognatic male primogenture: succession may pass through female lines, it excludes the females themselves but allows the succession of their sons.

The popular conception of "Salic law" is perhaps most widely known by the speech in the second scene of Shakespeare's "Henry V" (I ii), where the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has ulterior motives, (discussed in the opening scene), for encouraging Henry V to go to war, explains at increasingly incomprehensible length why Salic law does not really apply to France.

"Howbeit they would hold up this Salique law

To bar your highness claiming from the female"

In fact agnate succession was not introduced in France to exclude the English claim. Philip IV was succeded, in turn, by each of his three sons: Louis X, Philip V and Charles IV, none of whom left a male heir. Louis X's wife Margaret had been found guilty of adultery and her daughter, Joan, was of very doubtful paternity. It was to exclude Joan that the assembled barons of France declared, on Louis' death in 1316 and again in 1317, that female succession was not allowed. When Charles IV died in 1328 there were no longer any direct male heirs of Philip IV but Edward III was Philip IV's grandson through his mother, Philip's daughter Isabella. Edward's representatives presented his claim, that he was the nearest living male relative of Philip IV and that though a woman could not ascend to the throne of France she could pass her claim to her son but the assembled barons quickly and unanimously rejected the claim of the fifteen year old Edward (who was still not in control of his own kingdom) on the grounds that a woman could not transmit that which she did not possess and chose the son of Philip IV's younger brother Charles, count of Valois, who became king Philip VI.

The origins and causes of the Hundred Years' War can be traced back to 1066. William the Conqueror was already duke of Normandy when he won the battle of Hastings. His great-grandson, Henry II was already count of Anjou by inheritance from his father and duke of Aquitaine (Gascony and Poitou) in right of his wife, Eleanor. King John lost Normandy and his son, Henry II renounced his claim to it in 1259 but Aquitaine continued to be source of friction. As dukes of Aquitaine, English kings owed homage to the kings of France for their duchy but as kings of England they were their equals, not vassals and English and French interests did not always co-incide. It was, perhaps, bound to cause problems and it did: open war broke out in 1294 and 1324.

If Shakespeare shows the Church as having ulterior motives for wanting Henry V to go to war, the impetus that began the Hundred Years' War may have come from another man who also had ulterior motives for wanting the king of England to declare war on the king of France. Froissart relates how Robert, count of Artois, fell foul of Philippe VI and was hounded out of France. Robert eventually found shelter in England at the court of Edward III, where he became a member of the royal council. Numerous chroniclers relate how Robert's presence led directly to the start of the Hundred Years' War because Philip VI cited Edward's refusal to expel his enemy Robert from England as his reason for confiscating the Duchy of Aquitaine.

A contemporary anonymous Anglo Norman poem, "Leus Veus du Hairon", ("The Vow of the Heron"), which circulated in both England and France in the 1340s, embroiders the chroniclers' accounts with a tale of chivalric vow taking, which may or may not contain a grain or two of truth. It relates that one day Robert of Artois went hunting along a riverbank where his falcon caught a heron. Robert decided to serve it up to Edward III. The heron was duly prepared and brought into the hall on silver platters, Robert going before and calling out in a loud voice:

"Clear the way! Clear the way, you miserable failures! .... Lords, I have a heron, caught by my falcon and I think no coward should eat it but only valiant lovers who are filled with love. I believe I have caught the most cowardly of all birds, I have no doubt of that, for the nature of the heron is such that when it sees its shadow, it is terrified. It cries out and screams as if being put to death,. The people of this country ought to swear on it and since it is cowardly, it is my intent to give the heron to the most cowardly one who lives or who has ever lived: that is Edward Louis, disinherited from the noble land of France of which he was rightful heir but his heart failed him and because of his cowardice he will die without it. So he should vow on the heron and tell what he thinks."

This, of course, is too much for Edward and he at once vows to "cross the sea with my subjects" and make war on "my mortal enemy, Philip of Valois, who wears the fleur de lis".

The English claim to France is illustrated on the 5 metre, 15th century Canterbury Roll which illustrates the descent of English kings from Noah, via, among others, Lear, Constantine and Arthur, with the main line of descent depicted by a thick red line. The scribe has not only included Edward III's descent from Philip IV through his mother, Isabella, but from that point on, the line of descent changes from red to a chequered red and blue, to illustrate the claim to France. 

Quartering of the English lions with the French fleur-de-lys was not abandoned until 1801, when the Acts of Union abolished the Irish parliament and replaced it with Irish representation at Westminster, to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. This led to a redesigning of the English arms.



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