Fifty shades of…12th century England

research books
one pile of my 12th century research materials

Forgive the “fifty shades” reference. I almost called this “fifty shades of de Grey” – de Grey being the surname of main character Sir Henry in Men of the Cross, but I thought better of it. 🙂  I’ve intended this to spark interest/amazement/horror for those who aren’t so familiar with the 12th century, and I’ve included a number of facts related to the Third Crusade. Enjoy these bits of trivia:

  1. Henry I (reigned 1100-1135) named his daughter Matilda (aka Empress Maud) as his successor, but his nobles chose to name Matilda’s cousin Stephen as king on Henry’s death.
  2. The Anarchy, aka “when Christ and his saints slept” (which is a translated quote from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle), lasted from 1135 – 1154 when Matilda (mother of Henry II) and her cousin Stephen fought to reign over England (see #1).
  3. The crown did not automatically pass to the oldest child: Stephan (reigned 1135-1154) passed over his eldest surviving son and named Henry (son of his rival Matilda) as his successor.
  4. Women could inherit property.
  5. The nobility were generally of Norman descent. (Remember William the Conqueror, 1066?)
  6. “Corn” was any cereal grain (not maize, which wasn’t introduced to Europe until the 15th or 16th century). Corn = wheat, barley, rye, etc.
  7. Many manor houses were built of timber. Stone was for the wealthiest landowners and saw increased use after the Norman Conquest as the new Norman rulers built their castles as symbols of their power.
  8. Below the nobility, church officials, and knights, there were some freeman, but a large percentage of the population were villeins, including serfs (slaves), who owed service to the lord of the manor. Service, which varied from place to place, usually included 3 days of work per week (more during harvest) for the right to live & work their own plots of land.
  9. A warhorse (aka destrier) might cost in excess of 50 shillings. Mail for the knight: 100 shillings.
  10. William, Henry, Roger, John and Geoffrey were very popular boys’ names.
  11. William, Henry, Geoffrey, and John were Richard the Lionheart’s brothers; Henry (the II) was his father.
  12. Henry II’s illegitimate sons were also named Geoffrey and William.
  13. Richard I was born in Oxford, England. Neither of his parents were English: Henry II was French from Anjou; Eleanor was from Aquitaine.
  14. Maud, Alice, Margaret, Joan and Isabel were popular women’s names.
  15. Taxes were too high (even back then!)
  16. A baron (like Henry de Grey’s father in Men of the Cross) might owe the crown £100 a year for scuttage, which might be paid in cash, in service and/or in crops/goods.
  17. Ermine Street ran from London to York (via Lincoln); it had been constructed during the Roman occupation hundreds of years earlier. (It was one of 4 major royal roads, which novelist Patricia Bracewell just wrote about on EHFA.)
  18. Traveling 40 miles a day was quite a feat on horseback. Whilst running from Duke Leopold in Austria, Richard I traveled 50 miles a day for 3 days in an attempt to reach the safety of the Moravian border. Imagine an army with hundreds of supply wagons, men on foot, and knights: in the Holy Land, Richard’s army of approximately 15,000 traveled anywhere from 2 – 13 miles per day.
  19. The language of the upper classes was Anglo-Norman, a French dialect.
  20. Peasants spoke what we’d call Old English though the influences of the Norman language led to the transformation to Middle English.
  21. Latin was the language used for official written records.
  22. It was a mortal sin to have sex that was not specifically meant for procreation; however, a trip to the confessional would get you a penance of a few Pater Nosters or a small fine.
  23. It was a mortal sin to have sex in any position except man-on-top/woman-on-bottom (see above for penance).
  24. There were no civil laws on the books against homosexuality in England until the second half of the 13th century. [Note: I’ve lost my reference for this: if you can point me to it I would appreciate it!].
  25. Bathing was more common in the Middle Ages than in the 19th century: many towns  had public bath houses. It was reported that when King John (reigned 1199-1216) traveled around his kingdom, he took a bathtub with him.
  26. The most dysfunctional family of the 12th century surely must have been Henry II, Eleanor, and their brood.
  27. Henry II imprisoned his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, from 1173-1189 for her role in his sons’ rebellion.
  28. Eleanor was 9 years older than Henry; they married after her marriage to the king of France was annulled.
  29. John, young Henry, and Geoffrey speaking to their brother Richard: “Mom always liked you best!”
  30. Henry II (reigned 1154-1189) could not read.
  31. Henry II crowned his successor Henry while he still lived. Henry was known as “the young king.” He died in 1183, a victim of dysentery.
  32. Eleanor accompanied her first husband Louis VII of France on the Second Crusade in the 1140s.
  33. Eleanor outlived  8 of her 10 children (2 by 1st marriage to Louis VII; 8 by Henry II; only son John and daughter Eleanor (by Henry) survived her.
  34. Thomas Becket, appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by Henry II, was murdered in December 1170 by four of Henry II’s overzealous knights after Henry reputedly said “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” (or something along that line dependent on which biography you read).
  35. King Richard I (Richard the Lionheart, ruled 1189-1199) spent only 6 months in England during his reign.
  36. Richard set out for the Holy Land in 1190, marching his army to Marseille to rendezvous with the fleet to sail to the Holy Land in the summer of 1190.
  37. Most of Richard’s fleet failed to meet him in Marseille: they’d been arrested whilst in Portugal for too much wine, women and gambling.
  38. Some legends of Robin Hood place him with Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade.
  39. Whilst the armies of Richard of England and Philip of France wintered in Messina, Sicily in 1190/1191, gambling by ordinary soldiers and sailors was banned except in the presence of their officers.
  40. The price of bread in Messina during the fall & winter of 1190/1191 was fixed by the kings (Richard, Philip, and Tancred) at 1 penny per loaf.
  41. Richard was betrothed to Alais (Alys or Alice), sister of King Philip of France, in 1169; they never tied the knot, Richard claiming his father slept with Alys. She was raised as Henry II’s ward in England from the age of 8 for about 22 years, until Richard married Berengaria of Navarre in May 1191 in Cyprus.
  42. Richard’s fleet finally arrived in the Holy Land in June, laid siege to, and captured Acre by mid-July. Richard insulted Duke Leopold of Austria whilst in Acre by ordering the Duke’s banner removed from the city ramparts. Richard’s men trampled the Duke’s banner. Leopold would not forget this insult.
  43. The Muslim chronicler Baha’ al-Din wrote that Richard was “a man of great courage and spirit.”
  44. The deadliest battle of the Third Crusade was the Battle of Arsuf on 7 Sept 1191 – casualties were estimated at 700 Christians and 7,000 Muslims.
  45. Washer-women were the only women allowed to accompany the army on the march to Jerusalem (August 1191-July 1192). However, Richard did bring his queen Berengaria and his sister Joanna to Jaffa in mid-fall 1191 when that town was secured.
  46. The crusader army came within 12 miles of Jerusalem – twice – but never laid siege to, or re-took, it from Muslim hands.
  47. A 3 year truce was signed between Richard I and Salah al-Din in September 1192. The Christians did maintain control of many coastal cities lost to the Muslims in the 1180s and Christian pilgrims were allowed into the Holy City.
  48. Duke Leopold’s soldiers captured Richard near Vienna, Austria, on 20 December 1192. According to a German chronicler, Richard was caught in the kitchen roasting meat and wearing a magnificent ring, though this tale is disputed by English chroniclers.
  49. Bows of composite wood, horn, and sinew replaced all wood bows; this increased the weapon’s power and range.
  50. John, younger brother of Richard I, plotted with King Philip of France to usurp Richard’s throne whilst he was on Crusade. John and Philip offered the Holy Roman Emperor money to keep Richard imprisoned rather than release him when the ransom of 150,000 marks was paid.

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Get swept away to the 12th century

Sweeping battles, forbidden love, and 2 knights fighting for Richard the Lionheart
MEN OF THE CROSS
A 2014 B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and Readers’ Favorite

Available from Amazon
in print and electronic editions.

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2 thoughts on “Fifty shades of…12th century England

  1. I loved the Ellis Peters series on Brother Cadfael which took place during the Maud/Stephen conflict. I never researched how that came about, and now I know!

    1. Susan, I’ve seen the tv show and just started reading the books – better late than never, right? The whole time period is fascinating. I only wish I had more time for reading… Maybe when I retire?

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