Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Aristocracy in the Seventh and Eighth Centuries

by Annie Whitehead

Last time I looked at the social organisation of the seventh century. Now, I'll be examining in more detail the role of the Aristocracy. At this time, a freeman’s value was expressed in terms of wergeld (literally ‘man-money’), the sum with which a feud could be averted. It was more than a man’s price; it determined the scale of compensation due to him for injury, or for the breach of his peace, or injury to his servant’s. It also defined a man’s status in society.

Characteristic terms used of the nobility in 600-735 were eorl and gesith, the former being found in Kentish documents. As well as the gesiths, there were the thegns - servants of the king not yet rewarded with land, or old enough to have received an inheritance. Possession of land often involved service and it is likely that, in the late seventh- century, connection by blood with a kind, service to a king, and particularly service at a royal court were important factors in determining noble status.

Of the principes and comites (gesiths) mentioned by Bede, many were of the royal kin, and most had some service to perform at the royal court. But they were not only courtiers in the literal sense. The famous story of Imma gives real insight into the nature of the nobility of the age.

Bede depicted in the Nurumberg Chronicle

A young man named Imma is struck down in battle, and sets out to find his friends to take care of him. Instead he is found and captured by men of the enemy army and taken to their lord, who is a gesith of the king. Imma is afraid to say that he is a thegn, so he tells his captor that he is a peasant who came to the battlefield only to bring food to the soldiers.

The gesith has his wounds attended to and as Imma begins to recover, the gesith orders him bound at night. After he has been a prisoner for some time, the gesith begins to notice that by Imma’s “appearance, his bearing and his speech that he was not of common stock as he had said, but of noble family.” The gesith calls Imma to one side and asks him to declare his origins, promising that no harm will come to him as long as he is honest. Imma confesses that he is a thegn, and the gesith says, “I realised by every one of your answers that were not a peasant, and now you ought to die because all my brothers and kinsmen were killed in the battle, but I will not kill you for I do not intend to break my promise.”

The first implication of this story is that a social gulf already separated the skilled fighting man from the peasant; manner of speech and knowledge of courteous ways betrayed the man of superior social status. The gesith himself was a significant figure; he was settled on an estate, in command of a powerful section of the royal army, and a victor in battle. He possessed a strong kindred of fighting men, and held the power of life or death over his captives. He was loyal to his oath, even though loyalty meant failure to take the correct vengeance for his kinsmen.

Other references in Bede’s Hist. Eccl. build up a similar picture of the typical powerful noble as a holder of land. When King Sigebert of Essex was assassinated, Bede considered it as just retribution for his failure to correct moral abuses on the part of his two comites (gesiths) who were his kinsmen. He was slain on the ham, that is to say the substantial estate, of one of his comites. In Northumbria two comites are said to have founded churches on their estates. So a picture emerges from the narrative sources of a great nobleman as a powerful military leader, possible of royal kin, settled on an estate, possessing a hall, and surrounded by retainers.

With the conversion to Christianity, the bond between noble and king, originally so much that between household retainer and lord, was knit more strictly by Christian oaths. Kingship developed too, with the king no longer being regarded merely as in the folk, but over the folk. Royal blood and an honourable genealogy were essential for a successful king. Christianity emphasised the value of the blood royal, and established legitimate kingship was accompanied by an established legitimate nobility, and the ability to exercise lordship over freemen developed into the most obvious mark of nobility.

king, saint, and gospel

The law codes surviving from this period give an insight into the position of the nobility in society, and its relationship with the classes beneath it on the social scale. These codes have enough in common to give a picture of aristocratic society in what HR Loyn called an heroic age. Special privileges granted to the nobles included higher payment for infringement of their house peace, of their own personal surety, of the lives and property of their dependants and above all for their own persons.

Clause 50 of Ine of Wessex’s code (688-94) reads:
“If a gesithborn man intercedes with the king or the king’s ealdorman or with the lord for members of his household, slaves or freemen, he the gesith, has no right to any fines, because he would not previously at home restrain them from ill-doing.” 
One thing that may be noted from this is the implication that one gesith may be under another’s lordship. More importantly, it is clear that the state imposed on every lord some responsibility for his men’s behaviour. We are not told how the West Saxon lord exercised his coercive power, but the lord’s right of jurisdiction, with the right in normal circumstances to take a portion of the misdoer’s fine, is clearly visible.

Other illustrations of the lord’s position exist: in seventh-century Kent a noble could clear himself of an accusation by his unsupported oath, while a ceorl would only do so with three of his own class (Whitred19;20). A lord could expect to have the faithful service of his men, and when they died, they were expected to render one final gift: their heriot, (literally ‘army gear’) varied with the status, not of the lord, but of the man.

The duties expected of the nobility extended further than that of keeping their own freemen and dependants under control. The nobility featured strongly in what could loosely be termed as local government, particularly administration and judicial proceedings. The clause in Ine’s code already referred to, has a further implication, which is that the nobleman had the duty of interceding for members of his household in the pubic courts. Knowledge of such public courts is vague. Presumably they owed much of their authority to the dignitary who presided over them – king, ealdorman or great lord. There were matters that demanded interpretation by wise men, by elders of the moots. At the highest level of the kingdom such men were drawn together in an assembly to give special sanction to the promulgations of dooms (judgements, pronouncements.)

the king with his council

The king legislated with the advice of his council, in fact some enactments seem to have gone out in the name of the latter alone. Copies were sent to the ealdormen in charge of the various provinces. These ealdormen were royal officials appointed by the king. Sometimes they were related to the royal house, quite often they belonged to the family that had ruled the province before its absorption into a larger kingdom. According to Dorothy Whitelock, they were most often drawn from the king’s thegns. Within his own area of operations, the ealdorman was the king’s representative. He led the forces of this district in war, and presided at its judicial assembly (as we have already seen). Like the king, he had official estates, and rights of claiming hospitality for his officials and messengers. It has been suggested that the ealdorman had two wergelds: one as his right as a member of society and one for his position as a royal official.

We have seen that the nobility were the top rank in a carefully structured hierarchical society, closely connected to the king by blood, or service. To sum up their functions in society and government, here’s a quote from Whitelock’s The Beginnings of English Society: “From early times kings were in the habit of granting to private landowners, the profits of jurisdiction over their own lands or over their own men, and sometimes over wider areas. This is so already at the date of Ine’s laws.”

The nobleman was a respected member of society, owing service to the king in military, judicial, and administrative capacities. In reward for these services he was given grants of land. His duties involved the lower end of the social scale in that he had an obligation to protect the people under him. The nobleman was a central figure in the social organisation and government of Anglo-Saxon England.

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Annie Whitehead is an author and historian, and a member of the Royal Historical Society. Her first two novels are set in tenth-century Mercia, chronicling the lives of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, who ruled a country in all but name, and Earl Alvar who served King Edgar and his son Æthelred the Unready who were both embroiled in murderous scandals. Her third novel, also set in Mercia, tells the story of seventh-century King Penda and his feud with the Northumbrian kings. She is currently working on a history of Mercia for Amberley Publishing, to be released in 2018.
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Friday, October 13, 2017

John Boyle O'Reilly - Irish Patriot, American Journalist, Poet

by Arthur Russell

“The world is large when its weary leagues two loving hearts divide. 
The world is small when your enemy is loose on the other side.”

These lines were quoted by United States President John F. Kennedy in his address to the Irish Parliament (Dáil Eireann), during his visit to Ireland in June 1963. The lines describe the heartache and trauma of Irish emigration which had become an enduring feature of life in Ireland arising from mid nineteenth century social upheavals caused by chronic famine coupled with serious agrarian disturbance.

The President was quoting from one of his favourite writers, John Boyle O’Reilly, who as editor of the paper “The Pilot” and a prolific writer and lecturer, was a dominant and well regarded commentator on the Boston scene during the last decades of the 19th century.

Who was John Boyle O’Reilly?
He was born in Ireland in June 1844, in Netterville House in Dowth, County Meath near the town of Drogheda; within sight of the 5000 year-old Megalithic tomb complex of Newgrange and its sister site of Knowth in the River Boyne valley. Both of his parents, William David O’Reilly and Eliza Boyle; were school teachers and ardent Irish Nationalists, features that contributed to O’Reilly’s love of reading about all things Irish as well as his gift for writing.

When he was 15, he went to live with his uncle and aunt in Preston in Lancashire where he worked as a young reporter with a local newspaper. While here he joined the 11th Lancashire Rifle Volunteers. He returned to Ireland in 1863, and enlisted in the 10th Hussars. As a fresh recruit, he became disillusioned by the Imperial authorities treatment of the native Irish population which caused him to encourage 80 fellow soldiers to join the newly formed Irish Republican Brotherhood, which became commonly known as “the Fenians”. In the aftermath of an abortive insurrection in 1866, O’Reilly, along with many other Fenian activists were arrested. He was sentenced to be executed, but due to his relative youth (aged 22 years) this was commuted to 20 years imprisonment with hard labour. A year and a half was served in English prisons from which he made several unsuccessful attempts to escape which earned him long periods of solitary confinement before he was transported to serve the remainder of his term in a penal colony in Australia. He had the distinction of being a member of the last group of transportees to be sent to Australia. This was on board the ship Hougoumont where he and a number of fellow Fenian prisoners produced a handwritten newspaper called The Wild Goose which included poems and stories drawn from the experiences of his fellow convicts on board. Seven editions of The Wild Goose were produced, one set of which survives in the State Library of New South Wales.

Convict life in Western Australia
On arrival in Australia he was assigned to a convict camp in the town of Bunbury in Western Australia in 1868. Within a year, and with the help and encouragement of the local Catholic priest, Father Patrick McCabe and some farmers from the nearby town of Dardanup, O’Reilly determined to escape from Australia. Following a prearranged plan, he and a fellow Fenian prisoner absconded from the convict camp and made their way to the Leshenault Peninsula where they had to wait for two weeks before being picked up by the American ship Gazelle which brought him from Australia. After a long voyage with several stops where he was in constant danger of being rearrested, he arrived in Boston in November 1869.

Arrival in Boston
Here, O’Reilly became involved with the burgeoning Irish American community, including its civil rights and sporting activities. Due to his considerable writing skills, he became part owner of the Pilot newspaper and began serious writing. His first book of poetry “Songs from the Southern Seas” was published in 1873. During the following decade, there were other poetry collections; Songs, Legends and Ballads (1878), The Statues in the Block (1881), In Bohemia (1886). In 1879 he published a novel Moondyne in 1879 based on his convict experiences in Australia, which was very popular among Irish Americans. His final collection of poems, Watchwords was published after his death in 1890.

O’Reilly’s life in Boston
O’Reilly’s first newspaper assignment was to cover the Fenian Convention in Boston in 1870, and the abortive Fenian led invasion of British ruled Canada, the most significant action of which was the Battle of Ridgeway in 1866 where the Irish Americans were repulsed by the Canadians. Overall, the military venture into Canada was a total disaster and was responsible for O’Reilly changing his views on Fenian militarism as a means for achieving political ends in either Canada or his native Ireland. Instead he saw the need to raise the status and self esteem of his fellow Irish immigrants to America as a better way to improve their lot in their adopted land, as well as progresslng the eventual achievement of independence back in his native Ireland through political rather than physical force methods.

He established his home in the Charlestown neighbourhood where he brought his bride, Mary Murphy in August 1872. Mary was also a journalist who worked for another Boston publication, The Young Crusader, under the name Agnes Smiley. The couple had 4 daughters, the second of which, Agnes O’Reilly, helped with her husband William Ernest Hocking, to establish the mixed gender Shady Hill School near Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which still operates. (The school actually began in 1915 with the support of a group of families, as a “back porch” school in the Hocking household until student numbers outgrew this location).

The Catalpa Rescue
In 1875, O’Reilly was approached by the leader of the major Irish nationalist organisation in the United States, John Devoy; to advise on the rescue of six Fenian leaders still imprisoned in Australia. This plan had significant support from the Irish American community and funds were forthcoming to purchase a whaling ship called the Catalpa and its crew for the venture. The result was the successful Catalpa Rescue which saw the six prisoners being picked up just outside Australian waters after dodging naval patrols that had been alerted about the escape. The fact that Catalpa was flying the flag of the United States in international waters prevented the Australian authorities from forcibly boarding the ship.

O’Reilly as editor of the Pilot, was first to break the news of the escape in June 1876, which caused much celebration in United States and Ireland; extreme anger in Britain and Australia.

The escape is celebrated by an impressive memorial in Rockingham, Western Australia which features 6 flying geese which draws on the tradition of Irish soldiers leaving Ireland to join Continental armies after the War of the 2 Kings which saw Protestant King William replace Catholic King James on the English throne. These and succeeding generations of departing Jacobite Irish soldiers came to be called the Wild Geese. This recalled the Wild Goose name also applied by O’Reilly and his Fenian prisoner comrades to their publication on board the Hougoumont transporting them to Australia.

The Social activist
Through the medium of The Pilot newspaper O’Reilly articulated his support for the establishment of the rights of the emancipated slaves emerging from the American Civil war. His immediate focus was a recent U.S. Supreme Court as well as the campaigning of one Henry Grady who advocated what he termed establishing “The New South” which would keep the black population in a second class role in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling which declared the 1875 Civil Rights Act unconstitutional.

‘Never did oratory cover up the weaker points of a repulsive cause so well’

The Pilot printed a series of articles disputing the claims advanced by Grady that highlighted the realities of southern life. The massacre by a white mob of 8 black men in South Carolina in December 1889 prompted the following editorial from O’Reilly. To some extent, it reflects his undimmed Irish Nationalism, along with inevitable opposition against the “Anglo Saxon”; at the same time encouraging opposition “by law first and by manly force in extremity.”

The black race in the South must face the inevitable, soon or late, and the inevitable is - DEFEND YOURSELF. If they shrink from this, they will be trampled on with yearly increasing cruelty until they have sunk back from the great height of American freedom to which the war-wave carried them. And in the end, even submission will not save them. On this continent there is going to be no more slavery. That is settled forever. Not even voluntary slavery will be tolerated. Therefore, unless the Southern blacks learn to defend their homes, women, and lives, by law first and by manly force in extremity, they will be exterminated like the Tasmanian and Australian blacks. No other race has ever obtained fair play from the Anglo-Saxon without fighting for it, or being ready to fight. The Southern blacks should make no mistake about the issue of the struggle they are in. They are fighting for the existence of their race; and they cannot fight the Anglo-Saxon by lying down under his feet.

This editorial roused considerable criticism across the country to which the Pilot faithfully published and responded. Replying to the St. Louis newspaper Church Progress that: ‘It is neither Catholic nor American to rouse the negroes of the South to open and futile rebellion’ O’Reilly wrote: ‘True, and the Pilot has not done so. We have appealed only to the great Catholic and American principle of resisting wrong and outrage, of protecting life and home and the honour of families by all lawful means, even the extremest, when nothing else remains to be tried.’

His anti-racist views as well as his support for minorities suffering from various forms of discrimination made him a much sought after speaker promoting better race and inter-ethnic relations across the country.

By contrast, O’Reilly’s views of Women’s suffrage remained consistently “conservative” based on sincerely held views that society and civilisation was ultimately under pinned by violence. He contended that Society was a blend of competing interests each of which was backed by men willing and able to fight for what they believed. In this scenario, O’Reilly saw women’s lack of physical strength in protecting their own interests as reason not to extend the franchise.

“A vote, like a law is no good unless there is an arm behind it; it cannot be enforced. This is a shameful truth, perhaps, but it is true”.

"We want no contest with women; they are higher, truer, nobler, smaller, meaner, more faithful, more frail, gentler, more envious, less philosophic, more merciful - oh, far more merciful and kind and lovable and good than men are. Those of them that are Catholics, are better Catholics than their husbands and sons; those who are Protestants are better Christians than theirs. Women have all the necessary qualities to make good men; but they must give their time and attention to it while the men are boys."He had well defined views on the role of newspapers and journalists in keeping society on the straight and narrow. Journalism should be much much more than “muckraking and manufactured outrage”, their role being to explain the world to readers honestly and clearly.

Surely this is a current theme in an age of so-called “fake news” (real and/or alleged)?

O’Reilly’s published writings

His published writings were well received to the extent that he was often commissioned to write commemorative pieces for special events. Some of his works are still highly regarded.

Possibly his best known poem is “The Cry of the Dreamer”, which shows his love for Ireland and his memories of boyhood days in the rural countryside near the River Boyne in Ireland which he would never see again; (“the dear old river, where I dreamed my youth away”). It also articulates his tedium with “heart weary building and spoiling, and spoiling and building again”; which was part and parcel of his new life in Boston; as well as his awareness of his adopted city’s (“crowded hives of men”) social inequalities. (“no pride but pity for the burdens the rich endure” as against “nothing sweet in the city but the patient lives of the poor”). The poor of the cities, the black population struggling to find their way to true freedom, the native Indian being driven from their ancestral lands as well as the many ethnic groups, including his own Irish immigrants trying to make their way in a new land all feature in O’Reilly’s writings.

I am tired of planning and toiling
In the crowded hives of men;
Heart-weary of building and spoiling,
And spoiling and building again.
And I long for the dear old river,
Where I dreamed my youth away;
For a dreamer lives forever,
And a toiler dies in a day.

I am sick of the showy seeming
Of a life that is half a lie;
Of the faces lined with scheming
In the throng that hurries by.
From the sleepless thoughts' endeavour,
I would go where the children play;
For a dreamer lives forever,
And a thinker dies in a day.

I can feel no pride, but pity
For the burdens the rich endure;
There is nothing sweet in the city
But the patient lives of the poor.
Oh, the little hands too skillful,
And the child-mind choked with weeds!
The daughter's heart grown willful,
And the father's heart that bleeds!

No, no! from the street's rude bustle,
From the trophies of mart and stage,
I would fly to the woods' low rustle
And the meadows' kindly page.
Let me dream as of old by the river,
And be loved for the dream alway;
For a dreamer lives forever,
And a toiler dies in a day.

Among his more popular lines are the piece “A White Rose”, often quoted at many wedding celebrations wherever English is spoken, demonstrate a romantic side of this talented writer.

A White Rose
The red rose whispers of passion,
And the white rose breathes of love;
O, the red rose is a falcon,
And the white rose is a dove.
But I send you a cream-white rosebud
With a flush on its petal tips;
For the love that is purest and sweetest
Has a kiss of desire on the lips


Death and aftermath

O’Reilly suffered from bouts of insomnia and on one of these took medicine containing chloral hydrate used by his wife to help him sleep. His wife Mary found him unconscious sitting at a table with one hand resting beside a book, and the other holding a cigar. All attempts to revive him failed and he died at 5 pm on August 10th 1890 in his 46th year. Public announcements attributed the death to heart failure, while the official record shows accidental poisoning.

His funeral was attended by thousands of mourners. Five of his Fenian comrades who had found a haven in United States were his coffin bearers to Calvary Cemetery in Roxbury. Later in the year his remains were exhumed and removed to Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline.

Immediately after his death, there was widespread outpouring of tributes to O’Reilly led by President Grover Cleveland who wrote "I have heard with sincere regret that John Boyle O'Reilly is dead. I regarded him as a strong and able man, entirely devoted to any cause he espoused, unselfish in his activity, true and warm in his friendship, and patriotic Massachusetts Senator George Frisby Hoar wrote to Mary O’Reilly "Accept my profound sympathy in your great loss and the great public loss. Your husband combined, as no other man, some of the noblest qualities of the Irishman and the American."


Six years later (June 1896), a multi-figure bronze sculpture made by Daniel Chester French of O'Reilly was unveiled on the Fenway, Boston, at which President Cleveland spoke.

Perhaps the strongest endorsement of O’Reilly and what he stood for was from his Pilot newspaper colleague James Jeffrey Roche who published his biography.

"O'Reilly defended the oppressed negroes, as he had defended the oppressed Indians, as sincerely and zealously as he had all his life defended the oppressed of his own race. It was morally impossible for him to do otherwise."

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Arthur Russell is the author of Morgallion, a novel set in medieval Ireland during the Invasion of Ireland in 1314 by the Scottish army led by Edward deBruce, the last crowned King of Ireland. It tells the story of Cormac MacLochlainn, a young man from the Gaelic crannóg community of Moynagh and how he and his family endured and survived that turbulent period of history. Morgallion was awarded the indieBRAG Medallion.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

St. Nicholas Abbey: A 17th century sugar plantation

by Cryssa Bazos

Long before Barbados became a travellers’ destination, renowned for its beautiful beaches, the island was a lucrative English colony and a source of exotic commodities, particularly sugar.

Barbados had been first colonized in 1627 by London merchants, and by approximately the mid 1640’s, the island’s plantation owners had started growing sugar cane. For the next three centuries, Barbados would become one of the major sugar producers in the world. Even today, when driving around inland Barbados, acres of sugar cane fields are a common sight.

One of the oldest surviving sugar plantations on the island is St. Nicholas Abbey, which also has the distinction of being one of three remaining Jacobean mansions in the Western Hemisphere. A visit to St. Nicholas satisfies those interested in the island’s history, Jacobean architecture and life on a sugar plantation. 

Front entrance of St. Nicholas Abbey
(picture by C. Bazos)

A tale of many families

St. Nicholas Abbey is located to the north of the island in St. Peter’s Parish, and the mansion was built in 1658 by Colonel Benjamin Berringer. With its 400 acres of prime land, at least half devoted to sugar cane, and its proximity to the main shipping port of Speightstown (once called Little Bristol), the plantation was indeed a jewel. As you drive up to the mansion, you pass under a shaded roadway lined on either side with mature mahogany trees. Those trees would have been planted in the 19th century, but when the house was first built, this roadway would have been graced by cherry trees. 

Picture by C.Bazos

Originally, St. Nicholas Abbey was part of a collective property owned by Colonel Berringer and his business partner, John Yeamans (whose own portion was called Greenland). Over the years, the two men would engage in a heated rivalry over the property, and more scandalously, the affections of Berringer’s wife, Margaret.

In the early days of their partnership, Berringer and Yeamans competed for the favours of Margaret Foster, a preacher’s daughter. Berringer came up as the winner in that contest, and he and Margaret married and settled down to have three children. Yeamans, no doubt, stewed. It’s very likely that the subsequent and ongoing disputes about the plantation borders were spurred by losing out on Margaret’s affections.

As these things often happen between married couples, Berringer and his wife’s marriage had its ups and downs, and in 1661, the couple had a major argument which forced Berringer to leave the home and remove to nearby Speightstown to stay with friends. The cause of the argument is unknown, but he and Margaret did not have time to reconcile. Not long after his departure, Berringer died suddenly and under very mysterious circumstances. Many whispered that Yeamans had somehow poisoned his old business partner, and these rumours dogged Yeamans for the rest of his life. Whether Yeamans did poison Berringer or not, no one could say nor was any proof established, but everyone noted the speed to which he and Berringer’s widow, Margaret, were married—her mourning lasted only ten weeks. Not only did Yeamans profit romantically by his former business partner’s death, he came out significantly ahead financially. Upon his marriage to Margaret, Yeamans acquired the Berringer plantation and merged both properties under the new Yeamans Plantation appellation.

John Yeamans’s star was now on the ascent. A couple of years after Berringer’s death, Yeamans was awarded a peerage by King Charles II and appointed Governor of Carolina, and he and Margaret eventually relocated to Charlestown. The man was reputed to be a greedy opportunist, and his reputation soon soured his dealings in the new world. He eventually moved back to Barbados with his wife and died in 1674.

St. Nicholas Abbey eventually passed to Margaret’s son from her first marriage and then shortly to his daughter Susanna Nicholas. This was when the plantation changed from Yeamans to its present day name.

Eventually the plantation would change hands in 1720 when Joseph Dottin, the Deputy Governor of Barbados purchased it. In 1746, he gave the property to his daughter as a dowry, with the provision that it would revert back to her heirs, when she married Sir John Gay Alleyne (he was the Gay Alleyne connected to the famous Mount Gay rum). Sir John was a Speaker of the House and one of the first plantation owners to have educated his slaves. Unfortunately when Sir John’s wife passed away, there were no heirs and St. Nicholas was in a state of legal limbo. The plantation eventually grew deep into debt and had to be sold off.

Enter the Cumberbatch family. If you’re wondering if there’s a connection to that Cumberbatch, yes, there is indeed. Meet Benedict's 7 x great-grandfather (give or take). The resemblance is uncanny.

Abraham Carlton Cumberbatch (1728-1785)
Father of Edward and Lawrence Cumberbatch
(Picture by Cryssa Bazos)

Two brothers, Edward Cumberbatch and Lawrence Trent Cumberbatch purchased St. Nicholas Abbey in 1810 and through the Trent Cave branch owned the property until 2006. The property was sold one last time to architect Larry Warren, who restored the home to its former glory and opened it to the public.

Features of St. Nicholas Abbey

Come with me on a virtual tour of the mansion. When you walk up to the house, you will pass an old stone wall and gate which leads to a forecourt, filled with local plants and flowers. The front of the three storied mansion features three Jacobean curvilinear gables set above an arched entranceway. When you enter the short hallway, to your right is the formal dining room. In the 17th century, the kitchen would have been a separate building accessible off the dining room, but in recent years, the kitchen was connected to the main house through this route. Of note in this room is an English Sheraton sideboard that dates to the late 18th century and a mahogany dining table crafted from local wood. The Minton china dates back to the early 19th century.

Dining room (picture by C.Bazos)

China display (picture by C.Bazos)

To the left of the hallway is a grand drawing room with sash windows, which were installed in 1746, and which replaced the original shutters. These windows overlook a herb garden (with bay leaf, lemon grass, and aloe) and expose the room to refreshing tropical breezes. One amusing aspect of the house was that there were fireplaces built into the design. I don’t think a chimney sweep’s services have ever been needed. 

Drawing room (picture by C.Bazos)

View to the herb garden (picture by C. Bazos)

Just off the drawing room you will find a private study and in it, a unique gentleman’s chair. Consider it a modern day equivalent of a La-Z-boy recliner. The master of the house could read, eat, sleep, and when his snoring grew too loud, be wheeled around to another room, all without having to vacate the chair!

Upstairs there are seven bedrooms, accessible by a Chippendale staircase which dates back to the early 18th century. When the staircase was installed, it didn’t just replace the original staircase, it was moved over from the left to the right. Moving toward the back of the house you’ll find a 17th century English Oak Settle in the Jacobean style. A closer look at the settle will show the upper panels depicting various knights. 

Picture by C.Bazos
 
From there we exit into the courtyard with a very large (and thorny) tree stands. This tree is believed to be nearly as old as the house, and locals call it a “monkey-no-climb tree” because the monkeys sensibly stay clear of it. There are a number of outhouses positioned in the courtyard including a bathhouse on one end and a barn at the other end.

Sugar and rum and all things yum

St. Nicholas enjoyed continuous sugar production from the 17th century until 1947. After a sixty year break, it resumed again in 2006. Today St. Nicholas crushes 350 tonnes of cane each year. The plantation crushes the cane on site between January to June using steam powered rollers which were introduced in 1890. Before then, the crushing rollers would have been wind powered. You still see these windmill structures throughout the island. 

Traditionally, the cane was cut by hand (a foot off the ground), stacked vertically in a wagon and taken to the crushing mill. Time was of the essence in harvesting the canes, for they had to be crushed by the end of the day or dry out. By stacking the cane vertically, instead of been laid flat on the bottom of the wagon, they’re quickly offloaded at the crushing mill.

Basic sugar production includes extracting the muddy brown cane juice, passing it through a series of copper pots in the boiling house and then curing it in clay pots. The coarse, brown sugar takes about a month to cure, while the refined white sugar takes a few more months longer. 

For rum, they distill the skimmings which run from the three lesser coppers in the boiling house to another building called the still house. From there the resulting liquor would need to be distilled twice and aged. Today, visitors can try the St. Nicholas plantation rum and be a part of the island tradition.

If you’re ever in Barbados and look for a unique experience and a trip back in time, I recommend a visit to St. Nicholas Abbey. 

References:

St. Nicholas Abbey Tour Guide: 350 Years of Heritage Preserved for Future Generations
The True & Exact History of the Island of Barbados, by Richard Lion

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Cryssa Bazos is an award winning historical fiction writer and 17th century enthusiast with a particular interest in the English Civil War. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the Romantic Novelist Association and is a co-editor and contributor of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. Her debut novel, Traitor's Knot, is published by Endeavour Press.

Connect with Cryssa through her Website (cryssabazos.com), Facebook, Twitter (@CryssaBazos) and Instagram. Traitor's Knot is available through Amazon.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Managing an estate

by Maria Grace

There were two major types of great landowners in the regency era–the aristocrats who were deeply involved in running the government, but rather less hands-on in regards to their estates, and land-owning gentry, who were very hands-on and represented the majority of land owners.

A country estate was a complex economic mini-state that typically included a residence of sufficient size to suit a gentleman with parkland, gardens, stables and paddocks. A large agrarian business extended out from this center, consisting of a home farm and gardens, numerous tenanted farms and cottages usually in a village near the manor. The survival of the resident family, household staff, tenant farmers and their families and workers depended on revenues from the estate’s agricultural enterprises and rents. (Laudermilk, 1989) A successful estate owner needed solid business acumen.

But why? Gentlemen did not work for their income, did they?

Technically, they did not. Their income came largely from rents and investments. Estates often had small villages within their boundaries including church and parsonage, stone, brick or timbered farmhouses, and cottages, even wind/water mills in a few narrow lanes, all surrounded by productive (and often leased out) meadows and fields. (It was generally considered a village, not a town because it had no market, the defining characteristic of a small town.)

Estate owners might also receive revenue from the sale of products from their land, including crops, animal products, timber and minerals.


Rent

Estate owners leased out various kinds of property, including tenant farms of various sizes, houses and cottages, and even small estates that might be part of their holdings. Rents rose dramatically between 1790 and 1830, in some cases increasing fivefold over that period, making rents a considerable source of income, especially for large estate owners. (Murray, 1998)

Since a gentleman did not dirty his hands with money, for him to collect the rents from this himself would have been vulgar. A steward, or in the case off smaller estates, a bailiff, would be hired for that task and others related to estate management. 

Stewards and Bailiffs

Whereas a bailiff might be an estate’s major tenant hired to simply collect rents, a steward was an educated man, often the son of clergy, a smaller landowner or a professional man, hired to assist in the running and management of the estate. A steward was not considered a servant, but rather a skilled professional. For this reason, he was addressed as ‘Mister’. Not long after the regency era, the term ‘steward’, having servile connotations, was dropped in favor of the more professional term ‘land agent.’

Stewards frequently had experience and training as solicitors which was particularly useful in their duties managing contracts and overseeing estate accounts. Beyond these duties, stewards also collected rents, leased land, supervised the tenantry, directed any work done on the land, settled squabbles that arose among the tenants or workers, purchased animals, seed and so on. (Shapard,2003)

The steward would often have a home of his own, but would on occasion stay at the manor. His duties might regularly take him to the family's other country houses, and to London, but he was unlikely to travel with the family on a regular basis. (Martin, 2004)


Farming

Tenant farmers

By 1790, three quarters of England's agricultural land was cultivated by tenants. (Day, 2006) The remaining quarter represented small yeoman farmers whose numbers would decrease through the ensuing century.

Tenants usually rented sections of land with farmhouse and outbuildings, paid their rents on the established quarter days: Lady Day (March 25), Midsummer (June 24), Michaelmas (September 29), Christmas (December 25), sold the produce, and kept the earnings. Customary provisions required the landlord to supply materials, buildings and facilities such as drainage and hedging while the tenant provided stock, seed and tools. (Davidoff, 2002)

Farmers, including tenant farmers, made up the middling ranks of rural society. They could become quite well off with their sons and daughters educated as they moved up the social scale. Though the sons of tenants could not inherit the land their father’s works, they could inherit their farm leases. These leases, which traditionally ran for multiples of seven years, were often passed from father to son, with the land owners preferring to maintain the continuity of a known tenants and the relationships that went with it. (Davidoff, 2002)

It was not uncommon for a tenant farmer to rent extra land with additional farmhouses for adult sons to farm. The eldest son would eventually take over his father’s tenant farm when he retired or died. Widows might head a farm household, hiring help with the farm as needed until a young son was old enough to take over the tenancy. (Davidoff, 2002)

Tenants normally looked to their landlord for assistance whether for personal matters or for help in improvements to the land. Some of these improvements might include better ways to farm the land and improve productivity.

Farming methods

With populations rapidly increasing, the best landowners sought out advanced methods of agricultural science to improve production (and profits.) The agricultural reports of the newly formed Board of Agriculture were avidly studied to learn more about advancements including crop rotation, scientific stock breeding, and new technologies including the seed drill and machines for threshing and chaff cutting. The installation of drainage in fields was another innovation practiced by many farmers during this era. Heavy clay soils where excess water made plowing more difficult and hurt the growth and root structure of plants would have rows of drains cut beneath the surface to move water away from the fields. (Shapard, 2012)

Four-course crop rotation, commonly called the Norfolk four-course system, increased fodder production. There were many variations of this system, depending on the region. Typically, fields would be sown with wheat in the first year, turnips in the second, followed by barley in the third. The clover and ryegrass were grazed or cut for feed in the fourth year. This produced two cash crops and two animal feed crops.

One constant was the presence of livestock as part of the strategy. Sheep (or sometimes cattle) were turned out to graze the turnip tops. This kept weeds down and allowed the field to be fertilized by mobile manure factories. Turnip roots were stored for winter animal fodder. More fodder meant larger livestock herds and the ability to keep animals through the winter. Improvements like these could double one's income. (Laudermilk,1989)

In addition to increased agricultural production, estates began to enjoy profits from heretofore unexplored avenues such as mining and timber sales. Changes in technologies often fueled demand while improvements in transportation with new canals and steam engines made previously prohibitive production profitable.


Incomes

What kind of income could a landed estate provide? Naturally the answer depended a great deal on the size of the estate and the kind of management it had.

For a little perspective, the 1801 census found that the average income of the 287 peerage families (all of whom would have landed estates) was approximately £8,000 The top 2000 merchant families averaged £2,500, whereas the top 6000 esquires that Austen’s Mr. Bennet would have belonged to averaged £1,500. That suggests that the £2,000 a year Mr. Bennet had represents a very good income, compared to his peers.

To have an income above the average nobility as a gentleman estate holder, one did not spend a very great deal of time sitting about enjoying the social life of the town. While a man like Austen’s Mr. Darcy might take time to enjoy the finer things as it were, he would also have to spend a very great deal of time and effort in managing the massive agricultural enterprise that provided those finer things.

Technically a gentleman did not ‘work’ for his income. But planning how to keep an estate afloat through the long years of the French war, determining how best to manage the home farm and advise his tenants considering the price of corn, debating whether to invest in draining a new field or if rain will spoil the harvest or damage tenant houses that he will have to repair—and how to effect those repairs—seeking new hands to man the sawmill and cider press and what to pay them—all of that sounds a very great deal like what we today would call work. While there were inevitably bad landowners who put little into managing their estates, many, if not most put in a great deal of very hard work to manage estates that provided “livelihood and the stability for both the landowner and a vast army of workers–tenant farmers, gardeners, cowmen, sawyers and shepherds alike.(As well as providing employment for seasonal labourers like codders, harvesters, shearers…)” (Bennetts, 2012)


References

Adkins, Roy, and Lesley Adkins. Jane Austen's England. Viking, 2013.
Austen, Jane, and David M. Shapard. The Annotated Pride and Prejudice. New York: Anchor Books, 2003.
Austen, Jane, and David M. Shapard. The Annotated Sense and Sensibility. New York: Anchor Books, 2011.
Austen, Jane, and Edward Copeland. The Cambridge Edition of Sense and Sensibility. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Bennetts, M.M., “At the heart of a great estate is… .“ M.M.Bennetts. April 11,2012. Accessed May 20, 2014. http://mmbennetts.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/at-the-heart-of-a-great-estate-is/
Collins, Irene. Jane Austen and the Clergy. London: Hambledon and London, 2001.
Davidoff, Leonore, and Catherine Hall. Family fortunes: men and women of the English middle class, 1780-1850. London: Routledge, 2002.
Day, Malcom. Voices from the World of Jane Austen. David and Charles, 2006.
Ellis, Markman "Trade." In Jane Austen in Context , 269-77. Cambridge: University Press, 2005.
Girouard, Mark. Life in the English Country House: A Social and Architectural History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978.
Gornall, J.F.G. "Marriage and Property in Jane Austen’s Novels." History Today 17, no. 12 (December 1967). Accessed May 22, 2017. http://www.historytoday.com/jfg-gornall/marriage-and-property-jane-austen%E2%80%99s-novels.
Hitchcock, Tim, Sharon Howard and Robert Shoemaker, " Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor Account Books ", London Lives, 1690-1800 (www.londonlives.org, version, 1.1 17 June 2012). https://www.londonlives.org/static/AC.jsp
Laudermilk, Sharon H., and Teresa L. Hamlin. The Regency Companion. New York: Garland, 1989.
LeFaye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. New York: Abrams, 2002.
Martin, Joanna. Wives and Daughters: Women and Children in the Georgian Country House. London: Hambledon and London, 2004.
Morris, Diane H. “Mr. Darcy was a Second-Class Citizen.” Moorgate Books. August 10th, 2014. Accessed May 22, 2017. http://www.moorgatebooks.com/10/a-true-regency-gentleman-had-good-breeding/.
Ray, Joan Klingel. Jane Austen for Dummies. Chichester: John Wiley, 2006.
Selwyn, David. Jane Austen and Leisure. London: Hambledon Press, 1999.
Seven Trees Farm, “Norfolk four course.” Seven Trees Farm. April 30, 2012. Accessed May 29, 2017. http://seventreesfarm.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/norfolk-four-course/
Sullivan, Margaret C., and Kathryn Rathke. The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books, 2007.
Swift, Deborah. “Law & Order - Duties of the Constable in 17th Century England.” English Historical Fiction Authors. May 24, 2017. Accessed May 29, 2017. http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2017/05/law-order-duties-of-constable-in-17th.html
Trevelyan, George Macaulay. Illustrated English Social History. New York: D. McKay, 1949.
Vickery, Amanda. The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998.
Watkins, Susan. Jane Austen's Town and Country Style. New York: Rizzoli, 1990.
Wilson, Ben. The Making of Victorian Values: Decency and Dissent in Britain, 1789-1837. New York: Penguin Press, 2007.


~~~~~~~~~~

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. 

After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

Click here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.


Friday, October 6, 2017

Londinium Falling - 61AD

by Tim Walker

With some historians now casting doubt on whether Julius Caesar ever actually came to Britain in 55 BC (could it really have been Roman fake news - a PR campaign by his supporters?), greater importance is now placed on the invasion by the forces of Emperor Claudius in 34 AD. An army of eight legions (40,000 men) that included cavalry and elephants, led by General Plautius, established a foothold on the south coast before pushing northwards towards the River Thames.

Imagine Iron Age fishermen, open-mouthed to see Roman galleys, rowed by slaves, moving up the River Tamesis (as the Romans would name it), and dropping anchor at their village - a place the Romans would turn into the port and fortified town of Londinium. These Romans were the first of many men of vision who would come to shape the city we see today - but not before disaster struck one fateful day in 61 AD.

Londinium soon became a bustling garrison town, from where new roads radiated north and west towards frontier towns. A wooden bridge was built across the river and a settlement sprang up in what is modern-day Southwark. General Plautius soon made peace with the local Catuvellauni tribe, and occupied their town of Camulodenum (modern day Colchester in Essex and some people’s tip for the source of the name ‘Camelot’ – King Arthur’s fabled fortress). This became the capital of the new province of Britannia and its administrative headquarters, some 60 miles north-east from the port of Londinium.

Plautius and his successor, Paulinus, did not have an easy job of subduing their new province. The Briton tribes put up fierce resistance, their blue-painted faces terrifying even seasoned legionaries as they ran screaming from the dense forests with their primitive weapons. They were whipped-up into a frenzy by their religious leaders – The Druids – whose liking for human sacrifice helped them keep a powerful grip over the locals.

In the year 61, when General Paulinius was in the north-west with most of the ninth legion chasing druids, there was a revolt. Prasutagus, the king of the Iceni, was a friend of the Romans. When he died, he left half his kingdom to the Roman emperor, then Nero, and half to his wife, Queen Boudicca. The Romans, however, wanted it all. They also wanted extra taxes and they wanted Boudicca to give up her throne.

Boudicca was humiliated and publically flogged for voicing her objection to being disinherited, and her two daughters were raped by Roman soldiers. Well, this would be enough to raise anyone’s hackles, and soon she had an army baying for Roman blood. They first swooped on the Roman capital, Camulodenum, killing all and burning it down, before turning their attention towards Londinium.

There may only have been one or two cohorts (between 500 and 1,000 men) to defend Londinium. At that time there was no stone defensive wall – most likely just a ditch and earth bank, with perhaps a wooden stockade. It is now a known fact that Boudicca’s army swept the defenders aside and burnt the town down, killing all who stood in their way.

This day of murder and mayhem is the subject of my historical fiction story, Londinium Falling, in my book of short stories, Postcards from London. My research took me to the excellent display in the British Museum, and on a tour of the London Wall. The Romans returned to the ruins of Londinium some time after the Britons had returned to their tribal lands, and set about re-building it, this time surrounded by a wall of stone.

The city of London has suffered many fires in its history – most notably the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz of the 1940s – both of which cleared the way for new building to spring up around the site of St Paul’s Cathedral that miraculously survived both events. But it’s first major calamity and destruction by fire occurred in 61 AD at the hands of Boudicca’s tribal revolt.

~~~~~~~~~~

Tim Walker is an independent author and former journalist based near Windsor in Berkshire, UK. Born in Hong Kong, he grew up in Liverpool and studied in South Wales, before gravitating to London where he working in newspaper publishing for ten years. In the mid-90s he went to Zambia in Africa to do publishing-related voluntary work. Following this, he stayed on and set up his own publishing and marketing business, before returning to the UK in 2009.

His publications include Thames Valley Tales, a collection of fifteen contemporary stories, a near-future/dystopian thriller novel Devil Gate Dawn, a children’s book, co-written with his 12-year-old daughter Cathy, called The Adventures of Charly Holmes. In September 2017 he published a collection of short stories, Postcards from London. Currently, he is writing an historical fiction series, A Light in the Dark Ages. The first two parts, Abandoned! (a novella) and Ambrosius: Last of the Romans (a novel) are now available from Amazon in e-book and paperback formats. Part Three, Uther’s Destiny, should follow in early 2018.

Author website
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Book Links:
Postcards from London
Abandoned
Ambrosius
Devil Gate Dawn
Thames Valley Tales
The Adventures of Charly Holmes

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Truth Behind the Fiction: Two Brothers, Two Kings

by N.B. Dixon

When I began working on my Robin Hood series, I had to research the real characters in the story as well as the fictional. The two Kings most closely associated with the Robin Hood legend are King Richard I, also known as the Lionheart for his fearlessness in battle, and his brother John. Usually, Richard is portrayed as the chivalrous knight, a man of honour and decency, while John is the dastardly villain, a man greedy for wealth and power. But were things really as cut and dried as that?

It’s true that in many ways, Richard and John seemed to have been opposites. Richard was a warrior, a born soldier. He was never happier than when he was on a battlefield. During his ten year reign, he spent only four months on English soil.

John, being the youngest son, was never expected to amount to much. He seems to have favoured strategy and manipulation as his weapons of choice. When he did take to the battlefield, it was often disastrous. His brief spell in Ireland when he was in his late teens, is a study in mistakes. Far from bringing the Irish lords to accept English rule, he succeeded in alienating every one of them.


However, the two brothers do have more in common than is evident at a first glance. Firstly, neither of them was born to be King. They were the sons of Henry Plantagenet, later to become King Henry II, and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Richard was the elder of the two, but he was the third son born to Henry and Elinor. His eldest brother William died in infancy. The next brother, Henry, did survive into adulthood. However, his life was a short, tempestuous one, mainly spent in rebelling against his father. His father outlived him. Between Richard and John, there was another brother, Geoffrey, as well as some sisters. Richard was, however, destined to rule from birth. His mother always intended him to take over the Duchy of Aquitaine at her death.

The ambition that Richard and John shared, was that of triumphing against their father. Richard joined his elder brother’s rebellion against King Henry. The rebellion did not succeed, and for a time, John’s star was in the ascendant as his father’s favourite son. However, when it became evident that the King was dying, John switched his allegiance to Richard. He was quick to renege on that almost as soon as Richard became King.


Richard was crowned King of England in September 1189. Almost immediately he set out preparing to go on crusade to the holy land. It was an oath he and several kings and princes had taken, to recapture Jerusalem from the Muslims and return it to Christian rule. Richard’s friend and ally, Philip of France, had also sworn to go on crusade. Richard fully expected Philip would keep his oath.

Richard was delayed in reaching his goal. First he was held up at Sicily, where he liberated his sister, the former Queen, who, on her husband’s death, had been taken prisoner by his bastard cousin, Tancred. Tancred had seized power, and Richard was held up as he attempted to bring peace to the region. This he eventually succeeded in doing, by suggesting that his brother Geoffrey’s young son Arthur could be betrothed to Tancred’s daughter, thus uniting their two families. Richard’s brother Geoffrey had died before his son was even born, and it is doubtful whether Richard ever intended to honour this agreement. Arthur was, at that time, his only heir Besides John.

In Cyprus, Richard wed his queen, Berengaria. He was a reluctant bridegroom, and spent as little time with his wife as possible.

By the time they reached Aker, the crusade was already well underway. Attempts had been made to breach the city, but they had been unsuccessful. Philip of France was ill. The climate was not agreeing with him. When Richard arrived and succeeded in doing what he had been trying and failing to do, Philip had had enough. He chose to return to France. Richard accused him of going back on his oath, and their friendship was broken.

It’s at this time that Richard did something that even the Robin Hood legends have been unable to gloss over. After the fall of acre in 1191, many of its citizens became prisoners of war. Richard agreed to return them to the enemy side in exchange for a large sum of gold. When Saladin refused to pay, Richard had nearly 3000 men, women and children beheaded. Saladin retaliated in kind. Despite this, there does seem to have been some respect between the two men. When Saladin heard that Richard was ill, he sent him a present of fruit.

Richard was never able to reclaim Jerusalem. Finally in 1192, a peace treaty was agreed. Jerusalem remained in Muslim hands, but Christians would be permitted to visit and worship at the holy sepulchre. Richard was ready to return home, but he’d made many enemies during his time in the holy land, and not all of them were those he’d come to fight.


In December 1192, Richard was captured in Vienna by Leopold of Austria and later handed over to Henry of Germany. There is a charming legend that his minstrel, Blondel, travelled from castle to castle, singing a song that both he and Richard knew well. When Richard heard him and answered, that was how Blondel was able to discover his location. In reality, Richard’s location was never a secret. The ransom demanded was a hundred thousand marks.

So what was John doing all this time? When Richard left for the Crusades, he left his mother Queen Elinor as regent. John, however, lost no time in capitalising on his brother’s absence. He said that he would be an English king for the people. Richard is rumoured not to have spoken a word of English. John had stayed in England all this time, not deserting his people the moment the Crown was on his head. There were some who rallied to his support. His greatest enemy, the Chancellor Longchamp, was eventually forced to flee the country.

John entered into negotiations with Philip of France, who was still smarting from his humiliation at Richard’s hands. It is rumoured that they wrote a letter to Henry of Germany, stating that they would pay twice the amount of money specified for Richard’s release, if he died in his prison cell and never came home at all. But John had reckoned without his mother. Somehow, despite the fact that England was already suffering owing to the amount of money Richard had demanded to fund his crusade, part of the ransom was raised. Promises were given that the rest would be paid, and Richard was released. He returned to England in 1194, but it was to find a divided country. Some declared for John.

Nottingham Castle refused to surrender to Richard, and a bloody battle ensued. The castle Gatehouse was burned down, and Richard hanged several rebels. Those left alive surrendered, and John’s hopes of seizing his brother’s throne came to nothing. He was loyal throughout the rest of Richard’s reign, but he didn’t have long to wait. Richard lived only five years after his release. Much of that time he spent in France, and he was killed in action.


John became king in 1199. However, he did face a threat to his own rule in the form of his nephew, Arthur of Brittany. There were many who felt that Arthur’s claim was just a strong as John’s. Arthur laid siege to the Castle of Mirabeau in France, where Queen Elinor was staying. John was forced to go to her rescue, and Arthur was captured. In 1203, he disappeared. Later a body was found washed up on the banks of the River Seine, but it was never positively identified as that of Arthur of Britany. It was widely believed that John had had the boy murdered. Philip of France had turned against John by this time, and he lost no time in vilifying him.

Like Richard, John made many enemies in his reign. Many of John’s barons turned against him, which eventually led to the signing of Magna Carta, a charter giving power to the barons, and restricting the King’s ability to pass laws without consulting them.

John ruled from 1199 to 1216. He was a lecher, and also cruel and vindictive. However, he did often give money to beggars if he came across them in the street, not something the Robin Hood legend would report.

Richard’s reign was short and eventful. He was generous to his friends, but murdered three thousand innocent people. To think of Richard as the good King and John as the evil one is perhaps to make things two black and white, but as the saying goes, there is no smoke without fire.

~~~~~~~~~~

N.B. Dixon is an author of historical fiction. Her love for the Robin Hood legend began in a neglected corner of the school library and has continued ever since. She is a self-confessed bookworm and also a musician.

She began work on the Outlaws Legacy Series in 2013, and was accepted by Beaten Track Publishing in 2016. Outlaws Legacy is a historical series based around the Robin Hood legend. The author describes it as Exciting Historical Adventure with GLBT romance. Knight of Sherwood is available now.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Social Organisation in the Seventh Century

by Annie Whitehead

The seventh century is a long way away, and elusive in terms of surviving written records. Bede is our major source for historical events, but he tells us little about everyday lives. Most of the information on this subject is found in the law codes of the rulers of Kent – these being Æthelberht, Hlothherre and Eadric, and Wihtred – and the laws of Ine, king of Wessex. These law codes give a relatively comprehensive view of the status and importance of the varying social classes.

Before taking a close look at these, however, a basic introduction to the social system is probably useful, in order to understand the references and terminology used in the law codes.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Abingdon Manuscript) showing Æthelberht's name

In the eyes of the law, the chief mark which distinguished one class of society from another was the price that had to be paid in compensation for the slaying of one of its members, and this was called the wergeld (or wergild) - literally a man price.

Life in a nobleman’s hall was very like that at court, but on a smaller scale. Like the king, lay and ecclesiastical lords had their officials. All great households included one of more domestic chaplain, whose functions were secretarial as well as religious. Stag-hunting, fox-hunting and hawking were favourite pastimes for kings and nobles.

There is little information about the activities of the women of the class, but we may assume that the mistress of the house supervised the running of it, which would entail baking, brewing, spinning and weaving. An Anglo-Saxon lady could hold land in her own right, and defend her right in the courts.

The ordinary freeman is most commonly called a ceorl. Though he apparently lived at a lower economic level than his Kentish counterpart, the ceorl in the other kingdoms of the heptarchy * was nevertheless a man with the full rights of a freeman, and often held land that he had inherited from his ancestors and would leave to his children, and he paid a freeman’s duties to the church.

The slave had no wergeld. He was a chattel, and if anyone killed him, he had merely to pay his value to the owner. Slaves were sometimes included in inventories of stock. As he had no property, the slave could not be punished by fines when convicted of crime, and was therefore liable to flogging for minor offences, or to mutilation and death for serious offences. If his owner ill-treated him, he incurred ecclesiastical penalties, but it was not the concern of the law.

As mentioned already, most of the law codes pertinent here emanate from Kent, and I'll look first at that of Æthelberht, which can be dated from between the adoption of Christianity in 597 and the king’s death in 616.

Law code of  Æthelberht - 12th Century manuscript

It is clear that the lowest rank was filled by slaves. Some of the female slaves were employed as domestic servants, and penalties for raping them were in proportion not to their feelings but to their master’s rank. Higher values were set on the honour of other slave-women, presumably employed not in the household but on the farm. To distinguish slaves from freeborn women, their hair was cropped. If the male slave stole, he was supposed to have means to pay twice the value of the stolen goods as compensation.

More is said about the esne - a strange word. In other texts the word is used to translate the Latin ‘servus’, and no doubt a taint of servility clung to the esne – at best he was only half-free. He may have had a household of his own, rather than a mere lodging in the outbuilding of his master’s farm.

Another oddity is the læt, who is mentioned only in Æthelberht’s laws. It seems natural to connect him with the laetus of the Roman Empire, where he was a member of a subject people settled on the land in a position intermediate between freemen and slaves.

Next in the social scale is the ceorl, or husbandman. The word tells nothing of the ceorl’s racial origin, nor does it carry any connotation of freedom. He was certainly a commoner, and the clearest indication of his social status is his mundbyrd, the fine payable for an offence against one of his dependents: six schillings, as against twelve schillings for a nobleman, or fifty schillings for the king.

Four classes of widow are distinguished by their mundbyrd, and the grades are presumably determined by the standing of their late husbands (or their brothers). The lowest, six schillings, is identical to the mundbyrd of the ceorl, the highest, fifty schillings, with that of the king. The first class widow would be nobly born, perhaps of the royal house, the twenty schilling widow a non-royal noblewoman, and the twelve schilling one the widow either of a lesser gentleman or a freeman.

Æthelberht says very little about the eorl (nobleman). Twelve schillings is the penalty for slaying a man on the premises of a nobleman and for seducing his domestic slave-woman. This is enough to show that the eorl stands twice as high in social estimation at the ceorl.

Dated between 673 and 685, the laws of Hlothherre and Eadric only supplemented those already in force. Nowhere is it stated that these two ruled jointly, although this was not uncommon.

The code adds little information on the social structure. It speaks of the esne and his owner, who must surrender the esne if he kills a man, and the owner must pay compensation proportionate to the rank of the victim.

Graves of Hlothherre (2nd left) & Wihtred (3rd left) - attribution

The freeman’s home is in a village, or tun. If accused of stealing, he must bring at least one witness from his own village. This probably means that some villages were populated by freemen who acknowledged no superior other than the king, especially when remembering Æthelberht’s laws implying a close relationship between king and freeman.

An important provision relating to the slave or to the servile esne, is that the Church protects him by decreeing that his master may not lawfully deprive him of his money or livestock which he has earned by his own toil.

By the time of Wihtred’s reign, manumission was by now treated as a religious act which could take place at the altar. The code issued by Wihtred in 695, provides that although a man freed at the altar shall be ‘folk-free’ that is, free as against all men except his lord, the lord shall be the guardian of his household even if he is settled elsewhere than on the lord’s estate, and when he dies, his property and wergeld will belong to the lord.

In Wihtred’s laws, the nobleman is styled gesithcundman. He owes his standing partly to his birth, but now the emphasis is on his position as a gesith, or companion to the king. Between him and the slave stands the ceorliscman, or commoner. This term includes freemen, husbandmen, læts, and perhaps the folk-free esne.

The laws of Ine of Wessex were issued at some time between 688 and 694. We owe their survival to their being added as a supplement to the laws of Alfred, who expressly mentions his use of them. It is not safe to assume that they are complete, since presumably Alfred would only have preserved those clauses which were relevant to his own laws, but they are of particular interest, since they are the earliest we possess.

If the slave of Ine’s Wessex has a master who makes him work on Sunday, he is to be set free, but if he works of his own accord, he must be whipped or pay a fine. The freeman who works on a Sunday, however, may be reduced to slavery unless he can pay a heavy fine, or plead to his lord’s command. So it would seem that a Wessex freeman may have a lord set over him.

Peterborough Chronicle, contains the oldest surviving copy of Ine's laws

The esne appears only once in Ine’s codes, where penalties are appointed for anyone who actively helps him to abscond.

Ine’s laws provide a definite place for Britons in the social scheme. The wergeld payable for taking a Welshman’s life is arranged in seven grades: -
Welsh Slave 50 Schillings
Landless Welshman 60
Landless Welshmen with ½ a hide 80
Son of a Welsh rent payer 100
Welsh rent payer or landed Welshman with 1 hide 120
Welsh horseman in the king’s service 200
Landed Welshman with five hides 600
The hide is a unit of assessment for calculating the payments in money or kind due to the king or other landlord. Ine’s laws throw no light on the method by which the assessment was imposed, or the extent of land which lies behind it.

The Welshman with five hides is clearly a man of substance, but other men, probably English, held as much as ten or twenty hides. The wergeld of a five-hide Welshman is 600 schillings, but we are not told whether the same or a higher compensation is exacted for the murder of a five-hide Saxon.

Here again, the nobleman is styled gesithcundman, and is contrasted with the ceorliscman or commoner. Normally, he is a landholder. He forfeits his land by neglecting military service and has to pay a fine of 120 schillings, twice as much as that paid by a landless man of his own class, four times that paid by a commoner.



Little is known of the other kingdoms. The Northumbrian nobleman was also known as a gesith, a companion of the king, as he was in Mercia. In East Anglia and Essex, there is no reason to suppose that the social systems differed greatly. The collection of tribes known as the Middle Angles may have been governed by ealdormen, as there is no record of a traditional of a royal house. (King Penda of Mercia's son became king of the Middle Angles around the year 653, but this was an appointment, not an inheritance)

In general, what we learn from these law codes it that there seems to be a highly class-conscious society. Around the king stand the nobles, who will be rewarded for service with grants of land. They form a territorial aristocracy supported by rents of the tillers of the soil, whom they are bound to protect and keep in order.

At the other end of the scale are the slaves. Some are Britons serving new masters, and the class is recruited from prisoners of war, convicts and hungry freemen who sell themselves for food.
Of the intermediate class, there is the husbandman, free by birth, accustomed to speaking his mind on public affairs in popular assemblies, and acknowledging no superior but the king.

We hear of the Kentish freeman living in a village, and of the West Saxon ceorl who shares arable and meadow with his neighbours. The husbandman who must hire a yoke of oxen before he can plough is obviously a man of slender resources. There was no such thing as economic independence of these men and, against a lord who could fetch them back and fine them heavily is they absconded, their legal freedom was worth very little.

*heptarchy - the seven kingdoms:  East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria, Sussex and Wessex.

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Annie Whitehead is an author and historian, and a member of the Royal Historical Society. Her first two novels are set in tenth-century Mercia, chronicling the lives of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, who ruled a country in all but name, and Earl Alvar who served King Edgar and his son Æthelred the Unready who were both embroiled in murderous scandals. Her third novel, also set in Mercia, tells the story of seventh-century King Penda and his feud with the Northumbrian kings. She is currently working on a history of Mercia for Amberley Publishing, to be released in 2018.
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