Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Reformation: Henry & Luther

By Samantha Wilcoxson

Martin Luther and the 95 Theses
by Ferdinand Pauwels, 1872

On October 31, 1517, a monk named Martin Luther nailed his 'Disputation on the Power of Indulgences' to the door of Castle Church in the village of Wittenberg, Germany. He had no way of knowing that his desire to discuss and debate the Catholic Church practice would cause his name to go down in history. Five hundred years later, Luther's name is boldly emblazoned upon the facades of thousands of churches, and his call for discussion is better known as the 95 Theses.

Some historians have questioned whether Luther really posted his comments on the eve of All Saint's Day, wondering if the meaningful date is correct or whether it is a task that the professor of theology would have carried out himself. However, the events and changes that resulted from Luther's actions and writings cannot be denied, even if the theses nailing to the church door may be myth posing as history. Thanks to the boldness of one German monk and the innovation of the printing press, what it meant to be a Christian changed across Europe.

Because of the Gutenberg printing press, Luther's ideas did not remain quietly within the village of Wittenberg. They were translated from Latin into German, and eventually other languages, and spread like wildfire. Unlike reformers of the past, who were often limited by their own geography, Luther became a voice against the corruption of the Catholic Church far beyond his little corner of the world. By the following year, Luther was charged with heresy and had to return from his hearing in Augsburg under the protection of Friedrich III of Saxony.

Martin Luther's
On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church
In England, Luther's ideas were countered by the king himself. Henry VIII wrote his 'Defense of the Seven Sacraments' in response to Luther's treatise, 'On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church.' It was this work of Luther's more than the 95 Theses that outlined his grievances against the Catholic Church. (Some historians question whether the work in Henry's 'Defense' can be completely attributed to him, but we shall assume here that it can.) In 1521, Martin Luther was excommunicated while Henry was awarded by the Pope with the title of Defender of the Faith.

Excommunication did not slow Luther down. He translated the Bible into German (helping define and unite the common German language), attended the Diet of Worms where he made his famous 'I neither can nor will recant' statement, and got into a bit of an argument with the King of England.

The 'little monk,' as Henry had called him in his 'Defense' did not hesitate to respond to his detractor. Luther was perhaps the first to publicly question Henry's authorship of the treatise, claiming that it should not be taken seriously for the king did not even write it. Soon afterward, Luther apologized for the accusation and attacked Wolsey, 'the scourge of thy kingdom,' instead. This, of course, did not earn Henry's forgiveness, but only spurred him to defend the minister he depended upon so heavily at that time.
Henry VIII's
Defense of the Seven Sacraments
In typical Henry VIII style, the king used Luther's accusation later when he wished to dissolve his marriage with Katherine of Aragon. Claiming that it was Wolsey's hand behind his defense of the sacrament of marriage, Henry appealed for support. Luther, who in his booklet 'Against Henry, King of the English' had been open-handed with insults for the king, gave his support to the devoutly Catholic Katherine. Among other choice words, Luther accused the king of being 'a fool,' 'effeminately querulous,' and 'stupid.'

Henry began as a staunch supporter of the Catholic Church while Luther hoped to reform it. Despite their original intentions, it was Henry who broke with Rome while Protestants took up Luther's name to apply it to their own movement. These two men's motivations were completely different, although they led to the same result. Henry began the Church of England to exert his own authority over that of the pope, while Luther had not intended to start his own church but to correct the corruption in Rome.

Both men took their important places in Reformation history, though neither began with the goal of separating from Rome. With the benefit of 500 years of hindsight, we can see how each of these men helped lead the Protestant movement. Henry set the stage for reformation in England, despite the fact that his faith was Catholic in all tenets besides papal authority, with his 1534 Act of Supremacy. Once the break had been made, it was easy for his son, Edward VI, or advisors acting with his authority, to usher in full Protestantism.
Henry VIII and the Barber Surgeons
by Hans Holbein the Younger
Luther agreed with Henry that the Pope was not the highest or an infallible authority. However, while Henry wished to place himself above all others, Luther preached that the Bible alone - sola scriptura - could offer the authority of God. They would have also agreed upon the true presence of Jesus' body and blood in the sacramental bread and wine. Henry had subjects punished for denying transubstantiation, and it was a point that Luther refused to budge on despite the urging of other reformists. Christians today remain divided on the topic.
These two giants of the early 16th century died less than a year apart, Martin Luther on February 18, 1546, and Henry on January 28, 1547. One can only imagine what they would think of the impact that their ideas and actions continue to have on our society 500 years later.

Additional Reading
Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet by Lyndal Roper
Various writings of Henry VIII and Martin Luther

All images in the public domain through Wikimedia Commons

Samantha Wilcoxson is the author of the Plantagenet Embers series featuring women of the Wars of the Roses and Tudor England.

An incurable bibliophile and sufferer of wanderlust, Samantha lives in Michigan with her husband and three teenagers. You can connect with her on her blog or on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Goodreads.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The debacle in Weardale - or how a young king learnt a valuable lesson

by Anna Belfrage

Bannockburn as depicted in Holkham Bible
In 1327, a very young Edward III rode out of York at the head of an army. His purpose was to find and destroy the Scots who were presently raiding northern England, leaving destruction in their wake. Edward was not having it, all of him quivering in anticipation at the thought of teaching these dratted Scots a lesson. After all, Bannockburn was still an open sore for the English, and our gallant young king wanted nothing so much as to show the Scots he too could hammer them. Just like his grandfather had done.

Not everyone was as enthused as Edward. Notably the king’s mother and her constant companion and co-regent, Roger Mortimer, had no desire to provoke a full out war with Scotland. First of all,  they were already in some sort of negotiation with Robert Bruce—they had been since 1326 when they promised Bruce a permanent treaty if he did not take advantage of the turbulent situation caused by their invasion of England and subsequent imprisonment and deposition of Edward II.  Secondly, England was as yet not fully pacified. Yes, by the summer of 1327 Mortimer had control of most of the kingdom, but there were several very strong barons who were severely disenchanted by the fact that England was now ruled by Isabella and Mortimer. Men like Henry of Lancaster, Edmund of Woodstock (earl of Kent) and several others felt they too should have a say in how the realm was governed during the king’s minority.

Robert Bruce
The reason Robert Bruce had agreed to hold off while Mortimer and Isabella did their invading thing was because he wanted a permanent peace. His country needed peace, and a treaty would not only give Scotland that but also confirm Robert Bruce as king, thereby strengthening the Bruce dynasty. At the time, Robert Bruce was all of fifty-three and fully aware of the fact that he would likely not live much longer. His heir was a boy of three and Robert knew his countrymen well enough to know a boy-king could quickly become a pawn—or even worse, ousted.

Edward III being crowned
Robert watched from afar as Mortimer and Isabella landed in September of 1326, sat on his hands throughout the following months as Isabella and Mortimer took control over the country. Come February of 1327, Edward II had abdicated, Edward III was crowned, and Bruce expected the treaty with Scotland to be the next item on the agenda. It wasn’t. Isabella and Mortimer had a kingdom to heal, an administration to put in order, muttering barons to be put in their place. On the other side of the border, Robert the Bruce grew impatient. When the negotiations were yet again put on hold—or broke down, depending on whose POV you applied—the Scottish king decided to do some serious prodding. He ordered his two captains, James Douglas and Thomas Randolph to invade northern England and create havoc.

Which is why, in July of 1327, Edward III did all that mustering. An impressive English army took the field, led by the Earl Marshal of the realm (Edward’s uncle, the earl of Norfolk), the earl of Kent (Edward’s other uncle) and the earl of Lancaster who was more than happy to ride against the Scots as a lot of the raiding was done on his land plus he suspected the king's campaign against the Scots had seriously twisted Mortimer’s nose out of joint. Whatever Mortimer’s private thoughts on this matter, he too rode with the king. While not given an official command, I think it’s a safe bet to assume Mortimer was very much on top of things—it sort of went with his nature.

Edward was of the firm opinion that Scotland was his kingdom. He had his forces ride under the cross of St George, bright red crosses flapping in the wind as the English army advanced. As an aside, Edward III had a serious thing about St George, whom he considered a far more appropriate saint for his bellicose ambitions than Edward the Confessor. This is why he founded a college dedicated to St George at Windsor (which then took over the chapel previously dedicated to St Edward) and why the red cross is part of the insignia for the Order of Bath. Right: not today’s topic.

James Douglas was as capable as any of the commanders on the English side. This hero of the Scottish people had stood by his king through thick and thin and would continue to do so as long as he had breath in his body. He had only one objective with his raiding: to force the English back to the negotiation table, there to recognise Scottish independence and Robert the Bruce as Scottish king. Made Edward almost choke just to think of doing so. His grandfather had fought long and hard to bring the Scots to bay, and our Edward was not about to give back what he considered his.

So off the English army went, eager to corner the Scots and force them to fight. Douglas was no fool.  He'd be outnumbered on the battlefield. Instead, he led his mounted men in a cat-and-mouse game. If Edward and his men rode one way, the Scots would ride the other and set whatever buildings they came across alight. If the English turned towards the destruction, chances were new fires would spring to life behind them. Very frustrating. I imagine Edward took every opportunity offered to call these elusive Scots craven and misbegotten creatures.

The Scots were neither craven or misbegotten. After some weeks of playing the scarlet pimpernel with the English (you know: they seek him here, they seek him there. Is he in heaven or is he in hell, that darned elusive pimpernel?) Douglas found a nice, strong position and set up camp. He also had one of his English captives released, ordering the man to find Edward and tell him the Scots were waiting to do him battle.

James Douglas among his peers
“Yes!” Edward exclaimed. “Finally!” His commanders were not quite as delighted. Mortimer especially had far too much respect for Douglas to believe Sir James had set himself up as an easy kill. He hadn’t. Douglas had chosen his position carefully. A hill, defended by the river Wear and steep slopes, with Douglas’ colours—three silver stars on a blue background—flapping lazily in the wind. Mortimer groaned inwardly, even more so when Edward started talking about what strategies to use to pulverise the Scots.

“You can’t fight them up that hill,” Mortimer told his young king.
“Of course, I can. But I’ll start by inviting him to come down and meet us on the flat ground, prove he is as brave as they say.”
“He’s brave, not a complete idiot,” Mortimer probably replied. “What commander worth his salt would give up that position?”

Mortimer was right. Sir James politely declined Edward’s invitation to come down from his hill, and Edward decided it was time to show the Scots just who had the upper hand. He ordered his archers to advance. The English (and Welsh) archers were the best in the world, and as soon as they came within range, they’d fill those dratted Scots with more arrows than a hedgehog has spines. Douglas was fully aware of how deadly the English archers were. He waited until they were wading the river, or making a hesitant approach up the slopes before attacking them. Dead archers everywhere, making it clear Edward had no hand at all—not in this game of war poker.

An exhausted and dispirited English army settled down for the night. Weeks of chasing the Scots, of more or less constant rain, of insufficient food, had left Edward’s men weak and grumpy. Their Scottish foes were made of sterner stuff: no sooner had the summer night begun to darken, but the Scots began an all-night party, blowing horns and clashing swords against shields. Impossible to sleep in, so to all their other woes, Edward’s men could now add sleep-deprivation.

Come morning, a host of pale and shivering Englishmen did their best to look intimidating and warlike, all of them probably hoping there wouldn’t be a battle this day. There wasn’t. James stuck to his hill and come nightfall the Scots repeated last night’s procedure. Blaring horns, steel against steel, and the English tossed and turned, further plagued by the drifting scents of roasted meat.

A couple of nights of this, and then suddenly, just before dawn, the Scots went quiet.
“Finally!” the English exclaimed, sinking into blissful oblivion. When they woke, it was to discover Douglas had snuck away, leading his men to a new, if possible even more impregnable, position.
Edward spent some time cursing the Scottish dogs to hell and back. Didn’t help much. He ordered the English army to follow Douglas and set up a new camp.

For a change, that August day was a nice day. No rain, and once the tents had been set up and the fires lit, the English had yet another pleasant surprise: the Scots were obviously too tired to repeat the hullabaloo of the preceding nights so the summer night was fragrant and wonderfully silent.
The king and his earls had supper with Mortimer. Plans were drawn up for the next day. Some wine, some good food and they took to their beds—as did the rest of the men. Which is when some of them registered the sound of many horses, approaching at a gallop.
Out of nowhere—or so it seemed—came the Scots. Armed with torches and spears, they charged through the English camp. Some wielded swords to cut the guy ropes, thereby causing the tents to collapse. Others set fire to the tents, or skewered the people trapped within on their spears.

Like witless hens, the English ran before the Scots. Some emerged with sword in hand and began to fight back. Others died. Quite a lot of others. The Scots thundered on, making for the tent flying the royal colours. Swish, and the guy lines were cut. Like a cut soufflé, the tent fell together, trapping the young king inside. The Scots were only moments away from abducting him, but Edward’s men rallied and the Scots backed away. A horn blew. Douglas, calling for help. The horn blew again, and the Scots rode to their lord’s defence. Some moments later, they were gone, leaving a trail of carnage behind them.

Next morning, Douglas and his men were gone, riding hard for Scotland. Standing in the shambles of his camp, the young Edward had learnt a valuable lesson: never underestimate your enemy.

A year or so later, a treaty with Scotland was concluded, sealed by the marriage of Edward’s little sister, Joan, to Robert the Bruce’s little son, David. Edward didn’t want the treaty. He wanted Scotland. But other than never to underestimate, he had also learnt another lesson: bide your time. So he did. For a while.

All pictures in public domain and/or licensed under Wikimedia Creative Commons


Had Anna Belfrage been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. And yes, Edmund of Woodstock appears quite frequently. The first book, In The Shadow of the Storm was published in 2015, the second, Days of Sun and Glory, was published in July 2016, and the third, Under the Approaching Dark, was published in April 2017.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, she's probably visiting in the 17th century, specifically with Alex(andra) and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him. The ninth book, There is Always a Tomorrow, will be released in November.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Pelagianism: A Greater Threat to Christianity Than Pagans

By Kim Rendfeld

In 429, Germanus of Auxerre and another bishop got on a ship bound for Britain. Germanus did not speak the local language, but he wasn’t planning to speak to common folk. He needed to convince aristocrats who spoke Latin to reject something more dangerous than paganism: heresy.

This heresy was called Pelagianism, after the British-born monk Pelagius. His teachings had taken hold in his native lands and reached all the way to Africa. A lot of his writing no longer exists. So what exactly he believed and was preaching is a best guess.

Pelagius lived from the mid-fourth century until about 418. We don’t know much about his life. Even where he was born is hazy. He might have been British, Scottish, or Irish. He was described as tall and corpulent. But he practiced an ascetic lifestyle—one that requires fasting and other self-denial—which makes it hard to believe he was fat. He was well educated, and that made him more of a threat.

Apparently, Pelagius rejected original sin—that Adam’s sin tainted all of humanity, even newborns, and baptism alone could remove that stain on the soul. Pelagius also argued that people were born with a desire to be good and they had the strength of will, bolstered by asceticism, to redeem themselves rather than rely on divine grace.

17th-century Calvinist print

To the early medieval Church leaders, these ideas were more Stoic than Christian, and they posed a greater threat to the faith than the paganism they equated with devil worship. Priests could proclaim pagan gods to be false and chop down sacred trees to prove it (as Germanus’s predecessor Amator did). They could easily call a pagan an enemy. They often put up with vestiges of paganism among the faithful. If someone wore an amulet, a priest tended to look the other way. Heck, he might even employ an expert to interpret his dreams, although it went against Church law.

An eloquent monk who could quote Scripture and follow an austere lifestyle was a harder case, especially if he had supporters among the nobility. He could argue with Church officials on their own terms. But with core beliefs like original sin and divine grace, there was no room for compromise. For the Church to hold power, it have needed to be unified—with one set of beliefs and one hierarchy. Otherwise, the Church would splinter. Heresy was a threat from within, and it could not be tolerated. In 380, it became punishable by death.

Pelagius lived in Rome for many years without a problem. When Alaric destroyed the city in 410, Pelagius fled to Africa and was opposed by Church leaders, including Augustine, bishop of Hippo (354-430).
6th century fresco, Lateran, Rome

In 417, Augustine participated in one of two synods in Africa that rejected the monk’s ideas. Pope Innocent I sided with the bishops and excluded Pelagius and one of his followers from Communion unless they renounced their ideas. Pelagius appealed. In the meantime, Innocent died and was succeeded by Zosimus, who ordered another investigation. The Council of Carthage in 418 again determined Pelagianism was heresy. This time Emperor Honorius got involved and exiled Pelagius’s followers in Italy. Pelagius disappears from history. No longer young, he might have died about this time.

At this point, Britain had been cut off from the Roman Empire for several years, and religious beliefs there were fluid. A Christian asked a Celtic goddess to avenge the loss of his coins, a week’s worth of wages. With this isolation, Pelagianism could flourish, and so it did. It had support from the wealthy and educated. Its adherents includes Celtic Bishop Fastidius and Agricola, a monk who was the son of a British bishop.

A synod in 429 sent Germanus and another bishop to Britain to stamp out the heresy. It might seem strange to send clergy who couldn’t speak the local language, but Germanus’s target audience could understand Latin. Like Pelagius, Germanus followed an austere lifestyle. If we are to believe his hagiography by Constantius, he had one meal in the evening, and he ate a mouthful of ash followed by barley bread made with flour he ground himself. He wore a hair-shirt underneath his tunic and cloak and slept on planks with ashes in between them.

Stained glass window in Truro Cathedral, c.1907

He was high-born and educated in the liberal arts and law and was a high-ranking military official before his unwilling entry into the priesthood. He has the right combination of piety, nobility, and knowledge to take on his opponents. His hagiography paints this as a fight Germanus won easily, because he had God on his side (and it includes a few miracles, too). But considering what happened later, the Church must have known it was in for a tough fight, and it needed someone whose devotion and credibility were beyond question. Still Germanus believed the heresy was squelched, and he returned home.

Funny thing about ideas. They have a way of hanging on and even evolving. A doctrine later called Semipelagianism had emerged around 420. The argument was that faith sprang from free will. Augustine countered that planting grace in the soul was an act of God.

Pelagianism’s survival might have been the reason the pope sent an anti-Pelagian bishop, Palladius, to Ireland in 431. Apparently, the heresy had not disappeared from Britain. In 447, Germanus made a second trip with another bishop. This time, he found only a few people were spreading Pelagianism. They were exiled from Britain and brought to the Continent.

Still, Pelagianism and Semipelagianism persisted for the next century in Wales, Gaul, Ireland, and Italy. They were condemned again at the Second Synod of Orange in 529 and apparently died out.

Sort of. The very thing early medieval Church leaders feared did eventually happen. Christians disagreed over core beliefs, and factions broke away. The debate about sin and grace never did disappear.

Public domain images from Wikimedia Commons.


Daily Life in Arthurian Britain by Deborah J. Shepherd
Pelagius and Pelagianism” by Joseph Pohle, The Catholic Encyclopedia
Semipelagianism” by Joseph Pohle, The Catholic Encyclopedia
Who Was Pelagius?” 5 Minutes in Church History
Germanus,” Encyclopaedia Romana
“Pelagianism,” Encyclopaedia Romana http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/britannia/anglo-saxon/earlychurch/germanus.html
St. Germain” by Andrew MacErlean, The Catholic Encyclopedia
Ecclesiastical Records of England, Ireland, and Scotland, from the Fifth Century Till the Reformation: Being an Epitome of British Councils, the Legative and Provincial Constitutions, and Other Memorials of the Olden Time, with Prolegomena and Notes, Richard Hart
Antiquities of the British Churches by Edward Stillingfleet
"The Life of Saint Germanus of Auxerre," by Constantius of Lyon, translated by F.R. Hoare, Soldiers of Christ: Saints and Saints' Lives from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages


Kim Rendfeld’s short story “Betrothed to the Red Dragon,” about Guinevere’s decision to marry Arthur, is set in early medieval Britain and available on Amazon.

She has also written two novels set in 8th century Europe.

In The Cross and the Dragon, a Frankish noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband (available on Amazon).In The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, a Saxon peasant will fight for her children after losing everything else (available on Amazon).

Connect with Kim at on her website kimrendfeld.com, her blog, Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Plants vs. Winter: The Origins of English Conservatories

by K.M. Pohlkamp

Your ruthless Viscount patron has commissioned a heinous new poison. Your stores of toxic cuttings and seeds are running low and the backyard garden is blanketed with snow. Dear assassin, how will you grow the plant ingredients you need?

This dilemma developed while writing my historical novel, Apricots and Wolfsbane, set in the early 1500’s England. Yes, my assassin could have simply harvested a sufficient supply of seeds and cuttings during the previous fall. Yawn. She could have purchased supplies from a shadowy figure in the alley. Instead, I had her bartered for access to a solarium.

Since my character exists in early Tudor England, like a good historical fiction author, I began research period solariums only to find the word didn’t exist until about the mid 1800’s.

Well then.

A quick find and replace later, my assassin’s solarium transformed into a greenhouse.

Problem solved, right?

After all, greenhouse technology was first used in about 30 A.D. to provide the Roman emperor Tiberius with an ample supply of “cucumbers” which physicians believed would ward off his ailments. (Historical note: he likely did not eat cucumbers, but rather melons that lacked sweetness.)

The Roman philosopher, Pliny the Elder, described those first Roman greenhouses as:
“beds mounted on wheels which they moved out into the sun and then on wintry days withdrew under the cover of frames glazed with transparent stone.” 
 The “transparent stone” roofs were thin sheets of mica that were kept warm by maintained fires outside of the stone walls.

It wasn’t until the 13th century that the Italians built the first modern greenhouses (Giardini botanici) which fostered new species brought home by explorers of Africa, the Middle East, Asia and, later, the New World. Development of the concept spread and by 1450, Korea also had “temperature controlled” houses as documented by Jeon Son in his 1459 cookbook, Sanga Yorok.

These early structures comprised of modest wood or metal frames with glass. In southern Europe, a simple roof or a wall of windows maintained sufficient warmth thanks to the “greenhouse effect.” During the day, sunlight warmed the interior of the structure and the glass trapped enough residual heat to keep the plants content throughout the night, even in winter.

This was all great if my assassin was Italian, or Korean, or Spanish. But she’s English. Those early, simple concepts of passive heating proved insufficient against the harsh winter of Northern Europe. 

Thankfully for her (and me), the concept of greenhouses finally took root in England in the 16th century. But even before that time, the value of moving plants inside during cold nights was well understood by the English.

The Gardener's Labyrinth, written by Thomas Hill in 1577 under the pseudonym Didymus Mountain, was the first common gardening book written in English. The book describes the concept of a greenhouse by referencing Tiberius’ original inspiration: (You can download the beautiful original document here.)
“The young plants may be defended from cold and boisterous windes, yea, frosts, the cold aire, and hot Sunne, if Glasses made for the onely purpose, be set over them, which on such wise bestowed on the beds, yeelded in a manner to Tiberius Caesar, Cumbers all year, in which he took great delight . . .”
In the 17th century, glasshouses in Britain came to be called “orangeries,” developed to shelter citrus imported from Spain. Orangeries were originally built as extensions to large buildings but evolved to be separate structures. To fight the brutal winter, early English orangeries featured a charcoal underfloor heating system that dispersed warmth through channels called “hypocausts.” The structures had solid roofs and walls, usually with a large door to facilitate relocation of the trees. Maintenance of the greenhouses required attentive care to close at night and prepare for winter weather.

The popularity of orangeries grew in 1689 when William III took the crown of England, Ireland and Scotland. Also around this time in 1661, Louis XIV commissioned a great glasshouse for Versailles measuring 150 m (490 ft) long, 13 m (43 ft) wide, and 14 m (46 ft) high. These events further transformed glasshouses from university, government and scientific institutions into symbols of aristocracy and the social elite. In England, this status was especially bolstered by the 1696 “window tax” and the 1764 “glass tax.” 

The great English conservatories were born.

The word “conservatory” is derived from the Latin conservato (meaning “stored or preserved”) and the Latin root ory  (meaning “a place for”). However, the word came to invoke glazed structures for conserving or protecting plants from cold weather.

John Nash designed four conservatories for Buckingham Palace in 1825. However, when William IV ordered remodeling of the palace, one of the conservatories was moved to Kew in 1836. The structure remains the oldest, fully glazed greenhouse still standing. The design features structural columns to support the heavy weight of the glass panel roof and walls.

Nash House at Kew Gardens. Photo from Reference [3].

As symbols of prestige, glasshouses became cutting edge with increasing innovations. The magnificent glass and iron greenhouse of the Palm House in Kew was constructed under Queen Victoria between 1844 and 1848 by architect Decimus Burton and iron worker Richard Turner. To achieve construction on the massive scale, architects borrowed techniques from the shipbuilding industry, which provides rationale for why the building resembles an overturned hull. The structure consists of wrought iron arches held together by horizontal tubular structures containing long pressed cables. The center of the greenhouse nave is 19 m (62 ft) high.

Palm House Green House. Photo from www.kew.org

Sir Joseph Paxton, the gardens superintendent for the Duke of Devonshire, supervised the construction of an iron-framed Great Conservatory at Chatsworth house between 1836 and 1841. The conservatory covered three-quarters of an acre, and at the time, was the largest glass building in the world. Shaped like a tent, it measured 20.5 meters (67 ft) high and 84 m (277 ft) long. Eight boilers heated the conservatory, requiring the operation of ten men and seven miles of iron pipe. During the Great War, the massive amounts of coal required became unavailable, but all the gardeners were enlisted anyway.  Unattended, all the contained plants perished and the Great Conservatory was demolished in 1920.

However, the Great Conservatory became Paxton’s model for the Crystal Palace. Constructed in 22 weeks, the Crystal Palace covered 19 acres and was the largest enclosed space at the time. Containing 293,625 panes of glass, the palace spread five times as long as the Palm House (undoubtedly on purpose), and higher than Westminster Abbey. For his efforts, Paxton was knighted by Queen Victoria. 

The Crystal Palace. Photo from the BBC Hulton Picture Library.

The Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire on the night of November 30, 1936. The two surviving towers were demolished in 1941. The Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom restaurant of the same name was not modeled after the Crystal Palace in London, as you might expect, but rather by after the San Francisco’s conservatory of Flowers.

As all fads, the greenhouse craze would not last. Britain’s expanding empire and new wealth from the Industrial Revolution enabled the construction of an increasing number of glasshouses. However, the Industrial Revolution also decreased the cost of making glass so severely that the glass and window taxes were abolished in 1845 and 1851, respectively. Glasshouses subsequently became affordable to the English middle class and businessmen quickly realized that caste represented a larger consumer base potential. By the early 20th century, plain, self-assembled, small glasshouses were manufactured with iron structures for the common home garden.  

After hours of research, I determined it is possible my English assassin could have had access to a rudimentary glasshouse - if her connections possessed sufficient wealth. Such structures were not common in early Tudor England, but the concepts and technology were understood. However my research posed a new dilemma only I could answer: would access to such a luxury allow my ambitious assassin to prevail . . .


[1] Bruno, Gwen. “A Short History of the Greenhouse.” Dave’s Garden. March 1, 2012. Accessed July 13, 2017. http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/3607#

[2] “History of the Conservatory” Richmond Oak Conservatories Ltd. Accessed July 15, 2017. http://www.oakconservatories.co.uk/history-of-the-conservatory/

[3] Hodgson, Larry. “A Brief History of the Greenhouse.” Laidback Gardener. January 27, 2016. Accessed July 12, 2017. https://laidbackgardener.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/a-brief-history-of-the-greenhouse/

[4[ Mountain, Didymus. The Gardener's Labyrinth. 1577.

[5] Paris, H.S. et al. “What the Roman emperor Tiberius grew in  his greenhouses.”  Cucurbitaceae 2008, Proceedings of the IXth EUCARPIA meeting on genetics and breeding of Cucurbitaceae (Pitrat M, ed), INRA, Avignon (France), May 21-24th, 2008. 

[6] “The Crystal Palace.” Disney Vacation Planner. Accessed July 16, 2017. http://www.solarius.com/dvp/wdw/crystal-palace.htm

[7] “The First Greenhouses: From Rome, to America.” RIMOL Greenhouse Systems Blog. February 4, 2013. Accessed July 14, 2017. https://www.rimolgreenhouses.com/blog/the-first-greenhouses-from-rome-to-america

[8] “Way Back When: A history of the English Glasshouse” Hartley Magazine. September 3, 2015. Accessed July 13, 2017. https://hartley-botanic.co.uk/magazine/a-history-of-the-english-glasshouse/


K.M. Pohlkamp is the author of the Tudor-era novel, Apricots and Wolfsbane, following the career of a female poison assassin. She is a proud mother of two, a blessed wife to the love of her life, and a Mission Control flight controller at NASA. Originally from Wisconsin, she now resides in Houston, Texas.

Twitter: @KMPohlkamp

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Henry Mayhew and the London Poor: The Lives of Street Sellers

By Mark Patton.

In an earlier blog-post, I followed the experiences of a stranger from the English countryside, newly arrived in London at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, and I quoted the campaigning journalist, Henry Mayhew, describing the "sauntering forth of the unwashed poor" at the beginning of the day, as observed from the vantage-point of the balcony on the dome of Saint Paul's Cathedral.

Mayhew is one of the most important historical sources for anyone seeking to understand the life of London's streets in the first half of the Nineteenth Century. His writings on downward social mobility were surely coloured, at least in part, by his personal experience. Born in London in 1812, and educated at Westminster School, he ran away to sea as a teenager. On top of a failed career as a merchant seaman, he had failed careers as a lawyer, a playwright, and a theatre impresario, and spent much of his adult life on the brink of bankruptcy. He co-founded Punch magazine in 1841, but was manoeuvred out before it became a profitable venture.

Henry Mayhew, based on a Daguerrotype by Richard Beard (image is in the Public Domain).

He is best remembered for a series of articles that he wrote for The Morning Chronicle in 1849, based on interviews with some of London's poorest residents, ranging from barrow-boys and chimney-sweeps, to mudlarks and prostitutes. These articles were brought together, in 1851, in a three-volume work entitled London Labour and the London Poor, to which a fourth volume was added in 1861. His interviews are thought to have influenced many of the fictional accounts of the time, including Charles Dickens's novel, Our Mutual Friend, Charles Kingsley's Alton Locke, and Elizabeth Gaskell's Ruth.

A young man or woman arriving in London from the countryside between 1800 and 1850 might hope, depending on his or her level of skill and literacy, to find employment as a clerk, a shop-worker, a dress-maker, or a domestic servant, but such positions were rarely secure: employers hired and fired at will; businesses often failed; and few bosses would keep positions open for employees who suffered illness or injury. In such circumstances, people had to fall back on their own resources, and many of those interviewed by Mayhew were, one way or another, precariously self-employed.

A street seller of nutmeg-graters and funnels: this man was crippled from birth, and had to pay someone to help dress him in the mornings (image is in the Public Domain).

A street seller of apples (image is in the Public Domain).

A street seller of oysters (image is in the Public Domain).

A street seller of combs (image is in the Public Domain).

One such was a man who sold ham sandwiches on the streets of the West End. "I hardly remember my father," he told the journalist, "but I believe, if he'd lived, I should have been better off ... My brother had gone into the sandwich trade ... and he advised me to be a ham sandwich-man, and so I started as one. At first, I made 10s., and 7s., and 8s. a week - that's seven years or so - but things are worse now, and I make 3s. 6d. some weeks, and 5s. others ... My rent's 2s. a week, but I haven't my own things ... I used to buy my sandwiches at 6d. a dozen, but I found that wouldn't do; and now I buy and boil the stuff, and make them myself. What did cost me 6d., now only costs me 4d. ... "

The sandwich seller might have been, in modern terms, "just about managing" (he did, at least, have a home to go to at night, with facilities for boiling ham); and, in Victorian terms, one of the "deserving poor" (making a living through his own efforts, rather than seeking charity or resorting to crime), but this did not always protect him from abuse by those better off than he was:

"Six times I've been upset by drunken fellows on purpose, I've no doubt, and lost all my stock. Once, a gent kicked my basket into the dirt ... I've been bilked by cabmen, who've taken a sandwich; but, instead of paying for it, have offered to fight me ... we're knocked about sadly by the Police."

Unlike many on the streets, this man was literate:

"I read a bit, if I can get anything to read, for I was at St Clement's School; or I walk out and look for a job. On summer-days I sell a trotter or two. But mine's a wretched life, and so is most ham sandwich-men. I've no enjoyment of my life and no comfort."

Most of Mayhew's interviews provide us only with a snapshot of an individual's life, and we do not know what became of this young man. On the one hand, he might have found employment a few days later; on the other, the briefest of illnesses could have ended his business and left him destitute, with few opportunities to claw his way back.


Mark Patton blogs regularly on aspects of historical fiction and non-fiction at https://mark-patton.blogspot.co.uk. He is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books may be purchased from Amazon.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Common Myths of the Wars of the Roses or All you thought you knew about the Wars of the Roses, but didn’t… Episode 2

By Derek Birks

Wars of the Roses Myth #3 – Was Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, really a ‘Kingmaker’? 
Part 1…

A month or two ago, I had a bit of a rant on Facebook about the common myths which persist about many aspects of the Wars of the Roses period. I vowed to do something about it, so here’s my second offering which seeks to explode the myth that Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, justified the epithet of “kingmaker”.

History likes important people to have nicknames: Alfred the Great, Ethelred the Unready, William the Conqueror, Edward ‘Longshanks’, or the ‘Hammer of the Scots’, ‘Good Queen Bess’ or ‘Gloriana’, ‘Bloody’ Mary and ‘Bluff’ King Hal. Such nicknames will be familiar but these names are not about history, they are about legend. They are useful handles for us to use to identify a particular figure and they have become part of our collective memory. Unfortunately, they are often wholly, or partly, inaccurate – and frequently based upon the opinions of a few influential early historians.

These nicknames are thus the judgement of one society or culture upon another that came before - and they sometimes come with a fierce perspective! Often it’s worth finding out, if you can, who first used the term and why.

So when was the name ‘Kingmaker’ first used about the Earl of Warwick?

Well, Shakespeare – who else? – gives us a place to start with the character of Warwick in his play Henry VI Part 3. [Please note: Shakespeare wrote fiction!]
In Act 2, scene 3, Warwick is described by the bard as: “thou setter up and plucker down of kings.”

Courtesy of Wikimedia
But the term ‘kingmaker’ actually predates Shakespeare. A Scottish philosopher and intellectual, John Major (or Mair), wrote in 1521 of Warwick in his History of Greater Britain: ‘Of him, it was said that he made kings and at his pleasure cast them down’ and Major used the Latin phrase ‘regum creator’ to describe the earl.

The first known English reference is: ‘That brave Kingmaker, Warwick’ which appears in Samuel Daniel’s poem, The History of the Civil War written in the reign of Elizabeth I.

However, it was not a term in common use for several hundred years until the eighteenth century historian, David Hume, made it more well-known. And of course, for good or ill, the epithet stuck fast.

I have no trouble with using such a tag as an easy handle for recognition purposes. People mostly have some clue to whom you are referring if you say Warwick, the ‘Kingmaker’, to distinguish him from all other Earls of Warwick that existed before or since – and there have been many! That’s fair enough, but when it comes to whether the term is justified, then that’s another matter entirely. 

There are probably three distinct occasions when it has been claimed that the Earl of Warwick was a kingmaker:

1) for Richard, Duke of York, in 1455 (or 1460 – take your pick!)

2) for Edward, Earl of March, in 1461

3) for Henry VI upon his readeption in 1470.

Like most things in the Wars of the Roses, these claims are controversial, but the short answer is that Warwick didn’t actually make anyone king!

In Part 1, I shall deal with the myth that he intended to replace Henry VI with Richard, Duke of York. 

Just how powerful and influential was Warwick?
Warwick had immense wealth – he was a ‘billionaire’ for his time by virtue of his massive land holdings which were the fruits of a succession of advantageous Neville marriages. His large family had intermarried with many other noble families and he could thus build alliances to gain the support of other powerful men.

Warwick from the Rous Rolls via Wikimedia
His wealth gave him a sizeable retinue of men at arms, archers, etc. from these vast estates. He was keen to use the latest technology in warfare such as cannons and firearms - and he understood the importance of such new weapons. In the field he was a courageous warrior, capable of inspiring great loyalty amongst his supporters. Unlike many, he understood the value of sea power and was something of a pioneer in its use.

As well as his martial prowess, he had the charm of a smooth-talking diplomat who was able to win many to his banner. Add to that the drive and ruthless determination to succeed and you have a man capable of achieving a great deal.

The historian, Michael Hicks, in his recent authoritative book, Warwick the Kingmaker, concludes: “For twenty years he shaped events, his own career, and indeed history itself.”

So Warwick probably had the means to 'make' a king, but did he try to put the Duke of  York on  the throne?

The Duke of York possessed an ancient claim to the throne and he was, in the absence of an heir to Henry VI up to 1453, the heir presumptive – the man most likely to succeed. Nevertheless in the early 1450s Richard of York felt slighted and ill-treated, perhaps with some justification, by Henry VI’s regime. York ended up with almost no major political allies. Then, during the period 1452 to 1455, he began to form an alliance with the powerful Neville family. 

Was the alliance with York the work of Warwick? 
Perhaps, but only in part, since his father, the ageing Earl of Salisbury, whose sister, Cicely Neville, was married to York, was the true architect, just as he was the architect of the marriage years earlier that gave Warwick himself such wealth.

How then did Warwick come to support Richard of York against King Henry VI?
Warwick believed that, as a key figure in the realm, he should position himself and his family as close to the centre of power as possible. Since the source of all patronage and advancement was the king, Warwick expected to serve the king in a major capacity and be amply rewarded for doing so. Nothing unusual about that since it was the aspiration of most noblemen in England.

Unfortunately for Warwick, he, and the Neville family in general, had influential rivals at court, notably Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. They were also embroiled in a bitter feud with the Percy family in their own backyard in the north of England. The usual way to eclipse one’s enemies was to harness more power and wealth from the king, for example: grants of more land, appointment to important offices of state or lucrative customs contracts. Such things were the bread and butter of all noble families at that time. The problem was that there was only so much largesse that a king had to give. A prudent king might spread it around a little to create some balance amongst his most powerful subjects, but sadly, Henry VI was not so discriminating.

Thus, by the mid-1450s, the Earl of Warwick, despite all his power and wealth, did not have the pre-eminent position in the state that he coveted. But on two occasions in the 1450s, Warwick was given a glimpse of an alternative reality – a world where England was ruled by a Protector of the Realm because of the king’s temporary incapacity. That protector was Richard, Duke of York and York did a fair job of ruling. He also rewarded his friends, such as the Nevilles, and punished his enemies, such as Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.

York gave Warwick the prominent seat at the table of state which he wanted. But, after the king’s recovery, York had to relinquish his role of protector with the result that the York-Neville faction was once again starved of influence over the king and thus out of power. For a time they tried persuasion but then in 1455, at the first Battle of St Albans, they resorted to force. 

So, was St Albans in 1455 the first act of the ‘kingmaker’ to replace Henry VI? 

Definitely not and any such suggestion is pure fantasy. What Warwick wanted to do in 1455 was forcibly remove the king’s closest advisers such as Somerset. It was no surprise that the chief casualties at St Albans were the leading noblemen against York and Warwick: dead men can’t rule.

York and Warwick also wanted to limit the influence of the Queen, Margaret of Anjou, who was fiercely supportive of her husband and wanted to protect the legacy of her recently born male heir.

But St. Albans was a dangerous gamble that sent shock waves through the English nobility. Because some prominent men were killed, several new and bitter feuds were started which would last for decades. The use of violence was condemned by many, and if York was testing the strength of commitment to Henry VI, he found that, despite his brief and bloody victory, the vast majority of nobles and others saw Henry VI as their lawful king, anointed by God and thus to be obeyed.
Even York’s own supporters, including the Earl of Warwick, accepted that this was so.

When in 1460, York aimed for the throne, Warwick seemed as surprised as most other lords - few of whom showed any enthusiasm for the idea. The best they would accept was the so-called Act of Accord, whereby Henry would live out his life as king but then York would succeed him. 

If Warwick played any part at all in this whole episode it was a conciliatory one. 

After all, it did not help Warwick’s aim of political power to become embroiled in a bloody civil war, the outcome of which was by no means certain. A desperate man might do that but Warwick was not so desperate - at least not yet...

Nevertheless, the Act of Accord disinherited the king’s legitimate male offspring and Queen Margaret, for one, was unlikely ever to accept that. Her opposition to York and the Nevilles, once born out of suspicion about their motives, became implacable enmity. And she was not going to give up. Marshalling the loyal nobles, who were still the overwhelming majority, she conjured up, at the Battle of Wakefield in late December 1460, the one thing which could put an end to the struggle: the deaths of both Richard, Duke of York and Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury – Warwick’s father.

Warwick had never intended Richard, Duke of York, to actually take the throne from Henry VI, yet the would-be king and Warwick’s father were now dead and, as a result, the York-Neville alliance lay in tatters. York’s death was a body blow because Warwick had invested so much in the duke’s political success. Not only was Warwick out of power, but he was now at risk of losing everything he had. 

Thus early in 1461, Warwick had to decide how he would deal with the fallout from the disaster at Wakefield. But that’s the second part of the myth – and a whole other story…

If you want to find Episode 1 of Wars of the Roses Myths which is about King Henry VI, click here.


Derek Birks was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand, where he still has strong family ties.

For many years he taught history in a secondary school but took early retirement to concentrate on writing. Apart from his writing, he spends his time gardening, travelling, walking and taking part in archaeological digs at a Roman villa.

Derek is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the late medieval period. He writes action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history.
His debut historical novel was Feud, which is set in the period of the Wars of the Roses. Feud is the first of a now complete four-book series, entitled Rebels & Brothers, which follows the fortunes of the fictional Elder family from 1459 to 1471.
A new series, The Craft of Kings, picks up the story of the Elders in 1481 in its first book, Scars From The Past. Later this year, the violent events of 1483 are played out in the sequel, The Blood of Princes.

Amazon author sites: amazon.co.ukamazon.com

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.


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. Her history of Mercia will be released by Amberley Publishing in Sep 2018.
Amazon Page