Thursday, August 27, 2020

Lady Sarah Frederica Caroline Villiers: An English Princess

 By Lauren Gilbert

Schloss Esterházy, Eisenstadt, Darstellung von Lady Sarah Frederica Caroline Child Villiers 
by Karl Gruber / CC BY 3.0 AT 

Lady Sarah Caroline Frederica Caroline Child-Villiers was born August 12, 1822 in London, and was baptized May 27, 1823 in St George’s Hanover Square Parish. Her mother was Sarah Sophia Child-Villiers, Countess of Jersey and her father George Child-Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey. She was born into one of the wealthiest and most powerful families.

At age 18, Sarah was One of 12 bridesmaids to Queen Victoria when she married Prince Albert in 1840. They wore gowns designed by Queen Victoria, and each received a brooch designed by Prince Albert, shaped like an eagle in turquoises.

Sarah married Prince Miklos Pal Esterhazy von Galantha on Feb 8, 1842. (The date was changed multiple times.) Born June 25, 1817, Prince Miklos (Nicholas in English) was the son of Prince Pal Anton Esterhazy von Galantha and his wife Princess Maria Theresia Esterhazy von Galantha. (Lady Jersey and Princess Esterhazy were both Lady Patronesses of Almack’s and friends.) After marriage, Sarah's title in English was Princess Nicholas Esterhazy von Galantha.

Nikolaus III, prince Esterházy de Galántha (public domain)

Theirs was a love match according to Esterhazy Palace data and the Duchess de Dino.(1) Nicholas had spent much of his life in England as the son of the Austrian Ambassador, so he and Lady Sarah Frederica could have become acquainted as children, especially given their mothers’ connection. Theirs was an unusually long engagement. It was known that they wanted to marry as early as 1836 (they apparently fell in love as teenagers). Prince Paul apparently was not pleased with the match (at least in part due to difference in status: the Jersey’s were not of a royal house, and Lady Jersey’s roots were in trade (her grandfather being the banker Robert Child)). He tried to prevent the match despite the fact the young couple were in love. There are indications that Princess Esterhazy was not enthused either (there are comments in the MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESS DE DINO about having Lady Jersey as a mother-in-law (2), and a suggestion that the Esterhazy’s avoided having Lady Jersey in Vienna as much as possible). 

Lady Jersey encouraged the match. There were suggestions that she pursued the match relentlessly due to the status of the groom’s family. It seems equally possible that she wanted her daughter to marry the man she loved. Prince Paul tried to get out of the engagement as late as June 1841(3). However, he finally conceded. Lady Sarah Frederica’s trousseau was prepared and displayed for viewing in December 1841(4).

The marriage settlement was finally signed Monday Feb 7, 1842, and Lady Sarah Frederica and Prince Nicholas were married on Tuesday, February 8, 1842. Their wedding involved two ceremonies. At 10:00 in the morning, the couple was married in a Roman Catholic service in the library of Chandos House, the Austrian Embassy, performed by Rev. Dr. Griffiths, Apostolical Vicar of London. This service was followed by a breakfast. Shortly after 11:00, the wedding party arrived in St. George’s Hanover Square, where a Church of England service was performed by Robert Bagot, the Lord Bishop of Oxford (the bride’s uncle by marriage).

At this service, Lady Sarah Frederica had six bridesmaids, two of whom were her sisters Clementina and Adela*. She was given away by her father, who was visibly emotional. This service was followed by a sumptuous luncheon at the Child-Villiers home in Berkley Square, which included three bridal cakes. The wedding was a significant social event. Following the luncheon, the bride and groom spent some days at Osterley Park (the Countess of Jersey’s seat, formerly that of Robert Child), returning to Chandos House before leaving for Europe to join Prince and Princess Esterhazy. They arrived in Vienna in April 1842(5).

Prince and Princess Nicholas had an active social life in both England and Austria. Newspaper accounts document them going back and forth for a variety of social and family events (which included presentation at Queen Victoria’s Drawing Room on February 26, 1846, and a visit to the spa town of Ischl, Austria in August 1847 that included her mother and her sister Clementina (7)).

Prince and Princess Nicholas had six children, five of whom survived to adulthood: Pal Antal Miklos Prince Esterhazy von Galantha, born March 11, 1843 and died August 2nd, 1898; Alajos Gyogy Prince Esterhazy von Galantha, born March 9th, 1844 and died October 25th, 1912; Adolf Prince Esterhazy von Galantha born October 5th, 1846 and died in infancy February 1st, 1847; Sara Zsofia Princess Esterhazy von Galantha, born March 16th, 1848 and died February 22nd, 1885; Maria Terezia Princess Esterhazy von Galantha, born November 29th, 1849 and died May 7th, 1856 and Antal Miklos Furst Esterhazy von Galantha, born January 14th, 1851 and died February 10th, 1935. (The names are shown as in Vienna.)

Princess Nicholas sadly developed a lung complaint (consumption). After suffering several months of illness and unsuccessful spa treatments in Europe (at Ems and Ischl particularly), she finally went, at her doctor’s suggestion, to England to see if the air of her native country would help. It did not; she died at Torquay, Devon, England on November 17, 1853. She was buried at Eisenstadt in the Esterhazy vault. In 1871, Prince Nicholas raised an obelisk in the palace gardens in her memory. There is also a memorial in the Jersey family vault at the country estate in Middleton Stoney, England. Prince Nicholas did not remarry.

Church of England parish church of All Saints, Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire; Jersey Chapel: detail of the tomb of Princess Esterhazy and Lady Clementina Villiers 
by Motacilla / CC BY-SA

*Newspaper accounts showed her sister's name as Adelaide; her name is correctly Adela Corisande.


(1) THE MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESSE DE DINO, entry for June 16, 1841.

(2) THE MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESSE DE DINO, entry for June 19, 1841.

(3) THE MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESSE DE DINO, entry for June 16, 1841.

(4) Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette, Thursday 23 December 1841-British Newspaper Archives

(5) MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESSE DE DINO, entry for April 17, 1842.

(6) The Globe, Saturday 26 March 1842-British Newspaper Archives.

(7) The Morning Post - Friday 27 February 1846, and the Morning Post- Saturday, 04 September 1847-British Newspaper Archives.

Sources include: 

Sudley, Lord, editor. THE LIEVEN-PALMERSTON CORRESPONDENCE 1828-1856. London: John Murray, 1943.

British Newspaper Archives. Northampton Mercury, Saturday 12 June 1841; London Evening Standard, MARRIAGE OF PRINCE NICHOLAS ESTERHAZY AND LADY SARAH VILLIERS, 22 December 1841; Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette, Trousseau of the Lady Sarah Villiers, Thursday 23 December 1841; Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette, MARRIAGE OF PRINCE NICHOLAS ESTERHAXY AND LADY SARAH VILLIERS< Saturday 12 February 1842; Weekly Freeman’s Journal Saturday, FASHIONABLE INTELLIGENCE, 12 March 1842; Globe, FASHION AND TABLE-TALK, Windsor, Friday. Saturday 26 March 1842; Morning Post, Ischl, Aug. 26, Saturday 04 September 1847; and John Bull, DEATH OF HER HIGHNESS PRINCESS NICHOLAS ESTERHAZY, Saturday 19 November 1853. (All articles © British Library Board) HERE The Project Gutenberg’s eBook of MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESSE de DINO (Afterwards the Duchesse de Tallyrand) 1841-1850, edited by Princess Radziwill, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, London: William Heinemann, 1910. HERE “Queen Victoria’s Bridesmaids” by Elizabeth Jane Timms, July 4th, 2019. HERE “Lady Sarah Frederica Caroline Child-Villiers.” HERE ; “Miklos Pal Prinz Esterhazy von Galantha.’’ “Lady Sarah Child-Villiers.” HERE ; ‘’Prince Miklos Pal Esterhazy de Galantha.’’ HERE “Princess Have Happy and Less Happy Lives”. Supplement to the Eisenstadt Exhibition. November 6, 2012.HERE THE NEW WORLD: A Weekly Family Journal of Popular Literature, Science, Art and News, Volume 3. New York: 1841. THE NEW WORLD, December 25, 1841. “Foreign Items.” HERE ; THE GENTLEMAN’S MAGAZINE, Volume XLI New Series, January to June inclusive. London: John Bowyer Nichols and Sons, 1854. January 1854, P. 106. Obituary of Princess Nicholas Esterhazy. HERE

Wikipedia. “Robert Bagot (Bishop)”. Last edited 29 January 2020. HEREImages from Wikimedia Common.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Lauren Gilbert was introduced to English authors early in life. Lauren has a bachelor of arts degree in liberal arts English with a minor in Art History. A long time member of JASNA, she has presented a number of programs. She lives in Florida with her husband. 

Lauren's first book, HEYERWOOD A Novel, is available. A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT is her second novel. A long-time contributor to the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, her work is included in both volumes of CASTLES, CUSTOMS AND KINGS: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. She is also researching material for a biography. For more information, visit her website.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Most Famous Fact in English History is Not True

By Mark Colenutt

Every country has a famous date. In the US it’s 1776 and the declaration of Independence, the rest of the world knows the day for some reason but can’t remember the year. In France it’s 1789 and the Storming of the Bastille. In Spain it’s 1492, not only the year that the centuries-long Reconquista was finalized, but it was also the discovery of the New World by the Crown of Castile. And in Australia it’s probably 1882 when they beat England at Cricket for the first time, but the less said about that the better.

In the case of England it is 1066, the Norman invasion of England. But why 1066? Why commemorate a defeat? The Spanish don’t ingrain 1588, The Spanish Armada, on the impressionable minds of their students as the most significant year in their history, especially when 1571 and the battle of Lepanto would be a more influential naval battle. The Scots commemorate Bannockburn in 1314, a resounding victory for them, over celebrating 1707 with the Act of Union. The Italians, to be even more specific, all know the date 25th April, 1945, which pays tribute to the liberation of Italy during the Second World War and the overthrow of the fascist regime.

It is true that 1066 was a fundamental shift in the direction of old England. It introduced feudalism and castle building, thus safeguarding the nation against future invasion and making the Norman feat unrepeatable. They introduced cavalry as a new military tactic and ended slavery in England. They also tied the nation fatefully for centuries to royal intrigue and conflict with France. And the French connection gave rise to Norman French being used at court and its influx of Latin gradually transformed the dulcet tones of Olde English, for better or for worse. They even introduced the need for surnames when they commissioned the Doomsday Book.

It was not the first time in the history of southern Britain where a foreign invader had changed the cultural direction of a people and with it their identity. The Romans had achieved this a millennium before, almost to the day, when they suppressed the last-ditch attempt by Boudicca and her allies to end Roman hegemony. At the battle of Watling Street the ancient world confronted the modern with the resulting defeat of the Britons carving their descendants a different character and aesthetic.

So, it is for these reasons that modern England looks back to 1066 as an equally radical shift in cultural identity and political ideology, and not just for the unprecedented cathedral building project that the Normans engaged in. And this is why every child, old enough to remember four digits and suffer detention, has to learn this all-important date. In fact, even the most stubborn student will have internalized this date despite their most dogged efforts not to learn anything at all in their history classes. So forceful is this date in the English classroom that those that choose to snooze the hour away have absorbed it via hypnopædia. In short, there is no escape. One of the most famous history books written in England is even titled 1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates, published in 1930, it is a parody of the style of history teaching in English schools at the time and “punctured the more bombastic claims of drum-and-trumpet history.” But 1066 is only one half of the equation.

There are only two historical facts that every school child knows about England. And those that wish to undermine the subject would go as far as to say they are the only facts you need to know, but that is only if you hold examinations above understanding. The first indispensable fact, as we have already admirably established, is the year 1066. The second is the manner in which the Anglo-Saxon King Harold met his end.

The traditional dragon banner of Wessex

Everyone knows he died with an arrow through the eye at the battle of Hastings. But here comes the shocking admission… it’s not true.

The Normans would have us believe as much, because it fed into their narrative, it was perfect propaganda. Halley’s Comet was sighted shortly after Harold usurped the throne.

The most powerful Thane in the land had, apparently, sworn to support Duke William of Normandy’s rightful claim to the throne but then went back on this holy oath, an oath sworn upon holy relics so the Bayeux Tapestry goes to lengths to illustrate. Such omens were strong currency at the time and still are when the time is right.

So, how did every history department in England come to propagate a false event? Quite easy in fact, but we will need to take a look at prime source material and the scene of Harold’s death during the drawn out battle to explain further. The Latin inscription, called tituli, above Harold in the Bayeux tapestry (which is actually an embroidery) reads: HIC HAROLD REX INTERFECTUS EST – meaning: Here King Harold is slain. However, there is reason to doubt that this is correct.

In order to shed light on this, we will need to take a closer look, literally. There is indeed a figure right below the name ‘Harold’ with an arrow in his eye and the name above a figure would normally be indicative of that person. But what catches my attention is the falling figure just to his right. It is not the same man. They are clearly two different people, which can be discerned from the differing leg ‘warmers’ that both men are wearing.

Now, comes the history. The first known recounting of the events surrounding Harold’s death comes from the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio - ‘Song of the Battle of Hastings’, which was written just months after the battle. It says that four knights cut him down and there is no mention of the arrow at all. This seems to fit in with the image in the tapestry. The arrow would have been a great lyric, but it isn’t even in the song.

In fact, the first reference to Harold and the arrow was the Italian monk Amatus of Montecassino, some thirty years after the event! That is no eyewitness account and must be approached cautiously, if at all. It makes for a great story, admittedly, but it doesn’t mean there’s a grain of truth to it, especially when the writer is based in some far off land.

Again, when Harold’s wife Edith the Fair had to identify his body, due to it being badly mutilated, there was no mention of the arrow then either.

Another account has William killing Harold, a further account has Harold dying in the morning as fighting began while the Chronicle of Battle Abbey says no one knows how Harold died.

So, while it could be true there is no proof that it is, and just because there is a man with an arrow in his eye in the embroidery, sorry tapestry, is not definitive either. I imagine many men lost their lives with an arrow through the eye during these times. The character in the tapestry could quite easily be one such victim. In fact, the man with the arrow in his eye is not dead but injured, while the figure cut down by the Norman knight is already dead as he falls. It is once again the latter image that fits in with the first account we have of Harold’s death.

One must therefore conclude that we can no longer teach with any certainty that Harold was most surely killed with an arrow to the eye. If we do this we continue doing the Normans’ bidding for them, centuries later, by ensuring the mysticism of a bad omen is proof of God’s will. It will of course lessen the weight of a great story and make it less ingrained upon our collective imagination but we must stay true to the facts.

So, to end we learn anew the advice that haunts all historians, namely ‘check your sources’ and it has a striking precedent here with this well worn history of England. But it does beg the question, while Hollywood continues to powerfully shape our impression of the past like a modern-day Bayeux tapestry, what else are we sure about that probably never happened?


Mark Colenutt as lived in Spain for the past 27 years. He has a BA in Medieval History and MA in Imperial and Social History. He teaches history by day and moonlights as a writer in both fiction and non-fiction. He writes the fictional Chester Bentley Mysteries directed at a young readership with co-author Jacqueline Wood, under the pen name MJ Colewood. The series is a collection of epic mysteries surrounding major events in British history. Each story leads to the discovery of one of the most surprising untouched treasures from Britain’s extraordinary and volatile past. Chester Bentley and the Last Treasure of Ancient England puts the reader on the front lines of the Norman invasion and then brings them back to the present as Bentley hunts down the long lost treasure.
Book on Amazon:

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Portraits of Lady Margaret Beaufort

by Judith Arnopp

Most of us are familiar with the portraits of Margaret Beaufort. Invariably she is depicted toward the end of her life, elderly, austere, and pious. It is difficult to imagine this staid, nun-like woman as a gurgling baby, or a naughty child; even less as a vigorous young woman. 

But people, even Countesses, are not born pious. Her face must once have been unlined, she may have been frivolous, perhaps even reckless. She was certainly determined; her crusade to secure her son Henry VII on the English throne involved intrigue against a reigning monarch. Against all odds, she financed her son’s campaign and in doing so, changed her life forever. 

With Henry’s accession to the throne, she became the most powerful woman in the realm, and she did not waste her new-found success but became one of Henry’s chief advisors, her charitable work extending to the foundation of universities, and championing the arts.

The portraits we see today are not contemporary. Without exception, she is depicted in her later year, clothed in a peaked white headdress, usually with a book, and always in the act of religious contemplation with an aura of chastity and charity.

Of course, portraits are not always about the subject’s appearance; sometimes a painting depicts a person’s character rather than how large the sitter’s nose may have been. Margaret, in her exalted position, would have been keen to project an authoritative, reverent persona but she evolved into a nun-like figure, as a young woman she would have suffered all the uncertainties, the passions and the flaws that we all experience. That is the Margaret made more fascinating simply because of the lack of portraiture from the uncertain days of her youth.

There are no extant portraits of Margaret from her lifetime, the ones we see today were made during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Undoubtedly they are copies of a lost original so, particularly if we compare them to the effigy on her tomb at Westminster, we can be fairly sure of her appearance during the later years of her life. This portrait of Margaret is believed to have been part of a set of corridor portraits including Henry VII, Henry VIII, commissioned during the reign of Elizabeth I. Again Margaret is in a religious pose, her clothing and book of hours illustrating her religious devotion. It is the best-preserved portrait we have of Margaret, the detail of the golden arch beneath which she sits, and the ornamented cloth of state is still visible to the naked eye.

My personal favourite portrait of Lady Margaret hangs in St John’s College in Cambridge. It was painted by Rowland Lockey in the 16th century. Margaret is shown at prayer in a lavish apartment, presumably her private chamber. She kneels at a desk with a heavy embroidered cloth and before her is a prayer book, a sign of piety and learning, and beneath it the ‘chemise’ cover she wrapped it in. Above her head, a tester bears the Tudor rose. The chamber itself is sumptuous, testament to her love of comfort, the stained glass windows with the badge of the Beauforts and of England.

This portrait tells us more about her lifestyle than the others. We can see that despite her sombre attitude, she lived luxuriously, as one would expect. Her dark clothes, although quite dour to our modern eyes, were of the best quality, black being among the most expensive and difficult hues to buy. 

After her death ‘seven gowns of black velvet were found, trimmed with ermine, and a mantle of tawny.’ And, most interesting of all, was ‘a scarlet gown with a long train, ornamented with the badges of the Garter and evidently to be worn on St George’s day. In another inventory we find a crimson gown to be work with her ‘circuit’, not a diadem but a surcoat, such as she had worn at Christmas 1487.’

So, a new Margaret begins to emerge, a woman who favoured scarlet and ermine, whose ‘chariot men wore scarlet. The very buttons of the horse harness were of gold of Venice.' This speaks less of piety and very much of majesty, perhaps even a little vanity.

The National Portrait Gallery has a portrait previously thought to be Margaret but now largely dismissed. It features a younger woman, hands clasped in pious prayer, her head covered with a veil. The painting is dark but the gown appears to be dark red, the veil itself lavishly embroidered. The nose is long and heavy, the eyes heavily lidded, as Margaret is shown in other portraits, and the face is pensive. Whether the sitter is lost in religious contemplation or distracted by plots of rebellion, it is difficult to judge. 

As I said earlier, the portrait is no longer believed to represent Margaret but it is intriguing none the less and I confess I used it during my research to picture the younger Margaret, the young woman who, widowed three times and separated from her only son, had no notion of the triumphs the future held.

[1] Jones and Underwood, The King’s Mother p188
[2] Ibid p189

Portraits from Wikimedia Commons

This is an Editor’s Choice from the #EHFA archives, originally published February 25, 2019.


Judith Arnopp is the author of eleven historical fiction novels including The Beaufort Chronicle: the life of Lady Margaret Beaufort. 

Connect with Judith at Judith's books are available through Amazon including The Beaufort Bride, The Beaufort Woman: Book Two of the Beaufort Chronicles, and The King's Mother: Book Three of the Beaufort Chronicles

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Introduction of Tobacco to England

By Jordan Baker

Europe Meets Tobacco
Tobacco had been cultivated in the Americas for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. By the time Columbus stumbled into the New World, cultures from Canada to the Carribean and Mesoamerica grew and used tobacco in various aspects of life. Indeed, on his first voyage to the Carribean Columbus noted how the people used “burning coals in order to make fire with which to burn certain performed herbs that they had with them.” [1]

As the Spanish and Portuguese became the dominant European forces in the early stages of American colonization, their colonists quickly learned to love tobacco. Convinced that it had benefits for their health, Europeans began cultivating tobacco at home and across the Atlantic in their new colonies. As Europeans got hooked, tobacco began appearing in ports in France, Spain, and Portugal in the 1550s.

Image credit HERE

Tobacco Comes to England
England was the late comer to the game. Tobacco didn’t arrive on the island until 1565. And while many have attributed Sir Walter Raleigh and his Roanoke colonies with introducing the brown leaf to England, it's more likely that the infamous pirate/privateer, Sir Francis Drake, was the first to bring tobacco to Elizabeth’s realm. [2]

As Spanish ships made their way from Mexico and the Carribean to the main port at Seville, which, in 1614, Spain proclaimed the tobacco capital of the world, English privateers happily relieved them of their load. [3]

English sailors also participated in an illicit trade centered out of the Carribean. Spanish colonists grew their own personal crops on several different islands in the region and proved more than willing to trade with sailors from other kingdoms. In 1607, the Spanish governor of the island of Cumaná wrote King Philip III himself, warning his monarch about the tobacco trade on nearby Trindad. “English and Dutch ships are never lacking there,” he said; in a time when empires commonly sought monopolies over the trade with their colonies, this must have been unwelcome news. [4]

No matter how tobacco made it to England, it quickly became a hit. One reason is that it was widely considered good for one’s health. One English writer named William Barclay extolled the virtues of tobacco, claiming it to be “one of the best & surest remedies in the world against Paralisie, epilepsie or apoplexie, that is, that falling ill, & Vertigo Idiopathica, the passion of dizzines in the head by wind, that ever was found out.” Which, to Barlcay’s mind, made tobacco the cure for “foure of the most incurable diseases that besiege the braine of man.” [5]

A Counterblaste from King James I
Not everyone fell in love with tobacco, however. Perhaps the most notable nay-sayer was the king of England himself, James I. Denouncing tobacco as a “noxious weed” James penned an anti-tobacco treatise called “A Counterblaste to Tobacco.” [6] Written in 1604, the Counterblaste leveled two basic arguments against the use of tobacco: it originated among Native American cultures and was thus “barbarous”; and it was not, in fact, good for one’s health.

James I & VI - Image credit HERE

James’s first argument was based in the imperial mindset of Europeans at the time. Across the continent, people felt superior to the cultures they had found when they entered the New World. Whether or not James actually thought this way about the Indigenous nations of the Americas, he attempted to use this mindset to his advantage. In the Counterblaste, James asked his kingdom, “shall wee… that have bene so long civil and wealthy in peace, famous and invincible in Warre, fortunate in both, we that have bene ever able to aide any of our neighbors (but never deafed any of their eares with any of our supplications for assistance) shall we, I say, without blushing abase our selves so farre, as to imitate these beastly Indians, slaves of the Spaniards, refuse to the world....” [7]

In essence, James wanted his subjects to think of England as the epitome of culture, and the Indigenous nations of the New World as the epitome of uncultured. And thus, anything that came from these Indigenous nations as uncultured and barbarous - including tobacco.

The crux of James’s next series of arguments, though based in what has borne out to be incorrect science, was actually, in essence, true. Unlike many, James saw smoking tobacco as an unhealthy habit. The cutting edge science of the time stated that “because the braines are colde and moist… things that are hote and drie are best for them…” such as breathing in the warm smoke created by burning tobacco. [8] To counter this, James essentially stated that if brains are cold and moist, that’s the way they’re meant to be. The warm smoke of tobacco, then, would have a harmful effect.

James also sought to dispel the notion that “by the taking of Tobacco divers and very many doe finde themselves cured of divers diseases…” For James, if people recovered from an illness after smoking tobacco it was mere coincidence. In fact, he insisted that tobacco was more likely to kill you than to make you better. To prove his point, he compared tobacco to a more well known substance, alcohol. “If a man smokes himself to death with [tobacco] (and many have done) O then some other disease must beare the blame for that fault... And so doe olde drunkards thinke they prolong their dayes, by their swinelike diet, but never remember howe many die drowned in drinke before they be halfe olde.” [9]

In this near 5,000 word essay, James continued to lambast tobacco and its users. And even though he attempted to back up his rhetoric with action by instituting a high tax rate on tobacco, the popularity of the “noxious weed” continued to grow.

Tobacco’s Staying Power
Eventually James I gave up his anti-tobacco stance and embraced the new crop. Tobacco had become too popular, even by 1604, to be done in by words and taxes. Every level of the English social hierarchy enjoyed it for both leisure and medicinal use. Even James’s predecessor, Elizabeth I, had tried smoking a pipe at the behest of her favorite courtier, Sir Walter Raleigh. [10]

Cultivation of tobacco at Jamestown - Image credit HERE

Another huge reason for tobacco’s staying power in England was the sheer economic benefit the crop brought the burgeoning empire. In 1609, Jamestown reaped its first successful tobacco harvest; by 1614 it was sending its first shipment of tobacco to England. Tobacco quickly became a gold mine, earning the crop the nickname ‘brown gold.’ Indeed, the English hoped a tobacco exporting colony would do for them what the mines of Peru and Mexico had done for Spain. By 1638, Virginia was sending 3,000,000 pounds of tobacco a year back home to England. [11]

As the amount of tobacco Virginia produced and exported continued to climb throughout the seventeenth-century, England’s wealth increased and tobacco’s popularity continued to grow, cementing the crop’s place in English society.


1. Peter C. Mancall, “Tales Tobacco Told in Sixteenth-Century Europe,” Environmental History, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Oct., 2004): 651. Accessed via
2. Mike Davey, “Trade from the 15th to the 17th Centuries,”
3. Ibid
4. Melissa N. Morris, “Spanish and Indigenous Influences on Virginian Tobacco Cultivation,” Atlantic Environments and the American South ed. Thomas Blake Earl and D. Andrew Johnson Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2020), 163-164. Accessed via Google Books.
5. Mancall, “Tales Tobacco Told in Sixteenth-Century Europe,” 660.
6. “King James I, A Counterblaste to Tobacco, 1604,”
7. King James I of England, A Counterblaste to Tobacco, accessed via
8. Ibid
9. Ibid
10. “King James I, A Counterblaste to Tobacco, 1604,”
11. Ben Johnson, “Introduction to Tobacco in England,”


Jordan Baker received his BA and MA in History from North Carolina State University. A lover of all things historical, he concentrates his research and writing on the history of the Atlantic World. He also blogs about history at

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Vulnerable Victorian Governess

by Mimi Matthews

The Governess by Richard Redgrave, 1844.

A governess occupied a unique position in a Victorian household. She was neither servant, nor family member. She existed in a sort of in-between world which often left her feeling isolated and alone. To combat this, the young governess was advised to cultivate a tolerance for solitude. Author Susan Ridout addresses this in her somewhat depressing nineteenth century book of advice, Letters to a Young Governess on the Principles of Education and Other Subjects Connected with Her Duties (1840):
“Consider therefore, before you enter a family, how far you are able to support the solitude into which you must be thrown, in such a situation. It is not now a separation merely from friends and relations to which you are called; it is a seclusion from society altogether, at least from any which sympathizes with you.”
Seclusion from society not only left a Victorian governess isolated and alone, it also left her vulnerable to the unwelcome advances of men, both in and out of the household. To that end, Ridout instructs the young governess to be gentle, modest, reserved, and dignified, stating that:
“If there are young men in the family where you reside, remember that your carriage will generally govern theirs; they will not presume, if you are discreet and unpretending.”
On occasion, modesty and dignified reserve did not provide enough of a deterrent to gentlemen who were determined to take liberties with an unprotected female. Cases abound of governesses who were kissed, groped, and otherwise assaulted in the course of their employment. On these unfortunate occasions, there was little incentive for the governess to complain to her employer, since, as Ridout implies, gentlemanly presumptions were generally marked down to some lapse in decorum on the part of the governess. If she brought them to the attention of the mistress or master of the household, she risked being let go without a reference.

Fortunately, the courts were not always as indifferent to the plight of governesses as the rest of society. Below are just a few instances of advances made toward young governesses, some of which were ultimately dealt with in a Victorian court of law.

Proposals, Elopements, and Bigamy

In some cases, the overtures of a gentleman of the household could lead to a marriage proposal. This happened with enough regularity—both in reality and in popular fiction—that the young governess could be forgiven for dreaming that she might, too, meet a wealthy Mr. Rochester during the course of her employment. In reality, however, the man of the house was usually more of a middle-aged fellow in a marital rut than a single, charismatic hero.

Arrival of a New Governess in a Merchant's House by Vasily Perov 1866.

The 18 November 1893 edition of the Yorkshire Gazette reports the case of Mr. Hearn, a wealthy, fifty-four year old father who had engaged Miss Crosswell, a governess, to instruct his daughters on the pianoforte. He subsequently fell in love with Miss Crosswell and made her an offer of marriage. Miss Crosswell eagerly accepted, but when Mr. Hearn’s daughters protested the engagement, he broke it off. Miss Crosswell pleaded with Mr. Hearn to stand by her. When he refused, she promptly sued him for breach of promise. According to the Yorkshire Gazette, the jury awarded her £475, a sum which they considered to be “an approximate pecuniary equivalent to her pain and loss.”

Often, the master of the house developed a tendre for the governess while still married to his wife. This caused quite a bit of tension in the household. The 17 September 1892 edition of the Dundee Evening Telegraph reports the case of a wealthy farmer who eloped with the family governess while still married. As the newspaper explains:
“His wife had occasion to remonstrate concerning his marked attentions to the attractive young lady who had for a considerable period acted as governess in the family.”
When confronted, the governess agreed to find another situation and asked for a leave of absence in order to do so. The husband left the family home at the same time, ostensibly on a business trip. The following day, the pair was spotted “at a junction in England,” after which they were never seen again.

A governess and her male employer in 1901 were not so lucky. The Sheffield Independent states that, after ten years of marriage, Leopold Moulton and his wife, Lucy, hired a governess named Miss Robson to teach their children. Less than two years later, Mr. Moulton and Miss Robson departed the family home, intending to elope together to Australia. The pair was “caught together at Marseilles,” at which point they made a full confession. Mrs. Moulton subsequently sued her husband for divorce on the grounds of cruelty and adultery and was granted a dissolution of marriage.


Far more common than marriage proposals and elopements, were the everyday instances of physical encroachments perpetrated against the vulnerable young governess. If committed by a member of the household, these insults were difficult to defend against. However, if an assault was perpetrated by a man outside of the home, a governess sometimes had recourse in the courts—especially if that assault was witnessed by others.

The Governess by Rebecca Solomon, 1851.

In 1874, while out walking in a field with her three young charges, governess Lydia Jackson crossed paths with Mr. John Bickley, a young gentleman of the neighbourhood who was heir to a great fortune. Mr. Bickley was driving by in a cart when he saw Miss Jackson gathering violets. He made disparaging remarks about the children and, when Miss Jackson did not reply, the 20 May 1874 edition of the Norwich Mercury states that Mr. Bickley “did something to his trowsers; and subsequently tying his horse up, he came towards plaintiff in that position.”

Miss Jackson ran. Mr. Bickley followed and soon overtook her, grabbing hold of her jacket. Miss Jackson was able to get free and, along with the children, ran to the cottage of a neighbour. When later confronted in court, Mr. Bickley denied he had ever even seen or spoken to Miss Jackson. He claimed she was either lying or that it was a case of mistaken identity. Fortunately, the children and the neighbour were all able to verify Mr. Bickley’s presence in the field of violets that afternoon. The Norwich Mercury reports that:
“The jury almost immediately returned a verdict for the plaintiff for the full amount claimed, namely £50, the usual costs following. His Honour, addressing the jury, said that if it was any satisfaction to them to know it, he quite concurred in the decision at which they had arrived.”
In a similar case from 1881, a governess by the name of Jane Hutton was out walking when Christopher Henderson, a railway worker, grabbed her by the wrist, pulled her close to him, and attempted to kiss her. Miss Hutton ran away, but, as the Dundee Courier relates:
“He ran after her and overtook her, and again seized hold of her by the wrist and arm, dragged her on to the embankment, pulled her on to his knee, and placed his arm round her waist.”
What happened next is not entirely clear from the reports, but whatever transpired, it was enough to result in Mr. Henderson being sentenced to thirty days' imprisonment.


Cases of governess murdered by their employer are not as numerous as those involving assault, but they do exist and are, in my opinion, some of the most tragic. Victorian governesses were often alone in the world, without friends or family to inquire after them if they should happen to disappear. With no one to ask questions, a governess’s murder could go undiscovered for years. For example, in 1843, a governess by the name of Miss Crossland was employed by Mr. and Mrs. Clarke at Firth Wood Farm. The 19 August 1893 edition of the Yorkshire Evening Post reports that:
“Clark became enamoured of her and got rid his wife, to whom he allowed £60 a year, while he retained Miss Crossland as housekeeper.”
Mr. Clarke was a big man who had been known to participate in prize fights. When Miss Crossland later disappeared, the locals assumed she had either “died in giving birth to a child” or met with foul play.

The New Governess by Thomas Ballard, (1836-1908).

Her ultimate fate was destined to remain a mystery until, forty years later, railway workers excavating a field near Firth Wood found “the remains of a young woman” buried in a shallow grave. The newspaper reports that “the skull was crushed on to the chest, and both jaws wore broken, as well as several ribs.” By this point, Mr. Clarke had long since died himself and, though the remains were widely believed to be those of Miss Crossland, the Coroner in the case declined to hold an inquest.

In Conclusion

Not every position held by a Victorian governess was fraught with physical danger. There were many families who were genuinely decent and respectable, allowing the governess to go about her duties without fear of being importuned by the gentlemen of the household. With that being said, it is important to remember just how vulnerable a governess was during the nineteenth century and just how precarious her situation could become if an unscrupulous man should decide to embark on a seduction.
Dundee Courier (Angus, Scotland), 26 November 1881.
Norwich Mercury (Norfolk, England), 20 May 1874.
Ridout, Susan. Letters to a Young Governess on the Principles of Education and Other Subjects     Connected with her Duties. London: Edmund Fry, 1840.
Sheffield Independent (South Yorkshire, England), 05 February 1901.
Yorkshire Evening Post (West Yorkshire, England), 19 August 1893.
Yorkshire Gazette (North Yorkshire, England), 18 November 1893.

This post is an Editor's Choice from the Archives, originally published August 7, 2017.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Mimi Matthews writes both historical non-fiction and traditional historical romances set in Victorian England. She is the author of numerous works both nonfiction and fiction, including The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries, A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty, The Work of Art, and most recently, Fair as A Star.

In her other life, Mimi is an attorney with both a Juris Doctor and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. She resides in California with her family, which includes an Andalusian dressage horse, two Shelties, and two Siamese cats.


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Complex History of Welfare: The Poor Law in Nineteenth Century Ireland

By Frank Parker

Public Domain Image

Prior to the reformation – the switch, over large parts of Europe, from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism – the poor were looked after by the monasteries. The funding for this came from the patronage the monasteries received from the landowners and from the tythes paid by farmers. Whilst the old, the sick and the disabled were provided with food, shelter and healing, the able bodied were provided with work, either in farms that formed an important part of the religious community or on building construction and maintenance.

For the able-bodied individual who could not find work near his place of abode the only alternative was to travel to a place where there was work available. Others might travel from place to place plying a particular trade, or offering a service, moving on when the demand for the service in a that area had been satisfied.

Throughout this period there were years when crops failed causing famine. Epidemics of disease occurred from time to time. The 'Black Death', the plague that devastated Europe in the 14th century, for example, reduced the population by 30%. Wars, too, took their toll on populations, although they also provided a source of income for those who chose, or were forced, to join one or other of the many armies that took part. With the men away fighting the bulk of the labour necessary to grow food fell to the women.

Wars were often responsible for the failure of crops. This was sometimes a deliberate act of destruction, perpetrated as part of the campaign. The poet, Edmund Spenser, who served in the English army at the bloody siege of Smerwick and received lands in County Cork for his trouble, later wrote a pamphlet advocating the widespread adoption of such a policy.¹ At other times it was the consequence of the absence of  farm labourers meaning that insufficient crops were sown.

Edmund Spenser - Public Domain Image

The destruction of the monasteries that followed the Reformation meant they were no longer able to carry on the work of alleviating poverty. In Britain, it now fell to the Parishes to administer poor relief under the first of a string of 'poor laws' that were introduced and amended throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.

In order to qualify for relief you had to be able to prove a connection to the parish from which you were claiming. If you were a stranger, you would need to travel to the parish where you were born or where you could demonstrate a long-term affinity. Such relief, when applied to individuals deemed capable of work, was conditional upon the individual undertaking some form of work in return. It was funded by levying a rate (property tax based on the notional value of the property) on the landowners of the parish.

By the 18th century this idea, that assistance must be earned by performing work, had become well established. After all, someone else's labour had created the food, clothing and shelter with which you were being provided. It was only right that you should perform some service in return.

For those not completely indigent, survival depended on payment received in return for their labour, whether as agricultural labourers or in the factories appearing in the growing industrial centres. The balance between wages and the price of food and other necessities became an important factor influencing the extent of poverty.

The practical manifestation of the principle of work in return for relief for the indigent was the workhouse. The first of these was established in Bristol at the end of the 17th century. The movement grew throughout the 18th century as the larger parishes, and groups of small parishes set up similar institutions. By 1776 there were over 1900 such institutions in England and Wales, housing an estimated 100,000 individuals, most of them children, sick or elderly.

The Victorian facade of the former workhouse in Athy, County Kildare,
built in 1844 and now part of a community hospital complex -
author's own photo

The Dublin House of Industry was established in 1772 to care for vagrants and beggars. In times of more general distress the work of this and similar institutions in other cities was supplemented by ad hoc provision by the parishes raising funds by subscription. Reading accounts of the conditions that prevailed in the early 1780s, for example, it is clear that the response to widespread food and fuel shortages that occurred consisted of a combination of fire-fighting with limited financial resources and attempts by the government in Dublin to control markets and prices. Such attempts were actively opposed by merchants who often combined to frustrate philanthropic actions such as the donation of 2000 tons of free coal from the mine owner Sir James Lowther.

In addition to fund raising appeals by the parishes and government's attempts to control markets and prices, some landlords offered alternative employment to workers displaced by such events as the failure of the flax crop in 1782 that had left weavers unable to ply their trade. In rural areas many communities took the law into their own hands, waylaying cartloads of grain destined for the cities.

According to James Kelly “Acts of benevolence by landlords and clergy, and donations to institutions like the Houses of Industry, were vital for the control of distress in late eighteenth century Ireland. ... In Dublin the House of Industry was the most important agent of relief, but it worked with local committees and was heavily reliant on donations.... while in the countryside landlords, wealthy farmers and clergy were indispensable.” ²

Note, however, that whereas there were numerous workhouses in England and Wales there were only a handful in Ireland, even though poverty and famines, or near famines, were much more common there. After the Act of Union at the commencement of the 19th century the government in London considered various ways of tackling this problem which was beginning to effect social cohesion in England. A growing number of poor Irish families were migrating to England. Whilst they were not able to take advantage of the poor relief available there until they had established 5 years residence, their presence was perceived as a threat to both wages and social order.

Education was seen as one important way of ending poverty, by equipping individuals with the skills to enable them to obtain work. During the second half of the 18th century a number of Protestant organisations established schools in Ireland. Catholics had been banned from providing education as part of the policy of suppressing the old religion. Once the ban was lifted, Catholic schools also began to appear. Unlike the Protestant schools, however, these did not receive government support. By the 1830s, the government decided to establish a National school system which would be multi-denominational, run by committees containing both Catholic and Protestant members.

Although this put Ireland ahead of the mainland in terms of state funded education, Ireland was not progressing economically or socially. A number of government-initiated surveys and reports were commissioned but their recommendations were generally deemed to be too costly to implement. One such commission, headed by the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, recommended that the poor law, as established in England, would not work in Ireland because of the lack of available work. This was unacceptable to the authorities in London who sent one of the commissioners responsible for administering the poor law in England to look at the situation in Ireland.

The modern liberal view is that a person's ethnic origin has no bearing on his or her intelligence or ability to acquire useful skills. This was not so in the first half of the nineteenth century. The English establishment viewed the native Irish in exactly the same way as they viewed the natives of Africa.

The remarks of the poor law commissioner, George Nicholls, illustrate this perfectly. “They seem to feel no pride, no emulation; to be heedless of the present, and reckless of the future. They do not ... strive to improve their appearance or add to their comforts. Their cabins still continue slovenly, smoky, filthy, almost without furniture or any article of convenience or decency ... If you point out these circumstances to the peasantry themselves, and endeavour to reason with and show them how easily they might improve their condition and increase their comforts, you are invariably met by excuses as to their poverty ...Sure how can we help it, we are so poor’ ... whilst at the same time (he) is smoking tobacco, and had probably not denied himself the enjoyment of whiskey.”³

George Nicholls - Public Domain Image

His conclusion was that a new poor law should be enacted for Ireland which should include the provision of a network of 130 workhouses and that these institutions would not be permitted to provide relief other than within their walls. It was felt that this would deter all but those deemed to be the most deserving people from claiming relief. Each workhouse would have space for 800 persons, would be administered by a Board of Guardians and financed by a local property tax.

This policy was quickly implemented. When the potato crop failed in the second half of the 1840s this network of workhouses became the bases from which relief would be administered. They would prove to be utterly inadequate to perform the task, although, in fairness to the Boards of Guardians, they did their best with the limited resources available to them.

¹ A Vewe of the Present State of Irelande was originally circulated in manuscript form in 1598. It was published by Sir James Ware in 1633 under the title The Historie of Ireland
²Kelly, James. “Scarcity and Poor Relief in Eighteenth-Century Ireland: The Subsistence Crisis of 1782-4.” Irish Historical Studies, vol. 28, no. 109, 1992, pp. 38–62.
³Nicholls, George. A History of the Irish Poor Law, First published in 1856, available on-line at: The quotation is from an extract from his 1st report delivered in November 1836 and included in Chapter III.

Frank Parker is a former engineer who took up writing on retirement. He became interested in the history of Ireland shortly after moving there in 2006. He has written about the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland (Strongbow's Wife, 2013) and the Irish famine (A Purgatory of Misery, with Patrick Lillis, 2018). His latest, a historical novel based on the two and half years tenure as Poor Law Inspector in Kilrush, County Clare, of Captain (later Sir) Arthur Kennedy, Called to Account is published by TSL Books. He lives in the Irish Midlands.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

In Search of Eleanor Cobham at Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales

by Tony Riches

Beaumaris Castle
My wife researched her family tree and discovered a direct line of descent from Antigone Plantagenet of Gloucester, her 19th great grandmother. Further research revealed Antigone was the daughter of Humphrey of Lancaster, Duke of Gloucester and the younger brother of Henry V. There proved to be much debate about the identity of Antigone’s mother, although historian and author Alison Weir suggests both Antigone and her brother, Arthur, could have been the children of Humphrey and his mistress Eleanor Cobham, (see Nancy Bilyeau’s post The Duchess and the Necromancers) whom he later married. In her book Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy Alison Weir notes that ‘Eleanor Cobham became Humphrey's mistress sometime before their marriage and might have borne him two bastard children’.

Curious, I looked into this, discovering the tragic details of Eleanor Cobham’s life in the course of my research. It is a fact that Humphrey of Lancaster acted as a father towards Antigone and was definitely with Eleanor Cobham since at least 1425, if not earlier (records were seldom kept of mistresses), marrying her in 1428. Alison Weir’s suggestion is therefore extremely plausible but I found no positive evidence to support it. (Poor Duke Humphrey has quite a hard time of it in most historical fiction, yet Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, A Biography by K.H. Vickers, written in 1907, paints quite a different picture.)

The only sure way to settle the question of whether Eleanor was Antigone’s mother would be if some new documentation comes to light – an idea which led to my latest novel, The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham. In the research for this I discovered many accounts which report important details incorrectly, most notably that Eleanor died at Peel Castle. It is well documented that her final two years were at Beaumaris. For example, In the Welsh History Review Vol. 8, nos. 1-4 1976-77 Richard, Duke of York and the Royal household in Wales, 1449-50, it is stated that:

Anglesey and Beaumaris castle were urgently reinforced in 1449 against both foreign invaders and Welsh dissidents. These reinforcements (of eight soldiers, and then twelve and one priest) were needed that much more speedily once it was decided to transfer Eleanor Cobham to the island. On 10 March 1449 at Man castle, [Peel Castle] she was handed over by John Glegge, Sir Thomas Stanley's representative and janitor of Flint castle (where Stanley was constable), to William Bulkeley, the Cheshire esquire who was serjeant-at-arms in north Wales and lived at Beaumaris. Bulkeley was acting on behalf of Sir William Beauchamp, the constable of Beaumaris castle, whence she was taken forthwith with a great company. Eleanor died at Beaumaris on 7 July 1452 and was buried there (perhaps in the early-fourteenth-century parish church of St. Mary and St. Nicholas) at great cost to Sir William Beauchamp.

My wife and I visited Beaumaris Castle and spent a summer afternoon searching the churchyard of St Mary and St Nicholas, within sight of Beaumaris Castle. Inside the church lie the medieval ornate tombs of Lady Ellen and Sir William Bulkeley.

Unsurprisingly, we found no sign of Eleanor’s grave, although it was fascinating to see that the castle chapel, where she could have prayed, was still intact and regularly used. It is impossible to prove that Eleanor Cobham was, in fact, an ancestor, although in some small way this research should help ensure that she is not forgotten.

This is an Editor’s Choice from the #EHFA archives, originally published November 10, 2014.

The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham
is now available.
Amazon US
Amazon UK

More Information

Tony Riches has a BA Degree in Psychology and an MBA from Cardiff University. He lives with his wife in Pembrokeshire, one of the most unspoilt areas of the UK. His first novel, 'Queen Sacrifice' was written after looking into the early history of Wales and seeing the parallels to a game of chess, with kings and queens, bishops and castles - and the people becoming pawns in their civil wars.

When not writing Tony enjoys sea and river kayaking and has a specialist blog 'Kayak Journeys' about some of his kayaking adventures. He also enjoys hiking and plans to complete the full 186 miles of the Pembrokeshire Coast path which passes fifty-eight beautiful beaches and fourteen harbours.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

My Kingdom for a Horse: The Cost of the Equestrian Lifestyle in the Middle Ages

By Rosanne E. Lortz

It is the prince of palfreys. His neigh is like the bidding of a monarch, and his countenance enforces homage…. I once writ a sonnet in his praise and began thus: “Wonder of nature—”
--Shakespeare's Henry V  
A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!
--Shakespeare's Richard III

Very few people (unless they happen to find themselves in the same sticky situation as Richard III did) would consider trading the kingdom of England for something as inconsequential as a horse. And yet, when the medieval horse is compared to something other than the inestimable value of a kingdom, it was in fact quite a costly item, and an item that added a great deal of consequence to its owner.

A thirteenth century treatise on horses states:
No animal is more noble than the horse, since it is by horses that princes, magnates and knights are separated from lesser people, and because a lord cannot fittingly be seen among private citizens except through the mediation of a horse. 
The owning of horses, and especially warhorses, was an essential part of being a medieval nobleman precisely because it was something far out of the reach of a simple peasant.

Steven Muhlberger, in his book Jousts and Tournaments, helps us understand the value of warhorses during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries by looking at the records of the king’s compensation to men-at-arms for horses lost during a campaign. He says that, “the lowest value assigned to a warhorse was £5 and the highest £100.”

To put this in perspective, “a well-off English peasant family at the beginning of the century might earn just a little over £3 annually.” In order to qualify to become a knight, Muhlberger says that a landowner would need to make £40 a year. They were “an elite class that included at the very most 1500 men.

With warhorses being valued all the way up to £100, some of the noblest of the beasts would be worth more than a lower-level knight’s yearly income. The loss of a horse, therefore, would be a devastating blow to all but the wealthiest of men (meaning that a man would think twice about taking his horse into battle…unless the king was willing to compensate him if his horse was lost).

Detail of a horse from a medieval bestiary

Besides war, tournaments were another place where horses might be lost…or won. In many cases, the loser of the joust had to forfeit his horse to the winner.

Geffroi de Charny, one of the premier French knights of the fourteenth century, wrote a series of questions and answers dealing with the etiquette of the joust. Unfortunately, the answers (if they were ever written down) have been lost to posterity, but the content of the questions is still revealing.
2. If it happened that…one knight knocked another to the ground with a stroke of the lance, his saddle being between his legs and the whole thing off the horse, will he who knocked the other down win the horse? What do you say in this case, will it not be judged by the laws of arms?  
3. Knights are jousting without any formal announcement, and one knight knocks another down and out of the saddle with a stroke of the lance. Will he who knocked the other down win the horse? What do you say? 
5. In the emprise it is said that anyone who kills a horse with a stroke of a lance will pay for it. So it happens that in jousting one strikes the other’s horse with his lance well advanced; but their horses collide so hard that both of them fall to the ground. Will he who struck the horse with the lance pay for it or not? What do you say? 
8. A banneret sends out from his entourage some knights to go out with him in the fields to joust with those who have set the emprise; …If there are two or three of them whose horses are dead and injured in the joust from blows or falls, will the banneret be obliged to compensate them? What do you say?
From reading just a short sampling of these questions, a common theme emerges—the theme of who deserves to win a horse and who is required to compensate for a horse’s loss. In fact, out of the twenty questions centered around jousting, nineteen of them deal with these equestrian issues. Charny’s questions, designed to standardize judicial rulings in the “law of arms” at tournaments, reinforce the idea of just how consequential the possession—and loss—of a horse could be.

A medieval warhorse might not have been worth an entire kingdom, but he was still worth a tidy chunk of change. And since the consequence of owning a horse was not something the nobler classes would willingly do without, it was essential for kings to recompense knights when horses were lost and for tournament law to clearly explain when a horse would be forfeit.

The horse was the ultimate status symbol in the later Middle Ages. Shakespeare's scene in Henry V describing "the prince of palfreys" was clearly written to poke fun at the French prince...and yet, knowing how valuable horse of this period actually were, one can almost understand why the Dauphin once “writ a sonnet” in praise of his horse, whose “neigh is like the bidding of a monarch” and whose “countenance enforces homage.”


Muhlberger, Steven. Jousts and Tournaments: Charny and the Rules for Chivalric Sport in Fourteenth Century France. Union City, CA: Chivalry Bookshelf, 2002.


Rosanne E. Lortz (“Rose”) is a writer, editor, teacher, history-lover, and mom to four boys. Her first book, I Serve: A Novel of the Black Prince, released in 2009. This book explores the tumultuous landscape surrounding the Hundred Years’ War and the Black Death and is a tale of arms, of death, of love, and of honor. In 2015, Rose began her Pevensey mysteries, novels of romantic suspense set during the British Regency (with inspiration from medieval characters and events). The first three titles are: To Wed an Heiress, The Duke’s Last Hunt, and A Duel for Christmas. Rose has served on the board of the Historical Novel Society North America and works to promote interest in historical novels. Find Rose on website, and her books on Amazon.