When researching in order to write a 1,200-page trilogy there is so much background that never sees the light of day (or pages) of the finished books (though such close detail is naturally included to build and enhance the story). This series of ‘blogs’ sets out to give you an insight into building blocks that make up “The King’s Jew” – if you have any questions concerning any of these points just get in touch and I’ll be happy to share what knowledge I have garnered. Thanks
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In Chapter Three
We meet sixteen-year-old Mathew. I suppose we could describe Mathew as a trainee thug in the service of Gilles de Burgh a knight in the service of King Henry III.
Mathew is assisting Robert, one of de Burgh’s men-at-arms, in terrorising a London peasant – the two are trying to retrieve a pig that they inadvertently lost (yes, a pig! – but not just any old pig – their master’s pig!).
But this begs the question of how Mathew came to be in the service of a titled knight? AND how did one become a knight in thirteenth century England?
Medieval Soldiers and Feudalism
During the Middle Ages a knight was originally a person of noble birth trained in weapons, horsemanship and chivalry. This ‘training’ began when the boy was maybe six-years-old.
A Knight’s tools of the trade were expensive. Chainmail had to be tailor-made to fit or the wearer ran the risk of an ill-fitting suit hampering him in battle. In the early Middle Ages, a horse played an extremely important part in the life of a knight. A knight would own several horses which were built for different duties. The Courser was the most sought after and expensive warhorse, but the more common warhorse was the Destrier. The wealthy noblemen who became mounted knights were worth the equivalent of many foot soldiers. A successful soldier could become wealthy and knighthood conferred regardless of his background. Even if he started life as a peasant – like Mathew.
Although it isn’t mentioned in too much detail, Mathew arrived at the Manor of Longhurst aged six as an orphan. At first he slept with the animals and eked out a living as best he could. Then he began stealing food and was eventually caught and taken to Gilles de Burgh to be punished. Mathew put up such a fight that de Burgh was impressed and took him into his household as a dog boy.
Being around soldiers and fighters seemed second nature to Mathew and soon he was accepted by de Burghs men and almost ‘adopted’ by them. As he grew in stature and guile he just ‘drifted’ into the life of a soldier.
Was this a glamorous life?
To a peasant who worked from dawn till dusk, it seemed a life of great delights. Yet these common soldiers earned hardly a penny-piece in what we would consider wages (on an ‘official’ campaign when they followed their lord into battle at the behest of the king they would be paid 8d a day – if they were lucky). Their main reward came in the free supply of chainmail and weapons, good horses, regular food, a place to sleep and that’s about all – except for the odd chance of booty and possessions after a fight /battle.
A man-at-arms like Mathew would never be able to afford a horse (£10 to £90) himself so this jobbing soldier – armed and dangerous – had a much better life than the peasants. And all for free! Except when he lost his life in service!
Feudalism was based on the exchange of land for military service. A portion of land (called a fief) would be granted by the King to a successful soldier who had performed well during battle. This reward would be granted in exchange for his services. The fief, or land, was granted to create a lasting bond between a vassal and his lord. The knight would swear allegiance to his lord – the Knights Oath of Fealty. Fealty and homage were key elements of feudalism.
The Feudal Levy – A knight who had been rewarded with land pledged his military services. This was called the Feudal Levy. When wars broke out soldiers and knights were raised by the Feudal Levy when there was a ‘Call to Arms’. Under the Feudal Levy soldiers and knights were required to fight for a limited period of 40 days – under certain circumstances this could be increased to 90 days. Medieval nobles, lords and knights of the Middle Ages were expected to provide trained soldiers to fight for the King and to provide clothes and weapons for the soldiers. The limited time requirement of the Feudal Levy was designed to ensure that the land would not suffer from neglect.
The Feudal Pyramid
The King owned the land and granted land to important barons – who pledged their loyalty by swearing to serve and protect the king.
The king also granted land to the less powerful military men (the knights) who were called vassals.
The knights (or vassals) also agreed to fight for the king in exchange for their land.
The land was worked by the peasants or serfs who were bound to the land.
The Three Main Medieval categories
Were – The knight, The Priest, The Peasant – as shown below;
Climbing the Pyramid – The Feudal Pyramid of Power made it possible for everyone to move higher up the ranks and this is what many aspired to. Medieval Squires and Pages of the Middle Ages wanted to become knights. A Knight who proved valiant in battle could become wealthy. The most wealthy and powerful knights then joined the nobility.
Manors and Castles – The lands granted to knights in England were called manors. Dues and taxes were paid to the knights under Manorialism. A knight would live in a Manor House on his fief. A knight could bring in additional wealth by competing in jousting tournaments. These tournaments offered a substantial purse to the winner. Winners of such jousting tournaments became the Medieval ‘superstars’ of the Middle Ages. Knights became rich and famous. The tournaments were a necessary part of feudalism as they acted as a training ground for the knights. The most successful and, therefore, wealthy knights were able to increase their land holdings and acquire their own soldiers to whom he might grant lands and who in turn swore an Oath of Fealty to the knight. Powerful knights under feudalism were, therefore, able to acquire their own substantial fighting forces. This in turn led to the construction of castles by knights – the great power bases of the Middle Ages.
Thus, despite all prohibitions to the contrary, many a poor soldier won knighthood through valour in the service of a lord. Despite this double-ended openness of the knightly class, it nevertheless retained distinct caste rigidity. Its newest members, like parvenus of every age, copied or even excelled the hauteur of their older brothers in aristocracy.’
Did Mathew become a knight?
Well, without spoiling the novel let me just say this – at the end of Book one (1265) he is still a soldier though he is now aged forty-three. He has been offered other positions yet remains true to his new master. Indeed, he now commands a garrison and has been elevated to captain’s rank yet his upbringing keeps him within his soldier’s ethics.
Mathew is that rare thing ‘a man’s man’ – fiercely loyal, dangerous to a fault (don’t ever cross him) and – strangely for the time period – he is not a religious man. Given the choice of putting his trust in God – or otherwise – Mathew would rather trust his weapons.
He doesn’t have many friends yet I would class him as a friend of mine. I like Mathew and all that he stands for.
Thus ends our look behind the scenes of Chapter Three.
BUT SCROLL DOWN FOR YOUR PRIZE and next week we’ll have a sneaky peek at some more background from TKJ = “The King’s Jew. Book One. At the tomb of King Edward the First…”
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