Wednesday, March 18, 2015


...surrounded by HIS retainers...

In the social system known as BASTARD FEUDALISM, members of the PEERAGE and GENTRY recruited sworn followers known as retainers to provide a particular type of service in return for monetary fees or the exercise of the lord’s influence on their behalf.

Retainers often bound themselves to a lord by a written contact known as an indenture of retainer, which normally specified the type of service to be provided and the amount of the fees or wages to be paid. The indenture was so named because it was cut along an indented line to allow a matching portion to be given to each party to the contract. Although retainers summoned to arms as part of a great magnate’s AFFINITY formed the core of many civil war armies, most retainers supplied nonmilitary service, functioning as domestic servants, household officers, legal advisors, and estate agents. Although most retainers were liable for military service in times of need, as occurred frequently during the WARS OF THE ROSES, large numbers of exclusively military retainers were often hastily recruited when a campaign or battle was imminent. For such emergencies, a magnate also usually had a number of “well-willers,” men not under formal indenture but who had enjoyed the lord’s favor and influence and who could be approached for military service. To clearly proclaim a retainer’s allegiance, especially in battle, a nobleman often supplied his retainers with a special livery (i.e., uniform) or with his personal or family BADGE. For instance, in the poem, THE SONG OF LADY BESSY, the retainers of Sir William STANLEY are described as wearing coats “as red as any blood” on which they displayed Stanley’s hart’s head badge (Boardman, p. 66).

The king also retained men for various types of service; Sir Thomas Montgomery was given a livery of crimson cloth of gold to distinguish him as one of EDWARD IV’s knights of the body (a royal bodyguard).Wearing the king’s white boar badge, RICHARD III’s retinue of household knights charged with him into the heart of the enemy force at the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD. All indentures contained a provision that declared the retainer’s allegiance to the king superior to his allegiance to the contracting lord. However, the Wars of the Roses, being a civil conflict, forced many retainers to make difficult choices between serving their lord, whose family may have long held the allegiance of the retainer’s family, and serving the king the lord opposed— a dilemma that faced many retainers of Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, when the duke openly challenged HENRY VI in 1460. A man could also be retained by two lords, a circumstance that created further difficulties when one lord supported the house of LANCASTER and the other the house of YORK.

Throughout the fifteenth century, PARLIAMENT enacted numerous anti-retaining statutes in an effort to curb the abusive use of armed retainers to conduct local feuds, attack political rivals, intimidate judges and juries (a practice known as embracery), and generally cause disorder and mayhem. Edward IV’s statute of 1468 tried to define who could be retained and for what purposes, and HENRY VII’s law of 1504 prohibited retaining without royal license. Neither statute was entirely successful because kings continued to rely on their own and their nobles’ retainers to form the armies they required to fight foreign wars and suppress internal rebellions. As a result, the practice of retaining remained in use well into the sixteenth century.

Further Reading: Boardman, Andrew W., The Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1998); Hicks, Michael, Bastard Feudalism (London: Longman, 1995); Hicks, Michael,“Lord Hastings’ Indentured Retainers?” in Richard III and His Rivals: Magnates and Their Motives in the Wars of the Roses (London: Hambledon Press, 1991); Rowney, I.,“Resources and Retaining in Yorkist England: William, Lord Hastings, and the Honour of Tutbury,” in A. J. Pollard, ed., Property and Politics: Essays in Later Medieval English History (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Alan Sutton, 1984).

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