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Anonymous asked: Hi! I really love your blog! I noticed you have character development guides (or something along the lines, I’m on mobile) and I was wondering if you had anything for a medieval king. What kind of problems he might face, castle layout, anything really would be helpful. Thank you!!!!!
Medieval Kings - Quick Facts
- The medieval era lasted from about 476 AD to 1453 AD
- Medieval Europe was a feudalistic society
- Medieval kings had absolute power over their kingdom
- Medieval kings were expected to lead the royal army into battle and were often captured, injured, or killed on the battlefield
- Medieval kings were not secure on their throne until they had at least one son and heir
- Many medieval kings were patrons of arts, architecture, literature, and the advancement of learning
Medieval Kings - Accession
A medieval king would come to his throne by one of two means: inheritance or conquest. For every king there was a “order of succession” which followed various rules about who was next in line for the throne. The firstborn son of the king was automatically his heir, with his brothers coming in order of age behind him. Females were skipped over in favor of male heirs, going as far as nephews. Women rarely inherited the throne in most places, though there are some exceptions. If a king died when his heir was still a small child, a regent would be named to rule on his behalf until he was mature enough to rule on his own. In some cases the regent might be the queen, but more typically it was a brother or uncle of the king.
Sometimes the throne was taken by force, either by an invader from another kingdom or by another claimant to the throne. During the English War of the Roses (early renaissance), the throne was usurped back and forth between two houses, Lancaster and York. Lancaster was the direct line back to Edward III, while York descended from one of Edward III’s younger brothers, giving York a legitimate but lesser claim to the throne. Lancastrian Henry VI was de-throned by York heir, Edward IV. When Edward died, his brother Richard was meant to be regent for young king Edward V, but instead the boy was imprisoned and later disappeared, and Richard claimed the throne for himself, becoming Richard III. Later, the throne would be usurped once again by the descendant of yet another brother of Edward III, Henry Tudor who became Henry VII, father of infamous king Henry VIII. In most cases, the deposed king died in battle or was otherwise killed to keep them from fighting for their throne.
Once the throne was won, the new king would “clean house” by evaluating who supported him and who didn’t, and would retract and redistribute lands and titles accordingly. Anyone found to be plotting rebellion would be branded a traitor and imprisoned or sometimes executed without trial. Lords who wished not to part with their heads would have sworn fealty to the new king and either keep their heads down for awhile, or do their best to give an all out show of support.
In most places, as soon as possible after the death of the old king, the new king would be crowned in a coronation ceremony. These were the most important event of a king’s early reign outside accession. They were very grand events that took place in a cathedral or church in front of the kingdom’s most important people. The rituals were different in different places. In England, all monarchs have been officially crowned in Westminster Abbey by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The king enters the church in a procession, is seated on a chair of estate while the archbishop confirms the homage of those in attendance and administers the coronation oath. Then he is seated on a coronation chair and is anointed with holy oil and given the symbolic sceptre and orb, and then the crown of St. Edward is placed on his head. If the king is married, his wife will become queen consort, and is also sometimes crowned during this ceremony though in a much less impressive ritual. Sometimes the queen’s coronation was held later, and some queen consorts were never officially crowned.
Medieval Kings - Structure of the Kingdom
In medieval times, all the land in the kingdom belonged to the king, giving him absolute authority and the ability to parcel it out for sub-rule to those he saw fit to govern on his behalf. These lands were distributed strategically, often as a reward for service, and included a title (such as Duke of York or Earl of Warwick) as well as castles and manors. These titles could be created, given, or taken away by the king at any time, but typically they were passed down by heredity along with the lands and buildings to the heir of the title holder. Sometimes these men would build their own castles and homes, all of which belonged to the king first and foremost, giving him the authority to take away and redistribute them as well. In some cases a noble would hold multiple titles and lands at once, as favorites of the king were heavily rewarded. This practice often created animosity among the nobility and distaste for the king, which sometimes led to political strife and war within the kingdom. At other times, political strife and war came from sources outside the kingdom by way of countries wanting to invade, or fighting over foreign lands, such as the battles for land in France between the English and French during the Hundred Years War.
These nobles were required to swear fealty to the king to ensure their support and fidelity in times of political strife and war. In addition to maintaining and protecting the land and its people according to the king’s wishes, these nobles were responsible for dispensing local justice, collecting taxes, and raising an army during a call to arms. If it became necessary for the king to go to war, his retainers would recruit men from households big and small, with the bulk of the army consisting of peasants. They fought under the banner of their lord, who was often their commander, as well as beneath the banner of their king. When there were political divisions within the kingdom, such as during the War of the Roses between the houses of Lancaster and York, a king would have to hope that his retainers would stay loyal and not turncoat and fight for the other side. In a time when battles were largely fought hand-to-hand, the size of an army could make or break a battle for a king, so it was important that all of his retainers played their part and recruited as many men as possible.
Medieval Kings - Daily Life and Concerns
A medieval king would adopt any number of existing castles and palaces as official royal residences, and would often commission castles and palaces of his own. These royal homes were scattered across the kingdom, and the king and his court would change residences frequently throughout the year. Sometimes the move was simply seasonal, other times in pursuit of good hunting or strategic position ahead of battle or invasion. Most kings had their favorite castles and palaces, and sometimes a move was made to a favorite location much like you might go to a vacation home for a few weeks during the summer.
The king’s court was made up of the people closest to him: his family, close friends and advisers, and the various lords and ladies who made up the royal household. There would also be commoners at each residence to do the lowliest jobs, such as turning a spit in the kitchen. Each residence would have royal chambers set aside for the king and queen who had their own rooms, as well as chambers for various members of the king’s court. Courtiers also had their own homes and lands, but they would be called to court for a variety of reasons, including serving in any number of important positions required to keep the kingdom and the royal household running smoothly.
Upon waking, usually in his own bedchamber or perhaps in the queen’s, the king would get ready for the day with the assistance of his stewards. He would break his fast and perhaps worship or pray, and then he would set about the business of the day. In more relaxing times, he might engage in any number of leisurely activities like hunting or falconry. The king’s primary duty was to protect and manage the kingdom, which required him to make dough decisions about politic, war, foreign policy, and money, usually with advice from his royal council, which was made up of his most trusted advisers. In matters of far-reaching importance, the lords of the realm would be summoned to weigh-in on the situation, which gave rise to what we now know as parliament.
In addition to the more important matters of state, the king was also responsible for settling various disputes, rewarding his retainers, and making decisions about things affecting the court and his various residences. Many kings were also patrons of the arts, literature, and charitable causes. When the king wasn’t signing documents, discussing important matters, or making decisions, he might be found spending time with his family or courtiers or engaging in any number of leisurely activities. In the evenings, there were often grand dinners held in the banquet hall. The king and queen would sit upon a dais facing the tables where their courtiers sat. The monarchs would be served first, and after tasting each dish they would send the remainder to their favorites. During these dinners, the king and queen were often served by their own courtiers, and this was considered a great honor. Dinner might be accompanied by music, mummers or jesters, and dancing.
During quieter times, the queen might be found in her rooms along with her ladies (aka ladies in waiting), where they might sew banners or garments for the poor, play music or view small entertainments such as musicians or performers. They would also use this time to learn new dance steps, and possibly read or pray. The king and queen would also visit the royal nursery, either together or separately, to spend time with their children.
When it was time to move to a new residence, or if the king wanted to tour his kingdom, the entire court would go on what was known as a “progress.” This involved packing up the belongings and important daily trappings of the king, queen, and the entire court. These would be loaded onto wagons, and along with servants, the royal guard, soldiers of the king’s army, and the courtiers, this huge royal caravan would roll through the countryside to their destination. The king would have gone on his warhorse, and the queen might choose to ride her own horse or perhaps ride in a litter. They would make stops along the way to rest the horses and to have small meals, but if they needed to stop for a longer period, they would often stop at the castles or manors of their courtiers along the way. This royal visit was considered to be a huge honor, but it also put an incredible financial strain on even the wealthiest courtier, as they would be responsible for feeding and housing not only the king and queen but all of the courtiers and servants they brought along with them. For the common townspeople, seeing a king and queen on progress would have been one of the only opportunities to see the royal family. This would have been a huge deal, as these people were unaccustomed to seeing such opulence in any other way. They would have lined the roads to watch the caravan go by, and they might wave and shout out compliments or blessings. Sometimes the king might throw coins, or he might stop to hear complaints and dispense justice.
Medieval Kings - Marriage, Children, and Family
The royal family was the heart of the kingdom and consisted of the king, queen, princes and princesses, the king’s younger brothers and their wives, sometimes the dowager queen, and often a whole slew of uncles, aunts, and cousins.
Marriages were made for political and financial gain and almost never for love (though there are some notable exceptions). The spouses of the royal children were chosen by the king, his council, and sometimes with input from the queen or other advisers. Betrothals were often made in the cradle, and sometimes a prince or princess could be betrothed multiple times since marriages often fell through due to death or politics. Sometimes an unmarried adult would become king, either through conquest or upon the death of his predecessor, at which point he would have some say in the wife he chose, though he would still choose a beneficial match and rely heavily upon input from his advisers. Royal women were especially used as political pawns, often married off to foreign royals to build or strengthen alliances, sometimes when they were very young. In fact, even the nobility used the marriages of their children to forge and strengthen family alliances and to consolidate wealth and lands, though they had to appeal for approval of any match by the king. Divorce was extremely rare and was usually only granted when the woman was unable to bear a child. In the case of royals, at least, divorce required dispensation from the Pope in Rome. If a spouse died and the royal or noble was still of an age to procreate, they would likely be sent into a new marriage. A woman beyond child bearing years could stay widowed or in some cases could marry for love, though she would have to choose her husband carefully to avoid scandal.
The birth of a male heir was of the utmost importance, to a king especially, but also to nobles who had lands and titles to pass down. Outside of securing an alliance through their marriage, providing an heir was considered to be the woman’s most important function, even if she was an anointed queen. The king would come to the queen’s chambers as often as it took to get her pregnant, at which point he would retire from the marriage bed and possibly take up with a mistress. Interestingly, kings were allowed to be unfaithful and often fathered bastards, which sometimes were brought into the royal fold if their mothers were noble. However, if the queen were found to be with a man besides the king, this was considered to be treason and could even be punished by death. Although this was unfair, it did have a practical reason for existing. The queen was considered to be a royal vessel for delivery of an heir, and if she were to get pregnant by a man other than the king, this could lead to a non-royal inheriting the throne unbeknownst to the royal family.
The pregnant queen or noble would go into confinement weeks before the birth. For the queen, this meant being shut into a room with very little her light, where only other women could visit her. Not even the king was allowed to see her during this time. She would stay in confinement until a few weeks after the birth, at which point she would be “churched” or blessed because she was considered to be unclean from the birth. After this ritual she was allowed to return to royal life and the pursuit of another heir.
Queens and noblewomen typically had little to do with the raising of their children, though again, there are some exceptions. Royal babies had an entire staff dedicated to feeding and care, including wet nurses and cradle rockers. When the heir was a toddler, he would be sent away to his own household along with a trusted guardian who would help educate him and raise him to be a king. Younger princes and princesses would often stay in the royal nursery until they were married.
Even though kings didn’t typically marry for love, sometimes they grew to love their queens very much, which allowed some queens to become powerful in their own right by helping to guide her husband’s policy and decisions. This was not usually appreciated by the king’s council, however, and this could be a major source of conflict.
Medieval Kings - Castle and Palace Layout
Castles were strongholds meant to withstand an attack. As such, they were surrounded by a high defensive wall, towers, and a moat. There might be a number of structures within the castle walls, but the largest is what we call the keep. Sometimes the royal chambers were within the keep, and at other times there were other structures that housed the monarchs and their court. There would also be a great banquet hall, a chapel, a kitchen and bakery, a brewery, stables, and a dungeon.
Palaces were more casual residences, without walls and fortifications, usually contained within one structure. Palaces would have had chambers to house the monarchs and their household, along with a banquet hall and the other rooms important to the king’s daily life.
Note: this is meant only as an introduction to medieval kings and should be supplemented by your own research, as much of this was done off the top of my head. ;)
Links and other resources:
Medieval Kings and Queens
Illuminations: The Private Lives of Medieval Kings
Life in a Medieval Castle
Medieval Castle Layout
Medieval Castle Floor Plans
Layout of a Castle (GIS)
Life in a Medieval Castle: The Smells, Sounds and Structure of Medieval Castle Life
Medieval People: Titles, Positions, Trades, and Classes
Eras of Elegance: Medieval
If you want to read some novels about medieval life, monarchy, and courtiers, here are a few that I would recommend:
Katherine by Anya Seton
The Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe by Nancy Goldstone
Eleanor of Aquitane by Alison Weir
Captive Queen by Alison Weir
The Lady of the Rivers by Phillipa Gregory
If you want to watch some movies and shows about medieval life, monarchy, and courtiers, here are a few that I would recommend:
The Lion in Winter (HIGHLY recommend if you can find it)
Kingdom of Heaven
The Hollow Crown
Pretty solid, but some corrections need to be made:
- Medieval kings had absolute power over their kingdoms in practice only. There were exceptions like Charlemagne and Albert the Great that somehow managed to exert centralizing power over their nations, but for the most part, the king was the nobles’ bitch until he started collecting taxes directly from the burgher/city-dwelling class.
- Medieval kings generally did the most battlefield leading before the 1100s. They were expected to direct troops and provide a strategy, but they weren’t screaming into battle headfirst unless you were a diehard like Richard the Lionheart (who incidentally died in battle). Also, most battles in the Middle Ages were sieges.
- Hoo boy. The king owned all that land and all those castles mostly in practice. If he tried to take it away, he’d have a huge legal battle - or actual battle - on his hands. Kings often redistributed the lands of traitors in times of war or other times when popular opinion was still strong enough to give his words weight.
- Palaces were crazy impractical until the invention of gunpowder (and also until the kings had a large enough treasury to build something like Versailles, which was after/during the Renaissance).
- Thank you for mentioning kings were patrons of the arts because they were. If they weren’t, other members of his household like his wife or children would be. Music and books were the main sources of entertainment if you could afford it. Extremely wealthy nobles like the king certainly could. And thank you for mentioning charity. There was a specific office called the almoner whose entire job was to manage charity for the poor.
- Yooooo no one traveled on a warhorse. Palfreys for the win! Maybe kings would switch to a destrier for the shock and awe when he entered a city, but smooth-gaited palfreys were the way to move around.
- Finally, ay dios mio, don’t watch Braveheart as indicative of medieval society.
Listen to most of what this post says and ye shall prosper.
The Hanging Tree
Relationship advice: Find someone who accepts you for the lazy piece of shit you are.
Even seasoned authors can’t always tell the difference between introductions, prefaces, and forewords — especially since they all belong in the front matter of a book, so here’s an easy cheat sheet. Suppose I’m writing a book about the mating habits of wombats (always a thrilling topic, that), here’s how:
1. A foreword would read: "I’ve known the author for ages and consider him to be a superior researcher of wombats and so love this work blah blah blah."
Because: A foreword introduces the author and the topic and is usually written by someone else other than the author — usually someone with a higher profile. Having a foreword from a big name carries credibility and weight well beyond a simple cover endorsement.
2. A preface would read: "In this work, I will outline how wombats are in fact highly effective social strategists by outlining their group dynamics blah blah blah."
Because: The author writes the preface to explain what the book will be about and how he plans to tackle the subject. People often confuse prefaces with introductions (and vice-versa).
3. An introduction would read: “Wombats have fascinated people for ages and not just because of their silly appearances, but because of their wacky mating habits blah blah blah.”
Because: The introduction represents the first step into the subject matter. Think of it as the first chapter. But because a book should stumble right into the core principles but slowly introduce the topic, it is called an introduction.
And there are also these other things called prologues, epilogues, and afterwords, but that’s for another time. Class dismissed.