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My attention tends to wander when I spend too many days in a row reading the Close Rolls. Try it. I’m sure you’ll feel the same. Hence, I was pleased to be shaken from my reverie when I came upon several entries relating to wine in the Roll for 1274; after all, this is a subject dear to my heart, as a regular visitor of several fine wineries in the greater Melbourne area, and proud owner/drinker of a cellar that’s not too bad, thank you very much, even if I do say so myself. I have a vague notion of writing the book on wine in the thirteenth century one day.[1] For now, here are some tastings.

Obviously I’m not the only one who likes to mix my -OH groups with medieval amusement…

The king had a special right to prise, in other words, a tax, on imports of wine, and it seems to me from the implications of several notes on the Rolls that this was sometimes taken in kind. There is mention, for example, of a tun of wine “of the right prise” being given “of the king’s gift” to the archbishop of Rages.[2] As the wording of this writ suggests, gifts of wine potentially represented patronage of both symbolic and functional significance.[3] Gifts of wine from the royal prise frequently seem to have been directed at religious houses, sometimes for the express purpose of celebrating the divine office. On January 27, 1275, the monks of King’s Beaulieu, where the king was staying, took the opportunity to press their rights to an annual tun for this purpose which they claimed to have been granted by a charter of Henry III. Edward ordered three tuns – one for the present year and two in arrears – to be granted to them “until he shall cause it to be ordained otherwise”, presumably involving a search of the chancery records for the aforementioned charter.[4] As a chivalrous and gracious monarch, one imagines he could hardly fail to meet the monks’ demands while he was their guest, even if he should later discover the claim to be groundless.[5]  Read the rest of this entry »

So, excuse me while I blather on about this. As I was saying, gender is a complex historical phenomenon, and part of a much bigger social matrix. In this post I want to talk about one example, Katherine Paynel, a widow in late 13th-century England, whose case helps, I think, to dispel a few mythical assumptions of the kind that students tend to make about the position of women in medieval society.

Katherine’s story hasn’t yet completely been unpicked – this is one of the projects sitting in my ‘to do’ tray at the moment, and will sadly remain on the back burner for a few months yet while I finish up my thesis. However, what we do know indicates that she was a woman of some independent means, and certainly a woman of character. Katherine was a tenant in chief of the king,[1] having jointly inherited the lands of her father, Adam de Periton, with her nephew, Robert, and sister, Isabel;[2] but she is known to us principally because a letter she sent to the chancellor, John Langton, c. 1292,[3] survives in The National Archives, Kew, as SC 1/27/113. In my rough translation,[4] it reads:

To her own very dear special friend in God, if he please, Sir John de Langton, chancellor of our lord king, his own liege and erstwhile mother,[5] if he please, Katherine Paynel, greetings and her blessing and [herself] always ready for your commandments. Dear lord and son, I have great joy in the heart from your advancement and may God be praised for the grace which he has given you that all men love you, and [for] that perserverance which ought to remain all your life; that is my prayer and it has been and will be as long as I live. As to that, dear lord, it is known to you, if it please you to remember, that since our first meeting I have had a difficult task to sustain and guide myself and my children with scarcely any aid. But, blessed be the Lord, they are agreeable enough to me, and humble, and each of my sons has some livelihood, and my daughter can take counsel with them when she desires. Dear lord, my younger son, Stephen Paynel, prays and requests me often that I send him to court in service or company where he can acquire sense and manners, so that he can recover the goods (pust aver recoverir) after me if he should be of service. And indeed, lord, I now have no sure aquaintance except, if it please, yours. Thus, I pray and request you, dear lord, for love of me and for all friendship that by your counsel and aid he may be entrusted to you yourself, lord, or to your bailiff. And I, lord, will work on his behalf for the costs in every way in my power, if by that he may support himself. Dear lord, concerning this prayer may you wish by your letter to tell me through this same bearer; and often, in all other matters, your pleasure; and concerning your state of body and health, which may God cause to be good and long. Lord, I commend you to God and His sweet mother.

Reading this letter in light of some of my complaints from the previous post, let me point out a few of the most salient points.

First, this letter constructs a gendered world in which men and women are both participating, actively yet differently. As a widow with children Katherine is in some ways the chief of her household: her children remain under her guidance to some degree, despite that they seem to be adults. They are ‘humble’ and agreeable to her; and she on her part ‘stuggles’ to sustain and guide them. Her sons’ role in life is clearly distinct from that of her daughter – the sons have livelihoods, while the daughter implicitly does not – and yet the daughter is not described as an empty or passive instrument. She can ‘take counsel’ with her brothers ‘when she desires’, and is thus recognised as a person who (a) has desires, and (b) has affairs in which she may require advice. Part of Katherine’s role as mother, which is clearly articulated here, is to establish and advance careers for her sons by whatever means open to her. One of those means is this letter. Read the rest of this entry »

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I teach and research at the Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies in the School of Philosophical, Historial and International Studies, Monash University (Australia). Views expressed here are my own and not representative of the CMRS, SOPHIS or Monash.

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