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Medieval People by Eileen Edna Power

Part 3 out of 5

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As of Grisildis pacient and kynde,
Lest Chichivache[E] yow swelwe in hire entraille!...

[Footnote E: Chichevache, the lean cow who fed on patient wives, while
her mate Bicorne grew fat on humble husbands (A.W. Pollard).]

His creation of the Wife of Bath was an even more pointed commentary.
Here is what the Menagier has to say to his young wife on the
same subject:

And I, who have put [the tale of Griselda] here only to teach you, have
not put it here to apply it to you, for I am not worthy thereof, and I am
not a marquis and I have not taken you as a beggar, nor am I so foolish,
so conceited or so lacking in sense that I know not that 'tis not for me to
assault nor to assay you thus, nor in like manner. God keep me from trying
you thus under colour of false simulations.... And forgive me that
the story speaks (in my opinion) of too great cruelty and beyond reason.
And know that it never befel so, but thus the tale runs and I may nor
correct nor alter it, for a wiser than I hath made it. And it is my desire
that since others have read it you also may know and be able to talk about
everything even as other folk do.[9]

Moreover, in spite of the ideal of submission which he sets before his
wife, the Menagier has some charming words to say about love--with a
sigh, perhaps, for his own advanced though not crabbed age, and a
glance at that younger husband of the future who shall one day enjoy his
little bride.

In God's name (he says) I believe that when two good and honourable
people are wed, all other loves are put far off, destroyed and
forgotten, save only the love of each for the other. And meseems that
when they are in each other's presence, they look upon each other more
than upon the others, they clasp and hold each other and they do not
willingly speak or make sign save to each other. And when they are
separated, they think of each other and say in their hearts, 'When I see
him I shall do thus and thus to him, or say this to him, I shall beseech
him concerning this or that.' And all their special pleasure, their
chief desire and their perfect joy is to do pleasure and obedience one
to the other, if they love one another.[10]

The greater part of the Menagier's book is concerned, however, not with
the theoretical niceties of wifely submission, but with his creature
comforts. His instructions as to how to make a husband comfortable
positively palpitate with life; and at the same time there is something
indescribably homely and touching about them; they tell more about the
real life of a burgess's wife than a hundred tales of Patient Griselda
or of Jehanne la Quentine. Consider this picture (how typical a product
of the masculine imagination!) of the stout bread-winner, buffeted about
in all weathers and amid all discomforts, nobly pursuing the task of
earning his living, and fortified by the recollection of a domesticated
little wife, darning his stockings at home by the fire, and prepared to
lavish her attentions on the weary hero in the evening. The passage is
an excellent example of the Menagier's vivid and simple style, and of
the use of incidents drawn from everyday life to illustrate his thesis,
which is one of the chief charms of the book.

Fair sister, if you have another husband after me, know that
you should think much of his comfort, for after a woman has
lost her first husband she commonly finds it difficult to
find another according to her estate, and she remains lonely
and disconsolate for a long time[F]; and more so still, if
she lose the second. Wherefore cherish the person of your
husband carefully, and, I pray you, keep him in clean linen,
for 'tis your business. And because the care of outside
affairs lieth with men, so must a husband take heed, and go
and come and journey hither and thither, in rain and wind,
in snow and hail, now drenched, now dry, now sweating, now
shivering, ill-fed, ill-lodged, ill-warmed and ill-bedded;
and nothing harms him, because he is upheld by the hope that
he has of his wife's care of him on his return, and of the
ease, the joys and the pleasures which she will do to him, or
cause to be done to him in her presence; to have his shoes
removed before a good fire, his feet washed and to have fresh
shoes and stockings, to be given good food and drink, to be
well served and well looked after, well bedded in white
sheets and night-caps, well covered with good furs, and
assuaged with other joys and amusements, privities, loves,
and secrets, concerning which I am silent; and on the next
day fresh shirts and garments. Certes, fair sister, such
service maketh a man love and desire to return to his home
and to see his goodwife and to be distant with other women.

[Footnote F: This seems to be contrary to experience.]

And therefore I counsel you to make such cheer to your
husband at all his comings and goings and to persevere
therein; and also to be peaceable with him and remember the
rustic proverb, which saith that there be three things which
drive the goodman from home, to wit, a dripping roof, a
smoking chimney and a scolding woman.[11] Wherefore, fair
sister, I pray you that in order to keep yourself in love and
good favour with your husband you be unto him gentle, amiable
and debonair. Do unto him what the good simple women of our
country say has been done unto their sons, when the lads have
set their love elsewhere and their mothers cannot wean them
from it. It is certain that when fathers and mothers be dead,
and stepfathers and stepmothers argue with their stepsons,
and scold them and repulse them, and take not thought for
their sleeping, nor for their food and drink, their hose and
their shirts and all their other needs and affairs, and the
same children find elsewhere a good home and good counsel
from some other woman, who receives them and takes thought to
warm them with some poor gruel with her and to give them a
bed and keep them tidy, mending their hosen, breeches,
shirts, and other garments, then those lads cleave to her and
desire to be with her, and to sleep warm between her breasts,
and are altogether estranged from their mothers and fathers,
who before took no heed of them, and now want to get them
back and have them again. But it may not be, for these
children hold more dear the company of strangers, who think
and care for them, than that of their kinsfolk, who have no
care of them. Then the parents lament and weep and say that
these same women have bewitched their children and that they
are spellbound and cannot leave, but are never easy save when
they are with their enchantresses. But whatever may be said
of it, it is no witchcraft, but it by reason of the love, the
care, the intimacies, joys and pleasures, which these women
do in all ways unto the lads, and on my soul there is no
other enchantment.... Wherefore, dear sister, I pray you thus
to bewitch and bewitch again your husband, and beware of
dripping roof and smoking fire, and scold him not, but be
unto him gentle and amiable and peaceable. Be careful that in
winter he has good fire without smoke, and let him rest well
and be well covered between your breasts and thus bewitch
him.... And thus you shall preserve and guard him from all
discomforts and give him all the ease that you can, and serve
him and cause him to be well served in your house; and you
shall look to him for outside things, for if he be a good man
he will take even more care and trouble over them than you
wish, and by doing as I have said, you will make him always
miss you and have his heart with you and with your loving
service, and he will shun all other houses, all other women,
all other services and households; all will be naught to him
save you alone, if you think of him as aforesaid.... And so
on the road, husbands will think of their wives, and no
trouble will be a burden to them for the hope and love they
will have of their wives, whom they will long to see, even as
poor hermits, penitents and fasting monks long to see the
face of Christ Jesus; and husbands served thus will never
desire to abide elsewhere or in other company but will
withhold, withdraw and abstain themselves there-from; all the
rest will seem to them but a bed of stones compared with
their home.[12]

Enough has perhaps been quoted to show the Menagier's idea of a perfect
wife; his idea of the perfect housewife is contained in a mass of
instructions which make excellently entertaining reading. So modern in
tone is his section on the management of servants, both in his account
of their ways and in his advice upon dealing with them, that one often
rubs one's eyes to be sure that what one is reading is really a book
written over five centuries ago by an old burgess of Paris. The Menagier
evidently had a fairly large household, and he probably owned a country
as well as a town house, for he speaks several times of overseeing the
farm-hands 'when you are in the village'. To assist his wife in
superintending this large staff he has a _maitre d'hotel_, called Master
John the Steward (_le despensier_) and a duenna, half housekeeper and
half chaperon, for her young mistress, called Dame Agnes _la beguine_[G]
and a bailiff or foreman to look after the farm. The Menagier divides
his servants and workmen into three classes--first, those engaged by the
day or by the season for special work, such as porters and carriers,
reapers, winnowers, coopers, and so on; secondly, those engaged on
piecework, such as tailors, furriers, bakers, and shoemakers, hired by
medieval households of some wealth to make what was needed from raw
material purchased at fairs or in the shops of the city; and thirdly,
the ordinary domestic servants, who were hired by the year and lived in
their master's house; 'and of all these,' he says, 'there is none who
does not gladly seek work and a master'.

[Footnote G: The Beguines were a sort of religious order, or, more
correctly, a lay sisterhood, standing half-way between the lay and the
monastic life, and somewhat analogous to the Franciscan Tertiaries, or
Third Order.]

He gives an amusing account, evidently based upon bitter experience, of
the wiles of the hired workman. He says that they are commonly lazy,
rough, quick at 'answering back', arrogant (except on payday) and ready
to break into insults if unsatisfied with their pay. He warns his wife
to bid Master John always to take the peaceable ones and always to
bargain with them beforehand as to the pay for which they will do
the work.

For know that most often they do not want to bargain, but
they want to get to work without any bargain having been made
and they say gently, 'Milord, it is nothing--there is no
need--you will pay me well and I shall be content with what
you think fit.' And if Master John take them thus, when the
work is finished they will say, 'Sir, there was more to do
than I thought, there was this and that to do, and here and
there,' and they will not take what is given them and will
break out into shouting and angry words ... and will spread
abroad evil report concerning you, which is worst of all.[13]

We know from the various ordinances fixing wages from the time of the
Black Death onwards, that labour troubles were acute in France as well
as in England at the end of the fourteenth century; and the Menagier's
advice throws an interesting sidelight on the situation.

It is, however, in his observations upon the engagement and management
of maidservants that the wisdom of the serpent is most apparent.
Incidentally he gives an account of how servants were hired in
fourteenth-century Paris, which shows that the registry office
and the character are by no means modern phenomena. There were
_recommanderesses_--women holding what we should call registry
offices--in Paris at this time, and an ordinance of 1351 (fixing wages
after the Black Death) allows them to take _1s. 6d_. for placing a
chambermaid and _2s_. for a nurse. A servant maid's wage at this time
was 30s. a year and her shoes. The Menagier counsels his wife thus on
the delicate subject of interviewing and engaging her domestic
chambermaids and serving men:

Know, dear sister (he says), that in order that they may obey
you better and fear the more to anger you, I leave you the
rule and authority to have them chosen by Dame Agnes the
beguine, or by whichever other of your women you please, to
receive them into our service, to hire them at your pleasure,
to pay and keep them in our service as you please, and to
dismiss them when you will. Nathless you should privily speak
to me about it and act according to my advice, because you
are too young and might be deceived by your own people. And
know that of those chambermaids who are out of a place, many
there be who offer themselves and clamour and seek urgently
for masters and mistresses; and of these take none until you
first know where their last place was, and send some of your
people to get their character, to wit whether they talked or
drank too much, how long they were in the place, what work
they have been accustomed to doing and can do, whether they
have homes or friends in the town, from what sort of people
and what part of the country they come, how long they were
there and why they left; and by their work in the past you
shall find out what hope or expectation you may have of their
work in the future. And know that oft-times such women from
distant parts of the country have been blamed for some fault
in their own part of the world and that is what brings them
into service at a distance....

And if you find from the report of her master and mistress,
neighbours and others that a girl is what you need, find out
from her, and cause Master John to register in his account
book, the day on which you engage her, her name and those of
her father, mother and any of her kinsfolk, the place where
they live and her birthplace and her references. For servants
will be more afraid to do wrong if they know that you are
recording all these things and that if they leave you without
permission, or are guilty of any offence, you will write and
complain to the justice of their country or to their friends.
And not withstanding bear in mind the saying of the
philosopher called Bertrand the Old, who says that if you
engage a maid or man of high and proud answers, you shall
know that when she leaves she will miscall you if she can;
and if, on the contrary, she be flattering and ¸full of
blandishments, trust her not, for she is in league with
someone else to trick you; but if she blushes and is silent
and shamefast when you correct her, love her as your

The Menagier's instructions as to how to look after servants when they
have been engaged are equally practical. Good order is to be maintained,
quarrels and bad language[15] prevented, and morals guarded. Each is to
have his or her work assigned and to do it promptly. 'If you order them
to do something now and these your servants answer "There is plenty of
time, it shall be done," or "It shall be done tomorrow," hold it as
forgotten, it must all be begun again, it is as nought. And also when
you give a general order to every one, each will wait for the other to
do it, and it is the same.' Not only is the work of the servants to be
carefully superintended by the mistress and by Dame Agnes, 'who is with
you', the Menagier tells his wife, 'in order to teach you wise and ripe
behaviour and to serve and instruct you and to whom in particular I give
the charge of this matter', but she is to show herself careful and
benevolent in looking after their health and happiness. At the proper
hour she is to cause them to sit down before a hearty meal of one sort
of meat, avoiding rich viands, and one kind of drink, which must be
nourishing but not intoxicating--'the cup that cheers but not
inebriates'; probably in this case the light ale which was the habitual
drink of the Middle Ages. She is to admonish them to eat and drink
their fill, but

as soon as they begin to tell stories, or to argue, or to
lean on their elbows, order the beguine to make them rise and
take away their table, for the common folk have a saying
'when a varlet holds forth at table and a horse grazes in the
ditch, it is time to take them away, for they have had
their fill.'

In the evening, after their afternoon's work, they are to have another
hearty meal, and then in winter time they may warm themselves at the
fire and take their ease. Then she is to lock up the house and pack them
all off to bed.

And arrange first that each have beside his bed a candlestick
in which to put his candle, and have them wisely taught to
extinguish it with the mouth or hand before getting into bed
and by no means with their shirts. And also have them
admonished and taught each and all, that they must begin
again the next day and that they must rise in the morning and
each set to upon his own work.

The Menagier further advises his wife that chambermaids of fifteen to
twenty years of age are foolish girls who do not know the world, and
that she should always cause them to sleep near her in an antechamber,
or a room without a skylight or a low window looking on to the street,
and should make them get up and go to bed at the same time as herself.
'And you yourself,' he adds, 'who, if God please, will be wise by this
time, must keep them near to you.' Moreover, if any of her servants fall
ill, 'do you yourself, laying aside all other cares, very lovingly and
charitably care for him or her, and visit him and study diligently how
to bring about his cure'.[16]

But it is perhaps in his capacity as Mrs Beeton that the Menagier is
most amusing. His infinite variety of household knowledge is shown in
the incidental recipes which he gives when he is describing the measures
which a wife must take for her lord's comfort, and the work of the
servants. There are elaborate instructions concerning the costly
medieval garments, worn year after year for a lifetime and often
bequeathed in their owner's will, instructions for cleaning dresses and
furs and for preserving them from moths, and instructions for removing
stains and grease spots. The Menagier gives seven recipes for taking out
grease spots, but he is rather sceptical about one or two of them, which
he has evidently copied from a book without trying them for himself. 'To
get rid of stains on a dress of silk, satin, camlet, damask cloth or
another,' runs one of these, 'dip and wash the stain in verjuice and the
stain will go; even if the dress be faded, it will regain its colour.
_This I do not believe'_. The chief impression left, however, is that
the medieval housewife was engaged in a constant warfare against fleas.
One of the Menagier's infallible rules for keeping a husband happy at
home is to give him a good fire in the winter and keep his bed free from
fleas in the summer. He gives six recipes for getting rid of such small
livestock, which must indeed have been a very common trial to our

In summer take heed that there be no fleas in your chamber nor in your
bed, which you may do in six ways, as I have heard tell. For I have
heard from several persons that if the room be scattered with alder
leaves the fleas will get caught therein. Item, I have heard tell that
if you have at night one or two trenchers of bread covered with birdlime
or turpentine and put about the room with a lighted candle set in the
midst of each trencher, they will come and get stuck thereto. Another
way which I have found and which is true: take a rough cloth and spread
it about your room and over your bed and all the fleas who may hop on to
it will be caught, so that you can carry them out with the cloth
wheresoever you will. Item, sheepskins. Item, I have seen blankets
placed on the straw and on the bed and when the black fleas jumped upon
them they were the sooner found and killed upon the white. But the best
way is to guard oneself against those which are within the coverlets and
furs and the stuff of the dresses wherewith one is covered. For know
that I have tried this, and when the coverlets, furs or dresses in which
there be fleas are folded and shut tightly up, in a chest straitly bound
with straps or in a bag well tied up and pressed, or otherwise
compressed so that the said fleas are without light and air and kept
imprisoned, then they will perish and die at once.[17]

A similar war had also to be waged against flies and mosquitoes, which
rendered summer miserable. "I have sometimes," says the Menagier, "seen
in several chambers that when one has gone to bed in them, they were
full of mosquitoes, which at the smoke of the breath came to sit on the
faces of those who slept and sting them so that they were fain to get up
and light a fire of hay to smoke them off." Against such pests he has
also six infallible recipes--to wit, a mosquito net over the bed; sprigs
of fern hung up for the flies to settle on; a bowl filled with a mixture
of milk and hare's gall, or with the juice of raw onions, which will
kill them; a bottle containing a rag dipped in honey, or else a string
dipped in honey to hang up; fly whisks to drive them away; and closing
up windows with oiled cloth or parchment.[18]

The section on cookery, which contains the Menagier's injunctions for
"feeding the brute", is the longest in the book, and gives an
extraordinarily interesting picture of the domestic economy of our
ancestors.[19] The Menagier must have been brother to Chaucer's
Franklin, 'Epicurus owene sone':

An housholdere, and that a greet, was he:
Seint Julian he was in his contree;
His breed, his ale, was alwey after oon;
A bettre envyned man was nowher noon.
Withoute bake mete was never his hous,
Of fissh and flessh, and that so plenteuous
It snewed in his hous of mete and drynke.
Of alle deyntees that men koude thynke.
After the sondry sesons of the yeer,
So chaunged he his mete and his soper.
Ful many a fat partrich had he in muwe
And many a breem and many a luce in stuwe.
Wo was his cook but if his sauce were
Poynaunt and sharpe and redy al his geere.
His table dormant in his hal alway
Stood redy covered al the longe day.

In this, as in all other medieval cookery books, what strikes the modern
reader is the length and elaboration of the huge feasts, with their many
courses and dishes, and the richness of the highly spiced viands. There
are black puddings and sausages, venison and beef, eels and herrings,
fresh water fish, round sea fish and flat sea fish, common pottages
unspiced, spiced pottages, meat pottages and meatless pottages, roasts
and pastries and entremets, divers sauces boiled and unboiled, pottages
and 'slops' for invalids. Some of them sound delicious, others would be
ruin to our degenerate digestions today. Pungent sauces of vinegar,
verjuice, and wine were very much favoured, and cloves, cinnamon,
galingale, pepper, and ginger appear unexpectedly in meat dishes.
Almonds were a favourite ingredient in all sorts of dishes, as they
still are in China and other parts of the East, and they might well be
used more lavishly than they are in modern European cookery. True to his
race, the Menagier includes recipes for cooking frogs and snails.[20] To
the modern cook some of his directions may appear somewhat vague, as
when he bids his cook to boil something for as long as it takes to say a
paternoster or a _miserere_; yet for clockless kitchens in a pious age
what clearer indication could a man give? And, after all, it is no worse
than 'cook in a hot oven', which still finds a place in many modern
cookery books which should know better. Other instructions are detailed
enough. In one valuable passage he gives a list of all the meat markets
of Paris, together with the number of butchers to be found in each and
the number of sheep, oxen, pigs, and calves sold there every week,
adding also for interest the amount of meat and poultry consumed weekly
in the households of the King, the Queen and the royal children, the
Dukes of Orleans, Berry, Burgundy, and Bourbon. Elsewhere also he speaks
of other markets--the Pierre-au-Lait, or milk market; the Place de
Greve, where they sell coal and firewood; and the Porte-de-Paris which
is not only a meat market, but the best place in which to buy fish and
salt and green herbs and branches to adorn your rooms.

For his wife's further guidance the Menagier sets out a careful
specification of the catering arrangements for several great feasts--to
wit, a dinner given by the Abbot of Lagny to the Bishop of Paris and the
members of the King's Council, the feast, comprising dinner and supper,
which one Master Elias (evidently a grave and reverend _maitre d'hotel,_
like Master John _le despensier_ himself) made for the wedding of Jean
du Chesne, upon a Tuesday in May, and the arrangements for another
wedding, "les nopces Hautecourt", in the month of September, as to which
the Menagier observes "that because they were widower and widow they
were wed very early, in their black robes and then put on others"; he
was anxious that his widow should do the correct thing at that second
wedding of hers. The description of the wedding feast arranged by Master
Elias is particularly detailed and valuable.[21] The careful Menagier,
perhaps because he foresaw some big entertainment which he must give to
the burgesses and gentlemen of Paris, perhaps because of his delightful
interest in all the details of material life, has set down at length not
only the menu of the dinner and supper, but a long account of the
ingredients needed, their quantities and prices, and the shops or
markets where they must be bought, so that the reader can see with his
eyes the _maitre d'hotel_ and the cooks going round from stall to stall,
visiting butcher and baker, poulterer, saucemaker, vintner, wafer maker,
who sold the wafers and pastries dear to medieval ladies, and spicer
whose shop was heavy with the scents of the East.

The Menagier sets down also all the esquires and varlets and waiters
who will be needed to serve such a feast as this. There was the master
cook, comfortably stout and walking 'high and disposedly', as Queen
Elizabeth danced, brain pan stuffed full of delectable recipes, hand of
ravishing lightness with pastries, eye and nose skilled to say when a
capon was done to a turn, warranted without a rival

To boille the chiknes with the marybones,
And poudre-marchant tart and galyngale ...
He koude rooste and seethe and boille and frye,
Maken martreux and wel bake a pye ...
For blankmanger, that made he with the beste.

He brought his varlets with him, and in Paris he took two francs for his
hire 'and perquisites' (a pregnant addition). Then there were ushers,
'stout and strong', to keep the doors, and a clerk to add up the
account; bread-cutters and water-carriers, two squires to serve at the
dresser in the kitchen where the plates and dishes were handed out, two
others at the hall dresser to give out spoons and drinking cups and pour
wine for the guests, and two others in the pantry to give out the wine
which their varlet kept drawing for them. There were the two _maitres
d'hotel_ to set out the silver salt-cellars for the high table, the four
great gilded goblets, the four dozen hanaps, the four dozen silver
spoons, the ewers and alms mugs and sweetmeat dishes, and to usher the
guests to their places; a head waiter and two servitors for each table,
a flower girl to make chaplets of flowers for the guests, women to see
to the linen and deck the bridal bed,[22] and a washerwoman. The floors
were strewn with violets and green herbs and the rooms decked with
branches of May (all bought in the market in early morning), and there
was a good stock of torches and candles, small candles to stand on the
supper tables, and great torches to be set in sconces on the walls, or
to be carried in procession by the guests, for the supper ended with
'dancing, singing, wine and spices and lighted torches'. On this
occasion eight francs were given to the minstrels, over and above the
spoons and other presents made to them during the meal, and there were
also acrobats and mimes to amuse the guests. If they had to prepare a
great feast Master John and his little mistress could not go far wrong
after this, or fail to please the genial epicure who set it down for
them. The Menagier copied many of his recipes from other cookery books,
but he must have got the details of this entertainment from Master Elias
himself, and one can see their grey heads wagging with enjoyment, as one
talked and the other wrote.

The cookery book ends with a section containing recipes for making what
the Menagier calls 'small things which are not necessities'. There are
various sorts of jams, mostly made with honey; in the Middle Ages
vegetables were evidently much prepared in this way, for the Menagier
speaks of turnip, carrot, and pumpkin jam. There is a delicious syrup of
mixed spices (at least the palate of faith must believe it to have been
delicious) and a powder of ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and
sugar, to be sifted over food, as sugar is sifted today; there is a
recipe for hippocras, and for 'gauffres' or wafers, and for candied
oranges. There are various sage pieces of advice as to the seasons for
certain foods and the best ways of cooking and serving them. Most
amusing of all these are a number of recipes not of a culinary
nature--to wit, for making glue and marking ink, for bringing up small
birds in aviaries and cages, preparing sand for hour-glasses, making
rose-water, drying roses to lay among dresses (as we lay lavender
today), for curing tooth-ache, and for curing the bite of a mad dog. The
latter is a charm, of the same type as the Menagier's horse charms:
'Take a crust of bread and write what follows: _Bestera bestie nay
brigonay dictera sagragan es domina siat siat siat_.' Let us remember,
however, that the nation which produced it, some four centuries later,
produced Pasteur.


Enough has been said about this entrancing book to show how vividly it
brings not only the Menagier, but the Menagier's young wife before our
eyes after these many years. In the morning she rises, much earlier than
ladies rise nowadays, though not so early as nuns, who must say matins,
for that, her husband tells her, is not a fitting hour for married women
to leave their beds. Then she washes, much less than ladies nowadays,
hands and face only perchance, and says her orisons, and dresses very
neatly, for she knows whose eye is upon her, and so goes with Dame Agnes
the beguine to Mass, with eyes on the ground and hands folded over
her painted primer. After Mass, and perhaps confession, back again to
see if the servants are doing their work, and have swept and dusted the
hall and the rooms, beaten the cushions and coverlets on the forms and
tidied everything, and afterwards to interview Master John the steward
and order dinner and supper. Then she sends Dame Agnes to see to the pet
dogs and birds, "for they cannot speak and so you must speak and think
for them if you have any". Then, if she be in her country house, she
must take thought for the farm animals and Dame Agnes must superintend
those who have charge of them, Robin the shepherd, Josson the oxherd,
Arnoul the cowherd, Jehanneton the milkmaid, and Eudeline the farmer's
wife who looks after the poultry yard. If she be in her town house she
and her maids take out her dresses and furs from their great chests and
spread them in the sun in the garden or courtyard to air, beating them
with little rods, shaking them in the breeze, taking out spots and
stains with one or other of the master's tried recipes, pouncing with
lynx eyes upon the moth or sprightly flea.


After this comes dinner, the serious meal of the day, eaten by our
ancestors about 10 a.m. What the Menagier's wife gives to her lord and
master will depend upon the time of year and upon whether it be a meat
or a fast day; but we know that she has no lack of menus from which to
choose. After dinner she sees that the servants are set to dine, and
then the busy housewife may become the lady of leisure and amuse
herself. If in the country she may ride out hawking with a gay party of
neighbours; if in town, on a winter's day, she may romp and play with
other married ladies of her tender years, exchange riddles or tell
stories round the fire. But what she most loves is to wander in her
garden, weaving herself garlands of flowers, violets, gilly flowers,
roses, thyme, or rosemary, gathering fruit in season (she likes
raspberries and cherries), and passing on to the gardeners weighty
advice about the planting of pumpkins ("in April water them courteously
and transplant them"), to which the gardeners give as much attention as
gardeners always have given, give still, and ever shall give, world
without end, to the wishes of their employers. When she tires of this,
the busy one gathers together Dame Agnes and her maids, and they sit
under the carved beams of the hall mending his mastership's doublet,
embroidering a vestment for the priest at his family chantry, or a
tapestry hanging for the bedchamber. Or perhaps they simply spin (since,
in the words of the Wife of Bath, God has given women three
talents--deceit, weeping, and spinning!); and all the while she awes
them with that tale of Griselda, her voice rising and falling to the
steady hum of the wheels.

At last it is evening, and back comes the lord and master. What a bustle
and a pother this home-coming meant we know well, since we know what he
expected. Such a running and fetching of bowls of warm water to wash his
feet, and comfortable shoes to ease him; such a hanging on his words and
admiring of his labours. Then comes supper, with a bevy of guests, or
themselves all alone in the westering sunlight, while he smacks
connoisseur's lips over the roast crane and the blankmanger, and she
nibbles her sweet wafers. Afterwards an hour of twilight, when she tells
him how she has passed the day, and asks him what she shall do with the
silly young housemaid, whom she caught talking to the tailor's 'prentice
through that low window which looks upon the road. There is warm
affection in the look she turns up to him, her round little face
puckered with anxiety over the housemaid, dimpling into a smile when he
commends her; and there is warm affection and pride too in the look the
old man turns down upon her. So the night falls, and they go round the
house together, locking all the doors and seeing that the servants are
safe abed, for our ancestors were more sparing of candlelight than we.
And so to bed.

We may take our leave of the couple here. The Menagier's wife evidently
had a full life.

Some respit to husbands the weather may send,
But huswiues affaires haue neuer an end.

There was no room in it for the idleness of those lovely ladies, with
their long fingers, whom Langland admonished to sew for the poor.
Moreover, exaggerated as some of her husband's ideas upon wifely
submission appear today, the book leaves a strong impression of good
sense and of respect as well as love for her. The Menagier does not want
his wife to be on a pedestal, like the troubadour's lady, nor licking
his shoes like Griselda; he wants a helpmeet, for, as Chaucer said, 'If
that wommen were nat goode and hir conseils goode and profitable, oure
Lord God of hevene wolde never han wroght hem, ne called hem "help" of
man, but rather confusioun of man.'[23] Ecclesiastical Jeremiahs were
often wont to use the characteristically medieval argument that if God
had meant woman for a position of superiority He would have taken her
from Adam's head rather than his side; but the Menagier would have
agreed with the more logical Peter Lombard, who observed that she was
not taken from Adam's head, because she was not intended to be his
ruler, nor from his feet either, because she was not intended to be his
slave, but from his side, precisely, because she was intended to be his
companion. There is something of this spirit in the Menagier's attitude
towards his little wife, and it is this which makes his book so charming
and causes it to stand head and shoulders above most other medieval
books of behaviour for women. But, above all, its social and historical
value lies in the fact that it gives us, in hues undimmed by time, a
full length portrait of a medieval housewife, who has her place (and it
is a large one) in history, but concerning whom historians have almost
invariably been silent.


_Thomas Betson_


Some men of noble stock were made, some glory in the murder blade:
Some praise a Science or an Art, but I like honourable Trade!


_The Golden Journey to Samarcand_

The visitor to the House of Lords, looking respectfully upon that august
assembly, cannot fail to be struck by a stout and ungainly object facing
the throne--an ungainly object upon which in full session of Parliament,
he will observe seated the Lord Chancellor of England. The object is a
woolsack, and it is stuffed as full of pure history as the office of
Lord Chancellor itself. For it reminds a cotton-spinning, iron-working
generation that the greatness of England was built up, not upon the
flimsy plant which comes to her to be manufactured from the Far East and
West of the world, nor upon the harsh metal delved from her bowels, but
upon the wool which generation after generation has grown on the backs
of her black-faced sheep. First in the form of a raw material sought
after eagerly by all the cloth-makers of Europe, then in the form of a
manufacture carried on in her own towns and villages, and sent out far
and wide in ships, wool was the foundation of England's greatness right
up to the time of the Industrial Revolution, when cotton and iron took
its place. So if you look at old pictures of the House of Lords, in
Henry VIII's reign, or in Elizabeth's, you will see the woolsack before
the throne,[1] as you will see it if you visit the House today. The Lord
Chancellor of England is seated upon a woolsack because it was upon a
woolsack that this fair land rose to prosperity.

The most remarkable body of traders in England during the Middle Ages
were the Merchants of the Staple, who traded in wool. The wool trade had
for long been the largest and most lucrative body of trade in the
country, and it was one in which the Kings of England were particularly
interested, for their customs revenue was drawn largely from wool and
wool fells; and, moreover, when they desired to borrow money in
anticipation of revenue it was to the wool merchants that they turned,
because the wool merchants were the wealthiest traders in the country.
For these and other reasons the Government adopted the custom of fixing
staple towns, which acted as centres of distribution through which the
export trade was forced to go. The location of the Staple was altered
from time to time; sometimes it was at Bruges, sometimes at Antwerp,
sometimes in England; but usually it was at Calais, where it was first
fixed in 1363 and finally established in 1423. Through the Staple all
wool and wool fells, hides, leather, and tin had to pass, and the
organization of the system was complete when the body of wool merchants,
in whose hands lay the bulk of the Staple trade, were finally
incorporated in 1354, under the governance of a mayor. The system was a
convenient one for Crown and merchants alike. The Crown could
concentrate its customs officers in one place and collect its customs
the more easily, particularly as a method was gradually developed by
which the custom and subsidy on wool was paid to the Royal officials by
the Fellowship of the Staple, who then collected it from the individual
members. The merchants, on the other hand, benefited by the
concentration in trade: they were able to travel in groups and to
organize convoys to protect the wool fleets from pirates who swarmed in
the narrow seas between England and France; as members of a powerful
corporation they could secure both privileges and protection in
Flanders. Moreover, the wool buyers also benefited by the arrangement,
which rendered possible a careful surveillance by the Crown and the
Company of the Staple of the quality of the wool offered for sale, and a
series of regulations against fraud. It must be remembered that in days
when trade stood in need of a protection which the Government was not
yet able to give it, there was nothing unpopular in the idea of giving
the monopoly of the staple trade to the members of a single company.
'Trade in companies is natural to Englishmen,' wrote Bacon; and for four
centuries it was the great trading companies which nurtured English
trade and made this country the commercial leader of the world.

The wool trade throve in England until the close of the Middle Ages, but
throughout the fifteenth century the staplers were beginning to feel the
competition of another company--that of the famous Merchant Adventurers,
who, taking advantage of the growth in the native cloth manufacture
during the previous century, had begun to do a great trade in the export
of cloth. This was obnoxious to the staplers, who desired the
continuance of the old system, by which they exported English wool to
the Continent, where at Ypres and Ghent, Bruges and Mechlin, and the
other famous cloth-working cities of the Netherlands, it was woven into
fine cloth. This cloth manufacture gave to the Netherlands a sort of
industrial pre-eminence in Europe throughout the Middle Ages, and it was
dependent entirely upon a good supply of English wool, for the next best
wool in Europe--that of Spain--was not satisfactory unless mixed with
wool of English growth. Hence the close political tie between England
and Flanders, the one needing a customer, the other an essential raw
material; for, as a fifteenth century poet said,

the lytelle londe of Flaundres is
But a staple to other londes, iwys,
And alle that groweth in Flaundres, greyn and sede,
May not a moneth fynde hem mete and brede.
What hath thenne Flaundres, be Flemmyngis leffe or lothe
But a lytelle madere and Flemmyshe cloothe?
By drapynge of our wolle in substaunce
Lyvene here comons, this is here governaunce;
Wythought whyche they may not leve at ease,
Thus moste hem sterve, or wyth us most have peasse.[2]

In those days the coat on the Englishman's back was made out of English
wool, indeed, but it had been manufactured in Flanders, and the staplers
saw no reason why it should ever be otherwise. As to the Flemings, the
political alliances which commercial necessities constantly entailed
between the two countries gave rise among them to a proverb that they
bought the fox-skin from the English for a groat and sold them back the
tail for a guelder;[3] but it was the sheepskin which they bought, and
they were not destined to go on buying it for ever. The great
cloth-making cities of the Netherlands were finally ruined by the growth
of the English cloth manufacture, which absorbed the English wool.
However, in spite of the growing prosperity of this trade, which had by
the beginning of the sixteenth century ousted that of wool as the chief
English export trade, the Company of the Merchants of the Staple was
still great and famous throughout the fifteenth century.

Many were the wealthy and respected staplers who were in those days to
be found directing the destinies of English towns, mayors of London and
provincial ports, contractors and moneylenders to an impecunious king,
so rich and so powerful that they became a constitutional menace,
almost, it has been said, a fourth estate of the realm, with which His
Majesty was wont to treat for grants apart from Parliament. Many are the
staplers' wills preserved in registries up and down England and bearing
witness to their prosperity and public spirit. Many are the magnificent
brasses which preserve their memory in the parish churches of the
Cotswolds and other wool-growing districts of England. At Chipping
Campden lies William Grevel with his wife, 'late citizen of London and
flower of the wool merchants of all England', who died in 1401, and his
beautiful house still stands in the village street. At Northleach lies
John Fortey, who rebuilt the nave before he died in 1458; his brass
shows him with one foot on a sheep and the other on a woolpack, and the
brasses of Thomas Fortey, 'woolman', and of another unknown merchant,
with a woolpack, lie near by. At Linwood, at Cirencester, at Chipping
Norton, at Lechlade, and at All Hallows, Barking, you may see others of
the great fraternity.[4] They rest in peace now, but when they lived
they were the shrewdest traders of their day. Of wool, cries the
poet Gower,

O leine, dame de noblesce
Tu est des marchantz la duesse,
Pour toy servir tout sont enclin--

'O wool, noble dame, thou art the goddess of merchants, to serve thee
they are all ready; by thy good fortune and thy wealth thou makest some
mount high, and others thou bringest to ruin. The staple where thou
dwellest is never free of fraud and trickery, wherewith man wounds his
conscience. O wool, Christians no less than pagans and Saracens seek to
have thee and confess thee. O wool, we should not be silent about thy
doings in strange lands; for the merchants of all countries, in time of
peace, in time of war, come to seek thee by reason of their great love,
for whoever else hath enemies thou art never without good friends, who
have given themselves to thy profitable service. Thou art cherished
throughout the world, and the land where thou art born may do great
things by reason of thee. Thou art carried throughout the world by land
and sea, but thou goest to the wealthiest men; in England art thou born,
but it is said that thou art but ill governed, for Trick, who hath much
money, is made regent of thy staple; at his will he taketh it to foreign
lands, where he purchaseth his own gain to our harm. O fair, O white, O
delightful one, the love of thee stings and binds, so that the hearts of
those who make merchandise of thee cannot escape. So they compass much
trickery and many schemes how they may gather thee, and then they make
thee pass the sea, queen and lady of their navy, and in order to have
thee envy and covetousness hie them to bargain for thee.'[5]

The daily life of a Merchant of the Staple is not a difficult one to
reconstruct, partly because the Golden Fleece has left so many marks
upon our national life, partly because the statute book is full of
regulations concerning the wool trade, but chiefly because there have
come down to us many private letters from persons engaged in shipping
wool from England to Calais. Of all the different sorts of raw material
out of which the history of ordinary people in the Middle Ages has to be
made, their letters are perhaps the most enthralling, because in their
letters people live and explain themselves in all their individuality.
In the fifteenth century most men and women of the upper and middle
classes could read and write, although their spelling was sometimes
marvellous to behold, and St Olave's Church is apt to become 'Sent
Tolowys scryssche' beneath their painfully labouring goose quills, and
punctuation is almost entirely to seek. But what matter? their meaning
is clear enough. Good fortune has preserved in various English archives
several great collections of family letters written in the fifteenth
century. Finest of all are the famous Paston Letters, written by and to
a family of Norfolk gentlefolk, and crammed with information about high
politics and daily life.[6] Less interesting, but valuable all the same,
are the letters of the Plumptons, who were lords in Yorkshire.[7] But
for our purposes the most interesting are two other collections, to wit,
the correspondence of the Stonors, whose estates lay chiefly in
Oxfordshire and the neighbouring counties; and the Cely papers, kept by
a family of Merchants of the Staple.

These two collections give us a vivid picture of wool staplers in their
public and private lives. The Cely papers cover the years 1475 to 1488,
and it so happens that during that period William Stonor (he became Sir
William in 1478) also became interested in the wool trade, for in 1475
he married Elizabeth Riche, the daughter and widow of wealthy city
merchants. The Stonors had great sheep runs on their estates in the
Chilterns and Cotswolds, and William readily perceived the advantage of
his alliance with Elizabeth's family, who were interested in the wool
trade. Consequently he entered into a partnership with a friend of his
wife's, a Merchant of the Staple in Calais, named Thomas Betson, who is
the subject of this study, and until Elizabeth's death in 1479, he took
an active part in the export trade. Thomas Betson died in 1486, and was
thus an exact contemporary of those other Merchants of the Staple,
George and Richard Cely, whom he must have known; indeed, William Cely,
their cousin and agent, writes from London to George in Calais in 1481,
advising him that he has dispatched 464 fells to him in the _Thomas_ of
Newhithe, 'and the sayd felles lyeth nexte be afte the maste lowest
under the felles of Thomas Bettson'.[8] By the aid of the 'Stonor
Letters and Papers', which contain many letters from and concerning him
during the years of his partnership with Sir William, and of the 'Cely
Papers', which are full of information about the life of a Merchant of
the Staple at Calais, Thomas Betson may be summoned before us by a
kindly magic until he almost lives again. So he deserves to do, for he
is one of the most delightful people revealed to us in any of the
fifteenth-century letters; for honest charm he has no rival save the
attractive Margery Brews, who married John Paston the younger, and
shows up so pleasantly beside the hard Paston women.

Perhaps the reason why our hearts warm immediately towards Thomas Betson
is that our first meeting with him plunges us immediately into a love
affair. His first letter to William Stonor is dated April 12, 1476, and
informs William that their wool has come in to Calais. 'Right
worshipfful Syr,' it begins, 'I recomaund me unto your good
maystershipe, and to my right worshipffulle maystresse your wiffe, and
yf it plese your maystershipe, to my maystresse Kateryn.'[9] Ten days
later he writes again from London, on the eve of sailing for Calais,
thanking Stonor for his 'gentle cheer and faithful love, the which alway
ye bear and owe unto me, and of my behalf nothing deserved[H],'
announcing that he has sent a present of powdered[I] lampreys from
himself and a pipe of red wine from his brother, and adding this
postscript: 'Sir, I beseech your mastership that this poor writing may
have me lowly recommended to my right worshipful mistress, your wife,
and in like wise to my gentle cousin and kind mistress Katherine Riche,
to whom I beseech your mastership ever to be favourable and loving.'[10]
Who was this Katherine Riche to whom he so carefully commends himself?
Katherine Riche was William Stonor's stepdaughter, one of his wife's
children by her first husband; she was Thomas Betson's affianced bride,
and at this time she was about thirteen years old.

[Footnote H: Henceforth I shall modernize spelling, for the reader's

[Footnote I: I.e. pickled.]

Modern opinion, which is happily in favour of falling in love, and of
adult marriages, is often shocked by the air of business which pervades
matchmaking in the days of chivalry, and by the many cases of grown men
married to little girls not yet out of their teens. In those days it was
held that a boy came of age at fourteen and a girl at twelve (a
discrepancy which the great canon lawyer, Lyndwood, the son of a
stapler,[11] attributed to the fact that ill weeds grow apace!). For
reasons of property, or to settle family feuds, or simply to assure
their own future, babies in cradles were sometimes betrothed and even
married; all that the Church required was that children should be free
when they came of age (at the ages of fourteen and twelve!) to repudiate
the contract if they so desired. Nothing seems to separate modern
England from the good old days so plainly as the case of little Grace de
Saleby, aged four, who for the sake of her broad acres was married to a
great noble, and on his death two years later to another, and yet again,
when she was eleven, to a third, who paid three hundred marks down for
her.[12] There is an odd mixture of humour and pathos in the story of
some of these marriages. John Rigmarden, aged three, was carried to
church in the arms of a priest, who coaxed him to repeat the words of
matrimony, but half-way through the service the child declared that he
would learn no more that day, and the priest answered, 'You must speak a
little more, and then go play you.' James Ballard, aged ten, was married
to Jane his wife 'at x of the clocke in the night without the consent of
any of his frendes, bie one Sir Roger Blakey, then curate of Colne, and
the morowe after, the same James declarid vnto his Vnckle that the said
Jane [beyinge a bigge damsell and mariageable at the same tyme] had
intised him with two Apples, to go with her to Colne and to marry her.'
Elizabeth Bridge _nee_ Ramsbotham, says that after her marriage to John
Bridge, when he was eleven and she thirteen, he never used her
'lovinglie, insomoche that the first night they were maried, the said
John wold Eate no meate at supper, and whan hit was bed tyme, the said
John did wepe to go home with his father, he beynge at that tyme at her
brother's house.'[13]

Sometimes, however, medieval records throw a pleasanter light on these
child marriages. Such was the light thrown by the Menagier de Paris's
book for his young wife, so kindly, so affectionate, so full of
indulgence for her youth; and such also is the light thrown by the
charming letter which Thomas Betson wrote to little Katherine Riche on
the first day of June in 1476. It is a veritable gem, and it is strange
that it has not attracted more notice, for certainly no anthology of
English letters should be without it. I set it down here at length, for
it brings to warm life again both Thomas Betson and Katherine Riche:

Mine own heartily beloved Cousin Katherine, I recommend me unto you with
all the inwardness of my heart. And now lately ye shall understand that
I received a token from you, the which was and is to me right heartily
welcome, and with glad will I received it; and over that I had a letter
from Holake, your gentle squire, by the which I understand right well
that ye be in good health of body, and merry at heart. And I pray God
heartily in his pleasure to continue the same: for it is to me very
great comfort that he so be, so help me Jesu. And if ye would be a good
eater of your meat alway, that ye might wax and grow fast to be a woman
ye should make me the gladdest man of the world, by my troth; for when I
remember your favour and your sad loving dealing to me wards, for sooth
ye make me even very glad and joyous in my heart; and on the tother side
again, when I remember your young youth, and see well that ye be none
eater of your meat, the which should help you greatly in waxing, for
sooth then ye make me very heavy again. And therefore I pray you, mine
own sweet Cousin, even as you love me, to be merry and eat your meat
like a woman. And if ye will so do for my love, look what ye will desire
of me, whatsoever it be, and by my troth, I promise you by the help of
our Lord to perform it to my power. I can no more say now, but on my
coming home I will tell you much more between you and me and God before.
And whereas ye, full womanly and like a lover, remember me with manifold
recommendation in divers manners, remitting the same to my discretion to
depart them there as I love best, for sooth, mine own sweet Cousin, ye
shall understand that with good heart and good will I receive and take
to myself the one half of them and them will I keep by me; and the
tother half with hearty love and favour I send them to you, mine own
sweet Cousin, again, for to keep by you; and over that I send you the
blessing that our Lady gave her dear son, and ever well to fare. I pray
you greet well my horse and pray him to give you four of his years to
help you withal; and I will at my coming home give him four of my years
and four horse loaves till amends. Tell him that I prayed him so. And
Cousin Katherine, I thank you for him, and my wife shall thank you for
him hereafter; for ye do great cost upon him, as is told me. Mine own
sweet Cousin, it was told me but late that ye were at Calais[J] to seek
me, but could not see me nor find me; forsooth ye might have comen to my
counter, and there ye should both find me and see me, and not have
faulted of me; but ye sought me in a wrong Calais, and that ye should
well know if ye were here and saw this Calais, as would God ye were and
some of them with you that were with you at your gentle Calais. I pray
you, gentle Cousin, commend me to the clock, and pray him to amend his
unthrifty manners; for he strikes ever in undue time, and he will be
ever afore, and that is a shrewd condition. Tell him without he amend
his condition that he will cause strangers to avoid and come no more
there. I trust to you that he shall amend against mine coming, the which
shall be shortly, with all hands and all feet, with God's grace. My very
faithful Cousin, I trust to you that though all I have not remembered my
right worshipful mistress your mother afore in this letter, that ye will
of your gentleness recommend me to her mistresship as many times as it
shall please you: and ye may say, if it please you, that in Whitsun week
next I intend to the mart ward. And I trust you will pray for me; for I
shall pray for you and, so it may be, none so well. And Almighty Jesu
make you a good woman and send you many good years and long to live in
health and virtue to his pleasure. At great Calais, on this side on the
sea, the first day of June, when every man was gone to his dinner, and
the clock smote nine, and all your household cried after me and bade me
'Come down, come down to dinner at once!'--and what answer I gave them,
ye know it of old.

[Footnote J: Possibly an inn with that name (?).]

By your faithful Cousin and lover Thomas Betson. I send you this ring
for a token.

So ending, Thomas Betson smiled, dropped a kiss on the seal and
inscribed his letter, 'To my faithful and heartily beloved cousin
Katherine Riche at Stonor, this letter be delivered in haste.'[14]

Henceforth there begins a charming triangular correspondence between
Betson and Stonor and Dame Elizabeth Stonor, in which family news and
business negotiations are pleasantly mingled. Dame Elizabeth and Betson
were on the best of terms, for they had been old friends before her
second marriage. A special chamber was kept for him at Stonor, and by an
affectionate anticipation she often refers to him as 'My son Stonor'.
Almost all her letters to her husband contain news of him--how he took
his barge at 8 a.m. in the morning and God speed him, how no writing has
come from him these eight days, how he has now written about the price
to be paid for forty sacks of Cotswold wool, how he recommends him to
Sir William and came home last Monday. Sometimes he is entrusted with
the delicate business of interviewing Dame Elizabeth's mother, a
difficult old lady with a tongue; 'God send her,' says Thomas, mopping
his brow, after one of these interviews, 'once a merry countenance or
shortly to the Minories[K]!' After another he writes to Dame Elizabeth:
'Sith I came home to London I met with my lady your mother and God wot
she made me right sullen cheer with her countenance whiles I was with
her; methought it long till I was departed. She break out to me of her
old "ffernyeres" and specially she brake to me of the tale I told her
between the vicar that was and her; she said the vicar never fared well
sith, he took it so much to heart. I told her a light answer again and
so I departed from her. I had no joy to tarry with her. She is a fine
merry woman, but ye shall not know it nor yet find it, nor none of yours
by that I see in her[15].' It was the faithful Betson, too, who was
chosen to look after his Katherine's little sister Anne when she was ill
in London, and he writes home asking for her clothes--'She hath need
unto them and that knoweth our Lord'--and complaining of the old
grandmother's behaviour: 'If my lady your mother meet my cousin Anne she
will say no more but "God's blessing have ye and mine', and so go her
way forth, as though she had no joy of her[16]." It was Betson, too, who
escorted Dame Elizabeth, when need was, from Windsor to London and wrote
to her husband: 'By the way we were right merry, thanked be God, and so
with his mercy we mean here to be merry for the season that my lady is
here, and when your mastership is ready to come hitherwards, we here
shall so welcome you that the season of your abiding shall not be
noisome, with God's grace[17].' Whereupon Sir William sends a present of
capons by the carrier to assist the merriment, and Betson reports, 'Sir,
I took two capons, but they were not the best, as ye counselled me by
your letter to take, and indeed to say the truth I could not be
suffered. My lady your wife is reasonably strong waxed, the Lord be
thanked, and she took her will in that matter like as she doth in all

[Footnote K: The convent of Minoresses, or Franciscan nuns, outside

There are, indeed, a hundred evidences of the warmth of Betson's
affection for the Stonors and of the simple piety of his character.
Sometimes he ventures to give them good advice. Dame Elizabeth was
somewhat uplifted by her elevation from the ranks of the mercantile
bourgeoisie to a place among the country gentry, and was apt to be
extravagant, nor was her husband entirely guiltless of running up bills.
We hear of the ale brewer and the bread baker calling daily upon his
agent for money, and on one occasion the Stonors owed over L12 to
Betson's own brother, a vintner, for various pipes of red and white
wine and a butt of Rumney[L][19]. So Thomas writes to Dame Elizabeth, on
his way to the mart: 'Our blessed lord Jesus Christ preserve you both in
honour and worship virtuously to continue in God's pleasure and also to
send you good and profitable counsel and grace to do hereafter. This is
and shall be my prayer forsooth every day; your honour and worship of
countenance hereafter sticketh as nigh mine heart as doth any friend,
man or other about you, by my troth, our blessed Lord so help me. I will
avise you, Madame, to remember large expenses and beware of them, and in
likewise my master your husband; it is well done ye remember him of
them, for divers considerations, as ye know both right well. And our
blessed Lord be your comforter and help in all your good work.
Amen.'[20] A month later he hears that William Stonor has been ill and
writes to sympathize with Dame Elizabeth: 'And if I could do anything
here that might be to his pleasure and yours, I would I knew it and it
should be done withouten fail. Truly your discomfort is not my comfort,
God knoweth it. Nevertheless your ladyship must cause him to be merry
and of glad cheer, and to put away all fantasies and unthrifty thoughts,
that comes no good of, but only hurtful. A man may hurt himself by
riotous means; it is good to beware.'[21]

[Footnote L: Greek wine.]

Meanwhile what of little Katherine Riche? She recurs over and over in
Thomas Betson's letters. Occasionally she is in disgrace, for she was
not handy with her pen. 'I am wroth with Katherine,' writes he to her
mother, 'because she sendeth me no writing. I have to her divers times
and for lack of answer I wax weary; she might get a secretary if she
would and if she will not, it shall put me to less labour to answer her
letters again.'[22] But the important thing is that she grows steadily
older, though not quickly enough to please our lover. On Trinity Sunday
in 1478 he writes to Dame Elizabeth: 'I remember her full oft, God
know[eth] it. I dreamed once she was thirty winters of age and when I
woke I wished she had been but twenty and so by likelihood I am sooner
like to have my wish than my dream, the which I beseech Almighty Jesu
heartily when it shall please Him'[23]; and to the lady's stepfather he
writes a month later: 'I beseech you to remember my cousin Katherine. I
would she did well, God knoweth it, and ye deme, as I trow, if I had
found her at home here my comfort should have been the more; but I thank
God of all. My pain is the more; I must needs suffer as I have done in
times past, and so will I do for God's sake and hers.'[24] However,
Katherine was now fifteen years of age and was sufficiently grown up to
wed, and the next letter, written a week later to Dame Elizabeth, shows
us Thomas Betson beginning to set his house in order and getting
exceedingly bothered about laying in her trousseau, a business with
which Dame Elizabeth had, it seems, entrusted the future bridegroom.

Madam, and it like you, I understand by your writing that it will be the
latter end of August or your ladyship can come here to London; and if it
should be so I would be sorry, for I have much to do and I can little
skill to do anything that longeth to the matter ye wot of [evidently the
preparations for Katherine] ... I must beseech your ladyship to send me
[your advice] how I shall be demeaned in such things as shall belong
unto my cousin Katherine, and how I shall provide for them. She must
have girdles, three at the least, and how they shall be made I know not,
and many other things she must have, ye know well what they be, in faith
I know not; by my troth, I would it were done, liever than more than it
shall cost.... And as for the sending hither of my Cousin Katherine,
your ladyship may do therein as it shall please you. I would she knew as
much as you know, forsooth, and then she should do some good and help me
in many things when she come.... Also, madam, as ye write me the
courteous dealing of my master with my Cousin Katherine, etc., truly I
am very glad thereof and I pray God heartily thank him therefore, for he
hath ever been lovingly disposed [unto] her, and so I beseech God ever
continue him and also my Cousin Katherine to deserve it unto him by her
goodly demeanour and womanly disposition, as she can do right well if
her list, and so saith every body that praiseth her.[25]

The note of pride in the last words is as engaging as the impatience of
the harassed male faced with the choosing of girdles. Even more charming
is the letter which he wrote the same day to Sir William Stonor. He is a
little incoherent with joy and gratitude, full of regrets that business
keeps him from Stonor and good wishes for the health of the family. 'I
fare like a sorry piper,' he says. 'When I begin I cannot leave, but
yet once again our blessed Lord be your speed and your help,' Of
Katherine he writes thus:

I understand by the worshipful report of your mastership the
[be]haviours of my cousin Katherine unto you, to my lady your wife and
to all other, etc.; and truly it is to me right joyful and comfortable
gladness to hear of her and I beseech our blessed Lord ever to preserve
her in all virtue and good living to his pleasure, and to reward your
mastership with heaven at your ending, for your good disposition to
herwards in good exhortations giving. And that I wot well of old, or
else truly she could not be of that disposition, virtuous and goodly,
her youth remembered and excused.... Sir, remember your mastership well
what ye have written of my Cousin Katherine; truly I shall when I speak
with her, tell her every word, and if I find the contrary. Our vicar
here, so God help me, shall cry out upon her[M] within this ten weeks
and less, and by that time I shall be ready in every point, by God's
grace, and so I would she were, forsooth ye may believe me of it.[26]

[Footnote M: I.e. call the banns.]

This letter was written on June 24, 1478, and Thomas probably married
his little Katherine in August or September, for when Dame Elizabeth
writes to her husband on October 5, she says, 'My son Betson and his
wife recommend them to you'[27] The poor child was to learn soon enough
some of the sorrows of a wife, for a year later Thomas Betson fell
dangerously ill, and she was nursing him and looking after his business
for all the world as though she were a grave matron and not a bride of
sixteen. Moreover, she must already have been expecting the birth of her
eldest son. William Stonor's attitude towards his partner's illness is
not without humour. He was torn between anxiety for the life of a friend
and an even greater anxiety that Betson should not die without setting
straight the business obligations between them. We hear of the illness
and of Katherine's labours in a letter from one of Stonor's agents to
his master:

Sir, according to the commandment of your mastership, we were at Stepney
by nine of the clock; at such time as we came thither we saw the
gentleman forthwith, and in good faith he made us good cheer as a sick
man might by countenance notwithstanding, for in good faith we saw by
his demeanour that he might not prosper in this world, for Mistress
Bevice and other gentlewomen and his uncle were of the same opinion. And
we desired and prayed him to be of good comfort and so comforted him as
heartily as we could in your name and in my lady's, and so we departed
from the chamber down into the hall, and he fell into a great slumbering
and was busily moved in his spirits. And at eleven of the clock I called
his uncle out of his bed into the gentleman's chamber, and I asked his
advice and my mistress his wife, of the stock and of the demeanour
thereof for the year and the half that is last past. And touching the
stock he confessed that it was L1,160, wherein at the sight of your
acquittance in discharging of him and all his doers that shall be behind
him, the said stock shall be ready. And as for the occupation of it, as
he will answer between God and devil, the book that he bought it by ye
shall be privy thereto; and the book that he sold by ye shall be also
privy to, which two books shall be his judges, which remain in the
keeping of my mistress his wife's hands under lock and key and other
bills and obligations according, concerning the surety for divers
payments to be made to divers merchants, as the said lord saith.... And
as for the plate my mistress Jane [probably Jane Riche, the younger
sister of Katherine] and I have caused it to be taken up and set in
surety, save that that must needs by occupied.

He sends to Sir William for information about two sums of L80 each owed
by Betson to his master and mistress, and adds:

I trust to Jesu he shall endure till the messenger come again; longer
the physicians have not determined. The executors be three persons, my
mistress his wife, Humphrey Starkey, Recorder of London, Robert Tate,
merchant of Calais; notwithstanding I moved him, between him and me and
mistress Jane, that he should break this testament and make my mistress
his wife sole executrix. What will be done therein as yet I cannot
speak, but I shall do as I can, with God's grace.[28]

There is something unexpected and a little vulture-like about this
gathering of creditors and seizing of plate about the death-bed of a man
who had always, after all, shown himself exceedingly affectionate
towards the Stonors and devoted to their interests, and who was now my
lady's son-in-law. The attempt to make the young wife of sixteen sole
executrix, so that she might be completely in her family's hands and
without the counsel of two experienced and disinterested merchants, has
a somewhat sinister air. The intrigues went on, and three days later
the agent writes again. It is pleasant to observe that bad-tempered old
Mistress Croke, Dame Elizabeth's mother, was not unmindful of Betson's
forbearance during those visits when she had railed upon him with her
sharp tongue:

As for the tidings that is here, I trust to God it shall be very good.
On Thursday my lady Croke came to Stepney and brought with her Master
Brinkley to see Betson, and in faith he was a very sick man; and ere he
departed he gave him plasters to his head, to his stomach and to his
belly, [so] that he all that night was in a quiet rest. And he came to
him again on Friday ... and he was well amended and so said all the
people that were about him. Notwithstanding he will not determine him
whether he shall live or die as yet, but he may keep him alive till
Tuesday noon, he will undertake him. The cause that I write to you now
rather was because I had no certainty. Sir, there hath been many special
labours and secret i-made, sithen mistress Jane and I were come, to the
contrary disposition that we come for. I cannot write the plain[nes]s of
them as yet, for my mistress Betson attendeth, all things and counsels
laid apart, to abide and trust in your good fatherhood and in my lady,
and furthermore if he depart the world, ye shall hear tidings of her in
as goodly haste as we may purvey for her. And whether he die or live, it
is necessary and behoveful that mistress Jane depart not from her into
[i.e. until] such time as the certainty be knowen, for in truth divers
folks, which ye shall know hereafter and my lady, both thus hath and
would exhort her to a contrarier disposition, had not we been here by
time. And mistress Jane is worthy of much thank.[29]

However, all the schemings were premature, for Betson happily recovered.
On October 10 the 'prentice' Henham writes: 'My master Betson is right
well amended, blessed be Jesus, and he is past all doubts of sickness
and he takes the sustenance right well, and as for physicians, there
come none unto him, for he hath no need of them.'[30] But another death
was at hand to break the close association between Thomas Betson and the
Stonors, for at the end of the year the kind, extravagant, affectionate
Dame Elizabeth died. It is a surprising fact that her death seems to
have brought to a close the business partnership between her husband and
her son-in-law. Henceforth the only references to Thomas Betson in the
Stonor papers are occasional notes of his debts to Stonor: doubtless he
had bought Sir William's share in their joint business. On March 10,
1480, he acknowledged obligations of L2,835 9s. 0d. to Stonor, and in
1482 he still owed L1,200.[31] It is impossible to guess why the
relationship, which was an affectionate personal friendship as well as a
business tie, should have come to such a sudden end. As the editor of
the _Stonor Letters_ remarks, 'The sincerity and honesty of Betson's
character as revealed in his letters, forbids one to suppose that he was
to blame.'

Such was the more private and domestic side of Thomas Betson's life; but
it tells us little (save in occasional references to the Fellowship of
the Staple or the price of Cotswold wool) about that great company with
which this chapter began; and since he stands here as a type as well as
an individual, we must needs turn now to his public and business life,
and try to find out from more indirect evidence how a Merchant of the
Staple went about his business. The stapler, who would make a good
livelihood, must do two things, and give his best attention to both of
them: first, he must buy his wool from the English grower, then he must
sell it to the foreign buyer. Some of the best wool in England came from
the Cotswolds, and when you are a Merchant of the Staple you enjoy
bargaining for it, whether you want the proceeds of the great summer
clip or of the fells after the autumn sheep-killing. So Thomas Betson
rides off to Gloucestershire in the soft spring weather, his good sorrel
between his knees, and the scent of the hawthorn blowing round him as he
goes. Other wool merchants ride farther afield--into the long dales of
Yorkshire to bargain with Cistercian abbots for the wool from their huge
flocks, but he and the Celys swear by Cotswold fells (he shipped 2,348
of them to London one July 'in the names of Sir William Stonor knight
and Thomas Betson, in the _Jesu_ of London, John Lolyngton master under
God'). May is the great month for purchases, and Northleach the great
meeting-place of staplers and wool dealers. It is no wonder that
Northleach Church is so full of woolmen's brasses, for often they knelt
there, and often the village hummed with the buyers and sellers,
exchanging orders and examining samples. The Celys bought chiefly from
two Northleach wool dealers, William Midwinter and John Busshe. The
relations between dealers and sellers were often enough close and
pleasant: Midwinter even occasionally tried to provide a customer with a
bride as well as with a cargo, and marriageable young ladies were not
unwilling to be examined over a gallon of wine and much good cheer at
the inn.[32] It is true that Midwinter was apt to be restive when his
bills remained for too long unpaid, but he may be forgiven for that.
Thomas Betson favoured the wool fells of Robert Turbot of Lamberton,[33]
and dealt also with one John Tate, with Whyte of Broadway (another
famous wool village),[34] and with John Elmes, a Henley merchant well
known to the Stonors. Midwinter, Busshe, and Elmes were all wool
dealers, or 'broggers'--middlemen, that is to say, between the farmers
who grew and the staplers who bought wool, but often the staplers dealt
directly with individual farmers, buying the small man's clip as well as
the great man's, and warm friendships sprang from the annual visits,
looked forward to in Yorkshire dale and Cotswold valley. It strikes a
pleasant note when Richard Russell, citizen and merchant of York, leaves
in his will, 'for distribution among the farmers of Yorkes Walde, from
whom I bought wool 20 l., and in the same way among the farmers of
Lyndeshay 10 l.' (1435).[35]

The 'Cely Letters' give a mass of information about the wool buying at
Northleach. In the May of the same year in which Betson's partnership
with Stonor would seem to have ended, old Richard Cely was up there
doing business and reporting it to his son, 'Jorge Cely at Caleys'.

I greet you well and I have received a letter from you writ
at Calais the 13th day of May (1480), the which letter I have
well understood of your being at the marts and of the sale of
my middle wool, desired by John Destermer and John Underbay.
Wherefore by the grace of God I am abusied for to ship this
foresaid 29 sarplers, the which I bought of William Midwinter
of Northleach, 26 sarplers, the which is fair wool, as the
wool packer Will Breten saith to me, and also the 3 sarplers
of the rector's is fair wool, much finer wool nor was the
year before, the which I shipped afore Easter last past. The
shipping is begun at London, but I have none shipped as yet,
but I will after these holy days, for the which I will ye
order for the freight and other costs. This same day your
brother Richard Cely is rid to Northleach for to see and cast
a sort of fell for me and another sort of fell for you.[36]

On another occasion he writes: 'By your letter you avise me for to buy
wool in Cotswold, for which I shall have of John Cely his gathering 30
sack, and of Will Midwinter of Northleach 40 sack. And I am avised to
buy no more; wool in Cotswold is at great price, 13s. 4d. a tod, and
great riding for wool in Cotswold as was any year this seven year.'[37]
What a picture it calls up of merchants trotting along the roads and
looking as Chaucer often saw them look:

A Marchant was ther with a forked berd,
In motteleye and hye on horse he sat,
Upon his heed a Flaundryssh bever hat,
His boots clasped faire and fetisly;
His resons he spak ful solempnely,
Sounynge alway thencrees of his wynnyng.

Often at Northleach Betson must have encountered his brethren of the
Staple, the staid old merchant Richard Cely among the rest, and son
George who rides with 'Meg', his hawk, on his wrist, and has a horse
called 'Bayard' and another called 'Py'; and perhaps also John Barton of
Holme beside Newark, the proud stapler who set as a 'posy' in the
stained glass windows of his house this motto:

I thank God and ever shall
It is the sheepe hath payed for all;[38]

though indeed it is unlikely that he came as far south as the Cotswolds
for his wool. Sometimes also Betson meets upon the road his rivals,
stout, self-possessed Flemings and thin sleek Lombards with black eyes
and gesticulating hands, who have no business in the Cotswolds at all,
but ought to be buying wool in the mart at Calais. But they come, and
all good Englishmen are angry at their tricks and angrier still perhaps
at their successful trade. 'I have not as yet packed my wool in London,'
writes old Richard Cely on October 29, 1480; 'nor have I not bought this
year a lock of wool, for the wool of Cotswold is bought by Lombards,
wherefore I have the less haste for to pack my wool at London';[39] and
his son writes to him on November 16 from Calais: 'There is but little
Cotswold wool at Calais and I understand Lombards has bought it up in
England.'[40] It is true that the Celys, other English merchants too,
are not unwilling to conclude private bargains from time to time with
foreign buyers in England. Two years later their agent, William Cely,
writes to advise them that two Flemish merchants are now trying to buy
in England contrary to the ordinance, and that those in authority at
Calais have got wind of it, and therefore his masters must take care and
make Wyllykyn and Peter Bale pay at Calais, 'but as for your dealings
knoweth no man, without they search Peter Bale's books.'[41] The upright
Betson no doubt eschewed such tricks and resented particularly the
clever usurious Lombards, so full of financial dodges to trick the
English merchant, for did they not buy the wool in England on credit,
riding about as they list in the Cotswolds?

In Cotteswolde also they ryde aboute
And al Englonde, and bien wythouten doute,
What them liste, wythe fredome and fraunchise
More then we Englisshe may getyn in any wyse.

And then did they not carry the wool to Flanders and sell it for ready
money at a loss of five per cent, thereafter lending out this money at
heavy usury, mostly to the English merchants themselves, so that by the
time pay day came in England, they had realized a heavy profit?

And thus they wold, if we will beleve
Wypen our nose with our owne sleve,
Thow this proverbe be homly and undew,
Yet be liklynesse it is forsoth fulle trew.[42]

The next serious piece of business Thomas Betson must take in hand is
the packing and shipping of his wool to Calais. Here he found himself
enmeshed in the regulations of the company and the Crown, ever on the
look-out for fraud in the packing or description of the staple product.
The wool had to be packed in the county from which it came, and there
were strict regulations against mixing hair and earth or rubbish with
it. The collectors appointed by the company for the different
wool-growing districts, and sworn in before the Exchequer, rode round
and sealed each package, so that it could not be opened without breaking
the seal. Then the great bales were carried on the backs of pack-horses
'by the ancient trackways over the Wiltshire and Hampshire Downs, which
had been used before the Roman conquest, and thence through Surrey and
Kent to the Medway ports by the Pilgrims' Way.' At the different ports
the collectors of customs were ready to enter on their rolls the names
of the merchants shipping wool, together with the quantity and
description of wool shipped by each.[43] Some of the wool came to London
itself, where many of the staplers had offices in Mark Lane (which is a
corruption of Mart Lane) and was weighed for the assessment of the
customs and subsidy at the Leadenhall.[44] In this business Thomas
Betson was helped by Stonor's three assistants or 'prentices', as they
call themselves, Thomas Henham, Goddard Oxbridge, and Thomas Howlake,
for the last of whom he had a warm corner in his heart, because the
young man was gentle to little Katherine Riche. These men were sometimes
at the Stonors' London warehouse and sometimes at their house in Calais,
and they saved Betson a good deal of trouble, being experienced enough
to oversee both the packing of wool in London and its sale in Calais.

To Calais the wool thus packed, and weighed and marked and assessed by
the customs officer, was carried in the ships of Calais itself, or of
the little ports on the east or south-eastern coast of England, many of
which are mere villages today. For ships put out not only from Hull and
Colchester, but from Brightlingsea, Rotherhithe, Walberswick in Suffolk,
Rainham in Essex, Bradwell, Maidstone, Milton, Newhithe, and Milhall. In
August 1478, the Celys were paying the masters of twenty-one different
ships for the freight of their sarplers of wool after the summer
clip.[45] All through the summer the shipping went on, and right up to
Christmas; but during the winter months the merchants were mostly
sending over fells or sheepskins, after the great slaughter of sheep and
cattle which took place at Martinmas, when housewives salted down their
meat for the winter and farmers made delivery of the fells and hides,
for which the staplers had long ago bargained. Very often merchants'
letters and customs accounts give us the names of these doughty little
ships and their cargoes. In the October of 1481, for instance, the Celys
were shipping a consignment of fells:

Right worshipful sir, after due recommendation I lowly recommend unto
you, letting you understand that my master hath shipped his fells at the
port of London now at this shipping in October ..., which fells ye must
receive and pay the freight first by the grace of God, in the 'Mary' of
London, William Sordyvale master, 7 packs, sum 2800, lying be aft the
mast, one pack lieth up rest and some of that pack is summer fells
marked with an O, and then lieth 3 packs fells of William Daltons and
under them lieth the other 6 packs of my masters. Item in the
'Christopher' of Rainham, Harry Wylkyns master, 7 packs and a half
Cots[wold] fell, sum 3000 pelt, lying be aft the mast, and under them
lieth a 200 fells of Welther Fyldes, William Lyndys man of Northampton,
and the partition is made with small cords. Item, in the 'Thomas' of
Maidstone, Harry Lawson master, 6 pokes, sum 2400 pelt, whereof lieth 5
packs next before the mast under hatches, no man above them, and one
pack lieth in the stern sheet; of the six packs fells be some summer
fells marked with an O likewise. Item, in the 'Mary Grace' of London,
John Lokyngton master 6 packs, sum 2400 pelt, lying be aft under the
fells of Thomas Graunger, the partition between them is made with red;
sum of the fells my master hath shipped at this time 26 packs and a half
whereof be winter fells of the country 561 fells and they be marked with
an C, and of summer fells there should be 600 and more, but part of them
be left behind, for we have two packs we could have no appointment for
them, and all the summer fells be marked with an O. Item, sir, ye shall
receive of the 'Mary' of Rainham, John Danyell master, your _male_
[trunk] with your gear and a Essex cheese marked with my master's mark.

And so on, with details of the number of fells shipped in like manner by
the _Michael_ of Hull and the _Thomas_ of Newhithe, where they lay 'next
the mast aftward under the fells of Thomas Betson's', over 11,000 fells
in all.[46]

How invigorating is such a list of ships. Cargoes are the most romantic
of topics, whether they be apes and ivory and peacocks, or 'cheap tin
trays'; and since the day that Jason sailed to Colchis fleeces have ever
been among the most romantic of cargoes. How they smack of the salt too,
those old master mariners, Henry Wilkins, master of the _Christopher_ of
Rainham, John Lollington, master of the _Jesu_ of London, Robert Ewen,
master of the _Thomas_ of Newhithe, and all the rest of them, waving
their hands to their wives and sweethearts as they sail out of the
sparkling little bays, with the good woolsacks abaft or under
hatches--shipmen, all of them, after Chaucer's heart:

But of his craft, to rekene wel his tydes
His stremes and his daungers hym besides,
His herberwe and his moone, his lodemenage,
Ther was noon swich from Hulle to Cartage.
Hardy he was, and wys to undertake:
With many a tempest hadde his berd been shake;
He knew wel alle the havenes, as they were,
From Gootland to the Cape of Fynystere,
And every cryke in Britaigne and in Spayne.
His barge y-cleped was the Maudelayne.

Their ships were doubtless like the _Margaret Cely_, which the two Cely
brothers bought and called after their mother, for the not excessive sum
of L28, exclusive of rigging and fittings. She carried a master,
boatswain, cook, and sixteen jolly sailor-men, and she kept a good look
out for pirates and was armed with cannon and bows, bills, five dozen
darts, and twelve pounds of gunpowder! She was victualled with salt
fish, bread, wheat and beer, and she plied with the Celys' trade to
Zealand, Flanders, and Bordeaux.[47] She must have been about two
hundred tons, but some of the other little ships were much smaller, for,
as the learned editor of the _Cely Papers_ tells us, 'The ships of the
little Medway ports could scarcely have been of thirty tons to navigate
the river safely; the "Thomas" of Maidstone can have been only a barge,
if she had to pass Aylesford Bridge.'[48] But they navigated the channel
and dodged the pirates blithely enough, though often Thomas Betson at
Calais was nervous about the safe arrival of the wool fleet. Like
Chaucer's merchant,

He wolde the see were kept for any thing
Betwixe Middelburgh and Orewelle.

Side by side with George or Richard Cely he must often have strained his
eyes from the quay, with the salt wind blowing out the feather in his
cap, and breathed a thanksgiving to God when the ships hove in sight.
'And, Sir,' he writes once to Stonor from London, 'thanked be the good
Lord, I understand for certain that our wool shipped be comen in ... to
Calais. I would have kept the tidings till I had comen myself, because
it is good, but I durst not be so bold, for your mastership now against
this good time may be glad and joyful of these tidings, for in truth I
am glad and heartily thank God of it.'[49] The 'prentice' Thomas Henham
writes likewise three weeks later: 'I departed from Sandwich the 11th
day of April and so came unto Calais upon Sher Thursday[N] last with the
wool ships, and so blessed be Jesu I have received your wools in safety.
Furthermore, Sir, if it please your mastership for to understand this, I
have received your wools as fair and as whole as any man's in the fleet.
Moreover, Sir, if it please your mastership for to understand how your
wool was housed ever deal by Easter even. Furthermore, Sir, if it please
your mastership for to understand that the shipman be content and paid
of their freight.'[50] The Celys write in the same strain too: 'This day
the 16th of August the wool fleet came to Calais both of London and
Ipswich in safety, thanked be God, and this same day was part landed and
it riseth fair yet, thanked be God.'[51] Their letters tell us too what
danger it was that they feared. 'I pray Jesu send you safe hither and
soon,' writes Richard to his 'right well beloved brother George', on
June 6, 1482. 'Robert Eryke was chased with Scots between Calais and
Dover. They scaped narrow.'[52] There are many such chases recorded, and
we hear too of wool burnt under hatches or cast overboard in a

[Footnote N: I.e. Shrove Thursday.]

Thomas Betson and the Celys travelled very often across the Channel in
these ships, which carried passengers and letters, and they were almost
as much at home in Calais as in London. When in Calais English merchants
were not allowed to live anywhere they liked, all over the town. The
Company of the Staple had a list of regular licensed 'hosts', in whose
houses they might stay. Usually a number of merchants lived with each
host, the most potent, grave, and reverend seniors dining at a high
table, and smaller fry at side tables in the hall. Sometimes they
quarrelled over terms, as when William Cely writes home one day to
Richard and George in London:

Item. Sir, please it you to understand that here is a variance betwixt
our host Thomas Graunger and the fellowship, of our lodging, for Thomas
Graunger promised us at his coming in to our lodging that we should pay
no more for our board but 3s. 4d. a week at the high table, and 2s. 6d.
at the side table, and now he saith he will have no less than 4s. a week
at the high table and 40d. at the side table, wherefore the fellowship
here will depart into other lodgings, some to one place and some to
another, William Dalton will be at Robert Torneys and Ralph Temyngton
and master Brown's man of Stamford shall be at Thomas Clarke's and so
all the fellowship departs save I, wherefore I let your masterships have
knowledge, that ye may do as it shall like you best.[54]

But Thomas Betson never fell out with his hosts, whose only complaint of
him must have been that he sat long over his love letters and came down
late to dinner.

There was business enough for him to do at Calais. First of all, when
the wool was landed, it had to be inspected by the Royal officers, to
see that it had been properly labelled, and their skilled packers
examined, repacked, and resealed the bales. This was an anxious moment
for merchants who were conscious of inferior wool among their bulging
sarplers. The honest Betson, we may be certain, never cheated, but the
Celys knew more than a little about the tricks of the trade, and one
year, when the Lieutenant of Calais took out sarpler No. 24, which their
agent, William Cely, knew to be poor wool, in order to make a test, he
privily substitutes No. 8, which was 'fair wool' and changed the labels,
so that he was soon able to write home, 'Your wool is awarded by the
sarpler that I cast out last.'[55] No wonder Gower said that Trick was
regent of the Staple,

Siq'en le laines maintenir
Je voi plusours descontenir
Du loyalte la viele usance.[56]

Then there was the custom and subsidy to be paid to the Mayor and
Fellowship of the Staple, who collected it for the King. And then came
the main business of every merchant, the selling of the wool. Thomas
Betson preferred, of course, to sell it as quickly as possible, as the
ships came in, but sometimes the market was slow and wool remained for
some months on his hands. Such wool from the summer sheep shearing,
shipped in or before the month of February following, and remaining
unsold by April 6th, was classed as old wool, and the Fellowship of the
Staple ordained that foreign buyers must take one sarpler of old wool
with every three of new; and although the Flemings grumbled and wanted
to take one of old to five of new, they had to put up with the
regulation.[57] A great deal of Betson's business would be done at the
mart of Calais itself, where he met with the dignified Flemish
merchants, scions of old families with estates of their own, and the
more plebeian merchants of Delft and Leyden, and the wool dealers from
sunny Florence and Genoa and Venice. Among the best customers both of
the Stonors and the Celys (for they are mentioned in the letters of
both) were Peter and Daniel van de Rade of Bruges. Thomas Howlake on one
occasion reports a sale of four sarplers of fine Cotswold wool to them
at 19 marks the sack, with a rebate of 4-1/2 cloves on the sack of 52,
and adds: 'Sir, an it please you, as for the foresaid merchants that
have bought your wool, [they] be as good as any that came out of
Flanders and for that I have showed them the more favour and given them
the more respite of that.'[58]

The staplers, however, did not do business at Calais alone, but rode
also to the great fairs at Antwerp, Bruges, and the country round.
'Thomas Betson,' writes Henham to his master, 'came unto Calais the last
day of April and so he departed in good health unto Bruges mart the
first day of May.'[59]

But so bifel this marchant on a day
Shoop hym to make redy his array
Toward the toun of Brugges for to fare,
To byen there a porcioun of ware--[60]

only it was to 'sellen' a portion that Betson went. He himself writes
Sir William: 'Liketh it you to wit that on Trinity even I came to Calais
and, thanked be the good Lord, I had a full fair passage, and, Sir, with
God's might I intend on Friday next to depart to the mart-wards. I
beseech the good Lord be my speed and help me in all my works. And, Sir,
I trust to God's mercy, if the world be merry here, to do somewhat that
shall be both to your profit and mine. As yet there cometh but few
merchants here; hereafter with God's grace there will come more. I shall
lose no time when the season shall come, I promise you.... And, Sir,
when I come from the mart I shall send you word of all matters by the
mercy of our Lord.'[61] At the fairs Betson would meet with a great
crowd of merchants from all over Europe, though often enough political
disturbances made the roads dangerous and merchants ran some risk of
being robbed. The English traders were commonly reputed to be the best
sellers and customers at the fairs of Flanders and Brabant, though the
Flemings sometimes complained of them, and said that the staplers made
regulations forbidding their merchants to buy except on the last day,
when the Flemish sellers, anxious to pack and be off, let their goods go
at insufficient prices.[62] The author of the _Libelle of Englyshe
Polycye_ boasts proudly of the custom brought by the English to
these marts:

But they of Holonde at Calyse byene oure felles,
And oure wolles, that Englyshe men hem selles...
And wee to martis of Braban charged bene
Wyth Englysshe clothe, fulle gode and feyre to seyne,
Wee bene ageyne charged wyth mercerye
Haburdasshere ware and wyth grocerye,
To whyche martis, that Englisshe men call feyres
Iche nacion ofte makethe here repayeres,
Englysshe and Frensh, Lumbards, Januayes [Genoese],
Cathalones, theder take here wayes,
Scottes, Spaynardes, Iresshmen there abydes,
Wythe grete plente bringing of salt hydes,
And I here saye that we in Braban lye,
Flaunders and Seland, we bye more marchaundy
In common use, then done all other nacions;
This have I herde of marchaundes relacions,
And yff the Englysshe be not in the martis,
They bene febelle and as nought bene here partes;
For they bye more and fro purse put owte
More marchaundy than alle other rowte.[63]

Fairs were held at different times in different places, but there were
during the year four great fair seasons corresponding to the four
seasons in the year.[64] There was the Cold mart in the winter, to which
Thomas Betson rode muffled in fur, with his horse's hoofs ringing on the
frosty roads; there was the Pask (_Pasques,_ Easter) mart in the spring,
when he whistled blithely and stuck a violet in his cap; there was the
Synxon (St John) mart in the summer, round about St John the Baptist's
Day, when he was hot and mopped his brow, and bought a roll of tawny
satin or Lucca silk for Katherine from a Genoese in a booth at Antwerp;
and there was the Balms, or Bammys mart in the autumn, round about the
day of St Remy, whom the Flemings call St Bamis (October 28), when he
would buy her a fur of budge or mink, or a mantle of fine black shanks
from the Hansards at their mart in Bruges. It was at these marts that
the Merchants of the Staple, jaunting about from place to place to meet
buyers for their wool, did a hundred little commissions for their
friends; for folk at home were apt to think that staplers existed to do
their errands for them abroad and to send them presents. One wanted a
pair of Louvain gloves, the other a sugar loaf, the other a pipe of
Gascon wine ('You can get it cheaper over there, my dear'), the other a
yard or two of Holland cloth; while ginger and saffron were always
welcome, and could be bought from the Venetians, whom the Celys spell
'Whenysyans'. Then, of course, there were purchases to be made in the
way of business, such as Calais packthread and canvas from Arras or
Brittany or Normandy to pack the bales of wool.[65] As to the Celys,
Thomas Betson was wont to say that their talk was of nothing but sport
and buying hawks, save on one gloomy occasion, when George Cely rode for
ten miles in silence and then confided to him that over in England his
grey bitch had whelped and had fourteen pups, and then died and the pups
with her.[66]

Between the counting-house in Calais and the fairs and marts of the
country Thomas Betson would dispose of his wool and fells. But his
labour did not end here, for he would now have to embark upon the
complicated business of collecting money from his customers, the Flemish
merchants, and with it paying his creditors in England, the Cotswold
wool dealers. It was customary for the staplers to pay for their wool
by bills due, as a rule, at six months, and Thomas Betson would be hard
put to meet them if the foreign buyers delayed to pay him. Moreover, his
difficulties were inconceivably complicated by the exchanges. We think
we know something about the difficulty of divers and fluctuating
exchanges today, but we can hardly imagine the elaborate calculations
and the constant disputes which racked the brain of a Merchant of the
Staple in the fifteenth century. Not only did the rates between England
and the Continent constantly vary, but, as the editor of the _Cely
Papers_ points out, 'the number of potentates of all kinds who claimed
the privilege of issuing their own coinage and the frequently suspicious
character of what they uttered as gold and silver, made the matter of
adjustment of values difficult for the Celys, who were evidently obliged
to take what they could get.'[67] Only imagine the difficulties of poor
Thomas Betson, when into his counting-house there wandered in turn the
Andrew guilder of Scotland, the Arnoldus gulden of Gueldres (very much
debased), the Carolus groat of Charles of Burgundy, new crowns and old
crowns of France, the David and the Falewe of the Bishopric of Utrecht,
the Hettinus groat of the Counts of Westphalia, the Lewe or French Louis
d'or, the Limburg groat, the Milan groat, the Nimueguen groat, the
Phelippus or Philippe d'or of Brabant, the Plaques of Utrecht, the
Postlates of various bishops, the English Ryall (worth ten shillings),
the Scots Rider or the Rider of Burgundy (so called because they bore
the figure of a man on horseback), the Florin Rhenau of the Bishopric of
Cologne and the Setillers.[68] He had to know the value in English money
of them all, as it was fixed for the time being by the Fellowship, and
most of them were debased past all reason. Indeed, English money enjoyed
an enviable good fame in this respect until Henry VIII began debasing
the coinage for his own nefarious ends. The letters of the Celys are
full of worried references to the exchange, and much we should pity
Thomas Betson. But doubtless he was like Chaucer's bearded merchant:
'Wel koude he in exchaunge sheeldes [French crowns] selle.'


To effect their payments between England and the Netherlands the
staplers used to make use of the excellent banking facilities and
instruments of credit (bills of exchange and so forth), which were
placed at their disposal by Italian and Spanish merchants and by the
English mercers, all of whom combined trading with financial operations.
Thus we find William Cely writing to his masters:


Please your masterships to understand that I have received of John
Delowppys upon payment of the bill, the which is sent me by Adlington
but L300 fleming, whereof I have paid to Gynott Strabant L84 _6s. 6d_.
fleming. Item, I have made you over by exchange with Benynge Decasonn,
Lombard, 180 nobles sterling, payable at usance. I delivered it at _11s.
2-1/2d_. fleming the noble, it amounteth L100 _17s. 6d_. fleming. Item,
I have made you over by exchange in like wise with Jacob van de Base 89
nobles and _6s_. sterling, payable at London at usuance in like wise; I
delivered it at _11s. 2d_. fleming for every noble sterling; it
amounteth fl.--L50 fleming and the rest of your L300 remains still by
me, for I can make you over no more at this season, for here is no more
that will take any money as yet. And money goeth now upon the bourse at
_11s. 3-1/2d_. the noble and none other money but Nimueguen groats,
crowns, Andrew guilders and Rhenish guilders, and the exchange goeth
ever the longer worse and worse. Item, sir, I send you enclosed in this
said letter, the two first letters of the payment of the exchange above
written. Benynge Decasonn's letter is directed to Gabriel Defuye and
Peter Sanly, Genoese, and Jacob van de Base's is directed to Anthony
Carsy and Marcy Strossy, Spaniards; in Lombard Street ye shall hear
of them.[69]

A week later he writes:

I understand your masterships hath taken up by exchange of John Raynold,
mercer, L60 sterling, payable the 25th day of the month and of Deago
Decastron [Diego da Castro, a Spaniard] other L60 sterling, payable the
26th day of the same month, the which shall be both content at the day;
and as for master Lewis More, Lombard, [he] is paid and I have the bill;
his attorney is a wrangling fellow--he would none other money but
Nimueguen groats.[70]

Many a letter such as this must Thomas Betson have written at his
lodgings, sitting so late over his work that he must needs write to his
friends when he ought to be sleeping and date his letters: 'At London,
on our Lady day in the night, when I deem ye were in your bed, for mine
eyne smarted, so God help me.'[71] And when he came to make up his
annual accounts he had the hardest work of all to do. Here is a portrait
of him at his labours:

The thridde day this marchant up ariseth,
And on his nedes sadly hym avyseth,
And up into his countour-hous gooth he,
To rekene with hymself, as wel may be,
Of thilke yeer, how that it with hymn stood,
And how that he despended hadde his good,
And if that he encressed were or noon.
His bookes and his bagges, many oon,
He leith biform hymn on his countyng-bord.
Ful riche was his tresor and his hord,
For which ful faste his countour dore he shette;
And eek he nolde that no man sholde hymn lette
Of his accountes, for the meene tyme;
And thus he sit til it was passed pry me.[72]

Thus was passed the life of a Merchant of the Staple: in riding to the
Cotswold farms for wool; in business at the counting-houses in Marks
Lane; in sailing from London to Calais and from Calais to London again;
in dealing with merchant strangers at the mart in Calais, or riding to
the marts of Flanders in fair time. The great company sheltered him,
arranged his lodging, kept a sharp eye on the quality of his wool, made
rules for his buying and selling, and saw that he had justice in its
court. It was in this setting of hard and withal of interesting work
that Thomas Betson's love story flowered into a happy marriage. He was
not destined to live long after his recovery from the serious illness of
1479; perhaps it left him permanently delicate, for he died some six
years later, in 1486. During her seven years of married life (beginning,
be it remembered, at the age of fifteen), the diligent Katherine had
borne him five children, two sons, Thomas and John, and three daughters,
Elizabeth, Agnes, and Alice. Fortunately Thomas died very comfortably
off, as his will (still preserved in Somerset House) informs us. He had
become a member of the Fishmongers' Company as well as a Merchant of the
Staple, for by his time the great city companies were no longer confined
to persons actually engaged in the trade which each represented. In his
will[73] Thomas Betson leaves money for the repair of the roof loft in
his parish church of All Hallows, Barking, where he was buried, and
'thirty pounds to the garnishing of the Staple Chapel in Our Lady Church
at Calais, to buy some jewel', and twenty pounds to the
'Stockfishmongers' to buy plate. He makes the latter company the
guardian of his children, leaves his house to his wife, and a legacy of
40_s_. to Thomas Henham, his colleague in Stonor's service, and
characteristically gives directions 'for the costs of my burying to be
done not outrageously, but soberly and discreetly and in a mean
[moderate, medium] manner, that it may be unto the worship and laud of
Almighty God.' Katherine, a widow with five children at the age of
twenty-two, married as her second husband William Welbech, haberdasher
(the Haberdashers were a wealthy company), by whom she had another son.
But her heart stayed with the husband who wrote her her first playful
love-letter when she was a child, and on her death in 1510 she directed
that she should be laid by the side of Thomas Betson at All Hallows,
Barking, where three staplers still lie beneath their brasses, although
no trace of him remains.[74] There let them lie, long forgotten, and yet
worthier of memory than many of the armoured knights who sleep under
carved sepulchres in our beautiful medieval churches.

The garlands wither on your brow;
Then boast no more your mighty deeds!
Upon Death's purple altar now
See where the victor-victim bleeds.
Your heads must come
To the cold tomb:
Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in their dust.


_Thomas Paycocke of Coggeshall_


This was a gallant cloathier sure
Whose fame for ever shall endure.

The great and noble trade of cloth-making has left many traces upon the
life of England, architectural, literary, and social. It has filled our
countryside with magnificent Perpendicular churches and gracious
oak-beamed houses. It has filled our popular literature with old wives'
tales of the worthies of England, in which the clothiers Thomas of
Reading and Jack of Newbury rub elbows with Friar Bacon and Robin Hood.
It has filled our shires with gentlemen; for, as Defoe observed, in the
early eighteenth century 'many of the great families who now pass for
gentry in the western counties have been originally raised from and
built up by this truly noble manufacture'. It has filled our census
lists with surnames--Weaver, Webber, Webb, Sherman, Fuller, Walker,
Dyer--and given to every unmarried woman the designation of a spinster.
And from the time when the cloth trade ousted that of wool as the chief
export trade of England down to the time when it was in its turn ousted
by iron and cotton, it was the foundation of England's commercial
greatness. 'Among all Crafts,' says old Deloney, 'this was the only
chief, for that it was the greatest merchandize, by the which our
Country became famous thorowout all Nations.'[1]

Already by the end of the fourteenth century the English clothiers were
beginning to rival those of the Netherlands in the making of fine cloth,
as witness Chaucer's Wife of Bath:

Of clooth-making she hadde swiche an haunt
She passed hem of Ypres and of Gaunt,

and by the end of the sixteenth century all real rivalry was at an end,
for the English manufacture was so clearly victorious. With the
development of the manufacture a change too took place in its
organization. It had never been an easy industry to organize on a gild
basis, because the making of a piece of cloth entailed so many distinct
processes. The preliminary processes of spinning and carding were always
by-industries, performed by women and children in their cottages; but
the weavers, who bought the spun yarn, had their gild; and so had the
fullers, who fulled it; and the shearmen, who finished it; and the dyers
who dyed it. All could not sell the finished piece of cloth, and in the
group of inter-dependent crafts, each with its gild, we sometimes find
the weavers employing the fullers and sometimes the fullers the weavers.
Moreover, since weaving is a much quicker process than spinning, the
weaver often wasted much time and found it hard to collect enough yarn
to keep his loom busy; and, as the market for cloth grew wider and was
no longer confined to the town of the weaver, the need was felt for some
middleman to specialize in the selling of the finished cloth. So by
degrees there grew up a class of men who bought wool in large quantities
and sold it to the weavers, and then by a natural transition began, not
to sell the wool outright, but to deliver it to the weavers to weave, to
the fullers to full, and to the shearmen to finish at a wage, receiving
it back again when the work was done. These men grew rich; they amassed
capital; they could set many folk at work. Soon they began to set to
work all the different workers who combined to make a piece of cloth;
their servants carried wool to the cottages for the women to card and
spin; carried the spun yarn in turn to dyers, weavers, fullers,
shearers; and carried the finished piece of cloth back to the industrial
middleman--the clothier, as he was called--who in his turn disposed of
it to the mercantile middleman, who was called a draper. The clothiers
grew rapidly in wealth and importance, and in certain parts of the
country became the backbone of the middle class. They pursued their
activities in country villages, rather than in the old corporate towns,
for they wished to avoid the restrictions of the gilds, and gradually
the cloth industry migrated almost entirely to the country. In the west
of England and in East Anglia (though not in Yorkshire) it was carried
out by clothiers on this 'putting out' system, right up to the moment
when the Industrial Revolution swept it out of the cottages into the
factories and out of the south into the north. Then the thriving
villages emptied themselves, so that today we must needs re-create again
from scattered traces and old buildings, and still older names, the once
familiar figures of the East Anglian clothier and his swarm of
busy workmen.

Such a familiar figure was once old Thomas Paycocke, clothier, of
Coggeshall in Essex, who died full of years and honour in 1518. His
family originally came from Clare, in Suffolk, but about the middle of
the fifteenth century a branch settled at Coggeshall, a village not far
distant. His grandfather and father would seem to have been grazing
butchers, but he and his brother and their descendants after them
followed 'the truly noble manufacture' of cloth-making, and set an
indelible mark upon the village where they dwelt. Coggeshall lies in the
great cloth-making district of Essex, of which Fuller wrote: 'This
county is charactered like Bethsheba, "She layeth her hand to the
spindle and her hands hold the distaffe."... It will not be amiss to
pray that the plough may go along and the wheel around, that so (being
fed by the one and clothed by the other) there may be, by God's
blessing, no danger of starving in our nation[2] All over Essex there
lay villages famous for cloth-making, Coggeshall and Braintree, Bocking
and Halstead, Shalford and Dedham, and above all Colchester, the great
centre and mart of the trade. The villages throve on the industry and
there was hardly a cottage which did not hum with the spinning wheel,
and hardly a street where you might not have counted weavers' workshops,
kitchens where the rough loom stood by the wall to occupy the goodman's
working hours. Hardly a week but the clatter of the pack-horse would be
heard in the straggling streets, bringing in new stores of wool to be
worked and taking away the pieces of cloth to the clothiers of
Colchester and the surrounding villages. Throughout the fifteenth
century Coggeshall was an important centre, second only to the great
towns of Norwich, Colchester, and Sudbury, and to this day its two inns
are called the 'Woolpack' and the 'Fleece.' We must, as I said, build up
the portrait of Thomas Paycocke and his compeers from scattered traces;
but happily such traces are common enough in many and many an English
village, and in Coggeshall itself they lie ready to our hand. Out of
three things he can be brought to life again--to wit, his house in the
village street, his family brasses in the aisle of the village church,
and his will, which is preserved at Somerset House. A house, a brass, a
will--they seem little enough, but they hold all his history. It is the
greatest error to suppose that history must needs be something written
down; for it may just as well be something built up, and churches,
houses, bridges, or amphitheatres can tell their story as plainly as
print for those who have eyes to read. The Roman villa, excavated after
lying lost for centuries beneath the heel of the unwitting
ploughboy--that villa with its spacious ground-plan, its floors rich
with mosaic patterns, its elaborate heating apparatus, and its shattered
vases--brings home more clearly than any textbook the real meaning of
the Roman Empire, whose citizens lived like this in a foggy island at
the uttermost edge of its world. The Norman castle, with moat and
drawbridge, gatehouse and bailey and keep, arrow slits instead of
windows, is more eloquent than a hundred chronicles of the perils of
life in the twelfth century; not thus dwelt the private gentleman in the
days of Rome. The country manor-house of the fourteenth century, with
courtyard and chapel and hall and dovecote, speaks of an age of peace
once more, when life on a thousand little manors revolved round the
lord, and the great mass of Englishmen went unscathed by the Hundred
Years' War which seamed the fair face of France. Then begin the
merchants' elaborate Perpendicular houses in the towns and villages of
the fifteenth century, standing on the road, with gardens behind them,
and carved beams, great fire-places, and a general air of comfort; they
mark the advent of a new class in English history--the middle class,
thrust between lord and peasant and coming to its own. How the spacious
days of great Elizabeth are mirrored in the beautiful Elizabethan
houses, with their wide wings and large rooms, their chimneys, their
glass windows, looking outwards on to open parks and spreading trees,
instead of inwards on to the closed courtyard. Or go into a house built
or redecorated in the eighteenth century, where you will see Chippendale
chairs and lacquer tables and Chinese wall-papers covered with pagodas
and mandarins; and surely there will come to your mind the age of the
nabobs, the age which John Company had familiarized with the products of
the Far East, the age in which tea ousted coffee as the drink for a
gentleman of fashion, in which Horace Walpole collected porcelain,
Oliver Goldsmith idealized China in 'The Citizen of the World', and Dr
Johnson was called the Great Cham of Literature. Look here upon this
picture and on this: look at that row of jerry-built houses, a hundred
in a row and all exactly alike, of that new-art villa, all roof and
hardly any window, with false bottle glass in its panes; here is the
twentieth century for you. Indeed all the social and very much of the
political history of England may be reconstructed from her architecture
alone; and so I make no apology for calling Thomas Paycocke's house
first-rate historical evidence.

Of much the same type, though less interesting, is the evidence of
monumental brasses, which are to be found in most parts of England and
which abound in East Anglia, the Home Counties, and the Thames
Valley.[3] Their variety is magnificent; brasses of ecclesiastics in
vestments, of doctors of law and divinity and masters of arts in
academic dress and of a few abbots and abbesses; brasses of knights in
Armour; brasses of ladies, with their little dogs at their feet and
dresses which show the changes in fashion from century to century and
make clear all the mysteries of kirtles and cotte-hardies, wimples and
partlets and farthingales and the head-dresses appropriate to each
successive mode. The brasses also, like the houses, bear witness to the
prosperity of the middle class, for in the fourteenth century when
merchants began to build themselves fine houses they began also to bury
themselves under splendid brasses. Finest of all, perhaps, are the
brasses of the wool staplers, with feet resting on woolpack or sheep;
but there are many other merchants too. Mayors and aldermen abound; they
set their merchants' marks upon their tombs as proudly as gentlemen set
their coats of arms, and indeed they had as great cause for pride. You
may see them at their proudest in the famous brass at Lynn, where Robert
Braunch lies between his two wives, and at his feet is incised a scene
representing the feast at which he entertained Edward III royally and
feasted him on peacocks. There is a tailor with his shears, as glorious
as the Crusader's sword, at Northleach, and a wine merchant with his
feet upon a wine cask at Cirencester. There are smaller folk, too, less
dowered with wealth but proud enough of the implements of their craft;
two or three public notaries with penhorn and pencase complete, a

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