The Household Knights of King John

By S. D. Church | Go to book overview

2
RECRUITMENT INTO THE ROYAL MILITARY HOUSEHOLD

Whatever kingship was to the theorists of the middle ages, to Angevin kings its essence was the exercise of personal power. Vis et voluntas were the watchwords of Angevin kingship.1 Since no king, not even the super-energetic Henry II, could be everywhere at once, to exercise personal power the Angevin kings needed the services of trusted men, men who possessed the king's personal seal of approval. There was, of course, no permanent civil service in the modern sense, even if the rudiments of it may be imagined in the clerks of the exchequer and chamber and in the increasing bureaucratisation of government in the twelfth century.2 Kings, therefore, needed to recruit the men who would enable them to wield power, and high on the list of men whom kings needed to recruit were the knights of the royal household.3

The royal household was like a microcosm of the outside world in that underpinning the whole edifice was the fundamental relationship between two men: a senior and a junior, a lord and a man. It was a relationship founded on the oath of fealty, and it was a relationship that demanded not only mutual obligation, but also that most difficult of human emotions to acquire, and most easy to lose, the feeling of mutual trust. Hence the oath of fealty was a personal bond automatically broken on the death of one or other of the contractors.4 Of course in the world outside the household, the emergence and eventual success of demands for inheritance meant that few lords were able to determine the identity of the mass of commended men who held lands from them. But within the household it was a different matter. To be sure, there

____________________
1
Jolliffe, Angevin Kingship, pp. 50–86; R. V. Turner, 'King John's concept of royal authority', History of Political Thought, 17 (1996), pp. 157–78.
2
M. T. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record: England 1066–1307 (Oxford, 2nd edn, 1993), PP. 57–73.
3
Seech. 3.
4
M. Bloch, Feudal Society, trans L. A. Manyon (London, 2nd edn, 1962), p. 161.

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