The Household Knights of King John

By S. D. Church | Go to book overview

4
THE REWARDS OF ROYAL SERVICE 1

Royal service in the middle ages gave considerable scope for individuals to advance both their own and their family's wealth and power.2 Long and loyal service in the king's household could bring great reward. The king had a vast amount of patronage at his disposal which he could use to propel favoured familiares into the ranks of the aristocracy. Indeed, royal service provided the quickest route to wealth and status in medieval society, which is one of the reasons why men strove to obtain a position in the king's entourage. But whilst historians now accept this general premise that the men who served the king in the royal household could be catapulted into the higher ranks of English society, many insist that for the average household knight, the receipt of money in the form of wages and money fiefs was the normal, day-to-day reward that these men sought. Moreover, it is argued, these types of payments were in operation from as early as the reign of Henry I, if not before.3

The argument that many household knights received money as the primary form of reward for royal service is clearly a compelling one. Eadmer, for example, tells us of a speech that Archbishop Anselm made to the monks of Canterbury before setting out to Rome in 1097. In this speech he likened those who served the king in the secular court to those who served the Ruler of all men in this world. In doing so,

____________________
1
This chapter is largely reproduced from S. D. Church, 'The rewards of royal service in the household of King John: a dissenting opinion', EHR, 110 (1995), pp. 277–302.
2
The best treatments of this subject are in R. W. Southern, 'The place of Henry I in English history', Proceedings of the British Academy, 48 (1962), pp. 127–69; J. E. Lally, 'secular patronage at the court of King Henry II', BIHR, 49 (1976), pp. 159–84; Waugh, Lordship of England.
3
See esp. J. O. Prestwich, 'Military household', pp. 1–35, whose views on the subject have become the orthodoxy, cf for example Given-Wilson, 'The king and the gentry in fourteenthcentury England', p. 88; S. D. B. Brown, 'The mercenary and his master: military service and monetary reward in the eleventh and twelfth centuries', History, 74 (1989), pp. 20–38, at pp 23–4, 29.

-74-

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