The Household Knights of King John

By S. D. Church | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

In this book I have focused on the knightly establishment of the household of King John in order to explore the nature of Angevin governance in general, and John's style of kingship in particular. What I hope to have shown is that the group of men whom contemporaries called milites defamilia regis were essential to the maintenance of John's rule. These men undertook a multitude of tasks for the king, and by their presence in his entourage, they confirmed his status and standing in society. The body of king's knights was so much larger than the body of retainers his barons could muster that, when they were gathered together, their presence must have been overwhelming. William Marshal, for example, who was earl of Pembroke and one of the leading magnates of the realm, had a retinue of around ten household knights.1 Roger de Quency, earl of Winchester and constable of Scotland, employed about twenty-eight household knights

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1
Crouch, William Marshal, pp. 137–8, a figure which makes one question the two hundred knights his son was supposed to provide as one of the twenty-five barons of Magna Carta (C. R. Cheney, 'The twenty-five barons of Magna Carta', Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 50 (1968), pp. 280–307; see also J. C. Holt, Magna Carta (Cambridge, 2nd edn, 1992), pp. 478–80). The figures in this document seem to me wholly fictitious and a result of wishful thinking on the part of those who drew them up. The total number of knights in the manuscript printed by Cheney was calculated at 1,183 (corrected by him to 1,074). It would be nice to think that the rebels could muster a force of this size, but surely an army of over 1,000 knights is unlikely. John mustered around 800 knights for the Irish campaign in 1210 (Church, 'The 1210 campaign in Ireland', pp. 45–57). The armies that mustered at Stamford in 1218 and at Portsmouth in 1229 numbered no more than 600 knights (Sanders, Feudal Military Service, pp. 108–9, 121). The muster roll from December 1215 shows that John put in the field against the Northerners just over 400 knights (Church, 'The earliest English muster roll', pp. 1 –17). If the barons really could muster over 1,000 fighting knights, what need had they of Louis's forces, and why were they losing the campaign before Louis arrived in May 1216? The answer must surely be that the figures in the manuscript printed by Cheney are unrealistic.

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