Sunday, April 11, 2021

Prince Philip

 Prince Philip has just died, a central part of the British monarchy for almost the last seventy-five years.  The modern British monarchy has retained many aspects of the medieval monarchy, and Philip is an indication of how much is different and yet the same.

There was only one medieval English ruling queen with a husband who was decidedly not the king, and that was Mathilda.  It shows how unusual Queen Elizabeth II is, Philip's widowed queen, that Mathilda doesn't even make it into the official list of kings and queens of England.  She was the only legitimate surviving offspring of King Henry I of England, and when he died in 1135 he designated her as his heir.  Mathilda liked to call herself The Empress, because she had been briefly married to the German emperor (Heinrich V, gotta keep all these royal men named Henry straight), though he had died ten years earlier.

The English barons however did not want Mathilda to rule over them.  In part they weren't sure about a woman, but the real issue was her current husband, Count Geoffrey of Anjou.  The counts of Anjou had been enemies of the dukes of Normandy since well before the Norman Conquest of 1066 (on which see more here).  The Norman aristocrats of the early twelfth century were not about to have some Angevin lording over them, and they turned instead to Mathilda's cousin Stephen.  (He's the one in the official lists.)  For nearly the next twenty years, the Stephen-Mathilda wars were on.

They ended in 1154, when Stephen died childless, and in dying designated Henry II his heir as king of England.  Henry II was son of Mathilda and Geoffrey of Anjou, both now dead.  The barons accepted him, having ended up with an Angevin after all.  But you can see why the question of a ruling queen's husband continued to be an issue for the British monarchy.  Queen Elizabeth I, back in the sixteenth century, never married, both because she liked to dangle the chance of matrimony to keep men properly obedient and because she knew that if she actually chose a husband, he would immediately become a flashpoint of resistance.

Philip did not cause any such problems for Queen Elizabeth II.  He did however continue the tradition that royalty was supposed to marry royalty.  Philip was born in Greece, the son of the younger brother of the king of Greece, a family that was actually an offshoot of the royal house of Denmark.  The Greek kings had been put into power in the nineteenth century by other European countries, which had decided that Greece needed a monarchy and Denmark was a good place to get one.  (Greece had been part of the Ottoman Empire, centered in Turkey, for centuries but had declared its independence.  Their nineteenth- and twentieth-century political history is messy, but Greece is now a republic, with a president, a prime minister, and a parliament.)

Philip grew up in Britain and renounced his non-British titles as an adult, but his royal ancestry made him a suitable match for Princess Elizabeth, heiress to the throne.  They had known each other for several years and were in love in 1947 when they married, doubtless an improvement over the arrangements for some medieval royalty, who met their new spouse on their wedding day.  They were third cousins, both great-great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria, which was fine in the twentieth century, although from the ninth century to the thirteenth you would have needed at least two more "great"s in there.

Philip, born in Greece, was perhaps named for Philip of Macedonia, father of Alexander the Great, well back BC.  But his name had first been established in the European royal lineages in the eleventh century.  The French king Henri I (another Henry! they were all distant cousins, all descended from Henry "the Fowler," king of Germany in the early tenth century) had married a Russian princess, one of the few princesses around to whom he was not too closely related (they doubtless met on their wedding day).  Their son and heir, Philip I of France (1060-1108), took a name not found before in the French royal family but which was apparently inspired by Philip of Macedonia.  (The Russians liked to think they were Greek, only better--Russian orthodoxy is a variant of Greek orthodoxy.)  Most French kings for the rest of the Middle Ages were named Philip if they were not named Louis, indicating the name's success.

Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II continued the long-established tradition of naming royal children with royal names.  Their oldest, Prince Charles, is Charles Philip Arthur George, named (in succession) for Charlemagne, for his own father, for King Arthur of legend, and for Elizabeth's father, King George VI.  The next two boys were named Andrew, for Prince Philip's father, and Edward, for Elizabeth's uncle, King Edward VIII.  (Not clear who Princess Anne was named for, but unlike her mother she stood little chance of inheriting the throne.)

Prince Charles did not meet Princess Diana on their wedding day, but it was still an arranged marriage, between the British heir and a young woman with royal ancestry.  She seems to have been in love, but doubts have been raised about Charles.  Their two sons, William and Harry (real name Henry, another one!), have royal names going back to William the Conqueror of 1066 and his son Henry I (Mathilda's father, we've doubled back around to her).  Here's a (much later) picture of William the Conqueror.


Prince Harry and his wife Meghan have named their son Archie Harrison.  There are no men named Archie in the royal ancestry.  Looks like they want to make it as explicit as possible that they don't want to be part of the royal "firm."

© C. Dale Brittain 2021
For more on medieval political and social history, see my ebook Positively Medieval, available on Amazon and other ebook platforms.  Also available in paperback.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

The Customs of Lorris

 As I have discussed earlier, medieval peasants were neither passive nor helpless creatures.  After all, they outnumbered the rest of the population by a considerable amount, and if they didn't grow the food, the lord would have to be out there himself behind the plow, or else the food didn't get grown.  Peasants were thus a valuable commodity, and at least some lords figured out that making them happy was usually preferable to beating and threatening.  Medieval peasants lived in conditions those of us in the twenty-first century West would find intolerable, but that didn't mean they could do nothing to help themselves.  There was plenty they could do short of revolting.

One of the most notable examples of peasant initiative in improving their position was the Customs of Lorris.  This was a blueprint for how a village might be organized, with the obligations of the peasants spelled out.  It started, as the name implies, in the village of Lorris, early in the twelfth century.  (Lorris is east of Olrleans in central France, in the Loire valley.  This is the bell tower on its medieval church.)

Bell tower

The local lord had granted a series of privileges to his peasants in what was called a "charter of liberty" or a "franchise," and he asked King Louis VI to confirm it, which he did.  The lord's purpose was to make the villagers happy, to attract new villagers to a territory that was being economically developed, and to get a steady revenue stream without having to hassle and badger the villagers of Lorris.  These Customs were then reaffirmed in the following generations by subsequent kings, and they were widely copied all over northern France.

From the peasants' point of view, the principal advantage was regular, predictable obligations, instead of arbitrary or capricious demands.  Each peasant family received a house in the village and sufficient land in the surrounding territory to raise their crops, and the family paid 6 pennies a year for this.  They had no labor dues, no unexpected demands for goods or services.  They could not be expected to join a military expedition unless it took them no more than a day away from home.  No tolls would be charged on peasants heading out of the village to take their crops to market.  The only extra tidbit the king threw in was that the village would have to provide food for the king and queen for up to two weeks a year if they stayed in Lorris.

But most of the Customs granted the peasants autonomy.  Every family in the village paid the same rent, which was unusual in the twelfth century, when there was a patchwork of different obligations, probably a further indication that Lorris was a newly planned and laid out settlement.  Families were free to sell their houses and land if they wished and leave; clearly the lord of Lorris did not anticipate that many would want to.  Fines for various infractions were clearly specified, and it was stressed that no one would be imprisoned unless accused of a crime.

Overall, the Customs gave the villagers of Lorris, and the other villages where they were adopted, identity as citizens of a particular place, rather than just dependents of one lord or another.  Every indication is that they paid good money to their lord in return for the grant of these Customs.  Although the Customs in the form we now have them do not spell out the negotiations that led them to taking the form they now have, but there must have been considerable discussion for the lord to know what the peasants would agree to and what obligations they were willing to undertake.  The autonomy, the ability to determine ahead of time how much they were expected to produce, was from their point of view worth it.

© C. Dale Brittain 2021

For more on medieval peasants, see my ebook, Positively Medieval:  Life and Society in the Middle Ages.  Also available in paperback.