Sunday, 4 May 2008

Evil King Richard and the Evil Cheshire Archers

One of the most popular themes of the Chroniclers, and the modern historians who have followed them is the 'oppression' caused by King Richard's Cheshire followers. These men were retained by the King as a permanent army, and this was a Bad Thing. (Whereas for the various nobles to retain followers to serve them in peace and war was a Good Thing, as the nobles were all progressive liberals and their retainers never oppressed anyone, being specially chosen for their people-skills.)

I have been re-reading the excellent The Royal Household and the Kings Affinity by Dr Chris Given-Wilson, and find therein that Richard's annuity bill in June 1378 (when he had just taken over and was probably having decisions made for him by his elders) was around £14300. This is quite a lot, and increased in 1397-98 by over £5000, mostly spent on employing the men of Cheshire. Not only archers, but knights and squires as well. Given-Wilson reckons that by 1399 the total budget must have risen to about £25000 a year. This was certainly a fair chunk of royal revenues - I'll throw in my guess at about 25%.

Of course that splendid fellow Henry IV scrapped the policy and the English nation was free once more to dance under May poles, as there was no longer anyone to oppress them.

Except Henry just changed the personnel - not the policy. Get this - within two years of his accession he was spending £24000 on annuities from the royal revenues, and a further £8000 from the Duchy of Lancaster. Given-Wilson estimates an increase to £35000 by 1404-05.

So good King Henry was spending more on oppressing people than evil King Richard, and not just a bit more. An increase of 40% I make it.

Now it may be that Henry's followers were a different breed to Richard's - that they confined themselves solely to rescuing damsels and slaying giants and dragons, and were all saintly sorts like Sir Galahad. But knowing what I do about the medieval English gentry, I somehow doubt it.

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