Heather Tanner

title.none: Church, The Household Knights of King John (Tanner)

identifier.other: baj9928.0003.005 00.03.05

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Heather Tanner, University of Oregon, hjtanner@OREGON.UOREGON.EDU

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Church, S.D. The Household Knights of King John. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Pp. ix, 177. $59.95. ISBN: 0-512-55319-9.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.03.05

Church, S.D. The Household Knights of King John. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Pp. ix, 177. $59.95. ISBN: 0-512-55319-9.

Reviewed by:

Heather Tanner
University of Oregon

The importance of the household knights has long been appreciated among the administrative and military historians of Angevin England. Stephen Church, however, is the first to offer an in-depth examination of this group of men and in a period in which it was thought only anecdotal evidence was available. Church has identified King John's milites de familia regis from three surviving lists of knights from his reign: a dona list from the summer campaign of 1209 in Scotland; a prest roll from the 1210 Irish campaign; and a muster roll of 1215 from John's campaign against the northern rebels. Drawing upon pipe rolls, memoranda rolls, charters and cartularies, king's remembrancer, and chancery miscellanea, Church establishes a prosopographical analysis of almost 100 household knights in order to tackle the question of their recruitment, rewards, and functions in John's realm.

Church argues that trust is the key element in the relationship between the king and his household knights, and therefore entrance into this group was strongly influenced by previous service in John's comital household or personal recommendation. Thus, those who had a history of service often introduced sons, brothers, and nephews to John's notice. The sons and relations of important barons were also placed into John's household. In this way, the barons had access to royal patronage and extended patronage to their own kin. John, in turn, gained entry into local power networks and acquired local intelligence. There was also a significant minority of alieni, drawn primarily from Flanders. In general, the household knights were drawn from the middling ranks of knights; there were very few northerners or men of baronial rank. Unlike the baronial household, the king's did not serve as a training ground for knights; these men had already acquired their martial skills.

The king needed this body of trained warriors to proclaim his status and maintain his authority. All the household knights served the king in a fighting capacity. Not only did they form the core of his army, they also served as the headquarter staff, recruited aid locally, dispersed imprests, and garrisoned strategic castles. In addition to these military functions, fully half the household knights of John's reign served as administrators. On the local level, household knights acted as sheriffs, escheators, itinerant justices, and castellans. At the "national" level, John relied on these knights as advisors, diplomats, recruiters of mercenaries, as well as officials of the buttery. Church argues that there was no regular rotation of knights between curial and extra-curial activities; John selected men who had proven themselves while campaigning with him, and then called upon their individual abilities as he required them.

Not surprisingly, those knights who had proved most useful and trust-worthy received the greatest rewards for their services. Not all were enriched equally for similar service, but the substantial success of John's most trusted knights attracted men to royal service. The main rewards were access to John's patronage: wardships, marriage to heiresses and widows, grants of escheated lands or royal demesne, and government office. As men with the king's ear, the household knights also tapped into the patronage of the magnates who sought access to John's largess. What is noticeably missing from the above list are wages and money fiefs. Church argues convincingly that J.O. Prestwich's thesis of the routine use of monetary rewards for military service from the reign of Henry I is incorrect. He demonstrates that only eleven of John's household knights received money fiefs, and nine of these were foreigners and only one was an Englishmen (and his was given during the civil war). Although John did dispense prests and dona to offset the costs of campaigning, it is not until his son's reign that the shift to wages and money fiefs began, and the practice was officially established under Edward I. John's reliance on patronage was considered the essence of good lordship by his contemporaries and provided him with the best way to win and keep loyalty. Unfortunately, his inept use of patronage alienated the nobility and contributed to the outbreak of the civil war. It also proved a weakness in retaining the loyalty of his household knights in this period. Church argues, building on J.C. Holt's work, that the marriages and wardships created counterbalancing ties of loyalty and in areas of rebel strength, some household knights defected in order to keep their property. Only 17 household knights are known to have deserted John, but many previously unknown men appear among the household knights in this period (32) and John had to make extensive grants of escheated lands in order to keep his familia's loyalty. Those who deserted were permanently excluded from John and his son's household. Although the minority of Henry III witnessed a sharp decline in the numbers of household knights, twenty-three of Henry's milites de familia regia in the 1220s had served his father.

Church's topical approach, built on his prosopographic analysis, allows him to concisely tackle the questions he has posed and his careful archival work substantiates his conclusions. Church consistently places his conclusions within a broader framework which allows a non-specialist to appreciate his findings and their significance. I particularly liked his decision to close with a series of case studies which illustrate the variety of careers a household knight could follow in John's reign. Given the number of knights and the wealth of detail concerning the types of service they performed and rewards they were given, tables summarizing this data would have been very helpful. But this is a relatively minor criticism of a well-argued work which deepens our understanding of the administrative and military governance of Angevin England.