Monday 13 February 2012

(Wo)man Overboard!

Here’s a story from the 14th century chronicler Thomas Walsingham’s Historia Anglicana, as recounted in Ian Mortimer’s book, The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England.
In the autumn of 1379 Sir John Arundel—younger brother of the Earl of Arundel—rides up to a convent with a detachment of soldiers, planning to sail to Brittany. He asks for lodging for himself and his troops while he waits for the wind to change. The Prioress is reluctant, given the number of armed young men, but eventually relents, aware of her obligation to provide hospitality to travellers.
The wind doesn’t change and the men become restless. They start drinking and flirting with the nuns, who then lock themselves in the dormitory. The soldiers force their way in and rape them. They then loot the nunnery. Not satisfied with that, they turn their attention to a nearby church where they encounter a wedding party. They seize the bride and take turns raping her.
Suddenly they become aware the wind has changed and they herd this woman and as many nuns as they can onto their vessel.
A day or so later, a storm blows up from the east. The ship is swept off course and takes on water. Arundel gives the order for the sixty women to be thrown overboard to lighten the load. They are all hurled into the sea, and the ship makes its way to Ireland.
As Mortimer points out, this story is an extreme one, and probably not typical. But Walsingham believed it to be true and this demonstrates that medieval people found it credible that groups of young men who were armed, bored, drunk and in a gang were capable of this kind of atrocity.
No wonder women travelled little in the Middle Ages. Medieval society was more fearful, guarded and violent than our own.
This story drew my attention in particular because in my series, The Montbryce Legacy, set almost two centuries before this event, William the Conqueror rewards Rambaud de Montbryce with vast tracts of lands and manors in what was known as the Rape of Arundel. It was an area of Sussex vital for the defence of England.
One of my villains, Renouf de Maubadon appeals to the Bishop of Arundel when his wife is abducted by my hero, Hugh de Montbryce (If Love Dares Enough).
William the Conqueror hoped to bring The Peace of God to England, but it appears that by the 14th century, fear and confrontation accompanied bands of armed men wherever they went, and lawlessness prevailed when there were few means of detecting a criminal’s identity.

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