Affinity (medieval)

Last updated

The Dunstable Swan Jewel, a livery badge, from ca. 1400 (British Museum) British Museum -Dunstable Swan Jewel -side cropped close.jpg
The Dunstable Swan Jewel, a livery badge, from ca. 1400 (British Museum)

In post-classical history, an affinity was a collective name for the group (retinue) of (usually) men whom a lord gathered around himself in his service; it has been described by one modern historian as "the servants, retainers, and other followers of a lord", [1] and as "part of the normal fabric of society". [2] It is considered a fundamental aspect of bastard feudalism, [3] and acted as a means of tying magnates to the lower nobility, just as feudalism had done in a different way. [4]


One form of the relationship was known as livery and maintenance. The lord provided livery badges to be worn by the retainer and "maintenance" or his support in their disputes, which often constituted obstruction of judicial processes.


One of the earliest identifiable feudal affinities was that of William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, who by 1190 had gathered a force around him consisting of men without necessarily any strong tenurial connection to him. Rather than receiving land, these men received grants of office and the security of Pembroke's proximity to the king. [5] Historian Michael Hicks has described it as a "personal, not feudal" connection, [6] which David Crouch called an early example of a bastard feudal relationship. On the other hand, a hundred years later, the earl of Lincoln gathered bodies of men—often from among his tenants—from his estates in Lincoln, who were still linked to the earl feudally through their tenure of his land. [7]


Middleham Castle was the centre of the earl of Salisbury's Yorkshire affinity. Middleham Castle - - 1737858.jpg
Middleham Castle was the centre of the earl of Salisbury's Yorkshire affinity.

Central to a noble affinity was the lord's indentured retainers, and beyond them was a more amorphous group of general supporters and contacts. The difference, K. B. McFarlane wrote, was that the former did the lord "exclusive service" but the latter received his good lordship "in ways both more and less permanent" than the retainers. [8] Christine Carpenter has described the structure of the earl of Warwick's affinity as "a series of concentric circles" with him at the centre. [9] It has been noted that a lord only had to gather a relatively small number of people around in areas where he was strong, as members of his affinity supported not only him but also each other; thus, the number of men who could come to his aid was often far greater than the number of men he actually knew. [7] These were men the lord trusted: for example, in 1459, on the verge of the Wars of the Roses, the earl of Salisbury gathered the closest members of his affinity to him in Middleham Castle and took their advice before publicly coming out in support of the rebellious duke of York. [10] [11]

The lord would often include men in positions of local authority, for example Justices of the peace, within his affinity. [12] On the other hand, he might, as John of Gaunt did in the later fourteenth century, recruit people into his affinity regardless of their social weight, as an expression of his "courtly and chivalric ambitions", as Anthony Goodman said. [13] A contemporary described these as "kin, friendis, allys and parttakaris" ("kin, friends, allies, and partakers") to the lord. [14] Members of the affinity could usually be identified by the livery the lord would distribute for their identification with him; this could range from simple armbands to "a more exclusive form of livery—exclusive metal mounted riband bands"; [15] high-ranking members of John of Gaunt's retinue—a "highly prized" position—wore the Collar of Esses. [16] The members of the affinity closest to the lord were those of most use: the estate officials, treasurer, stewards, and often more than one lawyer. [9]

Later Middle Ages

John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster: In the later fourteenth century, his affinity was second only to that of the king. P414-John of Gaunt.jpg
John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster: In the later fourteenth century, his affinity was second only to that of the king.

By the late Middle Ages, kings such as Richard II and Henry IV had created their own affinities within the regional gentry, [17] for political as well as martial motives. [18] They were therefore at a greater distance from the royal court, but they were also more numerous than the household knights of earlier kings. [19] By the fifteenth century, most regional agents of the crown were considered to be in the king's affinity, as they had a closer connection to the crown than ordinary subjects. [20] By the reign of Henry VI, E. F. Jacob estimated that the number of squires employed by the king in the localities increased from 150 to over 300. [21]

In Richard's case, it has been suggested it was for the purpose of building up royal power to counteract the pre-existing affinities of the nobility and strengthen his own power. [22] Indeed, they were at the heart of the army Richard took to Ireland on his 1399 campaign, prior to his deposition. [19] This could include several hundred 'King's knights' and esquires, retained with hard cash. [23] In fact, the amounts the crown spent on its regional affinity were the cause of much of the discontent over royal expenditure that Richard II, for example, faced in 1397. [3] Likewise, John of Gaunt's affinity increased by half between 1381 and the early 1390s and cost him far greater sums than the 10% of income that magnates generally expended on their retinues. [24] Gaunt used it to defend his position against the crown as Richard II's reign became increasingly erratic, [24] and his son, Henry of Bolingbroke, inherited it in 1399, and found it a ready-made army that allowed him to overthrow Richard. [3] In very similar circumstances, in 1471, Edward IV, returning from exile to reclaim his throne, gathered his affinity with him as he marched south, and it has been said that "it was as master of such an affinity that at Barnet and Tewkesbury King Edward won a wider mastery". [25] The earl of Salisbury, also using his affinity as a show of strength in 1458, attended a royal council meeting with an affinity of about 400 horsemen and eighty knights and squires; the contemporary Brut Chronicle estimated it at around 500 men. [26] [27]

Affinities were not confined to kings or magnates; in the 1420s, for example, Cardinal Beaufort maintained an affinity in many English counties, although, as a churchman, his affinity was political rather than military. [28] They were not also confined to men: Edward II's consort, Isabella, had an affinity whose "collective influence was as powerful as the most powerful lords," even if with less of a military. [29] They could also be expanded through the course of events; Edward IV's covert marriage to Elizabeth Woodville brought an important Midlands family and their retainers directly into the royal household. [30]


The traditional view among historians was that the affinity was a thirteenth-century construction that arose out of the nobility and crown's need to recruit armies, against a backdrop of declining feudal service failing to provide troops. [3] Victorian historians, such as Charles Plummer, saw the affinity as being effectively synonymous with the lord's household, and little more than his personal thugs. [7] The only connection noted between members of the affinity and the retaining lord was a military one. [31] This then led them to see the emergence of noble affinities as directly responsible, in part at least, for the decline in social order in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. But as Simon Walker has put it, their unfavourable judgements have largely been replaced by a more sympathetic account that acknowledges the affinity as an essential element in the mechanics of good lordship. [32] For example, a lord would recruit into his affinity some who could provide him with military service, but others who did not; some who were formally retained and some who were not; and ultimately every individual was recruited with mutual benefit at the heart of their relationships. The affinity itself would change depending on whether it was a time of war or peace, or whether it was in an area where the lord was strong. [3] Seen in the context of playing multiple roles, it has been called a "socio-political-military joint-stock enterprise" that helped uphold noble authority without needing a basis in feudalism itself. [33] In the mid-fifteenth century, it could vary in organization from being secured almost exclusively by military indenture (for example, the affinity of William, Lord Hastings) to being based more on blood and marital connections, as with the House of Neville. [34]

Recently it has been questioned whether a royal affinity could actually work in the same way as a noble one. It has been suggested that since the king had to be a lord to his retainers and provide good lordship, but also king to the entire people, a contradiction existed, resulting in a decline in local stability where this occurred. [22] At the same time, even powerful magnates such as Gaunt could cause local dissatisfaction by retaining some and, inevitably, excluding others. [35] On the other hand, it has also been pointed out how, particularly for kings, recruitment into the affinity was a clear promotion which could act as an encouraging loyalty or offered a political amnesty. [36]

See also

Related Research Articles

Feudalism Combination of legal and military customs and form of government in medieval Europe

Feudalism, also known as the feudal system, was the combination of the legal, economic, military, and cultural customs that flourished in Medieval Europe between the 9th and 15th centuries. Broadly defined, it was a way of structuring society around relationships that were derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labor. Although it is derived from the Latin word feodum or feudum (fief), which was used during the Medieval period, the term feudalism and the system which it describes were not conceived of as a formal political system by the people who lived during the Middle Ages. The classic definition, by François-Louis Ganshof (1944), describes a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations which existed among the warrior nobility and revolved around the three key concepts of lords, vassals, and fiefs.

Richard II of England 14th-century King of England and Duke of Aquitaine

Richard II, also known as Richard of Bordeaux, was King of England from 1377 until he was deposed in 1399. Richard's father, Edward, Prince of Wales, died in 1376, leaving Richard as heir apparent to his grandfather, King Edward III. Upon the death of Edward III, the 10-year-old Richard succeeded to the throne.

House of Lancaster Cadet branch of the House of Plantagenet

The House of Lancaster was a cadet branch of the royal House of Plantagenet. The first house was created when King Henry III of England created the Earldom of Lancaster—from which the house was named—for his second son Edmund Crouchback in 1267. Edmund had already been created Earl of Leicester in 1265 and was granted the lands and privileges of Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, after de Montfort's death and attainder at the end of the Second Barons' War. When Edmund's son Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster, inherited his father-in-law's estates and title of Earl of Lincoln he became at a stroke the most powerful nobleman in England, with lands throughout the kingdom and the ability to raise vast private armies to wield power at national and local levels. This brought him—and Henry, his younger brother—into conflict with their cousin King Edward II, leading to Thomas's execution. Henry inherited Thomas's titles and he and his son, who was also called Henry, gave loyal service to Edward's son King Edward III.

Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham English military leader in the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses, 1402–1460

Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham, 6th Earl of Stafford, 7th Baron Stafford,, of Stafford Castle in Staffordshire, was an English nobleman and a military commander in the Hundred Years' War and the Wars of the Roses. Through his mother he had royal descent from King Edward III, his great-grandfather, and from his father, he inherited, at an early age, the earldom of Stafford. By his marriage to a daughter of Ralph, Earl of Westmorland, Humphrey was related to the powerful Neville family and to many of the leading aristocratic houses of the time. He joined the English campaign in France with King Henry V in 1420 and following Henry V's death two years later he became a councillor for the new king, the nine-month-old Henry VI. Stafford acted as a peacemaker during the partisan, factional politics of the 1430s, when Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, vied with Cardinal Beaufort for political supremacy. Stafford also took part in the eventual arrest of Gloucester in 1447.

Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury 15th-century English noble

Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury was an English nobleman and magnate based in northern England who became a key supporter of the House of York during the early years of the Wars of the Roses. He was the father of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, the "Kingmaker".

Retinue Body of servants in service of a dignitary

A retinue is a body of persons "retained" in the service of a noble, royal personage, or dignitary, a suite of "retainers".

William de Ros, 6th Baron Ros English medieval baron (c1370–1414)

William Ros, 6th Baron Ros was a medieval English nobleman, politician and soldier. The second son of Thomas Ros, 4th Baron Ros and Beatrice Stafford, William inherited his father's barony and estates in 1394. He married Margaret, daughter of Baron Fitzalan, shortly afterwards. The Fitzalan family, like that of Ros, was well-connected at the local and national level. They were implacably opposed to King Richard II, and this may have soured Richard's opinion of the young Ros.

Tenant-in-chief Medieval vassal in possession of land granted directly by the Crown

In medieval and early modern Europe, the term tenant-in-chief denoted a person who held his lands under various forms of feudal land tenure directly from the king or territorial prince to whom he did homage, as opposed to holding them from another nobleman or senior member of the clergy. The tenure was one which denoted great honour, but also carried heavy responsibilities. The tenants-in-chief were originally responsible for providing knights and soldiers for the king's feudal army.

John Mowbray, 3rd Duke of Norfolk Fifteenth-century English magnate

John Mowbray, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, KG, Earl Marshal was a fifteenth-century English magnate who, despite having a relatively short political career, played a significant role in the early years of the Wars of the Roses. Mowbray was born in 1415, the only son and heir of John de Mowbray, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, and Katherine Neville. He inherited his titles upon his father's death in 1432. As a minor he became a ward of King Henry VI and was placed under the protection of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, alongside whom Mowbray would later campaign in France. He seems to have had an unruly and rebellious youth. Although the details of his misconducts are unknown, they were severe enough for the King to place strictures upon him and separate him from his followers. Mowbray's early career was spent in the military, where he held the wartime office of Earl Marshal. Later he led the defence of England's possessions in Normandy during the Hundred Years' War. He fought in Calais in 1436, and during 1437–38 served as warden of the east march on the Anglo-Scottish border, before returning to Calais.

Heraldic badge

A heraldic badge, emblem, impresa, device, or personal device worn as a badge indicates allegiance to, or the property of, an individual or family. Medieval forms are usually called a livery badge, and also a cognizance. They are para-heraldic, not necessarily using elements from the coat of arms of the person or family they represent, though many do, often taking the crest or supporters. Their use was more flexible than that of arms proper.

Bastard feudalism Supposed socioeconomic system of the late Middle Ages

"Bastard feudalism" is a somewhat controversial term invented by 19th century historians to characterise the form feudalism took in the Late Middle Ages, primarily in England in the Late Middle Ages. Its distinctive feature is that middle-ranking figures rendered military, political, legal, or domestic service in return for money, office, or influence. As a result, the gentry began to think of themselves as the men of their lord rather than of the king. Individually, they are known as retainers, and collectively as the "affinity" of the lord, among other terms.

England in the Late Middle Ages Overview of England in the Middle Ages

England in the Late Middle Ages concerns the history of England during the Late Middle Ages, from the thirteenth century, the end of the Angevins, and the accession of Henry III – considered by many to mark the start of the Plantagenet dynasty – until the accession to the throne of the Tudor dynasty in 1485, which is often taken as the most convenient marker for the end of the Middle Ages and the start of the English Renaissance and early modern Britain.

William Bonville, 1st Baron Bonville English noble

William Bonville, 1st Baron Bonville, was an English nobleman and an important, powerful landowner in south-west England during the Late Middle Ages. Bonville's father died before Bonville reached adulthood. As a result, he grew up in the household of his grandfather and namesake, who was a prominent member of the Devon gentry. Both Bonville's father and grandfather had been successful in politics and land acquisition, and when Bonville came of age, he gained control of a large estate. He augmented this further by a series of lawsuits against his stepfather, Richard Stucley. Bonville undertook royal service, which then meant fighting in France in the later years of the Hundred Years' War. In 1415, he joined the English invasion of France in the retinue of Thomas, Duke of Clarence, Henry V's brother, and fought in the Agincourt campaign. Throughout his life, Bonville was despatched on further operations in France, but increasingly events in the south-west of England took up more of his time and energy, as he became involved in a feud with his powerful neighbour Thomas Courtenay, Earl of Devon.

Dunstable Swan Jewel Medieval English brooch made around 1400

The Dunstable Swan Jewel is a gold and enamel brooch in the form of a swan made in England or France in about 1400 and now in the British Museum, where it is on display in Room 40. It was excavated in 1965 on the site of Dunstable Friary, and is presumed to have been intended as a livery badge given by an important figure to his supporters; the most likely candidate is probably the future Henry V of England, who was Prince of Wales from 1399.

Wars of the Roses Dynastic civil war in England from 1455 to 1487

The Wars of the Roses, known at the time and for more than a century after as the Civil Wars, were a series of civil wars fought over control of the English throne in the mid-to-late fifteenth century, fought between supporters of two rival cadet branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: Lancaster and York. The wars extinguished the male lines of the two dynasties, leading to the Tudor family inheriting the Lancastrian claim. Following the war, the Houses of Tudor and York were united, creating a new royal dynasty, thereby resolving the rival claims.

Thomas de la More was a fifteenth-century Sheriff of Cumberland. Little is known of his early life, but he was a loyal royal official in Cumberland and Westmorland for all his adult life, serving as Member of Parliament, Escheator and Justice of the Peace on multiple occasions. A man of social and political significance in the area, he eventually became involved in the struggle for local supremacy in the 1450s between the Neville and Percy families. This led to him and his men being beaten and threatened by Thomas Percy, Lord Egremont, over which he petitioned the royal council in 1455. De la More played no active part in the Wars of the Roses which broke out the same year. He is known to have married twice. His first wife, called either Idione or Maud, died first, but his second, Margaret, survived him.

Simon Walker was a historian of late medieval England. Born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, he was educated at Charterhouse School and Magdalen College, Oxford. He was awarded a Prize Fellowship of All Souls College, Oxford where he completed his D.Phil thesis on John of Gaunt. In 1984 he was appointed to a lectureship at the University of Sheffield, and was subsequently promoted to Reader. In 1999 he was appointed a vice-warden of All Souls and gained an Extraordinary Research Fellowship at the College

In July 1385 Richard II, king of England, led an English army into Scotland. The invasion was, in part, retaliation for Scottish border raids, but was most provoked by the arrival of a French army into Scotland the previous summer. England and France were engaged in the Hundred Years' War, and France and Scotland had a treaty to support each other. The English King had only recently come of age, and it was expected that he would play a martial role just as his father, Edward the Black Prince, and grandfather Edward III had done. There was some disagreement amongst the English leadership whether to invade France or Scotland; the King's uncle, John of Gaunt, favoured invading France, to gain him a tactical advantage in Castile, where he himself was technically king through his wife but had trouble asserting his claim. The King's friends among the nobility – who were also Gaunt's enemies – preferred an invasion of Scotland. A parliament the year before had granted funds for a continental campaign and it was deemed unwise to flout the House of Commons. The Crown could barely afford a big campaign. Richard summoned the feudal levy, which had not been called for many years; this was the last occasion on which it was to be summoned.

Sir Nicholas Atherton (c.1357-1420) of Atherton. Other titles; Nicholas de Atherton, Lord of Bickerstaffe. English politician and Member of parliament (MP) of the Parliament of England for Lancashire in 1401. A lifelong member of affinity who was knighted on the 27 October 1400 in York, and prorogued on 20 January 1401 in Westminster. Born into a position within the Lancashire gentry. Extensive service to the House of Lancaster. Bailiff and medieval tax collector.

Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury was a fifteenth-century English northern magnate. He was the eldest son by the second wife of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, from whom he inherited vast estates in Yorkshire and the North West of England. He was a loyal Lancastrian for most of his life, serving the king, Henry VI, in France, on the border with Scotland, and in many of the periodic crises of the reign. He finally joined York in his last rebellion in the late 1450s and became a Yorkist leader during the early parts of the Wars of the Roses. This led directly to his death following the Battle of Wakefield in December 1460, when he was captured and subsequently put to death in Pontefract Castle.


  1. K. Kennedy (2009). Maintenance, Meed, and Marriage in Medieval English Literature. Springer. pp. 7–. ISBN   978-0-230-62162-6.
  2. Holmes, G.A., The Later Middle Ages, 1272–1485 (Edinburgh, 1962), 167.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Ronald H. Fritze; William Baxter Robison (2002). Historical Dictionary of Late Medieval England, 1272–1485. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 3–. ISBN   978-0-313-29124-1.
  4. Carpenter, C., 'The Beauchamp Affinity: A Study of Bastard Feudalism at Work', EHR 95 (1980), 514.
  5. Crouch, David, & D. A. Carpenter. 'Bastard Feudalism Revised' Past & Present (1991), 171–72.
  6. Hicks, M. A., Bastard Feudalism (London, 1995), 105.
  7. 1 2 3 Andrew M. Spencer (31 October 2013). Nobility and Kingship in Medieval England: The Earls and Edward I, 1272–1307. Cambridge University Press. pp. 127–. ISBN   978-1-107-65467-9.
  8. McFarlane K. B., England in the Fifteenth Century: Collected Essays (London, 1981), 27 n.2.
  9. 1 2 Carpenter, C., 'The Beauchamp Affinity: A Study of Bastard Feudalism at Work', EHR 95 (1980), 515.
  10. Mercer, M., Medieval Gentry: Power, Leadership and Choice during the Wars of the Roses (London, 2010), 12.
  11. Pollard, A. J., Warwick the Kingmaker: Politics, Power and Fame (London, 2007), p. 38.
  12. Walker, S. K., 'Yorkshire Justices of the Peace', English Historical Review 108 (1993), 287.
  13. Goodman, A., 'John of Gaunt: Paradigm of the Late Fourteenth-Century Crisis', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 37 (1987), 146–48.
  14. Wormald, J., Lords and Men in Scotland: Bonds of Manrent, 1442–1603 (Edinburgh, 1985), 76ff.
  15. Peter R. Coss; Maurice Hugh Keen (2002). Heraldry, Pageantry and Social Display in Medieval England. Boydell Press. pp. 95–. ISBN   978-1-84383-036-8.
  16. Simon Walker (2006). Political Culture in Late Medieval England: Essays by Simon Walker. Manchester University Press. pp. 2–. ISBN   978-0-7190-6826-3.
  17. Given-Wilson, C., 'The King and the Gentry in Fourteenth-Century England', TRHS, 5th ser. 38 (1987), 87–102.
  18. Coss, P. R., 'Bastard Feudalism Revised – Reply', Past & Present 131 (1991), 62.
  19. 1 2 Michael Prestwich (1999). Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages: The English Experience. Yale University Press. pp. 353–. ISBN   978-0-300-07663-9.
  20. Robertson, C. A., 'Local Government and the King's 'affinity' in fifteenth-century Leicestershire and Warwickshire', LAHS 52 (1976), 38.
  21. Jacob, E. F., The Fifteenth Century 1399–1485 (Oxford, 1961), 451.
  22. 1 2 Michael A. Hicks (2001). Revolution and Consumption in Late Medieval England. Boydell & Brewer. pp. 57–. ISBN   978-0-85115-832-7.
  23. Wormald, J., Lords and Men in Scotland: Bonds of Manrent 1442–1603 (Edinburgh, 1985), 77ff.
  24. 1 2 Simon Walker (2006). Political Culture in Late Medieval England: Essays by Simon Walker. Manchester University Press. pp. 17–. ISBN   978-0-7190-6826-3.
  25. Morgan, D. A. L., 'The King's Affinity in the Polity of Yorkist England', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 23 (1973), 12.
  26. Maurer, M., Margaret of Anjou: Queenship and Power in Late Medieval England (Woodbridge, 2003), 154 n.68.
  27. Bean, J. M. W., From Lord to Patron: Lordship in Late Medieval England (Philadelphia, 1989), 172–73.
  28. Sweetinburgh, S. (ed.), Later Medieval Kent, 1220–1540 (Woodbridge, 2010), 241.
  29. Lisa Benz St. John (2012). Three Medieval Queens: Queenship and the Crown in Fourteenth-Century England. Palgrave Macmillan US. pp. 84–. ISBN   978-1-137-09432-2.
  30. Morgan, D. A. L., 'The King's Affinity in the Polity of Yorkist England', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 23 (1973), 7.
  31. Weiss, Michael, 'Loyalte me Lie': Richard III and affinity politics in northern England (University of California Irvine thesis, [1977]), 3. ASIN   B000734F4M. 1981
  32. Simon Walker (2006). Political Culture in Late Medieval England: Essays by Simon Walker. Manchester University Press. pp. 17–. ISBN   978-0-7190-6826-3.
  33. P. L. Lewis (15 July 2010). Essays in Later Medieval French History. A&C Black. pp. 239–. ISBN   978-0-8264-2383-2.
  34. Weiss, Michael, 'Loyalte me Lie': Richard III and affinity politics in northern England (University of California Irvine thesis, [1977]), 4. ASIN   B000734F4M. 1981
  35. Simon Walker (2006). Political Culture in Late Medieval England: Essays by Simon Walker. Manchester University Press. p. 3. ISBN   978-0-7190-6826-3.
  36. Morgan, D. A. L., 'The King's Affinity in the Polity of Yorkist England', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 23 (1973), 8.