For those who haven’t seen S3 ep10 yet, panic not, no [major] spoilers here!(Don’t click on the link if you haven’t caught up yet).

Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister

Tywin’s speech to Tyrion about family and the importance of doing everything to advance their standing got me more excited than the dragons. Mainly because he was articulating everything I’m currently discovering about the families that I am studying right now. It was as if William (I) de Cantilupe had come to life to lecture his wayward grandson.

The show (more so than the books, I think, as the books cover so many themes and plotlines that it’s harder to pinpoint exactly what they’re “about”) has been asking questions about power and authority from the start. I’ve got a whole chapter on medieval constructs and conceptions of power, so I’m enjoying all the political intrigue. The mentalities of the characters are pretty much spot on as well. When it comes to medieval nobles, you assume that they are all on the make and go from there. As Michael Burtscher noted, ‘an aristocrat is but one link in a chain of generations, and his weight is assessed in the scales of aristocracy by how strong a link he proves to be.’ (Burtscher, The FitzAlans: Earls of Arundel and Surrey, Lords of the Welsh Marches (1267-1415), (Logaston Press: Herefordshire, 2008), p. 145).

I’ve thought for a while that the Cantilupes were masters of hedging their bets. They started off as men of William de Rumare, earl of Lincolnshire, and secured a place in John’s household when he was the Count of Mortain. William (I) de Cantilupe (d. 1239) became John’s steward when John came to the throne. He quickly got in with a group of powerful men and set about building up his lands and sphere of influence. When John came to power in 1199 the Cantilupes were barely appearing in the records at all. By the end of the reign they had lands all over England in almost every shire, and had the dubious honour of being named and shamed by the chronicler Roger of Wendover as being among John’s “evil councillors”, demonstrating the close relationship between the Cantilupes and the king.

In the minority of Henry III, who came to the throne aged nine (a little younger than Joffrey!), they had been involved in Hubert de Burgh‘s attempt to keep Archbishop Langton from returning to England, lost that round to the Bishop of Winchester’s faction, and then switched allegiance to plot de Burgh’s downfall. Not all went according to plan. Cantilupe had to surrender his castle of Kennilworth and the sheriffdom of Warwickshire-Leicestershire for a time, but it wasn’t long before he managed to climb back into the king’s good graces.

Seal of William I de Cantilupe (d.1239) showin...
Seal of William I de Cantilupe (d.1239) showing on an escutcheon 3 fleurs de lys (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When one of his erstwhile allies, the infamous Falkes de Bréauté, rebelled, Cantilupe was called to the king’s side at the seige of Bedford in 1224 – his involvement was obedient but a little halfhearted. I think that this may have been because two of his brothers/cousins, Hugh and Roger, were in support of the king’s enemies – they were hung for treason around this time, and their heirs outlawed.

The entire garrison of Bedford were hung for treason – either at the grim counsel of Henry III’s justiciar when the young king asked for advice, or because Henry himself threw a tantrum and demanded it. John’s temper was fairly explosive too, although Henry is called a vir simplex in the sources and is not known for his strong leadership, so either explanation could be true. Was he a Tommen or a Joffrey? Who knows. (See – got another GoT reference in there!!)

Hugh and Roger apparently had no repreive or support from their relatives, although they were a close family – there is strong evidence that they assisted one another into top positions in the court, including William’s two illigitimate brothers, Roger Orgete and Robert Barat. The latter brother had a son called Eustace, whose surname was not Barat but de Cantilupe.

The family even changed their image – from the aggresively rustic wolf seal of Walter (see my previous post on this) to the far more sophisticated triple fleur-de-lys. William (II) added upside-down leopard’s heads to this design, with the fleur-de-lys becoming jessants-de-lys (emerging from the leopards’ mouths). William (III) returned to the classic triple design, and his nephew William (IV) added a wavy bar through the middle, dissecting the design. No wolves of any kind appeared again on a secular seal, but the ecclesiastics of the family had their fun with that. In addition to the fleur-de-lys, both Bishop Walter and Bishop Thomas had wolves placed under the feet of the bishop figure on their seals, a play on their name, a reference to the patriarch’s seal, and a clever Biblical metaphor.

It would appear that having two hanged felons in the family did not harm the family’s standing too much. If they had men on both sides of almost every conflict on purpose, there were always ways of the winning family members building trust up again and securing favour by cutting the others loose.  Kings may come and go, and rebellions rise and fall, but as long as they didn’t do anything disasterously stupid, the family remained.

What is important to a medieval family man?

… What Tywin Lannister said.

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