Since I am writing my paper on the royal affinity under Richard II, I thought I would use this blog post to provide an overview of this body, based on the most comprehensive study available – Chris Given-Wilson’s The Royal Household and the King’s Affinity. In my previous blog posts on bastard feudalism (x x), I discussed the practice of retaining lower-ranking members of the gentry which emerged among the nobility in the 14th century. Richard II is notable for being the first king to fully adopt this practice himself. Earlier kings had certainly retained men, but these retainers had primarily remained within the royal household. Beginning during the political crisis of 1387, however, Richard began retaining men in the localities in order to establish a widespread base of support throughout the country.
For the most part, Richard’s retainers had one of two titles – “king’s knight” or the lower-ranking “king’s esquire”. This is not to suggest, however, that king’s esquires could not be of substantial importance within the king’s affinity, only that they were less individually powerful in their localities than fully fledged knights. According to Given-Wilson, 149 king’s knights served during Richard’s reign. This number excludes those king’s knights who primarily served within the household as either chamber knights or high-ranking household officers. Additionally, 280 king’s esquires are recorded during the reign, excluding esquires and sergeants of the household. Interestingly, a substantial proportion of these esquires were retained during the last two years of Richard’s reign, a period which has come to be known as Richard’s “tyranny”. Only 105 of Richard’s 280 king’s esquires are mentioned before 1397. After this point, in what has been referred to as the ‘Cheshire phenomenon’, the king recruited a great number of esquires, mostly from Cheshire, a county under direct royal control which Richard granted principality status in 1397. Overall, this means that 429 members of the gentry made up the king’s affinity outside of the household (Given-Wilson 212).
The angels in the famous Wilton Diptych, commissioned by Richard II in the 1390s, wear Richard’s badge of the white hart, which has come to symbolize his affinity
In the first two years of his reign, Richard retained between 240 and 250 persons. Sixty of these were knights, forty-four were esquires, and the remainder were lower-ranking servants of Edward III. The majority of these men were retained at the same time as their annuities received under Edward III were confirmed (Given-Wilson 213). This, along with the fact that Richard was still a child without any real control of government, suggests that at this time, the process of retaining was not intended to create anything akin to a new royal affinity, but was rather a necessary step for maintaining a level of continuity in the transition from one reign to the next.
From this point until 1387, Richard engaged in very little retaining. After being essentially stripped of power by the commission of 1386, Richard left the heart of royal government in the southeast and embarked on a yration around the country. It was at this time, specifically during the summer of 1387, that Richard began attempting to tie prominent men in the localities to himself (Given-Wilson 213-4). Richard’s motivation in doing this was clear – he was attempting to gain sufficient gentry support to take back control of government. Unfortunately for him, this attempt was made too late and proved insufficient to prevent the Appellants from emerging victorious in 1388.
After regaining power in 1389, Richard revived his attempts at creating an affinity, this time much more formally, as is demonstrated by the substantial increase in men retained by the king for life. In particular, Richard was heavily engaged in retaining from 1391-3 and from 1397-8 (Given-Wilson, 214).
According to Given-Wilson’s assessment, with which I completely agree, Richard’s overall motivation in his retaining policy was the creation of a loyal core of supporters in the event of another crisis such as the one which occurred in 1387-8 (Given-Wilson 217). Richard’s loss of control of government in these years made clear the lack of support, both military and political, on which he could rely in the face of opposition. Thus, from the time he regained power, he made it his priority to build up this support through the mechanism of the affinity which was so heavily used by the nobility. Whether or not this policy was a successful one is a question I will examine in depth in my final paper. However, the fact remains that another crisis did indeed emerge in 1399, and this time Richard lost power not temporarily, but permanently, despite all his efforts to secure his position.
Given-Wilson, Chris. The Royal Household and the King’s Affinity: Service, Politics and Finance in England 1360-1413. Yale UP, 1986.