Late Medieval Martial Service Contracts at Pennsic War XL, Part IV – The Mother of All Battles

For the story up to now, please see parts I, II, and III

I awoke extra early Monday morning to arm myself. The other fighters in camp gave me some strange looks when I strolled out more than an hour before muster. When I arrived at the Brotherhood encampment I was informed that Savaric would not be fighting with us. He was to marshal the battle, leaving Roderick in charge. This was not a problem. I’m certain that when commissioned to fight with a company or under a particular lord’s banner in the middle ages you wouldn’t directly, or even indirectly, follow that individual. We were to fight as the King’s guard however. With that in mind the troops marched to Midrealm Royal camp to escort His Majesty. A grand entrance we made onto the field. At that point we settled to wait for final assembly and instructions to move out.

The Middle Kingdom was to defend the castle first. My place with the army was on the right flank in front. I was shield to Conri’s spear. It was fun but we were forced to retreat into the castle. From there we attempted to stop the enemy forces from coming around our far right but to no avail. The opposing army had taken the castle. We needed to get it back. It was now our turn to attack. Right up the center we ran, knocking back wave after wave. Dust got kicked up when we hit the road but we kept pushing all the way around and into the castle, eventually retaking it and ending the morning’s conflict. I had not exerted myself that hard for that long in some time. Cameron and Amelie held a field court as I hydrated, but immediately sought rest after and retired to my pavilion.

I was still under contract until Savaric released me so in the early evening I headed back to his camp. I had been invited back for dinner, which I was grateful for, and the night was full of merriment. I was able to socialize with the fine soldiers I had the pleasure to fight with earlier in the day. The night wore on and His Excellency asked for a table to be set. We all gathered around, including the King and Queen. With their Majesties came our contracts, freshly stamped with the kingdom seal.

On the back of the contract lies the signatures of the King and Queen and their seal.

Many kind words were spoken about our deeds. I was humbled and honored. It was time to conclude our affairs. Count Savaric spoke some special words to myself and the group before we shared a drink from his mug and payment was issued. He was not content with paying the 2 oxen yoke worth. No. I was compensated with a hand struck coin of solid gold. Savaric was generous in his gift, his praise, and his hospitality. I will cherish the memories as well as the tokens from our agreement.

My half of the Brotherhood contract beside a gold coin payment for my service.

Next… Part V – Five Bridges


Late Medieval Martial Service Contracts at Pennsic War XL, Part III – Making it Official

It was dawn on Saturday at Cooper’s Lake Campground. A long day lay ahead as no one was yet awake, I needed to set up my encampment, then hunt down the four commanders to finalize our contracts. Until now I had only been in contact with them online. Once set up and properly dressed I grabbed a small box provisioned with the tools necessary to complete the indentures and set off.

My first encounter was with Baron Fergus. I was fortunate to have caught him early and still in his camp. He welcomed me in and we settled to conduct business. While I had wax, a lighter, and a base for dealing with the melted wax, we were attempting to do this outdoors. The breeze kept blowing out the flame. Getting enough wax down over the knotted cords became tricky. After grabbing a longer utility lighter along with some creative maneuvering we were able to get enough prepared for his seal. It worked beautifully so we repeated the process, including my seal. Fergus insisted on payment in advance: a pouch of hand struck coins and both black and white salts. A sharp knife and one wavy line later we had our finished contracts.

My half of the contract along with generous payments from Baron Fergus.

Confident that this mobile waxing box worked I strode off to the Midlands encampment. Captain Duncan was not present so, wasting no time, I hiked across the battlefield to Lozengia. Count Cellach was also not in. I was informed he was out fighting. The Brotherhood’s camp was a longer journey but not overly taxing and, as luck would have it, found his Excellency at his tent. “When do you want to do this?” Savaric asked, “Surely not now. We need witnesses.” We agreed I’d come back late in the evening so more could be involved.

Back to Midlands I traveled with my box of contracts… This time it was a success! Duncan was receiving guests and I was expected. The methods used with the Constellation contract were repeated successfully. He was sorry to inform me that they had left my payment at home. Not caring to leave a friend empty handed I was given some pungent spices as compensation. Duncan wanted a satisfying tear when we split the indented parchment so I merely scored a line with my knife. One rip and another contract was done.

Cellach and I did meet up at one point and the best time for him was the following day at the Combat of the Thirty. With this noted I had only one remaining task for the night: The Brotherhood.

Count Savaric was prepared for our meeting with waxes and seals.

Evening has settled over Pennsic. Torches and lamps were lit. When I arrived at Savaric’s camp not only were their other gentlemen and ladies there to witness our dealings but the King himself! The process for the seals was slightly different as he had prepared votive candles and spoons melting the wax. With little effort all the pendants were sealed, mine on red with an “A” and his on black with a cross pattée. We were blessed to have Cameron bear witness to the sealing of our contracts and he signed the back of the vellum. Once the contracts were separated they were kept by the King for the application of the royal seal. These contracts are unique in this regard.

Sunday was another busy day. I was present at the Combat of the Thirty only as a spectator this year. Ready again with my box, Cellach and I meant to take care of matters on the field. This proved improbable, especially as I no longer had a heat source with me, so we retired to his encampment after the battle. Once in a controlled environment everything went smoothly and the final contract was completed. Having just won a ring from a ransom, his Excellency used it as his signet as it bore both a chivalric belt and lozenges from his heraldry.

Count Cellach sets his mark into the wax. Photo credit Janis Hurst.

We attempted to tear the contract in two but the goat parchment proved quite sturdy. A deeper score was made and the halves were at last separated, concluding the written formalities. It was now up to me to fulfill my end of the bargain by serving each man as dutifully as I could.

Matching contracts in hand, the deal was struck. Photo credit Janis Hurst.

Continued in Part IV – The Mother Of All Battles

Late Medieval Martial Service Contracts at Pennsic War XL, Part II – Drafting the Contracts

If you have not done so already, here is a link to read Part I

The battles were determined. My commanders were notified. I was ready to put pen to paper. Almost.

The Brotherhood
Sir Cecil de Tueurleon had been my primary contact but ventures abroad meant I was now involved with Count Savaric de Pardieu. We had agreed that I should fight on Monday’s scenario, which was named The Mother of All Battles. My payment, as suggested by Sir Cecil, was coin in roughly the period cost for 2 oxen. After doing some research I found that to be gross overpayment for my services. However, on this website all about medieval prices it shows that the yoke itself (sans oxen) costs 2 shillings in 1350, which isn’t as far off. The final contract copy was the following.

This indenture, made between the noble men Lord Arthur Nathaniel Archer, on the one hand, and Count Savaric, on the other hand, bears witness that the aforesaid Lord Arthur, along with his arms, armor, and shield, is to remain as a man-at-arms with the aforesaid Count Savaric, for one day, the eighth day of August, to go with the said Savaric wherever he wishes to make war, receiving the customary wages at the choice of Savaric, which is to say for himself equal to two yokes for oxen, or 8s. And the aforesaid Savaric promises that he will pay to the Lord Arthur, before his departure from service, in full, as specified above. And in case the said Count Savaric wishes that he shall have support at court, Lord Arthur, as is specified above, shall advise his lord and pay him the traditional feudal aids required on the knighting of the lord’s eldest son, the marriage of the lord’s eldest daughter, and the ransoming of the lord should he be held captive. And concerning the prisoners which may be taken by the aforesaid Savaric, or by his men, the aforesaid Arthur shall have additional wages drawn of the profits of their ransom. Written at Pennsic, the sixth day of August, anno societatis, the year LI under our great King Cameron.

Contract between Count Savaric and myself. It is ready for wax seals and cut in two.

I used goat parchment from Pergamena and oak galls ink made by a gentleman in the SCA who goes by Ian the Green. My process for all the contracts was the same.

  • Pasted copy into Adobe Illustrator.
  • Selected an appropriate typeface that represented the period I was trying to recreate. I used WirWenzlaw and EtBoemieRex and adjusted them to my needs.
  • Tape down a print out of the layout to a light box then tape my parchment over that.
  • Pen directly onto the parchment using the print as a guide. I used a Speedball 512 nib as I found it worked best with the uneven nature of the parchment.

The choice to pen the contract in French was threefold. French was common among English nobles in the 14th century, translating English to Latin online is an uncertain enterprise, and it simply looked cool. Now I just needed to do the other three…

The Midlands
Captain Duncan ‘The Monster’ wanted me especially for the woods battle. Thursday it is!

This indenture made the sixth day of August, in the second reign of King Cameron of the Midrealm, witness that Arthur Nathaniel Archer does bind himself, for the period of one day, August eleventh, to Captain Duncan for the support our King’s aggressive designs against the East. The Captain granteth him a fee of 1s, or twelve pence, to be his man-at-arms and to do him service afore all other in manner following; the said Arthur, upon reasonable warning, shall be ready at all times when it shall like the said Duncan to command him to come to his presence to and in all parts and places, to do with service with him, and to sojourn and ride with as many men as the said Duncan is to assign or command under his livery. Also the said Arthur does bind himself to this indenture and she shall keep Duncan’s council in all manner of things that are lawful and gentle, and she shall not be released save by word of Duncan, or by fulfillment of his duties, as specified above. And the said Arthur shall have of the said Duncan the third of a third of all manner of prisoners prizes and winnings gotten by way or fortune or adventure of war. In witness whereof the parties above to these present indentures have put to their seals at the Pennsic War the sixth day of August anno societatis LI.

My contract to fight with the region of the Midlands between myself and Captain Duncan.

Count Cellach MacChormach would have me under his banner for one day, and any others I may have had free at Pennsic. We agreed to Friday, the field battle. Decisions on payment went back and forth but eventually settled with a fancy soda, or as I put ink to paper, “a bottle of sensible drink.”

Cellach’s contract was the smallest but had plenty of character. I went with the vellum tabs on this one instead of the braided cord pendants. Both styles were used in period.

Baron Fergus MacPherson was in command of the regional troops this year. He was the last man I was able to contact about this enterprise but was receptive and offered payment of “quarters and maintenance” for my service as man-at-arms on Tuesday’s bridge scenarios.

all contracts before
A look at all four contracts just before war. They were packed with care along with supplies for sealing, signing, and creating a binding indentured contract.

It was time to go to Pennsic and meet the requirements written on each of these documents.

Next up… Part III – Making it Official

Late Medieval Martial Service Contracts at Pennsic War XL, Part I – Inspiration

In January 2016 I moved from Illinois, or in SCA terminology, the region of the Midlands, to that of Constellation (Indiana). When fighting in melees I had always run with the Midlands, so what did this mean for this year’s great War? I had a number of options in front of me: I could remain fighting with my old region, start fighting with my new region, or choose between a handful of knights and households who have shown recent interest. But then I thought, “Why not fight with all of them?” I have always half-joked about being a freelancer. What better time than now to truly express that sentiment?

At this point I decided that looking for a historic analog would be helpful. After poking around some I decided that contracting myself out to various groups would be appropriate and entertaining. In England in the 1300s formal contracts of indenture existed for all manner of things: Land grants and other properties, rents and stewardship, apprenticeships, and others including martial services. These could be contracts by the King for a local lord to supply troops when necessary, subcontracts by captains for archers and men-at-arms, and other forms of indenture between soldiers and commanders.

Example from 1421 Scotland containing a property transfer from Malcolm Fleming to his cousin James. Note the “indented” cut along the top. Each party would keep their half of the contract. You can line the two up to verify authenticity.

Contracts contained 5 important elements. I’ll try to not go into too much detail here.

  1. Service the client was to perform.
  2. Conditional relationship between reward and service.
  3. Clients reward. Paid in various ways – Feudal incidents (life grants of land, grants of escheats, financial aid, rent charges, corrodies, or payments of cash annuities), wardships, marriage of heiress, appointments to benfices (permanent church appointment such as a rector or vicar).
  4. Contracts often stipulate not entering service of another lord without permission and that if the terms of the contract were retracted by the king, the contract would thus be voided and the pay would not have to be met.
  5. Finally, these contracts created lifetime relationships and punctiliously limited rewards to the life of the client.

With this newfound inspiration it was time to reach out to my contacts in the Society; commanders of the groups I wished to fight with.

Thank you for your interest in my participation with ______ at Pennsic. I don’t see that the daily battle scenarios are posted yet but I wanted to let you know what my plan will be. I am reaching out to the heads of the various households and commanders of the regions to figure out which day I am to fight with which group. Once that has been determined and the service and payment has been agreed upon I will draft up individual contracts in medieval style that spell out the details. Here are some payments that seem most flavorful and adapt well enough into the context of the SCA and Pennsic:

  • Payment of cash (Footsoldier 8d, Ensign or Light Cavalry 1s per day).
  • Free quarters and maintenance during my service. I take this as a meal and a place to camp for one night for my services on the field for one day. For practical reasons I will accept hospitality in the encampment in lieu of actually staying the night in the camp.
  • Livery fabric, badge, or article of clothing to display while in your service.
  • Token or memento of service performed.

My plan was to see what similarities and differences exist between the regions and houses in the Middle Kingdom. Casting a wide net at this particular event ensured the collection of a lot of data in a short amount of time. I was interested in being more than “SCA Fighter Default” and to that end sought more knowledge about my position in the armored community through this experiment. I also hoped not to just fight with them. In negotiating a contract for services there is inherent time spent with at least the commander of the groups. One of my payment suggested provisions for the night. I liked the idea of fighting with a group, then retiring to their camp for dinner and evening entertainment. More than anything I wanted to have fun playing with medieval feudalism concepts and apply them to what we do in the Society.

Next up… Part II – Drafting the Contracts

A few links related about indentured contracts in the medieval era and within the SCA:

History in Deed: Medieval Society & The Law in England, 1100-1600,-239,68