The government has issued a safety advisory against attending weddings in Westeros. However, you are cordially invited to travel back in time to attend the greatest wedding of the fifteenth century. This event will blow your mind with its conspicuous consumption the likes of which you will probably never hear tell of in the modern world. Do you accept? Great.
Make sure you rest up! This medieval wedding has ten days of partying and festivities – not to mention the travel time.
You will be traveling to Bruges in 1468 to attend the marriage of Charles the Bold and Margaret of York, a princess who is the King Edward IV’s younger sister. In the process, you have become the son of an up-and-coming gentry family.1 This is a great opportunity, so your ambitious family warns you not to blow it.
|Charles the Bold||Edward IV||Margaret of York|
Frankly, you didn’t believe this wedding would even happen. In fact, you bet half of a war horse that the wedding pact would fall apart. The king’s cousin and maker, Warwick, is furious over this marriage pact with Burgundy. He had been pushing for a French match, and you thought he would get his way.2 Sadly, you lost. But, happily you were asked to be part of the wedding escort.
Frankly, it’s surprising that Charles consented to marry a York princess at all given his descent from John of Gaunt — and, consequent, blood relation to the now-deposed Lancastrian line. Charles had always shunned such a match and only agreed as a bulwark against his Valois cousin Louis XI.3
Preparing for the wedding, however, hasn’t been easy. This is the “great age of cloth,” which means that this era is all about opulent display on a scale you’ve never experienced before in the modern world. Like all aristocrats, you cannot be seen at court unless you are suitably attired – and this means decked out in rich velvets, lustrous pearls, copper and gold buttons, silks, and glossy dark furs – or the gentry equivalent4 .
As a result, your family has had to borrow great sums of money –perhaps £200 to 300 — to acquire one suitable set of clothing for the occasion.5 Your dad was lucky. A rich Grocer loaned him the money at the guild rate — only 8.5% — instead of the typical 12%.6 In exchange, you have to take his son on as a squire.
It will take your family six years to repay the cost of this one garment. Still your father notes that, even just twenty years ago, it was next to impossible to borrow money.7 And, your mother is thrilled; her mother’s cousin was sent home from court because he couldn’t afford to dress commensurate with his proximity to the king and her family has never forgotten the shame.
In case you are fooled by all this talk of luxury clothing, you are inhabiting the body of a vicious warrior who has been trained to ride and kill since he was five years old. Despite the velvets and finery, you’re the son of a medieval knight, not a foppish dandy who couldn’t bear to spill a drop of blood.
This is an age of grandiose potent display. To a certain extent, wealth is worn on your person and people at the top of the pyramid (dukes, kings) embed jewels and gold into their clothing.
In an age before the newspapers and even widespread portraiture, when there is no way to identify people you’ve never met from a distance, the wealthy convey their importance by wearing opulent, some might even say flashy, clothing. Such clothing is an aggressive status symbol that might be the equivalent of a ruthless executive pulling up in a shiny red Lamborghini. Clothing showcases wealth, power, and dominance. And, men, and not women, are the true peacocks of this age. (Men spend more on their clothing than women.)
Why clothing you ask? This is the great age of cloth – and it fuels the economy of Burgundy and London, who supplies what is known as the best wool in Europe.
Still, you need to be careful when purchasing cloth. There is fraud in the production of cloth, including deceitful stretching and dying of cloth.8 Your father warns you to stay away from the Italian cloth merchants – they are crooked – but your man servant tells you he’s heard that the Italians have the finest merchandise.9
The Voyage Begins: The procession out of London
Finally, your clothing is ready and the day the wedding voyage begins has arrived.
The trip to Bruges (in Burgundy) is across the sea. It will take a couple of weeks of land travel just to get to the port. Of course, you could leave directly from London, but the princess’s procession and magisterial departure is an important for national pride.
The voyage of the princess – who is known as Lady Margaret — begins on Saturday June 18th, 1468. She rides from the king’s Wardrobe, which by the way is a grand storage facility and residence (and not a closet), to St. Paul’s cathedral in London. Throngs of Londonners deck the streets to send her off, watch her parade, and cheer proudly for her. This is a great day for England.
Behind the pomp, is a darker story. You’ve heard that the royal family is ripping apart at the seams over this marriage. Despite his powerful cousin Warwick’s fury, Edward chose to marry his sister to Burgundy instead of France. One of your servants has told you that privately, Warwick, even ranted about war.
Still, at the head of the procession, Warwick rides through the streets of London. Margaret sits behind him on the same horse. She is a tall, strong-willed, grey-eyed brunette. This act lets him put on a good show so the people don’t see the tension.10 But, of course, he’s not the only one who may be acting today.
While today begins Margaret’s greatest ambition – to become the wife of a ruler, a near queen, she must feel some apprehension. Margaret will have to live the rest of her life in a foreign country and will likely only see her family one or two times before she dies – if she is lucky. She likely knows her husband-to-be is a short violent man with a quick temper. He’s loves war – and not women.
Still, Margaret is managing to hold her head high, despite the cruel rumors spread by the vindictive French king she was a loose woman who had already given birth to son.
To be continued…
- You’re not John Paston, but perhaps a very close twin of his. For illustration purposes, this trip takes a few liberties in blending details from other weddings (annotated). The points are factual but the combination and context are not necessarily. [↩]
- John Paston II made this bet – and lost – in 1468. However, he did as Helen Castor put it, “win a place” in the wedding entourage — a huge coup. See Castor’s Blood and Roses p. 242. [↩]
- J. Calmette The Golden Age of Burgundy p. 176 [↩]
- There is no information that the Paston-esque time traveler borrowed sums for his wedding attire, but it wouldn’t be unheard of. [↩]
- This estimate is based on reducing amounts spent by nobles like Richard of York, who spent over £1200 on one garment to go to court. See Duke Richard of York 1411-1460 by P. A. Johnson. [↩]
- For the rate, see The Yorkist Age p. 286 [↩]
- Between 1453-1470 money was “surprisingly easy” for nobles to borrow if they had decent security, a tricky concept in the late Middle Ages. For the difficulties in borrowing money in an underdeveloped money market, see M. Hicks Richard III and His Rivals “Counting the Cost of War” p. 202. [↩]
- P. Kendall The Yorkist Age p. 310 [↩]
- See P. Kendall for a discussion of the legislation enacted against Italian merchants who were suspected of fraud. It’s unclear to me at least, if this is factual or the age of fear of immigrants and competition. In The Yorkist Age p. 310 [↩]
- Mary Clive p. 128 [↩]