I am very pleased to welcome author and historian Toni Mount on the website today as a 2nd stop of her book tour for the release of The Colour of Betrayal, the 4th part in the Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery series.
Just as the 2nd part in the series, Betrayal is a novella. For The Wars of the Roses Catalogue Toni wrote a very interesting article about the Medieval Goldsmith. Enjoy!
The Colour of Betrayal is the latest whodunit in the popular ‘Sebastian Foxley' series of medieval murder mysteries by author and historian Toni Mount. Inspired by a true story from the 13th century, this new story involves the murder of a London goldsmith whilst he was ‘in sanctuary’ at St Mary le Bow church.
The Medieval Goldsmith
In medieval times, goldsmiths were organised in guilds and were usually one of the most important and wealthy of the guilds in a city. Their patron saint, Dunstan, was renowned as a skilled metal worker who had once got the better of the Devil, tweaking his nose with a pair of red-hot tongs. The guild kept records of members and the marks – hall marks – they used on their products which, when they survive, are very useful to historians. In England, the London mark is recorded in 1300 and the London Company of Goldsmiths received their first royal charter in 1327. Leo of Rozmital visited London in 1465 and remarked on the huge number of goldsmiths in the city:
The masters alone, without the journeymen, amount to four hundred but they are never idle for the size of the city and its wealth provides them with work in abundance.
Goldsmiths often acted as bankers since they dealt in gold and had sufficient security for the safe storage of valuable items. Goldsmithing often included silversmithing as well, but the brass workers and workers in other base metals, such as copper and tin, were normally in a separate guild since the trades were not allowed to overlap. Lead workers were different again – they were plumbers. Many jewellers were also goldsmiths, designing settings for the customer’s stone of choice.
William of Gloucester
Royal patrons were often the goldsmiths' best customers. Henry III [1216-72] was always sending his accounts into the red with his extravagant spending sprees, buying gold and silver plate, jewelled chalices and crosses for his favoured religious foundations as well as jewellery for his own use. From 1240 onwards, Westminster Abbey became the focus of his lavish spending as he venerated St Edward the Confessor, rebuilding the saint's shrine in the abbey as well as creating a splendid mausoleum for himself and his royal descendants. Henry's accounts show that William of Gloucester was his favourite goldsmith, working as a supplier of raw materials, the designer and artist of fine items and acting as a royal clerk. William first appears in the records in 1251 when he was paid for his labour and the precious metals he used to repair some crystal candlesticks and make a gold cup for the king.
Later in the year, William supplied almost £60 worth of jewels and eleven garlands of goldwork at more than £5 each for a royal wedding in York when, on Christmas Day, Henry's eleven-year-old daughter Margaret married ten-year-old Alexander III, King of Scots, in St Mary's Abbey. A year later, William became the King’s Goldsmith officially and more lucrative commissions followed: 110 marks for a golden crown to be a gift to the King of Norway; a set of six cups for Henry’s half-sister and items for the king including rings – over 141 in one year alone – brooches and girdles; chalices, censers, crosiers and mitres as religious gifts; dishes, saucers and goblets for the royal table.
Other commissions were for Henry’s daughter-in-law, Eleanor of Castile and the Bishop of London who ordered a bejewelled mitre and matching crosier. In 1257, William was involved in the design and minting of gold pennies – the first English gold coins – and a new Great Seal for the king’s use as well as a silver image of Katherine, the king’s youngest daughter, for her burial in Westminster Abbey in that year. But William’s biggest commission was the golden shrine for St Edward’s tomb in Westminster. For the last three years of his life, William worked on little else and this sumptuous project was not quite finished when he died in 1269. It must have been a most impressive example of the goldsmith’s art.
But William’s life had not been all plain sailing: as a citizen of London, he had sided with Simon de Montfort against the king in the Barons’ Wars of 1264-5, despite being exempted by the crown from taxation as one of the perks of his royal office as King’s Goldsmith. His decision to support the barons is not easy to explain since one of de Montfort’s greatest complaints against King Henry was the monarch’s over-lavish spending on luxuries... a situation which must have benefitted William considerably. After de Montfort was defeated at Evesham by the royal army in 1265, William was imprisoned at Windsor for his part in the rebellion but, within two years, he was back in favour, working at Westminster and wealthy enough to buy up properties in London and manors in both Kent and Essex.
Sir Edmund Shaa
Edmund Shaa [or Shaw] was born in Cheshire but was apprenticed in 1450 to a London goldsmith, Robert Butler, completing his apprenticeship in 1458. Just four years later, in 1462, he received a grant for life as Engraver to the Tower of London and other English and Calais mints, an office he held for twenty years. He was a successful goldsmith all his life, having a shop, a warehouse and working houses in his will. There is no evidence that he traded regularly overseas, and, unlike many goldsmiths, he doesn’t seem to have acted as a moneylender. However, like other wealthy Londoners of the time, he did lend money to Edward IV in 1468 and, subsequently, made several private loans to the king, including the huge sum of £240 made in 1469.
Shaa was elected alderman of Cripplegate ward – the Goldsmiths’ ward – in July 1473 and became sheriff the following year. He was Warden of the Goldsmiths’ Company twice and Prime Warden in 1476. In 1482, having been the unsuccessful mayoral candidate the previous year, Shaa was elected Lord Mayor and was in office when Edward IV died and throughout the tumultuous period leading up to the usurpation of Richard III. It is for his role at this time that Shaa is mainly remembered. According to Sir Thomas More, writing around 1515, it was his brother Ralph Shaa, a Cambridge graduate, doctor of theology and canon of St Paul’s, who preached a sermon at Paul’s Cross, claiming that the then Duke of Gloucester was the only lawful claimant to the throne. Ralph had formerly been a popular preacher, but so hostile was his audience on this occasion that his death in the following year was said to have been due to chagrin at the cold reception accorded to his sermon.
As Lord Mayor, Edmund Shaa was involved in the ceremonies of the coronation of Richard III, and he was subsequently knighted and sworn on to the Privy Council. The value of his commercial dealings with Richard and of the grants he received suggests the king was keen to secure his support. Shaa survived Richard’s downfall without any difficulty but died on 20th April 1488 and was buried in the Mercers’ chapel, St Thomas of Acon, but left legacies to his parish church of St Peter’s, Westcheap, and to the inhabitants of Cripplegate ward, including 400 marks for the rebuilding of Cripplegate itself in that section of the city wall which was the goldsmiths’ responsibility.
In his will, he made arrangements for prayers to be said for Edward IV, Edward’s sister Anne, Duchess of Exeter, and Lord Herbert but, wisely, he makes no mention of Richard III. Shaa held Essex properties worth over £50 per annum when he died, including Ardern Hall and Horndon House, as well as a large house in Wood Street, London. He bequeathed over £4,000 in cash, plate and jewels as well as personal and household effects and all the tools belonging to his workshop. He was survived by his wife, Juliana, a son, Hugh, who died childless a few years later, daughters Margaret (married to a mercer, Thomas Rich) and Katherine (who married William Brown, another mercer), as well as four sisters.
In his will, Edmund specified sixteen rings to be made of fine gold engraved with sacred images, to be given to named mourners. He says that his ex-apprentices, John Shaa and Raff Lathum, ‘understand right well the making’ of these rings. John was his nephew and inherited all his uncle’s property after the death of Edmund’s childless son, Hugh. John went on to become Master of the Mint, an MP, a knight and Lord Mayor of London.
Toni Mount is a popular writer and historian; she is the author of Everyday Life in Medieval London and A Year in the Life of Medieval England (pub Amberley Publishing) and several of the online courses for www.medievalCourses.com.
Her successful ‘Sebastian Foxley’ series of medieval whodunits is published by MadeGlobal Publishing and the latest book in this series The Colour of Betrayal is available as a paperback or on Kindle and was launched on October 2nd 2017.
|The Wars of the Roses Catalogue|