Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Medieval Monastic Orders

St Peter's Basilica, Rome
When reading about the Plantagenet era, one inevitably comes across mention of monks, friars, and various clergymen that boggle the modern mind. Different religious houses formed around beliefs of what type of life brought one closer to Christ. In the early centuries of Christiandom, being willing to die for your faith made one a saint. However, as Christianity became the accepted religion of Europe and fewer were martyred, the life of a monk was designed to mimic that sacrifice. One might not die for their faith, but they gave up earthly things, such as property, ambition, and sexuality. How this should best be done was a matter of dispute, and, therefore we see the emergence of many different types of monasteries.


Those living according to the Rule of Saint Benedict trace their roots back to the early Catholic Church. In the 6th century, Saint Benedict began his religious life as a hermit, which allowed him to experience and understand the spiritual temptations and hardships involved in the solitary lifestyle. He formed his organization of monasticism around community and established liturgical prayer hours. Property ownership was forbidden, and a strict, ascetic lifestyle divided the day into times of prayer, labor, and study. The Rule of Saint Benedict was promoted by Charlemagne and his son, Louis, causing it to become the most populous form of monastery in the 9th century.

The habit worn by a Benedictine could vary based on season and geography. Clothes were required to be no more or less than was necessary based on climate. Therefore, a Benedictine living in England might wear a brown wool robe, while one living in Italy wore a lighter one (in color and texture).


Bernard of Clairvaux
The order of Cistercians began with a group of Benedictine monks who founded a new monastery in Citeaux, France. As feudalism became the norm, monasteries had more monks who were younger sons of noblemen, bringing with them ambition rather than piety. The Cistercians wished to rededicate themselves more fully to the Rule of Benedict, emphasizing a faithful community, separated from earthly concerns and independent through days divided between prayer, worship, and laywork such as farming, carpentry, and other community needs. Cistercians wear black and white robes and are often noted for their work ethic.

Bernard of Clairvaux is a famous Cistercian known for his eloquent writing and ascetic discipline. He was an adviser to five 12th century popes and wrote the founding Rule of the Knights Templar.

Knights Templar

The Knights Templar were formed as an order of warrior monks in response to the 2nd Crusade. Supported by Bernard of Clairvaux and Pope Innocent II, they were charged with defending the Holy Land and Christians on pilgrimage. Originally called the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, the Knights Templar were headquartered on Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Knights Templar
Templars were not only highly-skilled warriors. They led ascetic lives of prayer, obedience, and chastity. Drinking, gambling, and coarse language, the norm of most soldiers' lives, were forbidden for the Templars. Muslims retook Jerusalem in the 12th century, and the Templars were devoted to retaking it until their fall in the early 14th century, when they were persecuted by King Phillip of France. Templar Knights were recognized by their white habits emblazoned with a red cross.


Near the beginning of the 12th century, the Carthusians were founded as a group dedicated entirely to an isolated life of prayer. These monks spend the majority of their time in their own cell, and the communities are self-sufficient. Work areas are kept far from the cloisters that those at prayer not be disturbed by noise. Solitude and liturgy are at the center of this strict way of life.

Carthusians wear white robes and spend much of their time in silence. During Henry VIII's reformation of the church in England, Carthusians were infamously tortured and executed for refusing to sign the Oath of Supremacy.


The order of Augustinians has its root in 12th century religious hermits. Looking to live a life that mirrored that of Christ, these hermits had no property or home. They spent much of their time alone, but were not completely isolated. By 1244, enough of these hermits existed to form communities that looked to Pope Innocent IV to give their group greater order. The Rule of Saint Augustine, brought them together into an organization dedicated to harmony, chastity, poverty, and worship.

Martin Luther
Augustinians lived as a community dedicated to Christian community, working together, sharing the fruit of their work, and praying together. Sharing the love of God with each other and those they encountered was at the center of their lives. Augustinians are often noted for their black robes. Dominicans also follow the Rule of Augustine.

One famous Augustinian was Martin Luther. He was so disappointed at his inability to live in a way that he thought pleased God, that it led him to study scripture and realize the corruption that had entered the Catholic Church. His sola fide, sola scriptura has it's roots in Augustinian teaching.



Founded by Francis of Asisi at the beginning of the 13th century, the Franciscans include Friars Minor,  the Poor Clare Nuns, and Brothers & Sisters of Penance (also known as the Third Order of Saint Francis). The Rule of Saint Francis comes to us in various forms, but they are consistent in their call for poverty, chastity, and obedience. In contrast to other orders, Franciscans were travelling preachers based on the example of Jesus Christ. They were not to own property but to receive food and housing as a form of charity wherever they went.

Since their formation, the Franciscans have split into a variety of organizations. They were appointed as leaders of the 13th century papal inquisition and have encountered scandal due to their pledge of enforced poverty. Franciscans are itinerant friars, as opposed to monks and are known for their close attachment to nature and brown or grey robes.

Additional Reading: The Catholic Church: A History by William Cook

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Origin of the Richmond Earldom

The title of Earl of Richmond is now extinct and has been since the beginning of the Tudor dynasty. Henry Tudor held this title before he became king of England by conquest in 1485. The roots of this title go all the way back to the 11th and 12th  centuries when the Normans and Angevins made England part of a vast cross-channel empire.

Richmond Castle
The Norman Conquest of England was a bloody, brutal affair. One way of establishing control was creating a loyal cross-channel aristocracy. Normans were given lands in England, replacing those who continued to rebel against the conqueror. (Eventually, Englishmen would also hold lands to the south, but that would come later.) The earldom of Richmond began this way.

Brittany lay to the west of Normandy, but the Norman dukes did not act as overlords of Bretons until Henry II attempted to do so. During the reigns of William I and II, Breton aristocrats who participated in the conquest and taming of English lands were rewarded with holdings there. After the Conquest, Alan Rufus, who came from a junior branch of the Breton ducal family, was awarded with extensive lands where it is believed that he ordered the construction of the stone castle of Richmond. This was originally termed the Honour of Richmond, but in 1136, a descendant of Alan Rufus, a great-nephew also named Alan, was named the first Earl of Richmond.

This Alan was an ally of King Stephen during the civil war known as the Anarchy. His granddaughter was Constance of Brittany. Through her, the earldom of Richmond passed to her husband, Geoffrey Plantagenet, son of Henry II. When he died, the earldom went to their son, Arthur, whom many believed was Richard I's rightful heir when that king died in 1199.

However, Arthur did not have enough support to defeat Prince John, and was in fact murdered by him. At that point, the earldom reverted to the crown, though it was nominally held by Arthur's sister Eleanor, who was held in captivity for the entirety of her life. A half-sister, Alix, used the title Countess of Richmond, and Henry III eventually made her husband officially earl in 1218.

Edmund Tudor's Coat of Arms
Through various forfeitures and reinstatements, the earldom continued to often be held by Breton aristocracy until the Breton War of Succession. It was then held by John of Gaunt, son of Edward III for three decades before being restored to Breton dukes in 1372. It had reverted back to the crown by the time it was awarded to John, Duke of Bedford in 1414. Finally, in 1435, it was awarded by Henry VI to his half-brother, Edmund Tudor. When he died, the title went to his only son, Henry Tudor.

During the Wars of the Roses, Henry's title was sometimes denied to him by the Yorkist regime, but the earldom was brought under the crown when Henry became king. The title became extinct, though a dukedom of Richmond was created in 1675.

Additional Reading:
England under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225 by Robert Bartlett

Image Credit: Wikicommons