29 December-4 January 1415: New Year

Adoration of the magi

By Dan Spencer

The first of January was an important day of celebrations despite the fact that the New Year did not officially begin until the feast of the Annunciation on 25 March in the Middle Ages.

Unlike the modern custom of giving presents on Christmas, gifts would have been exchanged on New Year’s Day, with the king giving to his household officials and senior members of the clergy. The previous year, 1413, Henry V had, as a New Year’s present, restored to the abbot of St Peter’s church in Westminster Abbey a ring valued at 1,000 marks which had been given to the shrine of Edward the Confessor by Richard II. Gifts were also exchanged amongst the nobility, with Edward, Duke of York, receiving expensive presents from the Duke of Berry on 1 January 1414, including a gold hanap (drinking goblet) with a golden bear, as well as a large uncut diamond and a spine from the Crown of Thorns, enclosed in a crystal cross. The day finished with a lavish banquet and entertainments.

New Year’s Day 1415 also saw the foundation of a new order of knights by Jean I, Duke of Bourbon Emprise du Fer de Prisonnier (Enterprise of the Prisoner’s Iron). The order was to comprise thirteen knights and three squires, who were to each wear a badge on their left legs with a prisoner’s chain made out of gold or silver until he had captured an Englishman in battle. The previous year, in 1413, he had led an attack on the Duchy of Gascony (which kings of England had been rulers of since the marriage between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II in the twelfth century), which led to the capture of the town of Taillebourg. The Duke of Bourbon was to launch further attacks on Gascony in 1415 and was later captured at the battle of Agincourt.

This information came from Ronald Hutton, The Rise and Fall of Merry England: The Ritual Year 1400-1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 15-16; Alexander Murray, ‘Medieval Christmas’, History Today, 36 (1986), p. 35; James Hamilton Wylie, The Reign of Henry The Fifth, Vol. I. 1413-1415 (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1914), pp. 137-8, 150-1, 202.

Image is of the Adoration of the Magi (1310s), taken from Wikipedia and is in the Public Domain