9-15 February 1415: Shrovetide and the Commissioning of Crews for Royal Ships


By Dan Spencer

On 9 February 1415, a commission was given to seven masters of royal ships to recruit sailors for the king’s service.

This consisted of William Hore, of the Thomas of the Tower, John Kyngiston, of the Trinity of the Tower, Richard Walsh of the Mary of the Tower, Robert Schedde, of the Philip of the Tower, John Merssh, of the Katherine of the Tower, John Arnold, of the Gabriel of the Tower, and Nicholas Neel, of the Paul of the Tower. All of these ships were relatively recent purchases, with the Gabriel (30 tons) acquired in 1410, the Thomas (180 tons) and Trinity (120 tons) from 1413, with the Katherine (210 tons) and Philip (130 tons) acquired in late 1414 or early 1415 (it is unclear which ship the Mary refers to as there was both a ‘grand’ and ‘petit’ ship of this name at the time).

Information on the equipment provided for these ships survive in the accounts of William Catton, Clerk of the King’s Ships, for the years 1413-1416. For instance the weaponry and armour on the Thomas of the Tower, included five bows with fourteen garbs of arrows, four guns, eighteen basinets with eleven ventailles (helmets with attached mail to protect the neck), twenty lances, eight coats of mail and three pole axes. These vessels were used for a variety of purposes which incorporated trading missions to Bordeaux, protecting fishery ships in the North Sea and transporting soldiers, such as for the Agincourt campaign later the same year.

The business of government, however, largely stopped over the period called Shrovetide, which started on the seventh Sunday before Easter and finished at the end of the following Tuesday (10-12 February in 1415). This was a three day period of celebrating and eating prior to the first day of Lent on Ash Wednesday. In particular, items such as meat, eggs and cheese would be consumed in large quantities as they could not be eaten during the long period of feasting during Lent.

The final day of Shrovetide, Shrove Tuesday, was a day for the confession of sins known as ‘shriving’ (from which the name of Shrove Tuesday derived). It was also marked by exuberant feasting, merrymaking and entertainments such as football and ‘cockthreshing’. These were both activities which had been popular in England since at least the twelfth century and had the potential for popular disturbances. This led the Corporation of Chester in the following century to ban Shrovetide football because of the actions of ‘evil disposed persons’. This was understandable, as football in this period normally lacked rules or teams so was rather violent in character. ‘Cockthreshing’ was the name of a form of entertainment which involved tying a cockerel by the leg, with the participants attempting to knock over or kill the animal with stones.

On the next day, Ash Wednesday, it was expected that parishioners would attend church where the priest would bless ashes, sprinkle holy water and place the combination on the heads of the congregation.

This information came from Ronald Hutton, The Rise and Fall of Merry England: The Ritual Year 1400-1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 18-19, 57; Calendar of the Patent Rolls 1413-1416, pp. 294-295; The National Archives, E364/54 Rot. H.; Susan Rose (ed)., The Navy of the Lancastrian Kings:  Accounts and Inventories of William Soper, Keeper of the King’s Ships, 1422-1427 (London:  Allen & Unwin for the Navy Record Society, 1982), pp. 229-231

Image the fight between Lent and Carnival, taken from Wikipedia and is in the Public Domain