• Simon Fairfax


I think that one of the hardest and most rewarding aspects of writing historical fiction is the research. It is at once both really interesting and yet mentally taxing as you need to do two things: ‘get it right’ and yet put it across with sounding like a pedagogue.

I think one of the great historical fiction writers said: ‘learn all you can and then forget 90% when writing!’ Well, I’m not sure about the percentages, but I know what he meant. With this in mind I wanted to share with you a piece on age and training for knights and people in general in the early 15th C.

Below I have put an extract from the Historical Notes at the back of my latest book. I hope that you find them as fascinating as did I.

It should be noted that only 50% of the population at the time managed to live to see 20. Of those lucky fifty percent, a further half died before they reach 40, and only 5% of people born in this age lived to 65!

A man was therefore considered to be in his prime at 20 years old and mature at 30. Children had a very short childhood, and seven- and eight-year-olds were expected to do a full day’s work. Even the well off, such as a merchant family like the de Grisperes, would expect Jamie to accompany his father Thomas from the age of seven to learn the trade, travelling around with him all over England and abroad at his side, listening and gaining experience. It was a hard world with no tolerance for slacking.

Twelve-year-olds were allowed and expected to attend jury service and could judge their peers and adults alike. Teenagers were encouraged to wed and have children as early as possible due to the high mortality rate and the level of infant mortality. Childbirth in itself was a perilous affair.

Young boys of twelve to fourteen years old were sent away to train to become squires and ultimately knights, after three to four years. This training would always take place away from home in the service of another knight or nobleman. It was a brutal but effective way of producing warriors ready to do full battle and serve from an early age. To put this into perspective, Prince Henry was given leadership of his father’s forces in the Welsh campaigns at just fourteen years of age, where he learned a great deal about castle sieges and guerrilla tactics through first-hand experience. Then at sixteen he was given command of a full wing of his father’s army at the battle of Shrewsbury.

Leaders who commanded in their twenties were well respected often by men much older than themselves. Edward III (1312-1377) led an army into battle against the Scots despite being heavily outnumbered. He led nobles and knights much older than himself who followed him to victory.

Finally, a note on squires or esquires. The modern view is that they were young men not of age, yet squires often stayed as such all their lives, never wanting nor aiming for knighthood. Being knighted brought with it demands and responsibilities, both physical and fiscal in the form of military support and payments of dues above that of a squire, who could hold land and fight without all the onerous terms demanded from a knight.

Therefore, for Jamie to be called to aid the crown at the age of nineteen was nothing out of the ordinary, and many would have been doing so at an earlier age.

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