Welcome to the household of Baron Adhemar de Villarquemada. We are a small group dedicated to recreating the culture, customs and crafts of a late 14th- early 15th century through the structure of a French nobleman's household. For the most part we're middle class nobility and down, not grand seigneurs, and ruling princes. The Baron de Sainte Claire, while of a respectable lineage, well enough connected and well enough off, just isn't in that class.
Consequently, those who serve in his household will be of similarly modest stature, though that still leaves a lot of scope for persona and other interests. From minor nobility through any almost any sort of tradesman or crafter, priest or clerk, down to huntsmen and farmers, all of these have a place within the household.
A Brief History of the Period
In terms of time, the Maison St. Claire is situated in the middle period of the Hundred Years War. There has been a long period of peace, since the truce was signed at Leulingham, in 1389. It was only supposed to last for three years, but what with all the turmoil that's been on amongst the English, they haven't had the time to be invading every summer anymore. All in all it's been a good season. Though it's going to get hotter soon, no doubt. There's a new king of the English, got there buy blood and murder, he'll be across the sea as soon as ever he can...
This is the Hundred Years War, second half. England and France have been intermittently going at it since 1337 (officially, at least), when Edward, king of England renounces his fealty for his duchy of the Aquitaine to Philippe, king of France. Philippe confiscates the Aquitaine, and Edward raises armies and sails for France. One of the big theaters of the war is Brittany, where a civil was breaks out with the death of the Duc de Bretagne in 1341. England supports de Montfort, the late Duc's younger half-brother, France supports de Penthievre, the daughter of the late Duc's elder brother. Meanwhile in France proper the battle of Crecy in 1346 stuns the world with a great defeat for the French.
Throughout the next 50 years, through periods of intense fighting and some lengthy truces the war drags on in fits and starts. Large parts of France, mostly in the north and west, are devastated by both the 'official' war and the bands of brigands that roam the lands in between times. The balance shifts between the French and the English, and alleigences and loyalties shift as well. The arrival of the great pest in 1347, which ravages the population of Europe for beginning of the schism in the church in 1389 only makes matters more difficult.
Currently, France has known a relative state of peace for the last 20 years, the last serious raid by the English being in 1383, when Hugh Despencer leads his 'crusade' through Flanders. The Peasant's Rebellion in England in 1380, the loss of the Duc de Bretagne as an ally and the Parliaments increasing reluctance to finance the continuing war in France have all led to a great decrease in the ravaging of the French countryside, and a certain 'return to normality' amongst the French. England has been at war mostly with itself, the capricious and ineffectual government of Richard II dividing the country into violent factions and, in the late 1390's, leading to plots against and the eventual overthrow and murder of Richard II by Henry Bolingbroke. Bolingbroke ascends the throne as Henry IV (part I) in 1399, and spends the next few years dealing with factions and politics at home, as well as the Welsh rebellion that followed.
The French have recovered a great deal from the earlier predations of the English armies, though small bands of brigands still roam about and a great deal of the country side is depopulated due to both plague and war. The King, Charles VI, has been on the throne for 22 years, though he only began ruling in his own right in 1388, re-instating his father's advisors and reforming the government. He fell ill in 1392, however, and was has been subject to alternating periods of madness ever since. This has allowed Louis, Duc d'Orleans, and Jean sans Peur, Duc de Burgogne to contest for power within the government, to the general detriment of the land. This division in the government, added to the fact that there's a new, more warlike king on the throne in England make these uncertain times...
Getting started with Le Maison Sainte Claire
Getting started is fairly simple. While we expect members to have a certain level of wardrobe and equipment, the basics to start are comparatively low. Some stuff we can loan you to help get you going, and we'll help you get your own starter kit together, and advance to the complete kit.
Below is the minimum kit for turning out with the Maison.
The tunic, chausses and hood (for the men) and the hose, Cotte and hood (for the women) may be of any period color desired, the remainder should follow the guidelines in the full kit definition below.
The structure of the Maison Sainte Claire
At the top, there is the Baron de Sainte Claire, to whom everyone in the house is in some way attached, and to whom they ultimately report. The principal officers of the house are the the Dispencer, also known as the Chef du Maison, and the Commanderesse. Monseuir le Dispencer is the person in charge of all the men of the house, and of their day to day function. The Chef pays the wages and the bills (from the Baron's purse, of course...), organizes the labor and chores, and sees to the general good order of the house and lands in general. Madame la Commanderesse is the person in charge of the women of the house, and the house in specific. The cooking and cleaning, clothing and feeding, as well as it's general health and well being. Reporting to them are all the specialists and laborers, undercooks, maids, varlets, farmers, huntsmen, etc. that make the house run.
Building your impression
The impression that we're going for is that of normal people of our class and time, and therefore we lean towards the more mainstream style of life and work. Most of the facts of your life should be believable and fit easily into the expectations of the sort of person you are trying to portray. That means no 'stolen by gypsies' stories, no 'captured by pirates while on the way to Prester John's court', no raised by wild Mongols. While the travels of Sir John de Mandeville may be amusing, they are not to be taken as documentation.
That being said, there is nothing that says that your persona can't have done interesting things and been to interesting places. It is a time of war and change, and of greater than usual mobility, both physical and social. Just bear in mind that for someone who grew up in a village in coastal Normandy a visit to Rouen would be a great deal of excitement. Tailor the story to match the impression, the experiences to match the class and lifestyle. Concentrate more on the depth of knowledge of what you would know, and have done, rather than a breadth of experience. Build a persona around what you can do, or what you're learning to do.
Traveling in the Baron's train as a member of his household you may have seen Mont St. Michel, or some of the great castles of Normandy, certainly Rouen and Vannes, possibly even Paris, which is of course the center of the universe. You may have seen important figures of the day, knights, counts and Dukes, possibly even the King. There are a myriad of possibilities for exciting experiences.
General Standards for the Maison Sainte Claire
What we're trying to do is get to the most period day to day portrayal of people from the early 15th century as possible. Research is the key to achieving that goal and we are constantly striving to fine tune and perfect the base of knowledge we possess, and to put that into practice as we go about the activities of the Household. It makes perfection a moving target, for further research may show that what we did yesterday may not be acceptable tomorrow.
In pursuit of that goal, there are a few general rules:
As it says in the Introduction what we are trying to re-create is a sort of 'middle class to upper middle class' nobility, not really the great court nobles or princes of the realm. That should be borne in mind when looking to make any new clothes, or acquiring new gear, and the question of 'Is it period for my persona' should be supplemented by 'Is it appropriate for my persona'. This is not to say that there should be no luxuries, but that the luxuries should be just that. The Duchesse de Bretagne may wear silk every day, and ermines and velvets, but she's a Duchesse. Monsieur de Sainte Claire is a baron, and that doesn't necessarily translate into heaps of cash. Consequently, those who serve in his household will be of a more humble stature. All of this is not to say that you shouldn't have good clothes, or nice things. But the clothes and other items you have should be appropriate to the station that you are re-creating.
For more information on what's period for us in terms of style and form, please consult the article 'From the Skin Out' which was written for this purpose, or ask Monsieur le baron directly.
The major part of a wardrobe should be of wool or linen, as those were the predominant fabrics in use for our time and place. Silks and velvets, as they are today, were luxury fabrics, and should be used sparingly.
Wool: In plain and twill weaves, any weight or style, solid colors preferred.
Linen: In plain weaves, any weight or style, solid colors preferred.
Cotton: Cotton batting is acceptable for quilted items, and cotton canvas is an acceptable substitute where hemp canvas would have been used.
Silk: Silk may be used, but should be used sparingly, and should never form the bulk of a wardrobe. Habatoi, twills and silk satins are acceptable, noil and 'raw' silk is not. As a general rule the smoother a silk is the better, as very nubby silks are a modern vogue.
The preference is for simple plain or twill weaves, as those were the most common types in the period. Fancy brocades and satins were expensive luxury goods, and as such should not be too much in evidence in the general wardrobe.
Satin is acceptable, if made from a period material (silk or wool). Both are rather mind boggelingly expensive. If you can find cotton satin, I'll consider its use, but acetate satins are right out.
Velveteen is acceptable if made from a period material (silk or wool). Cotton velveteen is acceptable in certain circumstances, but consult me before using it, please. Velvet should not be used, as the pile is too deep to make for a true re-creation of the period fabric.
Brocades are very chancy, and should only be bought after consulting with me in regard to pattern and content. All-cotton brocades are acceptable, in order to recreate a 'look', though they should be used sparingly, and after consultation.
All visible stitching (flat felling, topstitching, etc.) shall be done by hand. "Visible" is defined as 'can be seen the looking at the garment by itself'. I don't want to hear "well, it's my underwear, nobody is going to see it?"
Stitching that is not visible (inner seams) may be done by machine.
Buttonholes and eyelets should be done by hand.
Buttons should for the most part be of cloth, wood, bone or cloth covered wood. Metal buttons made in a period manner and style are acceptable, but should be used sparingly.
Linings , when used, should be of a lesser fabric. Natural, un-dyed linen would be the most common, and in a lighter weave than the shell.
Please note these are the minimum for complete wardrobe, and deals mainly with basic garments for everyday use, and not with more elaborate clothing. This is the level you should be at after a year with Le Maison Sainte Claire.
Anything above and beyond what is on this list is acceptable, as long as it conforms to the standards set for the garment itself, and the fabric, fiber and construction standards outlined above, as well as the compatibility with you general impression.
It should be borne in mind, however, that extensive wardrobes, with a new cotte for every day of the week, are extremely extravagant, and should be avoided. Monsieur le Baron may be wealthy enough to afford that, but most of his retainers are not that well paid. There is an abbreviated list above for 'Starter Kit' which is the minimum requirements to begin with.
This list is concerned primarily with clothes and small personal belongings. While there may at some point be a similar list for such items, for the moment feast gear, camping gear, jewelry and other such items should be made or acquired after consultation.
Tentage: Canvas pavilions. There are a number of reputable vendors and styles. See the Juried Merchants list for details.
Whomever you get one from, or if you make it yourself, the following standards apply:
Camp Furnishings: Wood. There is very little documentation for camp furnishings, as most illuminations and tapestries don't actually show you the inside of pavilions. So a lot of this is open for further research, and I'm making these rules on a 'best logical guess' basis. If anyone can produce the requisite documentation, I'd love to see it.
Cooking Implements: Wood and iron. Again, we don't have a lot of documentation for this, so we have to operate on the 'best logical guess' theory. As such it should be kept simple and practical.
Storage Items:Wood, iron and cloth. This is basically chests and sacks.