Friday, January 13, 2012

The Organization of a Gentry Household: Alice de Bryene

Alice de Bryene was the widow of a knight banneret, with an income that, including in-kind consumption of food produced by her manors, was about 400 pounds a year. From the early 15th century to her death her home was the manor of Acton in East Anglia, where she had several other manors. She also had another group of manors, about as numerous, in the West Country.

General Officers

The Lady: Alice herself was active in the administration of the household. She seems to have made many of the purchases for her wardrobe account herself: cloth, clothing, furs, spices, wax, wine and salt, as well as her servants’ wages. She seems to have kept accounts, “the papers of the lady” of this spending. In a larger household this would be the duty of a clerk of the wardrobe, clerk of the household, or treasurer. In Alice’s household, there were a limited number of wardrobe outlays to account for: wages quarterly, liveries twice a year, and purchases of spices, wax and wine a few times a year. She also directed her receivers to make these and other purchases and payments on her behalf out of cash they had collected for her.

She also gave alms and oblations, either personally or by directing her receivers, steward or bailiffs to make payments in money or frequently in kind.

Receiver. Responsible for the collection of revenues from outside her home manor, as well as making payments as directed above.

Steward. Accountable for the purchase, production and consumption of victuals and other consumable goods. For example, although Alice’s record accounted for the initial purchase of the wax, the steward recorded the wax “of the lady’s providing” as an expense, as well as wicks, the fees of the candlemaker, and the consumption of the candles. Tallow candles were both purchased made up and made from purchased tallow, which did not involve the wardrobe. While Alice purchased cloth for liveries, the steward accounted for linen for aprons. He also accounted for the production of bread and ale from grain, and their consumption within the household. He was often a clergyman.

Bailiff of the manor: responsible for the agricultural production of the home manor, including the upkeep of farm equipment.

At least two men served as auditors and to supervise her manorial courts, although this was probably not a full time job. She also employed several rent collectors.

Those of her other manors which she did not rent to tenants would have had their own bailiff and steward, and she had another receiver responsible for her West Country estates.

While Fastolf’s steward and receiver were ranked as gentlemen, his bailiff was ranked as a yeoman.

Yeomen and Clerics of Offices

Large households were divided into many departments. Alice’s household must have been simpler. Based on her accounts, the organization of the slightly smaller servant body of the priory to be founded under John Fastolf’s will, and Fastolf’s own larger household, the departments consisted of:

Chapel, under a chaplain of gentle rank. Alice had an unusually large number of chaplains: as many as four at one point, plus at least two chapel clerks. The men described as chaplains may have served other functions as well: two of her stewards were clerics. A single clerk ranked as a groom to assist the chaplain would have been more typical for a household of this size.

Chamber, under a chamberlain of yeoman rank, assisted by a servant ranked as a groom. Alice had a chamberlain and cameraria or chambermaid named Agnes whose duties included feeding the manor poultry. Henry of Derby’s chamberlain’s duties included accounting for gifts, and regardis which were bonuses and gratuities.

Kitchen, under a cook of yeoman rank assisted by a groom. This would be two departments in a larger household.

Bakehouse and Brewhouse, under a yeoman baker assisted by a groom.

Buttery and Pantry, under a yeoman butler, unassisted.

Stables, with a single groom.

Body Servants

Alice had a maid of gentle rank, and in some years two. Fastolf’s wife and sister were both served by gentlewomen. His daughter had a maid ranked as a yeoman and his receiver had his own yeoman.

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