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THE BONDMA N.
ABOUT a quarter of a mile south of Winchcombe, on the summit of a gentle elevation, are still the remains of a castle, which, as Fuller says,
was of subjects' castles the most handsome habitation, and of subjects: habitations the strongest castle."
In the month of August, in the year thirteen hundred and seventy-four, this distinguished place, called Sudley Castle, presented an interesting scene
- the then owner, in consequence of his father's death, holding his first court for receiving the homage and fealty of his vassals.
The court-yards were thronged with the retainers of the baron, beguiling the hour until the ceremony called them into the hall. This apartment, which corresponded in magnificence and beauty with the outward appear. ance of the noble pile, was of an oblong shape. Carved representations of battles adorned the lofty oaken ceiling, and suspended were banners and quarterings of the Sudley and De Boteler families. Ancestral statues of oak, clad in complete armour, stood in niches formed in the thick walls. The heavy linked mail of the Normans, with the close helmet, or skullcap, fastened under the chin, and leaving the face exposed, encased those who represented the early barons of Sudley; while those of a later period were clad in the more convenient and more beautiful armour of the fourteenth century. The walls were covered with arms, adapted to the different descriptions of soldiers of the period, and arranged so as each might provide himself with his proper weapons, without delay or confusion.
The hall had a tesselated pavement, on which the arms of the united families of Sudley and De Boteler (the latter having inherited by marriage, in consequence of a failure of male issue in the former) were depicted with singular accuracy and beauty. About midway from the entrance, two broad steps of white marble led to the part of the hall exclusively appropriated to the owner of the castle. The mosaic work of this privileged space was concealed on the present occasion by a covering of fine crimson cloth. A large arm-chair, covered with crimson velvet, with the De Boteler arms richly emblazoned on the high back, over which hung a velvet canopy fringed with gold, was placed in the centre of the elevation ; and several other chairs with similar coverings and emblazonings, but wanting canopies, were disposed around for the accommodation of the guests. The steward at length appeared, and descended the steps to classify the people for the intended homage, and to satisfy himself that none had disobeyed the summons.
The tenantry were arranged in the following order :-
Then followed the vassals who held lands for watching and warding the castle. These were considered superior to the other vassals, from the peculiar nature of their tenure, as the life-guards, as it were, of their lord.
Then those who held lands in chivalry, namely, by performing stated military services, the perfection of whose tenures was homage.
The next were those who held lands by agricultural or rent service, and who performed fealty as a memorial of their attachment and dependence.
The bondmen, or legally speaking, the villeins, concluded the array. These were either attached to the soil or to the person. The former were designated villeins appendant, because following the transfer of the ground, like fixtures of a freehold, their persons, lands, and goods being the property of the lord ; they might be chastised, but not maimed. They paid a fine on the marriage of females ; who obtained their freedom on marriage with a free man, but returned again to bondage on surviving their husband. The latter class were called villeins in gross, and differed nothing from the others except in name; the term signifying that they were severed from the soil, and followed the person of the lord. Neither of the classes were permitted to leave the lands of their owner; and on flight or settlement in towns or cities, might be pursued and reclaimed. An action for damages lay against those who harboured them, or who refused to deliver them up, - the law also provided a certain form of writ by which the sheriff was commanded to seize, or obtain them by force. There was one mode, however, of nullifying the right of capture. If the runaway resided on lands of the king, for a year and a day, without claim, he could not be molested for the future ; although he was still liable, if caught beyond the precincts of the royal boundary, to be retaken.
The classification had just finished, when a door at the upper end of the hall was thrown open, and the Baron of Sudley entered, attended by his guests, and followed by a page.
Roland de Boteler was a man about six-and-twenty, of a tall, well-proportioned figure, with an open, handsome countenance: but there was a certain boldness or freedom in the laughing glance of his large black eyes, and in the full parted lips, blended with an expression, which, though not perhaps exactly haughty or cruel, yet told distinctly enough that he was perfectly regardless of the feelings of his dependants, and considered them merely as conducive to bis amusement, or to the display of military power. A doublet of crimson cloth, embroidered with gold, was well chosen to give advantage to his dark complexion. His tunic, composed of baudykin, or cloth of gold, was confined round the waist by a girdle, below which it hung in full plaits, nearly to the knee, - thus allowing little of his trunk hose, of rich velvet, corresponding in colour with the doublet, to be seen. Over his dress he wore a surcoat or mantle of fine violet-coloured cloth, fastened across the breast, with a gold clasp, and lined with minever. His hair, according to the fashion introduced by the Black Prince, when he brought over his royal captive, John of France, fell in thick short curls below a cap in colour and material resembling his mantle, and edged with minever; and the lip and chin wore neither mustachio nor beard.
His eye fell proudly for a moment on the assembled yeomen, as he took his seať for the first time as Lord of Sudley; but speedily the ceremony commenced.
The individual first summoned from among the group, was a tall athletic young man of about twenty-five, with a complexion fair but reddened through exposure to the seasons. His hair was light-brown, thick, and curly, and there was a good-humoured expression in the clear gray eyes, and in the full, broad, well-marked countenance, that would give one the idea of a gay, thoughtless spirit — had it not been for the bold and firm step, and the sudden change of feature from gay to grave as he advanced to the platform, and met urnabashed the baron's scrutiny, at once indicating that the man possessed courage and decision when occasion required these qualities to be called into action.
Stephen Holgrave ascended the marble steps, and proceeded on till he stood at the baron's feet. He then unclasped the belt of his waist, and having his head uncovered, knelt down, holding up both his hands. De Boteler took them within his own, and the yeoman said, in a loud, distinct voice
“Lord Roland de Boteler, I become your man from this day forward, of life and limb and earthly worship, and unto you shall be true and faithful, and bear to you faith, for the lands that I claim to hold of you, saving the faith that I owe unto our sovereign lord the king.”
The baron then bent his head forward and kissed the young man's forehead; and unloosing his hands, Holgrave arose, and bending bis head, stood to hear what De Boteler
might say. “You have spoken well, Holgrave,” said De Boteler, looking goodhumouredly upon the yeoman, “and, truly, if the life of Roland de Boteler is worth any thing, you have earned your reward ; and, here, in the presence of this good company, I covenant for myself and my heirs, that you and your heirs, shall hold the land for ever, in chivalry, presenting, every feast of the Holy Baptist, a pair of gloves."
“Calverley," said the baron, as Holgrave retired, and while addressing his esquire his features assumed a peculiar expression : “What a pity it is that a yeoman should reap the reward of a service that should have been performed by you had your health permitted !"
The sarcastic smile that accompanied these words, called up a glow even deeper than envy had done; yet, in a calm voice, Calverley replied, “The land, my lord, though the gift be fair, is of little account in comparison with the honour of the deed; but I may humbly say, that if Thomas Calverley had witnessed his master's peril, he would have been found as valiant in his defence as the yeoman, whose better fortune it was to be present.”
Aye, aye, my good squire,” said the baron, still in a laughing tone, your illness, I am told, gave you a most outrageous appetite — doubtless your feeble constitution needed strengthening! Come, come, man, it is but a joke— never look so blank; yet, if we laugh, there is no reason why those knaves should stand grinning there from ear to ear. But the senior vassal advance."
The vassals who were to perform homage then prepared to go through the customary form; and an old gray-headed man advanced first from the group to do fealty, and, standing before the baron, pronounced after him the following oath, holding his right hand on the gospels :
“I, John Hartwell, will be to you, my Lord Roland de Boteler, true and faithful, and bear to you fealty and faith for the lands and tenements which I hold of you; and I will truly do and perform the customs and services that I ought to do to you, so help me God!" The old man then kissed the book, and retired to give place to the next; and so on till all who owed fealty had gone through the ceremony.
Lastly advanced from among the bondmen, or villeins, the oldest servitor, and, holding his right hand over the book, pronounced after De Boteler
“Hear you, my Lord de Boteler, that I, William Marson, from this day forth unto you shall be true and faithful, and shall owe you fealty for the land which I may hold of you in villeinage, and shall be justified by you
both in body and goods, so help me God and all the saints." After kissing the book he withdrew; and the bondmen successively renewed their servile compact.
While the vassals were retiring from the hall, the Lord de Boteler turned to the gentleman near him
“Sir Robert,” said he, “ you saw that vassal who first did homage? to that base-born churl I owe my life. I had engaged hand to hand with a French knight, when my opponent's esquire treacherously attacked me from behind. This was observed by my faithful follower, who struck down the coward with his axe, and, in a moment more, rid me of the knight by a blow that cleft his helmet and entered his brain. He also, by rare chance, I know not how, slew the bearer of that banner yonder, and, when the battle was over, laid it at my feet.” “You have made him a freeman since then ?" inquired Sir Robert.
he received his freedom from my father, when a boy, for some juvenile service - I hardly remember what. Yet I shall never forget the look of the varlet - as if it mattered to such as he whether they were free or not! He stared for an instant at my father the tears trembling in his eyes, and all the blood in his body, I verily believe, reddening his face, and he looked as if he would have said something; but my father and i did not care to listen, and we turned away. As for the land he has now received, I promised it him on the fieldof baitle, and I could not retract my word.”
“No, baron,” said Sir Robert; "the man earned it by his bravery; and surely the life of the Lord de Boteler is worth more than a piece of dirty land.”
De Boteler, not caring to continue so uninteresting a subject, discoursed upon other matters ; and the business of the morning having concluded, he retired with his guests from the hall.
It was about a fortnight after this court-day that the fortunate yeoman one morning led his mother, Edith Holgrave, to the cottage he had built on the land that was now his own.
Edith entered the cottage, her hand resting for support upon the shoulder of her son - for she was feeble, though not so much from age as from a weak constitution. As she stepped over the threshold she devoutly crossed herself; and when they stood upon the earthen floor, she withdrew her left hand from the arm that supported her, and, sinking upon her knees, and raising up her eyes, exclaimed
“May He, in whose hands are the ends of the earth, preserve thee, my son, from evil. And oh! may He bless this house !"
While she spoke, her eyes brightened, and her pale face for a short time glowed with the fervour of her soul.
“Stephen, my son," she continued (as with his aid she arose and seated herself upon a wooden stool,)“inany days of sorrow have I seen, but this proud day is an atonement for all. My father was a freeman, but thy father was a serf; but all are alike in His eyes, who oftentimes gives the soul of a churl to him who dwelleth in castles, and quickens the body of the base of birth with a spirit that might honour the wearer of crimson and gold. My husband was a villein, but his soul spurned the bondage ; and oftentimes, my son, when you have been an infant in my arms, thy father wished that the free-born breast which nourished you could infuse freedom into your veins. He did not live to see it; but oh! what a proud day was that for me, when my son no longer bore the name of slave! I had prayed I had yearned for that day, and it at length repaid me for all the taunts of our neighbours, who reviled me because my spirit was not such as theirs !"
“Come, come, mother," interrupted Holgrave,“ do n't agitate yourself ; there is time to talk of all this by-and-by.”