Recognizing royal estates

Following up on our previous discussion of itinerant kings and royal estates, how do we recognize a royal estate? Sure some may be obvious because they are, you know, fortified. Castles are obvious, but what about all the rest? As far as I know, we haven’t recognized an unfortified Anglo-Saxon royal estate or palace outside of Yeavering. I imagine royal estates come in all sizes and shapes from fortresses to hunting lodges. The news article I was commenting on earlier this week included farms as well.  How do we know that what we identify as a village wasn’t part of an estate? The only marker of royalty that I can image on these estates is perhaps a larger than average hall, but the hall need not be huge.

I imagine that the court on the move was 50 people or fewer. Lets think about who would have been traveling with the king. The retinue wouldn’t have been more than 30, probably less. I imagine these young warriors would have also been dispatched on missions and even as messengers as well. Older princes may have their own court and retinue with a smaller number of estates. I also think queens would have had their own estates. Bede gives us examples of two such estates: Hexham owned by Queen Æthelthryth who had her own steward and household, and Bamburgh itself is named for Queen Bebba, who I think was King Oswiu’s mother. It makes sense for queens to have places were they can remain for pregnancies and while their children are young. Queens would have also supervised textile production for the court which isn’t something that can be done on the move very well.  It is also not very practical for all of the court women to be continually on the move. I imagine that the queen would move between a smaller number of large estates and for special occasions. A young queen or one without children might naturally be with the king more often than usual. For example Queen Irminbergh seems to have moved with King Ecgfrith unless he was on campaign. The king would have a few court servants: a clerk, chaplain, steward/tribute collector, physician, armorer/weapons expert.  There would be a some personal and general servants.

I doubt the full court would have assembled very often. The bishop couldn’t be at court all the time. The full court would have been the entire royal family, ealdormen, probably dukes. I would think they would gather only at a couple of specific occasions like holidays or for major events like pre- or post-campaign gatherings.


4 thoughts on “Recognizing royal estates

  1. This was an interesting to read. I was in discussion earler this week when the focus of the group discussion was how the ordinary people and farmers of the era would have lived. I replied that I didn’t even have a very good understanding of how the king and his court would have lived and looked like. I still don’t have much of a feel for the latter.


  2. I’ve been thinking about Edwin a lot. I imagine his early reign was spent largely on the move with a warband, particularly during late spring and summer: ‘visiting’ northern peoples and soliticiting either gifts/tribute or a fight. The royal women would have moved through a small number of vills: flax here, wool here, hemp there, etc. Everyone would have come together somewhere fortified for Yule, eaten their way through the stories, told all the stories, counted the ill-gotten gains, spun the wool…

    Later in his reign, I imagine him sending out his sons, and spending more time in his core territory, moving from vill to vill (which may or may not have coincided with the peregrinations of the royal women, depending on pregnancy, etc.)

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