c.1345: The First Henxmen
When and why was the post of Henxman created?


This page considers the documentary evidence and the political context for when the Henxmen were created, leading to the current estimate of circa 1345.  It also culminates in far-reaching conclusions about why the Henxmen were created, the reasons behind their key duties, and why their post and their reputation survived so long.

Earliest Source
So far, no record has been found which states exactly when the post of Henxmen first appeared.  The sources regarding mediaeval Henxmen are generally brief and widely scattered, but through persistent research many separate references have been discovered.  For instance, about 25 separate mentions exist from the reign of King Edward III (1327-1377) alone.  However, despite extensive searching in earlier records, no sources mentioning Henxmen before this time have been discovered.

The earliest known source mentioning the Henxmen is a Roll of Expenses of the Great Wardrobe of Edward III.  This large and complex source contains 7 separate references to the Henxmen, each of which relates to a separate event, but concerned with only 2 topics overall (which are therefore dealt with separately, on 2 consecutive pages, of the Henxman Sources website).

None of these excerpts bears a specific date, but this part of the main source is known to date from 21 Dec 1345 to 31 Jan 1349: a period of 3 years and 1 month.  It therefore appears that the post of Henxman was created sometime about the beginning of this period – although the source gives no hint of the actual date.

Of the 7 Henxmen references within this source, the first 2 relate to expenses for winter coats and cloaks (presumably ordered in the autumn), and the third to short summer capes (so presumably ordered in the spring).  The other 4 references are from a separate author, contain no contextual hints at any dates, and could have originated at any time within the source period of 3 years and 1 month.  For the purposes of dating, they are therefore best ignored. 

So the dateable elements of the record appear to cover at least 2 autumns and 1 subsequent spring, suggesting a spread over a period of about 1½ years.  The only complete Autumn-Autumn-Spring sequence within the source period is from Autumn 1346 to Spring 1348.  This implies that the post of Henxman must have been created no later than Autumn 1346.

This only proves the latest possible date: in theory, the Henxmen could have been created at any earlier time.  However, the longer a post existed, the more likely that it would show up in the accounts.  As no earlier mentions have been discovered at all, this suggests the Henxmen were created not long before this date.  So from the documentary evidence, an estimate of circa 1345 (plus or minus a year or so) seems reasonable. 

Illustration:  Edward III, King of England & France, and Lord of Ireland.  Engraved 1688.
It was this King who created the post of Henxman in circa 1345.  For picture details, see footnotes.

The list below gives a summary of the key dates, regarding these earliest known records of the Henxmen:

  • Circa 1345      Estimated date for the creation of the Henxmen, plus or minus about a year.
  • 21 Dec 1345    Earliest possible date for the first of 7 earliest records of the Henxmen.
  • Autumn 1346  Latest possible date for the first of 7 earliest records of the Henxmen.  Therefore also the latest possible date for the creation of the Henxmen.
  • 06 Jul 1347     Midpoint for the document containing the first records of Henxmen.  Circa 1347 is therefore used as an approximate date for these records.
  • 31 Jan 1349    Latest possible date for the last of the 7 earliest mentions of the Henxmen.

Missing Sources?
The creation of any new post in the Royal Household would normally attract some documentary mention, if only in changes to official expenses such as uniforms and wages.  So why is there no mention of the formation of the first Henxmen?

This is probably at least partly due to the fact that some of the household documents from Edward III’s reign, which could have included details of the Henxmen, have been lost over time and apparently no longer exist.  Furthermore, other documents containing pertinent details may still exist, but are not easily accessible or have not yet been translated into modern English.

So some of the original historical records will probably never be accessible, and have disappeared beyond our reach.  If the Henxmen’s creation was noted in these, we will probably never know the true date.  A detailed map of these gaps in the historical record is not available at present, but could provide an overall indication of the chances that the data has been lost, and of the most likely timeframes.

For some other records, their status and/or contents are currently unknown.  But these still hold some potential for further elusive details to be discovered.  To investigate these for mentions of the Henxmen could form a useful – albeit time-consuming – mediaeval history research project.

Only the remainder of the records are currently accessible: a random patchwork of surviving documents.  All mentions of Henxmen within these records are being collated on the Henxmen Sources website, and provide the only hard evidence currently available.  Any earlier dates are conjectural, and rely only upon circumstantial evidence.  So until we know more about the gaps in the data, the estimated date of circa 1345 still stands.

Political Context
A final but important piece of the jigsaw, albeit based on purely circumstantial evidence, is the political context of that time.

Edward III first claimed the throne of France in 1337, but was rejected by the French.  He turned initially to a strategy of political alliances to further his cause.  However, after it became clear this strategy was ineffective and too expensive, in 1340 he renewed his claim and pursued it more vigorously, by increasingly military means, under his direct control.  His claim to the riches of France soon became a driving force in Edward's life.

As part of this great undertaking to seize the French throne, Edward III began putting considerable effort into devising new ways to bind his existing subjects to his cause, and to impress his potential new subjects in France.

He employed a wide range of approaches, including resurrected legends, much-flaunted heraldry, grand ceremonies, public jousting tournaments, the symbolic use of colours, minting gold coins in bulk for the first time, commissioning great new buildings, providing eye-catching uniforms for state servants, fostering strong backing from the Church, and creating inner circles of trusted supporters around himself. 

Any public occasions were stage-managed to create awe-inspiring events, and these became a major political tool for enhancing the King’s renown amongst both his friends and his foes.

Some of these initiatives to win hearts and minds, such the creation of a new Round Table building at Windsor Castle, to echo the exploits of the legendary King Arthur, were never completed due to the costly onset of war with France.  Others, such as the founding of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, seem to have grown organically over some years as Edward III tested and refined his ideas. 

This period of great creativity in motivational public relations lasted from 1340 to 1348, and was only curbed by the first arrival of the Black Death in England (killing over one third of the population within 6 months, and temporarily halting the war effort).

Illustration:  Detail of Edward III, eyeing the Crowns of England & France.  Engraved 1688.
Grasping this great prize became an obsession for Edward III, and his efforts ignited the Hundred Years War between England and France.
For picture details, see footnotes.

Key Events
There were 4 early phases in Edward III’s great initiative at the start of the Hundred Years’ War.  The key events in these are outlined below:


1337-1339.  Phase 1:  Alliances

1337.  King Edward III is already at war with Scotland, an ally of France.  In retribution, King Philip VI of France invades and confiscates Edward III's Duchy of Aquitaine and County of Ponthieu.  Edward III responds by claiming the throne of France, as the grandson of King Philip IV of France.  The French reject his claim.  Commencement of the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453), between the French and English kings.  Edward III initially uses political alliances and bribes against France, resulting in growing debts.

20 Sep 1339.  Edward III invades France on a punitive raid.  He is poorly supported by his allies and is driven back, concluding that alliances are ineffective and too costly.

1340-1346.  Phase 2:  Preparation for War

26 Jan 1340.  Public declaration by Edward III at Ghent, of his renewed claim to the throne of France.  At the same time, Edward III announces his new royal arms will now include the blue and gold fleurs-de-lys of France.

24 Jun 1340.   Major English naval victory against the French at the Battle of Sluys, Flanders.  The French fleet is destroyed, giving Edward III control of the Channel for invasion and defence.  Public discontent with the record English national debt (due to Edward's expensive alliances) forces administrative, fiscal and policy changes.

1342-1343. 
Edward III invades and overruns Britanny, France, but with indecisive results.

Jan 1344.  Edward III initiates annual Round Table festivities, promising to renew King Arthur’s legendary fraternity of knights.  He commences a massive round Round Table House at Windsor Castle, as a home for a new Order of the Round Table.  The proposed Order is never created, due to war with France, but it later becomes the model for the Order of the Garter.

Circa 1345.  Estimated date for the creation of the Henxmen, plus or minus about a year.  First minting of 'nobles' - the first English coins to be made of gold, and bearing a design celebrating Edward's naval prowess and his claim to the French throne.  Edward III’s lengthy and careful preparations for the invasion of France.

1346-1347.  Phase 3:  Success

11 Jul 1346.  Edward III and his son the Black Prince, with 15,000 men in over 700 ships, sail from Portchester and Solent ports to invade Normandy.  Edward III gambles his life upon his supporters, hoping to seize French territory and wealth, avoid or defeat the French army, and advance his claim to the French throne.

26 Aug 1346.  Edward III makes the first recorded use of cannon in the Battle of Crécy, France.  The result is a resounding English victory, and a turning point in the war.

03 Aug 1347.  English capture of Calais, France, after an 11-month siege.  A second great victory, securing this strong beachhead for English invasions for more than 200 years.  Edward III's achievements at Crécy and Calais consolidate the support of the nobility behind his leadership.  His successes also reduce English criticism of Edward III's taxes raised for the war, and enhance his relations with Parliament.

1347-1348.  Phase 4:  Consolidation

12 Oct 1347.  Edward III returns triumphantly from his campaign to England; Edward III and England celebrate.  A large number of jousting tournaments, celebrating knightly prowess, continue on through 1348.

1347-1348. 
First mention of blue robes (referencing the blue of the French royal coat of arms), ordered for Edward III and his knights.  Also the first mention of blue garters bearing the motto ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’.  The colour blue, and garters bearing this motto, are later adopted for use by the new Order of the Garter.

24 Jun 1348.  Jousting tournament at Windsor Castle, at which the concept of the Order of the Garter seems to have been finalised.

Circa Jul 1348.  Founding of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, celebrating the strength and unity of England behind the monarch’s leadership.  It is used as a mark of royal favour, to publicly reward principal supporters of the monarch, and to praise their example.  Edward III adopts Saint George, as the patron saint of the royal family, England, and the Order of the Garter.  Re-dedication of the Chapel at Windsor Castle, to become St George’s Chapel.

06 Aug 1348.  Establishment of the Royal College of St George, a group of priests supporting the work of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.


Date of Creation
The political context, outlined above, provides a second check on the estimated date for the formation of the Henxmen.

The Henxmen do not appear to have been involved in Phase 1 (Alliances) of Edward III’s great project.  There is no surviving record of them from this phase, and the post of Henxman would not have significantly advanced Edward III’s main policy during this phase, of purchasing foreign alliances.

By the beginning of Phase 2 (Preparation for War), Edward III had realised that a much more reliable strategy was needed.  Constrained by limited funds, he committed to careful and lengthy preparations, focused on maximising his chances of success through military action, and bolstered by a range of initiatives to motivate supporters and potential subjects in his favour. 

The Henxmen’s role fits well with the objectives of this phase, which appears by far the most likely period for their creation.

It can be seen that the formation of the Henxmen delivered a boost to the King’s image at a relatively low cost, compared with many other aspects of Edward III’s immense undertaking.  This further suggests Phase 2 as the most likely period, since the cost-effective Henxmen initiative could have commenced relatively early in the King's project, during a time of budget difficulties, before the King gained substantial additional wealth from the spoils of his later victories.

Phase 3 (Success) was almost exclusively an active military campaign.  Assuming the post of Henxman was created before July 1346, it seems quite possible that both Edward III and the Black Prince were attended by Henxmen during this invasion. 

On the other hand, the Henxmen’s role was not primarily of a military nature, and no records confirming their presence on the Crécy campaign have yet been discovered.  It seems very unlikely that Edward III would have concerned himself with creating such a post during this tense and crucial campaign, where his own person was at risk: it seems much more probable that he initiated the Henxmen whilst at home in England.

The Henxmen are known to have existed during Phase 4 (Celebration).  The discussions above, demonstrate that the latest possible date for the earliest known record of the Henxmen, is the autumn of 1346 – at the very beginning of Phase 3.  However, the wording of that record seems to imply that the Henxmen were already an established part of the Royal Household by then, having been formed sometime earlier.  So the Henxmen are not likely to have been created during this phase.

A careful consideration of the political context therefore suggests Phase 3 (Preparation for War) as the obvious period for the creation of the Henxmen, from January 1340 to July 1346.  Within this period, the most likely time is perhaps 1344-1346, as Edward III increasingly concentrated on preparations to motivate his subjects for a successful invasion of France.  This agrees well with the date estimated from documentary records, of circa 1345 plus or minus about 1 year.

The current best estimate for the Henxmen’s date of creation, therefore remains confirmed as circa 1345.

Illustration:  The Titles of Edward III.  1688.
Edward III was the first English King to claim a right to France, and created the Henxmen and the Order of Garter to bolster this claim.  For picture details, see footnotes.

Royal Henxmen
The estimated date for the Henxmen’s formation, strongly suggests they were part of Edward III’s great drive to build support for his cause.  A knowledge of the political context of the 1340s also throws important new light upon the duties of the Henxmen.  Each of the main functions that defined the Henxmen, coincides precisely with known key elements of Edward III’s project to raise his supporter’s morale, and to strengthen his personal bid for the French throne:
  • The creation of the Henxmen as an exclusive inner circle, simultaneously offering an example and a reward for loyal service
  • The Henxmen's role in ceremonial processions, to enhance the grandeur of state occasions
  • The duty of the Henxmen to manage the King’s stallion, enabling the King to appear more strong and heroic
  • The Henxmen's spectacular uniforms, to emphasise the power and glory of the monarch
  • The direct allegiance of the Henxmen to the monarch, rather than to intermediaries
  • The Henxmen's ability to take independent action within authority granted by the monarch
  • The Henxmen's cultivated reputation for impressive capability, combined with absolute loyalty
Each of these original features was directly relevant to royal needs, and was strongly attached to the Henxman role.  Indeed, they were to remain part of the Henxmen's duties for the next 220 years, and to linger much longer in the public memory of the Henxmen, well after their passing.  This insight into their creation provides a unified, coherent explanation on why these specific characteristics became so firmly associated with the Henxmen’s role and reputation.  It also confirms that they did not accumulate over a long period, but were deliberately conceived and designed to be part of that post, as its raison d’être, from the very beginning.

The Henxmen’s role turned out to be a brilliant piece of multi-purpose, cost-effective job design, which resulted in long-term relevance, despite many dramatic changes to the political context.  The adaptable services of the Henxmen, utilised by a succession of monarchs, ensured their survival through the bitter Wars of the Roses (1455-1485, where both sides adopted the post), and the turbulent start of the Tudor dynasty in 1485 (when the post was immediately adopted as part of the trappings of power). 

For 10 generations the Henxmen helped to meet the continuing royal needs of royal security, public safety, status and pomp, while simultaneously providing a usefully discrete, loyal and flexible capability in private.  This understanding is of much more significance than just a date of creation for the Henxmen.  It provides the explanation of why (as well as when) the Henxmen were created, and why their post – with their particular mix of abilities and duties – survived for so long.

It also explains why their reputation grew and lasted so well.  The Henxmen gripped the public imagination for centuries, and became a byword for their special attributes, as few other posts in the Royal Household ever did.  The reason, it appears, is simply that they were meant to, from the very beginning; and that the perpetuation of their unassailable legend was both part of the plan, and very much in the royal interest.

References
  • Sir Nicholas Harris NICOLAS (1799-1848).  1846.  Observations on the Institution of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.  Archaeologia.  Volume XXXI.  Pages 1-181.  J. B. Nichols & Son.  London.  Collection of Richard HINXMAN.
  • Elizabeth HALLAM (Editor).  1995.  Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry.  Part IV: Edward III 1327-1377.  Tiger Books.  Twickenham, Surrey, England.  Collection of Richard HINXMAN.
This page also draws on content from a range of other original sources, which for the sake of simplicity are not listed here.  However, all of them are in the process of being published in detail on a companion website, Henxmen Sources.

Next . . .
  • Click on Henxmen Sources to open the website detailing original sources about the Henxmen.
  • Click on 1347a: Cloth to see the first known mentions of the Henxmen, from any recorded source.
  • Click on 1347b: Spurs to see further Henxman extracts from this same source.
  • Click on The Garter Connection to discover the links between the Henxmen and the Most Noble Order of the Garter.
Webpage version 2017.3.  First version 2016.
Webpage copyright © Richard HINXMAN, 2016.

Illustrations

1.  Edward III, King of England & France, and Lord of Ireland
Detail from a monochrome engraving.  Found in:  Joshua BARNES.  1688.  The History of that Most Victorious Monarch Edward III, King of England and France, and Lord of Ireland and First Founder of the Most Noble Order of the Garter: Being a Full and Exact Account of the Life and Death of the said King, Together with That of his Most renowned Son Edward, Prince of Wales and of Aquitain, sirnamed the Black Prince, Faithfully and carefully Collected from the Best and most Antient Authors Domestick and Foreign, Printed Books, Manuscripts and Records.  Frontispiece, facing title page.  John HAYES. Cambridge, England.  Collection of Richard HINXMAN.  Copyright © Richard HINXMAN 2016.

2.
  Detail of Edward III, eyeing the Crowns of England & France
Source as above.  Copyright © Richard HINXMAN 2016.

3.  The Titles of Edward III
Joshua BARNES.  1688.  The History of that Most Victorious Monarch Edward III, King of England and France, and Lord of Ireland and First Founder of the Most Noble Order of the Garter: Being a Full and Exact Account of the Life and Death of the said King, Together with That of his Most renowned Son Edward, Prince of Wales and of Aquitain, sirnamed the Black Prince, Faithfully and carefully Collected from the Best and most Antient Authors Domestick and Foreign, Printed Books, Manuscripts and Records.  Detail from the title page.  John HAYES. Cambridge, England.  Collection of Richard HINXMAN.  Copyright © Richard HINXMAN 2016.