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, plus or minus 1 year.  It draws conclusions about why the Henxmen were created, the reasons behind their key duties, and why their post and reputation survived so long.


Documentary Evidence

Earliest Sources
So far, no record has been found that states exactly when the post of Henxmen first appeared.  But this section examines how an approximate date can be deduced from the records.

The sources regarding mediaeval Henxmen are generally brief and widely scattered, but hundreds of separate references have been discovered through persistent research.  For instance, about 25 separate mentions have been found from the reign of King Edward III (1327-1377).  However, extensive searching in earlier records has revealed no Henxmen sources prior to Edward III's reign.

The earliest known source mentioning the Henxmen is a Roll of Expenses of the Great Wardrobe of Edward III, now held in the National Archives.  This large and complex manuscript, written in a shorthand form of mediaeval Latin, contains 7 separate references to the Henxmen, each of which relates to a separate entry in the royal accounts.  However, these references are concerned with only 2 topics overall, which are therefore dealt with separately, on 2 consecutive pages of the Henxman Sources website.

Unfortunately none of the 7 references bears a specific date, but their 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.  None of the references refer to the founding of the Henxmen: they refer instead to routine supplies for Henxmen who have apparently been in post for a year or more.  This implies that the creation of the post occurred sometime near the beginning of the 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 (apparently ordered during 2 separate autumn seasons), and the third to short summer capes (apparently ordered during a subsequent spring season).  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, these 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 at least 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, as the content implies that the post is already established.

This provides us with a latest possible date, although in theory the Henxmen could have been created at any earlier time.  However, the longer any post existed, the more likely that it would show up in the annual accounts.  As no earlier mentions have yet been discovered, this suggests the Henxmen were created 1 or 2 years before Autumn 1346.  So from current documentary evidence, an estimated date of about 1345 plus or minus 1 year seems reasonable
for the founding of the Henxmen.  

Illustration 1:  Edward III.  Published 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 the earliest known records of the Henxmen, arranged in chronological order:

  • Circa 1345      Estimated date for the creation of the Henxmen, plus or minus about 1 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.  This is therefore also the latest possible date for the creation of the Henxmen.
  • 06 Jul 1347     Midpoint for that part of the source containing the first records of Henxmen.  Circa 1347 is therefore used as a very approximate date for the documentary evidence.
  • 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 could be expected to attract some documentary mention, such as records in the financial accounts relating to clothing and payments.  So why is there no mention of the formation of the first Henxmen?

This is probably partly due to some (perhaps many) of the household documents from Edward III’s reign being lost over time, as some no longer appear to exist. 
Some of the original historical records of the Henxmen will probably never be accessible, having disappeared beyond our reach.  If the Henxmen’s creation was noted in these, we will probably never know the exact true date.  A detailed list of the gaps in the Royal Household records from the 1340s is not available at present, but this could provide an indication of the chances that such data has been lost, and of the most likely timeframes.

For some of the surviving records, their status and/or contents may still be currently unknown. 
Further documents containing pertinent details may exist, but they may not yet be catalogued, easily accessible, or translated into modern English.  Such records still hold some potential for further elusive details to be discovered.  To investigate these for mentions of the Henxmen could be a useful – albeit time-consuming – further research project.

Only the remainder of the records are currently accessible: a random patchwork of surviving and reported documents.  All mentions of Henxmen within these records are being collated on the Henxmen Sources website, and these provide the only hard evidence currently available. 
Some earlier sources, mainly from the previous reign (Edward II), have been searched - but no earlier mention of the Henxmen has been found.  So about 1345 plus or minus 1 year remains the most likely date, based on our present knowledge.


Political Context

Edward III's Grand Project
A final but important piece of the jigsaw, is the political context of that time.

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

As part of his 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 to enhance his image.  These included resurrecting ancient legends, much-flaunted heraldry, grand ceremonies, public jousting tournaments, the symbolic use of royal French colours, minting gold coins in bulk for the first time, commissioning great new buildings, providing eye-catching costumes for state servants, adopting a more warlike patron saint, 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 the years as Edward III tested and refined his ideas.  The role and duties of the Henxmen probably developed in this way too.

This period of great creativity in Edward III's motivational public relations lasted from 1340 to 1348.  It was only curbed by the first arrival in England of the Black Death, which killed over one third of the population within 6 months, and temporarily halted the war effort.

Illustration 2:  Detail of Edward III, eyeing the crowns of England & France.  Published 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 main phases in Edward III’s great initiative during the 1340s, 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, which is 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 ignominuously driven back, concluding that alliances are unreliable 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 to build a massive Round Table House at Windsor Castle, as a home for a proposed new Order of the Round Table.  Due to war with France this Order is never created, but the idea later forms the basis of 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 designs 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 by the English 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 as a base for English invasions for more than 200 years.  Edward III's achievements at Crécy and Calais consolidate the support of the English 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 'blu' 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 soon adopted for use in the new Order of the Garter.  The same colour blue also becomes fashionable amongst courtiers, to show support for the King's great initiative of taking the throne of France.

24 Jun 1348.  A major jousting tournament is held at Windsor Castle, during which the concept of the Order of the Garter (to be based at Windsor) appears 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 present them as examples to emulate.  At the same time 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 of St Edward the Confessor at Windsor Castle, to become St George’s Chapel.

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


Date of Creation
The political context, outlined above, provides an illuminating second check upon the estimated date for the formation of the Henxmen.

The Henxmen do not appear to have been involved in Phase 1 (Alliances: 1337-1339) of Edward III’s great project: there is no surviving record of them from this phase.  This is unsurprising, as 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: 1340-1346), Edward III had digested the lessons of his failed raid in 1339, and realised that a much more reliable military force was needed. 

Constrained by limited funds, his invasion force had to be relatively small.  He therefore committed to careful and lengthy preparations of a high-quality, hard-hitting force, focused on maximising the chances of military success.  This strategy was bolstered by a range of initiatives to boost the morale and motivation of his 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.

The formation of the Henxmen would have cost relatively little, compared with many other aspects of Edward III’s immense undertaking. 
This initiative could therefore have commenced relatively early in the King's project, during the time of remaining budget difficulties, before the King gained substantial additional wealth from the spoils of his later victories.

There were clear, relevant benefits from introducing the Henxmen at this time.  They provided an additional inner security screen for the King, helping to ensure his survival in the exposed and unpredictable conditions of the forthcoming campaign.  They offered an additional, trustworthy capability to carry messages and undertake missions, assisting him in controlling his forces.  And they could be used to deliver a significant boost to the King’s public image. 

All of these reasons suggest Phase 2 as the most probable period for the creation of the Henxmen.

Illustration 3:  Edward III, King of England and France, and Lord of Ireland.  Published 1688.
Edward III was the first English King to claim a right to France, and created the Henxmen and the Order of the Garter to bolster his claim.  For picture details, see footnotes.

Phase 3 (Success: 1346-1347) was almost exclusively an active military campaign, led in person by the King.  The Henxmen’s role was not primarily of a military nature, but there remains good reason for them to have been involved: their work was focused on providing personal security and support for the monarch. 

The surviving documentary record makes it clear that the post of Henxman must have been created at the latest by Autumn 1346, and probably sometime in 1345.  So the first Henxmen must have been involved in at least some of this campaign: certainly attending upon King Edward III, and quite possibly (in the light of later documentation) attending on the Black Prince too. It therefore seems quite likely that the newly formed Henxmen were present at Edward III's great victory of the Battle of Crécy (23 Aug 1346).

But on the other hand, no definite evidence confirming their presence at the Battle of Crécy has yet been discovered, so it remains possible that they were created afterwards.  It seems highly unlikely that Edward III would have concerned himself with creating this new post during the tense and crucial initial stage, between departing England (11 Jul 1346) to his resounding success at the Battle of Crécy (26 Aug 1346).  But after that battle, Edward would have felt more secure, and able to reflect on lessons learnt.  So perhaps it was then, during Sep-Oct 1346 while settling down to the long siege of Calais, that he instigated the post of Henxman. 

However, the wording of the earliest record (dated Autumn 1346 at the latest) seems to imply that the Henxmen were already an established part of the Royal Household then, having been formed sometime earlier.  So the Henxmen still appear less likely to have been created during this phase.  But whatever the date of their creation, the Henxmen are certainly known to have already existed during Phase 4 (Consolidation: 1347-1348)

Overall, a consideration of the political context suggests Phase 2 (Preparation for War: 1340-1346) as the obvious period for the creation of the Henxmen.  Within this period, the most likely time is perhaps mid-1344 to 11 Jul 1346, when Edward III increasingly concentrated on his preparations for a successful invasion of France.  This agrees remarkably 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, plus or minus about 1 year.



Conclusions

The estimated date for the formation of the Henxmen strongly suggests they were part of Edward III’s drive to build support for his great project.  A knowledge of the political context of the 1340s also throws helpful light upon why particular duties were selected for the Henxmen.

Each of the Henxmen's main functions coincides with known elements of Edward III’s project, to raise his supporter’s morale and to strengthen his personal bid for the French throne:

  • The Henxmen's creation as an exclusive inner circle:  The post of Henxman offered an example to others, and a potential reward for loyal service.
  • The Henxmen's role in ceremonial processions:  Enhanced the security of the sovereign, and the grandeur of state occasions.
  • The Henxmen as a mounted force, used to dealing with stallions:  Rapidly available to support and assist the king, and to extract him from any dangerous situations.
  • The Henxmen's spectacular apparel:  Emphasised the power and glory of the monarch, and warned of the danger of attempting an assassination.
  • The Henxmen's direct allegiance to the monarch, rather than to intermediaries:  Underlined the personal and absolute power of the king, enhancing his ability to rule.
  • The Henxmen's ability to take independent action within authority granted by the monarch:  Heightened the king's security, and the impression of superiority and invulnerability.
  • The Henxmen's cultivated reputation for impressive capability, combined with absolute loyalty:  Provided an example to other followers, and a threat to would-be attackers.

Each of these original features was directly relevant to royal needs, and was strongly attached to the Henxman role.  Indeed, they were to remain central to the Henxmen's duties for the next 220 years, and to linger much longer in the public memory, well after the passing of the Henxmen.  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 the documentary evidence that they did not accumulate over a long period, but were apparently 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 were utilised by a succession of Plantagenet monarchs during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453), becoming recognised as one of the traditional trappings of the English monarchy.  This helped to ensure the survival of the Henxmen's role during the bitter Wars of the Roses (1455-1485), when both Lancastrian and Yorkist sides employed Henxmen to bolster their claim to power.  When Henry VII usurped the throne in 1485, he too appointed Henxmen to strengthen his cause, and the Henxman role lasted through nearly all of the turbulent Tudor dynasty. 

Although the Henxmen were disbanded in 1565, similar roles (albeit with different titles and technology) still exist.  For instance, the Secret Service agents who serve the Presidents of the USA are arguably some modern successors of the Henxmen, bearing largely similar duties and powers to those of our mediaeval predecessors.

For 10 generations the Henxmen helped to meet the continuing royal needs of personal security, public safety, elevated status and ceremonial pomp, while simultaneously providing a usefully discrete, loyal and flexible capability in private.  This understanding is of much more significance than their start and end dates.  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 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, more than any other post in the Royal Household has ever done.  The reason, it appears, is simply that they were meant to, from the very beginning.  The growth and perpetuation of their unassailable legend was
very much in the royal interest, and it was almost certainly part of Edward III's plan from their early days.

References
  • Sir Nicholas Harris NICOLAS (1799-1848).  1846.  Accounts of the Expenses of the Great Wardrobe of King Edward the Third, from the 29th of September 1344 to the 1st of August 1345; and of the Delivery of Furs, Mercery, and other Articles out of the said Wardrobe, from the 29th of September 1347 to the 31st January 1349 and also from the 21st December 1345 to the 31st January 1349.  Archaeologia.  Volume XXXI.  Pages 5-103.  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 2019.1.  First version 2016.
Webpage copyright © Richard HINXMAN, 2016.

Illustrations

1.  Edward III
Monochrome engraving.  Found in:  Joshua BARNES (1654-1712).  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.  Public domain.  See Terms of Use.

2.
  Detail of Edward III, eyeing the crowns of England & France
Detail from a monochrome engraving.  1688.  Source as above.  See Terms of Use.

3.  Edward III, King of England and France, and Lord of Ireland.
Two-toned printed title page.  1688.  Source as above.  See Terms of Use.
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