The Game of the Rose.

Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


Devotees of Ellis Peters’ novels about the medieval monk Brother Cadfael will remember one called “The Rose Rent” in which the Abbey at Shrewsbury was entitled to the rent from a house only so long as they annually delivered a rose into the hand of the owner. Looking through the catalogue of muniments in Worcester Cathedral Library I was surprised and delighted to find no less than thirty-four documents which include at least a mention of a rose rent. There are only three things these documents appear to have in common: they are all from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, they all specify a rose as a rent payment and they all deal with ownership of land and property in some form. Other things vary, such as the amount of land, the kind of land, whether agricultural land or inhabited buildings, whether it is in Worcester itself or merely fairly local. There seems to be no particular type of transaction to which a rose rent applied. The parties concerned can be male or female, individuals or groups, and the arrangement can be purely business or involve inter-familial relationships. The idea of a single rose being used in this way was obviously an acceptable convention at that time. [1]

Clearly the notion of a single rose being sufficient payment for land is something of a token rent, but because it is specified as part of the legal obligation it does mean that the original owner of the land retains a hold over it if payment is not forthcoming for any reason. The question of why a rose should be considered an adequate payment however may not have been the same in each case and there are some persuasive hints in the details of some transactions as to what might lie behind such a symbolic gesture.

The most obvious reasons lie in those transactions that are between family members. In the latter part of the thirteenth century William Baldrich, who is described as a ‘citizen of Worcester’, passed the tenement which lay beside his own in Worcester to his son Simon, so the rent of a rose annually to William by way of recompense meant that effectively William was giving his son property [B1546].


B1546. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


Canny William however ensures by the token payment that he retains some rights to the property whilst not having to pay tithes or taxes on an income from it. Similar considerations probably applied when David Cole of Clodeshale gave an acre of cultivated land to his son Richard in the same period [B724]. The de la Barewe family appear in three documents with rose rents. In the earliest, dated to the late thirteenth century, Robert, who is described as Lord of Baruwe, gives several different parcels of land to Alice, daughter of Robert de Estleyche, in return for an annual rose and it is hard not to imagine some romantic sentiment being played out here [B232]. Whether it is the same Robert is uncertain but in 1346 John de la Barewe gave his uncle Robert a lease on a messuage, croft and adjoining land for his lifetime. A messuage comprises a dwelling plus the curtilage and appurtenances belonging to it, so it appears that Robert was provided with somewhere to live and some additional land to support himself in return for his rose. As with the other inter-family transactions this ensures that the land will still belong to John after Robert’s death, although Robert can enjoy the use of it while he lives. If Robert was already satisfactorily supplied with a dwelling then the rent he received from this messuage may possibly have been intended by John to be in the nature of a pension for his uncle [B238a].


B238a. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


John himself owed a rose rent which we only know about because in 1352 Roger de Esbache, to whom it was paid, issued a quitclaim to this and some other more ordinary monetary rents which John had previously paid [B239].


B239. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


The de la Barewes family accounts seem to have been largely concerned with exchanging roses!

William de Molyns had to pay two rose rents in the late thirteenth century for land at Astwood [B73 and B76]. One was to John de Braderugge and one to Alice de Crowechiche. The possibilty of romantic associations as regards the latter can perhaps be discounted since the document also records a ‘consideration’, that is a payment up front, of 20/- in silver which was quite a large amount in those days. For the land from John de Bradderugge he also paid a consideration, this time half a mark in silver. It is worth noting at this point that the mark was never a coin in England but only a unit of account, being valued at 13 shillings and four pence, or two-thirds of a pound. So despite his annual rent being devoid of monetary value William had paid quite heavily for the land.

It is tempting to see an active kindness being pursued by some grantors. In 1311 Walter de Monte, a citizen of Poiwik [modern Powick] gave a meadow at Powick to another citizen of Worcester, Richard le Mercer and his son John [B586].


B586. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


After an initial consideration of 8/-, the rent is an annual rose to the local lord for the first nine years and thereafter an annual payment of 10/- to Walter and his heirs. By giving Richard and John those first nine years without having to pay out any further money, Walter was perhaps allowing them time to build up their reserves before embarking on the necessity for an annual monetary payment. Whatever the reason, however, it does not seem to have been a fruitful endeavour since there is another document dated 1312 which is a quitclaim to the property [B585].


B585. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


Richard and John didn’t keep their land at Powick for very long.

All of these possible reasons for insisting in legal terms of a payment of a single bloom are of course pure speculation. In reality none of them may have applied but we are unlikely ever to find out the precise story that lies behind each one and there are so many documents which require the annual provision of a rose that it appears extremely unlikely that the reasons of the grantor can always have been the same. All we can say with certainty is that the idea of a rose rent held great attraction in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in Worcester.


Mary Ward


[1] These documents are very difficult to read, being in faded ink and written in heavily contracted medieval Latin, so the findings as presented here are derived from the catalogue entries rather than the original documents. Numbers in brackets are those of the Library catalogue.

















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