Knights Templar

Women workers on the Templars’ estates

A quick glance through the accounts of the Templars’ estates while they were in King Edward II’s hands suggests that there were very few women employed. The cook who made the porridge for the farmworkers was described as a ‘garcio‘ or lad at Temple Bulstrode in Buckinghamshire (Easter to Michaelmas 1308: TNA E 358/18 rot. 7): at Horspath in Oxfordshire (first four months of 1308: E 358/19 rot. 26), at Preen in Shropshire (from 1308 onwards: E 358/20 rot. 5 dorse), in Herefordshire (from 1308 onwards: E 358/18 rot. 2); and as a ‘homo‘ (a man or person) at Thornton in Northumberland during the period from November 1308 to the end of September 1309 (E 358/18 rot. 52(2). But when we look a little further, we find that an ‘ancilla‘ or maid was making the farmworkers’ porridge at Temple Bulstrode for the first four months of 1308 (E 358/18 rot. 6 dorse), at Chelsing in Hertfordshire and at Cressing, Witham, Roydon and Chingford in Essex for the first month of 1308 (E 358/19 rot. 52 and 52 dorse) and at Hillcrombe and Broughton in Worcestershire (E 199/46/21 and E 359/19 rot. 47 dorse), Lydley and Stanton Long in Shropshire (E 358/20 rot. 5 dorse) and Thornton from January to November 1308 and in 1309–10 (E 358/18 rots 6 dorse and 52 dorse). There was also a maid employed at Gislingham on the Norfolk/Suffolk border (in 1308: E 358/18 rot. 3), and women were employed at Garway in Herefordshire (in 1308: E 358/18 rot. 2), at Guiting in Gloucestershire (in 1308: E 358/18 rot. 5)  and at Swanton in Bedfordshire (in 1308–9: E 358/18 rot. 24) to milk the sheep, at Balsall in Warwickshire to collect straw after harvest (TNA: PRO E 358/19, mem. 40(1) recto) and at Bulstrode to gather up the crop after reaping.

So women were employed, even by this male religious community, to carry out certain tasks: sometimes for the unskilled farming jobs, but also to perform jobs requiring skill (milking) or inside the house as cook.

Employment changed during the time that the sheriffs ran the estates. At Bulstrode there was a woman employed as cook during the Templars’ time, but after the king took over the estate she was replaced by a man. At Chelsing the ‘ancilla‘ or maid employed in January 1308 to make porridge was replaced by a ‘cook’ after 9 February (E 358/18 rot. 24 dorse), although the cook was paid at the same rate as the maid had been. But at Thornton there was a woman employed from January to November 1308, a man employed in 1308-9 and then a woman again in 1309-10. At Lydley the person who made the porridge was described as a ‘serviens‘ (servant: this could be male or female) from 1311-12 (E 358/19 rot. 36 and 54), but an ‘ancilla‘ (maid) in earlier years; at Stanton Long the cook became a ‘serviens‘ in 1311-13 but was an ‘ancilla‘ again in 1313-14. Again, the wages paid remained the same, whether a woman or a man was working as cook.

Clearly one barrier to identifying these women workers is the variety of terms used to describe them: it is likely that there was a woman making porridge at Lydley throughout the period 1308–12, even though the term used to describe her in the enrolled accounts changed from ‘ancilla‘ to ‘serviens‘. It’s also possible that the ‘maid’ at Chelsing continued to work there after 9 February 1308 even though her job title was amended to ‘cook’. Another problem is that detail could be lost when the detailed particulars of account submitted by the sheriffs were enrolled into the great Pipe Rolls at the Exchequer. Edmund de Burnham’s particulars of account for Temple Bulstrode for 12 March 1309–28 Sept 1309 (British Library, Harley Rolls A 25) include under ‘dairy costs’ the hire of two women to milk the ewes; but the diary costs were struck through with the comment that the dairy expenses should be included under ‘necessities’, where they would be a single figure.

See also my post about the kitchen maid at Temple Cressing.

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