Baron Arundel took fifty-two new suits to sea in 1379….!

I have just read in Margaret Aston’s  excellent biography of Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor, that according to Walsingham (always a fount of truth, of course) that when Sir John Arundel, 1st Baron Arundel, died at sea in December 1379, among his lost belongings “were fifty-two new suits”.

This, it seems, led one writer to conclude that Sir John was “one of the fops of the period”.  Heck, yes…if it’s true! But fifty-two? That’s going some, especially as the reason for being at sea at all was that Sir John was leading a naval expedition to Brittany. Would he really have taken all those clothes? I find that hard to believe, even if he liked to change clothes four times a day! The modern habit of wearing and discarding was a l-o-n-g way in the future.

The main thing that is remembered about Sir John (in his late twenties, a brother of Archbishop Thomas and Richard Fitzalan, 4th/11th Earl of Arundel, who was executed 1397) is that he and his men were accused of monstrous depravity, ravaging the countryside around Southampton, and abducting and raping women, including a number of nuns. To read more of all this go to this site .

It was so bad they seem to have been excommunicated even before they set sail! Anyway, retribution came in the form of a violent storm off the Irish coast, as a result of which Arundel himself was drowned.

There are two descriptions of him. Walsingham damns him as a brute. On the other hand he’s spoken of as a valiant knight, strong, courteous, enterprising and…um, amorous. Of course, there are ways and ways of interpreting the last adjective. And given the activities that supposedly went on in Southampton it’s all too easy to apply the darker one to him.

Anyway, I don’t know what to believe about Sir John Arundel, but am certainly doubtful about those fifty-two new suits. Yet, if not suits of clothes, of what else might he have deemed fifty-two to be necessary on a naval expedition?



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