The entourage consisted of over two hundred mounted followers to add dignity to Becket's standing, among them knights and pages, clerks, stewards and servants, all of them arrayed in costly garments. Becket himself had twenty four changes of clothing, most of which were worn once and then bestowed as gifts. He had several packs of hunting dogs with him and various birds of prey from his mews.
There were numerous baggage wagons each pulled by five horses in line. Each horse had a groom and each groom had a mastiff dog as big and strong as a lion to guard the wagon. Two of the wagons carried barrels of ale for handing out to French bystanders who were not familiar with such a beverage. The rest of the wagons contained more food and drink, cushions, bed linens, furnishings, and various other items of household paraphernalia - all high status and embellished.
Beyond the wagons came a caravan of twelve packhorses laden with the most valuable items - books, gold and silver plate, the items of Becket's chapel, basins, spoons, salt cellars, rich vestments. Each packhorse once again had its groom, and on each pack animal's back, a monkey had been trained to sit like a little jockey. The monkeys themselves were intended as gifts for the French high nobility and clergy.
While researching and writing my forthcoming novel THE WINTER CROWN due out in September, I tried to imagine what it would have been like for the people who had to gather together this menagerie - the sheer logistics of assembling all the different aspects, and then transporting it across the Channel. It must have been daunting but from reports in the chronicles, it appears to have succeeded and been one of the wonders of its age.
A scene in the novel required me to write about one of Becket's monkeys. Not being a subject I had covered before in my research, it was interesting reading up on the background of such creatures in medieval daily life and I thought I'd share some of the information I came across.
Monkeys could be tamed by being chained to a heavy block, and they invariably wore a collar and chain. They were, of course, a high status pet to have and were frequently given as gifts, being seen as particularly suitable for clergy and women.
I was also interested to find out that animals in the Middle Ages, while having personal names, also had generic ones. Redbreasts were called Robin, pies were called Mag, Wrens were called Jenny. Tomcats were Gyb and monkeys were Robert. I enjoyed making use of that detail in the novel!
Monkeys are ubiquitous in medieval imagery where frequently it is a symbol of sin, malice, cunning and lust -all the baser elements of humankind. They also stood for folly and vanity.- although none of this prevented them from being the popular pets of clergymen - perhaps as a constant reminder of the sins and follies of mankind! It is ironic that Thomas Becket, a future Archbishop of Canterbury and martyr-saint should have travelled to Paris with twelve such in his entourage!