Persona Overview

Caitlin Wintour: A Widowed Landowner in 13th Century Northumberland

Note on rank: In the Society, Caitlin is a peer. It is unnecessary to match persona social status to the SCA, but I prefer to parallel Caitlin’s persona history with events in the SCA. I was reluctant to choose the rank of Countess, not because of any perceived slight to SCA royal peers but because in the 13th century there were so few of them, 25 or less between the years 1000 and 1300. And although knights achieved greater status by the 13th century than they enjoyed earlier, that historic ranking seemed too low. I chose the baron rank for Caitlin, or more properly for her late husband and son. Although some barons were wealthy and powerful (just ask King John re: the signing of the Magna Carta), these were not requirements for the baronage. Lesser barons were large landowners but not necessarily wealthy, and there was no requirement to field armies or to attend His Majesty as a matter of course.

The year is 1240, a scant 3 years after the Treaty of York formally defined Northumberland as an English county and not a Scottish earldom.

The Manor

Caitlin Wintour is a comfortable widow ensconced in her manorial farm of Blithewood Hall[1] in what is today College Valley, about 6 miles south of the Scots border. The river of Elsdonburn borders the farm.

Her son is the baron and owns four manors located in Northumberland. The family seat is close to York, and Baron Alaric’s family uses the castle as their primary residence. When Alaric reached his majority, Caitlin asked and received Blithewood for her lifetime use.

The manor of Blithewood is a fortified manor house. When her son was young, Caitlin’s husband died. She was left with a good name and a promising farm that needed defenses against Scottish incursions. She originally built the stone manor house on the site of the older timber house. Builders constructed the first floor with no door and with a few tiny windows, not large enough admit an attacker. The main floor had larger windows and a heavy barred door up a narrow, and easily defended, flight of steps. A tower addition allows for alerts in case of incoming attackers, and can act as a secure shelter for the manor’s people. Thus far the manor has always turned back attacks, but she is currently petitioning the king to allow her to raise crenellated curtain walls around the manor and the closest outside buildings.

Caitlin founded the parish church and built it on manor grounds. She pays the priest’s benefice, and the church serves both manor and village.

Trade and Industry

Between them, the manor and farm employ about 40 men and women of all ranks and responsibilities. The bailiff who oversees the property also hires seasonal workers as needed.

The farm is largely self-sufficient. The manor flocks are sheared and the fleece carded, woven, and sewn into clothing for the manor’s residents. The coarser weaves are given to the lower-class servants receive coarser weaves, and the finer weaves go to higher ranking servants, ladies, and Caitlin herself who wears gowns and coats of wool in the cool north.

Arable fields produce wheat and oats, and the cow and pig herds yield milk, cheese, beef, and pork. Some industry operates on the manor property such as a dairy and a smithy, where smiths make farm implements and weapons – the standard arming sword for the guards and metal-tipped staves for the shepherds, farmworkers, livestock overseers, and ploughmen.

Other industries are in the small village outside of the manor grounds. The village and manor shared some land: groups of livestock graze in the common fields.  Most of the villagers support themselves from their acreage and small livestock holdings, and several of them supplement their meagre income with home-based industries. For example, Gilbert’s primary income is from his cows, sheep, and grain farm. He is also a tanner. Margery is a baker, her husband William is a butcher, and their son-in-law is a carpenter.

The manor trades for or buys some goods at the village, markets in local towns, and the larger markets at York. Its main trade goods include cheese, pigs, fleece, and silver from their local mine.[2]

The Farm[3]

Blithewood has 120 arable acres plus woodlands and meadows. Its livestock includes 2 oxen that make up the plough team, 6 horses for riding and lighter farm duties, pigs, sheep, and 15 cows for milk, cheese, and butter. This operation yields a respectable 2 shillings per cow per year.

The farmed acres yield wheat and oats, averaging about 7 bushels of wheat and 10 bushels of oats a year. The yield is small for acreage, and Caitlin and her bailiff are planning to increase the cow herd so workers can collect more manure from the farmyard. They are also experimenting with “dunging,” where farm workers set up moveable fences around land that needs extra fertilizer, and grazes the cows in that section.

Caitlin purchased her first 12 pigs in 1232. At first the household used the pigs for household meals. As the herd grew, the farm now fattens them and sells them at market. They keep a ratio of 1 boar to 3-4 sows. With an average of 8 piglets per sow several times a year, they can keep the herd at about 15 pigs for breeding and household use while selling the rest.

Blithewood doesn’t only host its own pigs: a few times a year the Bishop of York’s herders drive hundreds of pigs by the farm. Wanting to stay on His Excellency’s good side, Caitlin has granted permanent permission to use Blithewood’s farmyard as a feeding station. Although very large pig herds go through a lot of feed, they also leave a lot of healthy muck behind them.[4]

Blithewood’s sheep flock numbers 120 ewes and lambs. They are mostly valuable for wool and milk, as the farm uses both sheep and cow milk to make cheeses. Shearing yields about 1 or 2 pounds of fleece per adult animal. The sheep are grazed in the same meadows as the cows, which was not ideal for sheep nutrition but fertilized the land thanks to sheep dung. The farm does not raise goats because they did not fare as well as the fleecy sheep in the bitter winters. However, neither sheep nor goats thrive in winds, so the farm recently built a sheep-house for the flocks. Workers stock the shelter with hay and straw.

Caitlin’s reeve and bailiff count livestock every Michaelmas Day, Sept. 29.[5] They do not count every animal every year, but start with a base count and adjust it by births, deaths, disappearances, and market sales. The Michaelmas accounts demonstrate that ewes are living longer and weighing more, which means more and healthier lambs in the spring. The manor also hired more winter laborers for all the livestock, and the accounts show an overall increase in livestock age and weight.


The manor’s employees include cloth-makers, kitchen cooks and workers, cleaners, the bailiff and reeve, guards, and Caitlin’s ladies and maids. The barony employs Reeve Berthold and assigned him to Blithewood to oversee the manor staff, guards and security, and accounts. Twice a year the baron’s chief reeve travels to Caitlin’s manor to supervise accounts and be certain that all is well with the baron’s mother. The reeve oversees…

Caitlin is glad that she hired full-time bailiff Edward Miller, who did not come cheaply. Over the last 3 years he has improved farming and livestock yields. Caitlin pays him a generous yearly stipend of 30 shillings and 10 pence plus food and clothing allowances. Under his administration, the arable land is producing more and the livestock is healthier.[6] His duties include checking on the condition of the livestock, inspecting dead animals for cause of death, and repairs to buildings and equipment. He is also responsible for overseeing the livestock workers. He recently brought the swineherd to Baron Alaric’s manorial court for taking poor care of the pigs, and charged a shepherd for sterile ewes thanks to neglect. Caitlin fully supported him in their action and both men were fined.

Outdoors the husbandmen care for the oxen, cows, sheep, and pigs, and dairymaids milk the cows. They are paid in a few coins and in food. Drovers and ploughmen live full-time on the estate in 10-acre holdings.

The farm hires temporary laborers by the week for planting and harvesting, driving pigs to market. The farm also hires auxiliary livestock workers during lambing season and to help keep the animals healthy during winter.

Caitlin’s Day

The entire household rises at 4:00 am. This includes Caitlin, who is rather sensitive about her age and would be ashamed to be thought a slugabed. With her maid’s help, Caitlin dresses warmly while her household chaplain chants matins. She attends the parish church that she built on manor lands, and hopes that the priest has studied the copy of the York Gospels she obtained for him, which contain detailed instructions to the priest as well as the words of the litany.

After the service, she returns to her chambers to wash her face and hands in warm water and finish dressing. If the weather is fine she might take a turn in her garden, then settle down to breakfast in the great hall. A day of work awaits her just as it does her people. She will sit down with Reeve Berthold to view manor accounts, discuss rent collections, and review the guard assignments. She and Berthold get along well enough now, not so when he first arrived and was scandalized that a lady wished to review accounts with him. After some months they managed a truce, and after a year he cracked a smile.

Nevertheless, she greatly prefers talking breeding and dung with Bailiff Edward, a garrulous man who will talk to anyone about anything as long as it concerns livestock or crops. He is in York for market day, and she will hear his report on pig herd sales when he returns.

After meeting with Berthold – and sighing with relief when she was done – she attended church for mid-morning prayers and returned to the manor for a light meal.

In the afternoon she spoke with the manor’s chief cook Mathilda. The efficient Mathilda has the kitchens in good order so the women spend the rest of their time together gossiping about the accusation of black magic against the recently deceased Archbishop of York.

Caitlin relaxes afterwards and spends some time on embroidery and watching her two favorite cats stalk threads and non-existent mice. After evening prayer and supper, she goes early to bed for her last prayers of the day and deep sleep. The day was exhausting but winter with its enforced inactivity would come soon enough, and the great hall will be filled with stories and games.

Tomorrow she is quite looking forward to attending the shire-moot which will be held just a few miles away. The jury will be trying a suspect for murder. The crime did not occur on baronial lands but the hue and cry crossed her fields, and she is quite interested in watching what will happen. Her son will be attending in his capacity as a baron and plans to stay a few nights at the manor. Most shire-moots occur monthly, but thanks to harsh weather in Northumberland they are suspended during winter.


Henry III has reigned over England for 24 years. He is still a young man as he was as a boy of 9. Caitlin admires him. He not only survived the Baron’s War and a near-war with France, but became a good king and a good man.

However, after all these years many of Caitlin’s baronial peers still revile the name of Henry’s father, King John. Caitlin begs to differ. She said to one critic, “I do not mind King John, why should I? Where were the great barons when Scottish solders attacked my farm? It was John who ordered his troops to raze the traitorous stronghold of Berwick, and then no Scots dared come close. God bless John’s memory and God bless his son, good King Henry.”



Works Cited

Backman, Clifford R. The Worlds of Medieval Europe. Oxford University Press, New York. 2003.

Brooke, Christopher. From Alfred to Henry III, 871-1272. Thomas Nelson & Sons, Edinburgh. 1961.

Cam, Helen M. The Hundred and the Hundred Rolls: An Outline of Local Government in Medieval England. Methuen, London. 1930.

Hinton, David A. Archaeology, Economy, and Society: England from the Fifth to the Fifteenth Century. Routledge, London. 1998.

Miller, Edward. Hatcher, John. Medieval England: Towns, Commerce, and Crafts 1086-1348. Longman, London. 1995.

Powicke, Maurice. The Thirteenth Century, 1216-1307. Clarendon Press, Oxford. 1962.

Rippon, Stephen, Wainwright, Adam, Smart, Chris. “Farming Regions in Medieval England: The Archaeobotanical and Zooarchaeological Evidence.” Medieval Archaeology, Volume 58, 2014 – Issue 1. Accessed online.

Stearns Davis, William. Life on a Mediaeval Barony: A Picture of a Typical Feudal Community in the Thirteenth Century. Biblo and Tannen, New York. 1990.


[1] The whimsical name “Blithewood” sounds like fiction but is not. The ruins of the fortified manor of Blithewood Moat are in Staffordshire.

[2] In the 12th and 13th centuries, ambitious building projects required more metal. English mines produced tin, iron, silver, and lead. Several of the silver mines were in Northumberland.

[3] Modeled after the Rimpton Abbey Farm. This was a large farm with 230 arable acres between 1209 and 1214, and nearly doubled in size between 1245 and 1268. Caitlin’s farm was about half that size, so I adjusted acreage, livestock numbers, and income accordingly.

[4] Rimpton Abbey had a deal with their local bishop, who used the Abbey farm as a feeding station for his pig herds. The Abbey reported that in 1219, a herd of over 700 pigs stopped at Rimpton on their way from Taunton to Winchester.

[5] Michaelmas is the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel.

[6] Rimpton Abbey hired a full-time bailiff in 1224, and by 1236 he was being paid a princely sum of 60 shillings, 10 pence. Rimpton recorded that under his administration, both farm yields and livestock greatly improved.

For more on persona building and exercises, see Persona.

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