The Surgeon Prior and the Prince.


By Simon J. Harris & Anne Curry

Entry 6.16 in the Gascon roll for 1369-70 (C 61/82, 10 February 1369) is the grant of a protection to Guillaume Hamon, prior of Cogges, to go to Aquitaine in the service of Edward of Woodstock, eldest son of Edward III, commonly known as the Black Prince. Hamon was one of many clerks who went to Aquitaine at this time so why should he be of special interest? He was a royal surgeon and was sent because the Black Prince’s health was declining, triggered by an illness contracted on the campaign in Castile which saw his great victory at Nájera on 3 April 1367.

Hamon was a Norman, a monk of the great abbey of Fleury, who had become prior of the alien priory of Cogges, near Witney (Oxon.) on 30 July 1341. Cogges was a cell of another great French abbey – Fécamp. Six years later we find Hamon as a royal surgeon. He must have become a trusted royal servant for he was sent to Ireland on the king’s business in September 1362, and went again in 1364 in the service of the Black Prince’s next oldest brother, Lionel of Antwerp, duke of Clarence. It is possible that he remained with Duke Lionel until the latter’s death in Italy in early 1368 following his marriage to Violante, daughter of Galeazzo Visconti, lord of Pavia. This would mean that Hamon was returning to England during the time that the duke’s elder brother, Edward of Woodstock, was in the first stages of the illness that was to lead to his decline and ultimately his death in 1376. There is no surviving evidence to indicate whether the Black Prince had requested that Hamon be sent to Aquitaine, or if Edward III simply sent him to tend his ailing son, but there can be little doubt that that was why the prior was crossing to join the prince. He had enjoyed over twenty years of service to the king as a surgeon, and was trusted enough to be in the company of both of the king’s eldest sons.

Edward of Woodstock’s presence in Aquitaine in 1369-70 is key to understanding the Gascon Rolls of the period. The prince’s victory at Poitiers in 1356, and his capture of the French king, had led to great English gains in the peace of Brétigny/Calais in 1360. Aquitaine was now held by Edward III as a sovereign lordship, no longer under French control. This allowed him to create a princely appanage for his eldest son. For many years the prince enjoyed a lavish lifestyle in his new lordship. The involvement in the Castilian civil war was to bring this all to an end. The massive expenses incurred by the prince in support of King Pedro of Castile placed him and his lordship under a considerable amount of pressure, and as the uneasy peace between England and France fell apart and the war was renewed, the prince’s health rapidly declined from the illness that he caught on, undermining the prince’s government at exactly the time his leadership was needed.

For further reading see R. Barber Edward, Prince of Wales and Aquitaine: A Biography of the Black Prince (Woodbridge, 1978). D. Green, D. The Black Prince (Stroud, 2001). C.H. Talbot and E.A. Hammond, The Medical Practitioners in Medieval England: A Biographical Register (London, 1965), The Heads of Religious Houses: England and Wales, II, 1216-1377, ed. by David M. Smith & Vera C.M. London, (Cambridge, 2001). Further information on Hamon has been taken from the Calendar of Patent Rolls for the period 1345-1367.

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