The Twelfth Century and the First Half of the Thirteenth
The trend away from ornamented brooches, rings, and swords that demonstrates changing social pressures and expression during the eleventh century was maintained in the first half of the twelfth. The Anglo-Norman aristocracy had considerable wealth for its castles and churches, but the spending power of the Anglo-Saxon majority was very much diminished by the impositions that followed the Conquest. Social relations among the former were based primarily on land, and although sentiments of personal loyalty were defined by oaths of fealty, there is no record of gift-giving from lord to retainer other than the increasingly formalized bestowal of arms. Towns were growing both in size and number, but only a few merchants were really rich, and the peasantry in the countryside was increasing in number but had decreasing opportunity for individual advancement. Excavations at castles and other baronial residences generally yield the evidence of martial appearance and activity that would be expected, like spurs, and slightly more evidence of wealth, with coins a little more profligately lost, than at other sites. There are also luxuries like gilt strips, from caskets of bone or wood, and evidence of leisure activities, such as gaming-pieces; chess was being introduced into western Europe, and appealed to the aristocracy because it was a complicated pastime that only the educated would have time to learn and indulge in. Furthermore, it could be played by both sexes, though ladies were expected to show their inferior skill and intelligence by losing to the men; it echoed feudal society and its courts; and it could be played for stakes. An occasional urban chess-piece find, not always well dated, shows that a few burgesses might seek to emulate the aristocracy. Other predominantly castle finds include small bone and copper-alloy pins with decorated heads that have been interpreted as hairpins, as at Castle Acre, attesting a female presence, but other personal ornaments are infrequent. Some pictures in manuscripts suggest that in the early twelfth century the highest ranks of the aristocracy were wearing brooches. These were probably conventional representations, however, as there are no valuable brooches or finger-rings in the archaeological record, as there had been earlier.
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