The Livery Collar in Late Medieval England and Wales
Politics, Identity and Affinity
Dr Ward, welcome to the Medieval Herald! Would you please summarise your studies to date and do you recall what first drew you to the medieval period?
My research has focused on the interplay between culture and politics during the late medieval period, specifically the Wars of the Roses and immediate aftermath. I am drawn to the way political thinking (broadly conceived) manifested itself in cultural production, hence the interest in livery collars. This was the subject of my doctoral thesis. As regards chronology, the Wars of the Roses is my favourite period of study. I am also developing my interest in the early Tudor period.
I first visited Bosworth battlefield at the age of five and it left a deep impression on me. I have been hooked on medieval history (especially Richard III) ever since. I was an avid reader in my childhood and, looking back, the majority of my books were on medieval history.
Congratulations on the paperback edition of your book. Would you give us a quick recap of its theme and the significance of the livery collar?
Thank you, I am delighted to see it in paperback. The livery collar was a conspicuous object and many people would have come into contact with individuals wearing one. The interesting thing for me is that, after c. 1460, there were two ‘rival’ collars: Lancastrian and Yorkist. For this reason many historians have interpreted them as ostensibly political items, revealing the allegiances of those who wore them. While this is true to an extent, I have attempted to challenge this assumption in my book, arguing that they were also assertions of royal power (whoever was on the throne at the time). There is also a strong kinship link between some individuals whose church monuments depict a livery collar.
Most collars were expensive (many being made of gold, silver or silver gilt) and were significant enough for hundreds of people (or their families) to include them on their tombs and monuments. They also feature in paintings dating from the fifteenth century. As a tangible manifestation of the dignity and power of the monarch, livery collars were powerful symbols.
Since first appearing in hardback in 2016 your book has proven very popular and been very well received. What are your thoughts on its reception?
I am very pleased with the book’s reception! At first sight, the book may appear a little niche, focusing on one individual object. Of course, in my opinion the item itself is worthy of its own study. However, I hope I have succeeded in using the livery collar as a vehicle for examining wider political assumptions about royal power during the late medieval period.
Have any of your ideas changed subsequently? Is there anything in the book that you would change or add?
The core ideas of the book have not really altered. I think it may have been worthwhile including another local case study examining the appearance of livery collars on church monuments. My research highlighted another area (in the south-west) where those depicted wearing collars on their church monuments shared very close kinship ties, as was the case in Derbyshire. Including an extra chapter on this geographical area would have provided more evidence to support my conclusions on the local significance of the livery collar.
Which aspect of your work do you think will be of most interest to your fellow medievalists?
I hope that medievalists will be attracted to the interdisciplinary nature of the work. I was conscious to develop a ‘thick description’, as it were, of the livery collar and I hope I have succeeded. More recently those studying medieval history have shown enthusiasm for analysing political ideas and assumptions through various cultural media and I hope my book is useful in this respect.
What are you working on now? Have you continued with livery collars?
I have had a break from livery collars, although I continue to be interested in them. I completed a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship last year – ‘The Culture of Loyalty in Late Medieval England’ – and I am currently writing up my book The Culture of Loyalty in the Later Middle Ages. It looks at how a key medieval concept was reflected in a variety of media including romance literature, heraldic treatises, rolls of arms and political tracts. It also looks at the link between loyalty and medieval colour theory.
We like to finish with the same question to all our contributors. Naturally, we hope you have stayed well throughout the pandemic but how has your work been affected over these last 18 months or so?
The most obvious issue as regards research has been the inability to visit archives or libraries for significant periods. That said, more archival material has been made available online during the last 18 months and hopefully this will continue post-pandemic.
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MATTHEW WARD teaches medieval history at the University of Nottingham.
Cover illustration: Tomb effigy with SS livery collar of Walter, Lord FitzWalter (1432), Priory Church of St Mary, Little Dunmow, Essex. © C.B. Newham. Reproduced with the kind permission of Rev’d Colin Taylor.