The Templar’s Forge

One of the things I get asked when people have read Sixty-One Nails is; where did I get the idea for the Quit Rents Ceremony from? The short answer to that is, I didn’t make it up. I found it.

Back when I was developing the novel, I was researching English folk-lore to incorporate into the story. I had already decided that The Courts of the Feyre could be a series and I wanted the world to be consistent and realistic. Moreover, I had decided that it would be set in the real world and the present day. Little did I realise then how difficult that would be, but that’s another story.

In my researches I came across a number of strong themes. Fertility and children appeared again and again and the concept of a changeling, a fey child, being swapped for your own sweet babe. The performance of some service, by magical or mundane means, was another. The idea that you could ‘lose’ time traveling between places and that some places ran in different time-frames than others was also there. All of these are incorporated into the background of The Courts of the Feyre.

Inventing such strong and powerful creatures to live alongside humanity creates a whole new set of problems for the writer. The obvious question is; where are they? If there is another race of strongly magical creatures that are like humans but not human then where is the fossil record? Why don’t we see them? Why don’t we know about them.

My answer to that question is that we do know about them. They are described in some detail in records handed down from generation to generation, in a verbal tradition spanning thousands of years. The record confirms that our relationship with these creatures is not always antagonistic and that they have their own problems and issues to deal with. Of course, this verbal archive has been modified and embellished over the years and at times radically altered – by the Victorians, for instance, who created the tiny creatures with flower petal hats and mushroom houses, but the core themes of these stories remain uncorrupted, and some of the oldest stories remain.

One of the elements that remains unaltered is the antithesis between magic and iron. The remnants of this can be seen in wedding ceremonies where little silver horse shoes are added to congratulatory cards and tin cans are tied to wedding cars. Of course, originally these would have been real horse shoes and the tin cans would have been ironmongery. Indeed, in some parts of the country, the bride and groom are still required to leap over an anvil to seal the match, proving that they are both who and what they appear to be.

(c)Mike Shevdon
The Inns of Court

Research into horse-shoes brought me to accounts of the oldest legal ceremony in England apart from the coronation itself. In the Quit Rents Ceremony, six horse shoes are presented to the Queen’s Remembrancer, the official of the Court of the Exchequer, along with sixty-one nails (hence the title of the book) as a rent for permission to have a forge in Tweezers Alley, in the parish of St Clement’s Dane. This was granted by King Henry II and first entered into the rolls of the Exchequer in 1235.

Quit Rents are a medieval mechanism brought in to allow someone to go quit of an obligation (to raise a levee of men to fight in an army, for instance) and to substitute some other goods or service for the obligation. When this particular rent is first recorded, a man named Walter le Brun, probably a Norman Knight, had gained permission to have a forge in the corner of a field of the grounds used by the Knights Templar, now called Middle Temple. This probably gained the name Tweezers Alley after the tweezers used by smiths to heat items in the forge that stood there.

As a quit rent, this would not be so remarkable, since all of London ran on horse-power up to the twentieth century and horse-shoes and nails were valued items, carefully crafted. In 1237, it was commuted by Emma of Tewkesbury from eighteen pennies to six horse-shoes and sixty-one nails, which may have been commensurate with the value of the original rent. What is unusual is that the same horse-shoes and the same nails are used every year, making these the oldest horse-shoes in existence in England.

(c) Mike Shevdon
The site of the forge
The shoes themselves are massive. much bigger and heavier than a modern shoe and flat in design. They were meant for a Flemmish warhorse, a breed that has since died out, but would have been larger and heavier than a modern shire horse. Each shoe is holed for ten nails rather than the usual seven. Sixty 0f the nails are identical, held in bunches of ten by green ribbons and counted out before the Queen’s Remembrancer during the ceremony. The extra nail, the sixty-first, is subtly different from the others, discounting the theory that it is provided merely as a spare.
In a normal quit rent the horse-shoes and nails would have to be made each year and presented accordingly, but in this case they are not. Furthermore, the rent is rendered by the City of London, who acquired the obligation at some point, but the forge is not in the city, residing in the parish of St Clement’s Dane, just south of the Strand and therefore in the city of Westminster.

For me, this chimed with the research I was doing into folk-lore and inspired the book that became Sixty-One Nails. In tomorrow’s post I will describe the 2009 ceremony as it was conducted yesterday, in the Royal Courts of Justice.

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