A red rose at Midsummer

St George’s Chapel Archives holds a document sealed by King Edward I on 27 February 1281 which confirms the grant of the manor of Godington, Oxfordshire, to Guy Ferrer in exchange for a single rose [SGC XI.P.5]. Ferrer was the valet to Edward I’s queen, Eleanor of Castile, and it was she who made the grant, although it had to be authorised by the king.

In the middle ages it was not an uncommon practice for a “peppercorn rent”, something of very low value, to be set in exchange for property (although the phrase itself would not come in to common usage until the seventeenth century). This could quite literally be a grain of pepper, or a pound of cumin. Sometimes it was a single red rose. A number of early leases of land represented by records in the Archives stipulate this. While the grant to Guy Ferrer required a rose as a one-off payment, most of the others in the collection talk of a yearly rent to be paid on 24 June – i.e. Midsummer’s day, or the feast of the birth of St John the Baptist – for the agreed term of the lease. One grant of land in Maidenhead in 1352 was made at the charge of one red rose a year for the first twenty years of the lease and 40 shillings a year after that [SGC XV.58.D.18].

In some cases historically, these remarkably low rents were intended to represent or encourage a strong tie between members of a family or between a lord and his vassals. It seems likely that this could be the case for Guy Ferrer, although we know little about his identity or history, he could have been receiving a generous reward for his service to the queen. The consideration of the rose from him formalised the exchange, which was essentially a gift.

In other instances, it wasn’t necessary for the landlord to charge a large annual rent. Instead a high price would be placed on taking out the lease to begin with, making sufficient profit to charge only a nominal rent thereafter.

The Dean and Canons often made leases of property with unusual-sounding terms. This practice enabled them to take advantage of their relationship with their tenants by taking part of their payment in kind. For example, in 1625 they agreed that part of the rent of the rectory in Ruislip would be two fat boars for their hospitality at Christmas [SGC XVI.1.60]. In 1736, they required that their tenant at Abberley, Worcestershire, bring two capons to Windsor for them each year and that they provide food and accommodation for the Dean and Canons and their horses for two days every year so that they could visit and survey the premises [SGC CC 117001 (1)]. These considerations – which here were imposed in addition to a monetary rent – supplemented the Dean and Canons’ lifestyle as well as their income.

Kate McQuillian, Archivist & Chapter Librarian

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.