Agatha, Clerical ‘Wife’ and Wet Nurse to King John of England, Longtime Companion to Godfrey de Lucy, Bishop of Winchester
By Ralph Turner
Conference Paper, New College Medieval and Renaissance Conference, Sarasota, Florida, March 2008
Introduction: Women of modest status in medieval English society are difficult to know as individuals. Most of those named in royal records appear only because they were heirs, wives or widows of men involved in matters of property, while those of the lowest social levelappear only in criminal cases. Most studies of working women concentrate on the better documented late Middle Ages.
By the mid-twelfth century, however, women working inthe English royal household can be glimpsed in royal records. Among the royalhousehold’s expenses recorded on the pipe rolls of Henry II and his sons are payments tonurses (Latin nutrix, nutrices), who served as wet nurses to royal children. These nurses’ names appear usually without patronymic or toponymic to identify them further.
Such a woman is Agatha, employed as wet nurse in Eleanor of Aquitaine’s domestic household, who first appears in the charter rolls from 1198-99, the first year of King John’s reign. His charter confirms an earlier one issued by Eleanor granting Agatha a rich manor fromher dower lands. Her action rewarding Agatha’s service three decades after her child-bearing years indicates a bond between the two women that had endured for many years.