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Aristocratic Households * The Household proper * Tenants * Officers and counselors * Extraordinary retainers * Liveried retainers * Servants and well wishers

The Medieval Aristocratic Household: Liveried Retainers

Liveried clothing for retainers was apparently common enough by 1218 that a bandit was reported to be buying cloth in bulk for his accomplices “as if he had been a baron or an earl.” To wear a lord’s livery gave one the support of the lord and his protection against one’s enemies. The distinctive clothing identified retainers individually and made an impressive showing when they were gathered together as an escort or retinue of war, or for another occasion. All types of retainer received livery, the amounts and quality of cloth according differing by station.

A lord could increase the number of liveried retainers in time of need. Such “liverymen” were short-term retainers, temporarily engaged by the distribution of cloth and/or badges. There were no long-term arrangements made or implied, no enduring expectations.

Laws in 1390 attempted to prohibit the distribution of livery to ranks below the gentry. They were not wholly successful, and in times of civil war they were effective ignored.