Charlotte, Washer Woman

“My name is Charlotte Godwin and I am a washerwoman for the Willensstark Mercenary Company. I was born September the Twenty Second in the year of our Lord 1474 to Englishman George Godwin and Adleheid Winters, the daughter of a German Merchant. I grew up in Caister, Norfolk England quite happily until the age of six when my mother died in childbirth as did the baby.

15th century, washerwoman
Charlotte Godwin

Heartbroken, my father was unable to properly care for a young child and so my father’s widowed sister Katherine came to live with us and raise me. She taught me fundamental reading and writing, sewing, and some music. Sadly, four years later she grew ill and died.

After her death, my father sent me to a convent for schooling where I learned more advanced reading and writing, mathematics, philosophy, and literature. I also helped to tend the gardens and learned much about medicinal herbs from one of the sisters.  After six years, I suddenly received a request from my father to return home. It fell upon me to run the small household as he had turned to gambling and drink. Just days after my arrival home, my father announced that I was to be married to an affluent French cloth merchant named Sebastian Nolet four months hence.

Obedient to my father’s wishes I reluctantly married Sebastian at age seventeen on the fourteenth of October the year of our lord 1490 and returned with him to his home in the busy port city of La Rochelle.

I was alone and trapped in a strange country, my only consolation was Sebastian’s younger sister Lissette. She helped me to adapt to the changes and we quickly became close friends.

There was talk of [my] arrest and trial when we returned to France, and a few even considered throwing me overboard immediately, convinced that I was a witch.

On the fifth of May 1491, seven months after Sebastian and I were wed, I joined him on a voyage aboard one of his trade ships The Corinth which was bound ultimately for Bilbao, a port city in Northern Spain. We first traveled North to Nantes and Vannes to pick up cargo and when we returned to La Rochelle to quickly resupply, Lissette stowed away on the ship and revealed herself only after we were well out to sea. Sebastian threatened to go back anyway but I convinced him that she would be invaluable to me and he uncharacteristically acquiesced to my wishes with minimal argument. That night I discovered the reason why; he was burning with fever. Three days later the Typhus claimed his life despite my efforts to ease his discomfort.

As I was half German, a quarter English, and a quarter Scottish as well as being a foreigner, I was suspected as somehow having had a hand in his death. The suspicions grew when a few sailors also succumbed to the dreaded ‘ship fever’ while I remained in fine health. There was talk of arrest and trial when we returned to France, and a few even considered throwing me overboard immediately, convinced that I was a witch. Yet when my medical ministrations saved two men, talk of immediate disposal lessened. At the same time there were dark murmurs about what to do now that the owner of the company was dead. As Sebastian’s wife, the company rightfully would go to me. But as I was a foreigner and a suspect in his demise it was unlikely that such matters would be honored despite the customary legality. As the men grew restless it was not only my life that was in danger. Lissete’s fate grew uncertain and perilous if she stayed aboard the ship. That being the case, when we reached the North shore of Spain we both felt it most prudent to leave the ship.

We had but one hope, to find my uncle William Godwin. A letter from home that I had received a few months prior to our voyage had mentioned that my uncle was fighting in Granada. So to Granada we would go. I was grateful for Lissette’s company as the two of us quickly set out to start a new life. We rounded the Sistema Berico Mountains to the Sistemas Central mountains where we then crossed and followed the road to Madrid, sometimes convincing a farmer or merchant to let us ride on the back of his cart to save our poor feet. From there we traveled south towards Granada. Here the journey became more difficult and perilous as we had to search for the location of the Willensstark Company. We finally found them in July after a month of tedious travel.

With the assistance of my uncle and the benevolence of Captain Lothar Von Degen, both Lissette and I were hired on as a company washer women and have been with them ever since.

15th century, washerwoman
I can often be found mending a pair of canons or sewing a new shirt.

The work is not easy as there is the enormous task of maintaining sanitation for an entire camp of soldiers. We must ensure that the men have clean presentable clothing so after a long day of scrubbing and pounding soiled clothing I can often be found mending a pair of canons or sewing a new shirt. I also happily bear the duties of camp nurse and must therefore tend to wounds and keep them clean and bandaged. My studies in the convent have given me knowledge of the medicinal powers of many plants and thus enable me to help hasten the healing process and provide relief and cure for illnesses. The work is well worth it for in return I receive respect and protection and a certain amount of freedom that I did not have at home, the convent, or as a merchant’s wife.

With a knife in my belt and my trusty washing paddle ever at the ready, I play my part as the Willensstark Company protects the city of Calais from the French.

2 thoughts on “Charlotte, Washer Woman

  1. I also am a descendant of Sebastian Nolet which is where I originally found the name. The character grew from research and imagination, evolving as my research of medieval history progressed. None of the information about Lissette or Charlotte is linked to the original ancestor Sebastian. I actually know very little about him other than the family tree I found on the internet years ago. I very much wish I could find more information about my ancestry. Charlotte and the Sebastian of the story are characters I created to try to show a glimpse of what I have learned about 15th century medieval history.

  2. Interesting. I am a direct descendant of Sebastien Nolet. I look forward to learning more about your historical character.

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