Archive for April, 2011

William, Wills, Billy, Bill…

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

The name of kings, the name of princes, and the name of many, many medieval men in thirteenth-century England: William is, and was, a very popular name. KCL reported all about it here (http://www.kcl.ac.uk/newsevents/news/newsrecords/2011/04Apr/Williammostpopularmedievalname.aspx).

The Lambeth Council of 8 to 13 May 1261

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

The ecclesiastical council that met from 8 to 13 May was not in fact held at Westminster, as the king had suggested, but rather at Lambeth, the residence of the archbishop of Canterbury, Boniface of Savoy. Things were not all that they seemed, as Henry surely now realised. The pope had ordered clerical councils to be held across Christendom, with the aim of mustering funds to combat the Mongol invasion of Hungary. This topic, though, was not on the agenda at Lambeth. Instead, Boniface seized the opportunity to resurrect the extensive complaints about Henry’s treatment of the Church, which had dominated ecclesiastical meetings of the 1250s when Henry had been demanding taxes from the English Church to support his ambitions in Sicily. To Henry, Boniface’s move was nothing less than a stab in the back. Writing angrily to the pope, Henry protested that he had been excluded from the council. Rather than being given the opportunity to address the clergy’s complaints, he had been presented with a fait accompli, an official set of statutes that were to be enforced by sentence of excommunication (potentially against the king himself). Timing, moreover, was crucial. The Constitutions of Lambeth came at the very moment that Henry was working to rebuild his position, when any opposition was bound to look like an attack against him. Particularly upsetting was the central role of Boniface of Savoy. Henry would have expected the archbishop, as Queen Eleanor’s uncle, to join his kinsmen Peter of Savoy and Richard of Cornwall in the vanguard of the royal revanche. Boniface might not have been a Montfortian but his failure to stand with the king at this decisive moment was, to Henry, a painful treachery, as the bitterness of his complaints to the pope attest.

A contribution by Sophie Ambler

Henry III Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 24 April (Easter Day) to Saturday 30 April 1261

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Last week, Henry III at last left the Tower of London and set up court at St Paul’s doubtless in the bishop’s house there. He was able to celebrate Easter Day, 24 April, at St Paul’s rather than in the great fortress. Yet that was still a terrific breach with custom. Since 1239 Henry had always celebrated Easter at Westminster Abbey. The only exceptions were 1243 and 1254 when he was in France.  Between 1230 and 1238, the pattern had been different. The great feast had then been shared between Westminster, Gloucester, Canterbury, Clarendon and (most popular of all)  Reading abbey.  The change, of course, reflected  how Henry’s devotion to Edward the Confessor had come to dominate his life.  He would always celebrate Easter beside his patron saint. How grievous now to be unable to do so.

Even worse, St Paul’s itself  was not entirely secure, as the fine rolls reveal for the first time. The usual itinerary of Henry III has him at St Paul’s for the whole period from 23 to 29 April.  Indeed it was at St Paul’s, on 28 April, as the fine rolls show, that Henry took the homage of the Nicholas de Cantilupe in return for a relief of £5 for the knight’s fee he held from the crown. This was in strict accordance with the level stipulated by Magna Carta.  But the fine rolls also show that Henry was briefly back at the Tower on the twenty-sixth.  It was from there that he issued the order  putting Elyas de Rabayne back in possession of his properties.  Evidently Elyas, the Poitevin castellan of Corfe expelled in 1258,  had acted on Henry’s invitation (see the blog for 10-16 April) and had returned to England.   Elyas may have brought vital information about the situation at Dover for next day Henry ordered money to be sent there for the expenses of his household.  He had taken the momentous decision to dash to Dover and seize the  castle.  This was not a decision he made alone for  his brother, Richard earl of Cornwall and king of Germany,  the Queen and her  uncle, Peter of Savoy, the Norman John de Plessy (earl of Warwick through marriage), and the king’s most faithful and brilliant counsellor, John Mansel,  were all at court around this time.  Leaving Mansel behind in command of the Tower, Henry  left London on 29 April and by the end of the day had reached Rochester.

The exigencies of this week may explain a falling off in the routine business on the fine rolls. Only twelve of the common law writs were sought as opposed to seventeen the week before. It will be interesting to see how far the flow was affected by the move on Dover. For Henry, of course, that was not a consideration. The vital question was what would happen which he got there. Would he manage to get control of the great castle, widely thought of as ‘the key to England’?

Henry III Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 17 April to Saturday 23 April 1261

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

So to Easter week, the last week of Lent. In fine rolls terms it seems a week very much of business as usual with seventeen writs purchased to further common law litigation. This business was so routine that usually such purchases were listed, without any indication of their precise date, and indeed, only one is dated in this week, 18 April at The Tower of London. The fine rolls, therefore, often so informative, do not reveal the momentous change that this week saw in Henry’s situation.  After having been there since early February, he at last left the Tower of London. His destination was St Paul’s where doubtless he set up court in the house of the bishop of London. Henry,  therefore, had not gone far. Westminster he clearly still felt was insecure. How galling that must have been. Throughout the 1250s (if in England), he had always spent his Easters there, celebrating the great feast besides his patron saint, Edward the Confessor. One wonders, during his long sojourn at the Tower, whether Henry dared to slip down to Westminster to gain spiritual support from his hero.

Throughout this week Henry and his counsellors must have been planning and plotting. Immediately after Easter, as we will see, Henry was to make a far more dramatic move than that merely to St Pauls.  One decision was that Queen Eleanor would remain  behind there. Thus Henry wrote to the archbishop of Canterbury, Boniface of Savoy, telling him he should be satisfied with holding  the forthcoming ecclesiastical  council not at St Paul’s but in ‘our hall of Westminster the noblest place in our kingdom’.  This was because ‘our beloved queen is staying at St Paul’s’, which would make the appearance of a great multitude of people there completely inappropriate.  Another reason, Henry added, was that the city itself needed to be fortified ‘because…’. At this point the letter breaks off and in fact the record of it is cancelled. Perhaps Henry was able to discuss the venue of the council with Boniface by word of mouth. Had he written more,  Henry would doubtless  have described the political crisis which made the fortification of the city a necessity.

Henry III Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 10 April to Saturday 16 April 1261

Monday, April 11th, 2011

For Henry this was another week in the Tower of London. How he must have wished to escape the confines of the great fortress.  He had not lived there since early in 1238 during  the protests  over the secret marriage of Simon de Montfort to his sister. How right the protesters were, Henry may now have ruefully reflected.  At least Henry could also reflect  that in the intervening years he had transformed the Tower, giving it a new gateway, moat and outer  line of  turreted walls. That was why it could now form the base for his recovery of power. One thinks of Henry III as the builder of Westminster Abbey. Much of the Tower of London, as we have it today, was also his work: the majesty of kingship at Westminster; the might at the Tower. Never, in the whole history of the Tower was that might put to better use than in 1261.

In fine rolls terms this week was business as usual.  Individuals continued to come into the Tower to buy from the chancery the writs to initiate and further the  common law legal actions. Some seventeen were  purchased in this week. Many of these (as in any week)  secured a time and place for a particular legal action to be heard, most often, although this was usually  not specified, before the justices of the bench. (These are the writs of ‘pone’ and ‘ad terminum’ which feature so largely in the fine rolls.)  Other writs  commissioned a particular judge to hear a case in the localities. This week Henry of Bratton received such a commission to hear a case in Somerset. Henry used to be regarded as the author as one of the greatest law books ever written: Bracton on the Laws and Customs of England, although it is now clear he was only its editor and preserver. We can think of him as the proud possessor of the text  at the time of his hearing this assize. The cost of these writs was usually about half a mark,  a third of a pound, which would equate to several thousand pounds in modern money.  So they were not cheap. However, the routine standard form common law writs, which initiated legal actions and simply gave you a place before the judges when they next toured your county, only cost 6d (around £250 perhaps in modern money).  This money went straight into the chancery and was never recorded on the fine rolls.  Doubtless many of these writs were also purchased in this week. Henry himself would   have had nothing to do with this routine business. However, he almost certainly was involved in one act recorded on the fine rolls this week. On 16  April Henry pardoned Ida de Beauchamp the 5 marks which she had been amerced  in the course of a law suit in the previous year.

Outside the fine rolls, this week was vital  in providing Henry with the authority to overthrow the Provisions of Oxford.  On Wednesday 13 April, in Rome, Pope Alexander IV issued the crucial  bull which freed Henry from his oath to observe them. It would be around month before the bull would arrive in England, but meanwhile Henry must have felt his decision to overthrow the Provisions had been amply vindicated.  His attempt  to conciliate Simon de Montfort (revealed in last week’s blog) had proved an utter failure. This was all too clear from the replies to Henry’s complaints against his council which  he must have  received this week or next.  They were unyielding, not so say insulting, and bore all the hallmarks of Montfort’s abrasive hand. So Henry was told ‘it is right and reasonable that whenever you talk sense, you should be heard and listened to as lord of us all’.  The counsellors  also  acknowledged that they discussed and effectively settled matters on their own and only then asked the king for his assent, adding that ‘they do nothing on his sole word’.  Henry might well have cried out, as did Louis IX later when he heard of the Provisions, ‘I would rather be a peasant breaking clods behind the plough than live under a regime of that kind’.

There were indications this week of the way Henry’s mind was working. On 13 April he was munitioning the castles of Corfe and Salisbury with arrows.  On 14 April, he encouraged his Poitevin favourite, Elyas de Rabayne, dismissed as castellan of Corfe and expelled in 1258, to hasten back to England.

Henry III Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 3 April – Saturday 9 April 1261

Monday, April 4th, 2011

In this week in 1261, Henry III remained in the Tower of London, safe from those opposing his resumption of power.  People continued to come to the Tower to obtain writs from the chancery to further their litigation according to the procedures of the common law.  Thirteen such writs were purchased in the week.  This was routine business which did not require the direct involvement of the king.  Henry, however, was involved in an act of measured compassion to a poor man, an act which shows how the poor  could gain access to him. One John Sundy had been accused before the justices in eyre in Oxfordshire of harbouring criminals. He had fled in fear and his chattels had been seized into the king’s hands. Now Henry ‘out of compassion for his poverty and wishing to do him special grace’ ordered the sheriff of Oxfordshire to restore to John his chattels, although he was to pay the king the price at which they had been valued.  The writ to the sheriff, dated [Wednesday] 6 April can be found at no.329 of our translation of the roll for 1260-1261.

More generally the week saw some relaxation in the political tension. Henry had shaken off the conciliar control imposed on him in 1258, but had yet to proclaim his wholesale rejection of the scheme of reform known as the Provisions of Oxford. Instead, earlier in March, he had  drawn up a long list of complaints about the way the council had behaved, and agreed to submit these to some form of arbitration.  In this week (as last), the justiciar imposed on Henry by  the reform regime, Hugh Despencer, was with the king in the Tower and still acknowledged as holding his office. Hugh was very close to Simon de Montfort and on 9 April, Henry allowed him  to authorise a  writ  allowing Montfort to have timber for the manor of Rodley  in Gloucesteshire.  Rodley was a property Montfort had managed to prize from the king in 1259, much to Henry’s anger. This, therefore, was a considerable favour to the man now emerging as the chief opponent of the king’s recovery of power.  We may wonder whether it was genuine act of conciliation, in the hope of some settlement, or whether Henry was just playing for time until he should receive the papal letters quashing the Provisions altogether.

Farewell to Paul Dryburgh

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Last week was  a sad one for the  Project since it saw the departure of Paul Dryburgh to take up his new post at the Borthwick Insititute at York.  As Research Fellow from the inception of the Project in 2005, Paul has been central to its achievements. Fortunately, he will continue to be involved with the Project as a member of its Co-ordinating Team.  Everyone wishes him good luck in York.