Archive for July, 2011

Henry III’s Alien Curiales

Friday, July 29th, 2011

When the storm broke around the King’s head in 1258, the Barons in their Petition of that May asked that all royal castles including those adjoining harbours from which ships sail, should be committed to the custody of men born in England and that no women shall be disparaged by being married to ‘men who are not true-born Englishmen’. The experience of the King’s alien curiales  varied.  As a result of the Provisions of Oxford of June/July, John de Plessis, far from being removed, was, by a vote of the Barons, appointed to the group of four who would chose the King’s Council.  In addition he was to hold Devizes castle.  Mathias Bezill was retained as Constable of Gloucester but Imbert Pugeys was removed from the Tower of London. 

A Tourangeau, Mathias Bezill benefited during his countryman, Peter des Roche’s ascendancy.  Bezill was the nephew of one of the Chanceaux clan which was probably related to Engelard de Cigogné and, like him, was banned by chapter fifty of Magna Carta.  Bezill was first mentioned in 1232, during the des Roches dominance, when he was given custody of the lands of two of the supporters of the rebel, Richard Marshal and he received his first royal patronage in the following January and witnessed a royal charter in June.  By 1258 he had gained lands in Devon, Gloucestershire, Surrey and Wiltshire and had married a wealthy widow. More importantly, in 1240, he was made Marshal of the Queen’s household and, by 1251, he was constable of Gloucester. In 1254, he became the Queen’s Steward.

Although Bezill was not disadvantaged by the Provisions, he suffered in the aftermath as a result of the special eyre set up under the supervision of the Justiciar, Hugh Bigod.  In September 1258, Bezill was ordered to be imprisoned when a jury refused to overturn his conviction for reducing a free tenant to serfdom.This potential imprisonment at this time was an indication of the ebbing of the power of alien courtiers around the King.

1261 saw Henry III  overthrowing the Provisions of Oxford and recovering of royal power. He replaced sheriffs with those he could trust; John de Plessis became sheriff of Leicestershire and Warwick whilst in July Mathias Bezill added the shrievalty of Gloucestershire to his castellany of Gloucester castle.

Whereas Plessis experienced no problems, there was a spectacular and violent reaction to Bezill’s appointment.  The county gentry of Gloucestershire elected one of their own men, William de Tracy, as sheriff.  With a strong force, Bezill seized Tracy at a meeting of the county court, had him beaten, dragged through the mire and imprisoned in Gloucester castle.

Although Robert of Gloucester referred to a popular election, David Carpenter has suggested that Tracy was, in fact, a member of the entourage of the Earl of Gloucester.  Although the evidence he relied on dates from 1267, refers back to 1265 and is about a later Earl, it does carry some weight as a 1259 patent roll entry refers to Oliver de Tracy, who was possibly William’s brother, as the nephew of the Earl in 1259.

These events show that Bezill was still perceived as a foreigner even though he had been in England for thirty years, had been associated with Gloucester castle for twelve years, had been accepted as constable by the Barons in 1258, had held lands in Gloucestershire, was married to an Englishwoman and had children born in England. That Bezill identified with Gloucestershire is demonstrated by his funding on an obit at Gloucester Abbey. Robert of Gloucester drew particular attention to the French origins of Bezill and the St Alban’s Continuator also referred to Bezill’s’ alien origin.

But an item in a wardrobe account of the mid 1250’s found by Ben Wild may throw a new light on these events. One reading of this entry is that Bezill paid ten marks to have the sheriff of Gloucester moved.  If so, why?   Bezill had been Constable of Gloucester since 1251.  William de Lasborough, who was sheriff in April 1255, was replaced in 1257 by Henry de Penbroke.

However,  the List of Sheriffs  records Bezill, as sheriff, on 10 January 1256 but there is no supporting evidence.  The List states that he did not account at the Exchequer.  Perhaps this statement is based on a Patent Roll entry which can be read as referring to Bezill’s keeping Gloucester castle but not the county.  Lasborough is in the parish of Westonbirt.  Bezill held lands at Sherston, about two miles away, from 1240 and at Didmarton, also about two miles way, from before 1260.  Perhaps Bezill was objecting to Lasborough as either a hindrance to his position as Constable or it was a neighbour dispute or both.  But if he did pay to have Lasborough removed, why was he only prepared, or expected, to pay only ten marks?  So if Bezill had had a brush with a locally based sheriff in the 1250’s, this might be a further reason for local hostility to him in the 1260’s.

Whatever was the motive for the local gentry’s hostility to Bezill in 1261, they remembered his actions and  took violent revenge in 1263.

Posted on behalf of Michael Ray.

Podcast on the Henry III Fine Rolls Project

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

A link to an interview with Professor David Carpenter on the Henry III Fine Rolls Project for BBC History (15 July 2011). http://www.historyextra.com/podcast-page.

More details on John Sundy in 1261

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

More details have emerged concerning John Sundy, whose fine for harbouring outlaws in the 1261 Oxfordshire eyre had been pardoned on account of his poverty (see 4 April blog). The pleadings for Sundy’s case have survived on a plea roll in The National Archives and confirm that he had been indicted for harbouring a thief and outlaw. Sundy, moreover, had been accused of several thefts himself and had fled in advance of the itinerant justices’ arrival in Oxfordshire. He was therefore outlawed in absentia and his goods and chattels seized. Interestingly, the plea roll also reveals that rather than being a poor freeman, he was actually a person of some status in his local community, possessing lands in both Oxfordshire and Berkshire. Sundy’s moveable goods were valued at £6 2s 4d by the Oxfordshire hundred of Benson. The plea roll likewise records that he held land worth £7 3s 4d in Benson and further unspecified lands in the Berkshire hundred of Ock. Eighteen years later, the hundred rolls record that his children were possessed of fifty acres in Benson and Newnham. Sundy was protective of his position, having engaged in litigation during the 1241 eyre against the Countess of Oxford concerning common pasture in Crowmarsh Gifford. Furthermore, this same roll notes the settlement of another dispute with the Countess over the ownership of ten acres in nearby Nuffield. Interestingly, John Sundy was not the only member of his family accused of a felony during the 1261 Oxfordshire eyre: his son William had been acquitted of being both a thief and an accomplice of one. 

Posted on behalf of Dr Adrian Jobson.

Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 24 July – Saturday 30 July 1261

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

This was yet another week Henry III spent in the Tower of London. It was, however, to be the last of this stay, doubtless to Henry’s relief, and indeed to the relief of the readers of this blog.

The kingdom was now on the brink of civil war.  In Gloucester there was a dramatic confrontation. The local knight, William de Tracy sought to take over the sheriffdom and hold his own session of the county court. In response,  the king’s nominee, a foreigner and favourite of the queen, Mathias Bezille,  dragged William from the court, trampled over him in the mud and hauled him off to imprisonment in the castle.  The situation was particularly threatening in Kent. There Simon de Montfort and Richard de Clare, earl of Gloucester, went round the Cinque Ports and secured a written undertaking that they would  stand with the barons and prevent the entry of foreigners, which meant in practice the entry of foreign soldiers being called in to aid the king. In a striking example of the rhetoric which justified what amounted to rebellion, the barons claimed, in the language of the revolution of 1258,  to be acting ‘for  the honour of God, the faith of the king and the profit of the realm’.

Henry’s response came in remarkable letter which he issued from the Tower on Saturday 30 July.  It was first of series, concocted  in this period, appealing for the allegiance of his subjects.  Addressed to the knights, free tenants and everyone else in Kent, Henry  reminded  them of the oath of fidelity they had sworn when he was last in the county (see the blogs for early May). He then enjoined them to give no credence to   suggestions and assertions contrary to that fidelity, by which his mind  might be moved and disturbed. They were to maintain themselves ‘in their devotion and pristine fidelity, so that from us, who wishes to be bound to you most especially in all love, you will deserve to find  secure recourse in  your affairs’.

The mounting crisis was  reflected in the fine roll business.  Only seventeen writs to initiate or further common law legal actions were purchased in this week, as opposed to forty-nine the week before.  Clearly travel was becoming difficult and dangerous.

It was time for Henry to act. How he acted will be seen in next week’s blog.

Leeds International Medieval Congress 2011

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Several PhD students from King’s recently attended the Leeds International Medieval Congress, which took place 11-14 July. Three of David Carpenter’s students, Richard Cassidy, Katherine Harvey and Sophie Ambler, presented papers in a panel entitled ‘Silver, Simony and Sermons: the ideal and reality of wealth in the reign of Henry III’, which analysed aspects of Henry’s financial resources and the views of some of the prominent churchmen of his reign on how money should be spent by those in power. During the panel, Sophie spoke about the Fine Rolls project and the project blog.

Posted on behalf of Sophie Ambler

King's Doctoral Students at the IMC

Henry’s Residence at the Tower of London in 1261

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Whilst Henry III’s lodgings at the Tower would probably not have been as lavishly decorated as at his other major residences of Westminster, Clarendon and Winchester, there is still plenty of evidence to show that it was comfortably appointed. During his stay in 1261, he and his family would have lodged in the royal apartments, built early in his reign, to the south of the White Tower overlooking the river Thames. These, and the adjacent Great Hall, had been smartly whitewashed on their exterior in the late 1230’s, and shortly afterwards, this was complemented by the whitening of the keep, later known as the White Tower. The great round turret, today called the Wakefield Tower, is the only part of Henry’s private accommodation to survive at the Tower. Its scale, and the beauty of the architectural spaces within, hint at the former splendour of the king’s lodgings. We know from detailed accounts in the Liberate Rolls how some of the king’s and queen’s rooms at the Tower were decorated.  Queen Eleanor’s chamber within the king’s apartments was to be painted with false pointing and embellished with flowers. Another room was to be whitewashed and painted with roses.  The window shutters of the Great Hall were painted with the king’s arms. The chapel in the Wakefield Tower was to be glazed with a great window, and painters were paid 19 shillings and sixpence to adorn its walls. In 1238, Henry ordered that a ‘good and suitable’ screen be made and situated between his chamber and this chapel. It is very likely that Henry received visitors in the first floor chamber of the Wakefield Tower during his stay in 1261, and one wonders if the decorations installed over twenty years before would still have shone as brightly. Perhaps, if the candlelight were subtle enough. Henry was much concerned with the embellishment of chapels at the Tower, as elsewhere. He and his queen worshipped in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula to the north of the inner ward, and this was decorated accordingly. Large glass windows were ordered in 1240, and beautiful stalls for Henry and Eleanor were installed. Polychrome sculptures, painted panels and possibly a wall painting of St Christopher were added, together with a magnificent rood. The carved Crucifixion on top of the rood was flanked by ‘two handsome cherubim’ standing to the left and right. A characteristically personal request was added that they should have ‘joyful and smiling faces’! Henry’s passion for the story of Edward the Confessor did not weaken at the Tower of London. In the same year, he ordered that fine painted sculptures of St Edward handing his ring to St John the Evangelist be installed in the chapel of the same name, in the White Tower. Alas, nothing of this magnificent decoration now survives.

Posted on behalf of Jane Spooner, Curator (Historic Buildings) at the Tower of London.

Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 17 July to Saturday 23 July

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

And another week in the Tower of London. At least if Henry was confined there, his quarters were comfortable, as Jane Spooner shows in her contribution to the blog.  The fine rolls themselves might  suggest all was well.  Some forty-nine writs to  further legal actions according to the procedures of the common law were purchased in this week,  a very respectable number. In giving favour, Henry was also able to act in ways which might have been difficult during the restrictions of the baronial regime. He conceded  the manor of Kidlington in Oxfordshire to his foreign favourite, John de Plessy, earl of Warwick. The fact that Plessy offered 400 marks for the gift reflects the  arguably dubious legality of what was going on.  Also in this week, Henry  restored William de Bussey to his lands. Bussey had been the notorious steward of Henry’s Poitevin half brother, Wiliam de Valence. During the period of baronial reform, he had been arrested and his lands taken into the king’s hands. Matthew Paris ascribed to him the arrogant remark, made during his days of power, ‘if I do wrong, who is there to do you right?’ Now he was rehabilitated,  although Henry did make some nod in the direction of how this would look. Bussey had to give security that he would answer to  anyone who wished to complain against him.  Henry then went on the explain that, as a result of this security, he was bound by law (de jure)  to restore his lands.  This explanation was not included in a first version of the writ making the restoration.  That it appears in a second is hardly on a par with the way David Cameron is currently distancing himself from Andy Coulson, but it at least shows some sensitivity on Henry’s part to what the public might make of his association with a controversial figure.

Henry  had every reason for anxiety.  In this week, he must have been increasingly aware of the growing opposition to his seizure of power. In a rising, partly spontaneous and partly orchestrated by the baronial leaders, the sheriffs appointed by him earlier in the month were being  openly defied and  rival sheriffs being set up.  With the kingdom sliding towards civil war, both sides made efforts to draw back and reach a settlement. In this week various schemes for  arbitration by the king of France were being muted. One letter, was sent to Louis IX, on Monday  18 July, in the names of Walter de Cantilupe,  bishop of Worcester, Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, Roger Bigod, earl of Norfolk, Richard de Clare, earl of Gloucester, John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, and Hugh Bigod. This was a formidable coalition which reflected that Bigod had defected from the king to  the baronial opposition.  That the letter was sent from London shows the insurgents were at large in the capital and helps explain why Henry was stuck in the Tower. That Louis’s intervention was seen as ‘the only way’ of avoiding the ‘desolatio,  dissipatio  and irreparable loss which threatens all the land’ shows just how serious the situation now was.  Read next’s week’s instalment!

Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 10 July to Saturday 16 July 1261

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Another week in the Tower of London and there are going to be many more of those.  Evidently Henry did not feel the position outside  allowed him even to go to Westminster. Doubtless he remembered the way he had been exposed there in 1258 by the baronial march on his hall. He had cried out ‘What is this my lords, am I your prisoner?’ At least in the Tower, that could not happen again.  There were reasons for unease. When Henry’s judges sought to hear pleas at Worcester on 1 July,  they were boycotted and the visitation had to be abandoned.  Yes had Henry been a bold and martial man  he would surely have taken the field to assert his authority throughout the country. There is something rather pathetic and uninspiring in the way he remained skulking in the Tower.  This is all the more so given he was not without funds. His wardrobe around now received some £730 from the issues of the vacant bishopric of Winchester.  Yes Henry relied on others. The fine rolls this week show him consolidating the position of Robert Walerand as sheriff of Kent and castellan of Dover. He was to have £400 a year for the custody of the castle.  Henry  also moved  affirm his control over central government. On Tuesday 12 July he took the great seal from the baronially appointed chancellor. Nicholas of Ely (who left court), and appointed the ever reliable Walter of Merton in his place.  With Henry in the Tower on 15 July were the bishops of London and Salisbury, Philip Basset the new justiciar, the marcher lord James of Audley, John Mansel, and indeed Robert Walerand, who had evidently come up to settle his terms for  Dover which were conceded on the same day.   Henry could also draw comfort from a revival of the business associated with the purchase of the common law writs. Some thirty-nine were obtained in this week. One saw no less than thirty three people from Rutland jointly obtaining a writ of pone which probably placed their legal case  before the judges at Westminster. At least their work continued there as did that of the exchequer.

Forthcoming Fine of the Month

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

Jeremy Ashbee, Head Properties Curator of English Heritage, has been in touch about the inventory of Corfe and Sherborne castles which formed the subject of Huw Ridgeway’s fine of the month for December 2010. Jeremy had previously thought that the term ‘la  gloriette’ at Corfe, as attached to  King John’s splendid new building, was introduced by Edward I. ‘The fine roll’,  he writes, ‘changes all that’ for the name appears there ‘which is phenomenal to see’ and ‘immensely exciting’.   Jeremy’s fine of the month about all this will appear shortly

Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 3 July to Saturday 9 July 1261

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

Another week for Henry at the Tower of London  and a momentous one.  On Friday and Saturday, 8-9 July, Henry took the decisive step of dismissing the sheriffs and castellans appointed by the baronial regime and replacing them with his own men.  It was one thing to proclaim, as Henry had done at Winchester in May, that he was no longer bound by his oath to obey the Provisions of Oxford. It was quite another to act on his new power and attempt to assert his authority throughout the country. That was what Henry was now doing.

The apparently bullish mood in which he took this dangerous step is revealed in letters Henry issued this week. He protested to the pope about Archbishop Boniface’s proceedings at the recent council of Lambeth ‘to the diminution of the state of our crown and dignity’.  He then proclaimed that his political position was improving ‘from moment to moment’.  He had taken possession of Dover, the city and the  Tower of London, together with other castles.  He held everything in peace with the ‘assent of the community’, save for certain malevolent people, whose crafty machinations, he hoped, with the help of God and the pope, soon to destroy.  To the Welsh prince Llywelyn, Henry explained that he was now absolved from his oath to govern with the counsel of the nobles and had resumed ‘the strength of royal power’

This confidence was, however, more apparent than real. Henry remained in the Tower. He evidently shrank for touring the country to give comfort and support to his new officials against the malevolent plotters. He was like a soldier who has popped his head above the trench to a fire a missile and then quickly ducks down into its protection.   Henry  also still cherished the hope that the leader of the opposition  might be deflected by diplomacy. On 5 July,  he took a further initiative designed to settle his private quarrels with Simon de Montfort by arbitration.

The growing furore provoked by Henry’s actions is revealed in the fine rolls. No business at all was recorded between 4-7 July inclusive. The whole week only saw the purchase of sixteen common law writs, far fewer than usual. Evidently people were unable or unwilling to come to court.