Fine of the Month: The Chenduits in the Fine Rolls

The latest Fine of the Month is The Chenduits in the Fine Rolls – A Gentry Family in the Reign of Henry III, by Christopher Tilley. Christopher writes:

The political influence of the group in society that historians often call the local gentry or the ‘knightly class’ grew substantially during the reign of Henry III.  These were people who usually held one or a few manors and who were involved in local administration, and who from the fourteenth century governed their localities as Justices of the Peace and in a range of other local administrative offices, and who served as Members of Parliament, representing their shires in the House of Commons.  Their political and social importance is first visible in the rebellion which led to King John’s issue of Magna Carta in 1215, and in the ensuing civil war, where historians have found evidence of large numbers of such people joining the rebellion against the king. By the middle of the thirteenth century, they were coming to be more formally represented in parliament. The year 1254 was the first time knights representing their localities were summoned to parliament; two were ordered to be chosen from each county to attend. A decade later, representatives of the shires, along with those of the towns, played a central role in the parliaments of Simon de Montfort’s period of rule from 1264 to 1265. Under Edward I and Edward II, the role of ‘the Commons’ became routine as the gentry became a central part of England’s parliamentary polity.

The fine rolls of Henry III’s reign contain valuable information about people in this section of society. In my fine of the month, I have examined two fine roll entries that shed light on one gentry family during the reign of Henry III.  The Chenduits were among the wealthier knightly families, though unlike the great magnates, their landed interests were local rather than national and they would have been much less well-off in terms of income. Their handful of manors in Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire had probably been in the same family since just after the Norman Conquest of 1066 when their ancestor, Rannulf, serjeant of Berkhamsted castle in Hertfordshire, had apparently been given lands by his lord, Robert, count of Mortain.  The fine roll entries relating to the Chenduits, when examined in the context of other sources help to illustrate a number of issues facing the gentry in the thirteenth century.

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