Sunday 24 February 1264: writs and verse

Henry III’s return to England seems somewhat muted after the successful completion, from his point of view, of the arbitration by Louis IX. Henry spent this week in Canterbury, accompanied by Hugh Bigod and Roger Leybourne, who had gone to France to urge his return. Henry’s only recorded activity consists of a few writs issued in Canterbury: an order to the authorities in Dover to obey Leybourne’s bailiff, a writ in favour of a Canterbury church, and some minor grants for the benefit of members of his entourage.  Henry had not even resumed control of the machinery of government. The clerks of the Chancery remained with earl Richard in Hereford, where they recorded writs and fines made on his authority. (CPR 1258-66, 381-2; Close Rolls 1261-64, 335; CFR 1263-64, no. 77)

Richard was a good deal closer to the significant events of this period. Confused fighting and pillaging was going on in the Welsh Marches and Midlands. Simon de Montfort’s sons Henry and Simon junior were attacking the lands of the Marcher lords, taking Thomas Corbet’s castle at Radnor and Roger Mortimer’s castle at Wigmore. (Gervase of Canterbury, II, 233) Richard was trying to provide financial support for the royalist forces, commanded by lord Edward: the city authorities in Worcester, Shrewsbury and Hereford were instructed to anticipate the next two instalments of the farm of those towns, and pay it in advance to Edward; they were to do this without fail, ‘to despatch certain most urgent business of the king, for which he is at present in great need of money.’ (CLR 1260-67, 131)

The 1264 pipe roll shows that the citizens of Worcester did indeed pay the £30 they owed for the annual farm of their town to lord Edward, for carrying out the king’s business. (E 372/108 rot 10d) Shrewsbury also provided Edward with £30, although this was not recorded until 1267.  (E 372/111 rot 6) Herefordshire accounted a year later, covering all the transactions of the past seven years – the Exchequer did its best keep track of what it was owed, even in these turbulent times – and recorded that the citizens of Hereford provided Edward with £40 for carrying out the king’s business in Wales. (E 372/112 rot 11d)

Edward was thus able to pay and provision his troops. He joined forces with Mortimer, and captured Humphrey de Bohun’s castles at Hay and Huntington. (Flores Hist, II, 486) But he was too late to prevent a remarkable coup by the baronial forces in Gloucester. The king had committed Gloucestershire to Roger de Clifford, and ordered him to hold the strategically important bridge over the Severn. His local rival, John Giffard of Brimpsfield, supported de Montfort. The English verse chronicle attributed to Robert of Gloucester gives this account, translated into modern English (or at least 19th-century English) by Joseph Stevenson (Church Historians, V, 363):

And sir Roger de Clifford kept Gloucester also,
And at each end of the town placed a good watch.
Sir John Giffard came one day, and sir John de Balun there,
Riding upon two woolpacks, merchants as if they were,
To the west gate over the bridge, and asked the porters,
To let two woolmongers bring in their merchandise.
Covered they both were with two Welsh mantles.
When the gates were undone they both hopped down
From their horses, and cast their mantles away anon,
And then they stood armed from the head to the toes.
Then were the porters sore afraid at that sight,
And threw them the keys, glad that they might. …
Then the barons had the town, and the king had the castle.

It is not often that a source for 13th-century history reads more like a ballad of the adventures of Robin Hood.

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