Sunday 30 March 1264: an abbey, a saint and a curse

Henry’s forces were assembling in Oxford. The charter roll shows that those present on 30 March included: the king’s brother, earl Richard; the earl’s son, Henry of Almain; Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford; Hugh Bigod, who had been Justiciar in the early days of the reform movement; Philip Basset; Roger de Mortimer; James Audley; Robert Walerand; John de Grey; and Warin de Bassingbourn. They were witnessing a charter for the citizens of Worcester, who were granted a range of privileges and liberties, in return for an increase in the farm, for the good service they had rendered to the king and lord Edward; perhaps this was some compensation for the recent sacking of the city by Robert de Ferrers. Henry had promised to pay the expenses of those coming to Oxford to join his army. This must have been a problem, particularly with the Treasury either closed or inaccessible, in rebel-held London. Henry was presumably using the Wardrobe to administer his finances, and seems to have taken some steps to direct revenues there, rather than to the the Treasury: £200 from the farm of Southampton was paid to the Wardrobe on 27 March. (Royal Charter Witness Lists, 332; CChR 1257-1300, 48; CLR 1260-67, 132; Wardrobe Accounts Henry III, 109)

The fine roll shows another source of revenue, resulting from the siege of Gloucester and lord Edward’s eventual success in taking the town. On 15 March, Henry had sent orders to Roger de Clifford, his constable of Gloucester castle, concerning the property of St Peter’s abbey which had been confiscated; the abbey had until 23 March to make amends for recent offences. On 27 March, the fine roll records that the abbot and convent had paid 100 marks to the Wardrobe. This was a fine paid because they had harboured barons (hospitaverunt barones) in the abbey without the king’s permission, and to have the king’s goodwill. This may be an indicator both of the sympathies of many churchmen, who supported the barons, and of the way in which Henry was raising cash. The abbey did not have to dip into its own reserves, however; on the same day as the fine was recorded, the tenants of the abbey were instructed to contribute an aid to the abbot and convent, for the relief of its debts. The abbot was also given an allowance for the provisions which Roger de Clifford had taken from his property, for supplying the castle. (Close Rolls 1261-64, 336; CFR 1263-64, no. 90; CPR 1258-66, 308; CLR 1260-67, 135)

St Frideswide, from a window in Christ Church, Oxford, designed by Edward Burne-Jones

St Frideswide, from a window in Christ Church, Oxford, designed by Edward Burne-Jones

While he was in Oxford, Henry granted the prior and convent of St Frideswide’s an annual payment of 100s. to pay for a chaplain and candles at the saint’s shrine. This was the sort of gesture which one might expect from a pious king like Henry, but contemporary chroniclers were more impressed by the fact that he had entered Oxford at all. There was said to be a curse, which no previous king had dared to defy. Supposedly, Frideswide (d. 727) was the daughter of the king of Oxford. She became an abbess, and was pursued by the lecherous king Algar of Leicester. Frideswide went into hiding, and when Algar tried to enter Oxford he was struck blind. The Osney chronicle said that Henry entered the church of St Frideswide with great devotion, which no king had attempted since the time of king Algar; he gave many goods to the church, and promised more if God gave him victory over his enemies. (CPR 1258-66, 308; John Blair, ‘Frithuswith’, ODNB; Flores Hist, II, 487; Ann Mon, IV, 142-3)


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