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

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.

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