Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 7 August – Saturday 13 August 1261

King Henry spent the whole of this week at Windsor castle. His isolation there, as his sheriffs  throughout the country were challenged  by the insurgents, is graphically revealed by the fine rolls. In this week only eight writs to initiate and further common law legal actions were purchased,  far fewer than in normal times. Clearly very few people were coming to court  both because of the dangers of travel, and the fear that in any case the common law writs might be useless, given the likely collapse of the king’s courts in a civil war.  The fine rolls reveal one measure to strengthen the king’s position in the localities. On 11 August Henry gave custody of the manor of Rowde and the adjoining  vill of Devizes in Wiltshire to  his castellan of Devizes, John de Plessis.   Plessis’s family origins were in Normandy. His extraordinary career at Henry’s court had culminated  in becoming earl of Warwick through marriage. Yet, blessed with a plausible and congenial personality, he had never been unpopular, unlike some other of Henry’s foreign favourites. Indeed, in 1258 he had been appointed to the governing council and left in control of Devizes castle.  Plessis, however, was a king’s man through and through and was full square behind the attempt to overthrow the 1258 reforms.  In giving him control over Rowde manor and the Devizes vill, Henry was  strengthening his position in the battle for local control, in the process reversing  previous policies   which had separated the control of vill and castle. With a  sensitivity, which reveals the danger of his situation, Henry was, however, keen to prevent the appointment arousing antagonism.  The grant was qualified.  The previous holder of Rowde and Devizes, John de Vernon,  an influential local knight and former sheriff,  need  surrender them to Plessis only if the term under which he held them from the king had expired.

John de Plessis was at court when the grant to him was made, and doubtless urged it on the king.  The witness lists of royal charters issued on 8 and 12 August give a fascinating  picture of who was with Henry at Windsor in this week. Most striking is the presence of  Walter de Cantilupe, bishop of Worcester. Since Cantilupe was completely in the camp of the insurgents, he can only have been there on a mission from them, presumably to see if any kind of settlement was possible.  The lists also show how strong was Savoyard influence at court, and thus how strong was the influence of the Queen.  Her uncle Peter of Savoy, was there, as were Peter de Champvent, Imbert de Montferrant, and the king’s steward Imbert Pugeys, sometimes called Imbert of Savoy.  Another witness was the queen’s friend, the Flemish lord, Gerard de Rodes, who had come to England earlier in the year with a force of paid knights.

The English ministers were headed by Philip Basset and John Mansel.  Basset was soon to leave court to uphold the king’s cause in the localities, or at least that seems to have been  the intention. His appointment as justiciar back in June, in place of the baronial nominee, Hugh Despencer had been a conciliatory gesture.  The office, symbol of the reforms of 1258, was to continue. But it was only in this week that the appointment was put on a proper footing. Basset was given a salary of 1000 marks a year, and writs were issued proclaiming his appointment ‘for the preservation of the king, the tranquillity of the realm and the giving of justice to everyone’.   The castellans of  castles  ‘when he passes their way’ were ordered to receive the prisoners and disturbers of the peace whom he had arrested.

John Mansel too left court, soon after he witnessed  on 12 August. Courageous and loyal,  he was determined, unlike his king,  to get out and engage in the battle for local control.  A few days before 19 August he was at the castle he was building at Sedgewick in Sussex.  The work on the moat was proceeding so well, he reported in a letter to friends at court, that it would soon be able to hold water.  He also observed that

‘if the king had preachers for him as the contrary party has, it would be good for him. We certainly, in the parts where we are, are  succeeding in bringing  the hearts of men over to his side.’

There has been some debate about the year to which Mansel’s letter belongs.  It has no dating clause but that it was written in August is shown  by its reference to the feast of the Assumption, which falls, of course,  on 15 August. Mansel told his addressees,  that Richard, the king’s brother, wished someone to be sent to him on  Friday after the Assumption (19 August in 1261) in order to give him the news of the king’s affairs.  Mansel then offered  counsel as to who should be sent.  The letter clearly fits the political situation in 1261. Equally significant (a point I think not noticed before) are the names of the people to whom Mansel refers. The letter is addressed to Robert of Thweng (Thwing in Yorkshire), a northern knight, who was to be one of Mansel’s executors, and Imbert de Montferrand. Thweng attested a royal charter on 24 July 1261 at the Tower. On 12 August at Windsor, he was the beneficiary of a royal charter, witnessed by both Mansel and Montferrand.  At the end of the letter, Mansel asks Thweng and Montferrand to salute on his behalf both Gerard de Rodes and Alard de Seningham. Rodes too witnessed to Thweng’s charter of 12 August. Seningham, often linked to Rodes, was another northern French lord and friend of the queen who had come to England in 1261 with a contingent of paid troops. (See the blog for 5-11 June.)

Robert of Thweng belonged to a junior branch of the famous Yorkshire family. His namesake,  Robert of Thweng, had led the violent protests in 1232  against the foreign clerks provided by the pope to English livings. Yet here now  was Robert co-operating very happily with the king’s Savoyard favourites and the Flemish lords brought to England with their contingents of paid troops.

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