Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 14 August – Saturday 20 August 1261

Henry spent the bulk of this week at Windsor.  It was from there, on Tuesday 14 August, that he issued perhaps the most eloquent proclamation of his reign.  With his authority being challenged throughout the realm, he sent a letter to all his sheriffs,  justifying his rule and rebutting the accusations of his enemies.

 Henry announced that he had

heard with bitterness of attempts to wrest people from  their fidelity and love by false and malicious suggestions. This is all the more grievous  when we have  ruled for forty-five years, by the will and grace of God, and have not ceased in that time, with all our desire and strength,  to  study and labour for the peace and tranquillity of each and everyone.

When previously [in the reign of John]  the  kingdom was destroyed by war and hostility, in our time,  blessed be  God, by whose grace we are what we are and through whom all kings reign, neither in spiritual things through a general interdict or the withdrawal of the sacraments, nor in temporal things through hostilities and general war, has the kingdom of England been depressed or impoverished.

Instead, everyone has been able to enjoy their possessions in peace, everyone has been able to retain or obtain their rights, according to what is just, nor have we taken  rights from anyone by force or will, Blessed be God, nor have we exiled anyone unjustly.

You ought, therefore, to disbelieve suggestions of this kind, made by those who impose servitude and oppressions on you by their will, when we are prepared and always will be prepared to come to your defence and relief.

Henry then went on to counter rumours that he was bringing foreign soldiers  into the country to harm his native subjects. He also defended the sheriffs he had recently appointed. They would be far more able to preserve the rights of the king and defend the king’s subjects from oppression than the previous sheriffs who had been in the pockets of the magnates. Therefore,  he continued,

Remain faithful to us as we are always prepared to give justice to all, great and small, and preserve all good laws and customs.

And the letter concluded with a statement making clear the king was now speaking for himself and was no longer controlled by a baronial council 

 We have caused these letters patent to be made of our own will and free power.

One would love to know how this magnificent justification for Henry’s rule was put together. What was Henry’s own input and what of that of ministers?  Was it perhaps the work of the chancellor, Walter of Merton?  And  how too was the letter actually proclaimed in the counties, if indeed it was?  That Henry desperately needed to make his case was shown at the end of the week for he then felt compelled to return to the Tower of London. See his next blog!

None of this was reflected in the fine rolls.  There was an increase in the number of writs being purchased to initiate or further common law legal actions – up  to nineteen of these as opposed to only eight the week before. However, some seven of the nineteen related to Somerset and were perhaps the  result of one representative arriving at court and purchasing the whole lot.

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