Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 2 October to Saturday 8 October 1261

Henry III spent all this week at St Paul’s in London where he was almost certainly staying at the bishop’s palace.  The chaos of the time is reflected in the continuing collapse of fine roll business. Only nine writs to initiate or further common law legal actions were purchased in this week. Henry was  anxious about control of the Cinque Ports. On 4 October, he ordered the men of Winchelsea and Sandwich to have nothing to do with a meeting the king’s enemies had tried to arrange. Ostensibly this was to settle a dispute between the men. In fact, as Henry said, it was to seduce them from their allegiance. The men were also told to prevent the king’s enemies bringing foreign soldiers into the country. This was not, of course, to prevent the king doing the same.

This week did, however, bring two pieces of good news for Henry.  First, he had evidently tried to summon his supporters to London, and the result was not disappointing. The witness lists to royal charters show that with Henry at St Paul’s on 4, 5 October were Boniface archbishop of Canterbury,* the bishops of Salisbury and Norwich, Humphrey de Bohun earl of Hereford, Peter of Savoy, the marcher barons, James of Audley and Reginald fitzPeter (see the blog for 8-14 May),  Philip Basset, the justiciar,  and John Mansel. Since one charter was in favour of John de Plessis, earl of Warwick, he was probably there too.

The second piece of good news came  from the exchequer at Westminster. Henry himself had long felt that Westminster was out of bounds. With the palace there unprotected, he  feared an armed coup like that which had overturned him in 1258. But such dangers had not stopped the exchequer courageously attending to its business. Thus the  money to be raised by the fines  continued to be sent to the exchequer on the originalia rolls (the copies of the fine rolls), and we can see the exchequer setting about the business of collecting it in the annotations it made on the rolls, ‘in the roll’ meaning the debt has been put in the pipe roll: ‘s’ meaning it has been put into the ‘summonses’, the list of debts sent to the sheriffs for collection.  It was one thing to order the sheriffs to collect the debts, another for them actually to do so when their authority was being challenged by rival sheriffs set up by the insurgents. The acid test of their success was now at hand for it was at Michaelmas,  at the end of  each September, that the sheriffs were supposed to send in to the exchequer the money they had raised. What now would be the results? Henry must have wondered that more anxiously at Michaelmas 1261 than at any other time in his reign.

In the event, Henry was re-assured, at least in some measure.  He may well   have feared that nothing at all would arrive. In fact, the sheriffs and those answering separately for various towns and manors brought in  around £1580.  On the other hand, there were some black holes,  showing clearly where the king’s authority had disintegrated.  Matthias Bezill, challenged  by William de Tracy in Gloucestershire (see the blog for 24-30 July) sent nothing.  Nothing equally came from Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Wiltshire, and most worrying of all perhaps, from Kent. No wonder Henry was concerned about the Cinque  Ports. There was also very little from Essex and Hertforshire. Still the exchequer was undaunted and vigorously set about hearing the sheriff’s accounts.  Later in the year it was to bring the rival sheriffs themselves to book, getting them to answer for their ill gotten gains. The exchequer’s buoyant spirit is reflected in the elaborate ‘A’  penned by the clerk, drawing up the memoranda roll for Michaelmas 1261, in the heading ‘Still  (Adhuc)  communia for the term of St Michaelmas’. (‘Communia’ here essentially means common or general business).

Henry himself was now facing a dilemma for 13 October was coming up. This was the greatest day in his religious year,  the feast day  of his patron saint Edward the Confessor. It was a day he ALWAYS spent at Westminster amidst splendid services and joyous celebrations. Would he go there in 1261? Read next week’s blog to find out.

*An unflattering sketch of Boniface Archbishop of Canterbury appears on the 1261-2 memoranda roll.

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