Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 9 October to Saturday 15 October 1261

Henry III began this week at St Paul’s in London, where he was almost certainly staying in the palace of the bishop.  He had around him a large body of supporters including the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishops of Salisbury and Norwich, the earls of Hereford and Warwick, the marcher barons, James of Audley and  Reginald fitzPeter, and such leading ministers as Philip Basset, justiciar of England and John Mansel.  The chronicle written by the London alderman, Arnold fitzThedmar, adds that the king’s brother, Richard, earl of Cornwall and king of the Romans, was  at St Martin le Grand, while the queen herself was with the king at St Paul’s. Also in London, presumably staying at his palace in the Strand,  was the queen’s uncle, Peter of Savoy, who, thanks to Henry’s munificence,  was lord of both Pevensey in Sussex and Richmond in Yorkshire.  Meanwhile, up river at Westminster the exchequer was bravely at work, receiving revenue  from loyalist sheriffs and beginning the work of hearing their accounts.

The trouble was that in and around London there were also large numbers of insurgent barons and knights, including in all probability, Simon de Montfort.  Meanwhile, out in the counties the king’s sheriffs were being challenged for control by rival officials set up by the opposition.  Henry now faced a difficult decision. Did he dare go to Westminster on 13 October to celebrate the feast of his patron saint, Edward the Confessor? At Westminster, where palace and abbey were  unprotected, he would  be vulnerable to the kind of armed coup which had overthrown him in 1258.  Yet, on the other hand, 13 October was the day in his religious year. He always celebrated it at Westminster besides the sainted body of his predecessor.  The year before, in 1260, his household records show he fed 5016 paupers around the great day and spent some £200 on a stupendous feast,  the very rough equivalent of two million pounds in modern money (at least according to my conversion ratio).  Entertainment for the guests was provided by the  Cinque Ports who were ordered to send  boats with trumpeters to play water music on the Thames. But that was 1260. What would happen if Henry went in the very different circumstances of 1261?

In the event Henry did go. The dating clauses of his letters place him at St Paul’s on 12 October, and on 13 October at Westminster. Henry was probably encouraged  by a relaxation in the tension, for fitzThedmar’s chronicle avers that before the feast of the Confessor the ‘dissension’ between the king and the barons was ‘pacified’. He adds, however, that the ‘peace’ did not last.  The truth of that is very apparent in Henry’s conduct. On 13 October he was at Westminster. But for all the spiritual balm radiating from the Confessor’s body, he did not stay there. The very next day he was back in London, and back not at St Pauls but at the Tower of London.  Evidently the situation had taken a turn for the worse. The bishop’s house at St Paul’s was itself now thought insecure. Only within the walls of the Tower could Henry feel safe.

On the fine rolls between 8 and 18 October only thirteen items of business were enrolled. All were entries, undated as usual, about the purchase of writs to initiate and further common law legal procedures.  Just how many of these writs  were issued in this week, and how many in the next, we cannot know, but whatever the breakdown, the numbers are comparatively small, and almost certainly reflect the uncertain situation.  Historians of the future will have to do a great deal of work to establish just who was purchasing these common law writs and engaging in the subsequent litigation. In this week, one name does stand out, that of Matthew of Kniveton in Derbyshire. He offered half a mark for a writ ad terminum, a writ that is which gave his law case a time to be heard before the king’s justices. The search facility for the fine rolls show that Matthew purchased similar writs in  October 1258 and January and May 1261. Matthew was a remarkable man.  Through a whole series of purchases, he was engaged in building up a landed estate, raising his family  from the free peasantry into the ranks of the knightly class.  The charters which recorded his endeavours were later copied into a family cartulary,  published as The Kniveton Leiger, ed. A. Saltman (London, HMSO, 1977).  In the forthcoming civil war, Matthew was involved with his lord, Robert de Ferrers, earl of Derby in  pillaging property in Staffordshire and Derbyshire, although, unlike his lord, he escaped the consequences, and made his peace with the post Evesham regime.  That this canny and ambitious man, in the fraught situation  in October 1261, was prepared to come to court and purchase a writ to prosecute a law case, suggests he was confident that peace would  soon be restored.  For whether that confidence was justified, see the following blogs.

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