Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog for 1257

King Henry’s situation in 1257 was very different from that in 1261. In 1261 he was struggling to overthrow the restrictions imposed on him in 1258. The kingdom was on the brink of civil war. In 1257 Henry was in full control of government. England was at peace. Henry had one major pre-occupation. This was the Sicilian enterprise. Henry  had accepted a papal offer of the throne of Sicily for his second son Edmund. The only problem was that he had to pay the pope £90,000 AND send an army out to Sicily to conquer it from Manfred, its Hohenstaufen ruler.  Part of the money was coming from taxation levied on the church much to its fury. This was because  the pope had diverted the tax originally intended for Henry’s crusade to support the Sicilian business.  But this would raise at most half the money owed the pope, let alone finance a military campaign.  Henry desperately needed additional sums which meant trying to secure a general tax from parliament. What happened at the parliaments held in 1257, we shall see in due course. 

 The Sicilian business also impacted on relations with France. In order to concentrate upon it, Henry decided to  make peace with King Louis IX. In other words, he was prepared at last to resign his claims to his lost continental empire, which essentially meant resigning his claims to Normandy, Anjou and Poitou. Negotiations for such a settlement were to be a major theme in 1257.

With Sicily central to his thoughts,  the last thing Henry wanted  was to be distracted by events in Wales. Distracted he was, however. The rising power of the ruler of Gwynedd, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, became, in 1257, a major preoccupation.

The fine rolls in 1257 provide graphic testimony to the impact of the Sicilian business on local society. While Henry knew that only a general tax from parliament could really give the enterprise lift off, he was also trying to raise money in other ways. In particular he was assembling a treasure in gold to pay his Sicilian army, this because gold was the metal of the Sicilian currency. (For the ‘augustales’ minted by Frederick II in Sicily, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustalis.)  Central to Henry’s scheme was insisting that people who wished for concessions and favours should pay for them in gold.  These ‘fines of gold’ are recorded on the fine rolls, making the latter a key source for the accumulation of the gold treasure.  One favour in particular was being purchased in 1257. This was exemption from knighthood.  In 1256, the king had proclaimed that everyone with an income of £15 a year upwards should take up knighthood.  His aim was very largely to make money from the men prepared to fine with the king for exemption from the obligation. Alternatively they could fine for an inquiry into the value of their lands to see if they really did have the required income.   No one questioned the king’s right to impose knighthood, but his move still created resentment. There were some lords, certainly, who were attracted by the status of  knighthood, and its promise of  military activity.  But many others were put off both by the costs and the likely administrative as well as military burdens.  To have to pay to avoid them  was infuriating, the more especially as the £15 a year threshold was a low one.

The cost Henry charged for exemption or an inquiry was usually half a mark of gold. Since gold was worth ten times silver, this meant the fine was the equivalent of five marks of silver, or £3 6s 8d. It thus represented a sizable proportion of a £15 annual income.  During the course of 1257, as we will see, large numbers of potential knights came to court and made their fine. They must have asked why they had to do so in gold, thus discovering Henry’s Sicilian plans and how they were suffering from them. Most of those fining were lords of manors and members of the  gentry. They were influential locally, however much they wished to escape the burdens of knighthood. In this way the full horror of the Sicilian venture was spread through the counties of England.  What made matters worse was the saving of the gold was very personal to the king. The potential knights had to come to court to make their fine. They then had to pay the gold  in to the king’s wardrobe either at once or at stipulated terms in the future. Usually the terms were written down on the fine rolls, as was the record of the eventual payments to the wardrobe’s keeper, either Artald de St Romain or later, Peter des Rivaux. Both these men were foreigners, the latter notoriously so.  These gentry lords thus also saw how ‘alien’ was Henry’s court.  The  whole process of the making and collection of these fines  can be seen in the payments made in January 1257, with the marginal annotations ‘De finibus auri’, ‘Concerning fines of gold’.

The exchequer was not informed at all about the process, something it was left to the reformers of 1258 to put right. (See the fine of the month by Richard Cassidy)

One other aggravation was the bother of acquiring gold to make the fines. Unfortunately the fine rolls do not say in what form the gold came. Perhaps the most likely source was the goldsmiths who sold gold in foil and other forms, The cost of such purchases placed a further burden on the potential knights.

Henry III began the year 1257 at the priory of Merton in Surrey. He then moved to Westminster for the anniversary of Edward the Confessor’s death on 5 January. This feast of his patron was one of the greatest in Henry’s liturgical year and he always celebrated it at Westminster, unless abroad.  Henry was to remain at Westminster till near the end of the month.  In the first two weeks of January, the fine rolls show that there were no less than thirty-one fines of gold. Of these sixteen were for exemption from knighthood, and another six for inquiries into income.  Four fines were made for exemption from jury service.

The fine  rolls also show the way the king was entrusting major royal castles to his foreign servants. In this period Imbert Pugeis became keeper of The Tower of London and Aymon Tumbert keeper of Windsor. Both were Savoyards. Henry also increased the jurisdiction of his Poitevin castellan of Corfe, Elyas de Rabayne, by giving him control of the surrounding warren or park.  The way foreigners were in charge of the chief castles of the kingdom was one of the main complaints made against Henry’s rule in 1258.

See next week’s blog for more about fines of gold and Henry’s attempts to raise money.

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