Henry III’s blog Sunday 25 March-Saturday 31 March 1257

This was the week in which the great parliament Henry was holding at Westminster reached its climax.  On Sunday 25 March the archbishop of Messina entered the chapter house of Westminster abbey and addressed a great multitude of clergy and people, urging them to support the king’s Sicilian enterprise.  This is the first known event in the wonderful new chapter house at the abbey, which Henry had specially designed for occasions such as these. It was, of course, a house where the monks held their daily business meetings, but Henry also intended it from the first as a house where he and his agents  could address the realm. The archbishop  spoke from the abbot’s place in the centre of the bay opposite the entrance where the seats were raised higher than everywhere else. On either end of this bay, marking it out, a  band of tiles ran across the floor  repeating again and again,  the king’s coats of arms,  the leopards in each shield splendidly virile and fearsome.  As the archbishop spoke, he looked at up the statues either side of the entrance, the one of the Angel Gabriel, the other the Virgin Mary, the subject the Annunciation, the most significant declaration in history.  Who would not be empowered speaking in such a setting?  Who listening  there to the king or his ministers would dare to question the royal word? Unfortunately many dared. The assembled magnates refused to give any help and drew up a schedule of ‘reasons against the king’ which showed just how impossible the enterprise was. The ground covered was by this time familiar: the distance between England and Sicily; the danger of leaving England defenceless; and above all the king’s total lack of resources to both pay a vast sum of money to the pope and  send an army to Sicily to conquer it from Manfred, its formidable Hohenstaufen ruler. Whether Henry also spoke to the assembly in  the chapter house we do not know, although it is likely.  If so the results were the same. For his failure on this, or other occasions,   Henry seems to have blamed not the message but  his speaking position!  He later to commission a special lectern for the house, one of made apparently of gilded scrolls and iron work. Since this is described as ‘the lectern of the king’, it was from it that he now intended to speak

For the Chapter house, including an image of the tiles with the king’s coat of arms, go to


On the same day as the speech of the archbishop of Messina, the papal envoy, Rostand held an exclusively ecclesiastical gathering.   Before the deans and archdeacons of each diocese he published papal letters imposing on the church a series of new exactions to support the Sicilian enterprise.  In theory, the pope could just have ordered these to be levied, but popes liked to move with consent, and Rostand now asked for clergy’s agreement to the new taxes or at least co-operation in their collection.  Quite probably the bishops had already said that they could not bind their diocese and the lower clergy, represented by the deans and archdeacons,  must be consulted. This left some wriggle room and Rostand was told that the clerics would consult with their constituencies and return a month after Easter to give their reply.  Meanwhile the bishops and clergy drew up their own schedule of objections to the Sicilian affair which covered much the same ground as that of the magnates.

Something of Henry’s isolation during this parliament is reflected in the witness lists to royal charters, which show who was at court. As we saw last week, the earls of Gloucester and Leicester appear but they were the only earls to do so.  The only major prelates were the archbishop of Canterbury (the queen’s uncle, Boniface of Savoy), and the bishops of Worcester and Norwich. Meanwhile Henry in this week was engaged in one of those acts of patronage  to the benefit of his foreign relatives, which left him open to charges of sharp practice.  On 27 March Henry promised that if he could establish his right through a legal action to the manors of Gainsborough in Lincolnshire and Offington (near Worthing) in Sussex, he would grant them in hereditary right to his half brother William de Valence. Henry was careful to say that Richard of Cornwall had agreed to this.  The last thing Henry wanted to do was to offend Richard, nominally always top of the list for patronage, before his departure for Germany. Perhaps Henry did have a good case in seeking the manors but clearly there was pressure for a judgement,  just or unjust to be given in his favour.  There is more evidence about the sequel to this case, which I may refer to in a later blog, but better still would be someone else, more knowledgeable, to clarify what was going on.

After these bruising confrontations at the parliament, the fine roll business for this week gave the king some solace. Business was indeed picking up with the parliament. No less than twenty-seven fines were made in this week. Of these fourteen were for writs to initiate or further common law legal actions. There were eleven fines of gold (three for respite of knighthood) worth a total of 8 marks of gold or 80 marks of silver. In addition, the convent of Bury St Edmunds offered £100 of silver from which gold was to be purchased to have custody of their lands during the period before the election of a new abbot.  One interesting fine shows how heirs inherited debts along with property.  William de Vaux had been penalised 200 marks for marrying an heiress (Eleanor daughter of the earl of Derby) without the king’s permission.  John had now been succeeded by his brother, who although he had gained nothing from the marriage, now inherited the 40 marks or what was left of the debt. At least the king now allowed him to pay it off at 10 marks a year.

One final point of interest about this week in the fine rolls deserves a separate heading.

The fine rolls, the liberate rolls and Henry III’s giving shoes to the poor.

In this week the clerk copying out the  fine rolls made a mistake and placed on the fine rolls two writs which, since they concerned allowances for the expenditure of money, should have been on the liberate rolls instead.  The mistake was discovered and the entries cancelled and transferred to  their proper place. The episode shows how the various chancery rolls were drawn up in close proximity to each other.

The misplaced writs were both concerned with Henry’s preparations for Easter. In the first, the sheriff of Essex was ordered to receive 20 bucks taken in the park of Havering  and have them salted and carried to Westminster for the Easter feast.  In the second, John, the king’s chaplain, was to acquire 171 pairs of shoes to be distributed to the poor at Easter on behalf of the king, the queen and their children. Of these, half were to cost 5d and half 4½d. Why the curious number 171?  Other evidence shoes that 150 of the shoes were to be for the alms of the king and queen, of which 100 were the king’s and 50 the queen’s. That leaves 21  being offered on behalf of the king’s five children, two boys and three girls. How was this number broken up. Was it six shoes each for the boys and three each for the girls? That would make 21. Has anyone any ideas about this and the other odd numbers sometimes found in Henry’s almsgiving?

For the cancelled entries see, 19 and 20 entries down, http://www.finerollshenry3.org.uk/content/fimages/C60_54/m06.html

Read future blogs to hear about Henry’s Easter in 1257.

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