Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 24 June to Saturday 7 July 1257

The fine rolls in these two weeks reveal Henry III’s itinerary. On 25 June, he was at Windsor, on 30 June at Reading and by 11 July at Woodstock, where (as other evidence shows) he had arrived on 3 July. For the membrane covering this period, click here.

Henry was, of course, on his way to Wales to lead a campaign against Llywelyn. He was now brought face to face with the impact this must have on his finances. On  25 June, the goldsmith, William of Gloucester  was ordered to send Henry, out of the silver  earmarked for the purchase of gold, 1000 marks now needed for the expenses of the household and the forthcoming campaign. So Henry was  having to break into the money set aside for acquiring the great treasure of gold needed to finance the army which would conquer Sicily.  The fine roll business on this front was equally depressing, for it showed all too clearly that Henry’s various expedients to extract fines of gold, and thus build up the gold treasure,  had run their course. In these weeks, not a single fine of gold was received. Given this situation,  Henry might have concluded that the Sicilian business should be brought to an end. That was not  his conclusion.  In late June,  Henry did send Simon de Montfort and Peter of Savoy on an important diplomatic mission.  They were to go first to king of France and continue the negotiations for a comprehensive peace. They were then to go on to the pope, having full power to renounce the Sicilian  throne.  In case, however,  they did not go to Rome, Henry (acting on the advice of the papal chaplain Rostand) set out detailed instructions for those who might go in their stead. These, in extraordinary, indeed excruciating detail, covered almost every conceivable way (none of them very practical) in which the pope might alleviate the current terms and thus enable Henry to prosecute the  project with some hope of success.  It appears all too clearly this is what Henry really wanted. The threat to renounce the whole business appears as no more than a bargaining device.

Away from these diplomatic fantasies, the fine rolls in these weeks give a fascinating insight into many aspects of English life.  Last week we say how there was a drop in the number of people coming to court to purchase the writs needed to initiate and further actions according to the common law. The numbers now recover. Between 25 June and 11 July, a three week period, thirty-six such writs were purchased. Clearly people were not put off by the king’s journey from Westminster to Woodstock.

 One  fine in this period (no.819 in the translation)  made on 30 June at  Reading, shows the property rights of women.  William of [East] Carlton in Norfolk had died leaving no sons and four daughters. These now became the heirs of his property,  which shows that this was a  society where women could inherit. Their rights were not, however, on a par with those of men in several ways. Firstly, a daughter only inherited if she had no brother. Secondly, whereas the eldest inheriting male would have all the inheritance,  this was not the case with the eldest inheriting female. Rather, if she had sisters,  the inheritance was split between them.  Thus in the Carlton case, all four daughters, Alice, Isabella, Agnes and Matilda, shared their father’s inheritance.  The marital state of the sisters was different, however, which makes another important point about the law with regard to women. In the case of the married sisters, Alice and Isabella, it was their husbands who did homage to the king, and had control of the lands. The unmarried sisters, however, Agnes and Matilda, did homage and controlled their land for themselves. Were they widows, or is this a rare example of inheriting spinsters? Fortunately, other information provides the answer to that question, which will be given in a future fine of the month.  One detail it reveals is that the bulk of the Carlton property was held by the service of carrying a hundred herrings in pies from the burgesses of Norwich to the king!

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