Posts Tagged ‘Cinque Ports’

Sunday 16 November 1264: marchers and merchants

Sunday, November 16th, 2014

The court moved to Windsor this week, but preparations continued for a further move, to Northampton. The sheriff of Cambridge was instructed to send 20 tuns of wine to Northampton, in readiness for the king’s arrival. The Dunstable annals record that the king, on the advice of the barons, sent letters to every county, summoning all those who owed military service to be ready with horses and arms at Northampton by 25 November. The government was evidently preparing to take on the marcher lords who had seized the castles of Gloucester, Bridgnorth and Marlborough, and sacked Hereford on 10 November. (CLR 1260-67, 147-8; Ann Mon, III, 234-5)

Wallingford castle

Wallingford castle

About this time, the royalists who held Bristol castle made a daring attempt to free lord Edward and Richard of Cornwall from captivity at Wallingford. Led by Warin of Bassingbourn, some 300 men dashed across southern England undetected, and surprised the garrison of Wallingford. The attackers breached the outer defences of the castle, but withdrew empty-handed when the defenders threatened to throw Edward out of the castle, using a mangonel. Simon de Montfort then had the royal hostages moved to greater safety, in his own castle of Kenilworth. (Robert of Gloucester, II, 751-2; Flores, II, 503)

While the court was at Windsor, the king and his advisors made a generous gesture, which seems rather extravagant at a time when cash was in short supply. The king’s master carpenter at Windsor castle, Ralph Burnel, had died in 1262. The post, with 3d. a day in wages, had then been granted to his son, Thomas Burnel. It was now recorded that Thomas was not a carpenter, and therefore could not fill the office; nevertheless, in recognition of his father’s long service, he was still to be paid 3d. a day, for life. (CPR 1258-66, 202, 387)

The countess of Flanders wrote again to Henry III, requesting that he ensure that Flemish merchants were protected in England, as English merchants were in Flanders. Henry was asked not to allow violence or injury to merchants, their goods or their ships, so that merchants could freely enter England, do business, and return to Flanders. (Diplomatic Documents, I, 271) A reason for the countess’s concern may be indicated by the chronicler Thomas Wykes. He was a royalist, perhaps connected to Richard of Cornwall, and tended to stress the failings of the de Montfort regime. He presents, in rather lurid terms, what must have been a real problem, with overseas trade disrupted by the preparations for defence against invasion. According to Wykes, the sailors of the Cinque Ports turned to piracy, patrolling the coasts, seizing any ships they came across, cutting the throats of those on board and throwing their bodies into the sea. As a result, there were shortages of imported goods. The price of wine went up from 40s. to 10 marks; a pound of pepper which was hardly worth 6d. was sold for 3s. In addition, Henry de Montfort seized all the wool which merchants were bringing to the ports, so that he was commonly called a wool-merchant rather than a knight. (Ann Mon, IV, 157-9)

Sunday 5 October 1264: undelivered letters

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

Pope Urban IV died on 2 October, which formally ended Guy Foulquois’ appointment as papal legate, although the news would obviously take some time to reach the legate in northern France. The legate’s attempts to impose a settlement between the Montfortian government and the royalist exiles, led by the queen, had effectively collapsed. Queen Eleanor’s representatives had withdrawn from the talks, saying that the queen was outraged that nothing had been said about the hostages, her son and nephew. On 3 October, the representatives of the baronial government, the bishops of Winchester and London, also withdrew for further deliberations, taking with them a letter from the legate to the bishops of England. This ordered the bishops to announce the excommunication of the leading barons and of the citizens of London and the Cinque Ports, unless they had submitted to the legate’s demands within fifteen days. These demands included a complex scheme for arbitration, overseen by the legate, which would have required the barons to surrender Dover castle and the hostages – terms which were clearly unacceptable to the barons. The bishops were also ordered not to pay the tenth or any other form of subsidy to the baronial government. In any event, the legate’s letters never reached their destination; the citizens of Dover seized them, tore them up and threw them into the sea. (Heidemann, register, 43-4; Flores, II, 501)

Castle and ship, from BL Royal 10 E IV, the Smithfield Decretals.

Castle and ship, from BL Royal 10 E IV, the Smithfield Decretals.

The traditional enmity between the sailors of the Cinque Ports and those of Yarmouth had broken out again. The government intervened on the side of the Cinque Ports, which were playing a crucial role in the defence of the south-east coast against a possible landing by the forces which queen Eleanor had assembled across the Channel. They were to be compensated for any losses caused by the men of Yarmouth, as the men of the Cinque Ports were ‘labouring manfully about the defence of the sea and the maritime parts against the invasion of aliens’. Hostages from Yarmouth were to be delivered to the sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk, who would hold them in Norwich castle, as security against disorder breaking out at Yarmouth fair. The sheriff was to ensure that the arguments between the Cinque Ports and Yarmouth did not lead to new contentions and grievances at the fair, while the burgesses of Yarmouth were warned to keep the peace, or ‘the king will betake himself so grievously to them that they and their heirs shall thenceforward feel themselves aggrieved in no small measure.’ (CPR 1258-66, 352, 372-3)
The liberate roll contains a passing reference to a sad event. Lord Edward, the king’s son, was still being held as a hostage. At this time, the only child of Edward and Eleanor of Castile was Katherine, of whom we know only that she was born some time between 1261 and 1263, and died in September 1264. The king’s almoner paid 4 marks for two cloths of gold adorned with wheels for the use of Katherine, Edward’s deceased daughter. The almoner also received £40 for making offerings on the day of Katherine’s funeral. Some of the usual pieties were evidently being observed, even while Edward was a captive. (CLR 1260-67,143; Morris, A Great and Terrible King, 73)

Sunday 24 August 1264: courts and ports

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

The court spent the week at Canterbury, again mostly concerned with the threat of invasion and the exchanges with the legate in France. There was still time, however, for the king and Simon de Montfort to involve themselves in more local matters. Fulk Peyforer, the sheriff of Kent, reported that he had collected no revenue from the meeting of the county court on Monday 18 August, ‘because the lord king was present and the pleas were held by the earl of Leicester.’ (E 389/81)

Perquisites of the county court on Monday after the Assumption: ‘nothing, because the lord king was present and the pleas were held by the earl of Leicester.'

Perquisites of the Kent county court on Monday after the Assumption: ‘nothing, because the lord king was present and the pleas were held by the earl of Leicester.’ The same thing happened at the next meeting of the court, on 15 September. (E 389/81)

Another indication of the continuing bureaucratic routine was the resumption of entries in the charter roll. It had not been used since 30 March, when the king was at Oxford. He now began again to issue charters, with three enrolled on 24 August at Canterbury. They were unremarkable grants of free warren and the right to a weekly market and annual fair, but their enrolment was another indication that de Montfort’s regime was trying to maintain the usual procedures of government. (Calendar of Charter Rolls, II, 49)

Military preparations were still being made. The officials of the Cinque Ports were ordered to bring all their ships, with men, arms and provisions, before the port of Sandwich by Thursday 21 August, for the defence of the realm against a foreign invasion. They were not to allow any merchandise to leave the ports without the permission of Henry de Montfort. Even the most remote regions were thought to be under threat: a letter in the king’s name to the whole community of Northumberland warned them to prepare to defend the coast against invasion. The royalists of the north and the Marches were still disregarding orders to come to London, to release their prisoners, and to hand over the castles they held, such as Gloucester, Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth. (Close Rolls 1261-64, 356; Royal Letters, II, 271-3; CPR 1258-66, 366-7)

Relations with the papal legate were not improving. A further exchange of letters showed how far apart the two sides were. The barons wrote that they were amazed at the legate’s public rejection of the peace terms agreed by the king, the prelates and the whole community of the realm. This resulted in another unyielding set of demands from the legate. He should be assured of safe conduct for coming to England, or the barons would be excommunicated and London and the Cinque Ports placed under an interdict. The king’s freedom should be restored, and the hostages, lord Edward and Henry of Almain, should be liberated. The Provisions of Oxford should be abandoned. The barons’ representatives should come to him at Boulogne by the beginning of September. There was clearly little willingness to compromise on either side. (Heidemann, register, nos. 24-6)

Sunday 11 May 1264: the road to Lewes

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

With the rebels having retreated from Rochester, Henry was now concentrating on the ports of the south-east coast. The Cinque Ports could provide ships for a blockade of London, and there was the possibility of bringing in troops from across the Channel: queen Eleanor had remained in France when Henry returned to England in February, and was trying to arrange for military support for her husband’s cause. On 7 May, she wrote to Alphonse of Poitiers, urging him to seize any English ships in his ports, which included La Rochelle; despite Eleanor’s appeal, and her references to the treachery of the barons who were striving to disinherit the king and his children, Alphone refused. (Howell, Eleanor of Provence, 209)

The gatehouse of Battle Abbey, 1792, by Michael Angelo Rooker

The gatehouse of Battle Abbey, 1792, by Michael Angelo Rooker

Henry’s forces began the week in Battle, then moved to Winchelsea, where they spent a few days ravaging the countryside and helping themselves to the wine in the port, before returning to Battle. Henry was making preparations for the next stage of his campaign in the south-east. According to Walter of Guisborough, while at Winchelsea Henry made peace with the sailors of the Cinque Ports and came to an agreement for their support. The London annals claim that some of the mayors and leading men of Winchelsea and the other ports came over to the king, believing that they would be well rewarded. The Worcester annals imply that it was a less amicable arrangement, with Henry taking hostages from the Cinque Ports to make them submit. (Henry had certainly taken hostages from Winchelsea, as the close roll records that he sent them back from Battle on 9 May, with instructions to summon ships, supplies and men to the king’s service.) Henry ordered the men of the Weald to assemble with arms in Canterbury on Monday 12 May. He may have intended to attack the rebel stronghold of Dover. This would effectively have left the rebels isolated in London, had it come to pass, but the king’s opponents were also on the move. (CPR 1258-66, 316, 359; Close Rolls 1261-64, 383-4; Battle chronicle, in Bémont, 376; Guisborough, 192; Gervase, II, 236; London annals, 62; Ann Mon, IV, 451)

De Montfort led the forces of the barons and Londoners out of the city on 6 May. As a hostile chronicler put it, de Montfort had gathered together a great multitude of barons, together with a countless crowd of Londoners, because the number of fools is infinite. Hearing that the rebels were advancing, Henry moved from Battle to Lewes, which had the advantage of a strong castle belonging to his loyal supporter John de Warenne. By 11 May, Henry was established in Lewes priory, while de Montfort was only about eight miles away at his own manor of Fletching. (Cronica Maiorum, 62; Ann Mon, IV, 148; Carpenter, Battles of Lewes and Evesham, 16-18)

Sunday 4 May 1264: to the south coast

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

Having begun the week in Croydon, Henry continued his rapid progress. At some point, he was joined by both his brother earl Richard and his son Edward. Henry relieved Rochester castle, then moved on to Tonbridge (where he took Gilbert de Clare’s castle without opposition). He was in Battle by Saturday 3 May. The barons had left only a small force in Rochester when their main army abandoned the siege, fearing that they would be cornered in the south-east if Henry took London. Henry, however, was avoiding the capital and concentrating on the south coast. He planned either to persuade or to force the Cinque Ports to provide naval support. He could then attack London by sea, or blockade the capital and cut off its supplies. He took a step towards this form of economic warfare by ordering the bailiffs of Sandwich not to allow provisions to be supplied to Dover castle or to London.

Henry’s army was harassed by archers as it made its way through the narrow lanes of the hilly regions of the Weald. Thomas Wykes said that the archers’ attack on men in armour was futile, and they were deservedly punished by beheading; the claim that 300 were killed seems unlikely. The army also suffered from a shortage of supplies, leading to desertion. According to the Song of Lewes, Henry’s forces despoiled Battle abbey, while lord Edward extorted 500 marks from the Cistercians of Robertsbridge. The Battle chronicle partially confirms this story, saying that Henry demanded 100 marks from Battle abbey, and Edward 40 marks, as compensation for the abbot’s men’s participation in the attacks on royal troops. (Flores, II, 491; Close Rolls 1261-64, 343; Ann Mon, IV, 147-8, 451; Guisborough, 192; Song of Lewes, lines 55-62; Battle chronicle, in Bémont, 375-6)

The business recorded by the Chancery mainly concerned the lands of rebels, which were to be committed to Henry’s supporters. The magnates who were with the king had decided on the confiscation of the lands of those who had opposed him in Northampton and the siege of Rochester castle. The Exchequer’s Easter term should have begun on Monday 28 April, the morrow of the close of Easter. This was the day for the adventus of the sheriffs and the representatives of boroughs, when they paid into the Treasury their contributions for the first half of the Exchequer year. Normally, the routine business of auditing accounts and collecting cash began again on this day; the sheriff of Surrey and Sussex had been instructed to be at the Exchequer for the audit of his accounts for the previous year. But in 1264, there was no adventus, and no Exchequer business is recorded in the memoranda rolls until the end of September. (CPR 1258-66, 315-6; E 368/38 m. 15)

St Swithun’s upon Kingsgate, Winchester

St Swithun’s upon Kingsgate, Winchester

The Winchester annals give us a glimpse of the disorders happening around the country, away from the manoeuvres of the main armies. The citizens of Winchester rebelled, and seized the property of laymen and religious, collecting forced contributions. On 4 May, they rose against the prior and convent of St Swithun. They burned the gate of the priory and the church of St Swithun-upon-Kingsgate, as well as the convent buildings next to the wall. They killed some men of the priory within the monastery. There was further damage when the forces of Simon de Montfort junior sacked the city in 1265. After the war, in the autumn of 1265, the king reduced the city’s annual farm for the next twenty years, because the citizens were impoverished and buildings were destroyed and everywhere in ruins. (Ann Mon, II, 101, and IV, 450; E 368/40 m. 2d)

Meanwhile, in London, de Montfort was planning to resume hostilities. On 4 May, John fitz John and many others were knighted, and the barons and the Londoners prepared to set out to confront the royal army. (Gervase, II, 236)

Lewes 1264-2014

An impressive programme of events will be taking place in Lewes and the surrounding area, to mark the 750th anniversary of the battle. The commemorative programme is available online – there are walks, talks, plays, re-enactments, feasts, fireworks and much more.

Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 19 August to Saturday 8 September 1257

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

These were the weeks of Henry III’s campaign in Wales, all be it a campaign of a very static nature. Its basic outline can be seen from the fine rolls, if you look at the relevant membrane. Here, five items from the bottom, is a letter witnessed by the king at Chester on 18 August: T’ R’ ap’ Cestr xviii. die Aug, that is  Teste Rege apud Cestr’ xviii. die Augusti. The next entry, four from bottom, the letter  is witnessed by the king ‘in castris apud Gannok’ (in the fields at Deganwy)  on 30 August. And then the next shows him back at Chester, the witness clause having the date 13 September.

Other evidence shows that Henry arrived at Deganwy on 27 August and stayed there till at least 4 September. At Deganwy, of course, was the great castle which Henry had built to hold down his Welsh conquests between the Conwy and the Dee. The castle stood proud, high above the Conwy estuary, and glared westwards towards the great mountain ranges in the heart of Gwynedd. For images, click here.

Henry, however, as the witness clause in the fine rolls shows, did not stay in the castle but in the fields round about.  There he probably lived in a great pavilion lent him by the earl of Gloucester.  Doubtless the castle was full masons, for one object of the campaign was to repair and augment its defences. Another was to ravage the land of  Llywelyn and his supporters. Matthew Paris gives a vivid picture of Henry, riding about ‘elegantly’ in armour under his dragon standard, encouraging his knights, although whether this amounted to more than wishing them well as they set out on their chevauchées  one may doubt. Henry had also much bigger schemes. These were the conquest of Anglesey and the division of what was left of Gwynedd west of Conwy between Llywelyn’s disaffected brothers. To that end, he had summoned shipping both from Ireland and the Cinque Ports. Henry’s ambitions, therefore,   were just as great as those of his son, the future Edward I. The difference was that Edward actually carried them out. Indeed, present on this campaign, he may have learnt something from his father’s failure.

For fail Henry did. In a letter to the earl of Gloucester from Deganwy on 4 September, he explained that he was going home.  The shipping had not arrived for the invasion of Anglesy and winter was approaching. Given that it was only  the first week of September, this was hardly a complete excuse, and Henry was clearly embarrassed by the decision. He explained to the earl (who had been far more successful in South Wales), that the decision had been taken  on the advice of the magnates present with him. It was not at all what he would have wanted, indeed it  was ‘repugnant’ to him. He was determined to return next summer and finish the job. Meanwhile  (which was not said in the letter),  Henry realised with relief that he could get back to Westminster in time for the feast of Edward the Confessor on 13 October, as both Matthew Paris and the Dunstable annalist noted. Indeed perhaps the desire to do that was another reason for abandoning the campaign. Nonetheless, Henry was serious about coming back. He was under pressure from Edward and the marcher barons; but he also felt deeply on his own account about preserving his Welsh conquests.  Preparations for the campaign of 1258 went on through the winter.

Returning to the fine rolls, it is interesting to see that the campaign brought an almost complete stop to the usual business.  Clearly no one sought the king out at Deganwy to buy the usual writs to initiate and further legal actions.  There is only one item of business recorded at Deganwy, itself the only business on the roll between 18 August and 13 September. This was, on 30 August, to allow the baron, Philip de Columbars [one of two Colombières near Bayeux in Normandy] to pay his £100 relief to enter his inheritance  on easier terms  as a reward for the service he was giving in the Welsh army.  The £100 relief, was, of course, in line with what was laid down in Magna Carta. It will be interesting to see how business picks up as Henry returns to Westminster

Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 16 October to Saturday 25 October 1261

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Henry III spent the whole of this week in the Tower of London. He was preparing for war. On and around 18 October he asked over a hundred of his supporters to join him in London by the end of the month with horses, arms and as many troops as they could raise.  He was also summoning  soldiers from abroad. The count of St Pol, he hoped, would come with 60 knights.  Henry’s brother, Richard of Cornwall, wrote advising a  careful check as to where these foreign forces could safely land, adding that he would soon be with the king to give advice on the subject. If the Cinque Ports gave difficulty, not to worry. He could arrange a  landing elsewhere.  Henry was also taking steps to strengthen his castellans and explain his case. He sent Philip Basset and others into the counties with the message that the king wished to give justice to everyone in the kingdom and preserve everyone’s rights.  The rival sheriffs  were  not to be obeyed. Yet if Henry was preparing for war he hoped for peace.  A party within the opposition hoped so too.  On 20 October Henry gave safe conducts to the barons coming to Kingston between 29 October and 1 November with a view to making peace over the contentions which had arisen. The only condition was that they should come without arms.

The fine rolls reflect the king’s efforts to reward and strengthen his supporters. Thus Henry made  Baldwin de Lisle, earl of Devon, one of those summoned to come with horses and arms, keeper of the manor of Swineston (in Calbourne) in the  Isle of Wight. This was a manor of the bishop of Winchester which was  in the king’s hands as the bishopric was vacant.  Baldwin was to take a 100 marks a year from the revenues to make up the annual pension given him by the king, and answer for the remainder at the exchequer.  If war broke out,   the men of the manor were to  ‘assist the earl in the defence of those parts and in keeping the king’s peace’.

One of Henry’s complaints at this time was that the sheriffs put in place by the opposition were preventing people seeking the king’s justice.  That may well  explain the small numbers we have seen coming to court in the last few weeks to purchase writs to initiate and further legal actions according to the common law.  Of the counties about which Henry was concerned particularly this week,  no writs  were purchased by people from Surrey, Sussex, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire  although one or two  brave souls did come from Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Suffolk and Norfolk.

War or peace? See next week’s blog.

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

Monday, October 10th, 2011

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.

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

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

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.

Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 24 July – Saturday 30 July 1261

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

This was yet another week Henry III spent in the Tower of London. It was, however, to be the last of this stay, doubtless to Henry’s relief, and indeed to the relief of the readers of this blog.

The kingdom was now on the brink of civil war.  In Gloucester there was a dramatic confrontation. The local knight, William de Tracy sought to take over the sheriffdom and hold his own session of the county court. In response,  the king’s nominee, a foreigner and favourite of the queen, Mathias Bezille,  dragged William from the court, trampled over him in the mud and hauled him off to imprisonment in the castle.  The situation was particularly threatening in Kent. There Simon de Montfort and Richard de Clare, earl of Gloucester, went round the Cinque Ports and secured a written undertaking that they would  stand with the barons and prevent the entry of foreigners, which meant in practice the entry of foreign soldiers being called in to aid the king. In a striking example of the rhetoric which justified what amounted to rebellion, the barons claimed, in the language of the revolution of 1258,  to be acting ‘for  the honour of God, the faith of the king and the profit of the realm’.

Henry’s response came in remarkable letter which he issued from the Tower on Saturday 30 July.  It was first of series, concocted  in this period, appealing for the allegiance of his subjects.  Addressed to the knights, free tenants and everyone else in Kent, Henry  reminded  them of the oath of fidelity they had sworn when he was last in the county (see the blogs for early May). He then enjoined them to give no credence to   suggestions and assertions contrary to that fidelity, by which his mind  might be moved and disturbed. They were to maintain themselves ‘in their devotion and pristine fidelity, so that from us, who wishes to be bound to you most especially in all love, you will deserve to find  secure recourse in  your affairs’.

The mounting crisis was  reflected in the fine roll business.  Only seventeen writs to initiate or further common law legal actions were purchased in this week, as opposed to forty-nine the week before.  Clearly travel was becoming difficult and dangerous.

It was time for Henry to act. How he acted will be seen in next week’s blog.