Posts Tagged ‘Hugh Despencer’

Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 11 December to Saturday 17 December 1261

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Henry III began this week at Westminster.  After his long sojourn in the Tower, what a relief to be back at his great  palace. Once more he could pray beside the shrine of his patron saint, Edward the Confessor, and survey the magnificent abbey he was rebuilding in his honour. Surprisingly, however, Henry’s stay only lasted a few days. On 14 December he left for Merton priory in Surrey, a religious house where he often stayed.  Conceivably, after his long absence, the palace of Westminster was not ready to receive him.  He would enjoy the hospitality of the Merton monks before returning to Westminster  for Christmas.

As we saw from last week’s blog, on 7 December Henry had  proclaimed the ‘form of peace’ agreed with his opponents.  But the agreement was far from universal. At Merton on Friday 16 December, Henry issued an appeal to those who had yet to seal the document, urging them  to do so. If they could not come in person, they could just send their seals.

The list of the recalcitrants  was  the same as it had been on 7 December. In the order given  it was as follows.

Roger Bigod, earl of Norfolk

John de Warenne, earl of Surrey,

Simon de Montfort, earl of Leiecester

Roger Mortimer

Hugh Despencer

William Bardolph

John de Burgh

Henry de Hastings

John fitzJohn

Robert de Vipont

William de Munchensy

John fitzAlan

Nicholas of Seagrave

Geoffrey de Lucy

How many of these men actually responded to the call to  seal the agreement we do not know, but what we do know is that they never acted as a body to oppose it. That for Henry was enough.  Inaction amounted to acceptance, acceptance of his recovery of power and the effective abrogation of the Provisions of Oxford.  Just to hammer home the point, on 11 December Henry sent envoys to the new pope Urban IV, asking him to renew his predecessor’s absolution from the oath to obey the Provisions,  Provisions which had been issued ‘manifestly to the depression and diminution of royal power’.

Only one man stood out  against this feeble acquiescence: Simon de Montfort.  According to the friendly and well informed annals of Dunstable priory, having heard that his erstwhile allies  had capitulated, ‘he left England, saying that he preferred to die without land than be a perjurer and depart from the truth’.  This was the defining moment in Simon’s career, the moment when he showed he was not as other men.  Unlike everyone else, he would not abandon the Provisions.  He would only return to England if they were resurrected. When he did return in 1263 it was to lead a movement which aimed to do just that.

The fine rolls continue to reflect the uncertainty of this period. Things were far from back to normal.  The fine rolls, like the other rolls of the chancery, continue to record business in a jumbled chronological order. The dearth of those  seeking the writs to pursue the common law legal actions continued. Only four such writs were purchased between  dated entries on 12 and 23 December. In one writ on the fine rolls, issued on 12 December,  Henry rewarded a man who, morally and materially, had been crucial to his recovery of power.  This was Philip Basset. Basset was  a wealthy and respected magnate. In the subsequent  civil war he was as defiant in defeat as he was magnanimous in victory. He refused to surrender at the battle of Lewes, and was captured covered in wounds. After Evesham, he did all he could to alleviate the lot of the disinherited. It was immensely important for Henry’s cause in 1261, that he had a man of this calibre on his side, and indeed could appoint him as justiciar, in effect the chief minister of his regime.  What made Basset’s stance all the more significant, was that years before, in 1233 he and his older brother, Gilbert Basset,  had joined Richard Marshal, earl of Pembroke’s rebellion against the crown. Philip then was no pliant,  unthinking loyalist. Henry’s concession on 12 December itself reached back to the events of 1233, since when Philip had succeeded Gilbert as lord of the Basset estates. Henry now pardoned Philip the £9 4s 4d owed for the farm of High Wycombe (a chief Basset manor held from the crown)  for the first part of the financial year 1232-3. The concession appears 6th from the bottom on the fine roll. The reason was that Gilbert had been unable to receive the money ‘because the king had taken [High Wycombe] into his hand at the aforesaid time by reason of the war waged between the king and Richard earl Marshal’. So, for the king. Philip’s loyalty in 1261 wiped away the last stain  disloyalty of 1233.  Philip would not have looked at it like that.  Rebellion in 1233 had been justified. In 1261 it was not.

Would Henry get to his palace and abbey at Westminster for a happy and peaceful Christmas?  Read subsequent blogs to find out.

Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 12 June to Saturday 18 June 1261

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Sunday 12 June at Winchester. At last Whitsunday had arrived. Henry III always celebrated the great feast magnificently, and now he had added reason for doing so.  As so often in the medieval period, a major political event was to be linked to a key  Christian festival. The event, of course, was the publication of the papal letters quashing the Provisions of Oxford.  Henry had chosen Whitsun in part because it was the first great feast on the calendar after the arrival of the papal letters.  But he must also have thought the choice deeply appropriate. At Whitsun the Holy Spirit had rushed in upon the apostles, the multitude of assembled Jews had spoken in tongues, and Peter had cried out to the throng ‘Let  all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ’.  In the service Henry would have used, the Office for the day  began  ‘For the Spirit of the Lord filleth the world’. The appointed psalm was 68: ‘Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered: let them also that hate him flee before him’.  And this was the Collect:

‘God, who at this time didst teach the hearts of the faithful people, by the sending to them the light of thy holy spirit; grant us by the same spirit to have a right judgement in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his comfort’.

Henry, of course, would not quite have equated the papal letters with the coming of the Holy Spirit, let alone have equated himself with Christ. But nonetheless the parallels were obvious. How he must have hoped the letters would re-establish ‘right judgement’ in his own people, and make them once again respect him as their proper lord and  rejoice in his comfort and protection.

Whitsunday doubtless began with a mass for the king in the castle,  his  chapel, together with the almonry, being  filled with light from numerous candles.  At Westminster for Whitsun 1260, for which records survive,  200 pounds of wax were consumed in the chapel and the almonry on the vigil and the feast day, twenty times more than what was often the usual quota. After this private mass, Henry and his entourage would have gone down from the castle to the cathedral  for the great service. One can imagine the procession of monks which came out to meet them.  There was no bishop, for the see was vacant, but Henry had with him the bishops of Salisbury and Norwich. Quite probably his son Edward was there too, a vital sign of political strength. At any rate on this very day, the fine rolls show Henry making a major concession to his son.  After the service there was a huge feast either in the bishop’s palace or back in the great hall of the castle, which of course still survives. (See the photos on this blog.) On the vigil  and the day of Whitsun in 1260, Henry had spent over £125 on his court’s food and drink,  a sum equalling of  a whole year’s income of a minor baron, and the very rough equivalent of over half a million pounds today. This was a sum over twenty times larger than Henry might have spent on two ordinary days.

The service in 1261 was  accompanied by prolific alms giving, hence the lights in the almonry.  Henry distributed 171 pairs of shoes to paupers and probably fed many more. His usual daily quota, when the queen was with him, was 150. But at Whitsun 1260  he fed 464, and probably it was the same in 1261. Henry also knighted some of his followers and distributed  robes to the 100 or so household knights he had now retained.  Just when and how the papal letters were proclaimed we do not know, but clearly   the rituals of the day enhanced their impact, and emboldened  the king and his supporters to put them into effect. Henry acted decisively to do just that. Probably on Whitsunday itself he dismissed  the baronial justiciar, Hugh Despencer,  and replaced him with the trusty Philip Basset.  There was no clearer proof that the baronial regime was over.

After these dramatic moves, it is not clear what Henry planned to do next. In the event, the decision was  made for him.  John Mansel, perhaps the best of all his councillors, had come part of the way to Winchester, but had then turned back. Probably he returned to the Tower of London where he was in command.  In any case, there or elsewhere,  he learnt that major resistance was being plotted against Henry’s overthrow of the Provisions of Oxford. At Winchester, Henry might even be in danger. Mansel thus hurried to join the king and was with him by Tuesday 14 June. He counselled an immediate return to the safety of the Tower, and that very day Henry slipped out of Winchester castle with a small following to make his return. By the evening he had  reached Alton, and by the end of the week was at Guildford. It was a humiliating conclusion to the triumphant Whitsun celebrations.  For all the robes distributed to his knights, Henry clearly felt his forces were insufficient to meet the growing insurgency.

The dramatic events of this week are reflected in the fine rolls.  Some eighteen writs to further common law legal actions were issued, but nearly all of these were purchased on or around 13 June before the flight from Winchester.  No business was recorded at Alton on  14-15 June, nor at Guildford and Kingston between 17 and 21 June.  John Mansel, however, kept his nerve and on 17 June at Guildford saw through a striking concession  enrolled on the fine rolls. By this,  Hawise, widow of the marcher baron, Patrick de Chaworth, was given compensation for the money she was spending ‘on the  war that she wages in parts of Wales’.  A striking example of a woman in command of military actions.

Beyond these great  events, there are sharp reminders of the  fate of those outside the political process. On the back of the fine roll for this week, there is a schedule recording that the burgesses of Derby had fined with the king for 10 marks to have a charter that no Jew or Jewess should henceforth remain in their vill.

Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 5 June to Saturday 11 June 1261

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Henry spent this week at Winchester in preparation for holding the Whitsun feast there on Sunday 12 June. His celebrations of the festival  were always  on a grand scale, and this year they  had  an added significance. During their course, Henry intended to publish the papal bulls quashing the Provisions of Oxford. It was vital to have the strength to resist any resulting protests,  and Henry’s preparations  are reflected in a royal  order he issued on Monday 7 June. Robes were to be ready at the feast for around a hundred knights whom he had retained as members of his household. These included  fourteen knights brought from abroad  by two northern French nobles, Alard de Seningham and Gerard de Rodes, who were friends of Queen Eleanor. Eleanor had made her own way to Winchester, where she arrived during the course of this week.  In terms of fine roll business the week seems very much business as usual.  Around twenty-five writs were purchased to further common law litigation. These included five commissions to the judge, Peter de Percy, to hear cases in Yorkshire. One supposes that the litigants  had clubbed together to send someone south to get the writs. Significantly another group of Yorkshire litigants purchased a writ for a case to be heard by Hugh Despencer ‘justiciar of England’. Despencer, a confidant of Simon de Montfort, had been appointed by the baronial regime, much against the king’s wishes,  back in October 1260.  The Yorkshire litigants clearly had no  inkling that he was about to be dismissed. Nor  did the chancery clerks enlighten them.  Surprise was all.

The Round Table in the Great Hall of Winchester Castle

Henry III Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 3 April – Saturday 9 April 1261

Monday, April 4th, 2011

In this week in 1261, Henry III remained in the Tower of London, safe from those opposing his resumption of power.  People continued to come to the Tower to obtain writs from the chancery to further their litigation according to the procedures of the common law.  Thirteen such writs were purchased in the week.  This was routine business which did not require the direct involvement of the king.  Henry, however, was involved in an act of measured compassion to a poor man, an act which shows how the poor  could gain access to him. One John Sundy had been accused before the justices in eyre in Oxfordshire of harbouring criminals. He had fled in fear and his chattels had been seized into the king’s hands. Now Henry ‘out of compassion for his poverty and wishing to do him special grace’ ordered the sheriff of Oxfordshire to restore to John his chattels, although he was to pay the king the price at which they had been valued.  The writ to the sheriff, dated [Wednesday] 6 April can be found at no.329 of our translation of the roll for 1260-1261.

More generally the week saw some relaxation in the political tension. Henry had shaken off the conciliar control imposed on him in 1258, but had yet to proclaim his wholesale rejection of the scheme of reform known as the Provisions of Oxford. Instead, earlier in March, he had  drawn up a long list of complaints about the way the council had behaved, and agreed to submit these to some form of arbitration.  In this week (as last), the justiciar imposed on Henry by  the reform regime, Hugh Despencer, was with the king in the Tower and still acknowledged as holding his office. Hugh was very close to Simon de Montfort and on 9 April, Henry allowed him  to authorise a  writ  allowing Montfort to have timber for the manor of Rodley  in Gloucesteshire.  Rodley was a property Montfort had managed to prize from the king in 1259, much to Henry’s anger. This, therefore, was a considerable favour to the man now emerging as the chief opponent of the king’s recovery of power.  We may wonder whether it was genuine act of conciliation, in the hope of some settlement, or whether Henry was just playing for time until he should receive the papal letters quashing the Provisions altogether.