Posts Tagged ‘justiciar’

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 10 July to Saturday 16 July 1261

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Another week in the Tower of London and there are going to be many more of those.  Evidently Henry did not feel the position outside  allowed him even to go to Westminster. Doubtless he remembered the way he had been exposed there in 1258 by the baronial march on his hall. He had cried out ‘What is this my lords, am I your prisoner?’ At least in the Tower, that could not happen again.  There were reasons for unease. When Henry’s judges sought to hear pleas at Worcester on 1 July,  they were boycotted and the visitation had to be abandoned.  Yes had Henry been a bold and martial man  he would surely have taken the field to assert his authority throughout the country. There is something rather pathetic and uninspiring in the way he remained skulking in the Tower.  This is all the more so given he was not without funds. His wardrobe around now received some £730 from the issues of the vacant bishopric of Winchester.  Yes Henry relied on others. The fine rolls this week show him consolidating the position of Robert Walerand as sheriff of Kent and castellan of Dover. He was to have £400 a year for the custody of the castle.  Henry  also moved  affirm his control over central government. On Tuesday 12 July he took the great seal from the baronially appointed chancellor. Nicholas of Ely (who left court), and appointed the ever reliable Walter of Merton in his place.  With Henry in the Tower on 15 July were the bishops of London and Salisbury, Philip Basset the new justiciar, the marcher lord James of Audley, John Mansel, and indeed Robert Walerand, who had evidently come up to settle his terms for  Dover which were conceded on the same day.   Henry could also draw comfort from a revival of the business associated with the purchase of the common law writs. Some thirty-nine were obtained in this week. One saw no less than thirty three people from Rutland jointly obtaining a writ of pone which probably placed their legal case  before the judges at Westminster. At least their work continued there as did that of the exchequer.

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 1 May to Saturday 7 May 1261

Friday, May 6th, 2011

At the end of last week’s blog, we asked what Henry’s decision to leave London and advance on Dover (which he reached on  Monday 2 May) would have on the business recorded in the fine rolls. The answer is the business collapsed. Henry’s long residence at the Tower of London had meant that those wishing to purchase writs and other favours had a central and certain place to go. They were clearly not deterred by the surrounding political tension. The five weeks down to 30 April had seen the purchase of   20, 13, 17, 17 and 12 writs respectively to further the common legal actions. The week between 1-7 May saw the purchase of only four,   these at Dover on 3 and 4 May.   There were  only two other entries on the fine rolls.  In the one, Henry pardoned a one mark penalty  imposed on a Rochester vintner for selling his wares contrary to the weights and measures regulations. In the other, Henry accepted an offer of 100  marks from the convent of Much Wenlock in Shropshire to have custody of their house during the vacancy caused by the death of their prior.

The disappearance  of the usual fine roll business was of little moment, against this week’s triumphal political success. What happened at Dover was recorded on the patent rolls.

‘Memorandum that on 2 May the king came to Dover and on the morrow took into his hand the castle of Dover and the wardenship of the Cinque Ports, which Hugh Bigod held before of the king’s bail by counsel of the nobles of the council, and he committed these during his pleasure to Robert Walerand’.

 The phraseology here was deliberately chosen and deeply significant for it indicated that the authority of the 1258 Provisions of Oxford council was at end. Yes, in giving Dover to Bigod, Henry had acted ‘by counsel of the nobles of the council’, but there was no suggestion that he had done the same in transferring the castle to the trusty Robert Walerand. Walerand was to hold during his pleasure.  Henry was now acting free of restraint of his own free will.

Materially Henry had struck a mighty blow for Dover was ‘the key to England’.  He could now dominate the Cinque ports, control the channel and call in foreign help. Symbolically the blow was equally great. Hugh Bigod, with his appointment at justiciar in 1258, had been at the summit of the reform regime.  If he was now prepared to throw it over, that really seemed the end.  Bigod, moreover, put up no struggle. He supplied the king’s household with the castle’s wine, and immediately joined the circle of the court, witnessing a royal charter while the king was at Dover.

Later in the year Bigod may have regretted his conduct. In August, he refused to surrender Scarborough and Pickering castles to the king, on the grounds that he had received them from the council as well as the king, and was sworn to surrender them only with the council’s consent. Precisely the situation, one would have thought at Dover. At this moment,  however, his conduct was understandable. He had been close to the king before the revolution of 1258, and thereafter, as justiciar, had been careful treat him with respect, much more respect than some other members of the regime. In 1260,  he had obeyed the king, rather than Simon de Montfort, and refused to hold the Candlemas parliament laid down by the Provisions of Oxford.  Montfort had  threatened him with reprisals, and then in October 1260 secured his removal as justiciar, only failing to  remove him from Dover at the same time. Doubtless Bigod was now told by the king that a papal bull was on its way quashing the oath to the 1258 reforms. He believed  the baronial enterprise was at end.  It was only  subsequent events which showed he had miscalculated.

After his triumph at Dover, Henry  moved on to Romney near where, on 6 May, the barons of the Cinque Ports came to do him homage.  But there were signs it would not all  be plain sailing. On 2 May, the day he arrived at Dover, there was resistance to the king’s judges hearing pleas at Hertford, and complaints that they were acting in contravention of the Provisions of Oxford. Two day later, Henry summoned foreign soldiers to England. The struggle had only just begun.