Posts Tagged ‘Walter of Merton’

Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 11 September to Saturday 18 September 1261

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Henry remained all this week at Windsor. He had heard that Simon de Montfort,  Richard de Clare, earl of Gloucester, and the bishop of Worcester, Montfort’s old friend, Walter de Cantilupe, had summoned three knights from each county to meet them at St Albans on 21 September to  discuss the common affairs of the realm.  Their aim manifestly was to rally support for the insurgency, and then perhaps to  advance on Windsor itself, not twenty-five miles away. Faced with this threat, on Sunday 11 September, Henry took action. He did not, however, bravely march out of Windsor towards St Albans  to  confront this usurpation of royal authority, which was what the summons amounted to. Instead,   he ordered, by letters, his sheriffs to ensure that  that the knights came on 21 September  to Windsor instead. There they would take part in peace negotiations between Henry and the nobles. They would see from the results, Henry averred, how he intended nothing save what would make ‘for the honour and common utility of our kingdom’.

There is much that is mysterious about  this famous episode. We do not know how the three knights were chosen in the first place, nor indeed whether any came  either to St Albans or to Windsor.  The rival summonses, however, reveal the political importance of the knights, and mark a  stage in the process by which they  appeared in  parliament.  Henry’s assembly indeed could be regarded as a parliament. So much is revealed in a letter, probably written this week, by the justiciar, Philip Basset, to the chancellor, Walter of Merton, a letter which also shows the efforts to ensure that individual barons as well  attended the royal rather than the Montfortian assembly.  Basset had learnt that Roger de Somery,  lord of Dudley in the west midlands, intended to go to St Albans if he did not receive a letter of summons from the king. He, therefore, urged Merton to get the king  to write to Somery summoning him to his forthcoming ‘parliament’. Basset added helpfully that Somery was at his manor Berkshire manor of Bradfield. Basset’s plea gives an interesting insight into  Henry’s own involvement in affairs. Basset clearly thought the decision  had to be made by the king, and that Merton, as chancellor, could not simply write on his own authority.

Philip Basset was clearly at this time not at court, and was presumably trying to uphold the king’s authority in the provinces.  Henry, himself, as we have said, had clearly decided not to go out himself to confront the rebellion. There is, however, a sign in this week that he was contemplating a move.  On 11 September, the day he wrote to the sheriffs summoning the knights to Windsor, he also ordered repairs to Oxford Castle, Woodstock, and his Northamptonshire houses at King’s Cliffe and Geddington to be ready by Michaelmas. This may indicate that Henry intended to  be there at  the end of the month.

The fine rolls of this week shed interesting light on the situation.   The number of writs purchased to initiate or further the common law legal procedures picked up from the low of the week before. They numbered a respectable thirty-two.  It is very noticeable, however, that not one of these came from  Berkshire, or from the surrounding counties of Buckinghamshire, Surrey, and Hampshire.  The one from Middlesex was cancelled because the purchaser, for an unexplained reason,  did not have the writ.  It seems highly likely that this reflects  the disintegration of royal authority in the home counties.  

One pleasure for Henry in these traumatic times was to exercise in  Windsor great park. That alone made Windsor a much more congenial a place to stay than the Tower of London.  But how secure was the park?  The fine rolls show the issue came up this week, perhaps as a result of Henry’s own inspection.  On 18 September, the constable of Windsor, was ordered to sell the alder and birch in the park, and spend the resulting money making good the defects in the park’s  enclosure.

Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 14 August – Saturday 20 August 1261

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Henry spent the bulk of this week at Windsor.  It was from there, on Tuesday 14 August, that he issued perhaps the most eloquent proclamation of his reign.  With his authority being challenged throughout the realm, he sent a letter to all his sheriffs,  justifying his rule and rebutting the accusations of his enemies.

 Henry announced that he had

heard with bitterness of attempts to wrest people from  their fidelity and love by false and malicious suggestions. This is all the more grievous  when we have  ruled for forty-five years, by the will and grace of God, and have not ceased in that time, with all our desire and strength,  to  study and labour for the peace and tranquillity of each and everyone.

When previously [in the reign of John]  the  kingdom was destroyed by war and hostility, in our time,  blessed be  God, by whose grace we are what we are and through whom all kings reign, neither in spiritual things through a general interdict or the withdrawal of the sacraments, nor in temporal things through hostilities and general war, has the kingdom of England been depressed or impoverished.

Instead, everyone has been able to enjoy their possessions in peace, everyone has been able to retain or obtain their rights, according to what is just, nor have we taken  rights from anyone by force or will, Blessed be God, nor have we exiled anyone unjustly.

You ought, therefore, to disbelieve suggestions of this kind, made by those who impose servitude and oppressions on you by their will, when we are prepared and always will be prepared to come to your defence and relief.

Henry then went on to counter rumours that he was bringing foreign soldiers  into the country to harm his native subjects. He also defended the sheriffs he had recently appointed. They would be far more able to preserve the rights of the king and defend the king’s subjects from oppression than the previous sheriffs who had been in the pockets of the magnates. Therefore,  he continued,

Remain faithful to us as we are always prepared to give justice to all, great and small, and preserve all good laws and customs.

And the letter concluded with a statement making clear the king was now speaking for himself and was no longer controlled by a baronial council 

 We have caused these letters patent to be made of our own will and free power.

One would love to know how this magnificent justification for Henry’s rule was put together. What was Henry’s own input and what of that of ministers?  Was it perhaps the work of the chancellor, Walter of Merton?  And  how too was the letter actually proclaimed in the counties, if indeed it was?  That Henry desperately needed to make his case was shown at the end of the week for he then felt compelled to return to the Tower of London. See his next blog!

None of this was reflected in the fine rolls.  There was an increase in the number of writs being purchased to initiate or further common law legal actions – up  to nineteen of these as opposed to only eight the week before. However, some seven of the nineteen related to Somerset and were perhaps the  result of one representative arriving at court and purchasing the whole lot.

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 19 June to Saturday 25 June 1261

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

We left Henry on Saturday 18 June at Guildford.  He had reached there on his sudden flight from Winchester, following the furore provoked by his publication of the papal bulls dissolving the Provisions of Oxford. On the Sunday, Henry moved on to Kingston, closer that is to London, where he remained for the Monday and the Tuesday. The fine rolls reveal one piece of routine business discharged at this time and also the jurisdiction of the court held by the king’s marshal. This imposed an amercement (in modern terminology a fine) of one mark for wine sold at Kingston ‘contrary to the assize’, contrary that is to the regulations on weights and measures.  Probably Henry was pausing at Kingston while he received intelligence as to just how serious the revolt against his démarche was. Doubtless he would have liked to have gone on to Westminster.  In the event, he could not.   The situation did not permit residence at this undefended palace. On Tuesday 22 June Henry was back at the Tower of London. He was in for another long stay.

The disturbance of these days is reflected in the fine rolls which record no business for 19-21 June. It was also left to a clerk checking the rolls, while drawing up the copies sent to the exchequer, to supply the date  (22 June at the Tower of London) for an otherwise undated entry.  Some of the other chancery rolls at this time are even more chaotic with writs slapped down in haphazard order.  Once the king reached the Tower, however, routine business resumed and by the end of the week twenty-two writs to initiate or further the common law legal procedures were recorded on the fine rolls.

None of those securing these writs would have seen the king personally. This was business dealt with by the chancery clerks. But one person who appears on the fine rolls this week certainly did reach the royal presence, and found a warm welcome. This was the Gloucestershire baron, Maurice of Berkeley. In March he had been one of those give an annual pension (in his case 40 marks) in order to sustain him in the king’s service.  Now he was pardoned an amercement of £5 imposed for allowing a thief to escape from his prison at Redcliffe in Somerset.  He also received (while the king was at Kingston) a gift of three oaks from the forest of Dean. This was the kind of personal concession (Henry authorised it himself) which meant so much to the recipient. Evidently the king was very keen to secure Maurice’s loyalty in the struggle, all the more so since the great earl of Gloucester, Richard de Clare, was with the opposition.

We are able to see who was with the king this week in the Tower, thanks to the witness lists of royal charters issued from there on 25 June.  There were three bishops, those of Salisbury, Norwich and London. The last two were trusted royal servants and Henry could be absolutely sure of them.  In the same category came John Mansel (in command of the Tower), Philip Basset (now justiciar), Alan la Zouche, Robert Walerand , the judge William of Wilton, and the clerk Walter of Merton who was soon to be given custody of the seal.   Then there was group of barons from the Welsh march, Maurice of Berkeley, as we have said, and also Thomas Corbet of Cause and Reginald fitzPeter.  These men supplied muscle. Finally there were two men from the Savoyard party of the queen, namely Imbert de Montferrand and the king’s steward, Imbert Pugeys. One of the charters issued on 25 June was for another Savoyard, Boniface of Savoy, archbishop of Canterbury. He was granted the right to hold a weekly market at Petersfield in the great archiepiscopal property of Maidstone. The fine rolls show he paid nothing for the concession. It was pure favour. Henry was not best pleased with his wife’s uncle, following the independence he had displayed at the ecclesiastical synod at Lambeth in May. But it was vital to keep him now on side, given he was one of those to whom the pope had addressed the letters quashing the Provision.