Posts Tagged ‘William de Tracy’

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 Saturday 20 August to Saturday 27 August 1261

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

This week was chiefly remarkable for Henry III’s extraordinary move from Windsor to the Tower of London and back.  According to the fine rolls, Henry witnessed letters at Windsor on Saturday 20 August. Yet a letter on the close rolls has him attesting on the same day at the Tower of London. Indeed it was from there that he sent ten foot archers to Matthias Bezill at Gloucester castle. Evidently he had heard of Bezill’s violent quarrel with  the rival sheriff, William de Tracy, and felt he needed reinforcements. (See the blog for 24-30 July).  Henry seems, therefore, to have travelled from Windsor to the Tower in the course of 20 August. Most  probably he made the journey by boat.  Just how long he stayed at the Tower is unclear because the dating clauses of royal letters become contradictory, testimony perhaps to the general confusion. A letter on the fine rolls has Henry still at the Tower on 23 August. Yet one on the close rolls places him back at Windsor on the  twenty-second.  Certainly he was at Windsor from the twenty-fourth onwards.

Just why Henry made this dash to the Tower is unclear. Perhaps the most likely explanation is that he felt the growth of the insurgency around Windsor made it unsafe. The last thing he wanted was to face a siege there. This then  was a flight rather like that from from Winchester  to the Tower back in June (see the blog for 12-18 June).  After a few days, Henry  returned to Windsor having been  re-assured of the situation. He was  more comfortable there than in his confined quarters at the Tower. He could also assert more of a presence than bottled up in the capital.  The hypothesis that Henry was losing control of the area near Windsor is supported by some strands  of evidence. It was from 24 August that his sheriff of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, Alexander of Hampden,  received nothing from the issues of the county ‘because of the disturbance’, according to his later testimony.  The fine rolls are also interesting.  Below the letter attested on 20 August come twelve fines for writs to initiate or further the common law legal proceedings.  The fine rolls record, as was usual, omits the date of the writs, but they were presumably issued around 20 August.  Not one concerned counties in the circle around Windsor. Henry was now girding himself for war, although he still hoped to avoid it.  On 22 August, he sent letters to various foreign lords asking them to be ready to send him a total of 300 knights and  the same number of serjeants or archers. These were  to be despatched  once Henry  sent a further request. As he explained, ‘certain of our magnates have for sometime been rebels, and unless they speedily think again, we will have to take appropriate measures’.

Henry III’s Alien Curiales

Friday, July 29th, 2011

When the storm broke around the King’s head in 1258, the Barons in their Petition of that May asked that all royal castles including those adjoining harbours from which ships sail, should be committed to the custody of men born in England and that no women shall be disparaged by being married to ‘men who are not true-born Englishmen’. The experience of the King’s alien curiales  varied.  As a result of the Provisions of Oxford of June/July, John de Plessis, far from being removed, was, by a vote of the Barons, appointed to the group of four who would chose the King’s Council.  In addition he was to hold Devizes castle.  Mathias Bezill was retained as Constable of Gloucester but Imbert Pugeys was removed from the Tower of London. 

A Tourangeau, Mathias Bezill benefited during his countryman, Peter des Roche’s ascendancy.  Bezill was the nephew of one of the Chanceaux clan which was probably related to Engelard de Cigogné and, like him, was banned by chapter fifty of Magna Carta.  Bezill was first mentioned in 1232, during the des Roches dominance, when he was given custody of the lands of two of the supporters of the rebel, Richard Marshal and he received his first royal patronage in the following January and witnessed a royal charter in June.  By 1258 he had gained lands in Devon, Gloucestershire, Surrey and Wiltshire and had married a wealthy widow. More importantly, in 1240, he was made Marshal of the Queen’s household and, by 1251, he was constable of Gloucester. In 1254, he became the Queen’s Steward.

Although Bezill was not disadvantaged by the Provisions, he suffered in the aftermath as a result of the special eyre set up under the supervision of the Justiciar, Hugh Bigod.  In September 1258, Bezill was ordered to be imprisoned when a jury refused to overturn his conviction for reducing a free tenant to serfdom.This potential imprisonment at this time was an indication of the ebbing of the power of alien courtiers around the King.

1261 saw Henry III  overthrowing the Provisions of Oxford and recovering of royal power. He replaced sheriffs with those he could trust; John de Plessis became sheriff of Leicestershire and Warwick whilst in July Mathias Bezill added the shrievalty of Gloucestershire to his castellany of Gloucester castle.

Whereas Plessis experienced no problems, there was a spectacular and violent reaction to Bezill’s appointment.  The county gentry of Gloucestershire elected one of their own men, William de Tracy, as sheriff.  With a strong force, Bezill seized Tracy at a meeting of the county court, had him beaten, dragged through the mire and imprisoned in Gloucester castle.

Although Robert of Gloucester referred to a popular election, David Carpenter has suggested that Tracy was, in fact, a member of the entourage of the Earl of Gloucester.  Although the evidence he relied on dates from 1267, refers back to 1265 and is about a later Earl, it does carry some weight as a 1259 patent roll entry refers to Oliver de Tracy, who was possibly William’s brother, as the nephew of the Earl in 1259.

These events show that Bezill was still perceived as a foreigner even though he had been in England for thirty years, had been associated with Gloucester castle for twelve years, had been accepted as constable by the Barons in 1258, had held lands in Gloucestershire, was married to an Englishwoman and had children born in England. That Bezill identified with Gloucestershire is demonstrated by his funding on an obit at Gloucester Abbey. Robert of Gloucester drew particular attention to the French origins of Bezill and the St Alban’s Continuator also referred to Bezill’s’ alien origin.

But an item in a wardrobe account of the mid 1250’s found by Ben Wild may throw a new light on these events. One reading of this entry is that Bezill paid ten marks to have the sheriff of Gloucester moved.  If so, why?   Bezill had been Constable of Gloucester since 1251.  William de Lasborough, who was sheriff in April 1255, was replaced in 1257 by Henry de Penbroke.

However,  the List of Sheriffs  records Bezill, as sheriff, on 10 January 1256 but there is no supporting evidence.  The List states that he did not account at the Exchequer.  Perhaps this statement is based on a Patent Roll entry which can be read as referring to Bezill’s keeping Gloucester castle but not the county.  Lasborough is in the parish of Westonbirt.  Bezill held lands at Sherston, about two miles away, from 1240 and at Didmarton, also about two miles way, from before 1260.  Perhaps Bezill was objecting to Lasborough as either a hindrance to his position as Constable or it was a neighbour dispute or both.  But if he did pay to have Lasborough removed, why was he only prepared, or expected, to pay only ten marks?  So if Bezill had had a brush with a locally based sheriff in the 1250’s, this might be a further reason for local hostility to him in the 1260’s.

Whatever was the motive for the local gentry’s hostility to Bezill in 1261, they remembered his actions and  took violent revenge in 1263.

Posted on behalf of Michael Ray.

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.