Posts Tagged ‘Winchester Cathedral’

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.