In December 1231 a band of masked men from Yorkshire calling themselves the Brotherhood attacked a group of foreign churchmen as they came out from a meeting at St. Albans. Most of the clergy fled back to the church but one Italian named Censius, wasn’t as fast as the others. He became a prisoner and he was not released until he had paid a ransom.
The masked men wanted to rid England of foreign holders of benefice. The problem had arisen since the papacy began to demand its annual taxes in full. Inevitably the masked men proved to be very popular with the English who shared gossip about foreign priests becoming wealthy on the back of English labour. It helped that the band carried letters which suggested that the Crown approved of what they were doing. The blame for all the foreigners was about to fall on the head of Henry III’s long term adviser Hubert de Burgh, 1st Earl of Kent.
The Brotherhood grew. It turned out that Robert Tweng, from Yorkshire riding under the name William Wither was responsible for the first raids but it quickly became clear that any one in possession of a cloak and a mask was taking the opportunity to rob ecclesiastical types with Italian accents. They were robbed, their tithe barns emptied and life generally became rather uncomfortable. Some Italians went into hiding and others left the country. Papal messengers were held up and robbed.
The bishops held a council in February 1232 and excommunicated everyone connected with the attacks. Unexpectedly, they were ignored. Gregory IX was not amused and gave King Henry III and the Church in England a ticking off adding that any one caught should be sent to Rome.
Robert Tweng was identified, excommunicated and then packed off to Rome. The Pope, discovering that the knight’s actions were due to a church, to which he held the advowson, to an alien without his consent being granted office, absolved Tweng. Tweng had inherited the problem of Kirkleatham Church when he married Matilda de Autrey in 1222. Gisborough claimed the advowson as well and had managed to gain possession while Matilda’s uncle Sir William de Kylton was elderly and unwell. having taken the matter to the ecclesiastical court and got no where Tweng had taken matters into his own hands with the support of some very powerful northern families including the de Vescis and Percys. he is also thought to have had links with Henry’s younger brother Richard of Cornwall who afforded him support when the matter came to Henry III’s attention and the knight was sent off Rome with letters from the king.
The Brotherhood, their point made, stopped what they were doing and official investigations dropped. prominent men both in Church and State had either been involved personally or supported the brotherhood. It was a case of not opening a can of worms, turning over any rocks and definitely not disturbing any sleeping dogs. Only one man was going to get the blame and that was Hubert de Burgh, the king’s long term advisor if his political opponent Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester had his way.