Tag Archives: Richard FitzJohn

King John, wardship and taxing heiresses

king_john_stag_3231934bThe loss of his empire presented King John with a problem – well several to be honest.  However to pare them right down they could be viewed thus: John’s barons expected him to trounce the French as big brother Richard was wont to do; he needed money to do this but his revenue had been slashed on account of him loosing vast tracts of land.  In order to trounce the French John needed money to pay his army but he no longer had the wherewithal to raise the revenues.  Therefore John had to get creative in his taxation.

One of John’s wheezes was inheritance tax.  Technically England was a feudal society which meant that all the land belonged to the king and thus when a baron died the land reverted to the crown – except of course that wasn’t the way it worked in real life.  John, however, decided that actually that was exactly how it worked.  Take John de Lacy for example. He expected to inherit his father’s Honour of Pontefract in 1213 – which he did ultimately do but not until he’d coughed up to the tune of 7,000 marks – and let’s not forget that John had been using the estate for himself during de Lacy’s minority.

At least John was an adult male.  If you were a woman or a minor then things became even more fraught.  John paid special attention to so-called feudal custodies.  if the king was at the top of the feudal pyramid he was effectively responsible for widows and orphans – particularly if they came with a juicy price tag. He claimed the right to dispose of them in marriage and to grant their custody where he saw fit- not necessarily to their family but to the person who would pay most to get their hands on the person of the heiress and her estates.  A wealthy widow or young heiress became an excellent way of rewarding his loyal servants not to mention filling the royal coffers.  An heiress was also an excellent way of providing for illegitimate Plantagenet sprigs.  William Longsword, John’s half-brother, was famously married to the Countess of Salisbury.

John’s own son, Richard, was married off to Roese de Dover bringing him Chilham Castle.  Her story is typical of what could befall an heiress.  Her father was Fulbert de Dover who held the Barony of Chilham.  When Fulbert died, Roese was too young to marry so the custody of the castle and its estates along with Roese reverted to the crown. John decided to marry her off to his own son – Richard FitzJohn. This meant that the estates and the family name were passed, along with the bride, to the king’s son. It is probable that Roese’s age upon marriage was about thirteen. We know that Roese or Rohese had children – there were at least two daughters- Isabel who married into the Berkeley family and Lorette who married a Marmion.  How Rohese felt about the Barony of Chilham passing into Richard Fitzjohn’s hands or even her own marriage to him is not recorded.

What we do know is that rights of wardship and marriage were so valuable, according to to Turner, that justices were given instructions to keep their eyes out for stray widows and heiresses. Turner goes on to look at the accounts.  During the reign of Henry II the average levy on an heiresses wedding was 101 marks.  By the time of King John the value had more than tripled. Peter de Maulay paid 7,000 marks to marry Isabella of Thornham who was the heiress to the Barony of Mulgrave. This fine was huge and what makes it even more remarkable is that according to Ralph of Coggeshall it was Maulay who had killed John’s nephew Arthur of Brittany – under which circumstances you’d have thought John would have offered a cut-price bride.

It wasn’t always hopeful grooms who made the highest bid.  Sometimes widows paid a fine to the king to avoid remarriage.  The Countess of Aumale is one such example.  In fact, John realised that he was on to such a good thing that he also started fining male heirs who were wards of the crown when they got married which was a new practice as up until that point feudal custom hadn’t fined males – so at least you could argue that King John offered equal opportunities to heirs and heiresses alike! It was undoubtedly true that wardship was a lucrative income for the crown. Fryde goes so far as to describe the fines John imposed as ‘extortionate.’

No wonder then that wardship is mentioned in Magna Carta.  As well as issues about caring for the estates of minors rather than milking them dry clause six states that “heirs shall be married without disparagement” – i.e. no marrying heirs off to their social inferiors.  The same clause also states that the family of the ward to be married off should be notified once the deal is done.  Clause seven of Magna Carta deals with widows stating that they were to have their dower and their inheritance without the king taxing it and furthermore in clause eight no widow was to be married off against her will…all of which rather suggests that one way or another King John rather overdid income from  feudal custodies.

Fryde, Natalie. Why Magna Carta: Angevin England Revisited.

Turner, Ralph: (1994)  King John, England’s Evil King. Longman

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King John’s sons

king_john_stag_3231934bThe Plantagenets, unlike the Tudors, were prone to having huge families.  Today we tend to remember only the off spring that gained the throne for themselves or stood out from the rest of the crowd – usually by doing something fairly dramatic.

Most people with an interest in history will probably be able to say that King John had a son called Henry. Henry was born in 1207 meaning that he became king at the tender age of nine.  He was crowned in Gloucester Cathedral with one of his mother’s, isabella of Angouleme, circlets on account of his father having lost the crown jewels in The Wash prior to popping his clogs. Henry was fortunate in having the loyalty of William Marshal who helped the young king negotiate his way through invasion by the French and the barons remaining stroppy for a prolonged period of time – John had the First Barons’ War, Henry experienced the Second Barons’ War. It was during Henry’s reign that Simon de Montfort rebelled- effectively starting the aforementioned Barons’ War.  Henry sought to model himself on Edward the Confessor rather than his own father but sadly seems to have had some very similar problems both at home and abroad.

Less well known is the fact that two years after Henry’s  birth John and Isabella produced Richard – as in ‘the spare’ to go with the heir.  Richard became the Count of Poitou in 1225 but gave it back in 1243.  He was also the Earl of Cornwall, the King of Germany (he was elected to this title and only visited the Rhineland four times – no where else in Germany was very keen on him) and the King of the Romans.

Henry’s generosity to his brother cannot be underestimated.  The lands he gained with his Cornish title made him extremely wealthy – not that it stopped the brothers squabbling.  Richard rebelled against Henry on at least three occasions. In addition to the land that his brother gave him Richard also benefited from marriage to Isabella Marshal, the daughter of William Marshall.  After Isabella’s death following childbirth Richard went on to marry Sanchia of Provence who was the sister of Eleanor – conveniently married to big brother Henry. It was partly because of Eleanor’s influence that Richard found himself with the title king.

Richard spoke English at a time when most of the nobility were still only speaking French – not yet having grasped that King John had lost huge swathes of land over the Channel and that ultimately, despite various interludes in the various wars that would punctuate the Medieval period that they were not going to get it back and they certainly weren’t going to be successful during the reign of Henry III.

He went on the sixth crusade, fought against Simon de Montfort (he’d not been impressed when his sister Eleanor was married off to Simon) and managed to get himself taken prisoner after the Battle of Lewes. The story of the de Montfort link doesn’t get any happier. Ultimately Eleanor’s sons would murder one of Richard’s sons in revenge for Simon de Montfort’s death. Richard died in 1271 and was buried in Hailes Abbey of which he was a patron.

Ironically despite not getting on particularly well with his brother Richard, John named three of his sons Richard – a legitimate one and two illegitimate ones.  One of them was called Richard FitzJohn of Dover.  He became Baron of Chilham in Kent.  John cannily married this son off to an heiress called Roese who was conveniently a ward of the crown.  The third Richard became constable of Wallingford Castle.

Another son Oliver died during the Siege of Damietta (somewhere in modern Egypt) during the sixth crusade in 1219 – this particular royal bye-blow was carted home and buried in Westminster Abbey.There was also an Osbert, a Geoffrey, an Odo and a Henry who seems to have had a complex relationship with King John – “Henry, who says he is my son but who is truly my nephew”… leaving historians trying to calculate birth dates and whether it was possible that the Young King, Geoffrey or even the Lionheart himself could have fathered him. There was also a John who may have been a knight but equally might have been a clerk somewhere in Lincoln or possibly London depending on which source you refer to! Interestingly history knows more about John’s illegitimate daughter Joan because John married her off to Llewelyn the Great and because of her role as a negotiator between her husband and father.

One fact is very clear John fathered more illegitimate children than any other Plantagenet king except Henry I and seems to have provided for them- a fact which surely must be accounted a positive aspect of John’s complex character. Henry III recognised his brothers in that many of them held government posts – the Plantagenets recognised that a royal brother was to be trusted only if he couldn’t make a claim on the crown himself. However, and as always somewhat frustratingly, very often history knows little more than their names.

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