The death of Ansel (Anselm) Marshal just eleven days after his brother Walter ended the Marshal line of earls of Pembroke. The division of the estates which followed was not straight forward – there were three widows with dower rights. Ansel’s widow could not claim the rights of a dowager countess of Pembroke because her husband was not licensed to enter the estates and had not paid the necessary fees but it still complicated matters. Of Isabel de Clare’s five daughters only Maud Marshal was still alive in 1245 but in total there were thirteen co-heirs of whom Roger Bigod stood to gain most. Maud was the eldest and therefore the senior of the co-hieresses. To her came one fifth of her parents’ estates. With the land came the role of marshal which was a hereditary title – a title which Maud transferred to Roger the following year. Now is not the time to discuss the profits that could be accrued from this job or what else it entailed although when Roger was sent off to campaign in Gascony it was regarded as part and parcel of a marshal’s duties.
Maud died on 28 March 1248. Roger inherited the estates. Whilst he may have been very sad about his mother’s demise he now regained her dower lands as well as her portion of the Marshal inheritance including Chepstow and the county of Carlow in Ireland as well as other scattered manors the most valuable of which was Ross and the port of New Ross. Maud had already used some of the estate to provide for her younger sons as well as giving grants to various monastic houses to secure a speedy passage through purgatory with masses said for her soul. But essentially Roger was now a very wealthy and thus very powerful man-not as powerful as the de Clare- but still the most powerful man in East Anglia as well as being related by marriage through his Marshal connections to King Henry III. Having secured his inheritance Roger doesn’t seem to have spent much time at court. It was his younger brother who was the courtier.
As well as his inheritance Roger was also trying to ensure the future of his line by getting his marriage annulled. He and his wife Isabella of Scotland, a daughter of William the Lion, had been married for about twenty years since he was thirteen years old- he spent the rest of his childhood in Scotland. But the couple still had no children. He visited Rome himself in 1249 but he remained married to Isabella as there were no grounds for an annulment. It perhaps didn’t help that he had previously complained about papal taxes.
Roger served Henry in France, did what marshals were supposed to do and that might have been the end of the matter until Robert de Ros got into King Henry III’s bad books because he was a guardian of King Alexander III of Scots who was married to henry’s daughter Margaret. In 1255 Henry received word that Margaret was complaining that de Ros and his co-guardian John Balliol were mistreating the royal couple. Henry promptly confiscated de Ros’s land and fined him and Balliol. Roger did not think that the king was being fair and he argued with the king who called Roger a traitor. Roger was unamused and said that the king was wrong. ‘If you are just’ he said, ‘how can you harm me?’
The king’s response was that essentially he could seize the earl’s corn, thresh it and sell it.
Roger retorted that the king could try but that Roger would send the threshers back to the king sans their heads.
Henry responded by calling in Roger’s feudal scuttage (shield tax). There was inevitably a disagreement about what the correct dues might be and the matter of the dower owed to Eleanor, William Marshal the Younger’s widow was also raised. Eleanor was Henry III’s sister now married to Simon de Montfort. The king ordered that the exchequer should extract every last penny that Roger was supposed to owe to both the Crown and his sister (it was true that Roger hadn’t paid up his share of Eleanor’s dower for several years).
The row was about to escalate. Roger was not alone in feeling that the king’s justice was not everything it was cracked up to be. By 1258 Roger was involved in the reform movement agitating against the various misdeeds of King Henry III’s half brothers and their influence over Henry’s heir the young Prince Edward. It was Roger who told Henry that his Lusignan favourites had to go – it helped that he was backed up by many other barons and knights. And it was Roger who told the king that he and Edward should in future swear to follow the advice of their barons. The king’s decisions were going to be perused by twenty-four ‘prudent’ men according to the Tewkesbury Chronicle. He wasn’t the most important baron present at the gathering which brow-beat the king but he was the king’s marshal and it was the culmination of the Marshal family’s various opposition to some of King Henry III’s policies.
Oh yes – he died in 1270 without heirs and was succeeded by his nephew – another Roger who was just as stroppy as his uncle. It was this Roger- the 5th Duke of Norfolk- who refused to go to Gascony on King Edward I’s orders arguing that feudal tenure meant he only had to serve overseas in the company of the king rather than on the king’s orders. Edward threatened to have Roger hanged and Roger responded – ‘I will neither go nor hang.’
Marc Morris – The Bigod Earls of Norfolk in the Thirteenth Century (which is incidentally a fascinating read)