Saturday, March 31, 2018

Abduction and Rape in Late Medieval Ireland, England and Scotland

Happy Women's History Month (with 10 minutes to go!)

The events over the last few weeks in Belfast have compelled me to write a blog post about rape that I have had in the back of my mind for several months. The original impetus for writing something on this topic came from a blog post by The Public Medievalist, which can be found here: https://www.publicmedievalist.com/got-rape-and-middle-ages/ Parts of this post have aged pretty badly since it was written in 2015, particularly in the wake of the #MeToo movement. I found the following paragraph, using the Matt-Damon-not-all-men argument, particularly disconcerting:
Not all medieval men were Ramsay Bolton—though it seems as though their society encouraged them to behave more like Ramsay than like Tyrion. Many of the social norms described above are abhorrent. But it is important not to ignore medieval men’s basic humanity when trying to recuperate the basic humanity of medieval women.
Ramsay Bolton

Ramsay Bolton is a particularly violent character on Game of Thrones, a fictional television show, and while his behaviour may not be considered normal, there is certainly plenty of evidence for gender violence in non-fictional medieval sources. I am at a loss as to why violence against women cannot be discussed without making it some sort of attack on “medieval men’s basic humanity”! No one is arguing that all medieval men were potential rapists. Notwithstanding, rape was more prevalent than the author of the post is willing to admit. One of the main problems of the post was that he focused on rape within marriage, for which there is very little evidence, since it wasn’t illegal to “rape” your spouse up to the very recent past (which he does acknowledge). Of course, men did rape their wives and other family members, but, generally, these incidents were not reported in the sources. Women were dependent on their kinsmen for food and shelter, therefore reporting these rapes and other violent acts had the potential of making them destitute. There is certainly plenty of evidence of men having sexual relationships with their servants and we must ask ourselves how much choice did these women have? Were these consensual relationships? It is impossible to tell in most cases. Unfortunately, most examples of sexual violence that appear in the sources are rapes that were committed by strangers or casual acquaintances, therefore there is a large hole in our knowledge about rape in the medieval period.

This blog will focus on abduction and rape in late medieval Ireland, with a few examples drawn from England and Scotland. References to rape in the sources can be quite problematic because Raptus, for example, could mean either rape or abduction, or both, particularly from the end of the thirteenth century onwards, when the first and second Statutes of Westminster (1275 and 1285) combined these two different offenses into one under common law. Both of these statutes were enforced in Ireland in 1285. The legal historian J.P. Post argued that these offenses were combined so that courts could punish abductions that were consensual. This might suggest that the courts were more concerned about opportunistic men abducting women for material gain or social advancement, than they were about violence against women.

Lucretia's rape by Sextus Tarquinius, and her suicide - Anonymous, from an illuminated mid-sixteenth century manuscript, southern Germany (perhaps Tübingen)

A statute from Richard II’s reign further shifted the onus for pursuing rapists and abductors onto the family of the victim rather than the woman herself. This is perhaps another indication that there was more concern about the financial and material loss suffered by the woman’s relatives, than her own personal well-being. In Scotland, there really isn’t any statutes comparable to those enforced in England and Ireland. There is one statute from 1318 stating that if anyone in the army commit rape that he should be indicted before the justiciar.

I will treat abductions separately from rape because not all abductions involved rape. Moreover, in many cases they weren’t even violent events, where the woman was carried away unwillingly. Some women co-operated in their abductions, and it would perhaps be more accurate to call these examples elopements rather than abductions. Therefore, when I was looking at the sources I tried to separate those that I felt were not violent in nature. Cases, for example, like that of Isolda le Hore from county Wexford. In 1312, Roger, Stephen, Geoffrey and Nicholas Furlong were accused of abducting her against her will, but Isolda had gone with Roger of her own free will and became his mistress. In West Derbyshire in 1292, Laurence of Binnington was accused of ravishing Joan Gam and abducting her against her will, it was later established that she had gone willingly with him.

Occasionally, even though the abductions were not planned in advance or agreed to by the women involved, they sometimes led to happy unions. Like the case in 1288, when William Douglas (ancestor of the earls of Douglas), abducted the widow Eleanor de Lovaine, daughter in law of the earl of Derby, from Faside Castle in East Lothian. They were married shortly afterwards, and Douglas paid Edward I £100 fine for the marriage in February 1290. Eleanor also paid the same fine of £100, not knowing that her husband had already paid it, so she seemed pretty keen to keep him! Later that year when Douglas was imprisoned by the English king, Eleanor posted bail for him, which she probably wouldn’t have done had she been forced into the marriage.

BL Royal 20 C VI Lancelot du Lac


Women sometimes either went along with their abductions, or made the best of the situation afterwards like Eleanor Douglas, or even arranged them to get away from husbands who were violent, cruel, or who they simply did not get on with. A famous example from Ireland is that of Derbforgaill, daughter of Murchad Ua Maeleachlainn, king of Meath, and wife of Tigernán Ua Ruairc, king of Bréifne, who was abducted by Diarmait Mac Murchada, king of Leinster in 1152. Derbforgaill appears to have been a willing accomplice in her own abduction and the fact that she took her cattle and chattels with her suggest it was well-organised. Derbforgaill may have been unhappy with her husband, or her paternal Meath family may have been trying to forge an alliance with Leinster, we don’t really know why she decided to go with Diarmait. Diarmait’s reasons are much more clear, since Ua Ruairc (Derbforgaill’s husband) had tried conquer Leinster twenty years earlier. Most people agree that it wasn’t a love match because Diarmait was in his 60s at this point and – to quote the historian F.J. Byrne, Derbforgaill “may have been fair, but was certainly forty.”

Michael Prestwich reveals a similar ageist attitude towards the abduction of the wealthy heiress, Alice, Countess of Lincoln, who had previously been married to Thomas, earl of Lancaster. In 1336 Alice was abducted by Hugh de Frenes from Bolingbroke Castle and then was apparently raped. Prestwich concludes that Frenes was more interested in her vast estates because Alice was in her mid-fifties at the time of her abduction. This was the second time in her life that Alice had been abducted. While she was still married to the earl of Lancaster in 1317, she was abducted by the household knights of John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, a nephew by marriage of King Edward II. The motive for this abduction was to humiliate the earl of Lancaster, who had an antagonistic relationship with the earl of Surrey – so Surrey may have had similar motives to Diarmait Mac Murchada. Alice, like Derbforgaill, may have been a willing participant in her abduction. Lancaster appears to have neglected her and had several mistresses – and even though he was concerned about her property, there’s no evidence that he ever tried to get her back.

These two abductions are separated by more than a century and a half but do share many similarities. In both cases the abductor’s aim was to humiliate the victim’s husband or they were acts of revenge for perceived wrongs originally done to the abductor by the husband. They may have also given these women the opportunity to get away from husbands that, for whatever reason, they did not want to be with.

In many cases, women who were abducted were of higher social status than their abductors. In fact, this appears to have been the case with Alice of Lincoln and her second husband Sir Ebolo Lestrange, though there is no evidence he abducted her, and it appears to have been a love-match. Being of high social status may have increased the potential for violence for these woman. It was not enough to abduct them, if men wanted to marry these women the relationship had to be consummated, and many women must have been raped.

In 1299 when Johanna de Clare, countess of Fife, was travelling to England, she was captured by Herbert de Morham between Stirling and Edinburgh. She was taken by force and imprisoned by Herbert, who also seized the property she had with her, which was valued at £2000. As well as being the widow of the earl of Fife, Johanna was also the daughter of Gilbert de Clare, seventh earl of Gloucester. Had Herbert been successful, this marriage would have transformed him from a rather obscure figure, to one of the wealthiest men in Scotland. Unfortunately, things did not end well for Herbert, who was hanged in London in 1306, along with the earl of Atholl.

Johanna of Fife’s case reveals that wealthy heiresses were abducted for their inheritance. Women of the gentry and merchant class, who had property, were also attractive targets for opportunistic poorer men. For example, in York in 1411, Agnes, the widow of wealthy brewer Hugh Grantham, married draper John Thornton. Afterwards, she was taken to ecclesiastical court by John Dale, who claimed he had previously contracted marriage with Agnes. Agnes confirmed that she had agreed to marry Dale, but that she had been forced to do so because he had abducted her, and threatened to rape her. Unlike Thornton, Dale was not a wealthy man and his motivations appear to have been for material gain because the court records reveal that Agnes was “a woman of great age”. It is likely that Agnes married John Thornton to protect herself from the unwelcome attentions of opportunists like Dale.
As we can see from these abduction cases, rape, or the threat of rape, was a factor in some of them and not in others. Now, I am going to specifically look at rape. Technically, rape was one of the few crimes that women could prosecute independently of their kinsmen according to Bracton. But the truth, however, was that women appeared in a wide range of medieval court records, particularly records dealing with land disputes. Women are often named in these documents along with their husbands.

From my examination of the court records convictions for rape in Ireland appears to have been relatively rare, and this seems to tally with research done on rape in medieval England. In many cases women withdrew their accusations, and the sources hint that, at least on some occasions, this was because both parties had decided to settle outside court.

As well as these cases that were obviously consensual, there are also cases where women withdrew their accusations, not because they weren’t raped or abducted, but because they had decided to settle out of court. In one case in Blackburn in Lancashire in 1292 where Amaria daughter of William de Hoderforthwro withdraw charges of rape that she made against Henry son of Henry of Cunliffe, the court decided to press ahead anyway, and the jury found him guilty. Henry was fined one mark for the rape, and his victim Amaria was fined 10 shillings for withdrawing the claim. There are other examples of women claiming rape and then withdrawing. It is possible that this was because they had not been raped in the first place, but it is also possible that rapist and victim had come to some sort of settlement outside the court.
The Hague, MMW, 10 A 11 fol. 10v Book 1


Unfortunately, in most cases what sort of settlement both parties reached is not made explicit in the sources, but one case from Ireland in 1310 does offer some clues. Richard Tyrel of Castleknock pled guilty to the rape of Eva, daughter of William, whose full surname does not survive in the source, but it is probably London. This is a particularly unpleasant case because Eva was eleven years old at the time of the rape. Richard Tyrel was pardoned on the condition that he provide Eva with a husband when she came of age. It is possible that in other rape cases, parties came to a similar settlement.

Richard Tyrel was forced to pay a large fine to the crown, and he had several pledges who promised he would pay this fine, which suggests Eva was not only a virgin, but was also of high social status. Why would Richard rape Eva? It is possible that he raped her because of who she was. Around the time Richard raped Eva, his cousin Thomas Tyrel was accused of being an accomplice in the murder of John de Bonevill. John was married to Matilda, the widow of Thomas de London, who may have been Eva’s grandfather. Bonevill was a close associate of John fitz Thomas, future earl of Kildare and the Tyrells were associates of Arnold le Poer, who had been acquitted of murdering John de Boneville, even though he probably did kill him. As illustrated above, women were abducted to humiliate their families, Eva may have been raped for the same reason, which is quite disturbing considering her age.

Obviously, not all accusations of rape were true and women who made accusations against men and were either proved to be liars, or who did not pursue their cases, could be punished by the courts. For example, in Londale Lancashire in 1292 when Edusa of Hale accused Simon son of William of Allerton of rape, the courts ordered her arrest when she did not come to court to sue her appeal. In the same year, also in Lancashire, Godith, daughter of Richard of Wray accused Henry of Winmarleigh of raping her when she was a virgin, but he was able to prove that three years earlier Godith had a child and obviously wasn’t a virgin.

Glanvill, who wrote Treatise on the Laws and Customs of the Kingdom of England in the twelfth century, advised that women who were raped had to show the injuries inflicted on her, particularly any bleeding, or ripped clothes. Glanvill may have been referring to the torn hymen, indicating that the woman was a virgin when she was raped. Loss of virginity could potentially reduce a woman’s marriage prospects; therefore, some may have wanted to publicise the fact that her virginity had been taken unwillingly. Women did report bleeding in the court records, but the women could not have been always virgins, since some of them were married at the time of their attack. Does this suggest that sometimes the attacks were so violent that they drew blood, or was the language used by clerks who recorded these cases so formulaic that they automatically added in these details?

Some sources can be problematic, and they don’t really give a clear indication as to if women were engaging in sexual activities because they wanted to, or because they were forced to. In Ireland there are quite a few examples of women having relationships with outlaws and members of criminal gangs. In many cases it is difficult to establish how much choice women had in these relationships. Henry Tyrel, cousin of Richard who I have already mentioned, was an outlaw accused of committing adultery with Arnald Penrys’ wife, and bringing her with him when he travelled around the country. The court record does not reveal her name, or if she was his willing companion. In 1311 when Wasmayr Okenwan was accused of receiving a group of outlaws into him home, he claimed that they were sleeping with his wife and daughter and he did not do anything because he feared they would kill him. Again, the names of the women are not recorded. In the same year in Waterford Adam Osmer was accused of receiving a group of robbers led by Robert le Poer. Robert had taken Adam’s daughter as his mistress and visited Adam’s house against his will to talk to her. Adam claimed to be too afraid of Robert to stop him. And yet again, his daughter is not named in the sources. There is no indication in any of these women wanted to be with these men, or if, like their fathers and husbands, they were afraid of them.

What punishment could rapists and abductors expect to receive? According to Bracton, in his On the Laws and Customs of England, written in the mid-thirteenth century, anyone who raped a virgin should have their eyes put out and they should also “lose as well the testicles which excited his hot lust.” Rather bizarrely, if the rapist was accompanied by a horse or dog during the rape it too would be castrated. If he had a hawk it would lose its beak, claws and tail.

In reality, the worst punishment most rapists faced was a fine. Anyone who was executed usually committed several other types of crime as well, especially robbery, therefore it can’t be said they were executed because they were rapists. Their punishment was probably closely linked to their social status, and the social status of the victim. I have noticed some cases where the perpetrator is dead before the case comes to court, and it may be that the victim’s friends and family dealt with the matter themselves.


#IBelieveHer


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Monks behaving badly

A well-behaved monk

It has been almost a year since my last blog post! I can’t believe how quickly 2016 has flown by and we are now in a bright and shiny new year. I have been busy writing articles and getting my business off the ground over the past few months (I am now a self-employed historical researcher: http://ainefoley1.wixsite.com/research), so I haven’t had enough time to write new blog posts.

I wanted to write a blog post for the new year and I decided to write about an event that I spoke about at one of the Milestones of Medieval Dublin lunchtime talks a few months back. I have been doing some research into the abbey of St Thomas the martyr, which was situated just west of the city walls of Dublin during the medieval period. During the course of this research I found a court case from a lost plea roll, which was published in Monasticum Hibernicum. This volume was compiled by Mervyn Archdall, an eighteenth century Irish antiquarian and clergyman. In it there is a transcription of a court case from 1392, which is of great interest, since there is very little surviving from the end of the fourteenth century.[1] 

The entry is as follows:

1392. John Serjeant was abbot, as appears from the following indictment before James Earl of Ormond, Lord Justice of Ireland. William Fitz Hugh, goldsmith, was indicted, for that Richard Totterby and others of the canons formed a conspiracy to attack the abbey, assisted by the mob and armed power of the city, with intent to drag thereout John Serjeant the abbot, and all his party, or to kill them there; for which purpose Totterby gave the sum of forty marcs to John Maureward, the mayor of Dublin, and John Drake, merchant, to induce them to perpetuate the said deed; and to procure this money, Totterby and the other conspirators stole a cross, several chalices, and other rich effects to the value of 100 marcs (all belonging to the said abbot), and pledged the same with William Fitz Hugh, goldsmith; and that the said mayor and John Drake received the money, knowing of the said theft; that the mayor and bailiffs rang the city bell, and with William Fitz Hugh and others of the citizens armed, did, with intent and malice aforethought, attack the abbey; that the Lord Justice sent to the said mayor and his adherents, Robert de la Freyne, knight, Edmund Berle, one of the principal citizens, Robert Hereford, knight, constable of the army, and Edward Perrers, marshal of the king, to enjoin the mayor and his followers to depart and disperse, under the penalty of the forfeiture of all their goods; notwithstanding which, they not only persisted in their evil designs, but brought fire to burn the abbey; and after destroying several hosts, and breaking the windows, they surrounded the King's officer's, and forcibly rescued from them Thomas Serjeant, Simon de la Valle, Walter Foil, John Derpatrick, Henry Fitz Williams, Patrick Wyse and William Rower, clerks; that the mayor, with his party, did there kill Roger Savage, and did forcibly take from William Foil one lance, value sixteen pence, and one halbert value two shillings; from William Rower, clerk, one portiforium, value forty shillings; from John Horsley, one pair of leg harness, value twenty-pence, an iron head-piece, value eight-pence, &c., and from William Rower a bow and twenty arrows, value half a marc, &c. John Gerrard was also indicted for having, with an armed force, feloniously broke into the abbey by night, and for confining the abbot and canons, destroying the dormitory and several hosts, and robbing the abbot of four coats of mail, value of each twenty shillings, and twenty blankets, each of value of five shillings. But Gerrard pleaded the King's pardon.

This is a very juicy entry indeed and Archdall appears to have found it interesting enough to  transcribe the plea roll entry in its entirety. St Thomas’s abbey was one of the most important ecclesiastical houses in Ireland and it was also the only royal foundation in Ireland during the medieval period – it was founded by Henry II shortly after the invasion of Ireland in restitution for the death of Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, who had been murdered by Henry II’s knights. Unfortunately, no trace of St Thomas’s abbey remains above ground today, but this plea roll entry gives us an important glimpse of the importance of the abbey during the medieval period – it was so important that men were willing to kill to become its abbot! It also reveals that relations between the abbey and the city of Dublin could sometimes be tense and even spill over into violence.

Before I discuss the actual attack on the abbey, I am going to look at some of the reasons why there may have been animosity between the abbey and the city of Dublin. The abbey was substantial, as you can see on Speed’s Map pictured below and it stretched from Thomas Street to the Coombe.

Detail of Speed's Map, showing St Thomas's abbey

The abbey also held Donore, just south of the abbey precinct and it is likely that these lands had previously belonged to the city. The Coombe river, which runs through Donore was also known as Commons Water, which suggests it was part of the common lands of the city (i.e. lands that the citizens could use for grazing animals). Obviously, the citizens would not have liked losing such a substantial parcel of land so close to the walls of the city. There were often disagreements between city and abbey as to where the boundary between their lands lay, and the city often attempted to claim jurisdiction over the abbey, even though it was a liberty and technically should have been answerable only to the Crown. In 1282, Stephen de Fulburn, bishop of Waterford and justiciary of Ireland, ordered the sheriff of Dublin to prevent the mayor and commonalty of Dublin city from hearing cases involving tenants of St Thomas abbey, because they were under the jurisdiction of the abbot’s court.[2]

Another court case from 1306 reveals the tensions that existed between the city and the abbey, when Alan the Baker seriously assaulted the abbot’s miller. Alan, who was Thomas de Snyterby’s servant, was caught by Hugh, the abbey’s miller, opening the sluices to provide more water (which belonged to the abbey) to power his lord’s mill. The miller attempted to arrest Alan, but Alan struck the miller on the head with a stone concealed in his glove, and Hugh “fell on the ground half dead.” The abbot, Richard Sweteman, was not willing to let Alan away with this attack on his servant and he allegedly assaulted him on the highway close to the abbey and imprisoned him in the abbey’s prison. In spite of almost killing Hugh, Alan brought the abbot to court for false imprisonment, and in response he was charged with making a false claim against the abbot. However, in this case de Snyterby and Sweteman were able to resolve the matter between themselves.[3]

There is also evidence that the citizens resented paying the tolboll to the abbey. The tolboll was, in simple terms, a brewing tax. The abbey got a proportion of all the ale and mead made and sold by brewers and innkeepers in the city of Dublin.[4] The abbey was granted this charter by John while he was lord of Ireland, but before he became king in 1199. The abbey was entitled to a gallon and a half of the best brew, and the same amount of the second brew. The brewers in the city attempted to avoid paying the tolboll and the abbey had to take them to court on different occasions to force them to pay it.

King John

Not only had the citizens of Dublin managed to avoid paying the abbey the tolboll that they owed them for several decades, they had also stopped paying the tithe of the rent of the city granted to them by King John. In 1390 the abbot and canons sent a petition to the king, Richard II, requesting that the mayor and bailiffs be ordered to pay them the tenth part of the rent of the city which was owed to them, and which was now in arrears.[5] In response a writ was sent to the treasurer and chamberlains of the Dublin exchequer, requesting information about the amount that was owed to the abbey. The Exchequer assessed the amount owed to be £166 13s 4d., at the rate of 20 marks yearly.[6] This meant that the tithe had not been paid for several years. In response, a letter close was sent to the mayor and bailiffs of Dublin on 17 March 1391 ordering them to pay this money.

1390 petition sent from the abbot and canons of St Thomas's to the king (TNA, SC 8/249/12448)

The abbey’s dogged pursuit of its rights undoubtedly exacerbated the tensions experienced between the abbey and the city and in 1392 these conflicts turned to violence. The plea roll entry above reveals that in this year, some of the leading citizens of the city, including the mayor and bailiffs, attacked the abbey and may have even attempted to kill the abbot. Though their recent legal battles may have been a factor in this eruption of murderous rage, there were internal hostilities within the abbey that played a part in the violence too. Conflict arose after the death of the abbot, Thomas Scurlag,[7] and two of the canons competed to become the next abbot. Richard Tutbery had royal assent, but John Serjaunt received papal assent.[8] When King Richard II found out Serjaunt has assumed the office of abbot without royal approval he ordered the justiciary of Ireland to arrest him. Serjaunt was accused of ousting the rightful abbot Richard Tutbery and spending and consuming the goods and chattels of the abbey.[9]

The plea roll entry reveals that instead of waiting for the matter to resolve itself, Tutbery chose to take the law into his own hands. He and some of the other canons formed a conspiracy to either oust Serjaunt or kill him. They enlisted the help of John Mareward, mayor of Dublin, and John Drake, a merchant, to help them carry out this deed. Mareward and Drake were paid 40 marks for their assistance. To fund this enterprise, Tutbery and his fellow conspirators stole a cross, chalices and other items worth 100 marks from the abbey and pawned them to William fitz Hugh, who was a goldsmith. The mayor enlisted the help of the bailiffs of the city, William fitz Hugh the Goldsmith and some of the other citizens of the city to attack the abbey. The justiciar sent several men from Dublin castle to quash this rebellious behaviour, including Robert de la Freyne, knight, Edmund Berle, who had himself served as mayor of Dublin in 1382, Robert Hereford, knight and constable of the army, and Edward Perrers, the king’s marshal. The mob was ordered to disperse, but instead of being subdued they grew more agitated and pushed ahead with their plans to attack the abbey.
This was a remarkably audacious and dangerous decision, because by defying the king’s men, they now were in open rebellion against the crown. They attempted to burn down the abbey and managed to cause some destruction, including the breaking of some of the abbey’s windows. They surrounded the king’s officers and forced them to give up Thomas Serjaunt, Simon de la Valle, Walter Foil, John Derpatrick, Henry Fitz Williams, Patrick Wyse, and William Rower. These were canons of St Thomas’ abbey who supported John Serjaunt. Individual canons were rarely named in the sources; therefore, this is a rare find. Even in the abbey’s registers, aside from a few references to abbots, the canons are rarely named. The register in the Royal Irish Academy mentions two more: William de Cloncurry and John de Finglas,[10] and in a court record from 1306 Martin le Bret is named as one of the attackers of Alan the Baker.[11] These few references are invaluable as they offer us some clues as to who these men were. Serjaunt, Derpatrick and FitzWilliam were the surnames of prominent Dublin familes and the Vale family were another prominent gentry family mainly based in Co. Carlow. Other surnames inform us where canons originated from; John de Finglas probably came from north Dublin, and William de Cloncurry (who later became abbot himself)[12] probably came from Kildare. Clearly, the major gentry families of Dublin and further afield supplied the abbey with its canons.

A medieval brawl

The attack on St Thomas’ abbey resulted in the death of Roger Savage and items were also stolen from William Foil, John Horsley and William Rower. John Gerrard was indicted for breaking into the abbey at night, taking the abbot and canons prisoner, destroying the dormitory and robbing four coats of mail. In spite of his attack on the abbey, by 1395 Richard Tutbury had established himself as abbot of St Thomas’ abbey. He died in 1397, but he appears to have resigned before his death and it is possible it was out of guilt for the events that occurred in 1392.[13] In the immediate aftermath of the attack on the abbey some of the perpetrators sought out pardons from the king including William Fitz Hugh the goldsmith, and in his pardon, it says that he came from London. John Serjaunt (still calling himself abbot of St Thomas’) and the canons listed above also sought a pardon.[14] The abbot and canons must have been seeking a pardon for Serjaunt’s intrusion of the abbey. The surviving documents show no indication that Richard Tutbury, John Mareward, the mayor, or anyone else in the mob apart for William fitz Hugh the goldsmith and John Gerrard sought out pardons.

In 1398 John Serjaunt, now just describing himself as a canon of St Thomas’ abbey, still appears to have hoped that he would regain the office of abbot. He claimed that Nicholas Abbot, Richard Tutbury’s successor “ordained himself” abbot and “remains therein to the perpetual discomfort of the house”. The king ordered the lieutenant to summon both men before him to resolve the matter.[15] The outcome of the case is unknown, but if John Serjaunt’s aim was to get back the office of sheriff, he appears to have been unsuccessful. In the Monasticon Hibernicum Nicholas Abbot’s surname is given as O’Beaghan,[16] if this is accurate Nicholas appears to have been an Irish man, or an Englishman with an Irish nickname. Considering how unwelcome Irishmen were in ecclesiastical houses in English Ireland, it would certainly be unusual to have an Irishman holding the highest office in such an important abbey. There is evidence, however, of at least one Irishman bequeathing land to the abbey. In either 1276–7 or 1283–6, during one of Walter Unred’s terms as mayor of Dublin, Walter the Irishman granted the abbey a messuage of land with its appurtenances in the parish of St Catherine. This charter provides a good deal of information about the property, it lay between a piece of land belonging the St Patricks and other charters reveal that the vicar of St Patricks held land on Thomas Street.[17]

It would be easy to exaggerate the tensions between the citizens of the city of Dublin and St Thomas’ Abbey and court records are far more likely to report negative exchanges rather than positive ones. Indeed, even the troubles of 1392 appear to have been borne out of internal strife within the abbey, with the citizens being, admittedly enthusiastic, participants. This case reveals that some of the canons of the abbey, like Thomas Serjaunt, John de Finglas, John Derpatrick and Henry FitzWilliam shared surnames with some of the most prominent citizens of Dublin city and county. Abbots like John Serjaunt, Stephen Tyrell and Henry Duff (the last abbot before the abbey was dissolved) shared their surnames with mayors of Dublin.[18] Despite their obvious difficulties, the fortunes of city and abbey were closely tied throughout the medieval period.



[1] Mervyn Archdall, Monasticum Hibernicum; or a History of the Abbies, Priories, and other Religious Houses in Ireland (Dublin, 1786), pp 47-8.
[2] CARD, vol. 1, p. 167.
[3] Calendar of Justiciary Rolls, 1305–7, p. 256.
[4] Henry F. Berry, 'Proceedings in the matter of the custom called tolboll, 1308 and 1385. St Thomas' Abbey v. some early Dublin brewers, &c.', R.I.A. Proc., 28 (1910), C, p. 169.
[5] TNA, SC 8/249/12448.
[6] TNA, C 260/103/55.
[7] COA, PH 15172, p. 299.
[8] Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers, vol. iv, 1362–1404, pp. 382, 441.
[9] Cal. Close Rolls, 1392–96, pp. 16-17
[10] RIA, 12 D 38, p. 107.
[11] Calendar of Justiciary Rolls, 1305–7, p. 255.
[12] Aubrey Gwynn, ‘The Early History of St. Thomas’ Abbey, Dublin’, The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Fifth Series, Vol. 84, No. 1 (1954), p 34.
[13] Mervyn Archdall, Monasticon Hibernicum (Dublin, 1876), p. 48.
[14] Rev. J. Graves, A Roll of the Proceedings of the King’s Council in Ireland 1392-93 (London, 1877), pp 35, 55-6, 116-7, 188-9.
[15] Paul Dryburgh and Brendan Smith. Handbook and Select Calendar of Sources for Medieval Ireland in the National Archives of the United Kingdom (Dublin 2005) p. 162; E 28/4/73.
[16] Mervyn Archdall, Monasticon Hibernicum (Dublin, 1876), p. 48.
[17] See, for example, RIA, 12 D 38, pp. 40, 43 (reverse), 44
[18] Aubrey Gwynn, ‘The Early History of St. Thomas’ Abbey, Dublin’, The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Fifth Series, Vol. 84, No. 1 (1954), p. 35.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Men behaving badly: Richard de Cantelup, sheriff of Kerry, and his followers

Sadly, Alan Rickman, who played the deliciously hammy sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, passed away today. I am fascinated by the activities of sheriffs and the plea rolls reveal that many of them were just as dastardly and wicked as Rickman's sheriff. I think that watching Rickman's portrayal of the sheriff played a large part in my fascination with his real-life counterparts and it seems fitting to write about one of them today: Richard de Cantelup, sheriff of Kerry.

Alan Rickman as the sheriff of Nottingham


Richard de Cantelup, served as sheriff of Kerry at the end of the thirteenth century. He and his family, were responsible for a remarkable litany of violent behaviour - behaviour they could obviously get away with because Richard was the most powerful man in the county. In 1295, for example, Richard’s brother Adam was charged with the murder of William FitzHugh in Limerick. At the time of the murder he was serving as Richard’s deputy, therefore he was sheriff in all but name (Calendar of Justiciary Rolls 1295-1303, p. 22, called William, son of Yue in the source). As sheriff's deputy Adam summoned juries and selected those who “pleased him”, i.e. who would do as they were told. Others were allowed off jury duty in return for a gift to the deputy. And by gifts I mean bribes. He selected 40 to 60 men to serve on juries in Dublin, since he only needed 12, the gifts he received from those who wished to avoid a trip to Dublin must have been pretty substantial. If he hated someone he would make sure they ended up on a jury, which goes to show that jury service was never popular. He also took “gifts” from felons, who were then taken into his protection. As well as that, he interfered in the duties of the office of coroner. Adam pleaded benefit of clergy and paid a fine of £33 6s 8d. Those “gifts” came in handy then. He had a long list of pledges, including several members of his own family and a lot of people who, I am guessing, managed to avoid jury duty. The passing of brown envelopes is not a recent development.

County Kerry, where Cantelup was sheriff, is located on the bottom left-hand side of map.


Another Richard de Cantelup, a king’s serjeant who was probably a close relative of Richard the sheriff, was also charged with being involved in the murder of William FitzHugh. It's likely the Richard the king's serjeant gained his office through his association with the sheriff – nepotism was alive and well in fourteenth century Ireland! Additional accusations against the serjeant included imprisoning people who he empanelled on Dublin juries, but who refused to give him gifts to avoid jury duty (he clearly wasn't as charming as Adam). He also had innocent people indicted for “his own and the Sheriff's profit”, it appears people were forced to pay fines to line his pockets, and that of the sheriff. The king's serjeant also forced the poor people of Kerry to maintain him, his wife and two sons for a week or more at a time. That must have helped him keep the household bills down! He was also accused of robbing the bishop of Emly. He broke into one of the bishop's chests and brought the contents back with him to Kerry. The most extraordinary crime levelled against Richard was the accusation that he fed a child, purportedly his son, to his pigs and then refusing to deliver the pigs to the coroner. One assumes this child wasn't one of the sons he was forcing the poor people of the county to give room and board to. Perhaps it was a stillborn or illegitimate child. He was accused of receiving (i.e. giving aid to) his son Patrick, who was a robber and (one assumes) an adult, so the son who was murdered was probably considerably younger than Patrick. Richard the king's serjeant also had close associations with felons and robbers who were Gaelic Irish in origin. Himself and Hosyn Ocobey, clearly an Irishman, murdered Richard de Hereford. The only punishment he received was a fine of 20 marks, and his list of pledges included at least one sheriff (Calendar of Justiciary Rolls 1295-1303, pp 23-4).

We could argue that the murder of William FitzHugh wasn't carried out by Richard the sheriff, but he was certainly behind it. The murdered man was just about to take legal proceedings against the sheriff at the time of his death. Coincidence? Probably not.

The sheriff was brought to court in Tralee on the 9 June 1295, to answer some of the accusations levelled against him, these are described in the published Calendar of Justiciary Rolls, 1295-1303, pp 25-6. Here's a slightly edited version of the case:
Map of Kerry, with Tralee marked in red

Pleas of Plaints before Thomas son of Maurice, Custos of Ireland, at Trayly [Tralee] on Thursday before feast of S. Barnabas, a.r. xxiii. (9 June 1295)

Richard de Cantelup was charged that when Adam de Cantelup, Patrick son of Robert de Cantelup, Henry son of Craddok, David son of Richard de Cantelup, Fonercath Ogenenan, Maurice Carnely, Thomas son of Maurice de Cantelup, Thomas son of Meyran de Cantelup, robbed John le Oysillour of chattels to the value of 21d., said Richard received them. And that he received Meyler Macgorgenych a felon for the death of Richard Sabin merchant of Cork. And after Thomas Obrochan (in the time when said Richard was sheriff) was taken for the death of Ralph de Cantelup, he caused the limbs (membra) of Thomas to be cut off.
And that he took the lands of John son of Henry son of Rys of Lysgennan, for lack of a syllable omitted from a writ. 
And when he asked Nicholas, bishop of Ardfert to confer the precentorship of that church on Tho,as de Cantelup, his brother, and the Bishop refused, the followers of Richard, then sheriff, by his direction slew certain faithful men, Irishmen. Afterwards when Richard was sheriff, the attorney of the escheator in Kerry falsely acquainted John Rys, attorney of the Escheator in Ireland, that said Bishop, when he obtained the temporalities of his bishopric, was not confirmed by the archbishop; and John commanded Richard to take the temporalities into the King's hand, which he did, with other goods of the Bishop, and disposed of them at his will, to the Bishop's damage of 40 marks.
When William de Fodeuile replevied a certain Irishman, his man, with his cattle, 33 cows, and within the day, he directed Thomas son of Daniel to slay the Irishman, which he did, so that the cattle should remain to said sheriff. 
And that his lands which has of purchase, he has by money of the King and money which he wrongfully obtained in the county by extortion, by which the county is impoverished. And by oppression, Thomas de Fremantel was constrained to sell his land of the Keyr to the Sheriff.

And when he took general inquisitions, he with his clerks was accustomed to disclose the indictments of felons. And when Alexander Stake lay for two years sick in bed, said Richard as sheriff caused him to be named in writs at Dublin, for which he was amerced in 20s. And when Maurice Stake found pledges to come to the sheriff to county court of Arcdart, the Sheriff, before the day assigned, came to Maurice, and Alexander Stake and Robert Stake who likewise found pledges, and took their goods to the value of 40s for which in fine he obliged Maurice to give him a horse value 4 marks, and Alexander and Robert a mark for pledge to come before the Justiciar. Also said sheriff took 10 cows as a gift from Gilbert Broun which he robbed from Alexander Stake. And he levied of William son of John son of Alexander, and of William son of John son of Robert, half a mark in which they were not bound to the King, for William son of John of Cloncalech, who owed that money to the King. 
And that Adam de Cantolup and Richard son of William de Cantolup, and Philip son of Elias le Clerk, by direction of the Sheriff murdered William son of Adam son of Yue, upon the bridge of Limerick, because he feared that William would implead him of his land of Balyronan. 
He comes and gives to the King £66 13s 4d that suit of peace may be pardoned to him and to Patrick son of Robert de Cantolup, Thomas son of Meyran de Cantelup, Elias and Thomas sons of Maurice de Canelup, of the aforesaid trespasses and all others in Ireland to 10 June, so that they answer in the King's court if any will to question them.

Pledges: Maurice son of Thomas, Andrew Broun, Gilbert Broun, Richard Lonechest, Reymond Stakepol, Ralph son of Richard, Hugh le Hore, John le Hore, Richard son of Alexander, Simon Stakepol, William Rudel, John Rudel, Maurice son of John, John de Carryg, William son of Thomas son of Elias, Richard Keer de Cantolup, Ralph de Cantolup, Andrew de Cantelup, Simon de Cantolup, and William de Cantolup.

The sheriff was accused of a litany of offences, including extortion, receiving thieves and robbers, most of who were members of his family or extended lineage. He also received an Irishman who killed a merchant from Cork, he appears to have had a lot of Irish followers as well, and there certainly wasn't a tendency to see his fellow Englishmen as friends and the Gaelic Irish as the enemy. Even if there was no love lost between the sheriff and some members of the English community in Kerry, the Cantelups themselves were clearly a close-knit bunch. as the court case demonstrates. The punishment meted out to Thomas Obrochan for murdering one of his kinsmen was particularly violent and gruesome. Cutting off limbs was not usually a normal part of a sheriff's duties. As evidenced by the court case, even churchmen were not safe from the sheriff’s proclivity towards violence. When Nicholas, the bishop of Ardfert, refused to confer the precentorship of Ardfert onto Richard’s brother Thomas de Cantelup, the sheriff directed his followers to kill some of the bishops faithful Irishmen. Richard also had an Irishman killed so he could keep his cattle. Richard was also accused of fiscal corruption as well as the violent acts outlined above.

Nickolas Grace, another excellent sheriff of Nottingham

When he was hauled into court to answer for his behaviour, he ended up having to pay the pretty hefty sum of £66 13s 4d for a pardon. His long list of pledges of good behaviour included many members of his own family, again emphasising the sense of solidarity experienced within a lineage. Clearly, judging by those who took part in his criminal activities and his pledges, Richard de Cantelup had a large group of followers, and this was usually true of the men who served as sheriffs in the late medieval period. Where evidence survives, it is possible to identify many members of the sheriff’s extended lineage included in his posse. The use of members of his own lineage in his posse would suggest that the line between the sheriff’s own personal affairs and official business of administering the county became blurred.




You might assume that Richard de Cantelup’s litany of violent behaviour prevented him from holding the office of sheriff of Kerry on future occasions, but this was not the case. In 1302, he again occupied this office (Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, 1302-1307, p. 28). The tolerance displayed towards his recalcitrant behaviour emphasises that the Crown could not be too selective, and in spite of his often abhorrent conduct he was clearly too valuable to be dispensed with. Sheriffs operating further away from the centre of power in places like Kerry and Limerick could arguably get away with more violent behaviour than his equivalent in Dublin or Meath. The justiciary rolls reveal that sheriffs at the periphery often behaved badly, though Richard de Cantelup’s behaviour appears to be exceptional. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

What happened to the bodies of executed felons in medieval Dublin (and where were they hanged)?

First of all, apologies for the gap between blog posts - I will try to do better in 2016!

The Irish plea rolls furnish us with many, many examples of executions, especially hangings, which appear to have been all too common in the late medieval period. What they do not tell us is where hangings took place and what happened to the body after death. Certainly, the bodies of those who had committed treason in England were put up on display after they were executed, and it is safe to assume that the same was true of Irish traitors. However these sort of executions were few in number and the executed were usually of high social status – for they had the most to gain and lose from committing acts of treason. We only have a handful of examples of execution for treason in Ireland. For example, in 1328 David O'Toole of Imaal, described as a “strong thief, the king's enemy, the burner of churches, the destroyer of the people”, was led from Dublin Castle to the Tholsel. There he was sentenced to be drawn through the city after a horse's tail to the gallows, there to be hanged, drawn and quartered. (Calendar of the Carew Manuscripts Preserved in the Archiepiscopal Library at Lambeth, 1515-74, vol. 5 (London, 1871) [Book of Howth], p. 150.

William de Marisco being drawn to the gallows (since I don't have a pic of David O'Toole)

David was a notorious character, but where were the ordinary felons of medieval Dublin executed and what happened to their bodies after they died? The sources usually go silent after the felon is hanged, but one court record may provide some clues as to the ultimate fate of the remains of the executed. Ironically, these clues come from a case where the felons survived their hanging. A plea roll entry from 5 July 1311 describes how two convicted felons: Robert Goderd and Richard Faber – who were from Sandwich and Liverpool respectively – survived their hangings. They, along with William Rede, Roger Gategod and Alexander Botsweyn had been charged with assisting Thomas White, a mariner, in the murder of Robert Thursteyn, a royal official. These men were sailors and all of them, apart from William Rede were found guilty. It is possible that William had friends among the jurors. The other men were hanged but Goderd and Faber, who were presumed dead when they were cut down from the gallows, revived in the cart taking them to Kilmainham for burial. They took shelter in a church there and were subsequently pardoned.

Here's the entry in full:

William le Rede, Gilbert de Whithavene, Robert Godard of Sandewiz, Richard son of Robert Faber of Lyverpol, Roger Getegod and Alexander Botsweyn, charged that they were freely with Thomas le White, mariner, who feloniously slew Robert Thurstayn, giving him forcible assistance in the slaying, and so caused the death of the said Robert, come and defend, etc. Andrew de Asshebourne, Walter Keppok, Robert le Woder, John le Mareschal, Richard de Eytoun, William le Graunt, Robert Joye, William Fynsur, John de Capeles, Hugh de Carletoun, John Baret, Geoffrey de Tauntoun and John Bouet, jurors, say that William le Rede is not guilty, but that Gilbert, Robert Godard, Richard, Roger and Alexander are guilty. Therefore William is quit. Let Gilbert and the others be hanged. Chattels, none; they have no free land. Afterwards Robert Godard and Richard were taken down as dead from the gallows, and when carried in a cart to Kilmeynan to be buried were found to be alive and took refuge in a church there, and at the instance of John de Ergadia [i.e. John of Argyll], who asserts that they had set out with him to pay homage to the King in Scotland, and testifies that they are valiant and good strong mariners, suit of the peace is pardoned to them. (Calendar of the Justiciary Rolls of Ireland: I to VII years of Edward II [1308-14], ed. H. Wood and A.E. Langmen, rev. M.C. Griffith (Dublin, 1956), p. 219.)

St Michan's Church, Dublin, where Adam Trop was taken after his execution.


There was another interesting case from 1363 where Adam Trop also survived his hanging. This also took place in Dublin. We don't have the court records for this case, but the citizens of Dublin city were fined 100s because it was suspected they had somehow given aid to Adam. We only know about the case because it is mentioned in a patent letter dated 16 November 1363, where is says the citizens were pardoned. When he was cut down from the gallows he was carried to St Michan's Church for burial. The next morning he woke up, broke out of the church, and made his way to Kildare. On this occasion the sheriff of Dublin followed him, brought him back and this time successfully hanged him. I suspect if Adam had stayed in the church instead of escaping he would have stood a better chance of being pardoned, since most people in this situation appear to have been able to secure pardons for themselves. 

Letter from published Calendar of Patent Rolls


Both of these cases offer us some clues as to where felons were hanged and buried in Dublin. Trop woke up in a church close to where he was hanged and Goderd and Faber appear to have been revived close to where they would have been buried. The county gallows was north of the river Liffey in the medieval and early modern periods – and it can be seen on the seventeenth century Down Survey map. 


Down Survey map, gallows at centre of map.

The exact location is unknown, but Hammonds Lane, close to St Michan's Church (where Trop was taken after his execution), was originally known as Hangman's Lane, so the gallows must have been in this vicinity. My guess would be that the original county gallows was located in the vicinity of Arbour Hill Prison. Gallows were often located on a hill and prisons were sometimes built on the same location where gallows had stood. Where Kilmainham Gaol was constructed was known as Gallows Hill in the seventeenth century and executions continued to be carried out just outside the prison after it was constructed, though the gallows was moved inside the prison when executions began to be carried out away from the public gaze during the course of the nineteenth century.

Hammond Lane is marked in red at the lower right-hand side of map, Arbour Hill is located at top left-hand side. Both locations are about 700 metres apart.


Trop was taken to St Michan's to be buried (and probably was when he was successfully executed a second time).  Robert Goderd and Richard Faber woke up in Kilmainham, not far from the county gallows, but on the other side of the river. The Knights Hospitallers held Kilmainham at this time and they may have been responsible for executing and burying felons sentenced in the royal courts. In Clerkenwell, London, the Hospitallers often took on these gruesome duties (for a fee) and buried the dead in Pardon cemetery, which was adjacent to their priory. The Hospitallers may have been doing something similar in Dublin. Bully's Acre, a cemetery that may have been in use for over a thousand years and is reputed to be the burial site of some of those who died at the Battle of Clontarf, was in close proximity to the Hospitaller's priory and Kilmainham church. If the Hospitallers were responsible for disposing of the dead, they may have used their own cemetery. Certainly, in the modern period Bully's Acre was a pauper's graveyard, and may have been in the medieval period too. In England, the executed were often buried in the same cemeteries as the poor and destitute – not surprisingly, considering they too were probably of low social status. We don't know where Goderd and Faber were executed, it might have been on the gallows on the north-side of the river, but if the Hospitallers were responsible for both execution and burial they may have used their own gallows, which was likely to have been located where Kilmainham Gaol now stands. While most executions probably took place on the Arbour Hill site, there is nothing to say that executions were carried out elsewhere. While some executions were carried out on purpose-made gallows, trees were still commonly used in the fourteenth century, for example felons in London were executed on the elm trees at Tyburn. 

Tyburn, London, in the early modern period the elm trees had been replaced by a purpose-built gallows

Place-name and cartographic evidence, together with local knowledge, give us some clues as to where felons died and were buried in Dublin in the late medieval period. Court documents can be frustratingly vague when it comes to these little details. We only know that Robert Goderd and Richard Faber were taken to Kilmainham because they happened to survive their executions, in the vast majority of cases the records simply tell us the felons were hanged. Though the evidence is slim, I consider Bully's Acre to be a strong contender as the place where those hanged in Dublin ended up. Fortunately for Goderd and Faber, they lived to tell the tale.