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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Who was Murcod Ballagh?


My interest in medieval crime and execution has led to many an interesting late night Google search. One person whose name kept popping up is that of an obscure chap called Murcod Ballagh. According to some websites he is the first known victim of Madame Guillotine. In spite of being intrigued by Murcod, I never bothered checking to see if there was any historical foundation to this claim.

The websites and books that record Murcod Ballagh's execution all use the same source: Holenshed's Chronicle. Many of you will be familiar with Holenshed, Shakespeare swiped the plots of lots of his plays from this chronicle. Richard Stanihurst, a sixteenth century poet and historian from Dublin, contributed to the chronicle and was responsible for the Irish material. What he has to say about Murcod isn't in itself that unusual. He tells us that Murcod was decapitated by David de Caunteton in 1307. It is the woodcuts that accompany the text that are really interesting. Poor Murcod is depicted being executed on an early prototype of a guillotine.

A few weeks ago I decided to go hunting for Murcod. I was writing an article on execution, and I decided to check and see if he turns up in the contemporary sources. In short, yes, he does! He is mentioned in the justiciary rolls in January 1308, when David de Caunteton received twelve marks, seven shillings and eight pence as a reward for killing him. De Caunteton did not act alone though, he was simply an accomplice of Edmund le Botiller. Here's the first part of the relevant entry that can be found in the published Justiciary Rolls 1308-14, p. 22:

Yet of Common Pleas at Dublin before John Wogan, Justiciar, year and day as above. [20 January 1308]
The custos of the liberty of Wexford was commanded that he levy twenty marks of the lands and chattels of the community of the liberty aforesaid in his bailiwick, and cause Edmund le Botiller or David de Cauntetoun his assignee to have them without delay, in part payment of the hundred marks which are due to Edmund from the liberty aforesaid and the liberty of Kilkenny, and also from the counties of Dublin, Carlow and Kildare, for the capture of Morghuth Ballagh McMorghuth, felon, whom Edmund killed, and that he should summon, etc., here on this day.

This plea roll reveals that Murcod was one of the MacMurroughs (yes, trust me, McMorghuth is MacMurrough), descendants of Diarmait MacMurrough, king of Leinster, who played such a key part in the English invasion of Ireland. The MacMurroughs had gone a bit quiet in the thirteenth century, but were beginning to assert themselves again. Murcod must have been a major troublemaker if the administration expected the communities of not only Wexford and Kilkenny, where the MacMurroughs were based, but also Dublin, Carlow and Kildare, to reward le Botiller (Butler) and de Caunteton. Obviously, the MacMurroughs were attacking areas further away from their own locality if Dubliners were expected to cough up for his killing.

The editors of the justiciary rolls assume that Edmund le Botiller is the same person who served as justiciar of Ireland (see Calendar Justiciary Rolls, 1308-14, p. 335), but (in my opinion) it is much more likely that he is the rector of Tullow mentioned in Clyn's Annals of Ireland (p. 176). In 1323, Edmund, with the help of the Cauntetons, killed Philip Taloun, his son and about twenty six of the Uí Chodlatáin, and burnt down the church at Taghmolyn, in county Carlow, with men, women and children still inside. Oh dear.

Murcod is also mentioned in the annals of Thady Dowling, where he is described as being 'princips Lagenie', that is, prince of Leinster, which is further confirmation that he was one of the MacMurroughs. It is possible that Murcod came from Ballagh, a place that still survives as a townland, located in Adamstown parish, county Wexford. (Only a couple of miles from where my Mother was born, incidentally.) However, it's far more likely that his name references a physical attribute. The Gaelic Irish were big into descriptive names (and it was a habit adopted by some of the English colonists too). Ballagh possibly means freckled or speckled, and as someone who was called freckle-face as a child I can totally relate. Additionally, Colmán Ó Clabaigh has speculated that it might mean stammerer. (Thanks to Seán Duffy and Adrian Martyn for these suggestions, which are much more likely than my placename theory!).

How Murcod was probably killed (no guillotine, sorry!)

When Murcod Ballagh was killed in 1307, he was described as a felon. The Anglo-Irish annals reveal that David de Caunteton decapitated him. Since he was an outlaw, his captors had the right to execute him once they apprehended him, without going through any other legal process. Outlaws taken into custody could be beheaded. In fact, one of the reasons why beheading was a component of William Wallace's execution was because he was an outlaw at the time of his arrest. And Edward I hated him, that's important too.

William Wallace, not Edward I's favourite person.
Two years after Murcod's execution (I'm not entirely convinced it was an execution, but we'll call it that for now, while I figure it out), one of his killers, David de Caunteton, suffered the same fate. An examination of the justiciary rolls illustrates de Caunteton's journey from loyal Englishman to English rebel, and, eventually, the gallows. In January 1308, he received twelve marks, seven shillings and eight pence as a reward for his part in Murcod's death. (Calendar Justiciary Rolls, 1308-14, p. 22). Court records from April and July 1308, however, reveal that he was heavily in debt and his goods and property were taken into the king's hands. (Calendar Justiciary Rolls, 1308-14, pp 61, 106-7). This may have served as the catalyst that forced him into rebellion. Another court record reveals that Maurice de Caunteton, David's brother, and his accomplices, both English and Irish, had “openly put themselves at war against the King's standard,” and David was accused of receiving, that is giving aid, to his brother. (Calendar Justiciary Rolls, 1308-14, pp 146, 159) The justiciar, John Wogan, led an expedition against Maurice and his accomplices, and he was eventually hunted down and killed. David was captured and hanged on 13 November 1309 and this is recorded in the Chartularies of St. Mary's Abbey:

Item, die Sancti Bricii, Episcopi, David de Caunteton suspensus est, de quo dolendum est.
Item, on the feast of St Bricii, bishop, David de Caunteton is hanged, which is to be regretted.

Ironically, Murcod Ballagh's relatives took advantage of this situation. Muiris MacMurrough, Murcod's father, was employed by the crown from 1310 onwards to guard the marches of Wexford. The pictorial depictions of Murcod Ballagh's “execution” are intriguing, but only prove that guillotine-like devices existed in the sixteenth century and, regrettably, they do not reveal anything about fourteenth century executions. An early prototype of the guillotine was used in Halifax, Yorkshire in the sixteenth century, and may date back to an earlier period, though there is no definitive evidence for this. Felons in Halifax were usually beheaded rather than hanged from at least the thirteenth century onwards. (J.C. Holt, Colonial England, 1066-1215 (London, 1997), pp 19-23). 

Halifax Gibbet
Not medieval, but I get a kick out of this. Regent Morton, who was passing through Halifax on his way to Scotland was impressed with the guillotine and introduced it to Edinburgh, where it was known as the maiden and where he was eventually executed on it himself. As was the Earl of Argyll in 1685. He described it as the “sweetest maiden he had ever kissed.” Weirdo.

Scottish Maiden

Any questions or comment? Comment below, pester me at @AineMedievalDub or email me at

Monday, May 18, 2015

Henry Tyrel's Outlaw Gang

In this blog post I will be looking at Henry Tyrel's followers. I spoke about Henry in two of my previous posts and as you now know he caused murder and mayhem across south-west county Dublin and north county Kildare in the early fourteenth-century. He could not have done it alone though, he would have found it very hard to cause this murder and mayhem without his outlaw gang. We're all familiar with outlaw gangs, Robin Hood had his Little John and Will Scarlett (though no Maid Marian until mid sixteenth century, see A.J. Pollard, Imagining Robin Hood (London, 2004), pp 14-15), they are as intrinsic to the outlaw tales as Robin, or the evil sheriff of Nottingham.

Robin (of Sherwood) poses sexily in front of his merry men, who don't look very merry really.

In the previous post I mentioned how outlaws like Henry were often of the gentry class – members of their gang, however, could come from all levels of society. Some, like Henry, came from well-to-do families, others were much more humble in origin, like Adam, whose surname does not survive because of the fragmented nature of the source:

Pleas of the crown and gaol-delivery, at Dublin, before John Wogan, Justiciar, on Tuesday the morrow of St. Lucia the Virgin, anno regni 34 Edward I. [14 December 1305]  
[Henry Tyrel] charged that he is a common robber and thief of oxen and afers and that he waylays (foristallat) faithful men passing [between] Lyouns and Ughtrard and exhorts from them money and other their goods under pretence of a courtesy; [and he entered] the house of Arnald de Penrys, and wastes his goods against the will of Arnald . . . . . . uses [her as] his own wife, and brings her to and fro with him at his will. And Adam son of . . . .rche charged with associating with Henry. They come and defend all robbery, etc., and put themselves on the country. 
Reginald Berneual, Robert de Caunteton, Walter . . . . as above, say that they are guilty. Therefore Adam is hanged. (Justiciary Rolls, 1305-1307, p. 477)

Like Adam, the vast majority of criminals executed in Dublin recorded in the court records were executed by hanging. I suspect Adam was Henry's squire, possibly someone of peasant stock who grew up in the same locality as his master, though the lack of evidence makes it impossible to establish that with any certainty.

Poor Adam (like the unfortunate Enguerrand de Marigny, banker, pictured above) was hanged. 

Unlike Henry Tyrel and the unlucky Adam, the rest of the outlaw's followers tried that day appear to have avoided the hangman's noose. Thomas le Norreys was charged with robbery and being in Henry’s company but the jury decided that he had been taken by force and he was therefore acquitted.

Thomas le Norreys charged that he was in the company of said Henry and had part of one afer . . . . he robbed from Rosyna daughter of Dermot the Smith, comes and denies all robbery, etc., and puts himself on the country. The Jurors say he is not guilty, but that he was in the company of Henry for one . . . . taken by force, and had his part thereof. but is not suspected. etc. Therefore of grace, etc., he is delivered quit, etc. (Justiciary Rolls, 1305-1307, p. 477)
Errol Flynn, looking merry, not sure his mates get the joke though.

Was he with Henry under duress? Well, that is unlikely, and it is probable that he escaped harsher punishment because he was personally acquainted with the jurors, who naturally would be very reluctant to condemn him to the hangman’s noose. Certainly, in England many judicial cases led to acquittals because the jurors were hesitant to condemn a friend or neighbour to death.
Richard, son of Richard le Schepherd, was also accused of being in the company of Henry Tyrel.

Ricard son of Ricard le Schepherd, charged that he is of the company of Henry Tyrel a notorious robber, and that he is a common thief of oxen and afers, and that he exhorts money from faithful people of the parts of Ughtrard and the parts adjacent, under pretence of requiring a courtesy, etc. He comes and defends all robbery etc., and puts himself on the country. And Walter Fox, John le Mareschal, Simon le Joefne, Roger Schallingford, Hugo de la Felde, . . . Blund de Tauelagh, John Oweyn, Martin Lange, Reginald le Clerk, Peter son of Thomas, Geoffrey . . . . and Ricard de Cruys, jurors, say that Ricard was in the company of Henry for taking certain small courtesies, as beer and the like, but not for any burglary or gross robbery. . . . Afterwards Ricard made fine by 10 marks by pledge of Maurice Tyrel, William . . . . . de Athgo, John Godman, Reginald Hyne and John de la Sale. (Justiciary Rolls, 1305-1307, p. 476.)

Though the jurors agreed that he was an associate of Tyrel’s they did not feel that he had taken part in some of the most serious offences. Therefore his life was spared; instead he had to pay a fine of 10 marks (a very substantial sum at the time). One of his pledges had the surname ‘de Athgo,’ which would suggest that he came from Athgo in Newcastle Lyons. Athgo is a hilly area, and it's likely that pastoral (i.e. raising animals) rather than arable (i.e. growing crops) was carried out here, so Richard le Schepherd, or one of his ancestors, could literally have been a shepherd – occupational surnames were all the rage back then. Maurice Tyrel, who was probably Henry's brother, was another pledge, thus Richard may have also been associated with other members of the family.

Richard le Schepherd may have been a shepherd, they didn't think too hard about surnames back then!

David de Naungle was possibly another follower of Henry's, he's mentioned in the court case involving the Irishwoman Mcnabyth (who was mentioned in my previous post). Richard de Bother was pardoned his murder, because David was a felon at the time it took place. (Justiciary Rolls, 1305-1307, 500). That was one of the dangers of being an outlaw, if someone killed you they would literally get away with murder!

The Robin Hood from Doctor Who is very cute! Give him his own series!

Several other men were declared outlaws in their absence at the time Henry was sentenced to death. Even though Gerald Tyrel was a very prominant and powerful individual in the locality, Thomas Tyrel was described first as Henry’s brother and then as Gerald’s son. This would imply that, at least to those in the locality, Henry was more well known, and certainly more notorious, than his father. Gerald may be more prominent in the records that survive, but Henry’s crimes appear to have left more of an impression on his contemporaries. This gives us some idea of how the selective survival of sources can shape our preceptions of the past.

Thomas Tyrel’s criminal career was even more spectacular (um, is that the right word? I probably mean worse!) than that of his brother. Not content with stealing cattle and other men’s wives he would be responsible for murdering some of the most important individuals in the colony. He was an accomplice in the murder of John de Bonevill, sometime seneschal of Kildare and Carlow. He was murdered by Arnald le Poer. Gerald, Thomas's father, served as seneschal of Ralph Pipard’s lands in Ireland, including the manors of Oughterard and Castlewarden in county Kildare. Shortly after Pipard relinquished them to the crown, they were granted to Arnold le Poer’s father Eustace. It is possible that Gerald continued to act as seneschal after the le Poers acquired the manors and it is likely that Thomas and Arnold become associates at this point. As well as his involvement in de Bonevill's death, Thomas Tyrel was also accused of murdering the king’s serjeant Robert de Someter and even in a society that was more often than not willing to overlook the crimes and misdemeanours of the gentry undoubtedly the killing of royal officials could not go unnoticed, or unpunished.

The axe was often the murder weapon of choice in medieval Ireland.

Certainly violence against officials was not unknown; John de Bonevill himself verbally attacked and physically threatened Robert Braynok who served as a serjeant of the king at Naas:

Robert Breynok for the King and for himself v. John de Boneuill. It is found by the same jury [as previous entry, but they are not named] that John did not inhibit his tenants to answer Robert, a serjeant of the King, but that Robert by precept of the Sheriff went to John and demanded from him pledges to acquit the Sheriff in the Exchequer of certain debts directed to be levied from John. John answered him: You ribald, you are my enemy. I will not find pledges for you, but I inhibit you to do any office in my land under penalty of life and limbs. But do you immediately find pledges to me to answer in my court. Robert, who is tenant of John, found pledges to him. Then John's wrath being somewhat soothed, he said to Robert, that he would not find pledges to him, but if he would bring him any serjeant of the King who was not under Robert, he would find to him the pledges which Robert demanded from him. On which Robert brought one of his subserjeants alleging that he was not one of his men. And to that serjeant John forthwith found pledges which Robert before demanded from him. Therefore it is adjudged [entry unfinished]. (Justiciary Rolls, 1305-1307, p. 128.)

This entry in the justiciary rolls reveals much about de Bonevill’s character, he appears to have suffered from anger issues, and his arrogance and temper more likely to win enemies than friends. Undoubtedly some officials abused their power which would naturally have led to resentment among locals. Whether the locals had some sympathy for the outlaws or just a sense of fear is unrecorded, however, some must have rejoiced at the premature demise of a seneschal and a serjeant; these officials were surely seen as instruments of unwelcome royal oppression. Certainly in outlaw legends like Robin Hood the officials are portrayed as the villains, and it is likely that where some individuals were concerned that this view reflected contemporary opinion.

Thomas Tyrel, like Henry, was also described as a common robber in the sources and apart from the de Bonevill incident it is likely that he committed most of his crimes in counties Kildare and Dublin. The justiciary roll entry of Thomas’s trial states that he was so feared ‘no one dared to come to the parts of Dublin to bring victuals there.’ Thomas was brought to trial in 1311, six years after his brother’s execution. If he and his gang were active for all this time one can only imagine the extent of control they had over the communities of both these counties. Here's the entry:

Pleas of the Crown and Delivery of Gaol at Dublin before John Wogan, Justiciar, Monday after SS. Peter and Paul, a.r. 4 
5 July 1311 
Thomas Tyrel, charged that he was at the slaying of John de Bonevill, King's seneschal of the liberties of Kildare and Carlow, and that he slew Robert le Someter, a King's serjeant, and that he is a common robber, as well in Co. Dublin as in Co. Kildare, so that no one dared to come to the parts of Dublin to bring victuals there, being asked how he would acquit himself, comes and says he is a clerk and that he neither ought nor can answer therefor here without his ordinaries. And because he is not found in clerical garb he is told to answer further if he will, but he refused to answer anything therefor. And because he refused the common law, therefore to the diet. And the constable of the castle of Dublin is directed to guard him in fitting manner under pain, etc. (Justiciary Rolls, 1308-1314, p. 217.)

Thomas refused to answer the charges laid against him claiming the benefit of clergy. There are many examples of accused men claiming to be clerks in the justiciary rolls and certainly in England it was a legal loop hole much used and abused. Individuals claimed to be clergymen because they knew if they could prove this that their case would be moved to an ecclesiastical court where they would receive a much lighter punishment. It is not clear if Thomas was a clerk or not, but it certainly was plausible. One of the Folville brothers was in religious orders but he also happened to be one of the most violent members of the gang and was eventually murdered outside his own church. In Thomas Tyrel’s case the jurors seemed unconvinced by his claims as he was not found in clerical garb. However because he continued to refuse to answer the accusations laid against him he was subsequently put on the diet. The constable of Dublin castle was ordered to guard him and, it is presumed, make sure he did not receive food or water. It does not record if the case was moved to an ecclesiastical court or whether Thomas met the same end as Henry. If he did succeed in convincing the court of his clerical status than it is likely that he avoided his brother’s fate.

Two of Thomas’s accomplices stood trial on the same day as their leader. One of them, Richard de Mora, was a chaplain, which may lend some credence to Thomas’s claims of being a clergyman too. A jury cleared Richard of robbing a horse but found him guilty of breaking into a church at Aderrig, which is a small parish to the west of Esker and Lucan, and stealing goods from a chest belonging to a Robert Fedan. The jury also declared he was responsible for stealing Hugh de le Felde’s oxen and burning down Jordan le Mouner’s house, but the only punishment he received was a fine of 40 shillings. Adam Squer was the other individual accused of being a follower of Tyrel’s, unfortunately the justiciary roll entry does not give any indication of the crimes he committed and he was sentenced to death. The entry informs us that he had neither chattels nor free land.

It's very difficult to find pictures of the merry men where they actually look merry...

Henry, and possibly Thomas, Tyrel were executed for their criminal behaviour, in spite of their relatively high social status and influential connections. The fate of their followers was a bit more mixed. Adam, who was executed with Henry, was probably his squire and of humble origins. Adam Squer, would appear to have been Thomas's squire, and the source confirms he had no property, so they may have died because they couldn't buy themselves a pardon. The other men involved appeared to have been a bit more affluent and were able to pay fines. Richard de Mora may have escaped execution because he was a clergyman but one has to wonder if Adam Squer could have avoided his fate for the sake of 40 shillings.

Thanks for reading – if you have any questions, observations or corrections email me at or comment below! 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Henry Tyrel, outlaw

In this blog post, as promised, I will be talking about Henry Tyrel, an outlaw whose execution I mentioned in my previous post. I also mentioned Henry in my very first post, and I expect I'll be mentioning him in future posts. I'm very fond of Henry. He appeared in an article I wrote on violence and crime in fourteenth-century Ireland, which was published in Medieval Dublin X (ed. Seán Duffy): I also dealt with him in my book (see previous post for image of book and link, I won't be shameless enough to post it again!) ;-)

Lots of comparisons can be made between outlaws that lived in late medieval Ireland, and their counterparts in England. The early fourteenth century in England was a period when outlaw gangs, whose exploits were somewhat similar to those that were committed by the legendary Robin Hood and his gang, reigned supreme. Outlaws like the Coterels of Derbyshire and the Folvilles of Leicestershire have received much attention from English social historians. Surprisingly, the criminal gangs that existed in Ireland in this same period have received less attention in spite of the fact that their exploits are recorded in the plea rolls. There are plenty of them to look at, and I will do so in future blogs.

In my head, this is what Henry Tyrel looks like! :)

Who was Henry Tyrel? Henry was a member of the burgeoning gentry class. His father was Gerald Tyrel, a knight who held the manor of Lyons in north county Kildare. Gerald was a close associate of two important men: John Fitz Thomas, lord of Offaly and future first earl of Kildare, and Ralph Pipard, who as well as owning extensive lands in county Louth and Monaghan also owned the manors of Leixlip, Oughterard and Castlewarden in county Kildare. These manors had originally been granted to Adam de Hereford by Strongbow just after the invasion and came into the Pipard family’s possession when Adam’s daughter Auda married William Pipard. Although he was a major landholder in Ireland, by the beginning of the fourteenth century Ralph Pipard was spending all of his time in England and Gerald Tyrel served as seneschal of his lands in Ireland. Eventually, Ralph relinquished his Irish lands to the crown and they quickly passed into the hands of Eustace le Poer, and Gerald may have served as his seneschal too. Gerald liked to use the courts on a frequent basis, and will probably be the subject of a future post.

Henry had at least two brothers: Roger and Thomas. It is also likely that Maurice Tyrel, who served as seneschal of the royal demesne (i.e. he was the main administrator of the king's manors located in south-west Dublin) in 1314, was another brother. Sometime before 1309 Gerald had granted lands in Saggart and Newcastle Lyons to Maurice, which would suggest some sort of close kinship. It appears that Maurice avoided a life of crime by becoming a royal administrator. Roger, probably the eldest son, also avoided the life of an outlaw by inheriting his father's lands. He does appears in the court records briefly in 1302 (Calendar of the Justiciary Rolls, 1295-1303, p. 449), when he was involved in a trespass with Richard Tyrel of Castleknock, but generally appears to have avoided his brothers' criminal lifestyle.

Map of south county Dublin, including royal manors of Newcastle, Saggart, Esker and Crumlin

Did real-life outlaws like Henry in any way resemble their literary counterparts like Robin Hood? In a superficial sense they probably did, and it is likely that these tales were based on the exploits of real outlaws. Certainly, the outlaws depicted in medieval tales could behave just as violently as their real-life counterparts. The difference was that these outlaws probably didn't share Robin Hood's socialist sensibilities. They probably stole from the rich, but that was because they had something worth stealing, it's highly unlikely that there was any redistribution of wealth. Most leaders of outlaw gangs, like our Henry, would have been members of the gentry class. Barbara Hanawalt uses the phrase “fur-collar crime”, a perfect description of the medieval equivalent of white collar crime. Why did these young men, of high social status, turn to a life of crime? Simply put, many participated in criminal activities in order to maintain their social status. It was usual for the eldest son (or at least just one individual son) to inherit his father's property, the eldest brother of the Folville gang in England, for example, inherited from his father, thus becoming a country gentleman while the rest of his brothers became criminals. This meant that, unless their father made other provisions, there was little left for the other sons to inherit. Additionally, many of these men would have had previous military service. It is possible that, as a knight’s son, Henry had served in the king’s overseas campaigns. Gerald had certainly served in royal military expeditions, and his sons may have accompanied him. After serving in the army, the men who returned home must have found it hard to settle back into a civilian life, especially considering that killing, looting and other criminal behaviour was intrinsic to the life of a soldier. Henry (and his brother Thomas) may also have been behaving violently as a way of enforcing their father's authority or settle his disputes, or they may have been working for a more powerful lord. Although they had access to courts, members of the ruling class felt that they had the right to resolve disputes by more direct, and often violent, means.

Of course, Henry may have simply become an outlaw because he was attracted to that lifestyle. The dissemination of outlaw tales may have offered the lifestyle a sort of glamour. Could outlaws have possibly been the fourteenth-century equivalents of rock stars?

Eagles: rock stars who wanted to be outlaws (admittedly not medieval ones)

Henry embarked on a life of crime he did not move beyond his own locality. An examination of the justiciary rolls reveal that most of his crimes were committed between Lyons and Oughterard:

Pleas of the crown and gaol-delivery, at Dublin, before John Wogan, Justiciar, on Tuesday the morrow of St. Lucia the Virgin, anno regni 34 Edward I. [14 December 1305] 
[Henry Tyrel] charged that he is a common robber and thief of oxen and afers and that he waylays (foristallat) faithful men passing [between] Lyouns and Ughtrard and exhorts from them money and other their goods under pretence of a courtesy... (Calendar of the Justiciary Rolls of Ireland, 1305-1307, p. 477 – for whole entry see previous blog post).

John Bellamy has noted that most criminal gangs in England operated in the locality where their leader either originated from or held lands. Obviously they were more comfortable in their own locality because they understood the lay of the land. The location of Lyons manor was also important strategically, it was located in north Kildare, close to the border with county Dublin. This meant that when Tyrel and his gang of outlaws committed crimes in Dublin, they could quickly escape back over the border to Kildare. The sheriff of one county did not have jurisdiction in another, and could not, or would not, pursue a criminal over the county line. Criminals were escaping justice and this motivated the passing of a statute in 1351 that ordered sheriffs and other county officers to pursue felons into other counties and apprehend them. The statute also ordered the sheriff of the county into which the felon escaped was to provide aid in his capture. This reflects trends in England, where criminal gangs had a tendency to establish themselves in areas where two or more counties met, and escaping into one county after committing crimes in another. Coincidentally, American outlaws of the Depression-era behaved in an almost identical fashion. Criminals, like the infamous Bonnie and Clyde, committed some of their crimes near county lines, and escaped over the border to avoid arrest. A practice that proved successful until different jurisdictions coordinated their efforts to apprehend them.

Bonnie and Clyde

Parallels can also be made between the Irish colony in the early fourteenth-century and Depression-era America. The United States plunged into an economic recession in the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash in 1929, and this was further exacerbated by the severe droughts of the 1930s that turned the agricultural heartland into a dust bowl. Centuries earlier, Edward I's military expeditions and the construction of his Welsh castles were partly funded by Irish revenues. The frequent taxes levied on his Irish subjects financially crippled the colony and helped contribute to the lawless conditions here. The situation was made worse by the Bruce Invasion, which began in 1315, and the Great Famine that coincided with it. In both cases a combination of economic recklessness and natural disasters (and in Ireland's case, trouble-making Scots) helped breed a situation where lawless behaviour thrived.

The similarities do not end there. Much like Clyde Barrow, Henry Tyrel had his own Bonnie Parker. A court roll entry says:

[and he entered] the house of Arnald de Penrys, and wastes his goods against the will of Arnald . . . . . . uses [her as] his own wife, and brings her to and fro with him at his will. (Calendar of the Justiciary Rolls of Ireland, 1305-1307, p. 477)
BL Egerton MS 881, f. 141v K061043

This entry is pretty fragmented, but it appears that Tyrel was committing adultery with Arnald de Penrys' wife, who is not named in the justiciary roll entry, and bringing her with him on his travels. Her feelings on the matter were not recorded, but because she was travelling around with Henry and he was not charged with abducting her, she may in fact have been his willing companion. It is possible that de Penrys’ wife was an Irishwoman. A very fragmented entry in the justiciary rolls for 1306 describes a concubine named Mcnabyth associated with an outlaw called Henry.

Ric. de Bother, charged with the death of David de Naungle, [comes and defends], and puts himself on the country . . . . Naungle, a felon, was slain, but not by Ricard. And John . . . . Will. Seys, Stephen son of Gilbert, Thomas Seys, John son of Ricard, Thomas . . . . the white of Tauelauth, Henry son of Ricard of Balymargy, Will. . . . . . . of Tassagard, Ric. Daniel, John Colynm jurors, say that [David was] a felon, of the company of the Ototheles, notorious felons, who lived with Henry . . . . . a concubine, one Mcnabyth, who is with said Irish felons. And . . . . continually with Henry, knowingly. And Ricard slew him . . . .but would have rather taken him alive if he could. And Ricard, after he slew David, took from him . . . . . And because the Jurors testify that David was a common thief, and that the slaying of him . . . . by grace let him go quit. (Calendar of the Justiciary Rolls of Ireland, 1305-1307, p. 500).

I have highlighted the relevant bit of this entry. Mcnabyth appears to have been either the concubine of Henry or one of his followers, David de Naungle. Though Henry's surname isn't given, this is undoubtedly Tyrel, all the jurors (who can be identified) come from the same locality as Tyrel (as was usual in this period) and this case comes soon after Henry's trial and execution, so chronologically it fits too. James Mills, the editor of the justiciary rolls, was also of the opinion that this may have been Henry Tyrel and he records this in the index. She was also an associate of the O’Tooles and if this is the case Arnald, an Englishman, was married into one of the most notorious Gaelic families in the locality. Mcnabyth may have found life with Arnald dull, and chose to accompany Henry on his adventures, terrorizing the surrounding countryside.

From the Codex Manesse

I was going to deal with Henry's followers (including his brother Thomas) in this post, but it has grown longer than expected, so I will deal with them in my next post. Thanks for reading. :) x  

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