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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Who was Murcod Ballagh?

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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]
Dublin 
Wexford
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 aine@irishplearolls.net