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.