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.