Dear proof-readers, please be kind.
My modus-operandi is to do my ‘Dorset research’ in the Patent, Close, Fine, Memoranda, Charter Rolls, etc. The many and various Inquisitions, Cartularies, Chronicles, etc. Then I try to make some sense of what I’ve found and then read real Historians such as Rodgers’ The Safeguard of the sea, in order to see ‘the bigger picture’, as written by people who know what they’re doing.
When RollyShed mentioned ‘Safeguard’, I thought, that’s something I need to read, but my money’s needed for other things at the moment – damn. I then noticed that I had a PM and thought, who the hell would want to speak to me – unless it was to tell me to shut up. I clicked on the PM and, thank you, thank you so much, RollyShed – and then felt like a complete and utter numpty.
From half the world away, RollyShed let me know that ‘Safeguard’ is available at my local Library.
I curled up in a corner and wept with shame – SEE, I can do understated! Although I maybe should have, I didn’t but went to my Library and ordered it. As it was in the Bath Library they said it would take about a week to get here, and it did.
RollySheds ‘wider picture’ allows me to understand records such as this one from the Close Rolls.
June 4th 1336;
To the constable of Corf castle.
Order, upon sight of these presents, to cause that castle to be securely guarded, and to show such diligence in the custody thereof that no harm shall happen thereto by any crafty deceit, hostile attacks or otherwise, but that the people of the adjacent parts and the same parts may be strengthened and defended by the good custody of the castle. By K.
First of all – these presents – seems to be medieval for ‘see attachment’. Sadly that no longer exists, but the order certainly suggests that Purbeck was at least under threat, if not being attacked. I suppose that I should admit that that order also went to eleven other castles, so it wasn’t just Purbeck – but hey!
The fact that it’s dated 1336, at first, seemed a bit odd, and showing my own ignorance, Edward III was doing his best to kick the Haggis out of the Scots, but how could that effect us on the south coast?
With af posting his great info and reading things such as RollySheds ‘Safeguard’, and other historians such as Alban, I can try to piece some things together. Please remember, I’m not a historian, so this is a story, and not a history.
In 1335, after four years of some pretty shady dealing, Edward III began his ‘great offensive’ up in Scotland, and as the French and the Scots had their ‘auld alliance’, in 1336, France sent ships to help the Scots by raiding along the south coast - the two front war - but records of their effect seem to be missing. Rodgers says that they took ‘prizes’ off the Suffolk coast and near to the Isle of Wight.
Suddenly that June 4th 1336 - To the constable of Corf castle - record, began to make some sense. However, was it a ‘warning of’, or a ‘reaction to’.
When I re-read it … by any crafty deceit, hostile attacks or otherwise, but that the people of the adjacent parts and the same parts may be strengthened and defended by the good custody of the castle.
… crafty deceit … is a phrase that hardly ever appears in such records, and it makes me wonder if something ‘crafty’ had happened, making it a reaction. But, presumably, they knew that the French were sailing up and down La Manche
, so it could also be a warning, or perhaps it’s both.
What it certainly does do is to show that castles were becoming less important. Traditionally, if you took someones castle then you controlled the surrounding area, but up in the north, the Scots were confusing us with their guerilla warfare, and down south, the French were confusing us with their hit and run tactics. Rodgers explains this as a new tactic, that of avoiding all out battle, but weakening the enemy.
I should note here that Englands export of wool to Flanders was a very profitable area for the king, so this had a financial aspect as well as one of morale.
Early in 1337 Edward III said that he was the King of France and so, on 30 April ‘37, the real King of France declared war, and it’s possible that the French and their allies raided the Isle of Wight, but again, the records are skant.
John Richard Alban says … In March 1338, a fleet of French and Norman galleys descended upon the ill-defended English town of Portsmouth and ‘severely burned it’. Later, in October of that year, an even more serious attack was made upon Southampton, and by the end of the year, a host of towns along the south coast among them Plymouth, Swanage - yeeha! - Portsea, and Eastdean, had suffered some damage through enemy action. Moreover, the Isle of Wight had been ravaged and the Channel Islands lost to the French and their allies …
Also in March, keepers ‘of the coast’, or ‘of the maritime lands’, were appointed to organise our defence, and counties were [may have been?] grouped together in order to provide ‘troops’ etc, eg. Southampton, Berkshire and Wiltshire were one group, Dorset and Somerset were, supposedly, another. The ‘keepers’ were allowed to order locals to do their bidding.
Also in 1338, the Prior of Wareham was ordered to move to ... manors nearer the sea, for the defence of the coast in view of a threatened attack. Beacons were held ready and keepers of the coast appointed.
And then came The battle of Arnemuiden, Rodgers says – in 1338 the French naval campaign was resumed. On 24 March the French galleys burned Portsmouth, and moved on to raid Jersey. Meanwhile no fewer than 20 Genoese galleys under Ayton Doria were on their passage north to reinforce the French campaign, later followed by a further 17 Grimaldi galleys from Monaco. In the Bay of Biscay a Castilian galley squadron based on La Rochelle took two ships out of an English convoy off the Gironde on 23 August. In September the Genoese took Guernsey. They arrived in the Channel too late to stop Edward III crossing to Flanders. But his lines of communication were cut cut behind him and he himself remained in Flanders until February 1340. Five English ships, including the king’s own biggest ships the Cog Edward
and the Christopher
, were taken in Arnemuiden harbour.
About Arnemuiden, Froissart says; Thus conquering did these said mariners of the king of France in this winter take great pillage, and especially they conquered the handsome great nef called the Christophe, all charged with the goods and wool that the English were sending to Flanders, which nef had cost the English king much to build: but its crew were lost to these Normans, and were put to death.
Alban. In July 1338 ... overseers of commissioners of array were appointed with control of large groups, each comprising several counties … bearing instructions 'to array the men of the counties for the defence of the realm against the French' … in [Nov] 1338, John de Grandison, bishop of Exeter, and Hugh de Courteney were appointed to guard the coast of Devon and to array the men of the county for its defence … The severe depredations wrought by the enemy in Hampshire in 1338 were ascribed chiefly to the negligence of the keepers of the maritime lands in that county, who, knowing that the attack was to be made, not only neglected to provide for the defence of the parts threatened, but basely fled with the men of the said town [Southampton] on sight of the enemy and
[allowed those meant to be guarding the coast] to go home
. An inquiry was ordered and the guilty were imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Rodgers says … on 5 October the Franco-Genoese galleys captured and burnt Southampton, by far the most important English seaport to have been attacked in living memory.
Paraphrasing Rodgers, he goes on to say that in October ‘38 Edward III warned us that the enemy would soon be back “Intending to proceed from port to port and place to place along the coast in order to burn ships wherever they are found and to attack and occupy ports and towns on the sea or up its rivers perpetrating every evil that man can work.”
There was also a … writ in November 1338 regarding the ringing of church bells to warn of the approach of enemies ... the year of 1338 witnessed a defensive crisis. And that ... By the end of the year many coastal areas were devastated and England was in a state of panic.
Rodgers continues … In March ‘39 the French fleet, led by Carlo Grimaldi, consisted of 17 galleys, about 35 Norman barges, and the Christopher
, were joined by another 5 galleys. About 8,000 soldiers were aboard, by medieval standards a large army. They attacked Jersey, but were repulsed, but did take Guernsey. Ayton Doria took another fleet northwards and attacked Harwich, but were driven off. They continued north and in July, Sir William Douglas and the French privateer Hugh Hautpol closed the Tay and starved the English garrisons of Cupar and Perth into surrender.
In May, the southern fleet sailed westwards ending up in the Bristol channel. On the way they obliterated Hastings, devastated Southampton and then attacked Portsmouth.
Me - and others - on 20 May ‘39, eighteen French ships entered Plymouth bay, attacking boats moored in the harbour and disbursing troops into the town, where they burned houses and caused extensive damage. Within days, sixty-four year old, Hugh de Courteney, the earl of Devon had mustered an army and descended on Plymouth. There was pitched battle in the streets before the invaders were driven back towards the sea, where a large number drowned.
We eventually managed to get our act together and Lord Morley sailed for Flanders with 63 ships. They met a French convoy, escorted by the Genoese, and chased them into Sluys, and destroyed them. In 1340 things swung our way when we ‘found’ the French fleet anchored in Sluys and so destroyed many of them, in what has become known as the Battle of Sluys.
For me, here comes the big one, both because it’s about Purbeck and because it demonstrates how English democracy was evolving.
Back then, you could petition the king, via his council, and get ‘his’ ruling. As time went by, because they could be quoted back at him, his ‘rulings’ became more and more important, giving we, the common people, a voice – if we had good advice. Even Kings – and eventually Queens – had to take what their predecessors had said into account, or risk bad feeling, maybe even rebellion, and that was something Edward III was very good at, but often managing to get his own way.
Anyway – one of my most ‘eye-opening’ moments - This petition is in three parts, from various sections of the community of Dorset:
1) The community of Dorset ask the council that Richard Lovel, Roger Chandos and William Everard might be associated with Robert Fitz Payn in the guard of the sea, as the most suitable men in their counties. And as the weakness of Dorset does not allow it to make a sufficient guard, they ask that the people of Somerset might aid them, as has been done before in similar case.
2) The people of the vills and hamlets of Swanage, Langton, Studland, Whitecliff, Holwell, Godlyngston, Herston, Lazerton, Acton, and Moulham, and of other hamlets in Purbeck in Dorset state that all their goods and chattels are burnt and destroyed, and that they have nothing left to live on, although they are charged as much for the fifteenth and for wools as before. They ask the King and council that they might be discharged.
https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov. ... r/C9440399
Just imagine – being able to contact your ‘ruler’ and say – OY, or is it OI - what about THIS? If your ruler agrees, then s/he is a good ruler, if not, resentment begins to grow. Please bear in mind that I’m taking about England, 700 years ago.
That petition can’t be dated precisely, and who knows how quickly the bureaucracy responded, but on 24th April 1339;
Order to discharge the men of the towns of Stoudlond, Whiteclife, Swanewich and Herstone co. Dorset and the takers and purveyors of wool in that county, of the wool which the king has pardoned them [loads of numbers concerning wool] in consideration of the damage suffered by them in the burning of their houses, and the plundering of their goods and chattels by the late
invasion in that county with galleys and ships.
Also in 1339, Edward III warned Portland; To Robert Fitz Payn, Richard Lovel and the sheriff of Dorset ... the king hearing that his enemies propose to invade the island …
The French devastated Portland.
Notice how Fitz Payn has Lovel by his side – did our petition work?
In June ‘39;
To the keepers of the maritime land in Dorset. Order not to compel the abbot of Middleton [Milton Abbey] to find any men for that custody, as he has shown the king that they distrain him to find men and archers, although he is staying with his power at his manors of Holeworth and Osemyngton,
co. Dorset, near the sea, for their defence, by the king's order, and finds 100 armed men and archers for himself and his bondmen upon the said custody.
Didn’t they speak funny back then. That’s Edward III telling his ‘keepers’ to leave the Abbot alone, as he’s guarding the Dorset coast, so he doesn’t have to go off on one of Edwards other wars.
Send the children to bed.
The French occupied Guernsey in September 1339, and were a tad brutal ... during the occupation one particular crime was singled out for more detailed treatment. According to a letter from Edward III, the French captured certain simple English fisherman who had done nothing wrong. Then, raging inhumaniter
in their faces, the French cut off the sailors’ noses, their ears and finally their genitals – which ought to be covered, pro humanitate
– and put them in the poor men’s mouths, before leading them naked through the town. And all that was done to the public humiliation and insult of the English nation – before they were cruelly executed.
Then in 1340, Portland was excused paying taxes or fighting in any of the various wars going on ... as the town and their houses have been burned and destroyed together with their goods there by the king's enemies of France, who lately invaded the island.
Even after we won the battle of Sluys in 1340, Alban has raids happening on the south coast only a few months later, and whether that last Portland raid was a hangover from the one in 1339 or another in 1340, I just do not know. And it didn’t stop there, in 1348 Bindon Abbey [Dorset] was so in debt due to frequent raiding by foreigners ‘coming upon them unawares’, as well as by the hospitality they extended to other mariners*, that it faced ruin. *They had to house and feed the defence force.
Just up the road, also in ‘48 ... the king granted a licence to the abbess and convent of Tarrant Keynes [Tarrant Crawford] to cut down 200 acres of under-wood in their demesne on their petition setting forth that their house and possessions in the county of Dorset had been burned and destroyed by an invasion of the king’s enemies in those parts.
This next bit’s weird.
I’ve mentioned John Matravers and that he probably returned to England with Queen Isabella in order to overthrow Edward II, and then ‘looked after’ him until his death on 21st Sept 1327, weeellll, he was very well rewarded by Isabella and when Edward III finally took control in late 1330, Matravers ran away – again – because he’d been accused of causing the Earl of Kents death, who was executed in March ‘30 for trying to release his dead brother – Edward II – from Corfe castle in late ‘29 or early ‘30.
I’ve mentioned that there were three John Matravers’ and they were, grandfather, father and son. The son died young and in 1348 the grandfather was old, leaving the father, who was the one who’d ‘looked after’ Edward II until his death, and then had the foresight to run away before being hung, back in 1330. Weeellll, on June 11 ‘48 there was a commission to Thomas Cary, sheriff of Dorset and Somerset, to select [???] man at arms and 120 [?archers?], and array them to be ready to go and defend the islands of Gerneseye, Jereseye, Serk and Aureneye*, when summoned by John Mautravers le piere
, keeper of those islands. * The Channel islands.
It’s not me saying that – that’s what proper historians say, and I believe them, but HOW, just HOW, can a condemned traitor be running the Channel islands, HOW, just HOW?
Matravers was eventually pardoned in 1351 and his lands were restored in 1352, due to him not having had a proper trial, thus proving what an excellent and benevolent king Edward III was. To me, that’s hogswash, but that’s something I’m working on.
Many thanks to John Richard Alban. NATIONAL DEFENCE IN ENGLAND, 1337-89.
[Unpublished] Thesis submitted in accordance with the requirements of the University of Liverpool for the degree of Doctor in Philosophy. September, 1976.
And many other historians who’ve let me ‘plug’ Dorset ‘into’ English history.
And especially to RollyShed and af, who’ve very kindly provided the ‘lift’ my fumbling around desperately needed.
Cheers guys, Jon.