The Magna Carta Project

A 'notorious and manifest traitor'

by Professor Nicholas Vincent

16 August 1215 - 22 August 1215


16 Aug 1215

Clarendon (Wiltshire)

RLP, 153; RLC, i, 225b-6

16-19 Aug 1215


RC, 217b-18; RLP, 153; RLC, i, 226-6b, 269

19-20 Aug 1215

Ludgershall (Wiltshire)

RLP, 153b; RLC, i, 226b-7

The date of the letters in RLP, 153b, at Ludgershall on 30 August has been corrected in the manuscript to 20 August.

19-20 Aug 1215

Downton (Wiltshire)

RLP, 153b; RLC, i, 226b

20-22 Aug 1215

Wareham (Dorset)

RC, 218-18b; RLP, 153b; RLC, i, 226b-7; Rot.Ob., 566

Archbishop and bishops

Archbishop and bishops, BL Royal MS 6 E VI f.145

For the most important business of this week we rely not upon the chancery rolls but upon the testimony of the Crowland chronicler. According to the chronicler, although the council summoned by the archbishop and bishops duly met, with the bishops meeting at Oxford around 16 August, and the barons coming there in impressive numbers, the King merely sent his excuses. His messengers to the council complained that, despite the concessions that the King himself had made, he had suffered grave injury ever since the making of peace, with no sign that such injuries would cease. Here, the military display that the barons now put on in their attendance at Oxford simply added to the King's anxieties. It was at this council, according to the chronicler, that papal letters were first shown commanding the archbishop and bishops to excommunicate all disturbers of the peace on pain of suspension by the bishop of Winchester, Master Pandulf and the abbot of Reading, hereby appointed the Pope's commissioners. These were clearly the same letters that we have elsewhere identified as being issued by Innocent III on 7 July, after news reached Rome of the rebel seizure of London but as yet in ignorance of the settlement devised at Runnymede.1 According to the chronicler, with rumours circulating that the King was so starved of resources that he was about to give in to the demands of his subjects, it was decided between the bishops and barons to hold off the enforcement of the Pope's sentence. The bishops in the meantime went to the King to invite him to attend a further meeting to be held either in London or at Staines.2

Independent confirmation exists for various of these details. On 17 August, the King authorized the reeves of Oxford to make a gift of green or brown robes to two papal envoys, presumably to the men who had brought the Pope's letters from Rome.3 Archbishop Langton is undoubtedly to be found at Osney near Oxford on 20 August.4 On the same day, which according to the chronicler's calculations would have been the last day of the Oxford council, the King wrote to Langton and to the bishops and barons gathered at Oxford with credence for the Preceptor of the Hospitallers, for a Templar brother named Roger de St Ledger, and for Ralph de Normanville, constable of Oxford, sent with messages from the King.5 The very fact that the King was once again using the military orders to communicate with barons and bishops is suggestive of a return to the circumstances of April and May 1215, and to what was in effect a state of war. On 21 August, the King gifted land in Hertfordshire to the Templars.6

An archbishop

An archbishop, c.1200, BL Royal 2 A XXII f.221

Of equal or greater significance, on the same day that he sent his messengers to Oxford, the King wrote to Master Arnulf of Auckland commanding him to release 2000 marks from the King's treasure at Marlborough to Archbishop Langton's clerk, Richard of Glentham. Arnulf and Richard were then to go in person to deliver the money to Langton, obtaining written proof of its receipt.7 This money was presumably that which Langton had been seeking since June, in part payment of the damages owed to him from the time of the Interdict. At Runnymede, in June, he had agreed to remit settlement of half of this sum to the coming Michaelmas, but even then in circumstances that suggest almost deliberate provocation of a King now starved of cash.8 Here it is worth remembering the claim of the Crowland chronicler, that at Oxford it was widely rumoured that, for lack of resources, the King would be forced to treat with the barons. Once again, the evidence here points to Langton acting not so much as a neutral go-between but in active hostility to the King. The King's response, in settling his debts cash down, suggests determination at least to be seen to be acting in accordance with the law, no doubt in order to convince all outside observers, the Pope's agents included, that it was the King rather than his barons who was most deserving of sympathy.

Although there is no certain proof of this, it is also likely that the Oxford council witnessed further discussion of Rochester Castle. On 9 August Langton had been politely asked to transfer custody of the castle to Peter des Roches.9 According to Ralph of Coggeshall, whose account lacks chronological precision, the King now began to 'vomit up calumny' against the archbishop, accusing him of fraud and treason in his refusal to surrender either Rochester or the Tower of London. The archbishop replied that no such surrender could be made 'without judgement' ('nisi per iudicium'), clearly standing on the legal principle that set judgement in opposition to arbitrary rule. The outcome, according to Coggeshall, was an appeal to the Pope by Langton's satellite and former pupil, Benedict of Sawston, bishop of Rochester, demanding that the Pope prevent either the King or the archbishop from undertaking actions prejudicial to the rights of the church of Canterbury. Although seemingly a call for neutral arbitration, this was, as Coggeshall makes plain, an appeal directed by and on behalf of the archbishop. The King's response here has long been known, thanks to a letter first properly printed by V.H. Galbraith, assumed to be a draft of a communication sent by the King to his justiciar, Hubert de Burgh.10 The relevant portion of this letter runs as follows:


'If, in accordance with the custom of our realm, in our court you can deprive the archbishop of Canterbury of his temporalities, even though you cannot deliver judgement in his absence, on no account fail to do this. Because he is a notorious and manifest traitor to us, both for failing to deliver up to us our castle of Rochester in our great need ('in tanta necessitate'), and because, despite being frequently asked and many times summoned, he failed to render the service he owed us for his temporalities. And although you cannot pass judgement on him, since he will not be present, you may find means, if you can do this lawfully, to retain the temporalities in our hands. At this, our friends at court will greatly rejoice. From the men that you seize, and from others, make full enquiry whether they acted by the archbishop's advice. And diligently enquire whether you can find letters that he sent against us, at the time of the rebellion, to the barons or anybody else, and send with all speed both to the Pope and to us whatever letters you find or whatever is told you by those arrested'


Rochester Castle

Rochester Castle

The date of this letter is hard to establish. However, it clearly postdates the request of 9 August that Langton surrender Rochester Castle, and the receipt of Langton's reply refusing this demand on the grounds of an absence of 'judgement'. Given the references to Langton's inability, or unwillingness, to attend a court hearing, it might conceivably date after the archbishop's departure for the Lateran Council in early September. However, on or around 5 September, Langton was suspended from office. Our letter, by contrast, continues to refer to him as archbishop, suggesting a date before his suspension. Moreover the reference, in the singular, to a baronial rebellion implies a date after May 1215 but before the recommencement of civil war that autumn. In all likelihood, therefore, our letter was sent in late August or early September 1215. It is worth noting the care with which the King responded here to the archbishop's claims about 'judgement'. A definitive 'judgement', he agrees, might be unobtainable in the archbishop's absence. Nonetheless, other means might be found that would be both customary and judicial ('secundum consuetudinem regni nostri .... si iudicialiter aliquo modo hoc facere possitis'). The archbishop, he alleges, is generally recognized to be a 'traitor' ('proditor'). We should remember here the words shouted out by the knights of Henry II, in December 1170, breaking their way into Canterbury Cathedral: 'Where is Thomas Becket, traitor ('proditor') to King and realm?'.11 Treason and its punishment, as I have recently argued, had been crucial, after 1202, both to King John's moves against Arthur of Brittany and to the process by which Philip Augustus had claimed to disinherit King John of his lands in France.12 Words such as 'proditor' carried a legal significance that we ignore at our peril. Another such word with technical significance appears in our letter. Langton, so the King alleged, had failed to surrender Rochester despite the King's great 'necessity' ('in tanta necessitate'). As the King surely knew, 'necessity' ('necessitas') had long been accepted by Langton, as by other schoolsmen, as a justification for measures, not least for taxation, that might otherwise be considered unjust. Good kings, Langton had argued, taxed only out of public need and necessity, bad kings from greed or for their own nefarious purposes.13  By employing the language of necessity in relation to Rochester Castle, the King turned the usual argument neatly on its head, hoisting Langton with his own petard.14

In all of this, there seems little reason to doubt that the King considered a resumption of war unavoidable. Signs of this appear elsewhere in the chancery rolls. There was, for example, a deliberate effort to appease supporters on the Welsh March. Worcestershire was transferred from the keeping of William of Cantiloupe to Walter de Beauchamp, himself claiming hereditary rights as sheriff.15 Having only recently taken possession of Brockhurst Castle in Shropshire, Hugh de Neville was instructed to surrender it to Hugh de Mortimer.16 Further south, Hugh de Neville was also instructed to surrender St Briavels Castle to John of Monmouth.17 An inquest was ordered into two manors in Warwickshire and Worcestershire, apparently as part of an effort to compensate Llewelyn with lands in England, not only as a peace offering but in return for the earlier award of Halesowen to the bishop of Winchester.18 William Brewer, one of the King's most loyal henchmen, was rewarded with privileges both at Chesterfield in Derbyshire and at Axminster in Devon, with quittance of the money rents that he had previously paid for these and other manors, totaling more than £112 a year, and with grants of borough rights including markets and fairs.19 Elsewhere, Brewer received rents intended to assist him in the repair and munitioning of Winchester Castle.20 On 20 August, by which time the court was established at the bishop of Winchester's manor of Downton, and on which day the King sent his messengers to the council meeting at Oxford, orders were issued for Brewer to release armour from Winchester both for the earl of Salisbury and, in due course, for Geoffrey de Neville.21 Geoffrey de Neville and Thomas of Sandford were instructed to offer shelter at Devizes castle for the wife of one of the King's mercenary captains, and Philip d'Aubigny accommodation for six knights at Bristol.22 From Wareham, again on 20 August, the King issued letters that in some ways plunge us backwards in English history, towards the reign of King Stephen and the civil war of the 1140s. Should William de Fiennes come to England, the King promised, then he would be rewarded with his ancestral rights within the Bedfordshire manor of Wendover.23 These, in reality, were the rights that had last been held during the civil war of Stephen's reign by Stephen's great Flemish mercenary commander, Faramus of Boulogne.24

Earlier in the week, there had been favours for the earls of Salisbury and Pembroke and for William de Cantiloupe.25 In the far north, Robert de Vieuxpont was promised possession of his mines in Westmorland.26 But the composition of the King's court itself began to alter, as the King moved from compromise to war, and in geographical terms from Wiltshire southwards towards the Channel coast. At Marlborough, on 16 August, he had been attended by a court that included the earl of Salisbury, the master of the Temple, Walter de Lacy and several Marcher barons.27 By the time he reached Wareham, he was instead accompanied by a court very largely dominated by his alien captains and their hangers on: William de Forz, Peter de Maulay, Odo Martel, Hugh de Boves and Ralph of Bray, chief henchman of Fawkes de Breauté.28 Matthew Paris tells us that it was the jibes of his foreign mercenaries that first persuaded the King that he should resist the barons and escape from a humiliating fate as 'twenty-fifth king in England'.29 Roger of Wendover and Ralph of Coggeshall both refer to a recruiting mission sent into Flanders, led by Hugh de Boves, Richard Marsh, Walter de Gray bishop of Worcester, William Gernun and others.30 We have already found, in the previous week, anticipation that Richard Marsh would shortly arrive in Poitou to assist in the raising of troops.31 In the present week, Marsh last authorized a royal charter on 21 August.32 Already by 18 August, however, we find a command that Peter de Maulay grant John Marshal two 'ballistas' (missile-throwing machines, in this instance with a two-foot span) issued by the King under his privy seal.33 The chancery, as we shall discover next week, was itself about to be touched by the coming storm.



Selected Letters of Pope Innocent III concerning England (1198-1216), ed. C.R. Cheney and W. H. Semple (London, 1953), 207-9 no.80, for which see King John’s Diary and Itinerary 5-11 July.  A garbled version found its way in due course into the chronicle of Roger of Wendover, whence Wendover, Flores Historiarum, ed. H.O. Coxe (4 vols., London, 1842), iii, 336; Paris, Matthaei Parisiensis , Monachi Sancti Albani, Chronica Majora, ed. H.R. Luard, 7 vols. (Rolls Ser., 1872–83), ii, 627-8 (misdated to the time of the siege of Rochester), whence Conventiones, Litterae etc., or Rymer’s Foedera, 1066-1383, ed. A. Clarke et al., vol. 1, part i (London, 1816), 138, and a very vague account of its reception by the Dunstable annalist, in Annales Monastici, ed. H.R. Luard, 5 vols. (London, 1864-9), iii, 43.  Ralph of Coggesall (Radulphi de Coggeshall Chronicon Anglicanum, ed. J. Stevenson (Rolls ser., 1875), 174) reports only the eventual implementation of the papal sentence, in September, but in the process implying that there were doubts as to the authenticity of the papal letters of 7 July.


Memoriale fratris Walteri de Coventria, ed. W. Stubbs, 2 vols. (London, 1872-73), ii, 223: 'Ad diem statutum conuenerunt episcopi omnes et proceres usque Oxoniam in apparatu copioso, misitque rex de suis excusatores qui dicerent, sicut eis conuenerat, plurima resignasse, sibi nihil esse refusum, immo post pacem initam graues iniurias et enormia sibi damna illata, nec esse qui emendaret.  Preterea illos sic cum armis et in tanta multitudine ad diem illum qui pacis sperabatur confluxisse, ut non esset vel tutum vel consiliosum copiam sui facere.  Ostensum est autem ibi mandatum apostolicum in quo districte precipiebatur archiepiscopo et eius suffraganeis omnes regis Anglie impugnatores et expulsores excommunicare vel ipsos ad concilium suspensos venire, commissa mandati executione episcopo Wintoniensi, abbati Radinggensi et Pandulpho sancte Romane ecclesie subdiacono et domini pape familiari ..... Et quoniam rumor esset quod rex regno vellet cedere, rebus suis ut videbatur diffisus, protracto per triduum colloquio, sic inter episcopos et proceres conuenit ut sententia ad modicum suspenderetur, et interim episcopi ad regem adirent, tentantes si quo modo eum ad colloquium Londoniis vel saltem usque villam que vocatur Stanes trahere possent, ibi enim ex condicto conuenturi erant'.


RLC, i, 226.


Acta Stephani Langton Cantuariensis Archiepiscopi AD 1207-1228, ed. K. Major, Canterbury and York Society l (1950), 29 no.22, dated at Osney on 20 August.  By 22 August, he was at Newbury: Ibid., 29-30 no.23.


RLP, 153-3b.  For Ralph de Normanville as constable of Oxford, see RLC, i, 198, King John’s Diary and Itinerary 26 April - May 2.  Ralph de St Ledger appears as a regular witness to Templar charters in the time of Alan Martel, master of the order in England, for example TNA E 326/5178.


RC, 218-18b; RLC, i, 227, referring to land at 'Harwde' (unidentified).


RLP, 153b.


RLP, 144b, and cf. King John’s Diary and Itinerary 21-27 June.


RLP, 181b, and cf. King John’s Diary and Itinerary 9-15 August.


In the present week Hubert de Burgh was undoubtedly sent letters by the King, including, on 16 August, a command for him to supply ecclesiastical patronage for Warin, chaplain of the King's son, the future King Henry III: RLC, i, 226.  For the letters over Rochester, see TNA SC 1/1/6, stained and now in large part illegible.  Printed by V.H. Galbraith, Studies in the Public Records (London, 1948), 161-2: '.... suo suus salutem.  Si secundum consuetudinem regni nostri possitis abiudicare in curia nostra archiepiscopum Cantuariensem de regalibus suis quamuis non possitis reddere iudicium cum presens non fuerit, nullo modo id facere omittatis, quia proditor nostri notorius est et manifestus cum castrum nostrum Roffense non reddiderit nobis in tanta necessitate.  Quia etiam sepius requisitus et multotiens summonitus seruicia que nobis facere debebat pro regalibus non fecit.  Et quamuis non sit cui iudicium reddere possitis cum non sit presens, regalia tamen in manu nostra si iudicialiter aliquo modo hoc facere possitis retineatis unde multum gaudebunt amici nostri de curia.  De illis autem quos cepistis et aliis diligenter inquiratis utrum per consilium archiepiscopi fecerint quod factum est.  Et <litteras si inuenire pot>eritis quas ipse misit tempore sedicionis baronibus vel aliis contra nos diligenter inquiri faciatis et tam illas quam ea que predicti capti vobis dixerint vel aliis tam domino pape quam nobis cum omni festinacione transmittatis.  Credimus autem quod dominus papa cancellarium nostrum ad episcopum Dunelmensem promoueret si vos ei supplicaretis.  Unde honestum esset nobis ut ipse in dicto episcopatu si dominus Wintoniensis translacionem non acceptaret vel in alio promoueretur.  Si vero <petit pre>ferenciam domino pape pro eo supplicetis.  Et significetis quid de illo episcopatu et aliis vacantibus facere disposueritis, periculum enim est in mora.  Valeat dominus nostra per tempora longiora'. 


Edward Grim, in Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, ed. J.C. Robertson (7 vols., Rolls Ser., 1875-85), ii, 435.


N. Vincent, ‘Rank Insubordination: Disobedience and Disinheritance amongst the Anglo-French Nobility, 1050-1250’, in Rang und Ordnung. Formen adliger Elitenbildung in West- und Mittleleuropa, 500-1500, ed. J. Peltzer (Heidelberg, forthcoming 2015), noting, for example, the words of Matthew Paris (Chronica Majora, ed. Luard, ii, 659) applied to Arthur of Brittany: 'Et cum Arthurus apud Mirebel castrum non ut innocens sed quasi nocens et proditor domini et auunculi sui, cui homagium et liganciam fecerat, captus fuit, potuit de iure morte etiam turpissima sine iudicio condemnari'.


Philip Buc, L’Ambiguité du livre: prince, pouvoir, et peuple dans les commentaires de la Bible au Moyen Age (Paris 1994), 260-72, and with specific reference to Langton, David D'Avray, ‘Magna Carta: Its Background in Stephen Langton's Academic Biblical Exegesis and its Episcopal Reception', Studi Medievali, 3rd series xxxviii part 1 (1997), 423-38.


As noted by Vincent, 'Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury', Etienne Langton: prédicateur, bibliste, théologien, ed. L.-J. Bataillon, N. Beriou, G. Dahan and R. Quinto (Turnhout 2010), 97.


RLP, 153b.


RLP, 153b, and cf. King John’s Diary and Itinerary 2-8 August.


RLP, 153b.


RLC, i, 226b, requiring extents to be made by the sheriffs, with the assistance of the marcher lords Thomas of Erdington and Walter le Poer, of the manors of Bidford-on-Avon (Warwickshire) and Suckley (Worcestershire). Cf. VCH Warwickshire, iii, 51; VCH Worcestershire, iv, 356. For Halesowen, see King John’s Diary and Itinerary 2-8 August.


RC, 217b-18; RLC, i, 226b.


RLC, i, 226, 227, including demands for payments to Brewer from Winchester, Southampton, Alton, Andover and Basingstoke, and instructions for Brewer over Matthew Wallop and his desire to surrender custody of Winchester gaol.  For Brewer's role in transporting the King's bedding ('coopertoria') from Winchester to Marlborough, see RLC, i, 226.  On 16 August, the bailiffs of Alton, Andover and Basingstoke had been ordered to pay arrears of their farm to the sheriff of Hampshire: RLC, i, 226, also recording a grant of £32 of land in Alton to William de la Ferté.


RLC, i, 226b.


RLC, i, 226b-7, in favour of the wife of Brito the crossbowman and of William fitz John of Harptree with five knights, also noting the role of Geoffrey de Neville in the payment of serjeants at Devizes, and requiring oaths of fealty from the men of Bristol to Philip d'Aubigny as their constable.  Philip was also required to restore land to a Bristol leper house that he, and Girard d'Athée before him, had wrongly seized: RLC, i, 227.  To assist his operations, he was given custody of the Somerset manor of Chewton Mendip and a £10 annual rent from the manor of (?Midsomer) Norton: RLC, i, 226.  On 16 August, letters were issued under his authority, assigning a £7 rent in the Suffolk hundred of Samford to Ralph Gernun: RLC, i, 226 (and for Ralph as William Brewer's nephew, see TNA SC 1/47/1).  Philip himself attended court at Marlborough on 16 August: RC, 217b-18.


RLC, i, 226b.


For Faramus, alias Faramus de Tingry (Pas-de-Calais, cant. Samer), a kinsman of Matilda the wife of King Stephen, see J.H. Round, 'Faramus of Boulogne', The Genealogist, n.s. xii (1896), 145-51, 288, at p.149 noting the marriage of his daughter to Enguerrand lord of Fiennes, Pas-de-Calais, cant. Guînes); E. Amt, The Accession of Henry II in England: Royal Government Restored, 1149-1159 (Woodbridge, 1993), 17, 85-6, 104, and cf. CRR, vi, 272-3; Cal.Chart.R. 1257-1300, 34.


RLP, 153b (restoration in Ireland to William Marshal of the castle of Dunamase ('Damas') co.Laois, and of trading privileges for his port at New Ross co. Wexford); RLC, i, 226 (four of the best oaks in Clarendon forest for William earl of Salisbury, and the right to William de Cantiloupe to assart 20 acres near Feckenham). The command over Dunamase ('Dumath') was renewed on 31 August: RLP, 154.


RLC, i, 226b, accompanied on the same day by orders to Robert and Philip of Oldcotes to have credence in messages delivered to them by the archdeacon of Durham.


RC, 217b-18.


RC, 218-18b. Cf. orders to another of the King's alien constables, Philip Mark at Nottingham, sent from Wareham on 20 August: RLC, i, 226b.


Paris, Chronica Majora, ed. Luard, ii, 611.


Wendover, in Paris, Chronica Majora, ed. Luard, ii, 613; Coggeshall, 174.


King John’s Diary and Itinerary 9-15 August.


RC, 218b.


RLC, i, 226.

King John's Diary & Itinerary