The Magna Carta Project

John sends an embassy to the papal court

by Professor Nicholas Vincent

13 September 1215 - 19 September 1215


13-14 Sep 1215

Dover (Kent)

RC, 218b-19; RLP, 155, 182-2b; RLC, i, 228b

14 Sep 1215


RLP, 155; RLC, i, 228b-9

15-19 Sep 1215

Dover (Kent)

RLP, 155-5b; RLC, i, 228-8b

Dover Castle

Dover Castle

Having been established at Dover for nearly a fortnight, on Monday 14 September the King paid the first of several brief visits to Canterbury. The most significant business this week was nonetheless transacted at Dover, on Sunday 13 September. There were two chief items of concern: Ireland, and the appointment of envoys to treat with the Pope. Let us begin with Ireland. On 13 September, Richard de Burgh, son of William de Burgh and cousin of Hubert, was restored to his father's lands in Connaught, save for the castle of Athlone (co. Westmeath).1 At the same time, and in return for a fine of 5000 marks, the native Irish King of Connaught, Cathal Crobhdearg Ua Conchobair (d.1224), was confirmed in possession of his kingdom, once again excepting the castle of Athlone.2 The fine was made payable in two equal instalments, the first due immediately before delivery of the charter, the second at Easter 1216. All of the money collected was to be stored in Dublin together with other funds raised from the fine of Walter de Lacy. Nonetheless, there can be little doubt that this Irish treasure was intended, in the longer term, to assist with the costs of the King's military endeavours in England.3 On the same day, a charter was issued to Henry archbishop of Dublin, confirming him and his church in possession of the Staffordshire manor of Penkridge and its surrounding manors.4 This was to confirm a grant made recently by Hugh Hose, an associate of the Lacy family in Ireland and until 1214 a ward in the custody of the King, who seems to have recovered Penkridge and its members as recently as 1207.5 In the longer term it was to provoke disputes between the archbishops of Dublin and the nephew and later heirs of archbishop Henry, over whether this was an ecclesiastical or a personal estate.6 The witnesses to these transactions included the bishops of Winchester, Coventry and Worcester, Alexander Neckham abbot of Cirencester, and the papal subdeacon Master Pandulf, newly styled as bishop-elect of Norwich.7 Pandulf himself was promised all exits of the bishopric of Norwich previously collected by the King's keepers.8 Other Irish business this week included a grant of 'English law and liberty' to a native Irishman, and enquiry into the credit and debt of the men of Dublin.9

Also on 13 September, there was confirmation to the canons of St Oswald's Nostell of their valuable church of Bamburgh, whatever disputes the King might previously have raised, and a promise of £100 in ecclesiastical rents for the young son of Thomas count of Savoy: the future William bishop of Valence, a major player in English politics of the 1230s, whose promotion here was perhaps intended to ease the passage of the English bishops and other English envoys crossing the Alps to attend the papal council summoned to meet in the Lateran Palace in Rome.10 On the same day, and no doubt continuing his efforts to keep the peace with France, the King sent the abbot of Bardney and a Hospitaller knight as envoys to the court of Philip Augustus, with undertakings that he intended no harm to French merchants and would take no maltolts (as John had repeatedly promised since the Anglo-French truce of September 1214).11 Much more significantly, a series of letters was entered on the dorse of the Patent Roll, apparently all to be assigned to 13 September, raising loans of up to 2000 marks at the papal court to pay for the expenses of the King's ambassadors, headed by Henry archbishop of Dublin, himself that same day granted confirmation of the manor of Penkridge.12

Pope Innocent III

Pope Innocent III, as depicted in an early 13th century fresco at Sacro Speco

No less than four royal letters were addressed to the Pope concerning this embassy, the intention being, apparently, that the envoys themselves decide which particular missives should be delivered and which should merely be held in reserve.13 The second and third of these letter take the form of standard credences, informing the Pope of the appointment of an embassy composed in one version of the archbishops of Bordeaux and Dublin, the chancellor Richard Marsh, John Marshal and Geoffrey Lutterell, and in another of a slightly larger group now supplemented with the names of the abbot of Beaulieu, Master Peter Russignol, precentor of York (and a close associate of Peter des Roches bishop of Winchester), the archdeacon of York and Master Robert de Airaines canon of York. The letter here with the more select list of envoys is the more carefully phrased, granting the embassy not 'general' but 'free' administration, agreeing that the King would ratify whatever two or three of his envoys might decree, and asking that the Pope make known these terms to the King's 'adversaries' should they appear in the papal court.14 The fourth letter in the sequence, appointing Master Pandulf to represent the King's views before the Pope, sets out a brief summary of complaints against the 'stubbornness' and 'disobedience' of English prelates which had prevented the implementation of the Pope's efforts to defend the King, railing against these 'proud and malevolent' men who had thwarted papal plans, and seeking means by which the King's enemies might be confounded and reduced to abject fear ('terror').15 Meanwhile, much the most interesting letter is the first in the sequence, here naming the fuller list of envoys, but opening with a suggestion that it was the Pope as much as the King who had first provoked the barons into rebellion:

'Since the earls and barons of England were loyal to us before we undertook to subject ourselves and our land to your lordship, it was specifically for this cause that they violently rose up against us, as they publicly declared'16

In other words, it was the surrender of England and Ireland to papal lordship, in 1213, that had directly provoked rebellion, two years later. In this reading, it was in the interests of the Pope, as much as those of the King, that John obtain the support that he was seeking. All of this was transacted on the single day, 13 September. A desire to drive home his determination to stamp out any clerical opposition may explain the King's decision, on the following day, to enter Canterbury: a city no longer in archiepiscopal control, now that Langton had set out for Rome.

A knight

A knight (England, 3rd quarter of 13th century), BL Royal MS 1 D I, f.241

Over this and subsequent days, arrangements were made for the payment of wages owing to serjeants at Berkhamsted and Winchester.17 There is also evidence for the recruitment of further mercenaries from across the Channel, payable according to the quality of their equipment either as knights or as serjeants, sent to join the garrisons of Hastings and Rye or placed under the command of Fawkes de Breauté and Peter de Maulay.18 Fawkes' brother, Nicholas, was promised a prebend in York Minster previously held by the archdeacon of Rouen.19 At least one of the King's Flemish allies, Archembald the Fleming, appears as witness to a royal charter this week.20 Another, William de Fiennes, descendant of Faramus of Boulogne, received a further confirmation of the Buckinghamshire manor of Wendover, first promised to him a month earlier.21 As Flemings and Frenchmen poured into England, so various of the King's aliens departed for France. These included Geoffrey de Martigny, the former constable of Northampton, proscribed under clause 50 of Magna Carta and now offered passage overseas at the King's expense in two small ships, each capable of carrying up to 15 horses.22

Various other commands this week suggest a sporadic but ongoing process of retribution against those now leagued in rebellion against the King. Thus the lands of Robert fitz Walter in Cornwall were promised to Henry, the King's bastard son.23 Robert's kinsman, Walter de Valognes, outlawed for association with the plot against the life of King John as early as 1212, was deprived of land at Stourmouth in Kent now granted to Nicholas of Dunwich.24 The estate lay on the Wantsum Channel dividing Kent from the Isle of Thanet, at a point crucial to any attempt to raid up the Stour in the direction of Canterbury.25 Land in Bedfordshire was conferred upon the archbishop of Dublin pending proper obedience from its former lord.26 Despite having incurred the King's anger for permitting the pirate, Eustace the Monk, to land at Folkestone, the lord of Folkestone, William of Avranches was promised leniency, should he seek the King's mercy.27

On Thursday 17 September the King put in train a major redistribution of offices in the west country. Henry fitz Count, illegitimate son of the late earl Reginald of Cornwall, was granted custody of the county of Cornwall and Launceston Castle, pending an inquest, when things were more settled, into his claims to these estates as his hereditary right.28 He was meanwhile commanded to release Portchester castle to Ralph Gernun, nephew of William Brewer.29 John Marshal, now appointed to the King's embassy to Rome, was promised the rights of his marshalcy in Ireland and custody of the forests of Somerset and Dorset.30


RC, 218b-19, also reserving a cantred promised to G(eoffrey) de Costentin, and to the King the right to grant crosses (i.e. to appoint to bishoprics and abbeys).


RC, 219, by contrast to the charter in favour of Richard de Burgh, here witnessed by a significant group of Anglo-Norman lords: Geoffrey de Marisco, Roger Pippard, Walter of Ridleford, Eustace de Rupe, Ralph Parvus and Geoffrey de Lutterell.


For instructions over the fine, including insistence on the payment of the £12 5s. owing as a fee to the chancellor, to be delivered to Richard Marsh via the abbot of St Augustine's Bristol, see RLC, i, 228b.


RC, 218b, granted to archbishop Henry and his 'successors who are not Irishmen' ('qui non fuerint Hibernienses').


VCH Staffordshire, v, 108-9, citing Rot.Ob., 403; Book of Fees, i, 143. For Hugh Hose, see D. Brown, 'A Charter of Hugh II de Lacy, Earl of Ulster, to Hugh Hose (2 March 1207)', Irish Historical Studies, xxxviii (2013), 492-510.


VCH Staffordshire, v, 108-9.


RC, 218b-19. Pandulf had in fact been nominated to Norwich as long before as 25 July: King John’s Diary and Itinerary 9-15 August 1215.


RLP, 155.


RLP, 155b (Englishry for Douenellus Conell); RLC, i, 228b, also commanding credit for William de Cusack. Both of these latter commands were directed to the Exchequer of Dublin, for whose custody see the writ of 13 September addressed to Owen Brun, Elias Haraud, Gilbert de Livet and Gilbert Binel concerning the debts of the King of Connaught: RLC, i, 228b.


RC, 219 (Bamburgh, for which see King John’s Diary and Itinerary 19-25 July); RC, 218b.


RLP, 155, also in Foedera, 137, and for maltolts, King John’s Diary and Itinerary 6-12 September.


RLP, 182-2b, at p.182 listing two letters for 500 marks and a further letter for 1000 marks. It is perhaps a coincidence that the loans were to be raised via Stephen of Fossanova, cardinal-priest of the Twelve Apostles, himself the incumbent of the church of Bamburgh, itself this week confirmed to the canons of Nostell: C. R. Cheney, Pope Innocent III and England (Stuttgart, 1976), 94 n.66, and King John’s Diary and Itinerary 19-25 July.


RLP, 182-2b, three of these also in Foedera, Conventiones, Litterae etc., or Rymer’s Foedera, 1066-1383, ed. A. Clarke et al., vol. 1, part i (London, 1816), 135, 138-9, in the first instance misplaced as if applicable to June-July 1215. They are copied on to the dorses of two membranes of the Patent Roll, both of which carry on their other side letters of 13 September.


RLP, 182b, and in the case of the second letter in the sequence, Foedera, 139. The relevant clauses of the more specific credence read: 'presencium portitores ad sedem apostolicam destinauimus quos ita procuratores constituimus in causis et negociis que siue de Angl(ia) siue aliunde habemus siue habuimus in cur(ia) Rom(ana) expedienda siue in agendo siue deffendendo ac si singula singulariter expressa fuissent, non tam(en) illis generalem sed aministracionem liberam in omnibus concedentes, ratum habituri et gratum quicquid per iamdictos procuratores aut tres aut saltem duos eorum in vestra presencia factum erit. Promittimus eciam pro eis iudicat(um) solui si opus fuerit. Hoc ita sanctitati vestre significanda duximus ut eadem aduersariis nostris si qui in presencia vestra apparuerint intimentur'. The archdeacon named here merely as 'H.' was perhaps Hamo, archdeacon of the East Riding and treasurer of York Minster: Fasti, ed. Greenway, vi, 24, 42. Others who at this time obtained letters of protection travelling overseas may have been joined to the King's embassy, including the clerk, Geoffrey de Galeto (RLP, 155) and the bishop of Ferns (RLP, 155b).


RLP, 182b, also in Foedera, 135, opening 'In conspectu paternitatis vestre nos humiliamus ad grates multiplices, prout melius scimus et possumus, exhibendas pro cura et sollicitudine quam ad defensionem nostram et regni nostri Angl(ie) paterna vestra beniuolencia indesinenter apponit, licet duricia prelatorum Angl(ie) atque inobediencia maliciose impediant pie vestre prouisionis effectum. Nos t(ame)n pro affectu sincero quem ad nos geritis, clemencie vestre deuocius inclinamus, qui, etsi ad presens a superbis et a maleuolis ad insipienciam s(ib)i censeatur inefficax, nob(is) erit, Domino concedente, ad tuicionem et pacem et inimicis nostris confusionem et terrorem inducet'.


RLP, 182, also in Foedera, 138: 'Reuerendo domino suo et patri sanctissimo I(nnocentio) Dei gratia summo pontifici I(ohannes) eadem gratia rex Angl(ie) etc salutem et debitam tanto domino ac patri reuerenciam. Cum comites et barones Angl(ie) nob(is) deuoti essent antequam nos et nostram terram dominio vestro subicere curassemus, ex tunc in nos specialiter ob hoc sicut puplice dicunt violenter insurgunt. Nos vero post Deum vos specialem dominum et patronum habentes, defensionem nostram et tocius regni quod vestrum est esse credimus, vestre paternitati commissam, et nos quantum in nob(is) est curam et sollicitudinem istam vestre reseruamus dominacioni, deuocius supplicantes quatinus in negociis nostris, que vestra sunt, consilium et auxilium efficax apponatis prout melius videritis expedire'.


RLP, 155 (Berkhamsted guarded for Terry the Teuton by Walerand Teutonicus), 155b (Winchester guarded by William Brewer). On 14 September, the King granted 27 oaks for the repair of Brewer's monastic foundation at Mottisfont: RLC, i, 229.


RLC, i, 228 (Peter de Maulay to grant Walter of Bray his arrears 'a die quo inbreuiatus fuit ad remanend(um) in seruicio nostro si hernasium habuerit sic(ut) miles habere debet'), 228b (including instructions for Richard the Welshman in Wallingford castle, and to Fawkes de Breauté to pay knights 'secundum quod hernasium habuerint').


RLP, 155, and cf. Fasti, ed. Greenway, vi, 125. For other ecclesiastical patronage this week conferred from the former estate of William de Braose, see RLP, 155, relating to the Sussex churches of (West) Grinstead and Beddingham.


RC, 218b-19, the charter to Richard de Burgh.


RLC, i, 228, and cf. King John’s Diary and Itinerary 16-22 August.


RLC, i, 228-8b, crossing under the captaincy of John of Gravelines.


RLC, i, 228, here assuming 'Henry the King's son' to be the bastard rather than the future Henry III.


RLC, i, 228b, relating to land at 'Storming', i.e. Stourmouth on the Wantsum Channel west of Sandwich, where the Valognes family held land: Calendar of Kent Feet of Fines to the end of Henry III's Reign, ed. I.J. Churchill and others (Ashford, 1956), 54; J.K. Wallenberg, The Place-Names of Kent (Uppsala, 1934), 513.  For the outlawry of Walter de Valognes in 1213, see RLC, i, 165b.


I am indebted here to discussions with Tim Tatton-Brown, who has plotted the course of the Wantsum Channel, at this time still a major waterway.  For a map, see T. Tatton-Brown, 'The Abbey Precinct, Liberty and Estate', English Heritage Book of St Augustine's Abbey Canterbury, ed. R. Gem (London, 1997), 138.


RLC, i, 228b, relating to the land of Peter de Suriue at Wymington, part of an estate previously associated with the family of Alfred of Lincoln, himself suspected of rebel sympathies in September 1215: VCH Bedfordshire, iii, 119, and for Alfred, King John’s Diary and Itinerary 6-12 September 1215.


RLP, 155b.


RLP, 155b.


RLP, 155b, with a note that this command was made on 18 September via H. the chaplain before the bishop of Winchester, the abbot of Beaulieu, the Templar brother Alan Martel, John Marshal and Ralph of Bray. There survives independently as TNA SC 1/147/1, an original letter of the King giving notice of this transfer and noting that Ralph was William Brewer's nephew.


RLP, 155b, specifying the seven chief divisions of Ireland, from Connaught to Ulster.

King John's Diary & Itinerary