Acreage Totals

Whilst a mere count of the number and distribution of gentry estates may reveal some crude general trends, it is scarcely a sufficient guide to the actual economic potential of those estates. Clearly a knight holding a few acres and the occasional messuage in each of six parishes cannot be compared with a knight holding a compact and well provided manor of around 200 - 300 acres in one parish alone. Unfortunately more detailed information about the quality and value of gentry estates is so capricious that it defies credible comparisons over the whole range of the sample so one forced back into evaluating the estates of the well documented who may not be representative of the social group as a whole. The principal sources used here to attempt to reconstruct the estates of men who made little mark on history consist primarily of the Inquisitions Post Mortem taken at the death of tenants in chief of the crown and the Final Concords or Feet of Fines which record actions enrolled in royal courts as tripartite indentures guaranteeing the transfer of title to land. These sources reflect a central view of local affairs, the image of a rural society seen through the eyes of royal officials and the legal instruments of the burgeoning royal courts. The manorial records of individual small landholders of the late thirteenth century rarely survive and never in sufficient scope to provide a uniform basis of prosopographical comparison. Comparative evidence must, therefore, consist of surviving central sources in which all of the knights in the sample could, in principle, participate. Inquisitions Post Mortem are available in some form for ten out of the twelve knights in the Parliamentary Group A, and for six out of the ten knights in the sub parliamentary group B. This is, in itself a significant comment on the tenurial status of these knights. By comparison I.P.M.s are available for only four of the fourteen knights in the Resident Group C. Seen in this light the county caucus in late thirteenth century Essex begins to look like a colloquium of Tenants in Chief, suggesting that those who were selected, or selected themselves, for self government at the king's command were formally closer to the crown than their mesne tenant neighbours. The value of I.P.M.s as a source of economic status is variable since they only rarely record the full extent of the lands of dead tenants in chief, and then possibly only for the ancestors, or descendants, of the knights in the sample, and they are static occasional records, fixed in form by the procedures of the escheator's officers. Final Concords or Feet of Fines, on the other hand, are dynamic records confirming the conveyancing of lands bought, sold or otherwise disposed of on the market and secured by a chirograph in a royal court. They generally record only transactions in land supplementary to an individual's ancestral holdings, reflecting the ebb and flow of family fortunes. The possibility of discovering with any accuracy the extent and value of the estates held by any knight chosen at random from the sample is thus problematical in the extreme. The obstacles posed by the disparate nature of the principal record sources are not totally insurmountable but it would be naive to assume that such data is ever 'ideal' in the sense that it cannot provide a uniform standard of comparability. On the other hand the evidence derived from I.P.M.s can provide a fairly secure base to which the evidence of Feet of Fines may be added where appropriate. Where such extents are not available the Fines alone may be the only clue to the holdings of individuals but only in respect of the loss of acquisitions of lands in relation to a core estates of unknown size and quality. Nevertheless the scale of the transactions recorded in Feet of Fines may hint at the wealth, or otherwise, of the individuals involved and the extent of their active involvement in the land market, for whatever reason. The figures which follow may not, therefore, reflect the true disposition of the estates of a given individual at a given point in time, but in default of consistently comparable data they may give a rough guide to general trends.

The analysis of acreage totals surveyed in the following section has been constructed from the raw figures tabulated in Appendix A, subject to a number of conditions. Firstly, totals are based either on Extents I.P.M.s or on Fines Final Concords, or on both, where the evidence of the fine augments the Extent but does not duplicate it. Fines which refer to estates which are included in Extents are excluded from the total. Secondly, except in the case of Inquisitions Post Mortem, the totals used represent the amount of land known to have been in the hands of individuals during the course of their lifetimes, including land sold or otherwise disposed of. In certain cases, for example John dePratellis, the sale of land is the only evidence for the existence of any estates at all. Thirdly, to allow for a disparity between data which can reasonably be established as probable, and data which is only possible, alternative tables have been produced indicating probable and possible figures. Fourthly. Where knights held carucates in addition to estates explicitly valued in acres the carucate is taken to be equivalent to 120 acres, following the precedent of an Essex Fine of 1231 which so defines the carucate and thus corroborates Maitland's estimates in Domesday Book and Beyond[1]. Unless otherwise states all figures refer to acreage held in demesne.

Overall the knights in the sample held a minimum of 17754 acres of land in Essex, and a probable maximum of 20744 acres giving a lower average of 433 acres and an upper average of 505 acres per knight. The distribution of these totals between the four comparative groups in the sample apparently substantiates the threefold social structure postulated in the preceding chapter, but the conversion of total figures into averages per knight confuses the issue, since the evidence for the Resident Group C and the Non Resident Group D is distorted by a small number of knights holding disproportionately large estates. Average acreage totals per group are as follows:

A PARLIAMENTARY 12  5239 436  6768  564
B TAX ASSESSORS 1470 245 1470  245
C ESSEX RESIDENT 14   5113 365 6468  462
D NONRESIDENT 9 5932 659 6753  750

The extension of these figures to include acreage held in counties other than Essex affects only Groups A and D, since figures are not relevant for the Residents in Group C, nor for the small number of knights in Group B. Revised acreage totals including estates outside Essex are as follows:

A PARLIAMENTARY 12  6146  512  8171 680
D NONRESIDENT 9 6609 734 7517 835 

In both instances these figures would suggest that the non resident in Group D were very substantial landholders indeed, evidently superior to most of the others, whether resident or not. This appearance is illusory. In fact Coggeshall and Mare together account for well over half of the minimum total Essex acreage held by the knights in this Group. Without them the average acreage total for Essex non residents falls to a mere 359 acres per knight, comparable with the minimum Essex resident average of 365. Alternatively, if Richard Tany and Gernon are removed from Group C to D group D, where the probably properly belong, the minimum Essex averages fall to 299 for Group C and rises to 677 for Group D. It is immediately evident that any form of economic stratification based on acreage totals must cut across the resident non resident distinction to reveal major, average and modest landholders in each of the four comparative groups. In this configuration the samples are too small to permit viable general conclusions. Acreage total may be more meaningful if presented in terms of the number of knights per group holding within [fairly] arbitrary bands of acreage totals. Taking the minimum probable totals for holdings within Esses a table of mean averages produces the following result:

Knights Holding more than 500 acres within Essex:

Beauchamp   Crepping Coggeshall
Sutton   Pratellis Lambourne
Tany J     Tany R  De la Mare
Fillol     Merk R.

Knights Holding more between 400 - 500 acres within Essex:

Grapinel Brianzon Gernon  

Knights Holding more between 300 - 400 acres within Essex:

Bigod Gros Watevill Beauchamp
Duresme St Clare Haningfield
Wauton     Monteny

Knights Holding more between 200 - 300 acres within Essex:

Arderne   Barrington Heron
Blount   Boxted  

Knights Holding less than 200 acres within Essex:

  Twinstead Barew Merk J
  Wascoil Burnham  
    Fitz Warin  

The adjustment of this list to include minimum probable totals held in other counties introduces significant changes in the Parliamentary Group raising Bigod, Blount and Breton into the 500+ acre range, and Merk J. In Group D into the 400+ acre range. Thus all but two of the Parliamentary knights held estates, either in Essex or elsewhere, in excess of 300 acres. By comparison half of the remaining resident knights held estates of less than 300 acres, and four of the fourteen held less than 200 acres in Essex. In the Non Resident Group D only two out of nine held less than 300 acres in Essex and only one held less than 200 acres. This kind of distribution places the Parliamentary knights on the same footing as the Non resident Group D knights.

Use of the maximum possible acreage totals produces more dramatic but less reliable results. Taking the maximum holdings, including estates outside Essex, the proportion of Parliamentary knights holding in excess of 500 acres rises to three-quarters, leaving only Duresme holding between 300-400 and Arderne and Lee between 200-330 acres. In Group D Heron and Merk J., both move into the 500+ range. By contrast there is little or no change in Group C. In summary three quarters of the knights in Group A and two thirds of those in Group D may have held estates in excess of 500 acres, compared with only four out of fourteen of the Group C residents. [2].

An estate of 500 acres in demesne land, not counting customary and villein tenancies must be considered fairly substantial, especially if the components from which it was constructed were held in close proximity. Duby, for example, speaks of 350 acres in France as "a great landed possession", albeit in eleventh century Macon [3]. With some exceptions the manors in the estates of the Archbishop of Canterbury were in the range 200-400 acres, and in thirteenth century Leicestershire Hilton considered as important gentry who held estates of only 100-200 acres. [4]The low water mark of feudal poverty could fall even further, to reveal such men as Robert de Aula, who held a quarter of a fee of the bishop of Ely, but had no demesne lands at all [5]. Such a man might well feel himself terminally stranded in the hostile atmosphere of the late thirteenth century agrarian economy. According to this sort of scale of values about one quarter of the Essex gentry were very substantial landholders indeed, and even within this upper echelon there were further subdivisions. On the basis of the minimum probable totals, including all estates, both within Essex and without, three knights emerge as really major landholders with probably more than 1000 acres each. These were Tany R. [Resident], Coggeshall, and Mare [Non Resident], the latter excluding the lands which he held as part of the barony of Castle Combe. These three were evidently very close to being baronial in states, and were closely followed by Beauchamp of Fifield and John de Tany in the Parliamentary Group holding between 700-800 acres, and Bigod, Breton, Sutton and Tany in Group A, Pratellis and Crepping in Group C, and Lambourne and Merk in Group D each held between 500-700 acres. Taking the maximum possible totalsBreton, Sutton, Tany and Wauton [A] join Fillol in the 800+ class, together with Tany R in Group C and Heron in Group D.

On either scale the parliamentary knights evidently represent the weightiest element in the Essex gentry, comparable with the top three knights in Group C, Pratellis Crepping and Tany R, and with Lambourne and Merk R. In Group D. Only Coggeshall and Mare held more, and they must certainly be considered as special cases. Unfortunately these figures must not be pushed too far since their origins are both unreliable and uncertain. It is most probable that the actual acreage totals were in fact much smaller than those arrived at above. The most that can be said with any safety is that the Parliamentary knights appear to have held more land than other gentry in their area, and might, according, wield more influence in the affairs of the county. The relationship between the pattern of landed wealth and the pattern of interest in local government and military commitment remains to be discussed.

The Value of the Land

Counting acres is almost as crude as counting estates, but it is only in these categories that comparable evidence is available for the majority of the knights in the sample. Micro-analysis of the value and economic organisation of these estates rapidly dwindles into a study of a few well documented estates, and even here an analysis of the kind conducted, for example, by Raftis in his study of the estates of Ramsey Abbey or more recently by Hatcher in the estates of the Duchy of Cornwall [6], is out of the question. Such information as is available from the sources comes in fragments which fall far short of an acceptable basis for comparison.

Land values where cited in Inquisitions Post Mortem appear to have varied considerably, perhaps reflecting the varied quality of the land being surveyed. For example arable was worth 2d an acres in Boxted and 7d an acres in Berden during the last half of the thirteenth century, albeit a period of significant price inflation. [7]. Andrew, the father of Hugh le Blunt was supposed to have held arable land worth 1s per acre in Buttsbury [8], but such a figure was doubtless exceptional; 4d to 6d per acre appears to have been more normal. The annual value of land does not appear to have varied significantly between the Eastern and Western parts of Essex, although there is slight evidence for a marginally higher yield in the West. Two knights held estates which were scattered across both regions, namely Guy, father of John de Rochford, Group C, holding at Berden in the extreme North West, Elsenham a little further South and Rochford in the South East, and Ralph de Coggeshall, holding at Duddenhoe [in Elmdon] in the extreme North West Codham and Shalford in the central Northern Area, Coggeshall in the Central Eastern area and Paglesham in the South East. The annual value per acre of the lands in their various tenements, taken at the time of the deaths, is as follows

Berden 7d  2s  1s  
Elsenham 4d  1s 6d  Guy de Rochford [9]
Rochford  4d 3s 4d  
Duddenhoe 4d 3s 6d  
Shalford  4d  - -  
Codham 4d 2s 6d  
Coggeshall 4d 2s 6d Ralph de Coggeshall [10]
Paglesham  1s - -  

Again, with certain exceptions, these figures seem fairly consistent, but in the case of the arable land, at least, they also appear rather low. According to Raftis the demesne arable on the estates of the Abbot of Ramsey was valued at 4d per acre in the twelfth century, rising to 8d per acre in the third quarter of the thirteenth [11]. The uniformity of these limited Essex figures over several estates at any one time may reflect the application of notional or average values by the escheators and the sworn assessors. On the other hand, when the monks of St Peter's Gloucester valued their manor of Littleton in Hampshire in 1265, they ascribed variable values to arable of between 3d and 7d an acre, thus clearly accounting for variations in the quality of the land, even within the same manor. [12] .

Although land values give the possibly illusory impression of remaining fairly constant from place to place at a given time, it is more likely that they increased perceptibly over an extended period. Inquisitions Post Mortem taken for several successive generations of the Tany family [Group C Residents] provide some evidence for such movement. The Tany s held widely separated estates at Stapleford Tany in Ongar Hundred, and Elmstead in Tendring Hundred over four generations between 1270 and 1320. The value per acre of their lands traced through their I.P.M.s produces the following table: [13]

Stapleford 1270 Total 
1296 Total
1301 Total
1320  Total
Arable 5d  360   6d 646 4d  405  6d 632
Meadow  1s 10  2s 16  1s 6d 12 3s 21
Pasture  5d  13 1s 21 1s 21 6d 80
Arable  2d 100      2d  460  4d  360
Meadow  1s  5     1s 6d  13 2s 10
Pasture 5d 24      1s 10    

Here also there is an evident disparity between arable values in different places at the same time, though meadow and pasture values show more consistency. The steady rise in the value of all land between 1270 and 1320 is also immediately apparent, particularly in the case of meadow and pasture which were a necessary provision for maintaining plough beasts. The ratio of arable to pasture was a crucial factor in the expanding agrarian exploitation in the late thirteenth century, especially where arable encroached on meadow thus jointly inflating its rental value whilst at the same time reducing the amount of land available for feeding the plough teams and providing hay for winter fodder. In this respect the trends at Stapleford Tany and Elmstead are consistent with the Postan thesis of reduced output due to overgrazing. With the exception of 1296, the proportion of meadow to arable on the Tany estates remained in the range of 1 acres of meadow for every 33-36 acres of arable, and the value of meadow land tripled during the same period. Moreover, the Tanys were even able to increase their meadow and pasture slightly, though the total fluctuates from generation to generation. [14].

The land values cited in Inquisitions Post Mortem represent the potential rental value of the land, assessed at current values by the escheator's officials. [15]. Actual rental values show the widest disparity. Ralph de Coggeshall, for example, held 346 acres of mainly arable land worth 6-6s-4d per annum in all issues, for the ridiculously small service of 3 shillings per annum, and the whole of the manor of Paglesham, including 140 acres worth £7 per annum at 1s an acre for a mere 2 marks, and suit at the Hundred Court of Rochford [16] . Similar examples may be found throughout the sample, and the disparity is nowhere more obvious than in the tenure of extensive estates in return for the performance of knight service. These low rents reflect in part the persistence of customary or obsolete charges passed on from a tenant's ancestors in the not too distant past. More often they arise either from the direct sale of land to be held for a nominal rent or service, or else beneficial settlements within families, where the rents arranged were also nominal, a practice reflected in Edward Ist's major reforms to the land law embodied in De Donis Conditionalibus and Quia Emptores [Statutes of Westminster II & III]. Actual cash values for land are equally difficult to determine and are, again, conditional on the objectives of the vendor and purchaser who frequently used fictitious legal actions to convey lands for dynastic rather purely commercial reasons. John de Coggeshall, for example, bought a messuage, 6s 8d rent and 161 acres of land for 100 marks [1333s 4d = £66 13s 4d], which is equivalent to approximately 8s per acre, including the appurtenances. [17]He also acquired 612 acres for a rent of £10 per annum, equivalent to a rent of 4d per acre which is comparable to the values seen in contemporary I.P.M.s [18]. Similarly he bought 30 acres for 10 marks [133s 4d] equivalent to approximately 5s per acre for which he was to pay an annual rent of 1d. [19]A random sample of Final Concords over the same period reveals comparable figures, 10s per acre, 6s per acre, even up to 20s per acre. Marsh, however, could be bought for around 6d per acre [20]Rents could also depart widely from the current average. John Heron, for example, acquired 240 acres for an annual rent of £18., or 1s 6d per acre [21]

Rents and other Money Incomes

A discussion of notional rents leads directly to the question of rents actually received as renders from the villeins and other tenants on the land. As usual comparisons are hampered by the inconsistency of the data available, and especially the lack of I.P.M. s for the resident knights in Group C. What follows is therefore a discussion of the economic behaviour of individuals, rather than an explication of general trends.

To begin with the Parliamentary Knights in Group A. Ralph Bigod's manor at Bigods [also known as Alfriston] in Great Dunmow was said to be worth £12 1s when surveyed by the escheator in 1315. [22]The bulk of this total consisted of the notional rents assigned to his lands and appurtenances, the remainder included assized rents worth £2. per annum, and customary rents worth 13s 8d [1 mark 4d]. His income from rents thus amounted to rather more than one sixth of his total income. Ralph also held certain lands in Norfolk worth in all 12 13s 4d, of which more than half consisted of rents. Since his capital manor appears to have been the one in Essex it seems probably that he preferred to let out his Norfolk lands. In 1299 Hugh le Blount was left 276 acres of land in Buttsbury, worth £18 0s 10d in all issues, [23] of which more than two thirds was in the form of assized or customary rents, including rents from two 'towns'. Similarly about one third of the value Jollan de Dureseme's manor at Suffhale in Great Dunmow was made up of rents. [24]John Fillol inherited the manor of Kelvedon from his father in 1260, at which time it was worth £10 per annum, of which only 6s was in the form of rents. When John died in 1317 at age of 80, the value and size of Kelvedon had not changed very much, but slightly more than one third of his income now came from 33 free tenants and 4 customary tenants paying in all about £6 10s of a total annual value for the manor of £17. [25]Henry Grapinel's manor at Stambridge was worth £17 13s 4d in 1296, of which, again, one third consisted of rents. [26]

Amongst the Tax Assessors in Group B the only knight for whom fairly reliable information is available is Bartholomew de Brianzon who died early in the reign of Edward Ist leaving an infant heir His manor at Aveley was said to be worth £18 15s 0d when he died in 1287 [27]of which £7 14s 0d consisted of rents, including 'profits of merchants', probably a ferry charge since he had a weir in the Thames. [28]A more comprehensive extent made at the death of his son William in 1310 values the manor at £19 6s 5d of which approximately half of the income was in the form of rents. [29]

For the Essex Residents in  Group C the only knight for whom there is adequate documentation is Ralph Boxted, who held a modest estate of 240 acres in Boxted worth about £11. Since the notional total income from his lands amounted to little more than £2 the remainder of his income must have come from rents. [30] When his son died twenty two years later the value of the estate had risen to £17 pa. of which slightly more than half consisted of rents. [31] Other well documented knights in this group were really sub-baronial in status. William Gernon, for example, inherited in 1274 four Essex manors worth in total issues about £64 pa. Of which about half of the income of the manors consisted of rents. [32]John, nephew of Guy de Rochford, also inherited considerable estates, purporting to constitute a barony [33]and valued at over £100, one third in rents. The economic status of these so called sub-baronial knights must, however, be kept in perspective. Robert FitzWalter who was a genuine and major Essex Baron died in 1328 leaving six manors in Essex alone comprising more than 2000 acres and worth around £223 in yearly issues. [34]Richard de Tany 's manor at Stapleford is interesting in that although it appears to have doubled in size and value during his lifetime [35]his income from rents apparently decreased from about one quarter when he inherited, to about one twelfth at the time of his death in 1296. Since he also appears to have been acquiring land in this period it may be that he was moving back to direct management of demesne lands, against the prevailing trend. [36]

Real Incomes

These unhelpful figures shade off into the equally misty data available for the non Residents in Group D. Ralph de Coggeshall's better documented estates returned rents of about one quarter of the total annual value of £57 [37], whilst on William de Lambourne's estates over one half of the value consisted of rents. [38]Ernauf de Monteny, the only other viably documented knight in Group D, inherited lands in Mountnessing valued at £18 pa., two fifths of which consisted of rents, and certain lands in Elmdon worth about £3 3s, and paying 16s in rents. [39]

Where sufficient evidence is available it seems to be the case that the income from rents constituted between one third and one half of the estimated value of these knightly estates. The notional values used in I.P.M.s give no real indication of the actual value of the land either as real estate or as exploited from profit, though it is clear that the major component in seigniorial incomes, at least in the latter part of the thirteenth century, came from the sale of grain and other forms of agricultural produce, including wool in Essex, as well as from rents. The proximity of many of these estates to the London market [40]may well have influenced the balance between production and rents, whereas in other parts of England the trend at the end of the thirteenth century seems to have been away from direct cultivation of the demesne. In the absence of either manorial or ministerial accounts for the period in question it is extremely difficult to estimate the real incomes of the Essex gentry. It is certain that the income from rents would be insufficient to support the kind of investment in land revealed in the Feet of Fines. Some clue to the size of real incomes might be afforded by the Lay Subsidy Rolls, but, again, these are defective and incomplete for Essex. Examples are few and far between. The Group D knight Ernauf de Monteny held an estate at North Mimmes in Hertfordshire for which he paid a contribution of 24s 2d to the Fifteenth levied in 1290, and 14s 11d, plus 32s 7d from villeins to the Eleventh of 1295. This suggests that he and his tenants had movable goods on which the tax was assessed with a total capital value of around £18 and £24 respectively. [41]By 1307 this had dropped to 3s 9d to the Twentieth, equivalent to only £3 15s. [42]

Even in the fourteenth century account rolls for small estates are a rarity, and those which have survived can scarcely be used as a guide to the rather different economic conditions of the last half of the thirteenth century. Lionel de Bradenham, who held a small estate of 250 acres at Langenhoe in Essex, had an average income from rents of around £14 pa, but his income from sales of produce amounted to an average of £37 pa. in the period 1325-48. [43]Such figures are probably somewhat distorted by the rapidly changing economic environment of the early fourteenth century, but, if Bradenham is typical, they still suggest that sales of produce was the most significant element in seigniorial incomes. So far as the knights in the thirteenth century are concerned the real value of their incomes remains largely an imponderable to be glimpsed only tangentially through the scale of their activities in other fields, as we might guess at the incomes of modern executives by looking at the cars they drive and the size of their yachts.

Transactions in the Land Market

Where the size and value of estates may provide some index of social or economic stratification within the gentry class, the evidence of Final Concords and other related documents provides a rough guide to the interests and ambitions of individuals in expanding or reducing their estates. A ready market in land was well established by the early years of the thirteenth century. Transactions in land embraced all classes with the ability and desire to mobilise or accumulate capital and convert it into real estate [44]. The desire for legal protection for transactions in land in the face of obsolete feudal customs both stimulated and encouraged the burgeoning competence of the royal courts and was instrumental in bringing the mechanisms of government closer to ordinary people and thus allowing them to leave traces in the historical record. By the reign of Edward Ist the opportunities for the expansion of landed estates were increasingly limited, both by the shortage of land available for purchase, by price inflation and by increasing baronial awareness of the long term consequences of the sale of tenant lands under the fictitious cover of nominal subinfeudation. During this period the legal needs of the gentry, and the landholding classes in general, seem to have shifted from the desire for adequate legal machinery to facilitate and secure the sale of land, more or less covered by the mechanism of fictitious actions record in a tripartite indentures, to an implicit demand for legal protection of existing estates with specific provision for the defence of estates settled on members of the family by conditional gifts and grants, usually by male entails. The legal problems raised by the shift to dynastic planning for the conservation and disposition of existing estates was addressed in part by the Statute of Westminster II, De Donis Conditionalibus which was intended to safeguard the interests of the baronial classes against sale and subinfeudation by opportunistic mesne tenants. The Statute of Westminster III, Qia Emptores was on the face of it more obviously beneficial to the mesne tenants, and, in the long term, especially beneficial to the crown.

This movement from expansion to retrenchment is reflected in the activities of the Essex gentry in the land market. More than half of the knights in the sample used conveyances effected by Final Concords as a means of securing family settlements by defining the terms of succession of estates to their heirs and assigns. More conventionally Final Concords were also used not so much in the purchase of more lands as in the judicious pruning by sale of remote estates in order to allow more concentrated investment on one estate or a group of contiguous estates. Many of these gentlemen were merely marking time, letting out, selling or exchanging remote interests; consolidating and fortifying themselves against increasing economic and social pressures.

The parliamentary knight, John de Beauchamp of Fifield is fairly typical of this static majority. [45]In addition to his 'core' estates in Essex he acquired the manor of Stapeley in Hampshire, probably as a short term investment, and later demised it. Similarly his manor at Fulbourne in Cambridgeshire, inherited as part of his patrimony, was let out to farm for seven years or more, and eventually turned over to his son. In both cases it seems that Beauchamp found it easier to suspend direct exploitation of his estates outside Essex in order to concentrate on Fifield.

Whilst the majority of the knights in the sample were apparently marking time, there were about twelve who were acquiring lands and expanding their estates. The evidence for such movements in the land market comes in most cases from the Final Concords which terminated please of warranty of charter, where the plea often represents a fictitious action brought to secure the transfer of land by outright sale between vendor and vendee under the guise of creating a nominal subtenancy. These processes start in the reign of John, as the market perceived the advantages of a court record of such transactions implemented through the court of Grand Assize. By the end of the thirteenth century the sale of land by feudal subterfuge had so distorted the tenurial hierarchy that it could only be reconciled with economic realities through statute legislation, though Edward's solution was the double edged sword of Quia Emptores which legitimised the sale of land by mesne tenants without compromising the rights of the superior lords, but stored up significant legal and political problems for the future. Although many pleas recorded by Final Concords were fictitious actions there were undoubtedly a number of cases where the plea of warranty of charter was a real action by which existing rights in estates were challenged, and settled by the courts according to the justice of the case. In such instances the fine may represent the confirmation of rights in lands already held by the plaintiff rather than the concealed acquisition of new estates. Without an actual knowledge of an individual's existing holdings it is difficult to be sure whether new lands were being acquired or old ones confirmed. However by the late thirteenth century real actions over rights in land were more likely to be settled by pleas of novel disseisin or other formulary actions. So it may be assumed that the majority of concords drawn up as pleas of warranty of charter were intended to secure the peaceful transfer of estates with the consent of the vendor and vendee. Where the transfer was confirmed, as it invariably was, the concord may be taken to indicate an acquisition to an individual's estates. The problem is that in many cases these transfers merely involved redistribution of lands within a family, especially in respect of marriage settlements, rather than an actual expansion of land, so all figures must be treated with considerable caution..

With one notable exception the scale of acquisitions was relatively small, within the range of 30-120 acres in most cases. However Grapinel, Gros, Rochford and Sutton appear to have expanded their holdings by between 200 and 340 acres, and Wauton may have acquired over 700 acres, of which 300 acres was marsh, not necessarily unproductive since sheep could be run on it. In the cases of both Grapinel and Sutton these gains were later dissipated since both men died without male heirs. More typical cases of acquisitions would be Fillol and Haningfield, buying up, or otherwise acquiring, lands and the reversion of lands in the 75-100 acres range.

Similarly, the sale of estates presents no great surprises. About one quarter of the sample were apparently losing ground in the economic race, though, as has already been suggested, some were merely adjusting their assets to changing economic conditions by letting out or leasing estates and capitalising on reversions. Only one, to be considered in due course, could be said to be evidently declining but for most the scale of transactions was entirely comparable with the scale of acquisitions, typical cases being John de Merk letting out some 87 acres, and John de la Mare, adequately compensated by the barony of Castle Combe, letting out about 90 acres to be held by the tenant for life only for a rent of 9s and one pound of cummin per annum. Activities of this kind can scarcely described as losses, though they are indicative of changing economic pressures which encouraged prudent landholders to engage in some judicious downsizing. Significantly eight of the knights who were selling or letting out estates were men of above average wealth and status. Gernon, de la Mare, Merk J, Monteny, Pratellis and Richard de Tany were all men of substance, superior in wealth and status to the majority of the gentry, including many of the Parliamentary Buzones. They were also men whose probable style of life was better served by an income based on sales and rents than on the declining profits of direct agricultural exploitation.

Taken overall transactions in the land market appear to be unremarkable. The general impression is one of retrenchment rather than expansion, with the majority merely consolidating their assets, whilst a minority converted their estates to rents and sold off reversions, probably in order to maintain a high standard of living. The distribution of sales and disposals between the four comparative groups does not reveal any significant patterns, except that one parliamentary knight was letting out most of his estates, whilst seven of the remainder in that group were more or less status and five were apparently expanding their lands.

These modest activities are thrown into sharper relief by contrast with two exceptional cases, one rising and one falling, which may now be considered in more detail. The first, and most startling, is Ralph of Coggeshall, who may have acquired over 100 acres in various parts of Essex. Ralph died in 1305, leaving six estates which formed the nuclei of four basic regional groupings. These primary estates were at Little Benfleet and Pagglesham, Codham and Shalford, Duddenhoe and Coggeshall. [46]There is little record of Ralph before his first fine in 1261, where he is identified as Ralph son of Laurence de Coggehsall. [47]By this concord Ralph exchanged 9 acres of land in Feering for 4s rent from the pond of a mill in Coggeshall. Other fines for land in this group centred around Coggeshall were for 30 acres bought in Inworth for 10 marks in 1271-72, 23s 9d rent in Coggehsall bought for 23 marks in 1280-1, [48]and 162 acres of land and 3 roods of meadow, 6s 8d rent and a messuage in Coggeshall, Kelvedon and Braxted bought in 1304 for 100 marks. [49]

His group of estates in Shalford and Codham included a messuage and 46 acres of land bought for 100s in 1269 [50]a messuage and 162 acres of land, a water mill and 6s rent in Shalford acquired in 1283, [51]and nearly 500 acres of land in Wethersfield, Bocking, Gosfield, Panfield, Saling and Great and Little Rayne, with the reversion of a further 185 acres and 25s rent in the same vills, acquired in 1293 for a rent of 10 pa. [52]Lastly, in 1298 he received the quitclaim of a messuage and a mill, 120 acres of land, 200 acres of land and 10s rent in Shalford, [53]together with the advowson of the church there.

The group centred on Duddenhoe included 2 messuages and a mill, 317 acres of land, 18s of rent and the reversion of a further third of a messuage and 63 acres of land, with other appurtenances, in Elmden and Arkesden acquired by a settlement in 1286 for a consideration of one sore sparrowhawk and a nominal annual rent of 1d. [54]From Pagglesham and Little Benfleet Ralph also held one knight's fee in Canewdon, Rawreth and Hockley in 1302, [55]and he appears to have had a further separate group consisting of 2 messuages, 280 acres of land, 50 acres of marsh, 5 acres of meadow, 30 acres of pasture and 22s rent in Thorrington, Alresford, Frating and Great Bentley, which he transferred to Roger Coggeshall, probably a son, in 1294-5 to be held by him for his life only. [56]

By the standards of the other knights in the sample the volume of concords undertaken is striking, quite apart from the quantity of land acquired. Most of Ralph's initial holdings seem to have come to him as a result of the marriage of his son John to Sarah daughter of Laurence of Plumberew, [57]whose antecedents are equally obscure. Ralph's rapidly rising fortunes laid the foundations of a long standing and subsequently powerful Essex family. [58] Ralph was clearly sufficiently substantial in terms of respect to command the trust of Robert FitzWalter, and his name is also linked with Denise de Montchensey, widow of William to Montchensey, probably baron of Swanscombe in Kent, whose daughter, also Denise, eventually married Hugh de Vere. [59] Ralph, the elder Denise and William de Haste bought the custody of the younger Denise in 1288 by a fine for 2,000 marks, a substantial sum, and acted as executors for the will of her father. [60]In 1291 Ralph was accused with Denise the elder of disseising Thomas Gobion of his free tenement in East Lee ,sic, in Essex, and in 1314 he was again linked with Denise in directions to the executors of their respective wills, albeit nine years after Ralph's death., one of his executors being the Group D Non Resident William de Haningfield. [61]No extent is available for the lands over which Ralph and Denise exercised their custody, but when the younger Denise died in 1313 she left more than 26 manors in 8 counties, [62]and her heir was the Earl of Pembroke. In 1290 Denise the elder held movable goods in four Hertfordshire vills valued at £73, £75, £19, and £54 respectively . [63] Such wealth was not characteristic of the run of average knights and gentry. It is clear that the Montchenseys were well into the fringes of the baronage, if not actually in it. Ralph's relationship with them is harder to explain but it is possible that he was a steward of the Montchenseys and came into his own estates through opportunistic investment of the rewards of his stewardship or his familiarity with the possibilities for profit inherent in his office. This was, after all, the age of Adam de Stratton, steward to Isabella de Fortibus, whose financial activities caused a major scandal in the 1290s. [64]

At the other extreme is the Group C Resident John de Pratellis, whose background is equally obscure. He disposed of something in the order of 500 acres of land, and rents worth  £40, sold for a cash value of £300. In 1305 John held fees in Tolleshunt and Tollesbury, Langford and Maldon, forming an extensive group, with a further single holding at Sible Hedingham.[65]Between 1305 and 1319 many of these estates were disposed of, either to John le Bouser or to the Earl of Oxford. His only acquisition during this period was the manor of Messing, bought in 1307 from Robert de Vere for £20, but probably in fact exchanged for John's manor at Sible Hedingham bought by the Earl in the same year for 200 marks. [66] . This exchange looks at first sight like a rationalisation of interests, since Messing was closer to John's other holding's around Langford, whilst Sible Hedingham was remote from the main group, but close to the estates of the Earl of Oxford. Two further sales in 1305-6 disposing of estates in Aldham and Little Laver, both remote from the Maldon/Langford group suggest a further reduction of outlying commitments. [67]A similar sale of smaller estates in Belchamp William and Gestingthorp in 1310 [68] follows the same trend, but the rest of his estates went piecemeal. In 1307 the reversion of the manor of Burhall in Sible Hedingham, went to the Earl of Oxford, after the life of the tenant [69]and in 1308-9 John le Bouser bought 2 acres of land with the advowson of the Church in Sible Hedingham for 20 marks, together with a further 345 acres of land in Messing and Inworth bought for a consideration of £100 . [70]The manor of Great Maldon was sold to Robert FitzWalter in 1314 for 60 marks, at the king's instruction, [71]and further arrangements for the succession of John's estates in Langford were made in the same year. [72]In 1315 John le Bouser bought 2 acres of land and the advowson of the church in Langford and by 1319 he had acquired the manor of Langford for a rent of £40 pa. [73]By 1346 the Pratellis fee in Maldon was in the hands of John Fitzwalter, John de Vere held the Sible Hedingham fee and John le Bourgher held his fee in Langford and a Bourgher {or Bouser} held his fees in Tolleshunt and Tollesbury in 1428. [74]

The reasons for the dispersal of the Pratellis estates are open to speculation. It is possible that he was in severe financial difficulties, or that he was unable to administer his estates as a result of illness of insanity. The intervention of the king in a politically contentious reign raises more sinister possibilities. John may well have been a tenant of the de Veres, although this is not immediately apparent, and he was certainly in the Earl's custody in the period after his father death, around 1285. [75] It may be no coincidence that his estates went to great men like de Vere and FitzWalter, or to the more enigmatic Bouser, who went to parliament as the proxy of Earl of Oxford in 1306, in the company of John de Wascoil. [76]In view of his name variously rendered as Bouser, Burser or Bourchier, he may well have been a steward of the Earl and, if so, his career may parallel that of Coggeshall, both emerging from relative obscurity and rising into new fortunes with the help of great men and, in Bouser's case, perhaps at the expense of another declining family in the care of his own patron. Whatever the reasons for Bouser's rising fortunes, his acquisitions in Essex , like Coggeshall's, formed the nucleus of a new Essex dynasty. His descendant, Robert Bourchier, held some fifteen estates in Essex, including those which had once belonged to the Pratellis family, served with distinction in the French wars of Edward IIIrd, represented Essex in parliament and was appointed Chancellor of England in 1341. [77]

Whilst Coggeshall and Pratellis stand out from the majorioty of the knights in the sample by virtue of their rising and declining fortunes their lives were evidently closely meshed with the local baronage which makes them untypical. Other knights in the sample also had characteristics which contributed to their 'status' in the county and distinguished them from the average. For example Andrew Blount, the father of the parliamentary knight Hugh Blount, was a nephew of Henry le Blount, Archbishop of Dublin, from whom he received his Staffordshire estates, and a younger son of Robert Blund, a Goldsmith of London, who bought estate in Buttsbury between 1197 and 1231. [78]Blounts, or Blunds, continued to be a major aldermanic family in London during the second half of the thirteenth century, [79]whilst the Essex branch of the family thrived rapidly into the country gentry. Here, therefore, one branch of a mercantile or artisan family with an already well established tradition of public service in the city moved into, and adopted, a similar tradition in the counties. Hugh le Blount's career suggests that access to the ruling caucus in not one, but three, counties could be achieved within one generation by a determined, ambitious, or perhaps merely conscientious individual. Similarly, Jollan de Duresme, like the Blounts, entered the Essex gentry by way of the London patriciate [80]and moved, also in one generation, from an urban administrative elite to a rural one. By the later thirteenth century, then, the distinction between urban and rural landholders had evidently narrowed and the gentrification of metropolitan entrepreneurs had already begun.

By contrast Gernon, Rochford, Mare, Monteny and Tany R  enjoyed the more traditional role of military knights. All were substantial men and their style of life suggests that they were more 'strenuous' knights than their administrative gentry counterparts. The Gernons were established in Essex in 1166, and their honourable service to King John and Henry III earned for them the manors of Bakewell in Derbyshire and Easthorpe and Birch in Essex. [81]Ralph the Elder, father of William Gernon, married well, first to the daughter of the Earl of Oxford, and later to Hawisia Tregoz. [82]Rochfords were holding in Berden in 1197, and John de Rochford's immediate ancestor, his uncle Guy, was the Poitevin bailiff of the borough of Colchester, whose zealous service to Henry IIIrd incurred the wrath of the baronial council in 1258. [83]Like Gernon, John de Rochford was on the fringes of the baronage, and was said to hold 'per baronium' in 1303, though he is not elsewhere described as a baron. [84]Another of the same kind is John de la Mare, a substantial knight in his own right, who moved temporarily into the baronage through his marriage, without royal license, to Petronilla de Dunstanvill, widow of Robert de Montfort, and heiress to the barony of Castle Combe in Wiltshire. [85]This included lands at Isleham in Cambridgeshire, and other estates of the barony in Wiltshire, all of which were linked with John's Essex and Suffolk estates in a grant of warren made to John and Petronilla in 1283. [86]John's gains were, however, precarious. Petronilla died before 1293 and whilst John continued to hold the barony by courtesy, after this death it reverted to his stepson, William de Montfort. [87]The financial penalties for marrying a royal ward without license pursued him for the rest of his life. Although he eventually remarried he still lacked a male heir, and on his death in 1313 the bulk of his own estates went to his second wife Eleanor, with whom he was jointly enfeoffed, and after that to his daughter Florence, by his first wife Petronilla. [88]

Lastly, both Monteny and Richard de Tany were caught up in the barons' wars and involved in national rather than local struggles. Ernauf de Monteny's father Robert was an active participant and was explicitly forbidden to take part in the proposed Dunstable tournament of 1265 so that he would be free to treat with the king over the release of the Lord Edward. [89]Ernauf's uncle, also Ernauf, or Arnold, a knight of the household, was himself accidentally killed by Roger Leybourne at a Round Table in 1252, and the suspicious manner of his death was sufficiently noteworthy to attract the attention of Matthew Paris, always on the lookout for a good story. [90]Richard de Tany the younger, taking sides against his father, supported Henry IIIrd, and was appointed by him to receive the disinherited in Essex in 1266. [91]In spite of the fact that he was deprecatingly referred to in 1268 as 'one of a horde of knights' [92]Tany took advantage of his real, or imagined, influence with the king by claiming the manor of Theydon Mount which, as he said, 'is a pretty manor and lies next to mine at Stapleford; it would suit me nicely and I'll go and ask the king to give it to me'. Unfortunately Theydon Mount had already been granted to Robert de Brus, but this did not deter Richard from producing, unsuccessfully, a forged charter asserting a prior claim. [93]The Tanys were clearly a family of chancers, not least Richard's more famous relative Luke de Tany, an ex Seneschal of Gascony and favoured military commander in Edward's Welsh Wars, who managed to get himself drowned in the Menai Straits in 1282.

Each of these five knights clearly belonged to the upper strata of the gentry, bordering on the baronage and well connected with it either by intermarriage or by service. Their military style of life was more baronial in character than that of the gentry and, as we shall see, they did not involved themselves very much in the humdrum tasks of county administration. The borderlines between this upper echelon and the middle ranks of the gentry were, of course, very imprecise. Certain knights were apparently suspended between two alternative lifestyles. For example the parliamentary knight John de Beauchamp of Fifield was a major landholder in several counties, and had inherited his Essex estates from his ancestor Nicholas de Beauchamp, one of the coheirs of Gilbert de Tany's barony of Aveley. [94]John's father, Roger de Beauchamp, had served Henry III well and had earned due gratitude from that capriciously generous king. [95]The family as a whole must be considered as substantial both in lands and in social standing. Similarly John de Merk may be placed in this upper strata, not because of his estates, which were apparently quite modest, but because he was a Royal Falconer and enjoyed special privileges and benefits, including service in the Royal Household in time of war. [96]

Knights mainly Settling, Balancing or Consolidating estates
Arderne Baud Barrington Beauchamp of Hersham
Beauchamp of Fifield Brianzon Boxted Goldingham
Bigod St Clare Mandevill Merk R.
Blount   Morel  
Breton   Wokingdon  

Knights mainly Acquiring estates
Fillol Gros Barew Coggeshall
Grapinel   Burnham Haningfield
Lee   Rochford Lambourne

Knights mainly Selling, Letting Out or otherwise disposing of estates
Tany J Twinstead Crepping Heron
  Wascoil Gernon De la Mare
    Tany R Monteny


The Feudal Framework

An analysis of the number, value and nature of the estates held by these knights provides some evidence of economic stratification and the record of their transactions in land suggests that they were mostly conserving rather than expanding their holdings. The social environment in which these movements in land were conducted also throws light on the social milieu of those involved but the better documented the knights are those closest to the baronage and therefore not necessarily typical of the county knights as a whole.

Landed wealth was not, in theory at least, the only criterion of social status since the land held by knights was ostensibly stratified not just by income but also by the terms of their feudal tenure. In principle a count of knights' fees might provide an alternative index of status. In practice the real and the theoretical constituents of knighthood had become so far separated by the end of the thirteenth century that real status was not longer contingent on the amount of knight service owed, or the number of fees held, though who they held from could be a clue to an individuals significance. A mere count of fees would thus present an impression so misleading as to be meaningless. For example the parliamentary knight Ralph le Bigod held at his death some 342 acres of land, mostly arable, in Alfriston by service of one half of a knight's fee, whereas the significantly less active Ralph of Boxted held a mere 178 acres in Boxted for the service of a whole fee . [97]The disparity between feudal commitments and economic resources has already been discussed in the introductory chapter. Both Henry III and Edward Ist suffered from a chronic shortage of fighting knights, and the latter increasingly attempted to supplement the tenurial aspects of knighthood by imposing a national system of obligations falling on well defined income groups. [98]Not unnaturally the gentry reacted strongly against royal attempts to coerce them into undertaking the onerous obligations of military knighthood, the style of which was now purely honorary, whilst the practice was both expensive and dangerous.

Something like a quarter of the knights in the Essex sample are known to have been fined for failing to take up official knighthood under Edward's distraint procedures. This included knights from all of the sample groups, both rich and poor, active and inactive. [99] Entries in the assize rolls refers indiscriminately to both a tenurial and a property qualification as grounds for distraint. Jollan de Duresme, for example, was a second generation knight with mercantile antecedents. He was fined in 1262 for failing to take up knighthood contingent on his fee in Great Dunmow [100]though his manor in Great Dunmow had been granted to his grandfather by the King in 1242 and it was held for at least two generation by service of serjeanty, which is less than knight service. [101]Unless the assize was wrongly informed of the service due from Jollan's tenement, the order for distraint must have been based on an assessment of the value of his property, rather than its obligations. It might seem likely that an arriviste like Jollan would have jumped at the opportunity of enhancing his status from serjeant to knight. In fact he had to be distrained to take up his title. Seen from the perspective of parliament he was indubitably a knight, though no part of his lands was burdened with knight service., He went to parliament as a knight of the shire, and he had his own coat of arms. Yet accordingly to a classical definition of knighthood he was not a knight at all.

The apparent reluctance of 'knight worthy' persons to take up the legal obligations of knighthood, [102]however determined, raises a further question about the heritability of knighthood itself. By the thirteenth century feudal land, and the obligations which accompanied it, was normally heritable without challenge on the payment of a relief. Although the obligation was normally knight service, where the tenant held a knight's fee, the style of knighthood was something quite separate, a personal honour conferred by dubbing. By the end of the thirteenth century dubbing, like warfare, had become a lavish and costly performance, fitting only for the higher nobility and beyond the means and aspirations of many ordinary knights who preferred to pay fines for respite of knighthood rather than accept honours and obligations beyond their interests and in conflict with their actual status. This did not, apparently, mean that they regarded themselves as being any the less genuine knights, but the choice between being a professional fighting knight and being a rural administrator was increasingly a choice between being a knight or a gentleman. The existence of a legal procedure for enforcing knighthood thus implies a sharp distinction on the part of the central government between de facto and de jure knighthood. This point may be illustrated by the case of Robert de Merk, one of the wealthier non resident knights in Group D. Ingram, father of Robert, held certain lands in Essex of the King in chief, by service of 2 knights's fees. [103] His actual tenurial status is not, therefore, in doubt. When he died early in 1259, a writ was issued for the escheat of his lands to the crown, the normal practice on the death of a tenant in chief. By the 21st of March Robert had done homage for his father's lands and had been given leave to enter them. [104]Three years later it was presented at the Essex Eyre that Robert held an integral fee in Great Dunmow, but had not taken up knighthood and was therefore liable to be distrained. [105] This delay of three year suggests that whilst Robert was eager to have his patrimony and acted quickly in respect to the relief due, he did not apparently care much about the knight service which was contingent on it. It is also evident that the official condition of knighthood was not subsumed in the act of homage for his father's lands, but had to be obtained separately. Merk's case is particularly well documented, but at least three of the parliamentary knights who failed initially to take up knighthood did so within one to twelve years after their respective fathers had died again suggesting that they did not automatically take up knighthood at the time that they inherited the family lands. [106]

Avoidance of formal knighthood may suggest a rejection of a social status which was no longer consistent with the actual nature of the gentry class. No doubt many of the gentry were content to live on their estates as lords, dominus rather than miles and styling themselves as knights by virtue of their lands and their families, rather than by their obsolete feudal obligations or the new ornaments of chivalry which were now defining the boundaries between real knights and country gentry.

The importance of all this may be overstressed. Those Essex knights who failed to take up knighthood formed a minority of the sample, and there is little or no record of the attitudes of the remainder. As will be seen in Chapter VIII   by no means all of the Essex knights avoided the military service which befell them by virtue of their twenty librate incomes. At least one them, John de Wateville, was officially knighted by the king and received his robes from the Wardrobe [107]and many of the rest could scarcely be described as pusillanimous by virtue if their recorded military service..

The Essex evidence, then, suggests a transition from a feudal concept of knighthood to a local concept, based on landed wealth and social acceptance, coexisting with a more professionally military form of knighthood close to the baronage and superior to their country cousins. The fact that  urban entrepreneurs like Duresme and Blount, and baronial stewards like Coggeshall could move so rapidly into the local gentry testifies to the fluidity of the class as a whole. It is questionable whether these men considered themselves any the less knights because they were not dubbed. Most of them were styled as 'miles' or 'dominus' in official records, most had coats of arms which testified to their ancestral titles, most of them doubtless had ancestral weapons and armour and carried swords when they travelled as an outward symbol of their knightly status. But most of them were at best amateur soldiers, compared with the baronage and the bannerets, and their real interests lay in the management of their estates and in the duties and obligations of local government which must be the subject of the next chapter.