The contrast between the extremes of ostensibly unpaid public service, as in the case of the Coroner, and the fringes of private benefit as in the case of franchise holding, becomes more apparent if the analysis is carried into the area of private administration proper, where the knights may be seen as 'consumers' of the services of government rather than 'operators' of it. Evidence of the use of the instruments of government for private ends can be determined from a variety of sources, not all of them particularly reliable. The were five obvious areas of 'private administration' in which knights, and others, might be actively involved. These were:

Each of these activities entailed the use of government agencies, usually the courts, as a means of achieving some private objective. Each brought the gentry into contact with the instruments of government and familiarised them with its services. Some were initiators of actions, others were victims attempting to defend themselves, and yet others appeared in court in the interests of their neighbours.

Executors of Wills.

The first and smallest category is that of executors of wills. Four knights from Group A acted in this capacity, namely Ralph Bigod in 1289, for the will of Walter of Essex. John le Breton in 1272 for Imbert Pugeys. Jollan de Duresme in 1313 for Rober de St. Clare, and Henry Grapinel in 1276 for Robert de Briwes. [1]In addition, Geoffrey Morel [C] was one of the executors of the will of Christiana de Berners in 1296, Ralph de Coggeshall [D] was the executor for William Fitz Warin de Monte Caniso in 1289, and William de Haningfield [D] did the same for Ralph himself in 1314. [2] From the point of view of Group distribution this elicits little comment. The Group A knights predominate, but, with the exception of Morel, those knights who were not in Group A had other qualities which might commend them as executors., Haningfield as a justice, and Coggeshall because of his wealth. To be asked to act as an executor implied a recognition of status and probity and those for whom these knights acted in this capacity were themselves familiar names in Essex, though, with the exception of Coggeshall, not part of the sample.


Many more knights, eighteen in all, acted as witnesses to various forms of legal instruments, mainly charters. These are, of course, absolutely minimal figures relating only to surviving instruments enrolled through royal, rather than private, agencies. The witnessing of charters may also be taken as an index of status, pointing to the connections of the 'weightier knights' and their perceived status within the county community. In Group A, Bigod witnessed a charter in 1260, and 1291, Breton in 1290, Fillol in 1302, Grapinel in 1291, Sutton in 1313 and John de Tany in 1300. [3]Only two knights from Group B witnessed charters, namely Brianzon in 1279, and Gros in 1294. [4]In Group C, Boxted witnessed charters in 1290 and 1294, Burnham in 1294 and 1313, Gernon in 1306, and Richard de Tany, the most active in this as in some respects, witnessed four instruments, two in 1271, and one each in 1278 and 1289. [5]Lastly in Group D, Coggeshall and Lambourn, both men of substance, were witnesses in 1273 and 1289 respectively, and de la Mare's name is to be found on a variety of charters in 1281, 1286, 1291 and 1298. [6]John and Robert de Merk both witnessed charters, the former in 1271 and the latter in 1297 [7]

In most cases the charters witnessed by these men were of purely local importance, though it may well be that those who acted as witnesses were taken by their principals to be men of above average standing in the county whose presence added authority to the charter. Alternatively, it is possible that their names appear on charters because they just happened to be available at the time when a charter or other legal document needed sealing, in much the same way that the names of solicitors' secretaries appear as witnesses to modern wills and conveyances. Three charters, however, stand out as potential indices of status on a wider social scale. The charter witnessed by John Fillol in 1302 confirmed the surrender by the Earl of Norfolk of his rights in Norfolk to king and in 1279 Bartholomew de Brianzon appears in an inspeximus of a grant by Queen Eleanor, probably in his capacity as a Household knight, [8]and William Gernon was a witness to a charter drawn up between Edward Ist and John Balliol, ex king of Scotland, in the Westminster parliament of May 1306. [9] Gernon was not returned to this assembly as a representative, nor was he summoned as a baron, but he may have attended informally to take part in the knighting of Edward of Caernarfon. As we shall see this is but one example of a knight attending a parliament for reasons other formal election. It might be argued that these three acts of witnessing are exceptional and atypical since they take place outside the conventional context of the county caucus. In respect to the other acts of witnessing the distribution of witnesses between groups favours the Parliamentary knights in Group A, together with a significant proportion of the non resident Group D men. With the exception of Morel and Burnham, neither of whom make much of a mark elsewhere, the witnesses were knights of above average status and importance.


As well as witnessing charters some of the knights in the sample were prepared to stand as sureties for their associates, guaranteeing their presence before a court, underwriting their good behaviour or their financial solvency. As with witnessing it might be expected that those seeking sureties would look to their more substantial neighbours. The appearance of a knight in an enrolled list of sureties might be taken to imply that he was sufficiently important to be reliable, and trustworthy, and, in cases of debt, sufficiently wealthy to cover himself should his principal default. Eighteen knights offered themselves as securities in various causes, and exactly half of them also acted as witnesses of executors. Half also came from Group A alone, three from Group B, four from Group C, and two only from Group D. In order of Groups they were from Group A, Arderne in 1271 standing for Master William de Arderne and in 1275 for William de Montchensy of Edwardstone, in 1276 for Elias de Tyngewick, and in 1294 he was acquitted with William and John de Sutton [A], William de Wauton [A], Hugh le Blount [A] and others for failing to produce Guy de Schenfield before the Forest Eyre. [10]. In 1286 Bigod stood surety for William de Lambourne then sheriff, and in 1300 for Ralph de Merk, [11]Breton stood for John de Cherchull in 1270, Duresme with Bigod for Ralph de Merk and for Christiana de Berners in 1305, Fillol with John de la Lee [A] John and William de Sutton for Ralph de Boxted and Ralph le Bigod, then sheriffs, in 1289, for John of Kelvedon in 1290, and for the Earl of Hereford in 1291. [12]

The three knights in Group D who acted as sureties were Baud, for Philip Breland in 1274, Gros, whose lands were distrained to ensure the presence of Thomas de Stodham before the Barons of the Exchequer in 1293, and Wascoil, acting for Robert de Ver in 1290. [13]In Group C, Mandevill Haningfield and Barrington were also associated with the Guy de Schenfield case mentioned above, Morel and Richard de Tany with John Fillol, in Christiana de Berners case in 1305, and with Ralph de Arderne for William de Montchesney in 1275. [14]Lastly, Haningfield, in Group D, offered himself as a surety in 1278 for the debts to the Exchequer of the deceased Alice Loveday, for William Giffard in 1267, and, along with the rest of the Essex caucus for Guy Schenfield in 1294. [15] John de Merk, the only other Group D knight to appear as a surety acted on behalf of John of Kelvedon, imprisoned in Colchester in 1290. [16]

For the most part the principals to whom the sureties were bound were local people, knights and sheriffs, who were being held to account for their debts or their behaviour, and the details of the cases need not concern us here.. Three cases demand more specific attention. The first is the string of acquittances of sureties for failing to hold Guy Shenfield to account. This will be dealt with in due course. The second is the rather different matter arising from the inclusion of the Group A knight John Fillol with Robert Tibetot, Robert FitzWalter, and Thomas de Berkeley as sureties of the Earl of Hereford in a fine of 1,000 marks made in 1291. [17] This was the final episode in the celebrated dispute between the Earls of Hereford and Gloucester who had forfeited their lands for defying the king's prohibition on private warfare. [18] If there is no conflict of identity, Fillol's association with the Earl of Hereford in 1291, and the Earl of Norfolk in 1302 would establish him as a knight of considerable standing, and a party to negotiations between the king and his greatest barons. There is no evidence that Fillol held any of his lands from either of the two Earls, so the reasons for his relationship with these great men remains in doubt. He did, however, hold some of his ancestral lands at Little Oakley and Little Baddow from the FitzWalters, who were long standing and major Essex barons. [19] Offering oneself as a surety required a more active commitment than merely witnessing documents and is was likely to entail genuine rather than fortuitous propinquity. Fillol therefore appears to have moved in exalted circles. Secondly John de Wascoil, an erstwhile tax collector, acted as a surety for Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, in 1290. There is no evidence of any formal connection between Wascoil and the de Veres. He was primarily a tenant of Robert de Brus, and later of Hugh le Despenser, but his lands were adjacent to the Vere territory near their Essex seat at Castle Hedingham, in the Hundred of Hinckford. [19]Whilst the case of Fillol suggests an informal tenurial connection through the FitzWalters, Wascoil's association with the Veres suggests a drift from strictly tenurial associations towards the more informal neighbourhood connections more characteristic of the fourteenth century. In either event it is clear that these two men were much closer to the local baronage than most of the other Essex knights and may have moved in a different social circle, or been retained by them in some way.

Each of these three categories of private administration is implicitly linked to status; each presupposes characteristics and conditions which might make the performers suitable to act as executors, witnesses or sureties, and might point to those active in these fields as important members of the county community. Unfortunately the evidence is far from helpful. As with some other sources the appearance of sureties in the written records is usually fortuitous because it becomes apparent only when something goes wrong and the sureties were called to account before a court of record. There may well be many other instances where knights pledged themselves for their friends without suffering any penalty and so never appeared in the records. There are, no doubt, many other sources, including private deeds and baronial records where minor individuals might, or might not, appear as witnesses or sureties. Given the capricious nature of this type of evidence it is doubtful whether there is any significant benefit to be derived from hunting for needles in private, as opposed to royal, haystacks.

In terms of numbers a total of twenty seven knights in the sample acted as agents in each of these three private categories. By groups this consisted of eleven out of twelve in Group A and four out of six in Group B, compared with six out of fourteen in Group C and six out of ten in Group D. The parliamentary knights and the associated group of tax collectors were thus more likely to be called upon to act as executors, witnesses and sureties for other knights. On the other hand the performance of witnessing functions was not contingent on having been to parliament since only one knight, Jollan de Duresme, performed his first recorded witnessing after he had attended a parliament. The characteristics which might make certain knights suitable for election to parliament would probably also qualify them for other duties, both public and private, and their involvement in these duties would enhance their suitability for more prestigious duties.


In addition to the status orientated aspects of the private use of the courts the gentry were also intensely involved in litigation of all kinds. In many cases they appear as defendants, thus acting as passive consumers of justice, though the title of defendant or deforciant in land cases was often a mere formality in the process of a fictitious action. They were also anxious to use the courts as a means of securing recognisances and debts. In both of these final categories of private business the legal agencies of the government were used by the knights almost entirely for private ends, and since there was no property, status, or income bar to their use, it was in these two fields that the gentry were most active.

Some thirty four of the forty two knights in the sample were parties to litigation other than that entailed in the Final Concords discussed above in Chapter III, and thirty three of them enrolled debts before a court. The distribution between groups is fairly uniform for both categories. In litigation it includes nine from Group A, four from Group B, fourteen from Group C, and seven from Group D. Similarly, eleven knights from Group A enrolled debts, five from Group B, eleven from Group C and six from Group D. In both cases this represents a high proportion of the knights in each groups, and especially those in Group C, who score less well in other categories of public administration. The generally high incidence of debts enrolled may well be indicative of increasing economic pressures on the gentry at all levels.

In order to save space and reduce endnotes evidence of litigation and debt enrolment is tabulated and referenced in Appendix C. Most of the instances of litigation concerned pleas of land, in a variety of conventional forms, the most common being novel disseisin, mort d'ancestor and simple trespass. They reflect an age where the pressure to augment holdings might be satisfied by both legal and illegal means. In about three quarters of the total number of cases, about eighty in all, the knights in question were arraigned as defendants, but in many cases the plaintiff withdrew his plea, so that the case did not proceed, whereas, in other cases, no definitive conclusion was reached within the records of the presiding court. It is also possible that in many cases the parties chose to settle out of court, and in others the pleas may have been frivolous. There are several instances of plaintiffs being put in mercy for presenting a false plea [21]so it would be misleading to assume that the gentry were more often than not the deforciants in cases concerning land, although it is quite probable that their position in society both tempted them to commit acts of unjust disseisin, and also exposed them to wrongful accusations of disseisin brought against them by others.

The nature of the cases, therefore, is not generally exceptional. Accusations of novel disseissin were frequently, though not invariably, the result of a complex of interfamily rights, as for instance, in the case of Bigod versus Essex, where the former claimed the latter's land through marriage to his sister. Essex defended his rights by claiming that his sisters were both illegitimate and therefore had no rights in the land which could be in any way transferred to Bigod. [22]Although most of the more active knights in the sample took part in some form of litigation at some stage in their lives the actual scale of the actions was usually quite small. For example the Parliamentary knight Jollan de Duresme was left sine die as a defendant in a case with H. Frowyck in 1276, and was a party to Bigod v.Essex in 1285. [23]Gros [B] was a plaintiff in four separate cases, one of which proved to be a false plea, Grapinel [A] got into trouble for minor debts to the king, was acquitted for failing to detain a murderer, and was arraigned in a plea of novel disseisin, but acquitted when the plaintiff withdrew his plea. Haningfield [D] may have been involved in a case in 1255-5, and was fined in 1285 for his transgressions as a bailiff. Breton [A], Morel [C] and Fillol [A] were not apparently involved in any litigation, but Richard de Tany [C] was twice amerced for damages in cases of novel disseisin, and was acquitted in a third case only because the plaintiff failed to appear in court. To go through all of the cases here would be tedious. They are listed in the table in Appendix C which reveals a fairly consistent pattern Most knights might expect to resort to the courts at some stage in their lives, the majority appear to have been relatively law abiding. Five knights, however, stand out as exceptions to the general run of cases and deserve more detailed consideration. The first of these was the Resident Group C knight Hugh de Crepping who was involved in a number of routine cases arising from minor disputes over lands and services. In 1280, however, he was imprisoned at Colchester for 'attempts against the peace committed.... during the king's absence beyond the seas, in buying horses and arms, and making assemblies'. [24]Hugh's father Walter had been a zealous Montfortian and was one of the stewards imposed on the royal household in 1264. [25]His prominence in the baronial cause may well have incurred later royal displeasure and his son could have inherited both his political enthusiasm, though this is not evident, and his grievances against the crown. Two years later, in 1282, he had apparently extricated himself from the Colchester sentence and was appealing to the king for a commission of Oyer and Terminer against Theolbald de Feringes whom he accused of breaking into his house whilst he was suffering from an acute fever, and stealing both his seal, and a charter of enfeoffment transferring all his lands and tenements to the said Theobald. [26]The outcome of the commission is not recorded but by 1295 Hugh was so far advanced in reconciliation to the crown that he was himself accepting commissions of Oyer et Terminer. [27] John de Watevill in Group [C] was a more serious hard case. He was accused in 1302 of breaking and entering the house of Peter de Dene of Lillesey {sic} in Suffolk, and indicted for various unspecified transgressions committed in the king's park in Roding {Essex} in 1304. The Wateville tradition was carried on by his widow and son who were accused in 1323 of carrying off the goods of Elizabeth de Burgh. [28]Nicholas de Wokingdon, also in Group C was, however, the only knight in the sample to have anything approaching a professional criminal record. In 1306 he went on a minor crime spree which included an unspecified felony against Robert de Rouceby, for which he was later acquitted, an attack on Agnes Aylwine at Upminster, stealing swans from the village Dunmow, and fishing in the pond of Thomas de Septem Fontibus. [29]. In 1309 he was pardoned for a trespass of venison, at the instance of Gilbert de Clare and Peter Gaveston, no less, and was made Keeper of the Peace in Essex in 1316 and 1319, though not, presumably, at the instance of his earlier friends in high places. [30]John Heron [D] was involved in litigation in 1285 for contempt, for replevin and for warranty of charter, at the end of which he was amerced 100s. [31]He was also accused of breaking into the house of Alice Beaumont in 1304, and of the death of Roger le Gras in the same year, but was found by general enquiry in 1305 to be a person of 'good fame and conversation'. He was acquitted of the murder of Gras in the following year. [32]Lastly Ernauf de Monteny [D], having escaped from Newgate prison, was pardoned in 1321 for the death of Richard Parys. [33]With the exception of Crepping who ended up as a Keeper of the Peace, none of these less 'law worthy' knights was particularly active in services in the public sector.

The majority of the cases examined fall below these extremes which are surprisingly modest by the standards of the time. A rough breakdown of the cases into categories produces the following table.

Civil Disputes over Land Criminal Offences.

Simple Disseisin  15 Theft  4
Pleas of Land  14 Poaching  3
Novel Disseisin  12 Breaking and Entering   2
Debt    6 Manslaughter   1
Trespass    5
Mort d'Ancestor    3
Waste    2
Total 57   Total  10

There are in all sixty seven cases out of an approximate total of eighty. Most of the remaining cases consist of miscellaneous amercements, actions of replevin, inquests, unspecified felonies. No special significance should be attached to these figures, except in so far as they indicate the interests and liabilities of the landowning classes, and the extent of such interests by comparison with the other spheres of activity open to the gentry. If they are remarkable at all it is because of the apparently low level of detected criminal activity amongst the knightly class in Essex.

Debts [34]

Appendix D  Table of Enrolled Debts

One other area in which the activities of the gentry and knight classes were committed to official records was in the enrolment of debts. Here also the incidence of the enrolment of debts and the scale of the debts themselves might be used as an indicator of social status, but, as with other evidence in this category of activities, it would be unwise, and possibly uncharitable, to assume too much from evidence which is potentially negative in import. At all events, the gentry, or their creditors, were well aware of the advantages of enrolling debts as a means of securing relatively rapid execution on the goods of the debtor, should he fall into default. Where the possibility of recovering debts lay primarily with distraint levied on the landed properties of the debtor, the most convenient procedure was for the creditor to have the debtor enrol his liability on a recognizance made before the appropriate royal court stating the penalties to be imposed in the event of default. This procedure is broadly analogous to the methods used to recover mercantile debts under Edward Ist's Statute of Acton Burnell {1283} and the subsequent Statute of Merchants (1285). Sealing a recognisance removed any possible defence by the debtor denying that the debt had been incurred and allowed execution of the defaulted debt by distraining and selling the debtor's chattels to the value of the debt. After 1285, consistent with the procedures it became possible for debts to be recovered by allowing the creditor to assume the revenue of one half of the debtor's lands under the procedure known as elegit. [35]

The incidence of enrolled debts provides another index of the use of government agencies for private purposes. The debts considered here are, of course, private, or debts owing to the Exchequer for private obligations, rather than debts incurrred in the discharge of public offices. The debts themselves cover a wide range, though most of the knight in the supposed Buzone caucus appear to have kept their debts to relatively low level. Breton, for example, does not appear to have enrolled any debts at all, Morel [C] owed £32, and Duresme owed a mere 55s to the Exchequer for relief. Gros [B] and Grapinel [A] owed £7. 6s. ed, and £1.00 respectively. Haningfield [D], however, together with other tenants of the honour of Gloucester, owed a proportion of £337 for scutage due. Fillol [A] had debts which came to more than £172, and Richard de Tany [C] owed a total of over £215 to various persons over a period of thirty years. Most of the knights in the sample who did borrow, or owe money, rarely owed more than £100, but several of the Parliamentary knights did have quite exceptionally large debts, including the very active Parliamentary Knight Hugh le Blount who had a cumulative debt of more than £396, almost £300 in one year. Blount, of course, had mercantile connections in London and may have had a different approach to money. Four other Group A knights had cumulative debts of well over £100 during their lifetimes, namely John de la Lee, owing £139, John de Sutton, £196, John de Tany, £162, and William de Wauton £134, not counting the portion he owed in scutage in 1293. [36]The distribution of knights in other groups with debts in excess of £100 is also interesting. Bartholomew de Brianzon [B] owed, at one time, a total of £165. John de Pratellis, who it will be remembered , was also in difficulties with his lands, owed £161, but John de Rochford and Richard de Tany owed £435 and £215 respectively, and the erstwhile baron John de la Mare in Group D owed £348. The only other knight in Group D who just edged over the £100 threshhold was Ernauf de Monteny, with a modest lifetime's debt of £108.

If debts in excess of £100 are regarded as significant for the time there were eleven relatively heavy debtors in the sample, or one third of all the knights who have recorded enrolled debts. Apart from the five knights in Group A, each of whom was a sufficiently substantial landholder to have reason to incur debts on this scale, the remaining substantial debts were all individuals of apparently substantial status. Brianzon was, it seems, a household knight and a member of an important family, John de Rochford and Richard de Tany were both major landholders on the fringes of the baronage, Pratellis, probably similar in status but declining, and Mare and Monteny also substantial landholders, the former nominally within the baronage. Most of the substantial debtors belonged, it seems, to the upper echelon of the gentry. They were men who were almost sub baronial in status, and in terms of their landholding they were the most likely of the Essex gentry to provide adequate security for above average debts, and also the most likely to espouse a style of life which entailed expensive tastes. The most that can be said, then, is that the debtors amongst the Essex gentry were probably also the top members of the county elite, below the level of the barons. They were not, however, at the top of the county administrative elite. Pratellis, Rochford, Mare and Monteny performed no significant functions in the public administrative sector, whereas Blount, Lee and Wauton were amongst the most active administrators. Blount also owed considerable debts to the Exchequer on account of his shrievalty, but, conversely, William de Lambourne, another major defaulter as sheriff, had few and minor personal debts to creditors other than the Exchequer. Whilst the Exchequer figures fairly frequently amongst the creditors of these knights, the majority of the debts were owed to a very wide variety of individuals and bodies, and may well represent the outward evidence of a range of unspecified financial transactions.

Analysis and Discussion of Chapters IV ad V.

The activities of the Essex gentry in the public and private aspects of local government and administration may be evaluated from at least three distinct points of view. In the first there is the question of the numbers involved. In all about three quarters of the knights in the sample undertook some function or duty in public administration, and all of them, at some stage, used the courts for their own private business. The distribution between Groups is not significant in this instances, except perhaps that two of the Parliamentary knights performed no known functions in government other than attending Parliament, though both were active users of government services for their business in the courts.

The second, and more demanding, question concerns the number of times each knight was active in the various distinctive functions of public and private administration. In the public category only ten knights were active in some capacity on more than five occasions, and of these five only three were really active, performing between fourteen and twenty five times overall. Six of these ten knights also attended Parliament, one more collected taxes during the reign of Edward Ist, and two went to Parliament in the early years of the reign of his son. This group of ten might therefore seem to constitute the core of the Essex administrative caucus, the Buzones of the county. By name they were Blount, Grapinel, Lee, Gros, Barrington, Richard Tany and William de Lambourn, active on between five to ten occasions, and Breton, Wauton, and Haningfield acting on ten or more occasions. Twenty knights other knights were active in public service between one and five times, each, with a roughly equal distribution between Groups.

In the category of private administration the great majority, thirty two out of forty two knights, used the courts or other services on five or more occasions, and seventeen were active in their own interests on more than ten occasions. Only about one quarter of the knights in the sample took to the courts on less than five occasions. With the exception of Breton [A] and Barrington [B] the ten knights more active in publica administration were also the most active in the pursuit of their own interests. Grapinel, Lee, Wauton, Gros and Richard de Tany, in particular, all acted in some private interest between twelve and twenty times during the respective lives. This may be compared with the private interest activities of Pratellis, Rochford, Coggeshall and Heron, all acting between eleven and sixteen times in their own interests, but not more than once each in discharging public offices in the county. This may be reduced to averages as follows:

Public  Private
Group A.  Active 6.6 times  Active 11.6 times
Group B.  Active 3.3 times Active 7.5 times
Group C.  Active 2.0 times Active 8.0 times
Group D.  Active 3.0 times  Active 9.0 times

Three conclusions suggest themselves from these first two points. Firstly it seems clear that the most active public administrators in terms of the duties performed constituted a small group, probably less than a quarter of the sample, and certainly less than a quarter of all the possible knights with holdings in Essex. Most of the members of this group were also returned as representatives to Parliament at some stage. Secondly, the Parliamentary knights. taken as a group, were significantly more active in both private and public business than any of the other notional groups. The probability is that they were able to use their experience of public administration to further their private interests. This is not to suggest that they were necessarily corrupt or dishonest, but rather that they probably used their knowledge of correct procedures and familiarity with the agencies, and agents, of central government to further their own interests, where others may have been deterred by fear or ignorance. On the other hand there were also significant knights who did not go to parliament or take much part in public administration who nevertheless used government services in their own interests by virtue of their wealth, status or connection. Thirdly, the demands made on the gentry to perform public duties seem relatively modest by comparison with the scale of their activities in private administration. The third problem to be addressed is to determine whether these public duties might reasonably be considered to be a burden on those on whom they fell. The solution to this problem will entail not only the consideration already made of the number of occasions on which such service was performed, but also an estimate of the amount of time actually spent in performing those duties, as a proportion of the lifetimes of the knights concerned.

Length of Life and The Burden of Office

Information of this kind is not easily come by because the exact terminal dates for the lives of the majority of the knights in the sample cannot be determined with any real accuracy. Even Inquisitions Post Mortem, which do give fairly reliable dates for the transmission of estates, over generations, can be very vague about the actual age of heirs. One solution to this problem is to collate the first and last dates of recorded activity and by subtraction arrive at an approximate figure for the active adult life of a given knight. Thus Ralph de Arderne is first found receiving protection for a crusade in 1279 and his last recorded act was attendance at a Parliament in 1302, [37]giving him a possible active adult life of around thirty two years. Assuming that the age of majority was reached between eighteen to twenty, this would give a total lifespan of around fifty two years, during which time an individual might make an active contribution to the government of his community. There are, of course, obvious flaws in such an estimate. In some cases the documentation is too sparse to provide reasonable or normative figures, in others the result are at best unlikely and at worst impossible. Surprisingly reasonable figures are, however, possible for some thirty two knights in the sample active in public or private administration and, in the majority of cases, they fall within the range of twenty to forty years of active adult life, and average around thirty four years. Those knights for whom such information is available have been tabulated in Appendix E. and for most of them the hypothetical period available for public service would be in the region of thirty to thirty five year. How much of this time might be spent in actual service ?

Continuous executive functions, such as those of sheriff and coroner, might normally be held for a year or two, though never for life. All the coroners in the sample were in fact removed after an indeterminate period in office [38] Judicial duties probably lasted very much less than a year, possibly not more than a few weeks, but it may be assumed for the sake of emphasis that any one judicial commission might last for one year. During the reign of Edward Ist an Eyre might easily take a year to complete, but it is very unlikely that any County Court would remain in permanent session for anything like that time. [39] Periodic suit at the County Court might amount to a couple of days every month, or twelve days per annum, and since all free men were, in principle, liable to suit it has not been included in this analysis. One day in four weeks, however, can scarcely be counted a burden, except perhaps for the small freeholder who might be obliged to spend more time travelling from a remote part of his county to attend the court, [40]and even for him a visit to the county time might offer opportunities for business or meeting friends which might make the trip worthwhile. According to J.C. Holt, however, there is evidence that some of the gentry did object strongly to staying at the County Court for more than one day. [41]If this is so it says much for the commitment of those who did choose to stay and did other work besides. In addition to the total period of time spent in local administration the figures now to be used also include time spent in parliament and central government services, again nominally assessed at one year per service, though representation rarely lasted for more than a month. They are therefore a gross exaggeration of the total time that individuals might have spent in service.

Seen in these terms the maximum period of possible service as performed by John le Breton, who spent something like seventeen out of a possible of 51 adult years in some form of public administration, mostly in judicial commissions. Three other knights spent a total of eleven years each in public administration, and one served for nine years. These were Blount [A], Fillol [A], Haningfield [D] and Gros [B]. Nine more served for between five and eight years, [42]nine for more than one year but not more than four, and eight served for not more than one year. Given that these figures must represent a gross overestimation of the actual time spent in public service they still represent a very small proportion of the available adult lifetime of the individuals concerned. In terms of time alone these duties could not really be called a burden.

As we have seen the small group of knights most active in public administration was also the most active in the use of royal/public institutions for private business. However, the application of any notional timescale to these activities would be quite meaningless since the time spent in conducting private business could either by a negligible proportion of an individual's lifespan, or it could, under adverse circumstances, totally dominate it. Moreover, then as now,  the need to conduct private business through the courts would also arise quite fortuitously, according to individual wishes and the circumstances of the time. In this context private vicissitudes can scarcely be equated with public burdens. The possible identity of the Essex Buzones may now be restated in terms of the total notional time spent in public service, excluding time spent attending parliament or collecting taxes. Such a list would amount to about thirteen names, including six knights from Group A, two from Group B, three from Group C, and two from Group D:

Most Active in time spent:

John le Breton  Parliamentary 16
William de Haningfield  Essex Non Resident 11
John de la Lee Parliamentary 7
William de Wauton Parliamentary 7
Hugh le Blount Parliamentary 6
John Fillol Parliamentary 6
Alan de Goldingham  Essex Non Resident 6
Walter le Baud Tax Collector 5
Nicholas de Barrington  Essex Resident 5
Henry Grapinel  Parliamentary 5
William le Gros  Tax Collector 5
William de Lambourn Essex Non Resident  5
Richard de Tany  Essex Resident 5

One further aspect of the time spent by the gentry remains to be considered, namely the frequence of service. Only Boxted and St Clare performed all of their public services consecutively, both doing three years continue service, the former for two years as Sheriff then one year as Keeper of the Peace, the latter for one year as an Assessor and Collector, and two years as Keeper of the Coast. Other knights performed groups of services consecutively. John le Breton, for example, served on three separate groups of consecutive judicial commissions in Essex in the period 1287-89, 1291-2, 1294-6, with a further group in Norfolk in 1302-11, consolidating the probability that he was a professional justice. John Fillol also performed three separate groups, from 1289-1292 as Custodian, and Parliamentary Representative, from 1295-1297 as Representative, Judicial Commissioner and Keeper of the Coast, and from 1299-1300 twice as a Representative. [44] Contingent on the incidence of performance of groups of consecutive functions is the distribution of periods of public service throughout the whole period of the adult life. This clearly depended on many factors, and there is obviously little regularity in the available evidence. However, with the exception of John de Tany [A] the minimum period between bout of service in the public sector was two years, and the maximum in the case of the less than active John de Sutton [A] was seventeen years. Where it is possible to speak of an average interval between services that average works out at around three to four years, but the differential between individual periods is considerable. For example Jollan de Dureseme did four separate notional years or public service, punctuated by gaps of four, two, two, and eight years respectively. It is fairly obvious that where knights did serve on more than two occasions their periods of service were distributed at a random rate over the whole of their active lives. Such a distribution by definition reflects the random and irregular uses to which the gentry could be put in local government. There is no evidence of any equivalent of a career progression in the assignment of duties which appear, in general, to have come in a random order.

In addition to performing a variety of functions at random over an extended period, seven of the thirteen Buzones, and one other knight, also performed several functions within one year, thus demonstrating the generosity of the time scale used in the preceding argument. These were, Barrington, Special Commission and Oyer et Terminer in 1302; Blount, Special Commission and Parliament in 1300; Boxted, Keeper of the Peace and Sheriff in 1289; Fillol, Custodian and Parliament in 1290, Parliament and Special Commission in 1295, Gaol Delivery and Special Commission in 1296; Gros, Oyer et Terminer and Assessor and Collector in 1301, Special Commission and Assessor and Collector again in 1302; Haningfield, Special Commissioner and Oyer et Terminer in 1300, and the same again in 1302; Lambourne, Walls and Ditches, Oyer et Terminer and Keeper of the Peace in 1287; and Lee, Sheriff, Oyer et Terminer and Bailiff in 1308. Henry Grapinel was Sheriff before attending Parliament in 1290, and attended Parliament again in 1297, acting in the same year as an Assessor and Collector of taxation and as a justice of Oyer et Terminer.

There were eight years between 1270 and 1307 when none of the knights in the sample were active in any aspect of local government, namely, 1270, 1272, 1273, 1275, 1280, 1281 and 1283, but knights were active one judicial commissions over the same period. The tempo of judicial commissions in the county increased significantly after 1290. In the sixteen years from 1274 to 1290 knights in the sample were active on only twelve commissions, compared with a total of forty two commissions in the period 1290 to 1306. At first sight this might seem to be evidence of the Edwardian judicial reforms gathering momentum, but the peak years four judicial commissions in Essex were 1296, 1300 and 1302, in each of which there were five or more knights active in the county on some form of judicial business. These years were, of course, periods of constitutional stress and military activity when unrest and lawlessness were released onto the countryside. The average number of knights active in judicial commissions in the period before 1290 was rather less than one each year. In the period after 1290 it rose to around three each year, and continued to rise thereafter.

The total number of knights active in all aspects of executive and Judicial administration in any given year was this relatively small. Over a period of thirty years there were only seven occasions on which more than five knights were active on the king's business in the county in any one year. In relation to the size of the sample and the evidence of other knights and freeholders available for such service in Essex, the actual burden and distribution of service appears to be very small.

One other aspect of this analysis of local government service remains to be considered. This is the extent to which individual knights interrelated with each other in their administrative duties and were thus known personally by their associates, what in modern terms might called 'networking'. We may assume, without much evidence, that they met regularly in the monthly sessions of the County Court and knew each socially and professionally through that body. There are two other single instances in which on one occasion five, and in the other, seven of the knights in the sample were all recorded, in principle, at least, as meeting together at the same time and place. The first of these was at a Grand Assize constituted in 1285 [45]which included Hugh de Crepping, Henry Grapinel, Hugh le Blount, Ralph de Boxted and William de Wauton. The second is the already mentioned record of acquittals of amercements imposed on the mainpernors {sureties} fined for failing to bring the ex sheriff Guy de Shenfield before the Forest Hjustices in 1294. [46]Those involved included inter alia Ralph Arderne, Hugh le Blount, Nicholas de Barrington, William de Haningfield, John de Sutton, Thomas de Mandevill {who makes very little mark on anything else in this sphere} and William de Wauton. Two knights appear on both lists, namely Blount and Wauton, but of the total of nine knights cited Grapinel, Blount, Barrington, Haningfield and Wauton, would count as being amongst the most active in the business of the shire.

Other connections are less comprehensive but there is evidence of at least twenty nine instance of interrelation involving about twenty four of the knights in the sample. For the most part the scale of interrelation was low, involving only one or two individuals. Sixteen of the twenty four knights were associated in some capacity with between one and three other knights. Ralph le Bigod appeared in various capacities, but mainly as a litigant, with a total of eight other knights from the sample, and Breton, John de Tany, Lee and Lambourne were all associated at one time or another with between five and seven other knights. The knights in the Parliamentary Group A were more likely to be associated with other knights, but this is a chicken and egg situation since they were also amongst the most active in the county and therefore more likely to meet and associate with other knights in official enrolments. There were in fact relatively few occasions when the knights might expect to act together as a group, apart from the regular association of the County Court. It is clear, however, that they could act together when required and it is reasonable to assume that the majority of the Essex knights were well aware of each other and probably regarded themselves as a community. The nature of the unembellished sources available to use does not, for the most part, hint at the kind of social life they might have had together, though such a life must have existed for them.

The general conclusion of this line of enquiry would be to suggest that the duties imposed on the gentry by the crown were not particularly burdensome, except perhaps for the office of Coroner, since both the time spent in performing these tasks and the number of tasks performed appear relatively modest by comparison with the time and effort spent by the majority of the gentry in the pursuit, or defence, of their private interests. The real burden, however, was not so much the immediate duties of public service as the penalties which might be incurred if they failed to perform those duties to the satisfaction of the Crown. The debts which sheriffs left to their heirs, the snares which trapped the wardens of estates, the fines imposed for default of suit or false pleading in court were all an inducement to efficiency and a potential threat to economic survival. The fate of the Cambridgeshire knight, John de Bassingbourn, late sheriff of Essex, who was imprisoned and had his lands seized in 1306 for allowing a prisoner to escape from his gaol [47]serves as a ready reminder that those knights who enjoyed the self government of their shires really did serve under the ruthless sanctions of the king's command. Those who accepted such offices must have known what the risks were. The concentration of such self government in the hands of a minority of the knights of the shire suggests either that they alone were qualified for such duties, or, more likely, that the rewards of office might offset the risks of failure for those who had to ambition and self confidence to assume them.