Magna Carta: Essex Connections – Hugh de Neville

In the run up to Magna Carta: Essex Connections we take a more detailed look at the Essex connections of Hugh de Neville, a friend of King John who eventually rebelled against him.

Hugh de Neville appears a witness in the royal grant of 2 May 1203 that we hold here at ERO (D/DB T1437/1). He was King John’s Chief Forester, one of the great officers of state, and is named in Magna Carta as one of John’s officials – the men whom the chronicler Roger of Wendover referred to as the king’s ‘evil councillors’. One of the aims of Magna Carta was to curb the powers of royal positions such as Chief Forester.

D-DB T1437-1 Hugh de Neville

Hugh de Neville named in a royal charter of 1203 (D/DB T1437/1)

Before John’s reign, Hugh de Neville had served briefly under Henry II, then throughout the reign of Richard I, fighting with him on the Third Crusade. The Essex historian Revd. Philip Morant records that ‘he performed a valorous exploit, by shooting an arrow into a Lion’s breast, and when he rose against him, catching him by the beard, and running his sword into his heart’. This feat was represented on his seal.

Hugh was given lands by both Richard and John, many of them in Essex. Over time he acquired the manors of Langham, Wethersfield, Little Hallingbury and Abbots in East Horndon and served as sheriff of Essex, 1197-1200 and 1202-1203.

Despite being on friendly terms with King John for most of his reign, de Neville appears to have suffered as a result of John’s philandering. John had a reputation for forcing himself on the wives of his courtiers.  A French chronicler wrote that he was ‘too desirous of fair women … by which he brought great shame upon the highest men of the land, for which he was much hated’. A chronicler in Yorkshire wrote of John that he ‘deflowered the wives and daughters of the nobility, spared the wives of none whom he chose to stain with the ardour of his desires’. The Oblate Roll for Christmas 1204 recorded that Joan ‘the wife of Hugh de Neville gives the lord King 200 chickens that she might lie one night with her lord’ (i.e. paying the King to allow her a night with her own husband).

John moved quickly to rescind the Magna Carta and the rebel barons invited Prince Louis of France to take the English throne. Louis arrived with an army in May 1216, and this is when de Neville finally abandoned John and joined the rebel barons. When John died and his son became Henry III, de Neville pledged his loyalty to him.

De Neville died in 1234, and was buried in Waltham Abbey.

I-Mb 385-1-86

The interior of Waltham Abbey, 1860 (I/Mb 385/1/86)

There is more to come in our Magna Carta series, but in the meantime get in touch on 033301 32500 to book your ticket for Magna Carta: Essex Connections.

Magna Carta: Essex Connections

To explore the significance and legacy of this famous document, both nationally and for Essex, join us for talks from:

  • Nicholas Vincent, Professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia, who has been leading a major project researching the background to Magna Carta
  • Katharine Schofield, ERO Archivist, on Essex connections with Magna Carta and the impact it had on the medieval county

Saturday 23 May, 1.15pm for 1.30am-4.15pm

Tickets: £8, including tea, coffee and cake

Please book in advance on 033301 32500

Document of the Month, February 2015: Grant of rights in the Forest of Essex, c.1135-1138

The earliest document we look after at ERO is over 1,000 years old – but it is nothing to do with Essex. February’s Document of the Month is our oldest Essex document, a deed dating to c.1135-1138 (D/DBa T2/4).

D-DBa T2-4 - 1

The deed is a grant of rights in the forest of Essex given by William de Monfichet and his wife Margaret to Humphrey, son of Eustace de Barentun.  His father had previously held the rights in this deed.  The grant is one of a series of this approximate date made to Eustace and Humphrey de Barentun by the Earl of Essex and William de Monfichet, which followed similar grants by the King.

The de Barentuns, later the Barrington family of Barrington Hall in Hatfield Broad Oak, were the hereditary woodwards or keepers of Hatfield Forest.  At this date the Barringtons were a minor family compared to the great barons who were descended from William the Conqueror’s most loyal supporters.

William de Monfichet and his wife Margaret were the grandchildren of two of the Conqueror’s supporters – Robert Gernon and Richard (de Clare) son of Gilbert, both of whom were well rewarded with extensive landholdings recorded in Domesday Book.  The Monfichets held lands in Essex, including at Stansted Mountfitchet and claimed the hereditary right to be Keeper or Forester of the Royal Forest of Essex.  William’s great-grandson Richard de Montfichet was one of the 25 Magna Carta barons chosen to ensure that King John abided by the terms of the charter.

Even if you do not read Latin, see how many recognisable words you can make out. Look out for ‘Will’ (short for William), Umfredo (Humphrey), filio (son), Estach (Eustace), forestie (forest), Exsexie (Essex), and Margarite…

The deed will be on display in the Searchroom throughout February 2015.

Your favourite documents: Deed of the Royal Essex Forest, 1252

As part of our 75th anniversary celebrations this year, we recently asked you, our users, to nominate your favourite ERO documents. Thank you very much to those of you who have sent in nominations so far – today we bring you the next in a series of your favourites.

Today’s nomination comes from Richard Morris, one of the Verderers of Epping Forest, a post that has existed for nearly 1,000 years to protect and administer the forest. Richard’s nominated document is D/DCw T1/1, a deed of the Royal Forest of Essex dating from 1252.

Deed of the Royal Fores of Essex, 1252(D/DCw T1/1)

Deed of the Royal Fores of Essex, 1252. It is just possible to make out the remains of the enthroned figure of Henry III on the partially surviving seal (D/DCw T1/1)

This is one of the earliest surviving deeds of the Royal Forest of Essex, later Waltham Forest, of which Epping Forest is today the remaining fragment, albeit still covering over 6,000 acres.

The deed, dated 1252, refers to the restoration from King Henry III to Richard Muntfichette of the office of bailiff of the Forest of Essex, which he had lost when the infamous Robert Passelew was Judge of Forest Pleas.

The signatories to the deed, which includes part of the Great Seal of Henry III, include the Earl of Gloucester, the Earl of Norfolk (Marshal of England), William de Valence, the King’s brother, and the Earl of Albermarle.

The deed is one of the most important concerning the history and administration of the Forest of Essex.

Thank you to Richard for nominating this early document concerning one of Essex’s most notable historic landscapes.

If you would like to nominate your own favourite ERO document, we would love to hear from you. Simply download this form, and return it to the Searchroom desk or by e-mail to hannahjane.salisbury[at]essex.gov.uk. There are also paper copies available at the Searchroom desk. Nominated documents may be featured on this blog or in displays at our open day on Saturday 14 September 2013.