Robert the Bruce – Essex man

As the people of Scotland prepare to vote in the independence referendum, Archivist Katharine Schofield examines how Essex is able to claim a connection with Robert the Bruce, who from 1306 became King Robert I of Scotland. 

D/DP T1/1770 - names Robertus de Brus

D/DP T1/1770 – names Rob’tus de Brus

The Bruce or Brus family held lands in Writtle, Hatfield Broad Oak, Terling, Hatfield Peverel, Lamarsh and Southchurch from a grant made by Henry III in c.1237/8 to Isabel de Brus.  She was the daughter of David, Earl of Huntingdon (brother of Malcolm IV and William I of Scotland) and Matilda, the daughter of the Earl of Chester.  Isabel’s brother John inherited the title of Earl of Chester from his uncle.  When John died in 1237 the earldom reverted to the Crown, and today is one of the titles of the Prince of Wales.  In compensation Henry III granted lands to his sisters and heiresses, one of whom was Isabel, wife of Robert de Brus, 4th Lord of Annandale (the great-grandparents of Robert the Bruce), who received various lands in Essex (if you get as confused with the genealogy in this post as we did, here’s a handy family tree).

Among the earliest records in the ERO are records of the Brus family in Hatfield Broad Oak and Writtle.  The deeds, although undated, almost certainly relate to Sir Robert de Brus, father of the future king of Scotland.  Deeds of grants of meadow land in Hatfield Broad Oak of c.1280 and c.1300 (D/DBa T1/44, 50-51126, 157, 159) refer to part of the demesne meadow land of Sir Robert de Brus which adjoined the land being granted.

A release and quitclaim (renunciation of all future claims) which survives as a later copy was made on 22 May 1298 by Robert de Brus senior, Earl of Carrick, of half a virgate (approximately 30 acres) of land in Writtle to John Herolff (D/DP T1/1770).  Robert de Brus inherited the earldom from his wife, and today this is another one of the Prince of Wales’ titles, which he uses in Scotland.  Another quitclaim was made at Writtle on 4 August 1299 by Robert de Brus, described as lord of Annandale (dominus vallis Anandie) and lord of Writtle and Hatfield Broad Oak to Sir Nicholas de Barenton [Barrington] of 21 shillings annual rent for lands in Hatfield Broad Oak (D/DBa T2/9).


D/DBa T1/4 – This seal which belongs Sir Robert de Brus and shows the saltire or St. Andrew’s Cross, now an integral part of the Scottish flag.

In about 1295 Sir Robert de Brus, Earl of Carrick, exchanged 5½ acres of land in Hatfield Broad Oak for 5¾ acres held by Hatfield Priory (D/DBa T1/4).  Brus’s seal survives on this deed and shows the saltire, still used today on Scotland’s flag, with a lion above.  The seals of Scottish nobility began to include the saltire or St. Andrew’s Cross from the late 13th century.

D-DBa T1-4

D/DBa T1/4 – in its entirity.

When Alexander III of Scotland died in 1286, his four year old granddaughter, Margaret, the Maid of Norway, was the closest heir to the Scottish crown.  She died in 1290 in the Orkney Isles en route to Scotland, leaving no obvious successor and Edward I King of England was asked by the Guardians of Scotland, who had been appointed to govern during the minority of the queen, to arbitrate between the many different claimants to the throne in what became known as the Great Cause.  There were 15 claimants, including Edward himself, but the two main claimants were two great-grandsons of David, Earl of Huntingdon (a grandson of David I, r.1124-1153): John Balliol, grandson of David’s daughter Margaret, and Robert de Brus, grandson of Isabel, Margaret’s younger sister (again, this family tree helps!).

In 1292 Edward I selected John Balliol, who had the best claim.  However, Balliol proved an ineffectual king and in 1296 Edward I took the opportunity to invade Scotland.  Having defeated the Scots at Dunbar, he deposed Balliol, took over the throne of Scotland and removed the Stone of Scone, which was used for the coronations of the Scottish kings, to Westminster.  The Scots fought back and the following year William Wallace defeated the English at Stirling Bridge.  Battles and guerrilla warfare followed.

In 1304 the Sir Robert de Brus, mentioned in the Essex documents, died and his son more commonly known as Robert the Bruce inherited his father’s claim to the throne.  At Brus’s death he held the manor of Writtle from the king for half a knight’s fee and the manor in Hatfield Broad Oak for another half.  Feudalism meant that all land was held from the Crown in return for military service, the provision of a knight.  Land that was held for one knight’s fee meant that Brus had to supply a knight (or sometimes the monetary equivalent) to the King for military service.


Robert the Bruce in a much later depiction

On 25 March 1306 Robert the Bruce was crowned king of Scotland at Scone.  As a result all his English lands were attainted or forfeited to the Crown.  The majority of the lands were later granted by Edward II to Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Essex.

There is one final reference to the Brus family in an extent (description of landholding) of the manor of Writtle dating from c.1315, possibly relating to the grant to de Bohun.  This describes free tenants of the manor who held land from deeds of the lord Robert de Brus [per cartam domini Robert de Brus], who is further described as father of the present lord King [pater domini Regis nunc est].

Common scolds, evildoers and hedge maintenance – the lives of ordinary Essex people as told by manorial court rolls

Following our recent post on what a manor was, Archivist Katharine Schofield takes a more detailed look at manorial court rolls. You can find out more about manorial records and how you can use them in your own research at Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial records on Saturday 12 July 2014.

The majority of manorial records in the Essex Record Office are the records of the manorial courts, which are among the most important sources for medieval social and economic history.

Their greatest importance is in recording the lives of the ‘ordinary people’ of the county; in the years before parish registers began to be kept in 1538, these might be the only records in which a relatively ordinary person might appear. Some of the Essex manorial rolls also contain evidence of events of national significance, such as the Black Death of 1348-1349 and the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.

The manor courts dealt with everything from maintaining hedges and ditches to keeping the peace when disagreements (and sometimes violence) broke out amongst the manor’s tenants.

The court was presided over by the lord of the manor, or more usually by his steward. The records were kept in Latin until 1733, but if you don’t read Latin don’t let that put you off; the later material is in English and these records are stuffed full with fascinating details of daily life in the past.

The earliest records are rolls made up of membranes of parchment stitched together at the top.  Although these records are cumbersome and unwieldy to use today, this was the quickest and easiest way to maintain a working accessible record

The earliest records are rolls made up of membranes of parchment stitched together at the top. Although these records are cumbersome and unwieldy to use today, this was the quickest and easiest way to maintain a working accessible record

There were two types of manorial court, the court baron and the court leet, although the earlier rolls do not distinguish between the two. Broadly speaking, the court baron dealt with matters pertaining to the administration of the manor, and the court leet handled minor criminal offences.

The court baron

The court baron handled the administration of the manor, including customs (such as the use of common land for pasture, and maintaining buildings, paths and hedges), settling disputes between tenants, enforcing the rights of the lord and any infringements, and on occasion requiring the lord to fulfil his obligations towards the tenants.

The court rolls record fines levied on tenants for breaking the rules of the manor, such as trespass against the rights of the lord or other tenants, or failing to keep roads, paths and ditches clear. In Writtle in 1452 for example, seven animals of John Croucheman strayed on to the land of another tenant and ate two haycocks (a small cone-shaped pile of hay left in the field until dry enough to carry to the rick or barn), and in 1477 two tenants of the manor of Great Burstead were fined for leaving dung in the main street of Billericay in front of the chapel. There were also cases where tenants were bound to keep the peace towards each other and occasions where women were presented as a ‘common scold’.  At High Roding in 1525 Agnes Norwood was presented as a scold and disturber of the peace and no tenant was to allow her to live in their house on pain of a fine of 3s.4d (D/DU 886/3).

Extract from court roll of High Roding, 1525 (D/DU 886/3), in which Agnes Norwood (you can read her name in the third and fourth words on the first full line shown) was denounced as a scold and disturber of the peace. She had been living in the house of John Baker – you can make out his name in the third full line shown.

Extract from court roll of High Roding, 1525 (D/DU 886/3), in which Agnes Norwood (you can read her name in the third and fourth words on the first full line shown) was denounced as a scold and disturber of the peace. She had been living in the house of John Baker – you can make out his name in the third full line shown.

The rolls also record the customary fines tenants owed.  These included ‘chevage’, the right to live outside the manor. In 1356, for example, a tenant of the manor of Bulphan paid 6d. for a licence.

The court baron was also responsible for the appointment of various officers, including the reeve who would collect rents and ensure that the tenants fulfilled their obligations, and the haywards and woodwards who were responsible for the maintenance of hedges, fences and woods. By the 16th century this business had become much less important.

The deaths of tenants and admissions of new tenants to land were also recorded by the court baron. The lord was entitled to the payment of a ‘heriot’ (usually the best beast) on the death of a tenant and an entry fine by the incoming tenant. Tenants of manors were described as ‘copyholders’ as they held land by copy of the court roll. Copyhold land could be bought and sold and left by will and many hundreds of copyhold deeds survive in the Essex Record Office. From the 16th to the 20th century most of the business of manorial courts related to the recording of admissions and surrenders of copyhold land. With the decline and eventual cessation of this type of landholding in 1922, the business of the courts baron ceased.

The court leet

The court leet was the lowest court of law enforcement and dealt with minor offences, such as nuisances, affray or assault, selling faulty goods, using false weights and measures, playing unlawful games, keeping disorderly alehouses, disturbing the peace and keeping inmates and vagabonds.  The court was also responsible for the election of the constable.

The court leet was also where the lord of a manor would hold something called ‘the view of frankpledge’. Many, but not all, manorial lords had the right to do this.  This was a practice with Anglo-Saxon origins.  All able-bodied men in a manor were grouped in tithings (roughly 10 men).  All the men of the tithing were bound in mutual assurance to observe and uphold the law – if a member of a tithing broke the law then the rest were obliged to report the crime and deliver the culprit to the constable.  Failure to do this would result in everybody in the tithing being fined.  If the lord of the manor had the right to hold the view of frankpledge then the chief man of each tithing (called variously tithing men, headboroughs, decenners or capital pledges) would report to the court leet to represent his tithing.

Tenants could also be fined by the court for failing to obey the law. Offences included keeping unlicensed alehouses, not practising archery (all men were required by law to practise their archery so their skills could be drawn upon in times of war), and playing unlawful games; in 1564 and 1565 14 men in Ingatestone were each fined 4d. or 8d. for bowling.

There were also more serious crimes, including cases of assault. In 1467 Thomas Hurst of West Hanningfield was fined for breaking into his neighbour’s house by force, taking his goods and claiming him to be outlaw. In 1472 in Earls Colne a mob of gathered with bows, arrows, pitchforks and other weapons and broke into the houses of three tenants, dragging one out in his shirt, and beating them severely. You can read a full translation of the passage here.

Extract from D/DPr 69, a court roll from Earls Colne, which describes a serious assault. The court seems to have given up trying to translate ‘pitchforks’ into Latin, and written it as ‘pycheforkes’ (underlined in red).

Extract from D/DPr 69, a court roll from Earls Colne, which describes a serious assault. The court seems to have given up trying to translate ‘pitchforks’ into Latin, and written it as ‘pycheforkes’ (underlined in red).

During the 16th century most of the legal cases were being dealt with by Quarter Sessions and by the 17th century the court leet had no significance and rarely, if ever, met.

Whether you are interested in using manorial records in your own research, or just want to enjoy hearing experts talk about them, join us for Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial records on Saturday 12 July 2014 to find out how you can discover centuries of Essex life using these fascinating documents. There are more details, including how to book, here.

Your Favourite ERO Documents: Map of Chignall by John Walker, 1599

As part of our 75th anniversary celebrations this year, we asked you, our users, to nominate your favourite ERO documents. Today’s nomination comes from Rosemary Hall, and is a map made by John Walker of Chignall in 1599, or to give it its full title, ‘A true platt of Beamond Oates measured and taken the laste of Nouember 1599 for the right worshipful Sir John Petre knight by John Walker’.

The map covers an area of 241 acres about a mile and a half north of Writtle in the modern parish of Chignall. It shows a farm which was part of the estates of the Petre family of Ingatestone Hall, called variously Beamond Oates, Otes, Moates, Motts and Mottes. The map shows the site of a former farm house, labelled as Beamond Moates, and the current house and surrounding barns (see extract below). It measures 17 x 22 inches, and is at a scale of about 26.6 inches to 1 mile. The map seems to have been a draft – it has Walker’s characteristic accuracy, but lacks the finish of some of his other maps, which perhaps suggests that Sir John Petre was happy with the draft as a practical record of the farm.

We’ve written a little already about John Walker and his map of Chelmsford (here); Walker was an incredibly skilled map maker, and his son, also John, took up the profession. A.C. Edwards and K.C. Newton in The Walkers of Hanningfield (well worth a read – available in the ERO library), suggest that this map is the first work we have of John Walker junior – the use of a yellow to represent thatch on the farmhouse is seen in his later maps, and is distinct from the brown his father usually used, and the handwriting of both father and son appears on the map.

D/DP P6 map of Chignall

Walker map of Chignall, 1599, D/DP P6


D/DP P6 map of Chignall

The farm house and barns

Rosemary Hall writes:

[My favourite ERO document] is a Map of Chignal D/DP P6, “A true platt of Beaumond Otes…[drawn] for Sir John Petre.” I grew up in Chignal Road, and walked over that area, and well remember my fascination and delight upon discovering that many of the woods that I knew dated back 400 years! It was one of the things that triggered my interest in local history; along with the encouragement of the Essex Record Office. Alas! I am an exile from Essex now, but I am continuing to research the history of my adopted city of Coventry.

Thank you to Rosemary for turning the spotlight onto this wonderful piece from our collections. 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] There are also paper copies available at the Searchroom desk.