A Charter of King Stephen confirming the grant the manor of Estwala to the Church and Monks of St. Albans

Stephen, King of England to the Archbishop of the Kentish people, Justices, Sheriffs, Barons and to all his ministers and faithful, French and English, of Kent greetings.

Know that I have conceded and confirmed in perpetual alms to God and to the Church of St. Albans and the monks serving God therein those donations which Nigel de Albineo made to them in alms for the salvation of his soul of the manor of Estwala.  Wherefore I will and firmly decree the aforesaid church and monks may hold this manor well and in peace and freely and quietly and honourably in wood and plain and meadows and pastures and waters and ponds and ways and paths and in all places and with all other things and liberties and quittances and free customs which to the same appertain with which the aforesaid Hugo or any ancestor of his at anytime better or more freely held and just as himself gave and conceded it to them in alms and just as King Henry conceded it to them and confirmed it by his charter.  By these witnesses:  Matilda, Queen; and Robert de Vere and William de Ipra and Adam de Belun.

At Westminster.

Explanatory notes  on the above charter written in the 1930’s
Dr F.W. Hardman, an noted East Kent antiquarian.

A Charter of King Stephen.

This small square of parchment with its pendent fragment of a blood red seal is a fit memento of very far off times.  It has two points which make it particularly interesting to men of Kent.  Firstly, it relates to Kentish land and has remained amongst the title deeds of a Kentish estate for nearly 800 years.  Secondly, it was witnessed by a very great Kentish baron, Robert de Ver, whose name as witness comes next to that of Stephen’s Queen, a fitting position for a very loyal servant.  Moreover, the charter itself is addressed to the great men of Kent and to no others.

By this charter Stephen King of England informs those men of Kent whom it most concerned that he confirms a grant made by Nigel de Albineo-a friend of King Henry I- to the Abbey of St.  Alban.  This grant conveyed to the Abbey the manor of Eswala which is in the fact, although the charter says nothing of this, in the parish of Nonnington.  On the back of the charter it is written ESTWELLA.  In Domesday Book it is written ESWALT and in the Domesday Monachorum (which is an excellent authority) we find the two-word form EAST WEALD.  There have been many other forms of the name and it is very unfortunate that A Foremost Authority on Kentish Place Names has confused it with a quite different place.  Hasted refers to “ESOLE usually called ISILL-STREET” and it now appears as EASOLE STREET on the map.  The manor house of Stephen’s time has long since gone, and two or three successive houses have been built on or near its old site but the manor continued until recent times.  It belonged to St.  Alban’s until the Dissolution and then it passed through various hands.  The old charter passed also from one owner to another and is at St.  Alban’s Court to-day.

We know, because it tells us so, that this charter was sealed at Westminster but it is not dated and Stephen is often at Westminster so that we must look further to discover the day on which it was issued.  Our only assistance in this search is derived from the names of the witnesses and these are only four in number, namely Queen Matilda and Robert de Ver, William de Ipres and Adam de Belun.  It is a curious business, this dating of old charters which seldom thought it worth while to date themselves.  In this case it proceeds somewhat as follows-

  1.    This charter of King Stephen, therefore it is of some date during his reign, that is 1135 to 1154.
  2. But Queen Matilda is a witness and she died in 1152, so the date is between 1135-1152.
  3.    The presence of Robert de Ver still further narrows the period for he is succeeded in his Kentish estates by Gilbert de Gand not later than 1147 and we do not in fact meet with Robert’s name on charters after 1142.
  4.    Adam de Belum suggests an early date for he only apears in 1141 and in an undated which is probably of the same year.

We have thus a strong suggestion of a date of 1141-1142.  This was a period of anarchy.  Stephen was actually a prisoner from February to November 1141.  Is the date of the charter before or after this imprisonment?  Clearly it is after, for William de Ipres was one of those who rescued him having come over from France with Stephen’s Queen for that purpose.  Although he became a great man in England and in Kent (he founded Boxley Abbey) he was new to this country in 1141.  Now we know that the date of our charter must have been soon after Stephen’s release on the 1st of November, 1141.  Here the place at which the charter was signed helps us for we know that Stephen was at Westminster and held a council there on the seventh of December 1141.  Thereafter he went off to the Eastern counties.  Before that he was at Canterbury where his second coronation took place, purging him of the disgrace of captivity and renewing his kingly authority.

Our last clue is not in the name of the witnesses, but in their fewness.  Why was the King of England so ill attended?. Because at the time the great men of the realm where either against him or were unwilling to show their hands.

This also accords well with the period of the Westminster Council just as a favour done to the Abbey of St.  Alban would be fitting enough in a King bound to pass thereby on his journey northward and likely to need hospitality.

Is it too much to suggest that some messenger from St.  Alban’s, perhaps the Abbot in person, was at Westminster when the Council met and there prayed the King for this charter ?.

Thus we can date this very Kentish charter with high probability and, although it bears no date upon it, can say that it was granted on the seventh day of December in the year 1141.  It would be given, no doubt, to the Abbot or one of his officers and he in turn would send it down into Kent.  It was no empty formality.  It was not intended as a mere compliment.  In those days Sheriffs, good and bad alike, were very wont to ask for the authority by which a man (or an Abbey) held its lands and there was need to be ready and convincing with the reply.  Otherwise cattle might be driven off, goods impounded and the whole estate seized to the use of whatever Sovereign or noble might be in the ascent.

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