Ralph Colkyn of Esol in Nonington: the massacre of the Jews of Canterbury and the Second Barons War (1264–1267)


Simon de Montfort, from a stained glass window in Chartres Cathedral

When Henry III succeeded to the English throne after the death of his father, King John, in 1216. He initially had the support of the powerful English barons. However,  over the years support for the King ebbed away as he became increasingly unpopular with many of the barons believing Henry to be an ineffective monarch who was influenced by foreign favourites, levied increasingly harsher taxation, and waged expensive foreign wars for his own personal gain. As opposition to Henry’s perceived misrule grew many of the discontented barons looked to Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, for leadership and he became increasingly more powerful. De Montfort and his supporters wanted to limit the Henry’s power by forcing him to rule with the assistance and advice  of a council of barons and when Henry summoned Parliament in 1258  to ask for more funds the barons forced him to accept reforms which in effect gave the power of governance to a council of English magnates. These reforms were known as ‘ “The Provisions of Oxford”, but in the following years the provisions were subject to revocations and reinstatements by King Henry with supported from the Pope.
By 1263 Henry III and the English barons were on the brink of open warfare and to avoid a civil war the barons had asked King Louis IX of France to mediate between Henry and themselves, but Louis was a firm believer in royal prerogative and pronounced firmly in favour of Henry and in January of 1264 the French king issued his decision in what became known as “The Mise of Amiens”. The barons outright rejection of Louis decision was immediately followed by their open rebellion against Henry III under the leadership of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, which became known as “The Second Barons War”.

Henry III’s forces had an early success in the conflict when they took the rebel held castle at Northampton in early April of 1264. One of the captured garrison was Simon, the son of Simon de Montfort. However, this success was short lived when the following month the Royalists were defeated at the Battle of Lewes in East Sussex which was fought on 14th May. After the battle the King was forced to issue “The Mise of Lewes” in which he accepted the reimplementation of the Provisions of Oxford. Prince Edward, Henry’s son and the future King Edward I, who had led the Royalist cavalry during the battle was taken as a hostage by the barons.  After the  victory of 14th of May  Simon de Montfort became de facto ruler of England.

Gilbert de Clare, 6th Earl of Hertford and 7th Earl of Gloucester

A major concern of the rebel barons  was their debt to Jewish money lenders  and one of their principle demands to Henry III was that these debts should be written off, but as tallages [taxes] on the Jews were a major source of revenue to the Crown this did not happen. Simon de Montfort, like many barons, was indebted to Jewish moneylenders and in April of 1264 he instigated a nationwide persecution of the Jews and encouraged his supporters to kill Jews, seize their property, and destroy records of debts owed to them.
In the 1260’s Canterbury was one of the main centres for English Jewry and probably had a population of a hundred or so Jews who owned twenty or more houses. For the three decades after 1240 the dominant member of the Jewry of Canterbury was Solomon, or Salle, the son of Josce. In 1241 Salle led a five man delegation from Canterbury to a gathering of the leaders of English Jewry convened in the city of Worcester to raise a tallage [tax] of 20,000 marks. Salle was chirographer of the Canterbury archa in 1249 and he later paid £1 that office to go to Benedict, his son-in-law. As with other Canterbury Jews Salle lent money to Christ Church and other religious institutions as well as to the local laity. 

The overt persecution of Canterbury’s Jewish population preceded the Second Barons War. In 1261 the Jews were attacked by both  clerical and lay inhabitants of Canterbury and although no Jews were killed  some of their houses were set on fire and  Jewish owned property was damaged or looted, but far worst excesses were to follow after Simon de Montfort’s victory at Lewes.

In April of 1264 what was to become known as known as “The Massacre of the Jews” was instigated by Gilbert de Clare, 6th Earl of Hertford and 7th Earl of Gloucester, after he took possession of Canterbury. At this time of the massacre Gilbert de Clare was an ally of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and was one of the most powerful and brutal of all English nobles and held the castle at Tunbridge in Kent. He was known as “Red” Gilbert de Clare or “the Red Earl”, probably because of his hair colour and also for his terrible temper and bloodthirsty demeanour. Although at the time of the Canterbury massacre  Gilbert de Clare  and Simon de Montfort were allies  the two earls later fell  out  and Gilbert went  over to the Royalist side and aided the escape of Prince Edward from captivity  just before the Battle of Evesham in August of 1265 where Simon de Montfort was killed.

During the massacre an unknown number of the city’s Jewish inhabitants were killed, Jewish property was looted and destroyed, and a number of Jewish women were baptized to avoid further persecution. Those Jews who survived the pogrom fled the city and did not return until after Simon de Montfort’s death at Evesham. When Salle returned to Canterbury from exile abroad in 1265  his property was restored to him by Henry III.

Ralph Colkyn of Esol  was almost certain to have been in debt to one or more of Canterbury’s Jewish moneylenders and appears to have been an active participant in the attacks against Canterbury’s Jews and their property in April of 1264. In 1268 Ralph was  summoned by King Henry III  to appear before the Exchequer of Jewry and accused of being involved in offences against “the King’s Peace” during the Massacre of the Jews. Ralph’s late grand-father and namesake had also received a summons to appear before the Exchequer of Jewry in 1219, but in 1268 the charges were of a much more serious nature.
The King’s summons accused Ralph of being one of nineteen men who in April of 1264 “came and entered the house of Simon Paable at Canterbury [bailiff (‘Ballivus’) of Canterbury], and by force and arms thence took and carried away the King’s Chirograph-Chest against the King’s peace”.  The King claimed that the theft of the chest and the chirographs it contained caused him financial losses of £100.
The nineteen accused were: Thomas de la Weye, later a Sheriff of Kent in 1270’s;  Sir Ralph Haket of Hamwold [Hamill]; William de Herthanger [later Barfrestone Court Farm, Barfrestone]; Ralph Colkyn [of Esol]; John de Pecham; John de la Haye; John de Oystregate; Laurence de Neusole; Hugh de Sancto Gregorio; William de Stonham; Roger de Tutesham; Thomas de Farle; Reginald de Blancmuster; Ralph de Hyham; Roger de Tilemanneston; John de Everle; John de Everinge [from Alkham parish]; Nicholas Barrok; and Maynard Wimund.

Jewish money-lenders. An anti-Semitic picture from a 13th-century manuscript.

Despite exhaustive inquiries at the time of the alleged offences the Sheriff of Kent had failed to apprehend any of the perpetrators of the theft or recover the chest or any of the chirographs  stored therein. The loss of the chirographs stored in the chest would at first appear mean that debts owed to Canterbury’s Jews by church institutions and the laity  would be irrecoverable by the lenders. However, for his own financial benefit Henry III wanted to maintain the wealth of the recently plundered Jews and gave Salle, who had survived the massacre by fleeing abroad, and several other surviving Canterbury Jews the authority to collect any loans for which the lender had a written record. This enabled Salle to recover £35 of the debt owed to him with loan charters he held “outside the chest”.

A chirograph was a medieval document, which has been written in duplicate, triplicate or very occasionally quadruplicate (four times) on a single piece of parchment, with the Latin word “chirographum” (occasionally replaced by some other term) written across the middle, and then cut through to separate the parts.

The King’s chirograph chest, or archa, contained records of transactions between Jews and Christians under the provisions of the 1233 Statute concerning Jews which specified that: “Loans contracted with Jews shall be by “chirograph only, not tally”. The Jew shall have the 1st part, with the seal of the Christian debtor attached; the Christian debtor the 2nd part; the 3rd part, the pes [foot] shall be put in the chest for safe keeping by both Christian and Jewish chirographers. A chirograph whose foot is not in the chest shall be invalid”. An archa had three padlocks and three sets of seals. Originally archae were located in six or seven towns in England, including London, Oxford, and Canterbury. The Canterbury archa had been established in 1190.

In the Easter term of the legal calendar of 1270 the proceedings against Thomas de la Weye, William de Herthangre, Ralph Colkin, John de Everle, Roger de Tillemanneston, and John de Evering were ended when the Sheriff of Kent, despite being given previous opportunities to make a return before the court against the six aforementioned defendants, made no return against them.

Previous allegiances at this time were very complex and it’s likely that Ralph Colkyn’s affiliations to Gilbert de Clare and Sir William de Say at the time of the massacre and after the Battle of Evesham in August of 1265 were behind the ending of the proceedings against him.

Sir William de Say had fought for King Henry III at the Battle of Lewes on 14th May, 1264,  and after the defeat of the King’s army Sir William’s various manors, lands, & other properties in Kent were seized, often for the benefit of Gilbert de Clare who had fought alongside Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Lewes.
After the Battle of Evesham and the restoration to power of Henry III an inquisition was made as to who had sided with whom in the Second Barons War. The inquisition records that in the Hundred of Bridge the Manor of Patrixbourne was seized from Sir William de Say on 17th May, 1264, and appears to come under the control of Gilbert de Clare.  In November of 1264 Gilbert de Clare fell out with Simon de Montfort and went over to King Henry III  and fought for the king against his former ally in the Battle of Evesham on 4th August, 1265, where de Montfort was killed.   Sir William de Say had also fought for Henry III at Evesham alongside Gilbert de Clare and after the Royalist victory Gilbert de Clare returned Sir William’s property with possession of Patrixbourne  returning to Sir William on 8th September, 1265. In the following months Sir William  seized various property  property in Kent from still active rebels on behalf of Gilbert de Clare. 

Although there is no known record of the knight’s fee of Essewelle and attached lands held by Ralph Colkyn coming under the control of Gilbert de Clare after the Battle of Lewes, it is almost certain that Gilbert de Clare became Ralph Colkyn’s over-lord. His new allegiance and subsequent obedience to his new over-lord would explain why Ralph was one of the nineteen men who seized and stole the Canterbury chirograph chest at Gilbert de Clare’s instigation. It could also explain the non-presentation by the Sheriff of Kent in the legal proceedings against Ralph in 1270, as Gilbert de Clare had become a very influential supporter of the King after changing to the Royalist side  in November of 1264 and playing an important part in the victory at Evesham in August of 1265. In addition to Gilbert de Clare’s possible influence over the proceedings another mitigating factor could have been the support of  Sir William de Say, one of  Henry III’s steadfastly loyal ante-rebellion supporters.

In the post-Evesham inquisition, there is an entry for the Monday after Michaelmas 49 Henry III. [Michaelmas was Tuesday, 29th Sept in 1265 therefore the following Monday was 5th October, 1265],

 Hundred of Estrye [Eastry].

No one in the hundred was a rebel.


The land of Ralph Colkyn was seized into the hand of Sir William de Say,

but he took nothing away and did not eject Ralph. It is worth 12 marks [£8]

a year, and the Michaelmas rent Ralph received, viz. 14s.


This inquisition entry confirms that Ralph Colkyn retained the land at Esol held from Sir William de Say’s Barony of Say. Another inquisition entry records that Ralph  seized land in the possession of rebels on behalf of Sir Roger de Leyburn [Leybourne], who during the two years of conflict after Evesham served as principal lieutenant of Prince Edward, son of Henry III and later King Edward I, in defeating the Montfortian rebels in Kent.
Ralph Colkyn as holder of the knight’s fee of Essewelle, a part of the Barony of Say, would have his over-lord’s allegiances during the Second Barons War. Initially Ralph would have followed Sir William de Say, Baron Say, as an ally of Henry III until the king’s defeat at the Battle of Lewes. After the seizure of William de Say’s lands and property by Gilbert de Clare, 6th Earl of Hertford and 7th Earl of Gloucester, Ralph would  have become a fief of  Gilbert who  had at the beginning of the rebellion been on the side of Simon de Montfort against King Henry III, but after November of 1264 changed his allegiance to the Royalist cause. In the aftermath of the Royalist victory at the Battle of Evesham and the subsequent restoration of lands to the King’s supporters  Ralph would then have once again become a fief of Sir William de Say, a fiefdom in which the Colkyn family remained until the mid-1340’s.

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