The Knight’s Fee of Essewelle: from Domesday to the end of the First Barons War in 1217

Bishop Odo holds Essewelle.

The Domesday Survey of 1086 records the manors of Eswalt, Essewelle, and Soles as part of the holdings of Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux,  who was the half-brother of King William I, the Conquerer. Odo was created Earl of Kent in 1067 as reward for his support during William’s invasion and subsequent conquest of England. The earldom gave Odo an annual income of £.3,000 from 184 lordships in Kent and numerous manors in 12 other counties which made him by far the richest tenant-in-chief in England.

Essewelle was one of Odo’s many Kent manors and the Domesday records: “Ralph de Curbespine holds ESSEWELLE from the Bishop (Odo). It answers for 3 sulungs. Land for… In lordship 3 ploughs. 1 villager with 7 smallholders have ½ plough. 1 slave. Value £6. Molleva held it from King Edward (the Confessor)”.
Molleve (Malleue), believed to be a widow, also held the nearby manors of Danitone (Denton), Ewelle (Ewell), and Colret (Coldred) from King Edward.
By 1086 Ralph, or Radulph, de Curbespine [also Courbepine, Curva Spine, Crookshorne, Crooksthorne, and Crowdthorne], a protege of Odo’s and noted as “a great despoiler of women”, benefited greatly from Odo’s patronage and held Molleve’s  and other manors and land in Kent from Odo, as well as property in Canterbury and Dover. These other Kent manors included Berfrestone, now Barfreston, which borders Essewelle to the south-east and herein Ralph held one yoke of land from Odo. In addition to land and property in Kent Ralph also held manors, land and property from other over-lords in several English counties.

The King’s seemingly generous rewards were not enough for Odo and he set about increasing his wealth by taking by force whatever he wanted. This soon made him the most hated man in Kent and bought him into direct conflict with Lanfranc, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who also had extensive Kent land-holdings. In 1076 this confrontation led to Odo’s trial on Pennenden Heath near Maidstone for defrauding both the Crown and the Diocese of Canterbury which resulted in Odo having to return some of the property he had illegally obtained whilst other assets were re-apportioned.  As a beneficiary of Odo’s misappropriations Ralph de Curbispine was  forced to return  60 solidates of pasture [pasture land with a value of 60 shillings] on the Isle of Grean [Grain] which he was adjudged to have  unlawfully aquired.
Odo’s greed and ambition eventually led to his downfall and in 1082 King William arrested and imprisoned him for seditiously planning a military expedition to Italy without the King’s permission, supposedly in pursuit of the Papacy. Odo’s earldom and remaining estates were confiscated by the King and he was imprisoned until William was persuaded on his deathbed to release Odo from prison.

After William the Conquerer’s death in September of 1087 the newly crowned William II, who was the second surviving son of the Conquerer and known as Rufus because of his ruddy complexion, returned the earldom of Kent to his uncle and in 1088 Odo showed his gratitude to his nephew by organizing a rebellion to overthrow and replace him with Duke Robert of Normandy, also called Curthose, the older brother of William Rufus.
After the failure of the rebellion William II took back his uncle’s earldom and its numerous lordships and estates and allowed Odo to take service with Duke Robert in Normandy. Odo died in Palermo in Sicily in 1097 whilst en route to Palestine with Duke Robert to take part in the First Crusade. After the confiscations King William II redistributed some of Odo’s lordships and estates to other barons as rewards for service or to buy their loyalty.


Essewelle: the Barony of Maminot and “The Anarchy”

Ralph de Curbispine, who held Essewelle from Odo, was the brother of Gilbert Maminot, Bishop of Lisieux, who had been William the Conquerer’s personal chaplain and doctor. Bishop Gilbert was a large landowner in his own right and his and Ralph’s holdings were assimilated by the Maminot [Mamignot] family into what became the Barony of Maminot, which was held directly from the Crown. The first recorded holder of the Maminot barony was Hugo Maminot and he was succeeded by his son, Walkelin Maminot.

In December of 1135 King Henry I, the fourth son of William the Conquerer, died without a direct male heir. William Adelin, Henry’s son and heir, had drowned in “The White Ship” disaster of 1120, and as a consequence of William’s death in 1125 Henry I nominated his daughter Matilda, sometimes referred to as Maud, as his successor to the English throne. A female ruler of England at this time was unprecedented and the succession was not widely accepted.

Matilda had been betrothed to Henry V, the Holy Roman Emperor, in 1110 when she was eight and he was twenty-four, and they married in 1114, and after the marriage she was known as the Empress Matilda. Her husband died in 1127 and she returned to England at her father’s behest. The following year Matilda married Geoffrey of Anjou, a marriage that gained little favour in England, and the couple had three sons.

When Henry I died in 1135 Matilda’s succession to the English throne was immediately challenged by Stephen of Blois, the dead king’s nephew, who claimed that when the late king was on his deathbed he had named him as his successor. Stephen of Blois then had himself crowned King of England.

Stephen’s claim was supported by the Church and most of the barons, while Matilda was supported by Robert, Earl of Gloucester, her half brother who had fallen out with Stephen after initially supporting him,  and her uncle, David I, King of Scotland. Matilda and Robert landed at Arundel in September 1139 and England subsequently descended into a civil war which became known as “The Anarchy” that was frequently used as a cover for the settling of local feuds and resulted in widespread lawlessness throughout England which lasted from 1135 until 1153.  The conflict finally came to an end when Stephen confirmed Henry, Matilda’s son and the grand-son of Henry I, as his heir. Stephen died at Dover in October of 1154 and Matilda’s son succeeded to the throne as Henry II.

Walkelin Maminot appears to have sided with the Empress Matilda as around 1138 Stephen confiscated the Maminot barony, which included Estewelle.  The confiscated barony, including Essewelle, was restored to Walkelin by King Henry II around 1155.
In 1166 King Henry II commanded that persons holding knights fees by barony were required to certify them in the Exchequer. The tenants in chief were instructed to clearly distinguish between fees of “old feoffment”, a fee in existence before the death of King Henry I in December, 1135,  and of “new feoffment”.
After the certification of knights fees by the Exchequer the Barony of Maminot became one of eight baronies owing duty of Castleguard to Dover Castle with the Barony of Maminot duty bound to provide three knights for four week periods of service.  This duty of thirty-two weeks annual service at Dover Castle service was shared by knights who held fees from the Barony of Maminot knights. Of these some fifteen were from Kent with the remainder coming from other parts of the kingdom.
These Castleguard knight’s fees were mainly derived from the estates confiscated from Bishop Odo by King William II in 1088 and subsequently redistributed amongst the English barons.  Essewelle was one such property.

After Walkelin’s death in 1170 the barony seems to have been administered by Juliana, his widow. Juliana’s administration lasted for some years until her death, the date of which is unclear.  After her death the barony passed to Galfrid de Sai [Geoffrey de Say] by way of Adelidis, his wife, an heiress of Walkelin Maminot. The exact date of Galifred’s gaining possession of the barony Maminot is unclear, but he was in full control of it by 1194 and it subsequently became known as the Barony of Say and its holdings remained in the possession of his successors until the early 1400’s.


Essewelle and the First Barons War.

After being forced by his barons to sign the Magna Carta in 1215 King John refused to honour and accept its terms and consequently he faced a rebellion later that year by many of his most powerful barons.
The First Barons War began in the summer of 1215, the last year of the reign of King John, and ended in September of 1217. So great was their dislike and distrust of King John  the barons opposing him invited Louis the Lion, Dauphin of France and son and heir apparent of King Philip II of France to take the throne of England. Louis had a tenuous claim to the throne as he was the grandson-in-law of King Henry II of England. Most of Kent fell to Louis but Dover Castle stayed loyal to King John. Hubert de Burgh, Constable of Dover Castle, and a well-supplied garrison of men were besieged by Louis from 19th July, 1216, until some three months later when Louis called a truce on 14th October that ended the siege. The castle remained in Hubert de Burgh’s possession and Louis returned to London.

King John died of dysentery at Newark in October of 1215 and was succeeded by his nine year old son, Henry III. After John’s death many of England’s barons were gradually persuaded by William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, to support the newly crowned Henry. Marshal, who was the child king’s regent, eventually gained enough support and began a successful campaign to wrest control of England from the Dauphin.
Louis suffered a defeat at Lincoln on 20th May, 1217, which proved to be a turning point as many of the barons  who supported Louis and supplied him with troops were captured by the pro-Henry forces led by William Marshall. Some three months after the defeat at Lincoln Louis suffered another overwhelming defeat in a sea battle off of Sandwich on 24th August, 1217,
The Battle of Sandwich, also called the Battle of Dover, took place on 24th  August, 1217, during which an English fleet loyal to Henry III commanded by Hubert de Burgh, Constable of Dover Castle, attacked and defeated Louis the Lion’s French fleet led by Eustace the Monk and Robert of Courtenay off of the port of Sandwich.

During the fierce fighting the English used builder’s lime with great effect to blind their French opponents, an effective tactic which helped in achieving a comprehensive English victory. De Burgh’s fleet captured the French flagship and most of the supply vessels along with the  supplies, equipment and troops they were carrying from France to  London to replace losses suffered at Lincoln. During the fighting Eustace the Monk, a feared and much hated French pirate who had once been an ally of King John, was captured and beheaded on the deck of his own ship and his severed head was then paraded on the point of a spear around the southern ports of England to show their inhabitants that the dreaded pirate was actually dead.

Within three weeks of this defeat Louis agreed to renounce his claim to the throne of England which Louis did formally by signing the Treaty of Lambeth on 11th September, 1217.  In return for signing the treaty Louis accepted 10,000 marks, and then returned home.

During the First Barons War Geoffrey de Say, who held the Barony of Say, was the over-lord of the knight’s fee of Essewelle and therefore owed military service by the holder. Hugh de Hotot held Essewelle as the tenant of Dionisia Wischard, his mother-in-law and holder of the knight’s fee of Essewelle. Hugh would have therefore been liable to fulfil the military service owed to Geoffrey de Say by Dionisia, who as a women would not have been able to perform the service herself.
Geoffrey de Say sided with Louis the Lion and the rebel barons in the First Barons War. As a young knight he had fought for both King Richard the Lionheart and King John in their defence of the Duchy of Normandy and when Normandy, with the exception of the Channel Islands, was lost in 1204 Geoffrey lost property he held there. Geoffrey’s family had long claimed an inheritance that both Richard and John had failed to confirm and still carrying this grievance he supported Louis and the rebel barons in the of the barons war until after the decisive defeat of the  baronial forces  at the Battle of Lincoln in May of 1217. After the battle he made his peace with the young King Henry III and retained the Barony of Say. Geoffrey de Say died in August of 1230 while campaigning with Henry III in Poitou.
After the end of the First Barons War changes were made to the fabric and administration of Dover Castle, one of the principal changes being that Castleguard, whereby the holder of a knight’s fee owed a period of military service at the castle, became Castleward rent. This discharged a fee holder from all personal service and attendance and enabled the King to use the rent money received to garrison the castle with professional soldiers. The rent payment was 120 pence (10 shillings, now 50 new pence) for each period of service expected of a fee holder. This commutation of military service into cash payments allowed wealthy  non-members of the knightly class, such as merchants,  to purchase estates held by knight‘s fee which they had previously been barred from owning as they could not perform the relevant military service owed. Many wealthy town based merchants and tradesmen took advantage of this and purchased country estates they were then able to own in their own right.


Essewelle: the Wischards, de Hotots, and Colkyns.

The Exchequer return for the Barony of Maminot in 1166 recorded that Alan Wisc’ [Wischard] held one knight’s fee which, although not recorded by name, was the knight’s fee of Essewelle. Either he or an heir of the same name continued to hold Essewelle until the early 1200’s as this name appears in connection with a civil case in Kent brought before the King John’s Justices of the Bench at Easter of 1203. Alan Wischard and other members of his family also held land in Bedfordshire.
Alan Wischard died at some time after 1203 leaving a widow, Dionisia [Dionysia] Wischard, who held Essewelle in her own right from the Barony of Say, and two daughters as joint heiresses of Dionisia.  Isobel, the elder of the two daughters, married Hugh de Hotot [Hotoft] with whom she had a daughter named Nichola. Hugh de Hotot appears to have become the principal tenant of Dionisia’s knight’s fee of Essewelle through his marriage, and he also held land in Bedfordshire where in April of 1219 he made a grant of land to Geoffrey Conquest [Conquestor, Cunquest] when Geoffrey married Nichola.
Hugh de Hotot, as the tenant of Dionisia Wischard, his mother-in-law and holder of the knight’s fee of Essewelle, would have been liable to fulfil the military service owed to Geoffrey de Say by Dionisia because as a women she would not have been able to perform the service herself.
The name of Alan and Dionisia Wischard’s younger daughter is presently unknown, but she married Ralph [Ranulph] Colkyn [Colekyn,Colekin, Calkin, Kulkin, Kalkyn], a member of a wealthy Canterbury mercantile family, and through this marriage Ralph became the sub-tenant of Hugh de Hotot at Essewelle. Ralph and his wife had a son, Hugo, who was heir to his mother’s inheritance at Essewelle.



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