Patrick Delaforce & Ken Baldry

'Family History Research - volume Two - The European Dimension' - Chapter 36 - King John and William - the Feudal Adventurer

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Chapter 36

"MAGNA CHARTA is such a fellow that he will have no sovereign" SIR E. COKE 1552-1634

King John and William - the Feudal Adventurer

King John ruled England from 1199-1216. In this seventeen year reign he had few friends: it is probable that WILLIAM de FORS of OLERON, Earl of Albermarle, born about 1191, was, towards the end of John's reign, a friend.

King John was born in 1167, youngest son of Henry II and Queen Eleanor and younger brother to the dashing, romantic, unreliable Richard, Coeur de Lion who was a close friend of William's father (see chapter 37).

The Chartists say "C'est ensuite cette famille de FORS, devouée à Richard (roi) et à Alienor (reine) à qui Jean-sans-Terre (LACKLAND, that cruel nickname) reconnait les faveurs que lui avait accordeés son frere (Richard), alors qu'il était Comte de POITOU, a savoir la franchise de Fonte taille (land tax) et de toute coutume pour les hommes d'HUMBERT de FORS et de JEAN, son frère, dans leur posessions de l'ile d'OLERON" (ROTULI LIT. PAT. book 2 p.355). This was in 1199 the year when John became King after Richard's death.

Three years earlier in 1196 Queen Eleanor, when she was 59, had revisited POITOU. "Elle trouva des jurés de l'ile d'OLERON conduits par HUMBERT de FORS qui venaient demander leur part du gateau qui se distribuait La Reine recommenca en leur faveur ce qu'elle venait de faire pour les bourgeois de POITIER. ALIENOR la lui donna et assura aux jurés de 1'ile, par une seconde charte, la perpetuité de leur commune jurée, faveur qu'elle accompagna de priviliges identiqués à ceux qu'elle venait d'accorder aux communes de La Rochelle et de Poitiers" 'Parmi les compagnons de la reine on releve le nom d'HUMBERT de FORS à ROUEN.'

The OLERON Laws or Judgements were a code of Maritime laws introduced into England during Richard I's reign (before 1200). Originally they were connected with wine shipments from France, but afterwards took on a wider significance. No doubt they were originated by the Delaforce family who were the most influential family on the island.

King John's need for funds meant higher taxes. Eventually even the loyal feudal barons in POITOU rebelled. In 1203 AIMERIC de FORS, son of IMBERT/HUMBERT, was in great trouble after the siege of VAUDREIL. AIMERY and the leading local baron SAVARY de MAULEON were captured and imprisoned at CORF Castle "Roi Jean Sans-Terre fit savoit à IMBERT qu'il lui remettrait son fils, moyennant le paiement de 1150 livres Poitevins, solidement garanties, et l'engagement de le servir fidelement' Aimery de FORS était prisonier dans le terrible Chateaux de CORF Guillaum de BLUNDRIL, connetable de CORF Castle de lui amener sans delai en Normandie, Savary de Maulen et Aimery de FORS, non comme prisonnier mais en hommes libres." Aimery's daughter was left as hostage. (A Richard Hist. Comtes de POITOU).

From King John's point of view, AIMERIC had rebelled and had to pay a huge ransom, irrespective of any family claims to friendship with the Royal Family. (AIMERY de FORS c'était le fils d'Imbert de FORS, notable d'OLERON, l'un des familiers de Richard Cour de Lion) Young William de Force only became EARL of Albermarle in 1213 and thus had no influence with the King.

However after the ransom was paid, King John relented. In 1205 (R. de COGGESHALE, Record des H. de France XVIII p.99) 'L'ile d'OLDERON suivit les destinées de La Rochelle. Imbert et Jean de FORS, les amis de SAVARY de Mauleon y maintinrent l'autorité du Roi d'Angleterre, aussi Jean sans-Terre accorde-t-il aux inhabitants de l'ile par lettres du 28 Fev 1205 les franchises et les liberte's de La Rochelle.' King John nevertheless encouraged the feudal Poitevins to live and fight for him in England.

William's mother was Hawise, the Conquerors great grand-daughter and his father was William, Earl of Albermarle (chapter 38). William also had a half-brother Robert son of Geoffrey/Gaufridus des FORTS, another of Hawise's four husbands. He also had a step-father Baldwin de BETHUNE who died on 13 Oct 1213 and William assumed the title of Earl of Albermarle (TO. LIT. PAT p.122), confirmed by King John. In 1215 his mother's estates came to him on her death. The Red Book of the Exchequer says "the most important of his estates was the lordship of WAPENTAKE of HOLDERNESS, the true seat of the Albermarle power where they held ten Knights fees." The Albermarle castle was at SKIPSEA. The family founded MEAUX a Cistercian house. They also had large estates in Cumberland, Lincolnshire and Craven. The Albermarles were also called the Earls of HOLDERNESS and of YORKSHIRE.

WILLIAM married AVELINA de MONTFICHET between 1210 and 1215. Their eldest son WILLIAM was born about 1215. AVELINA was described as 'mulier admirabilis pulchritudinis.'

Roger Wendover's "Flores Hist." shows that William supported the King in his quarrels with the other Barons in the period 1210-15.

On 15th June 1215 the Barons of England, including William de Force, Earl of Albermarle forced a reluctant King John to sign the Magna Carta in a meadow beside the river Thames called Runnymede. Of the twenty five barons, William was probably the friendliest towards the King. The barons were to become the Charter's guardians, and were to 'observe, keep and cause to be observed with all their might' the new liberties it guaranteed. They were entitled to take arms against the King to enforce the Charter.

There were 61 clauses, hence its title as 'Magna'. Half of the clauses dealt with the relationship between the King and his subjects. It made no distinction between Norman and English, and guaranteed the liberties of small property owners as well as large. 'We grant' said the Charter 'to all freemen of our realm from us and from our heirs forever all the undermentioned liberties to have and to hold for them as our heirs from us and our heirs.' 'No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him... except by the lawful judgements of his peers or the law of the land.'

These brave words were not enough. Civil war broke out again soon afterwards. Four of John's chief supporters - he had some friends amongst the twenty five signatories - including William de Force, Earl of Albermarle and Count of Aumale, went over to the side of King Louis of France. But from September 1215 to June 1216 William fought with the King in the Midlands and the north of England. But William changed sides and fought with the rest of the barons during the next few months.

The last six months of John's reign saw ferocious fighting. Windsor Castle was besieged by the French. King John and his army went to East Anglia and the Fenlands and fought a savage battle nearly every day. After losing his baggage train crossing the Welland without waiting for the ebb tide, his army was swallowed up in the quicksands. The King just escaped but died a few days later of dysentery, on 19th October 1216, aged forty eight.

It is difficult to say much good of his seventeen years of rule.

(This is Patrick’s judgement of 1980. However, no king before Edward VII, who had the benefit of railways, travelled over so much of country as John, bringing the King’s Justice to parts the barons would rather it did not reach, which was their principal grievance against John. Since 1215, most of Magna Carta has been repealed. Only four clauses, which include one inserted later in 1225, remain. This includes the clause saying that none of it can be repealed.)

The new King Henry III made William constable of Rockingham and Sauvey Castles. William took part in several of the local battles - the siege of Mount Sorrel, Leicestershire, the battle of Lincoln, and with his fathers nautical experience fought in the naval battle over EUSTACE the Monk in the Channel off Dover (Matthew PARIS). This is because Henry was constantly at odds with his subjects, fighting civil wars against his barons, both as barons and as representatives of the new-fangled parliament which was called in his reign.

Although William was part of the Conqueror's family (by marriage) he certainly abused his powers. He was described as a 'feudal adventurer of the worst stamp'. In 1219 William had been declared a rebel and excommunicated by the Kings Justiciar who wanted William to surrender his two royal castles. William's bluff was called by the young King who marched himself with an army and was compelled to surrender the castles. William was not liked by the other Barons except by the notorious FALKES de BREAUTÉ who was even more horrible than William. Although he attended the Kings court at Christmas in 1220, William rose in revolt in January 1221 but was remarkably unsuccessful when he attacked the royal castles of Newark, Sleaford and Kimbolton, but he did capture Fotheringay Castle. He then behaved as though he was the King! He issued letters, directives and safe conducts. It was too much for King Henry who sent an army to Bytham, besieged it, burnt the castle and made William a fugitive. He took sanctuary at FOUNTAINS Abbey. He surrendered and was pardoned on condition of agreeing to spend six years in the HOLY LAND.

Typically William having promised to go on Crusade, failed to do so! In 1223 he revolted again and with FALKES de BREAUTÉ attacked the Tower of London. On the King's arrival, William fled and later accepted peace proposals, but had to surrender all honours and his castles to the King. After FALKES was disgraced, William decided to reform. He joined the King's Council and tried to effect a reconciliation between the King and Falkes. In 1225 he received a royal grant to maintain him in the King's service of 15, and witness King Henry's third re-issue of the Magna Charta. In 1226 William de FORDA and his half brother ROBERT were landowners in Devon. Robert's son of the same name spelt de La FURSE, and his brother JOHN de La FORSE were shown as landowners in the same county in 1272. In 1227-1230 William was mainly abroad as ambassador to Antwerp, but also in Brittany with the King and as joint army commander to help the Count of Brittany. The Vatican letters show him as one of 6 English earls summoned for Gregory IX’s council against Frederick II. This was in 1241 and in the same year he finally set sail for the Holy Land with his friend Peter de Mauleon (Savary's son). On his way to Jerusalem he died at sea on 26th March 1242 aged 51.

William de Fortz

Early Medieval sources for this chapter include:

"RED BOOK of the Exchequer":
Matthew PARIS’s Chronicles:
Chronicles de MELSA:
Calendar of Patent Rolls; Dugdales Monastican and Baronage;
Calender Rotuli Cartarum;
Rotuli Lit. Clausarum:
POULSONS History of Holderness.

All of these books are available at the British Museum library, most of them on the open shelves. The marvellous ROLLS Series is at the British Museum library and also at the Guildhall library - on the open shelves. Most of them are in Latin: most of them are indexed. It is a question of piecing all the fragments together from about 12 sources.

A. Richards "History of the Counts of POITOU" was also very helpful.

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Contact: Ken Baldry for more information, 17 Gerrard Road, Islington, London N1 8AY +44(0)20 7359 6294 but best to e-mail him
©1980-2005 Patrick Delaforce & Ken Baldry. All rights reserved Last revised 19/12/2005