Magna Carta V
Bill Long 1/15/05
Throw the Bums Out! Chapter 50
Another chapter appearing in MC (1215) that disappeared in its subsequent reissues was ch. 50. By naming names this chapter illustrates the time-bound character of the Charter. It provides:
"We (i.e., King John) will entiredly remove from their bailiwicks the kinsmen of Gerard de Athyes, and that henceforth they shall hold no bailiwick in England: Engelard de Cigogne, Peter....(six more names listed)" MC (1215), ch. 50.
Thus it is a clear provision to remove from any kind of appointed office (such as justiciar, constable, sheriff or bailiff--see this four-fold list in chapter 45) certain Frenchmen. The story of Engelard is a window into John's failed policies as well as the staying power of skillful civil servants.
John's Failed French Policies
Engelard was a Frenchman. Why would MC be concerned about Frenchmen getting bailiwicks in England? It goes back to 1200. King John, who was the tenant-in-chief of several French provinces (Anjou, Touraine, Maine, Normandy) by virtue of Henry II's marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, obtained an annulment of his marriage to Isabel of Gloucester in 1200. While seeking a new wife on the Continent, he happened to visit one of his vassals and found another Isabella who pleased him. There was only one problem--she was betrothed to another of John's tenants. John nevertheless married her and the disappointed knight appealed to the French King Philip, of whom John officially held the French lands, to have John appear in France to defend his action before the King. John refused to show up, thus officially forfeiting the French possessions (The technical term for this act of disobedience to a feudal lord is called contumacy. John was being contumacious). For the rest of his reign John would try, unsuccessfully, to recover his French lands.
Some of the Frenchmen who had served John in France, before he lost his possessions, were therefore out of a job. John graciously provided positions for them in England. For example, his chief justiciar in 1214, when John was out of the country, was none other than Peter des Roches, who was the Poitevin (from Poitiers) Bishop of Winchester. But not only were the English people incensed that "aliens" would be taking high-ranking English positions; sometimes the holders of these positions were more rapacious than their English counterparts.
Engelard was one who was despised by the English barony but beloved of the King. He began his career as sheriff of Gloucester in 1209. As McKechnie says, "The Plea Roll of the Gloucester Eyre of 1221 covers the period of his shrievalty (i.e., his "sheriffhood"), and contains a striking and detailed picture of his misdeeds and extortions (2nd Ed., p. 445)." He held pleas of the Crown for Gloucestershire, despite an ordinance of 1194 forbidding this. He apparently appropriated to himself several barrels of wines from ships entering the Port of Bristol.
Yet he was loyal to the King and faithfully promoted his interests even as baronial dissatisfaction with John grew into near open rebellion in 1213. MC 50 required John to remove him from a "bailiwick." However, he was so valuable to John that he then appointed him to be custodian over Windsor Castle.
Engelard Always Lands on his Feet
MC only delayed a full-out armed conflict between John and his barons until the Fall of 1215. John tried to undercut the rebellion by making armed sorties into the countryside, while Engelard was in charge of Windsor Castle. A letter from John in April 1216, written to "all the foresters, verderers and other officers of the forest of Windsor," told the recipients that "our beloved and faithful Engelard de Cygony" has custody of the castle and that all should obey him. Several Counts laid seige to the Castle but Engelard managed to hold them off. The chronicles give conflicting reports of why they were not able to take the Castle, but in any case Engelard held fast.
Upon the accession to the throne of Henry III in 1216 Engelard was maintained as a royal officer and ended up serving Henry III faithfully for more than two decades. He apparently lived until 1254 and at his death the King granted privileges to the executors of his estate, though the specifics of these privileges are not spelled out. Thus, Engelard, who earned the enmity of the counts and barons earlier in his life, managed to maintain royal favor as he delivered faithful service to the King.
Thus we see not only that MC is a document that needs to be understood as a product of its own time, but also might represent more of a wish than a reality. The nobles wished that the land would be rid of the influence of Engelard and others. Yet, their wish was not granted, even if the Great Charter gives the impression that it was.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R.Long