Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Three 'Anglo-Irish' wives at Westminster, 1278

Three 'Anglo-Irish' wives at Westminster, 1278

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien

On 31st October 1278 three wives came from Ireland to England to the court of King Edward I at Westminster. They said it was their intention of staying in England for two years while leaving their husbands back in Ireland. Cicely, wife of William de Fenton, nominated her husband and David de Graham as her attorneys in Ireland for the ensuing two years. Muriel, wife of David de Graham, nominated her husband as attorney for two years along with William de Fenton, while Elizabeth, wife of Andrew de Bosco, nominated her husband and William de Fenton as her Irish attorneys for two years.[1] Who were these women on a mission and can we tell anything more of their life and times?

Finding the three married couples

The three families of Bosco, Fenton and Graham clearly knew and trusted each other but trying to find them in the published medieval records is another matter. A search for any of the families in a good range of publications on medieval Ireland proved unfruitful.[2]

Related sisters
Instead an inquisition post mortem from August 1279 tells us the Cecily (Cecilia), Muriel and Elizabeth were the three daughters and co-heirs of John Byset of Lovat, son and heir of John Byset of Ulster.[3] In 1242 John Byset senior, and his uncle Walter Byset, were accused of murdering Patrick, son of Thomas of Galloway, and were outlawed. They fled to Ulster and were awarded lands around Glenarm in the Glens of Antrim by Hugh de Lacy. These lands were formerly held by Alan of Galloway and the feud between the families continued for many years. In 1252 Alan, son of Thomas, Earl of Athol, killed some men of John Byset in Ireland.[4]

Before his death in 1260, John Byset junior had endowed all his property, mills and rents to his stepmother, Lady Agatha Byset. These lands were two carucates in Dronach, 1 carucate in the vill of the Three Fountains, 40 acres at Milltown, 100 acres at Hacket’s town, 2 carucates at Carlcastel, 80 acres at Carkemechan, 2 carucates at Glenharm along with land at Psallor rented (4 marks per year) from the Bishop of Connor and land at Galactren rented from the Bishop of Derry. John Byset held two thirds of the mills located at Dronach, Carlcastel, Glenharm and Psallor along with the rent of Catherick and other property. John Byset had inherited these lands from his father, John Byset senior.[5]

Journey with a purpose

The journey by the three sisters to Westminster in October 1278 was to petition King Edward to order an inquisition into the lands of John Byset and establish his heirs and who held it after John’s death. The subsequent inquisition post mortem on 7th August 1279 in the vill of Oul before Nicholas, Bishop of Down, and Elias de Berkeway established these lands of John Byset. The inquisition further established that after the death of John Byset in 1260, all his property was taken into the King’s hand and was later granted to Walter de Burgh, Earl of Ulster, as John Byset held his lands in capita from Walter de Burgh. Subsequently, after an inquisition, Earl Walter returned the lands of Psallor to the Bishop of Connor at a rent of 10 marks.[6]

For the three sisters, the 1279 inquisition found them to be the rightful heirs.[7] Another document stated that Cecily de Fenton was the eldest daughter and that Muriel de Graham was the youngest. On about the 27th October 1278 the three sisters appointed their husbands to take seisin of their inheritance.[8]

Later records of William de Fenton

Records outside of medieval Ireland show that William de Fenton came from Edinburgh or had his principal estates there.[9] On 23rd July 1291 William de Fenton swore fealty to King Edward of England as overlord of Scotland.[10] On 14th March 1296 Sir William de Fenton swore homage to King Edward.[11] On 28th August 1296 William de Fenton was at Berwick-on-Tweed where he, along with many others, renounced the French league and again gave homage to King Edward of England. With this action a writ was issued on 14th September 1296 to the sheriff of Edinburgh to restore the lands of William de Fenton.[12]

In about 1305 William de Fenton and Cecily his wife came to King Edward to ask for restoration of a third part of the manor of Ulvyngton in Yorkshire. In 1251-2 Ulvyngton was held by Walter Byset and passed to his nephew, Thomas Byset, on the former’s death but the time of Walter’s death was in dispute and the king’s escheator seized the manor.[13] During the Scottish wars Ulvyngton manor was seized by Brian Fitz Alan and taken into the king’s hand following the death of Brian. William de Fenton showed that he had supported King Edward after the first Scottish War and so was a good citizen. The King replied that William and Cecily had to await the proof of age of Brian’s heir and proceed to the common courts for justice.[14]

Later records of David de Graham

Like William de Fenton, David de Graham was also from Scotland. On 1st August 1291 Sir David de Graham swore fealty to King Edward of England as overlord of Scotland in the chapel near the King’s chamber at Berwick-on-Tweed. But David didn’t always still loyal to the English king. In 1296 David, brother of Patrick de Graham, was captured at Dunbar castle with a host of other Scottish nobles and was sent to St. Briavell’s castle as a prisoner.[15]
In July 1297 David de Graham was sent free along with David, son of Patrick de Graham, and many others including Alexander Comyn, on the mainprise of David, Earl of Athol, Sir John Comyn of Badenagh, John de Inchemartin, John le Botiller, John Comyn of Badanagh junior and Ralphde Esing.[16] Afterwards Sir David de Graham left Scotland and died on campaign in Flanders. His son, called Patrick de Graham, married without the king’s licence and in 1300-7 Robert de Felton, who had got the licence to marry Patrick de Graham, petitioned the king for remedy. In reply King Edward issued a writ to chancery to direct the guardian of Scotland to do justice.[17]

In 1293 a person called William de Graham was one of two potential attorneys to pursue an action against the prior of Holy Trinity, Dublin, on behalf of John Comyn but it is unclear what, if any, relation he was to David de Graham.[18]

Kilravock castle

Andrew de Bosco

Andrew de Bosco was also Scottish and lived at Red Castle in the Scottish Highlands. Some sources say that Red Castle was held in 1230 by Sir John Byset senior and by 1278 had come to Andrew de Bosco while other sources say that Andrew de Bosco instead inherited his wife’s lands at Kilravock. About 1290 their daughter, Marie, married Hugh de Ros, lord of Geddes. The Ros family lived at Kilravock until 2012.[19]

Later Byset family in Ulster

The Byset family continued to be strong in Ulster after the death of John Byset in 1259. In 1294 the Bysets were lords of Rathlin Island when Robert the Bruce fled to there from Scotland.[20] But in the fourteenth century the lands around Glenarm were taken from Hugh Byset, a Scottish supporter (who had taken the land of the three sisters), and given to John de Athy, admiral of the Irish Sea fleet.[21]


This article started off exploring why three Anglo-Irish wives left their husbands in Ireland and travelled to the English court at Westminster. But instead of exploring medieval Anglo-Irish families, the article took on a life of its own with the exploration of medieval Scots-Irish. Thus we should more properly refer to the three wives as Scots-Irish rather than Anglo-Irish. 

With the dash of John Byset senior to Ulster for safety in 1242 we saw how his grandchildren had to challenge the powerful Earl of Ulster to recover their inheritance around Glenarm. The complex relations of the Scottish-English wars lost the family’s Glenarm lands and property in Scotland and England while one of the husbands, David de Graham, lost is life fighting a war in a faraway country. But at least one of the three sisters survived all that and her descendants lived in the family home over seven centuries. The article showed the web of connections between Ulster in Ireland, Scotland and northern England in the medieval period which makes it important not just to see one country in medieval times but to explore the wider connections.

End of post


[1] Calendar of Patent Rolls, Edward I, 1272-1281, p. 281; Sweetman, H.S. (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland (5 vols. Liechtenstein, 1974), Vol. II (1252-1284), no. 1501
[2] Curtis, E. (ed.) Calendar of Ormond Deeds, Vol. 1, 1172-1350 A.D. (Dublin, 1932); McNeill, C. (ed.), Liber Primus Kilkenniensis (Dublin, 1931); McNeill, C. (ed.), Calendar of Archbishop Alen’s Register c.1172-1534 (Dublin, 1950); Mills, J. & McEnery, M.J. (eds.), Calendar of Gormanston Register (Dublin, 1916); Connolly, P. (ed.), Irish Exchequer Payments 1270-1446 (Dublin, 1998); White, N.B. (ed.), Irish Monastic and Episcopal Deeds A.D. 1200-1600 (Dublin, 1936); Mac Niocaill, G. (ed.), The Red Book of the Earls of Kildare (Dublin, 1964); Sayles, G.O. (ed.), Documents on the Affairs of Ireland before the King’s Council (Dublin, 1979);  White, N.B. (ed.), The Red Book of Ormond (Dublin, 1932); McNeill, C. (ed.), Registrum de Kilmainham: Register of Chapter Acts of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem in Ireland, 1326-1339 (Dublin, n.d.); Richardson, H.G. & Sayles, G.O. (eds.), Parliaments and Councils of Medieval Ireland, volume 1 (Dublin, 1947); Connolly, P., ‘Irish material in the Class of Ancient Petitions (SC8) in the Public Record Office, London’, in Analecta Hibernica, No. 34 (1987), pp. 1-106; Connolly, P., ‘Irish material in the Class of Chancery Warrants Series 1 (C81) in the Public Record Office, London’, in Analecta Hibernica, No. 36 (1995), pp. 135-162; Sayles, G.O., ‘The Legal Proceedings Against the First Earl of Desmond’, in Analecta Hibernica, No. 23 (1966), pp. 1-48; Connolly, P. ‘List of Irish material in the Class of Chancery Files (Recorda) (C. 260) in the Public Record Office, London’, in Analecta Hibernica, No. 31 (1984), pp. 1-18; White, N.B., ‘Index to Nos. I-IV (1930-1932)’, in Analecta Hibernica, No. 5 (1934), pp. 1-177; MacCaffrey, Rev. J. (ed.), The Black Book of Limerick (Dublin, 1907); MacCotter, P. & Nicholls, K. (eds.), The Pipe Roll of Cloyne (Rotulus Pipae Clonensis) (Cloyne, 1996); Clarke, M.V. (ed.), Register of the Priory of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Tristernagh (Dublin, 1941); Brooks, E. St. John (ed.), The Irish cartularies of Llanthony Prima & Secunda (Dublin, 1953); Brooks, E. St. John (ed.), Register of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist without the New Gate, Dublin (Dublin, 1936)
[3] Shaw, L., The History of the Province of Moray (Elgin, 1827), Vol. II, p.  160
[4] Orpen, G.H., Ireland under the Normans (Dublin, 2005), Vol. III, p. 256
[5] Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, Vol. II (1252-1284), no. 1500, Bain, J. (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland (Edinburgh, 1884), Vol. II (1272-1307), no. 163; Sharp, J.E.E.S. (ed.), Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, Vol. II, Edward I (Liechtenstein, 1973), no. 272
[6] Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, Vol. II (1252-1284), no. 1500
[7] Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, Vol. II (1252-1284), no. 1500
[8] Bain (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, Vol. II (1272-1307), no. 129
[9] Bain (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, Vol. II (1272-1307), p. 617
[10] Bain (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, Vol. II (1272-1307), p. 124
[11] Bain (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, Vol. II (1272-1307), no. 730
[12] Bain (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, Vol. II (1272-1307), pp. 198, 226
[13] Sharp, J.E.E.S. (ed.), Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, Vol. 1, Henry III (Liechtenstein, 1973), no. 252
[14] Bain (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, Vol. II (1272-1307), no. 1728
[15] Bain (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, Vol. II (1272-1307), p. 125
[16] Bain (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, Vol. II (1272-1307), no. 940
[17] Bain (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, Vol. II (1272-1307), no. 1967
[18] Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, Vol. IV (1293-1302), nos. 79, 80, 142 = in 1294 William de Graham was attorney against Sir Thomas of Kildare.
[19] Shaw, The History of the Province of Moray, Vol. II, p.  160; accessed on 14th august 2017; accessed on 14th August 2017
[20] Otway-Ruthven, A.J., A history of Medieval Ireland (London, 1980), p. 225
[21] Orpen, Ireland under the Normans, Vol. IV, p. 208

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