Geoffrey of Crowcombe: a witness to early thirteenth century Ireland
Niall C.E.J. O’Brien
In a previous article we met a person called Geoffrey of Crowcombe who was the husband of Alice de Cormeilles, daughter of Walter de Cormeilles and sister of Margaret de Cormeilles. Here is a link to that article [article link = Margaret de Cormeilles and a miscarriage of justice]. In this article we explore the relationship, if any, that Geoffrey de Cormeilles had with Ireland. Let us first recount some of the information relating to Geoffrey from the previous article
Geoffrey of Crowcombe was an active person in the early years of the reign of Henry III. In June 1220 Geoffrey of Crowcombe was in Poitou on the king’s service and the sheriff of Gloucestershire was order to give respite to Geoffrey of Crowcombe for a demand of money because Geoffrey was out of the country. In May 1225 Geoffrey of Crowcombe was sent to France as an ambassador for Henry III. In 1229-30 he was assessor and collector of the tallage in Norfolk and Suffolk. About April 1230 Geoffrey was made sheriff of Oxfordshire. From October 1232 to March 1234 Geoffrey of Crowcombe was issuing royal writs on behalf of the king. In June 1234 Geoffrey was given custody of the royal manor of Woodstock (now Blenheim Palace) while continuing to hold the royal castle at Oxford.
Geoffrey of Crowcombe and King John in Ireland
Yet long before we find information about Geoffrey of Crowcombe in England or France, his name appears in connection with Ireland. On 26th July 1210 a royal prest was made to Geoffrey of Crowcombe for 4 marks. This was made at Carrickfergus after its capture by King John. The money from Geoffrey and many others was to fund King John in Ireland with a large army. The king was there because the three principle lords of Ireland, William Marshal (lord of Leinster); Walter de Lay (lord of Meath); and Hugh de Lacy (Earl of Ulster) were sheltering William de Braose (lord of Limerick). De Braose had entered a quarrel with King John over English affairs and had fled to Ireland. The justiciar, John de Grey, was ordered to arrest de Braose but, although de Grey was an experienced administrator and a person of remarkable ability, he was no match for the three lords.
Following the treaty with Scotland in 1209 King John was free to safely go to Ireland in 1210. He overran the lands of the three lords and besieged Hugh de Lacy and the de Braose family in Carrickfergus. After the castle fell the de Lacy brothers had fled overseas while William de Braose was in Wales since early summer.
It seemed that all of the king’s campaigning across Ireland had missed its principal target. While at Carrickfergus King John was told that Duncan of Carrick had captured the wife and most of the family of William de Braose. Men-at-arms, archers and two wagons were immediately despatched to convey the prisoners to Carrickfergus. The two leaders of this force were John de Courcy and Geoffrey of Crowcombe. This is the first notice we have that Geoffrey was in Ireland at that time. John Gilbert does not tell us the source for Geoffrey of Crowcombe in Ireland but the story told by a Flemish chronicler would seem to be the source. The wife and son of de Braose were later left die of starvation at Windsor.
Carrickfergus Castle from Panoramia.com
Many years later, in October 1229, a number of people received pardons for money extracted from them to fund royal activities during the reign of King John in Ireland. Geoffrey of Crowcombe was pardoned for £11 16 shillings 8 pence which included a contribution to the Scottish war of the same period. After nearly twenty years living with unpaid monies due to the government Geoffrey of Crowcombe must have been delighted with the news.
Geoffrey of Crowcombe comes to Ireland again
For the next decade from 1210 we hear no more of Geoffrey of Crowcombe and Ireland until October 1221. In that month Geoffrey de Marisco surrendered to Henry III all the king’s lands in Ireland and the office of justiciar. De Marisco was suspended as justiciar because he failed to resume royal lands sold by him or account for the royal revenues he received.
Because royal castles could not be surrendered by messengers or letters, de Marisco sent over Roger Huscarl and David Basset. The king accepted the surrender of the castles and sent a directive to de Marisco to deliver the said castles to Henry, Archbishop of Dublin (the new justiciar) through the hands of Geoffrey of Crowcombe and Ralph of Norwich. To affect the transfer of the castles Geoffrey of Crowcombe and Ralph of Norwich were sent to Ireland and given 30 marks from the king’s treasury to cover their expenses.
The rebellion of Hugh de Lacy
The de Lacy family had been flexing their military muscle in the early 1220s. in 1220 Walter de Lacy invaded the O’Reilly lands of Breifne – Cavan and Leitrim. In 1224 Walter’s brother, William de Lacy, attacked Breifne and lands of Cathal O’Connor, King of Connacht. Meanwhile negotiations for the restoration of the third brother, Hugh de Lacy, to the earldom of Ulster came to nothing. By October 1223 Hugh de Lacy had invaded Ireland with the intention to recover Ulster by force. But instead of Ulster, Hugh de Lacy went to Meath and attacked the king’s lands there. In June 1224 William Marshal the younger arrive in Ireland as justiciar to restore order. The Marshal invaded Meath where Aedh, son of Cathal O’Connor and now King of Connacht had attacked a number of de Lacy castles. Meath was recovered for the king but the de Lacy brothers were still active in Ulster with O’Neill support. In late summer the two armies met near Dundalk where Hugh de Lacy surrendered to the Marshal.
In May 1225 Walter de Lacy made a fine with the king for the restoration of his lands and tenants in Ireland following the rebellion of Hugh de Lacy. To recover his lands Walter paid 300 marks and to recover various castles he pledged a fine of 3,000 marks. As security Walter de Lacy pledged sureties on his English lands of 2,000 marks and 1,000 marks on his Irish lands. One of those who pledged surety for Walter’s debt was Geoffrey of Crowcombe who committed 20 marks if Walter defaulted on his debt to the king.
A year later, in May 1226, Walter de Lacy made a charter with the king for the recovery of a number of castles that were seized and held by the crown following the rebellion of Hugh de Lacy. Walter de Lacy was to hold the castles for three years and then restore them to the king. If within the three years Hugh de Lacy received a pardon then Hugh de Lacy could keep the castles. Among the witnesses to this charter was Geoffrey of Crowcombe.
The kingdom of Connacht
In June 1226 Geoffrey of Crowcombe was among the king’s court at Windsor to witness another Irish document. The witnesses were a mixture of English and Irish lords. The document was a letter to Geoffrey de Marisco, justiciar of Ireland, to summon Aedh, son of Cathal, late King of Connacht, to surrender his lands to the king because of the forfeiture of Aedh and his father. They had previously been allowed to hold their lands on condition of being faithful to Henry III.
This was a sorry end for Aedh O’Connor who had succeeded his father as King of Connacht in May 1224. One of his first acts as king was to invade Meath and attack the de Lacy lands. He then supported the Marshal in the suppression of the de Lacy rebellion. But events in Connacht were far from tranquillity. The sons of Rory O’Connor, the last High King, rebelled against Aedh O’Connor in 1225 and were supported by many of the Irish in Connacht. Aedh O’Connor got help from Geoffrey de Marisco, acting deputy justiciar for the Marshal, and from the Normans in Munster. After much military action and common plundering, the sons of Rory O’Connor were driven out. But the restoration of Aedh as king was brief.
In June 1226 Geoffrey de Marisco was made justiciar of Ireland and with the prompting of Richard de Burgo and his uncle, Hubert de Burgh, justiciar of England, a complete reversal of policy was made. Recognising that Aedh didn’t have the support of his people the de Burgh’s revived a charter given in 1215 to Richard’s father, William de Burgo for all the land of Connacht.
On about 21st May 1227 Geoffrey of Crowcombe was at Westminster where he witnessed, along with ten other members of the king’s court, the grant to Richard de Burgo of all the land of Connacht exempt the five cantreds reserved for King Henry. This was a follow on to the surrender by Aedh O’Connor of his kingdom in June 1226. Over the next few years Richard de Burgo and the Normans worked with the sons of Rory O’Connor to control Connacht.
Irish manors and lands
On 2nd May 1227, Geoffrey of Crowcombe was at Mortlake to witness the grant and confirmation of lands in England to Henry de Aldithel. By the same charter Henry de Aldithel received lands within the Earldom of Ulster around the vill of Dunlerr and including some previously held by his brother, Adam de Aldithel. The office of constable of Ulster was also given to Henry de Aldithel.
A few days later, on 6th May 1227, Geoffrey of Crowcombe was at the king’s court at Westminster. While there he was witness of a grant to Ralph de Trubbleville of the manor of Ballymacdon which Robert Rufus had previously leased from King John. On this occasion and at Mortlake Geoffrey of Crowcombe was referred to as a seneschal but of where is unknown to this author. A letter relating to English affairs witnessed by Geoffrey of Crowcombe in October 1232 again described Geoffrey as a seneschal. Many years after 1227 the affairs of Ballymacdon would again come to Geoffrey’s appraisal. On 20th December 1234 Geoffrey of Crowcombe was with the king’s court at Windsor for the grant and confirmation of the gift of Ballymacdon from Henry de Trubbleville to his nephew William de Lunda. Henry de Trubbleville served for a number of terms as seneschal of Gascony.
Grants and liberties of the Archbishopric of Dublin
On 8th November 1229 Geoffrey of Crowcombe was at the king’s court at Westminster. While there he witnessed a grant of dis-afforestation to the church of Dublin and the Archbishop of Dublin for various woods in Dublin and Wicklow. The grant was not only of benefit to the Archbishop of Dublin but everyone dwelling within the large prescribed area could enclose and dispose of woods. Luke, the Archbishop elect, gave the king 300 marks for the charter of dis-afforestation. This grant was inspected by three Irish bishops and one justice in eyre in July 1262 such was its importance and wide ranging impact.
This was a long sought victory for the Archbishopric of Dublin. Many years before, in 1220, when Archbishop Henry de Londres was justiciar of Ireland, he had tried to encroach upon the royal and other forests in the greater Dublin area for the benefit of the Archdiocese. His efforts were resisted by Thomas Fitz Adam, Keeper of the Royal Forests in Ireland. The Archbishop had Thomas imprisoned and excommunicated on the pretext of killing a deer in the Archbishop’s forest. Thomas Fitz Adam complained of the encroachment and his imprisonment to the king. In August 1220 the king agreed to joint management of the king’s forests with the Archbishop. The charter of 1229 gave final victory to the Archbishop.
On 1st January 1230 Geoffrey of Crowcombe was with the king’s court at Doncaster. There he was witness along with at least eight other courtiers to a grant of four carucates of land in Ireland to Amory de St. Amand. By 13th April 1230 the king’s court had moved on to Reading. As part of their business that day, the court examined a number of charters made by King John to John, Archbishop of Dublin while the former was Earl of Morton. These charters granted various ecclesiastical and lay possessions to the archdiocese along with many liberties. The union of Glendalough with Dublin was one of the charters examined and confirmed by the king’s court. Geoffrey of Crowcombe gave his name as witness to the examination and confirmation of the charters.
Compensation to Irish bishops for royal building works
On the following day, 14th April 1230, the king’s court had moved on to Winchester and Geoffrey of Crowcombe went with them. There they witnessed a grant of frankalmoign to Luke, Archbishop of Dublin, of the prebend of Stachmuchan near Tallagh. This prebend had been given by King John to Henry, the former Archbishop, as compensation for the damage done to the church of Dublin during the construction of Dublin castle. Later this prebend was taken into the king’s hand. It was restored to the Archbishop of Dublin at Marlborough on 26th September 1234 in a grant witnessed by many people connected with Ireland and England including Geoffrey of Crowcombe.
One of the medieval towers of Dublin Castle which impacted on the church's property rights
The king’s court continued their circuit of England and was at Portsmouth by 19th April. There they stayed until the end of April. About thirty documents relating to Ireland were produced during that time. It is likely that Geoffrey of Crowcombe was a witness to some or all of these documents but only one document has an extensive witness list. This document (dated 28th April) was an inspection and confirmation of a grant in fee farm of land (worth 10 carucates) at Omayl, near Limerick, to the Bishop of Limerick by King John as compensation for the building of the king’s mills and fisheries at Limerick.
Fairs, markets and tithes
After Portsmouth the court moved back to Westminster for a few days. Their stay in the capital was not long and by 11th May 1230 they were on the move again. On that latter day Geoffrey of Crowcombe was with hem at Becherelle to witness a grant of an eight day fair at Dundalk to Nicholas de Verdun. By the same grant Nicholas de Verdun got a weekly Thursday market at Clonmore and a free warren on his demesne lands in Ferrard.
Throughout much of Europe the thirteenth century was a period of tremendous growth of population and economic expansion. Improvements in farming practices led to surplus produce for sale and the establishment of fairs and markets helped to facilitate that sale. Across England and the English controlled parts of Ireland charters were given to establish a legal framework for these markets and control the commercial routes. Many of the once a year fairs were held around a local religious festival so that the buying public could get days off work to go to the fair and spend their hard earned money. The establishment of a fair by a royal charter often formalised a pre-existing unlicensed fair that had grown to a reasonable size.
It is not known if Geoffrey of Crowcombe stayed with the king’s court over the succeeding fourteen months as few of the documents from the time have witness lists. Thus it is 21st August 1231 before we next encounter Geoffrey at the king’s court. On the latter day Geoffrey of Crowcombe witnessed a confirmation to the friars of St. Mary of Mount Crosswell of a previous grant made to them by Walter de Lacy. This grant included the ninth sheaf of wheat, oats, rye, barley, peas, beans and other kinds of corn produced on de Lacy’s manors in Ireland. The friars were also to have the tithes of the mill at Kells along with a burgage with the ninth sheaf in every burgh and a messuage in every manor held by de Lacy in Ireland.
After this grant another year passes in which documents relating to Ireland have few witness lists. When we next meet Geoffrey of Crowcombe he was at Winchcomb on 10th June 1232 with the king’s court. There he witnessed a grant of a yearly fair (lasting 8 days) to Hugh Tyrel at his manor of Newtown in Fertelagh.
Hubert de Burgh as justiciar of Ireland
By 15th June 1232 the king’s court was at the royal manor of Woodstock. Two years later Geoffrey of Crowcombe would be given custody of this manor as noted above. In June 1232 Geoffrey was witness to the grant of the justiciary of Ireland to Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent and at that time justiciar of England. Hubert de Burgh ran the English government during the minority of Henry III which government also controlled lands in Wales, Ireland and France. As part of the grant Hubert de Burgh could appoint a deputy for Ireland in case of absence or illness. On 16th June Hubert de Burgh was granted the justiciary of Ireland for life. Later in the month (27th June) the king’s court at St. Edmondsbury made a grant to Hubert de Burgh that he did not have to render an account for his time as justiciar in England or Ireland from the date he was appointed justiciar of Ireland.
Hubert de Burgh’s nephew, Richard de Burgo was also honoured with favour. On 21st June 1232 the king’s court were at Lambeth near London. There they witnessed the grant and confirmation of a sale made by Richard, Earl of Cornwall (and the king’s brother), to Richard de Burgo. The sale was the custody of the lands and heirs of Theobald Walter, former butler of Ireland.
But the old Poitevin enemies of Hubert de Burgh were not too far from the King’s ear and sought their revenge. Back in 1219 when Geoffrey Neville finally fulfilled his long threats of resignation as seneschal of Poitou, local leaders there, like Peter des Roches, wanted a native person to be seneschal. But Hubert de Burgh appointed an English lord. Hubert de Burgh long held that England should set her own policy and not be a satellite to a continental system. Excluding aliens, even those from English lands in France, was a first condition to good government.
For much of the 1220s Hubert de Burgh governed England by the English for the English. Yet the English of France had not given up their sense of importance. Peter des Roches and Peter of Rivall slowly gained influence and more particularly the ear of Henry III. The king’s loyalty to his servants was forever liable to change suddenly and fast regardless of the loyalty shown by those servants to the king. The return of Peter des Roches to the see of Winchester in 1231 signalled a strong rival at court.
Just as Hubert de Burgh was achieving greater control, the Poitevins told King Henry bad stories about his ever powerful justiciar. Without little cross examination Henry believed all he was told and removed Hubert de Burgh and his party (including Richard de Burgo) from all offices. Following the removal of Hubert de Burgh as justiciar of England and Ireland, Geoffrey of Crowcombe stayed with the new administration of Poitevin natives. Thus he witnessed two Irish deeds in May 1233 with the French members of the government like Peter, Bishop of Winchester and Peter de Rivall, captain of Poitou. The first deed was a grant for life of the chancery of Ireland to Ralph, Bishop of Chichester and chancellor of England. The second deed was a grant to Ralph Fitz Nicholas of the custody of the lands and heirs of William Pipard in England and Ireland.
On the same day of 16th June 1232 Geoffrey of Crowcombe witnessed a grant of various liberties and franchises to the city of Waterford. Some of these liberties included that no one within the walls shall take lodging by assize or livery of the marshals against the will of the citizens; no strange merchant shall remain within the city to sell his merchandise but for 40 days unless by the will of the citizens; the citizens shall be quit of toll, lestage, passage, pontage and all other customs throughout the realm and the citizens could make improvements to buildings along the quay and have all vacant spaces within the city to build on.
The King of Man and Ireland
On 10th July 1235 Geoffrey of Crowcombe was with the king’s court at Westminster along with others including Gilbert Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, Ralph Fitz Nicholas and Amory de St. Amand who held lands in Ireland. While there they witnessed a grant of 40 marks, 100 crannocks of wheat and 5 hosheads of wine to Olaf, King of Man and receivable yearly at Easter in Ireland. This was a reward to King Olaf from King Henry for guarding the west coast of England and patrolling the Irish Sea. Yet the grant was not a total reward. King Olaf had to supply 50 galleys to the English king when called upon.
The Irish crannock was equivalent to the English quarter. The value of the crannock differed from crop to crop. A crannock of wheat was worth eight bushels while a crannock of oats was sixteen bushels.
The last Irish deed of Geoffrey of Crowcombe
The last Irish deed witnessed by Geoffrey of Crowcombe was in April 1236 when Gilbert Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, promised not to harbour at least nine named individuals following the death of Henry Clement, clerk and messenger of the justiciary of Ireland. Gilbert Marshal also promised not to have his men go about armed in the king’s land to do evil against the king.
It would seem that Geoffrey of Crowcombe died sometime after April 1236 and before September 1239. In the latter month the estate of his wife, Alice of Crowcombe (nee Cormeilles) passed to her nephew and nieces without any reference to Geoffrey which would suggest that he was decease by that time. Yet as we have seen Geoffrey of Crowcombe was often referred to as a witness to the history of Ireland between 1210 and 1236, a country he visited at least two occasions.
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 A.J. Otway-Ruthven, A history of medieval Ireland, pp. 89-92
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 John T. Gilbert, History of the Viceroys of Ireland, pp. 85-6; Rev. Walter W. Shirley (ed.), Royal and other historical letters of the Reign of Henry III, vol. 1, pp. 82-87; H.S. Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, Vol. 1 (1171-1252), no. 951
 H.S. Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, Vol. 1 (1171-1252), no. 1772
 H.S. Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, Vol. 1 (1171-1252), nos. 1787, 1788, 1789; Charles McNeill (ed.), Calendar of Archbishop Alen’s Register, c.1172-1534, pp. 64, 211
 H.S. Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, Vol. 1 (1171-1252), no. 1790; Charles McNeill (ed.), Calendar of Archbishop Alen’s Register, c.1172-1534, p. 64
 H.S. Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, Vol. 1 (1171-1252), no. 2177; Charles McNeill (ed.), Calendar of Archbishop Alen’s Register, c.1172-1534, p. 66
 H.S. Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, Vol. 1 (1171-1252), nos. 1795-1824, 1812
 H.S. Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, Vol. 1 (1171-1252), no. 1829
 Karina Holton, ‘From charters to carters: aspects of fairs and markets in medieval Ireland’, in Irish Fairs and Markets: Studies in Local History, edited by Denis A. Cronin, Jim Gilligan & Karina Holton (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2001), pp. 18, 20, 25
 H.S. Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, Vol. 1 (1171-1252), no. 1909
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 H.S. Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, Vol. 1 (1171-1252), nos. 1955, 1957, 1963
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 Rev. Walter W. Shirley (ed.), Royal and other historical letters of the Reign of Henry III, vol. 1, pp. xxiv, xxv, xxviii, xxxii
 H.S. Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, Vol. 1 (1171-1252), nos. 2033, 2034
 H.S. Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, Vol. 1 (1171-1252), no. 1958
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 Kevin Down, ‘Colonial society and economy’, in A new history of Ireland, vol. 2, medieval Ireland, 1169-1534, edited by Art Cosgrove (Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 459, note 4
 H.S. Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, Vol. 1 (1171-1252), no. 2321
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