Monday, 1 October 2012

John, the Marshall, v. Thomas A Becket 1164

No sooner than Becket had been elected and taken up his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury he and his agents proceeded vigorously to re-examine the disposal of all the land holdings and property belonging to the See of Canterbury. Wherever and whenever he could he annulled, without further ado, all those grants and leases which had been made to tenants of the See's estates which he regarded as having been especially let out on too generous a set of terms, grants of lands and holdings, which his predescessor, Archbishop Theobald, had been forced into concluding agreements for during the civil war. He acted quite ruthlessly in this recovery programme, ejecting either the tenants or their farmers. Then, when and if proceeded against in the royal courts by those he had disseised of these lands, he declined either to plead in the church's defence or even personally to appear in the King's court, arguing that anyone who had a case concerning ecclesiastical lands should bring their petition to the archbishop’s court at Canterbury. Though this might seem unfair and autocratic by those who had been dispossessed, Becket’s actions concerning church holdings were technically wholly justifiable in canon law. Such land was Frankalmoign or Elemosin; the jurisdiction for such land typically belonged to or lay with the ecclesiastical court, and not the king's court.

One person, lands from whom Becket had taken back into church possession, was John Fitz Gilbert, the Marshal (c. 1105 – 1165), who had fought in the civil war on the side of Empress Matilda, King Henry II's mother. John was an important member and official in the King's own household. The office of Lord Marshal originally related to the keeping of the King's horses, and later, to being the head of his household troops. In Norman French marechal meant head groom. The office of the Marshal was part of the Curia Regis. The office was responsible for everything connected to the horses of the royal household, the hawks and the hounds as well. The Marshal had the general duty of keeping order in the royal court and household, arranging for the billeting of members of the court, keeping tallies and other vouchers of the expenditures of the household, keeping rolls of all who performed their military service there, and being responsible for the imprisonment of debtors.

The Gesta Stephani describes John, the Marshal, from King Stephen's standpoint, as "a limb of hell, and the root of all evil". Other chroniclers of the time on the other side term him as a distinguished soldier, praising him for his fidelity to the Empress Matilda. John had successfully asserted, personally in active trial by combat against contestants his right to have and hold the job and title of Marshal, which was well paid, as hereditary and belonging  to him. Following his victory in these challenges John assumed the aristocratic name of John Fitz Gilbert, Le Marechal. John was well known personally to the King as well as being an important officer in his household. During the civil war John, typical of barons of his time, had not been above taking the lands of both laity and clergy, and of forcing payments from the church.

The lands forming the manor of Pagham, Sussex had been given to Bishop Wilfrid by King Cædwalla of the south Saxons in the 7th century. Pagham and its church are mentioned in the Domesday Book, at which time the village and its lands were held by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The dispute in this case was about a parcel of land at Mundham, part of the archiepiscopal manor of Pagham. which John had acquired during the civil war.

Soon after the Council of Clarendon at the end of January 1164 John, the Marshal, sued the See of Canterbury for the return of Mundham , in the Archbishop's own court. But he did not win his case there.

However the King had recently made a law, that if in the process of a cause either party felt themselves aggrieved, they could hold all proceedings, and carry the cause by appeal to a higher court, if the party thus appealing simply took an oath that justice had not been done in the lower court.

Of relevance to this is clause 9 of the Constitutions. "Should any dispute arise between a layman and a clergyman, concerning a tenement, and it be litigated whether it be a lay or an ecclesiastical fee, it shall first be decided by the verdict of twelve lawful men, before the king's chief justice, to what class it belongs; and if it be found to be a lay fee, the suit shall be pleaded in the civil court, otherwise in the ecclesiastical."

Of this power of appeal the Marshal availed himself; but in spite of objections from the judges in the Archbishop's court, he produced from under his cloak a book of versicles called a tropary (a kind of hymnal), and it was upon that which he made his oath.

He complained to the King that justice had been denied him in the Archbishop's court on account of his fidelity to the King, and obtained a writ or summons against the Archbishop to appear in the King s Court on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross [14th September 1164]. However on the nominated day Becket did not appear; but instead he sent four of his knights, bearing his own and the Sheriff of Kent's attestations to the complete invalidity of the oath that John the Marshal had taking and thus declaring the appeal to be null and void. Becket excused himself of non-attendance on the grounds of ill health. [The writ that was used to summon Becket in this case was and is seen as an early precursor to the Assize of Novel Disseisin (recent dispossession).]

However, the outcome of this appeal to the King's Court was that Mundeham was alienated from the Church, and awarded to John, The Marshal and Becket was to be tried for contempt of court for not attending in person.

Several hagiographical sources which report that the English nobleman John Marshal took a false oath on a troper in Thomas Becket's court 

Definition of TROPER
: a medieval book containing tropes or sequences for farsing the sung parts of the mass

The fief was confirmed to John by Henry II. For the wider significance of this dispute, see M. Cheney, 'The Litigation between John Marshal and Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1164: a pointer to the origins of Novel Dissesin', Law and Social Change in British History

Royal Historical Society 1984 10-26

In English law, the Assize of novel disseisin ("recent dispossession") was an action to recover lands of which the plaintiff had been disseised, or dispossessed. The action became extremely popular due to its expediency. Rather than dealing with the issue of lawful possession, it simply asked whether a dispossession had taken place, in which case the property was restored to the plaintiff, and the question of true ownership was dealt with later.

NOVEL DISSEISIN. The name of an old remedy which was given for a new or recent disseisin. 
     2. When tenant in fee simple, fee tail, or for term of life, was put out, and disseised of his lands or tenements, rents, find the like; he might sue out a writ of assize or novel disseisin; and if, upon trial, he could prove his title, and his actual seisin, and the disseisin by the present tenant, be was entitled to have judgment to recover his seisin and damages for the injury sustained. 3 Bl. Com. 187. This remedy is obsolete.

John Hudson (22 March 2012). The Oxford History of the Laws of England Volume II: 871-1216. Oxford University Press. pp. 612–. ISBN 978-0-19-826030-1.


Elizabeth C. Teviotdale
Revista de Musicología
Vol. 16, No. 2, Del XV Congreso de la Sociedad Internacional de Musicología: Culturas Musicales Del Mediterráneo y sus Ramificaciones: Vol. 2 (1993), pp. 848-855
Published by: Sociedad Española de Musicologia (SEDEM)
Article Stable URL:
James J. Spigelman (1 June 2004). Becket & Henry: The Becket Lectures. James Spigelman. pp. 142–. ISBN 978-0-646-43477-3

Giles/inedit Ltrs Pms C1. Ayer Publishing. pp. 236–. ISBN 978-0-8337-1345-2.
Capitulum XI
Quibus ex causis, orta est primo controversia inter pontificem et regem.

For Want of Justice: Legal Reforms of Henry II

Joseph Biancalana
Columbia Law Review , Vol. 88, No. 3 (Apr., 1988) , pp. 433-536


John the Marshall v. Thomas Becket 1164

Becket Correspondence

Some details of the disputed land are given in letter 244 and footnotes

... Also, he [King Henry II] took from us the fee of William de Ros, in contravention of the oath which he took to King Stephen, when he adopted him as his son, received his homage, and appointed him heir of the realm. For he then swore solemnly and publicly that he would for ever preserve for the churches the lands which King Stephen, his lord, and his father by adoption, had conferred on them. Furthermore he took from us the estate of Munningham, which he gave to John the Marshal, against God, his own salvation, and all true justice; ...

Saint Thomas (à Becket) (2000). Anne Duggan, ed. The Correspondence of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1162-1170 Volume II: Letters CTB 176-329. Letter CTB 244 late 1169 by Thomas Becket sent to his clerics John Planeta and Alexander Llewelyn who were in Italy at the time: Clarendon Press. pp. 1056–. ISBN 978-0-19-820893-8.

Names as excommunicated anyone occupying the disputed land.


[Excommunicated] He who holds the estate of Mundham, in the manor of Pagham which the king took from the church of Canterbury because of John the Marshal, if someone other than the king holds it.


Saint Thomas (à Becket) (2000). Anne Duggan, ed. The Correspondence of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1162-1170 Volume II: Letters 176-329. Letter 262 Christmas 1169 by Thomas Becket Names of Excommunicates: Clarendon Press. pp. 1129–. ISBN 978-0-19-820893-8.

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