Monday, 24 December 2012

Council of Woodstock 1st July 1163

At beginning of July 1163 King Henry II summoned a Grand Council of bishops, barons and other magnates to his hunting lodge at Woodstock. The prime purpose for the Council was for Henry to be able to receive, in front of and witnessed by his vassals, homage from the princes of Wales and Malcolm IV King of the Scots. It was also at this Council Henry proposed that the auxilium vicecomitis [Sheriff's Aid]raised by all sheriffs in the land, monies hitherto kept by them. should be paid over directly into the king's treasury and exchequer. Becket opposed this proposal on the grounds that the custom for this was otherwise. A major row between them ensued. 

Of course, prior to his appointment as archbishop of Canterbury, Becket had been Chancellor at the King's Exchequer for several years. It is is almost certain that he would know intimately and specifically what rights the king had or did not have to raise taxes, and in what circumstances.

Extract from

AD 1163 Radolfo de Diceto c 536
Malcolm, king of the Scots, Rhys prince of South Wales, Owain of the north and five important persons from Wales paid homage to the king of the English and his son, Henry on the first of July 1163 at Woodstock. 

VS Thomae auct Grim pp 21-22
Commorante rege in praedio suo apud Wodestoke praesente archiepiscopo et primis patriae inter alia movetur quaestio de consuetudine quadam quae in Anglia tenebatur. Dabantur de hida bini solidi ministris regis qui vicecomitum loco comitatus servabant quos voluit rex conscribere fisco et reditibus propriis associare. Cui archiepi scopus in faciem restitit dicens non debere eos exigi pro reditibus nec pro reditu inquit dabimus eos domine rex salvo beneplacito vostro sed si digne nobis servierint vicecomites et servientes vel ministri provinciarum et homines nostros manu tenuerint nequaquam eis deerimus in auxilium. Rex autem aegre ferens archiepiscopi responsionem. Per oculos Dei ait dabuntur pro reditu et in scriptura regis scribeutur nec dignum est ut contradicas cum nemo tuos contra voluntatem tuam gravare velit Praevidens archiepiscopus et praecavens ne per ipsius patientiam consuetudo induceretur unde posteri gravarentur per reverentiam oculorum quos jurasti domine mi rex non dabuntur de tota terra mea et de jure ecclesiae ne unius quidem denarius.

Materials for The Life of Thomas Becket Volume II p.273

The king, whilst in residence on his estate at Woodstock, [in Council July 1163] in the presence of the archbishop and the magnates of the realm, motioned a question concerning a certain custom which [at that time] prevailed in England.[The custom was that] two shillings for each each hide [of land] which was paid over to the officers of the king, who, as sheriffs guarded the counties: this income he considered as a loss of revenue to the exchequer and he, as the king, wanted it to be enrolled [inscribed] as his own income. The archbishop resisted him, to his face, saying it should not be considered as the king's income. "Not from us," he said, "should this be given as revenue, my lord the king, saving your pleasure. but if we have been served by the sheriffs in a worthy manner or [also] by the officials and ministers of the shires we [of the Church] will not withhold contribution to their aid". But the king was greatly troubled with the archbishop's response. "By the eyes of God," he said, "it will be recorded as the king's revenue. Nor is the right to contradict me, when no one would anger your men against your will."  Foreseeing this, the archbishop and his patience, cautioning that the practice would be introduced so that future generations would not be burdened, "by the reverence of the eyes which you have sworn, my lord the king, from the whole my land and by the right of the Church, not a single penny will be given."

From Anonymous I [Roger of Potigny]
Prima igitur occasio, qua archiepiscopi propositum
et constantia regi innotuit, talis fuit. Erat consuetudo
in partibus illis ut rex ad abundantiorem
cautelam et custodiam regni sui, per singulos comitatus
regni, vicecomitem unum de fidelibus suis
constitueret, consueverantque comites et barones
eidem vicecomiti, regio videlicet ministro, duos solidos
de singulis dimensionibus terrae suae quas
patrio nomine hidas vocant, annuatim ab hominibus
suis facere dari ; quatenus tali servitio et beneficio
eos a gravaminibus et calumniis hominum
suorum cohiberent: videns autem rex quod duo
illi solidi de singulis hidis si in unum conferentur
immensum efficere possunt cumuluin,suntnamque
plura hidarum millia, voluit eos suis usibus et reditibus
applicare. Quapropter convocatis apud Wodestocke
episcopis et proceribus regni, coepit rex
de praefata pecunia suis reditibus connumeranda
verbum in medium proferre. Cumque ad hunc sermonem
universi obmutuissent, solus archiepiscopus
cunfmagna libertate satis modeste respondit
« Domine, inquiens, non decet excellentiam tuam
alienum beneticium ad tuos usus retorquere, praesertim
cura duo illi solidi, non necessitate nec debito,
sed gratia potius tuis ministris conferantur.
Nam si vicecomites vestri pacifice et modeste se ad
homines nostros habuerint, libenter quidein dabimus
: sin autem, non dabimus, nec cogi jure poterimus.
» Ad haec rex cum furore: « Per oculos,
ait, Dei, prolinus irrotulabuntur ; tali verbo usus
propter rolulos illos, in quibus regii reditus annotati
continentur, sed tu ipse bene super haec rneae
voluntotiassentire deberes. » Tunc archiepiscopus:
« Per oculos, inquit, per quos jurasti, nunquam de
terra mea me vivente dabuntur. » Sentiens igitur
rex archiepiscopum sibi palam adversari, aegre nimis

Therefore coming to the occasion in which the resoluteness of the archbishop and the staunchness of the king first became known, such as it was.

There was a custom that the king, for the more comprehensive care and safekeeping of his kingdom, in every county of the realm, to appoint one who had sworn fealty to him, to the office of sheriff. and for the earls and barons to collect annually to be paid by from the people of the district to this officer, two shillings [solidi] from each measure of land which, in the native tongue, are called hides, inasmuch seeing that these officers do safeguard them by their service from accusations and false charges.

Notwithstanding the king saw that if the two shillings [solidi] from each of those hides of land were aggregated into a single whole they would combine together to form a huge amount, insomuch as that there are many thousands of hides of land; and it was this money that he wished to have for his own use and income. Wherefore, at Woodstock, the bishops and magnates of the kingdom were convoked. The king opened with a proposal that the aforementioned money should be reckoned as his revenue.

Whereupon hearing this announcement, all seemed lose their power of speech: only the archbishop with great forthrightness but with some modesty responded: "Sire," he said, "it is not fitting to revert this to your use, especially since these two shillings [tax], are neither compulsory nor a duty, but rather more are collected by your officers as payment for their services. For if your sheriffs act peacefully and in a restrained manner  towards our people gladly indeed we will pay: but if, however, they do not, we will not pay, and neither legally will they be able to be collect."

Hearing this the king became furious: "By the eyes of God ," he said, "immediately they shall be so enrolled, with the usage of such words that are found in the account of the register rolls, those in which the royal revenues are recorded. And well must you yourself concerning this submit to my will."

Then the archbishop retorted: "By the eyes which you have sworn never from my land, whilst I am alive, will anything be given."

Thereupon perceiving openly that the archbishop had become his adversary,  the king accepted this exceedingly reluctantly.

Extract from

July 1st Woodstock
The King is at Woodstock, where Malcolm, King of Scotland, Rese, Prince of S. Wales, and Owen, Prince of N. Wales, attend and do homage to him and his son.

Becket opposes the King on the question of the Danegeld. By Charter dated at Woodstock, and clearly on this occasion, K. Henry confirms the grants of Robert, Earl of Leicester, to Nuneaton (Warwickshire), (a cell to the Priory of Fontevrault.)

There were witnesses of the King's Charter, Thomas, Abp of Canterbury; William (read Gilbert), Bp of London; Robert, Bp of Lincoln; M. (Malcolm), King of Scotland; William, the King's brother; Earl Reginald (of Cornwall); William, Earl of Gloucester; Richard de Humet, Constable; Richard de Luci; Henry fitz Gerald, Chamberlain ; William de Crevequer, Hugh de Longchamp, William Malet, William de Hastinge, Simon fitz Peter, Peter de Mara, and John Mauduit.

Palgrave (ut supra). Appendix, p. cccxxxv. Diceto p. 535.

Pontigny S. T. C. i. 113. Grim. S. T. C. i. 21.


Auxilium or Aid was a financial levy or a feudal incident on the people used to assist a feudal lord, official or anyone in power for a specific purpose. It could be raised for purposes such as

  • When the lord needed to ransom himself from captivity, or
  • To knight his eldest son, or
  • To provide a dowry for his eldest daughter
Sheriff's Aid was a kind of tax which funded sheriff's in the work they did for landowners.


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