24 February, 2009

(Not So) Brief Biographies (5): William Aune

A post about yet another of those fourteenth-century bad boys. I know, I know, I'm obsessed. This time, the subject is William Aune, sometimes called William Anne or Daune (de Aune), a long-term adherent of Piers Gaveston and Edward II, maintainer of the notorious Coterel criminal gang, and a career extortionist and thief. This is meant to be a 'brief biography', but I've found tons of info on William, so it isn't. Brief, that is.

I know nothing at all about William's family or when he was born or where he came from, except that he had a brother called Walter and a sister who married William le Cook, and was married firstly to a woman named Roesia and secondly to Alice or Anne, daughter and co-heir of Robert Harringwell. [1] (So her married name might have been Anne de Anne!?) The earliest reference I can find to William is in April 1307, when he accompanied Piers Gaveston to Ponthieu during Piers' first exile; William was a member of his household. Prior to their departure at Dover, Edward of Caernarfon gave William a cash gift of two pounds, six shillings and eight pence, and also a black hackney worth forty-six shillings. [2]

I don't know if William accompanied Piers abroad during his two subsequent exiles or stayed in England, but as with many other members of his friend's household, Edward II took care of William following Piers' execution. He appointed him constable of Tickhill Castle and granted him forty marks a year from the issues on 17 July 1312, less than a month after Piers' death. [3] William held this position for the rest of Edward's reign. Edward had already appointed him to the office of the tronage of wools in Boston in February 1312, shortly after Piers' return from his third exile, and at some point also made him bailiff of Gringley and North Wheatley in Nottinghamshire. [4] In or soon before May 1313, Edward sent William to Conisbrough Castle in Yorkshire to fetch his (Edward's niece) Jeanne de Bar, countess of Surrey, to him; Jeanne's marriage with John de Warenne had hit the rocks, and he was openly living with his mistress Maud, with whom he already had a son. Edward said that "diverse persons on account of his [William's] action in that matter strive to disturb and harass him" - the earl of Surrey was annoyed about the removal of his wife, maybe? [5]

In 1314, while he was holding court in Nottinghamshire, William was assaulted by one Simon Beltoft. An inquisition about the attack was held on 4 November 1314, and I'm quoting the findings in full because they're marvellous:

"At the king's court of Wheteley [North Wheatley], held by William de Anne, steward of the honour of Tykehull [Tickhill] on the Monday in Whitsun week in the year aforesaid, Simon de Beltoft and Simon Norman, yeomen of Sir John de Segrave, came with the said Sir John's letter of credence to the said steward; and Simon de Beltoft mocked and threatened the said steward.
When one Ralph Damyot was called upon in court, the said Simon said that he was at the door of the hall, but was not coming in for him more than for any one else.* He then drew his sword in full court and endeavoured to run up and strike him [William Aune], and assaulted him more than once, so that he was in peril of death if it had not been for Hugh le Carter, the steward's yeoman, who came up to help his master, and in his defence struck the said Simon in the throat with his sword.
Thus by the said Simon's assault there first occurred the trespass aforesaid, whereby the king's court was disturbed and destroyed for the day." [6]

* The pronouns here are unclear; does the 'he' refers to Damyot or Beltoft? The 'him' must be William Aune. Beltoft survived the sword in the throat, incidentally, and was still alive in 1334 (his long criminal career makes William look like a saint; in 1321, he tore out a man's eyes and cut out his tongue).

In his position as constable of Tickhill, William Aune acted as Edward II's spy in the north, especially on the comings and goings of the earl of Lancaster and the Marchers who attacked the Despensers' lands in 1321. Edward sent William twenty letters between September 1320 and 11 March 1322 asking him for information and enjoining secrecy on him, though unfortunately William's replies don't survive. [7] Edward appointed William on 10 January 1322 to arrest any Marchers coming through Tickhill, and the earl of Lancaster began besieging the castle on the same day, presumably because William was a staunch ally of Edward. [8]

In May 1322, Edward II knighted William in gratitude for his support during the campaign against the Marchers, promised him an income of fifty pounds a year and granted him the Lincolnshire manor of Lea, forfeited by John de Trehampton, retainer of the recently executed John Mowbray. [9] Trehampton claimed, somewhat implausibly, that he had tried to leave Mowbray and surrender to Edward as soon as he knew that Mowbray was going against the king, but that William, wanting his lands, put spies everywhere to kill him before he could do so, and threatened his friends so they dared not pursue his business. [10] Trehampton got Lea back in Edward III's reign.

William Aune was a Bad Lad. William de Ryggewey of Chesterfield petitioned the king in about 1321/22, claiming that William stole from him "sixteen pieces of lead, each containing three and a half cartloads," and took them to Tickhill for his own use. William's brother-in-law William le Cook of Westside accused him in 1322 of stealing a horse worth two pounds, five pounds in cash, and other possessions worth ten marks from him. The community of Bassetlaw and Strafforth said in c. 1322 that William had exorted over 2000 marks from them "by various prises, oppressions and grievances." [11] Edward II's downfall saw a flood of petitions against William, including that he had misused his office to steal malt and livestock from the parson of Misterton and maliciously indicted the parson, and the commonalties of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire requested a commission into William's false indictments, imprisonments and extortions. [12]

Because he had been so closely associated with Edward II, William lost his offices within days of Edward's deposition in January 1327. He was replaced in the office of tronage of wools at Boston by John de Fourneux - who may be the man of this name who beheaded the Despensers' adherent John Iweyn in May 1321 - and in early March was described as the "late constable" of Tickhill. [13] He was back in favour with the new regime in early February 1328, however, when he was regranted the Boston tronage of wool and granted the forty marks yearly Edward II had promised him in 1312. [14] In March 1329, William was appointed custodian of the great stronghold of Caerphilly, formerly of Hugh Despenser the Younger, at 100 marks a year, and in July that year was appointed to investigate the disturbances which followed the abduction of Edward II's niece/the younger Despenser's widow Eleanor by William la Zouche a few months earlier. [15]

In 1329-30, William was, with Malcolm Musard of a recent post, one of the men who aided the earl of Kent in his conspiracy to restore Edward II to the throne (not surprising really, given that William had been such a loyal ally of Edward). An order was issued on 10 August 1330 to three justices "not to molest or aggrieve" him for his adherence to Kent, as he "has rendered himself to the king's will" and found two mainpernors to speak for him. One was his fellow Kent conspirator John Pecche and the other Simon Bereford, executed by Edward III as an adherent of Roger Mortimer in December 1330. [16]

William petitioned Edward III at the November 1330 parliament, saying that John de Trehampton had recovered his manor of Lea, and he (William) had been ousted from the custody of Tickhill Castle. He pointed out that "he has always been in the lord king's father's service." Edward III said that he would grant compensation to William so that he could maintain his estate as a knight, and also that it pleased him to give William a great bailiwick to maintain himself until he could ordain something else for William's estate (no hint that William was out of favour with Edward III for trying to free Edward II or for his many crimes, then). Edward appointed William as keeper of the castle and land of Abergavenny in February 1331. [17]

For all his extortion and theft before 1327, however, William achieved his greatest notoriety during the reign of Edward III, and was an associate of the various criminal gangs who ran amok committing murders, robberies, kidnappings, rapes, assaults and downright banditry in the late 1320s and 1330s. William knew James Coterel, leader of the Coterel gang who were, with the Folvilles, the most notorious gang of the era and who were particularly active in the years 1328 to 1332. He maintained James Coterel at Gringley in Nottinghamshire; William's brother Walter took the gang food and money. Coterel and his gang were outlawed on 20 March 1331, but rather than turn them in, William gave them a friendly welcome. William also knew William Uston, a famous counterfeiter who joined the Coterels, and was an associate of Roger Savage, another important gang member (Savage referred to the gang as la compagnie sauvage, the Savage Company). William was able lend Savage 1000 marks in 1328 - an astonishing sum considering his income officially never topped £100 a year, and indirect proof that the numerous accusations against him were true. In February 1333, William was, rather astonishingly, acquitted of aiding Roger Savage. His ally William Uston was condemned to be hanged for assault in September 1332, a sentence never carried out. [18]

William Aune was commissioned to survey royal castles in Wales in July 1334, was compensated for the loss of Lea in October 1335 with £100 a year, and was still active in September 1337, when he was appointed to raise ships for an expedition to Scotland. [19] Annoyingly, I haven't been able to discover when he died, or if he left any children.


1) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1317-1321, p. 6; J. G. Bellamy, 'The Coterel Gang: an Anatomy of a Band of Fourteenth-century Criminals', English Historical Review, LXXIX (1964), pp. 702, 704.
2) J. S. Hamilton, Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall 1307-1312 (1988), pp. 35, 138.
3) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-1319, p. 139; Cal Pat Rolls 1307-1313, p. 480; The National Archives SC 8/30/1498.
4) Cal Pat Rolls 1307-1313, p. 430.
5) Cal Pat Rolls 1313-1317, p. 12.
6) Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1308-1348, p. 527; Cal Pat Rolls 1313-1317, p. 327.
7) J. R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster 1307 to 1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II (1970), pp. 306-307.
8) Cal Pat Rolls 1321-1324, p. 47.
9) Cal Pat Rolls 1321-1324, p. 108.
10) TNA SC 8/145/7206, SC 8/76/3771.
11) TNA SC 8/6/271, SC 8/55/2718, SC 8/265/13207.
12) TNA SC 8/14/699, SC 8/64/3176; Cal Pat Rolls 1327-1330, pp. 84-86.
13) Cal Pat Rolls 1327-1330, pp. 6, 84; for Fourneux, see Cal Pat Rolls 1321-1324, p. 249.
14) Cal Pat Rolls 1327-1330, p. 238; Calendar of Close Rolls 1327-1330, p. 258.
15) Cal Fine Rolls 1327-1337, pp. 122, 134; Cal Pat Rolls 1327-1330, p. 432.
16) Cal Close Rolls 1330-1333, p. 53.
17) TNA SC 8/162/8053; Cal Fine Rolls 1327-1337, pp. 230, 243.
18) Cal Close Rolls 1327-1330, p. 235, for the loan to Savage; Bellamy, 'The Coterel Gang', 702, 710-712, for William's association with the Coterels.
19) Cal Close Rolls 1330-1334, p. 583; Cal Pat Rolls 1334-1338, p. 196; Cal Close Rolls 1333-1337, p. 460; Bellamy, 'The Coterel Gang', 712.


Jules Frusher said...

Phew what a career! Definitely some gangster tendencies in there - and it just goes to show it was one law for the nobility and one for the poor (as long as they were in favour anyway). Extortion etc seemes to almost be a way of life in the 14th C!

I loved that bit when William was attacked in the courthouse by the way - very well recorded!

Gabriele Campbell said...

Wow, you can populate more than one Evil Overlord's minion squad with those guys. :)

Carla said...

"Extortion etc seemes to almost be a way of life in the 14th C!"
It does, doesn't it? I said "Wild West" in one of my earlier comments, but maybe the Mafia is closer to the mark :-)

Anerje said...

Fascinating post Alianore. I'm always touched whenever I read about Ed taking care Piers' family/friend/servants. Willian does sound like quite a rogie though - but it seems to have been a way of life then. Would love to know what happened to him at the end.

Anerje said...

I meant ROGUE! oops!

Unknown said...

I have traced my lineage straight to him 19 generations grandfather !!