25 April, 2009

Brief Biographies: John Norton and John Redmere

Happy 725th birthday to Edward II today! I read a blog recently which noted Edward's date of birth, then asked 'I wonder what he's doing now'. Well, not a lot, I shouldn't imagine.

John Norton and John Redmere were Dominican friars who were involved in the Dunheveds' plot to free the former Edward II from Berkeley Castle in the summer of 1327. Edward's guardian Thomas, Lord Berkeley wrote a letter on 27 July 1327 naming the men who had attacked his castle and seized Edward from his custody, and also wrote that "two great leaders of this company have been arrested [literally 'taken'] by the community of Dunstable and are held there in prison, that is: Brother John Redmere, keeper of our lord the king's stud-farm, and John Norton." [Et sunt pris deux grant menors de cele compaignie par la comunalte de Dunestaple e illeosques sont tenuz en prison, c’est assavoir: frere Johan de Redemere, gardein del haras nostre seignor le roy, et Johan Nortone.] [1]

So I did a bit of digging into these two men, and discovered that John Redmere was indeed keeper of the king's stud-farm, a position he had held since at least 1317/18, the eleventh year of Edward II's reign. [2] John Norton was, I assume, the man of this name who was a clerk of Edward II's, and who for many years was "surveyor of the works of the king's palace at Westminster and of the Tower of London." He was responsible for purchasing provisions for Edward's coronation in February 1308, including lime and sea coal, and proved remarkably tardy in paying for the items: the unfortunate merchants were still pleading for their money as late as 1320. He was also responsible for buying planks and timber for Edward III's coronation in February 1327. In September 1312, Edward II appointed Norton as his attorney before the justices of King's Bench, and in December 1316, ordered him to provide ships at Bristol and Haverford for Roger Mortimer's journey to Ireland. [3] Norton's unwillingness to pay his debts got him into trouble with Edward: he was in prison in the Tower of London in December 1325, when Edward asked the treasurer and barons of the Exchequer for their advice in finding "means whereby the king may best and most quickly recover the debt" Norton and his associate Nicholas of Tickhill owed him. [4] Given his willingness to fight for the former king's release in 1327, I presume that Norton forgave Edward for imprisoning him.

(Assuming that all these entries relate to the same man; 'John Norton', after all, is not an uncommon name.)

The Dominicans were staunch supporters of Edward II, and many of them, according to the Brut, willingly helped Brother Thomas Dunheved's plot and "cast and ordained, both night and day" how they might release Edward from captivity. So it is hardly surprising to find that Norton and Redmere were among them; a Dominican from the Warwick convent, John of Stoke, was an important enough member of the conspiracy for his arrest to be ordered at the same time as Stephen Dunheved's in May 1327, and he was to be taken before the king. [5] On 3 March 1327, John Norton was accused with several other men of "carrying away the goods" of William Trussell, who had pronounced the death sentence on Hugh Despenser the Younger the previous November, although this crime may date to years before, after Trussell had fled the country following the Contrariants' defeat at the battle of Boroughbridge. [6] On 28 May 1327, Norton was sent to Cheshire and the marches of Wales "on business concerning Queen Isabella." [7] What's interesting is that the Dunheved brothers and some of their adherents were in Chester in June 1327 - did Norton join them then, or was he already a sympathiser to their cause, unbeknownst to Isabella? The attack on Berkeley Castle to free Edward had almost certainly taken place by 28 June - or, at the very least, was just about to take place - when Norton was given letters of protection, presumably to travel to Cheshire on Isabella's behalf. [8] He was an important member of the gang, at least according to Lord Berkeley, though evidently his participation was still unknown on 28 June when he received his letters of protection, and was discovered some time later by Lord Berkeley and 'the community of Dunstable'.

An entry of 11 August 1327 on the Close Roll confirms Berkeley's statement that Norton and Redmere were being held in prison at Dunstable - the prior of Dunstable's prison, in fact - when the bailiffs were ordered to send them to Wallingford Castle. [9] Another order was issued on 21 October, to send them and the men held with them, Robert of Ely and Nigel Mereman of Cornbiry, to the notorious Newgate prison in London. [10] Robert of Ely was Norton's servant, but I haven't been able to trace Nigel Mereman. Presumably they heard the news in late September 1327, while in captivity at Dunstable, that Edward II had died at Berkeley - allegedly.

I very much doubt if it is a coincidence that the writ to send the men to Newgate was issued three days after an order to the sheriff of Bedfordshire, on 18 October, to "take and keep in prison" four named men and unnamed, uncounted others, "who are riding about, as the king learns, armed in diverse parts of that county [Bedfordshire] with other malefactors, lying in wait by day and night for the prior of Donestaple and his men and other subjects of the king, committing many evils there." [11] This sounds to me as though these men were trying to free Norton, Redmere and their associates from prison, hence their removal to Newgate. The four named 'malefactors' were Philip de Wibbesnade (Whipsnade), John Salbot, Thomas atte Halle and Robert Duraunt. That these men were hostile to the regime of Isabella and Roger Mortimer and probably, therefore, sympathetic to Edward II is demonstrated by the fact that Wibbesnade, Duraunt, atte Halle and his brother William joined the earl of Lancaster's rebellion against Isabella and Mortimer in late 1328. They were among the men, many of them former allies of the queen and her favourite who had been imprisoned or exiled by Edward II or played an important role in his and the Despensers' downfall, such as William Trussell, Hugh Audley, Thomas Wake, Henry Leyburne, Thomas Roscelyn and Henry Beaumont, who rode to Bedford "against the king with armed power." [12] Of course they weren't riding 'against the king' at all, but against the pair ruling England in his name.

Thomas Berkeley's letter of 27 July 1327 also declared that "I have heard from certain people of my household, who have seen and heard of it, that a great number of people have made assemblies in Buckinghamshire and other adjoining counties, for the same cause"; that is, attempting to free Edward. [j’ai entendu par certeines gentz des meons, que le sevent de vue e de oie, que assembleez se fount a grant noumbre des gentz en counte de Bokyngham e es autres counteez joignauntz, por mesme la cause.] The existence of this plot is known only from Berkeley's letter, and nothing came of it, but Dunstable is in Bedfordshire, which borders Buckinghamshire.

Probably in September or October 1327, John Norton and John Redmere petitioned Edward III, who was not yet fifteen, saying that "when they were at Dunstable, to hear mass in the house of their [Dominican] order there, they were arrested by the Bailiffs and community and thrown into prison," accused of trying to rescue the lord king's father from Berkeley Castle.* Because this was such a sensitive matter, the bailiffs declared that "John and John can only be delivered before the king." Redmere and Norton asked "that they might be able to come before our lord the king to stand to right according to the law of the land, as they have been in prison first at Dunstable and now at Aylesbury, and are at point of death as a result." When they were in prison at Aylesbury, I don't know. [13]

* This is one of the very few direct references to the Dunheveds' plot to free Edward of Caernarfon, the others being: Lord Berkeley's letter; a writ to the sheriff of Oxfordshire in August 1327 concerning William Aylmer, another conspirator; brief accounts in various chronicles, the Brut (and several continuations of it), Annales Paulini and Lanercost.

John Redmere is one of the many men trying to free Edward II who vanishes from the pages of history after the summer/autumn of 1327. I have no idea what became of him. John Norton's petition, on the other hand, was successful, and he was still alive in the 1330s; in October 1333, he - again, assuming it's the same John Norton - was said to be "constantly attendant on the king's [Edward III's] business." [14] He was thus one of only a handful of the men who had tried to free the former king who certainly lived after 1327.


1) F. J. Tanqueray, ‘The Conspiracy of Thomas Dunheved, 1327’, English Historical Review, 31 (1916), pp. 119-124.
2) The National Archives E 101/100/12 and E 101/99/27; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1321-1324, p. 334, Cal Pat Rolls 1324-1327, p. 297.
3) TNA SC 8/6/286, SC 8/6/287, SC 8/114/5675, SC 8/3/150, SC 8/4/153; Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, pp. 274, 306; Cal Pat Rolls 1307-1313, p. 490; Cal Pat Rolls 1313-1317, pp. 574-575. There are numerous other mentions of Norton in contemporary records.
4) Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-1327, p. 437.
5) Cal Pat Rolls 1327-1330, p. 99.
6) Cal Pat Rolls 1327-1330, p. 75.
7) Cal Pat Rolls 1327-1330, p. 107.
8) Cal Pat Rolls 1327-1330, p.133.
9) Cal Close Rolls 1327-1330, pp. 156, 179.
10) Cal Close Rolls 1327-1330, p. 179.
11) Cal Close Rolls 1323-1327, pp. 232-233.
12) Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1308-1348, pp. 274-275.
13) TNA SC 8/69/3444.
14) Cal Pat Rolls 1330-1334, p. 470.


Susan Higginbotham said...

Great stuff! Interesting about the 1327 petition.

Hannah Kilpatrick said...

I read a blog recently which noted Edward's date of birth, then asked 'I wonder what he's doing now'. Well, not a lot, I shouldn't imagine.Oh ye of little faith. :( If he survived 1327, which of course he did, despite all the historical accounts saying otherwise, why on earth should he have died at any other particular point for which we have even less evidence? And if there was no particular point at which he died, logically he didn't, and this means he is wandering around Italy enjoying the coffee to this day.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Susan!

Ceirseach: with a beefy Italian boyfriend in tow, I hope. :) There is actually a good bit of evidence that Ed did survive 1327, by people who were in a far better position to know than the chroniclers who were obviously clueless about what really happened, as evidenced by the varying accounts of the manner of Ed's death, blaming the wrong person (Maltravers) for murdering him, getting the date of his death wrong, etc.

Anerje said...

Interesting that both men were seemingly freed after their involvement in the plot to free Edward II - and that Norton went on to serve Edward III. Guess you know where my thinking is going.....

Ed would surely have a hunky Gascon on his arm;)

Kathryn Warner said...

Anerje: I'm not sure if Redmere was freed - I can't find him after the autumn of 1327. I really hope he was, though!

Gabriele Campbell said...

Well, if Ed is a vampire, he's surely still alive. Though I doubt his latest reincarnation is an angsty teenager in the US. ;)

Jules Frusher said...

Great digging around in the rolls! Lots of interestingbits and pieces on two men who would otherwise just be obscure names. I'm wondering whether Norton was actually acting as a sort of spy in the camp for the Dunheveds - maybe he managed to get inside knowledge on Berkeley. I would have thought that May would have been a little late to be joining them for the first time - how on earth would they have trusted him?

Carla said...

It would surely have been very useful for the plotters to have some source of inside information. Does this raise the possibility that Norton could have been a double agent?

Kathryn Warner said...

Gabriele: damn, I still haven't started my Ed-the-vampire novel. Must crack on with that. ;)

Lady D, Carla: excellent idea! May/June 1327 does seem very late for the men to have trusted him. I also really like the idea that Ed II had a staunch ally right under Isa's nose, passing on secrets to her enemies. Mwhahaha. :-)