22 April, 2020

Hugh Despenser the Younger's Letters to the Sheriff of Glamorgan

Between September 1319 and c. September/October 1322, Hugh Despenser the Younger sent a number of long, detailed letters to Sir John Inge, sheriff of Hugh's lordship of Glamorgan. For more information, see also my book Hugh Despenser the Younger and Edward II: Downfall of a King's Favourite and my article ''We Might be Prepared to Harm You': an Investigation into Some of the Extortions of Hugh Despenser the Younger' in the second volume of the Journal of the Mortimer History Society, 2018.

Some of Hugh's letters are printed in English translation in Calendar of Ancient Correspondence Concerning Wales, ed. J. G. Edwards (1935); one is in W. H. Stevenson's article 'A Letter of the Younger Despenser on the Eve of the Barons' Rebellion, 21 March 1321', English Historical Review, 12 (1897), in the original Anglo-Norman; and three are in Cartae et Alia Munimenta quae ad Dominium de Glamorgancia Pertinent, vol. 3 (1910), also in the original Anglo-Norman. The original handwritten letters are mostly now in the National Archives in Kew. Anyone interested in Hugh's correspondence also needs to get hold of the book The War of Saint-Sardos: Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents, edited by Pierre Chaplais in 1954, which contains dozens of Hugh's letters, in Anglo-Norman.

The start of one of Hugh's letters to Inge, dated March 1321. Hugh always called himself 'Hugh le Despenser the son' ('le fuiz') in his correspondence.

Hugh's letters to John Inge reveal a lot about him as a person, including that he was highly articulate. They also reveal that he micromanaged his affairs in the lordship of Glamorgan, which came to him in November 1317 as part of the inheritance of his wife Eleanor de Clare from her late brother the earl of Gloucester, and that he took a deep interest in the lordship. One of the letters, dated 18 January 1321, contains Hugh's famous order to Inge that the sheriff should act so that "we may be rich and achieve our aims", "qe nous puissoms estre riches et ateindre a nostre entente". Referring to oneself as 'we' in letters was standard at the time and was not Hugh using the royal plural, though his opinion of himself and his position as Edward II's 'favourite' is pretty obvious from his numerous references to "the king and ourselves" and "it seems to the king and to us that...".

The letters tend to be impatient, hectoring and often threatening, and stand in stark contrast to the few surviving letters of Hugh's wife Eleanor, which paint her as someone courteous, patient, and considerate. In Hugh's last, or at least the last that I'm aware of, letter to John Inge, dated c. September or October 1322, Hugh wrote, seemingly casually in the middle of the letter, before moving onto something else:

"And know that we trust you more the more you advise us, but we are very worried about having some reason for which we might be prepared to harm you in some way, or for which we might lose the good will which we have for you."

We might be prepared to harm you. I laughed out loud when I first translated that bit, but poor John Inge! He falls over himself for years trying to comply with Hugh's endless orders, then he has to read that. On another occasion, Hugh told Inge that he was keeping a copy of his own letter to bring it up against the sheriff later if necessary, if Inge made any error regarding Hugh's instructions. This letter also contained the sarcastic line "it seems a great marvel to us that you so rarely send us news of our affairs" and the impatient line "we have so often sent you our letters on this matter that we are entirely weary of it."

The first extant letter Hugh Despenser the Younger sent to Sir John Inge dates to 22 September 1319 and was written during Edward II's unsuccessful siege of the port of Berwick. This letter was a long one, and was as detailed as most of Hugh's letters to Inge were. One of the most fascinating parts of the letter reveals that Hugh was engaged in a vendetta against Geoffrey Fromond, abbot of Glastonbury in Somerset. He told Inge to continue behaving towards the abbot as Hugh had previously ordered him to do (presumably in a letter which no longer exists), so that "the said abbot may be aware that we have the power to harm him." Heh. Hugh also told Inge to "harm and harass" a knight named Sir Roger Seyntmor (or Seymour) as much as he possibly could, on the grounds that Seyntmor had always been an enemy of Hugh. The lord of Glamorgan revealed his disdain for his Welsh tenants: he told John Inge to keep an eye on the woodland in his jurisdiction in case dangers occurred there, "bearing in mind how the people of those parts are often of frivolous resolve and reckless character." This disdain was further made apparent in a letter of 1321 when Hugh told Inge to take Welsh hostages "subtly" - how one was meant to take hostages "subtly" was not explained - and added that he did not wish any of the men to be given horses, and that they would have to travel to him on foot.

I'll give Hugh one last word, and quote from a letter he sent in 1325. This one wasn't sent to John Inge, but to one of the men Hugh had sent to Gascony during the War of Saint-Sardos. Hugh stated "as a result of your good conduct, the king and ourselves might discuss continuing our good will towards you." No comment or interpretation required...

18 April, 2020

The Orebys

A post about a little-known family of the fourteenth century, the Orbys or Orebys or Orrebys, who owned lands and manors in Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

Sir John Oreby married Isabel, sister and one of the three co-heirs of Robert Tateshale or Tatteshall; Isabel was either twenty-nine, thirty-eight or 'forty and more' in June 1306. [1] One-third of the sizeable Tatteshall inheritance thus passed to the Oreby family. John died shortly before 18 March 1329. [2] He and Isabel had a son, Philip Oreby, said to be the kinsman and co-heir of Robert Tateshale in October 1317. [3] Philip, however, died before John, sometime before 10 January 1327 when his widow Florence, daughter and heir of John de la Mare, was pardoned for marrying Nicholas Fraunceys without permission. Florence was aged thirty and more in August 1324. [4] Philip and Florence's heir was their son, John Oreby, whose marriage was granted to Geoffrey Scrope (chief justice of the King's Bench) on 3 February 1328. [5] This younger John was also heir to the elder John Oreby, his grandfather, and was a minor on 23 July 1330 when the custody of the older John's lands was given to Geoffrey Scrope. [6] John was still a minor on 15 July 1334 and 18 March 1336, and again on 6 May 1336 when he was named as a co-heir of Robert Tateshale and Geoffrey Scrope was mentioned as the custodian of his lands. [7] 

The proof of age of John Oreby or Orreby, 'kinsman and heir of Isabel, daughter [and sister] of Robert Tateshale', and son and heir of Philip Oreby and Florence de la Mare, was held on 19 February 1341. He was then twenty-two, and was born in West Witton, Yorkshire on Christmas Day 1318. [8] John received the lands of his recently-deceased mother Florence de la Mare, 'late the wife' of Nicholas Fraunceys, on 13 April 1344, and was knighted overseas sometime before 15 March 1340. By 23 April 1344, John had married a woman named Margaret. [9I haven't been able to find her identity, but given that John's marriage rights were granted to Sir Geoffrey Scrope, I assume she was a relative of his. Two of Geoffrey's daughters married into the Luttrell family and another daughter married into the Hotham family, and perhaps he had a fourth daughter who married John Oreby; or perhaps Margaret was his niece or a cousin's daughter.

John Oreby died on 17 or 20 January 1354 in his mid-thirties, leaving his widow Margaret. He had held the manor of Isleham ('Iselham') in Cambridgeshire from the earl of Arundel by service of, rather brilliantly, "sending to Heryngesmare a gammon of bacon fixed on a lance, for the use of the said earl, when he shall pass through the said place to war." This manor had come to him from his mother Florence, and her IPM of 1344 also states that she held Isleham "by service of sending to the said earl a gammon of bacon on a lance and a pair of gilt spurs, price 40d., at a certain place in Isleham called Heryngesmere, if the said earl shall come there in person and there is war in England, and not otherwise." John also held a fourth part of the Norfolk manor of Buckenham ('Bokenham'), including land at 'Dikhous' and pasture land at 'Hommedewe'.

John's heir was his and Margaret's daughter Joan Oreby, said in his inquisition post mortem of late March 1354 to be either three, four or five years old at the last feast of Whitsun, or 'three years and more' or 'five years and more'. [10] This would place her date of birth around 12 May in either 1348, 1349 or 1350, but Joan may in fact have been rather younger than her father's IPM suggests. She was given seisin of all her lands on 19 May 1365 after she proved her age, and as she was already married, she came of age at fourteen. This strongly implies that in fact she was born in May 1351, and therefore was only two years old when her father died in January 1354. [11] Unfortunately, her proof of age no longer exists.

Sometime before May 1365, Joan had married Henry, Lord Percy, who was thirty years her senior, born sometime in the early 1320s; his date of birth isn't known, but his father was born in 1301 or 1302, and Henry's eldest child Henry Percy, created first earl of Northumberland in 1377, was born in 1341. His second son was Thomas Percy, born c. 1343/44, who was made earl of Worcester in 1397. Henry the elder (b. early 1320s) had married Mary of Lancaster, sixth and youngest daughter of Henry, earl of Lancaster and Leicester, in 1334, and she died in September 1362. Joan Oreby's marriage had been granted to Philippa of Hainault, Edward III's queen, on 14 April 1356, so perhaps she helped to arrange Joan's union with the widowed Lord Percy a few years later. [12]

Joan Oreby and Henry Percy had one child together, a daughter they named Mary, perhaps in honour of Henry's first, Lancastrian wife; if so, I think that's lovely. Mary Percy was born at Warkworth Castle, Northumberland on 12 March 1368, the feast of St Gregory. Her proof of age was taken in June 1382, and wrongly identifies her as daughter and heir of Sir John Oreby, who in fact was her grandfather and who had died in January 1354. [13] One of the jurors in 1382 was Adam Hikesman, "aged 38 years and more," whose testimony stated that "a fortnight before the birth a ruinous stable in which he was standing was blown down by a storm of wind, and a beam fell and broke his head almost to the brain. So a fortnight later he came to the leech at Werkworth to have his head cured, and saw the said Mary at the door of the church prepared to undergo the sacrament of baptism there."

Mary's father Henry Percy was about forty-seven when she was born, and was already a grandfather: Henry 'Hotspur' Percy, first son of Henry Percy born in 1341, was born in 1364. Mary Percy, therefore, was four years younger than her half-nephew. She was obviously more than young enough to be the daughter of her half-brothers Henry and Thomas Percy, who were both well over twenty years older than she, and her mother Joan Oreby was a decade younger than her stepson the future earl of Northumberland.

Henry, Lord Percy died on 18 May 1368, less than ten weeks after the birth of his daughter. On 29 July that year, Edward III gave the widowed Joan Percy née Oreby's marriage rights to Richard Stury. [14] Sadly, Joan Oreby died on 29 or 30 July 1369, and her mother Margaret, widow of Sir John Oreby, outlived her only by a few weeks and died on 28 August or 4 September 1369 (either 'the eve of the Decollation of St John last' or the Tuesday after it). [15] I wonder if they were victims of the third great outbreak of the Black Death that year? Joan was probably only eighteen years old when she passed away; what a shame, and poor Mary Percy lost both her parents and her grandmother when she was a year old. Her Oreby grandfather had died in 1354, and her Percy grandparents in 1352 and 1365. This breaks my heart a little bit. Looking on the bright side, though, Mary's will shows how close she was to her much older half-brother the first earl of Northumberland, and to other members of the Percy family. And although Mary was just a few weeks old when her father died, he cared enough about her to leave her a book, his 'green primer', which she mentioned in her will (meum primerium viride quod quondam fuit domini patris mei), and also in her will she mentioned the tomb of her grandmother Margaret Oreby in Boston, so although Mary lost all her close family when she was only a baby, obviously someone told her who they all were.

As the sole heir to the not insignificant Oreby estate in eight counties, Mary was in much demand as a wife. Edward III first gave custody of her lands and her marriage rights to Alan Buxhill on 12 December 1369, but Alan soon sold them on to the king's mistress Alice Perrers. Edward III confirmed this sale on 12 May 1370. [16] Alice used Mary Percy's marriage to benefit her illegitimate son by the king, John de Southeray, who was born in the early 1360s or thereabouts, and the two married on 7 January 1377. [17] Mary was not yet nine years old, John perhaps fourteen or so. John's father the king died less than six months later, which had an immediate and disastrous effect on the young man's fortunes.

 Mary rejected her husband, deeming him beneath her in birth and status, and with the support of her half-brother, now earl of Northumberland, managed to get her marriage annulled. I do see Mary's point, but can't help feeling sorry for John de Southeray as well; it wasn't his fault that he was born out of wedlock and that his mother Alice Perrers was notorious and unpopular. Mary married a second husband, John Ros or Roos, son and heir of Thomas, Lord Ros of Helmsley ('Hamelak', as it usually appears in fourteenth-century records) in Yorkshire. The date of their wedding isn't recorded, but took place before 22 June 1382. Via his mother Beatrice, John Ros was a grandson of Ralph Stafford, first earl of Stafford (1301-72) and the great heiress Margaret Audley, and was a descendant of Edward I. John was probably born on 10 August 1365 or thereabouts; he was "eighteen years of age at the feast of St Laurence last" on 8 July 1384, and was two and a half years older than Mary and also a teenager when they wed. His younger brother and heir Thomas Ros was said to be twenty-four in January 1394, so was born c. 1369/70. [18] Ivetta, the wife of Geoffrey Scrope (d. 1340), who was granted John Oreby's marriage rights in 1338, is believed to have been a member of the Ros family.

Mary and John Ros received her lands on 22 June 1382 after Mary proved her age and after John did homage. [19] They were to have no children. John died at the age of twenty-eight or almost in Paphos, Cyprus on 6 August 1393 while returning from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, leaving his brother Thomas (wrongly called 'William' in his inquisition post mortem) as his heir. [20] John's body was returned to England and buried at Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire. He had made a will on 24 January 1392 before his departure to Jerusalem, in which he requested burial at Rievaulx and he left bequests to his wife Mary, his mother Beatrice Stafford (d. 1415), his sister Elizabeth, Lady Clifford (d. 1424), and 'Lady Elizabeth Arondell my aunt, a nun of Haliwell' (I'm not sure who that is). John appointed his brother-in-law Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland, as one of the four supervisors of the will, and the will reveals that he took four squires, four valets and an unspecified number of grooms with him on his pilgrimage. [21]

Mary Ros née Percy, Lady Ros and Oreby, died in York on 25 August 1394, aged just twenty-six. On 10 July 1394, called herself 'Maria, Domina de Roos et de Orrby', she had made a long will in Latin which reveals her huge affection for her natal family the Percys and for her husband's Ros family. [22] She referred to her 'dearest brother, the lord earl of Northumberland', and also left items to John Ros's mother Beatrice and sister Elizabeth Clifford and, as John had done, to their chamberlain William Dymmok. Interestingly, the will mentions 'a book in French of the duke of Lancaster', which must mean Henry of Grosmont's treatise Livre de Seyntz Medicines of 1354, and which Mary left to Isabella Percy, obviously a relative, though I'm not quite sure who she is. She requested burial next to John Ros at Rievaulx.

Mary, her mother Joan and her grandfather John Oreby had no siblings, therefore it was a matter of some difficulty for the jurors of her inquisition post mortem to work out her correct heir(s). Her heir by blood to some of her manors was her fourth cousin, John de la Mare, citizen of London, whose great-great-grandfather William de la Mare was the younger brother of Mary's great-great-grandfather John de la Mare. Her other heirs were Maud Cromwell, her fourth cousin once removed, and Constantine Clifton, her fifth cousin once removed, if I've worked that all out correctly; co-heirs of the Tateshale family. Blimey. Kudos to the Essex and Suffolk jurors for knowing Mary's family tree so well; the jurors of other counties all admitted that they had no idea who her heir(s) was/were. [23]


1) CIPM 1300-07, nos. 163, 391.
2) CIPM 1327-36, no. 255; CFR 1327-27, p. 122.
3) CCR 1313-18, p. 501.
4) CPR 1327-30, p. 347; CIPM 1317-27, no. 579.
5) CFR 1327-37, p. 78; CPR 1327-30, p. 234.
6) CPR 1327-30, p. 543; CFR 1327-37, p. 127.
7) CFR 1327-37, pp. 410, 476; CPR 1334-38, p. 256.
8) CIPM 1336-46, no. 338.
9) CFR 1337-47, p. 367; CPR 1338-40, pp. 440-41; CIPM 1336-46, no. 505; CPR 1343-45, p. 226.
10) CIPM 1352-60, no. 105; CIPM 1377-84, no. 571; CFR 1347-56, pp. 374, 393-94.
11) CCR 1364-68, pp. 107-8.
12) CPR 1354-58, p. 369.
13) CIPM 1377-84, no. 656.
14) CIPM 1365-69, no. 242; CPR 1367-70, p. 146.
15) CIPM 1365-69, nos. 402, 406; CIPM 1377-84, nos 571-75; CFR 1369-77, pp. 58-59.
16) CPR 1367-70, p. 437; CFR 1369-77, p. 48.
17) Laura Tompkins, 'Mary Percy and John de Southeray: Wardship, Marriage and Divorce in Fourteenth-Century England', Fourteenth Century England X, ed. Gwilym Dodd (2018), p. 141.
18) CIPM 1384-92, nos. 32-52; CIPM 1392-99, nos. 407-16.
19) CCR 1381-85, pp. 144-45.
20) CIPM 1392-99, nos. 407-16.
21) Early Lincoln Wills, ed. Alfred Gibbon, pp. 70-71.
22) Testamenta Eboracensia, vol. 1, ed. James Raine, pp. 201-2.
23) CIPM 1392-99, nos. 513-22.

09 April, 2020

More Proofs of Age

Following posts here, here, here, here and here, some more examples of my favourite thing ever: fourteenth-century proofs of age.

- John of Aylesbury, kinsman and heir of Philip of Aylesbury, was born in Weldon Basset, Northamptonshire on 6 May 1334. One of his godfathers was Sir Ralph Basset (d. 1341), lord of Weldon, who was asked by Richard Reve during John of Aylesbury's baptism why John was not named after him or after his other godfather Sir Warin Latimer. Ralph Basset became so angry at this entirely innocent-sounding question that he hit Richard Reve on the neck. At John's proof of age on Thursday in Whitsun week, 1355, Richard Reve, now aged fifty-six, recalled his assault at the hands of a nobleman. John Dyre, born c. 1305, was in the household of Sir Warin Latimer in 1334, and Warin had breakfast with Sir Ralph Basset of Weldon after the baptism. Once the two godfathers had eaten, Warin and his household set off for Braybrooke also in Northamptonshire, and, as John Dyre recalled at John of Aylesbury's proof of age in 1355, "there was a great tumult and assembly of people for a certain robber called William Ade, who was taken at the wood called ‘le Lound’ by Braybrok, and the said robber was killed there at that time." At the proof of age in 1355, Robert Botiller, then aged about fifty, remembered John of Aylesbury's year of birth because his (Robert's) uncle Robert Jacob "was digging in the quarry of Weldon and the earth fell on him, whereby he was overwhelmed." Guy Watervill, also aged about fifty in 1355, recalled John of Aylesbury's year of birth because around the time that John's mother was churched after giving birth to him, jousts were held in the village of Weldon.

- John, son and heir of John Burghersh, was born in Ewelme, Oxfordshire on 29 September 1343, and proved his age there on 14 November 1366 when he was twenty-three. John Beek, aged about sixty in 1366, stated at the proof of age that on the day of John Burghersh's birth in 1343, he went hunting with John Burghersh the father, and "at a certain leap he broke his leg and has ever since walked lame." "Eustace Roser, aged 50 years, William Wayte, aged 56 years, Philip Grenefeld, aged 53 years, Walter Fairman, aged 54 years, William Motte, aged 50 years, Richard Smyth, aged 56 years, and Henry Houstwey, aged 56 years, agree and say that on the day of the birth they started with other neighbours of the countryside for Santiago."

Interesting to see a few residents of an Oxfordshire village setting off on pilgrimage to northern Spain together in 1343!

- Thomas, son and heir of John Larcher, was born in Bolton, Yorkshire on 19 August 1345, and proved his age in Pocklington on 10 October 1366. Richard Veile, aged fifty-six in 1366, remembered Thomas Larcher's date of birth because in the same month "he had three sons born of his wife." Yowza, triplets! Unfortunately, Richard did not specify whether any of the three infants survived the birth. Ralph Mikelfeld, aged sixty in 1366, remembered the date because in the same month, he married his wife Eleanor (or rather, Alianore), and Adam Fenton, aged fifty-six in 1366, remembered because in the same month, William Cotum killed William Mikelfeld in Pocklington.

- Edmund Mortimer, third earl of March, was born in "Langoyt in the parish of Leeswen, which is in the march of Wales" on 1 February 1352, and was the son of Roger Mortimer (b. November 1328), second earl of March, and the earl of Salisbury's sister Philippa Montacute. He proved his age on 2 April 1373, which reveals that his godfathers were Sir Peter Grandison and Humphrey de Bohun, future earl of Hereford, Essex and Northampton, born on 24 March 1342 and not yet ten years old at the time, who was the younger half-brother of Edmund's father Roger Mortimer. Edmund's godmother was Elizabeth Badlesmere Mortimer de Bohun, countess of Northampton, who was the mother of Roger Mortimer and Humphrey de Bohun, and hence was Edmund's paternal grandmother. Baldwin Brugge, aged sixty in 1373, recalled the date because "he was at Langoyt on that day and gave to the lady Philippa, the earl's mother, a gold ring having in it a stone called 'dyamand'," i.e. a diamond.

- John, son and heir of William Mathewe, was born in 'Wynterborn Malruard', Dorset on 30 September 1361, and proved his age on 10 August 1384. "John Bromhull, aged 52 years, Robert Scot, aged 48 years, and John Stoke, aged 56 years, agree and say that towards nightfall on the said morrow of Michaelmas they met John Hobekyns, the child’s godfather, going towards the church, and asked him for news of the child’s mother, and he said that she had a son and that he was asked to be godfather, whereupon they went towards the house of the child’s father and met him, and he asked them to drink, and as they went towards his house the said Robert Scot fell on the highway and broke two of his right ribs. John Chipir, aged 64 years, John Coleman, aged 58 years, William Bridde, aged 54 years, and William Michel, aged 61 years, agree and say that on the morrow of the birth a tall tree called ‘Notebemtre’ growing on the highway there was blown down by a storm of wind on to a cottage of the said William Mathewe, so that the whole house was destroyed."

- Ivo Harleston, son of Margaret, daughter of Margaret, wife of Sir John de Wauton, was born in Cambridge on 11 April 1378, and was named after his godfather Ivo Zouch, chancellor of the University of Cambridge. Ivo's father was Roger Harleston, and Ivo proved his age on 27 January 1400 (and died in 1403). His cousin and co-heir Robert Pekenham was born in Dunton, Essex on 20 July 1378, and was the son of Margaret de Wauton's other daughter, Elizabeth. John Wattes, aged fifty-one in 1400, "heard on the Monday after Palm Sunday that Margaret was delivered of Ivo, and sent her a gallon of sweet wine...Thomas Caldecote, 59, and Thomas Skynnere, 70, were with Master Ivo Zouch, then chancellor of Cambridge University, in Trinity Hall, when Roger Harleston, the father, sent his servant John Dyne to ask Zouch to be godfather. John Broun, 48, ran in the afternoon to the house of Thomas Arwe, smith, to heat an iron rod with which the water in the font was heated for the baptism of Ivo in St. Clement’s church."

- Two sisters, the daughters and heirs of John Frechevyle and Beatrice Nettleworth, were Margaret Segrave and Isabel Ulkerthorp. Margaret was born on 12 May 1383 and Isabel on 20 January 1385, both in their grandfather William Nettleworth's manor of Nettleworth and both baptised in nearby Warsop, Nottinghamshire, and they jointly proved their age in Chesterfield, Derbyshire on 20 October 1403 when they were twenty and eighteen. Roger Somur, aged about sixty in 1403, remembered Margaret's birth because he "was in company with John their father at Pleasley Park, saw a sitting hare, shot it in the head with an arrow and sent it to Beatrice the mother of Margaret on the day of the birth; and on the day of Isabel’s birth William Netylworth, grandfather of Isabel, bought a black horse from him for 40s." Ralph Glapwell, aged forty-four in 1403, remembered because he "came to the house where Margaret was born on that day, and on the day that Isabel was born met a forester of Sherwood carrying on his shoulder a quantity of game, and he said that he was going to Beatrice who had borne Isabel on that day." William Chaumbur, forty-one, "was staying with the lady of Longford at Park Hall and bought a palfrey for her from a chaplain celebrating in the church of Warsop, and he was in the church and heard the parish chaplain baptising, and afterwards the chaplain told him that it was a daughter of John Frechevyle; and on the second occasion he heard Nicholas Goushyll, knight, saying at Chesterfield that Beatrice had given birth to Isabel and, John the father being dead, Margaret and Isabel were co-heirs." Ralph Cachehors, sixty, "on the first occasion was building a house at Woodthorpe when William de Netylworth, the grandfather, gave him a beam and told him of the birth; and he was at Nettleworth on the day of the baptism of Isabel and gave a hare to William the grandfather, who told him that his family had been increased because Beatrice his daughter had given birth to Isabel."

- Thomasia, one of the daughters and heirs of Sir Ralph Meynyll, was born in Derby on 6 January 1386, and proved her age on 19 February 1400. William Payne, aged forty-five in 1400, recalled the date because his wife Magote was one of the midwives at Thomasia's birth. Edmund Timley, aged fifty-five in 1400, remembered because he sold a grey horse to Ralph Meynyll on 6 January 1386, and Ralph told him that his wife (unnamed) had borne their daughter that day. Richard Hewstre, aged fifty in 1400, "rode to London to get various colours for his art on that day. Ralph asked him to buy various fowl for him, if they were for sale there, and told him that his wife had a daughter Thomasia on that day."

That last one is fascinating. In the middle of winter in 1386, a man rode all the way from Derby to London - about 130 miles - to buy 'various colours for his art'.

- John, brother and heir of Robert Derle, was born in Ashleyhay, Derbyshire on 7 February 1286, and proved his age on 18 August 1308. Sir Robert Dethek, aged about sixty in 1308, remembered the date because in January 1286 he and Henry Derle, father of Robert and John Derle, rode from Nottingham to Derle, and Henry "fell ill of the excessive cold" and died a fortnight later, shortly before his widow Alice gave birth to John. Simon Hopton, aged forty-eight in 1308, "says the same, and recollects it because Henry de Hopton his father was in company with the abovesaid Robert de Dethek and Henry de Derle on the journey from Nottingham to Derle."

- Edmund, son and heir of John Benstede, was born in 'Rosamunde' (?), Middlesex, on 2 July 1312, and proved his age on 15 July 1333. Roger Presthope, aged about fifty in 1333, knew the date because "in May of the said year he was injured in the head and right arm at the stone cross of Cherryngge [Charing Cross, London], by certain of his rivals, almost to death." Nicholas Beek, also aged about fifty in 1312, knew the date because "at the same time he was one of the household of Sir Louis of France and was sent into England to make provision against the coming of the said Sir Louis to Westminster, who was then coming to England and remaining there until the birth of the present king [Edward III], who was born on the feast of St. Brice the bishop then next coming [13 November 1312]."

The reference to 'Sir Louis of France' means Louis, count of Evreux (1276-1319), half-brother of Philip IV of France and the uncle of Edward II's queen Isabella, who was chosen as one of the infant Edward III's seven godfathers in November 1312. Louis arrived in England very early, months before Isabella gave birth, as his brother King Philip sent him to negotiate between Edward and the barons who had killed Piers Gaveston on 19 June 1312. I find it interesting to note that Nicholas Beek, a servant in Count Louis's household and presumably French (unless he was an Englishman who had settled in France) decided to stay in England and to make his home there, as he was still in England in 1333 when this proof of age took place.

- Henry, son and heir of Henry Whissh, was born in 'Brudenestret', Winchester, Hampshire, on 24 March 1334, and proved that he was now twenty-two years old in Southampton on 11 June 1356. John Url, aged forty in 1356, knew the date because he came to Winchester to work for the baker Robert Dymaund, and Robert's wife Agnes was Henry's godmother and told John Url about the boy's birth. John Marchaunt, aged fifty in 1356, married his wife Joan the year after Henry's birth, and "remembers the wedding well" (I should hope so!). The interestingly-named Valentine Hamond, aged thirty-five in 1356, "agrees and says that in the same year he submitted himself to be an apprentice of the art of a skinner." Richard Midhurst, aged forty in 1356, "agrees and says that in the same year he married a woman, Agnes by name, who was his wife for eighteen years and died four years ago." So here we see that Valentine became a skinner's apprentice at the age of thirteen (approximately) and that Richard married Agnes when he was about eighteen.

- Maud, daughter of John Stafford and the kinswoman and one of the heirs of Philip Somervill, was born in Banbury, Oxfordshire on 29 December 1340, and proved on 23 March 1356 that she was fifteen. Simon Wavere, aged fifty-six in 1356, knew the date because his wife Alice was buried in the churchyard in Banbury on the same day as Maud's baptism. John Lyndraper, aged sixty, stated that his sister Alice was hired as Maud's nurse, "altogether against his will" (he did not explain why).

- Katherine, wife of William Bermyngeham and one of the daughters and heirs of William atte Plaunke, was born in 'Berscote', Staffordshire on 6 January 1341, and proved on 3 July 1356 that she was fifteen. Thomas Morf, aged fifty-four in 1356, was in the household of Katherine's father William in 1341, and announced her birth to him. Philip Roo and William Emmesone ('Emma's son'), both about sixty, recalled Katherine's baptism because they saw her carried back from the church "to the manor of Berscote with singing and a great concourse of people praising God for her birth."

So there we have it, people rejoicing over the birth of a girl in 1341! Brilliant.