The gift of a new book came to me recently. A great demonstration that so many events in The Watford Knight’s Fee directly reflect England’s history.
This was The Black Prince, by Michael Jones, published 2018. Sub title: England’s Greatest Medieval Warrior. One of those “sorry dear, can’t put this down”, kind of books. For those, like me, who barely had any perception of this man’s existence, he was Edward, eldest son of King Edward III, therefore, the Prince of Wales, but eventually known as, The Back Prince. Born 1330, died in 1376 before his father, and therefore never king.
I’ll confess that the special interest to me was how portrayal of the events in history of that period gave colour to events serving as the backdrop to my book. The Black Prince wrote history; The Watford Knight’s Fee observed history.
Even the first few lines were evocative, with mention of the Black Prince’s mother, Queen Philippa of Hainault. Watford’s fee-farm provided one of the many rentals granted to the Queen in 1359 to supplement her dower, which was deemed ‘insufficient for the necessary expenses of her household’.
Michael Jones explores the politics around the Prince’s grandparents, Edward II and Queen Isabella. Sure enough, for the first of many times, the fee-farm of Watford played its part. In 1327, the young King Edward III saw fit to grant his mother, Isabella, for her service in concluding the ‘treaty with France and in suppressing the rebellion of the Dispensers and others’ an increase in her annual income of nearly £9,000, to more than £13,000, a great sum at the time. And little Watford played its part by contributing the fee-farm rentals towards the increase.
With style, Mr. Jones narrates the several successful campaigns conducted by the Prince in his attempts to bring parts or all of France under the authority of the English Crown. Not dissimilar to today, such endeavours cost a great deal of money and required the services of many able soldiers and leaders. The Prince and his father the King were not beyond forgiving the shady past of soldiers and knights who they knew would serve them well in a major campaign.
Eustace de Burneby of Watford was one of the Commissioners appointed by King Edward III in 1339 to collect taxes in Northamptonshire. He was later told to collect the amounts that remained unpaid, ‘arresting all recusants … and imprisoning them until further order’. Their refusals to pay made them guilty of ‘great disgrace and contempt and manifest retarding of important business’.
One beneficiary of the king’s forgiveness was John de Swynford. He killed Richard de Burneby, a son of Eustace de Burneby, for which crime he avoided justice by escaping to serve King Edward in Brittany. For that, he was granted a pardon for the felony and any consequent outlawry. John later took to wife the heiress of one of the Watford manors.
As chronicled by Michael Jones, the young Prince was one of the leaders in England’s decisive victory over the French at the Battle of Crécy in August 1346. In Calais a year later, Nicholas, the heir of Eustace de Burneby, is one of many rewarded for his service. The Patent Rolls give witness to many grants of pardon for various crimes and/or from being forced to take on an appointment of the king, ‘so long as [he] be on this side of the seas’. Nicholas de Burneby, knight, was one of the many, and in his case the witness to his service in the siege of Calais was the Black Prince himself. Nicholas may have served in the Prince’s own division, the vanguard.
A second cousin of Nicholas de Burneby was Walter Parles, who held a manor in Watford for service to the crown of a quarter knight’s fee. He was by no means exempt from supporting the war efforts of the king. In May, 1346, an order was issued to the surveyors, arrayers and electors of men at arms, hobelers and archers, and the sheriff, baliffs and ministers of Northamptonshire. They should not molest Walter Parles, who had paid 40 shillings to the Exchequer, for the expenses of an archer to go with the king in the king’s service at the next crossing beyond the seas. The king thereby discharged Walter from finding one archer by reason of his lands in the county, and the king was unwilling that this, done in urgent necessity, should become a precedent. The next crossing culminated only three months later in the Battle of Crécy, well told by Michael Jones - one of the many occasions when England’s archers proved their worth in battle.
Ironically, like millions of others across Europe, both Walter and Nicholas became victims of the plague in the outbreak of 1361.