The battle of Evesham, 1256, from The Rochester Chronicle by Edmund of Haddenham

John de Rochford I of Fenne (died c1266)

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Chart 3: Rochford of Fenne, 1190-1320
Chart 3: Rochford of Fenne, 1190-1320

Ralph de Rochford’s eldest son and heir, John, had come of age and succeeded to his inheritance by 1249. He was severely indebted to two Jewish moneylenders from London, Elias the Bishop of the Jews and Aaron son of Abraham. The crown arranged for John to have more reasonable repayment terms according to the value of the property that he (or more likely, his father) had secured against the debt. If John was of age by this time and under age when his father died, he was probably born between about 1221 and 1229.

In 1251 John paid the crown one mark to have a case heard by the king’s justices, and a few years later, in 1253, he paid ten gold bezants “for having respite from his knighthood”. By this time King Henry III was insisting that anyone with sufficient estates become a knight and maintain suitable arms, harness, horses and household – or pay a fine in lieu. Knighthood had become an expensive and dangerous business – many, like John, preferred to pay the fine.

The Fine Rolls record that John made numerous payments over the following years to have court cases heard, many over property disputes: in 1252, 1253, 1255 twice, 1261, 1262, 1265 twice, and 1266. He was either unusually litigious, or he was building a career as a prolific lawyer. The details of these cases have not yet been found, with the exception of the 1261 case. This was connected with a debt of sixty shillings that John owed to the crown. He complained that the sheriff of Lincolnshire and his bailiffs had gone to his “houses in the town of Boston, Toft and Skirbeck, and broke their gates and doors, and took, scattered and caused to be sold goods and chattels found in those houses to the value of forty marks” – far more than the original debt. The king ordered the sheriff to restore John’s goods hastily so he could raise funds to repay the debt himself.

By 1262 John seems to have resolved his money problems. He was now a county bailiff himself, and he was able to buy fifty casks of wine for £110 14s that he, as bailiff, and William de Grey as sheriff, had been entrusted to sell on the king’s behalf. John was instructed to pay up speedily since the king’s wine manager, John de Swineford, urgently needed to repay someone he had seized 120 casks of wine from at Boston fair “on the king’s business”.

In October that year Petronilla de Craon’s sons Henry de Longchamp and John de Vaux agreed to divide between them the manor of Freiston and the homage of various vassals whose lands “in the vills of Freston, Boterwyk and Toft and the vill of St. Botulph” were part of it. John de Rochford was among those whose homage was apportioned to Vaux. Presumably this was for the quarter knight’s fee that his father had under Petronilla, who held it under the honour of Richmond, since the eleventh part of a knight’s fee the Rochfords had of the honour of Craon was held under the Huntingfields, whose homage was to remain with the Longchamps. Both of these properties were still in the Rochford family after 1272.

John also still had the family properties at Boston and Clipston. In one undated charter he leased “a plot of land with a bakehouse, on the south side of Roger’s row” in Boston marketplace to Roger de Huntingfield for six pence, “saving the dower of Joan, John’s mother”. In another he enfeoffed John Barry of Tollerton of nine selions – about nine acres – of land at Clipston, and released him from five shillings rent and feudal obligations. And in a third undated charter of this period “John son of Ralph Rocheford of Fenne” granted the bondage of his villein, Richard son of Adlicia, “with all his sequel and all his chattels” to Henry de Braytoft, the husband of John’s sister Nichola.

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The battle of Evesham, from The Rochester Chronicle by Edmund of Haddenham
The battle of Evesham and the mutilation of Simon de Montfort on 4 August 1265, in the Second Baron’s War. John de Rochford I stuck with the royalists during this rebellion and died in mysterious circumstances in late 1266 or early 1267, as the war was coming to a close. From The Rochester Chronicle by Edmund of Haddenham, 1355, copyright The British Library Board (BL Cotton MS Nero D II).

By the early 1260s the threat of civil war was hanging in the air again, this time between Henry III and a group led by Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester. In April 1264 the Second Barons’ War broke out. Montfort was killed and mutilated at the battle of Evesham in August 1265 and the remaining rebels retreated to Kenilworth Castle, where Henry III besieged them in the summer of 1266. On 11 July, from his base outside the castle, the king issued a letter patent granting “Simple protection until Christmas for John de Rocheford”. John was evidently with the royalists and acting on the king’s business – the writ protected him from being arrested while carrying out his duties. Most other letters patent on this day were pardons to rebels to facilitate peace negotiations.

The last record of John de Rochford alive is from 21 July 1266, when he made a payment of half a mark to have a court case heard. He was not more than 45 years old at the time, but by 20 April 1267 his wife Emma was a widow. The siege of Kenilworth was over by the winter of 1266-1267, but a few diehard rebels led by John d’Eyville had remained holed up at the Isle of Ely until summer 1267, when peace was achieved and d’Eyville and others were formally pardoned. Many years later, in 1292, John de Rochford’s son Ralph went before a jury in the court of King’s Bench to accuse a man named Ralph de Saint Lo of murdering his father. Saint Lo’s defence was that the incident had occurred during a time a war, that he had been one of John d’Eyville’s men, that they had been pardoned for their actions during that period, and that it wasn’t him who did it anyway. It certainly sounds like he was involved.

It is notable that Ralph de Rochford made these accusations more than twenty years after the event. The fact that he raised them at all suggests that he considered his father’s death to be beyond the ordinary conduct of war. Perhaps John was killed in cold blood, executed, or mistreated as an envoy. It is impossible to know. In any case, Ralph was unable to win the case, due to the king’s pardon and a keenness on the part of the jury to let sleeping dogs lie. He ended up defending himself against damages for making false accusations.

Shortly after John de Rochford’s death, on 20 April 1267 the king issued a letter patent granting “simple protection … for Emma late the wife of John de Rocheford” until 29 September. On the same day, immediately before this, the king had offered protection to “Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester and Hertford,” who had rebelled and taken control of London, “and those who say that they are disinherited whom the earl wishes to bring with him … to treat there of special business affecting the king and the realm”. Emma seems to have been at risk in some way, perhaps from the rebels given that her late husband had died while under the king’s protection.

In 1269 Emma and her son Ralph made payments of two marks to have a case heard at the King’s Bench. It is not known what the case was about, but the sheriffs of Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire were both notified. Emma also paid half a mark for a case in 1271; and around this time she released her dower rights at Clipston to John Barry of Tollerton, who her late husband John de Rochford had enfeoffed there. This is the last record of the Rochfords’ property at Clipston, and it is unclear what happened to it afterwards.

It is also the last known record of Emma. It is not known when she died. A 1335 inheritance battle between two of John and Emma’s grandchildren, Sayer and Thomas de Rochford, confirms that Ralph was their only son and heir.

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Both John de Rochford’s and his father’s lives had been cut tragically short, John’s probably in cold blood. It was only too familiar in the story of their family over the last century. Waleran de Rochford and his father-in-law, Ralph of Fenne, had both lived into their late 40s, possibly much longer, but many brothers and sisters had died young and childless, and many sons had not even been old enough to inherit their estates when their fathers died. The Rochfords of Fenne were not a big family.

But they had survived the collapse of Henry II’s great Angevin emprise and dangerous turmoil that followed: the tyranny of King John, desperate to recover his inheritance, and the terrible brutality that stemmed from Henry III’s weak-willed reign. They had survived, only just, through a single, twenty-something heir named Ralph, after his grandfather and great-great-grandfather.

Over the next 150 years Ralph’s and his descendants’ lives would be filled with even more war and rebellion, and they had plague and famine to face too. Yet the heads of the family in all four generations of this period would live into their sixties and seventies. Some made smart, or perhaps just lucky, matches in marriage, but many of their greatest achievements would be in their older years. They would preside over a period of unprecedented growth for their family, in wealth, status and sheer numbers.


Next: Sir Ralph de Rochford II of Fenne (died c1315) →

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