Ralph de Rochford II was probably already of age in 1269 when he and his mother, Emma, paid the crown two marks to have a case heard at the King’s Bench. But if not, he was definitely of age by 2 September 1272 when he paid another mark for a case on his own, so he must have been born by about 1252, and probably several years earlier. By late 1272 Ralph was married to a lady named Cecilia – around December that year the couple found themselves in a court dispute with a neighbour, William de Stepping, probably over some property in Toft.
Many of the early records of Ralph’s life are surveys and extents describing the properties he inherited. The first of these comes from the register of Croyland Abbey, and it can be dated to some time after 1272. It details the division of lands in the Lincolnshire wapentakes of Elloe, Kirton and Skirbeck, where each “hundred” consisted of twelve carucates. Of particular interest are the hundred of Toft and the combined hundred of Benington and Leverton. An inquisition carried out in 1279 after the death of Peter of Savoy, earl of Richmond, provides further detail, as do two feudal surveys carried out in 1284 and 1303.
As in Domesday, the twelve carucates of Toft were split between the honours of Craon, which had nine, and Richmond, which had three. William de Huntingfield held all nine carucates of the honour of Craon in Toft, six of which he kept for his own demesne. His other three carucates were held under him by three vassals or feoffees, who had a carucate each: Ralph de Rochford, Alan de Hippetoft and Matilda de Stepping. Ralph’s carucate was held as an eleventh part of a knight’s fee, as it was in the time of his grandfather Ralph de Rochford I in the 1240s – this is the property that may have originated in the Huntingfields’ enfeoffment of Baldric the clerk of Fenne before 1155. Alan de Hippetoft’s carucate, meanwhile, was held as a quarter of a knight’s fee, as in the 1240s, and Matilda de Stepping’s as an eleventh of a knight’s fee. This last parcel of land had belonged to Warin Engayne in the 1240s – he had sold it to Ralph’s step-grandfather Hugh le Breton in 1247 and the Steppings were tenants when Ralph’s grandmother Joan claimed dower in it in 1271. Ralph himself held half of the Steppings’ carucate under them.
The three carucates at Toft that were part of the honour of Richmond were split between Ralph de Rochford and Lucy Pecche. Of these, Ralph had two-and-a-half carucates, which were the quarter knight’s fee “in Scrane and in Toft” that his father held under Petronilla de Craon in the 1240s. Lucy Pecche had the remaining half carucate. She was the widow of Herbert Pecche and the heiress of John de Edlington, who held it for a sixteenth of a knight’s fee in the 1240s. If the inquisition post mortem for Peter of Savoy was accurate, Ralph had some interest in this property too, which seems to have caused much conflict. He and Lucy Pecche would spend endless years fighting in court.
Meanwhile, all twelve carucates at Benington and Leverton belonged to the honour of Richmond, and Ralph de Rochford had two of these for a quarter of a knight’s fee, which his grandfather Ralph I had in the 1240s. In 1279 Ralph had some row over some property there with Thomas de la Gotere of Boston and Helewys de Ledenham. Ralph also still had the one-carucate socager property in Skirbeck, paying 19s 10d annually to the honour of Richmond for it.
In the Hundred Rolls survey of 1274 Ralph was one of a group of men and women who claimed the assize of bread and ale in Skirbeck wapentake. This gave them the right to regulate the making and sale of these products in the area, and many of Ralph’s colleagues in this group were associates in other ways too. They included Laurence de Rupe or Roche, Thomas de Moulton, William de Huntingfield, Lucy Pecche and Alan de Hippetoft.
At some point, probably not long after he succeeded to the family estates, Ralph confirmed to Kirkstead Abbey all the lands his great-great-grandfather Ralph of Fenne had given them a hundred years before. He promised on behalf of his descendants that they would honour these gifts too, and he gave the abbey some new property at Akkeneuland in Scrane. No doubt the family made a great occasion of this important transaction; Laurence de Rupe and Alan de Hippetoft were among its witnesses.
In or around early 1279 Ralph came to an agreement with Theobald de Neville, son of the notorious outlaw Peter de Neville of Allexton: Theobald was to grant his manor of La Grave or Grove Park in Budbrooke, Warwickshire, (or as later records would suggest, a two-thirds interest in it) to Ralph and his heirs for twenty marks of silver a year, but if Ralph died without children both La Grave and Ralph’s manor of Fenne were to revert to Theobald and his heirs.
This is notable for two reasons. First, it is first time the Rochfords’ property at Fenne was explicitly called a manor. And second, arrangements like this were usually connected with marriage or some other family concern. The records do not provide details of any such connections, but it is possible that Ralph’s wife Cecilia was related to Theobald de Neville. (Interestingly, Theobald’s own wife was also called Cecilia – perhaps Ralph’s wife was her daughter.) Ralph is known to have been an only son and he was possibly an only child, in which case it would have made sense for him to make beneficial arrangements for his estates should he die without children, but the surviving records do not reveal enough to understand his full motive.
The legal mechanism for the arrangement was for Ralph to put Theobald in possession of Fenne, after which Theobald was to grant both properties to Ralph with reversion to himself and his heirs by a final concord made in court. It seems that Ralph handed Fenne over to Theobald, and Theobald handed La Grave over to Ralph, but Theobald obstructed the completion of the deal to give Ralph possession of both manors by “withdrawing himself”. Ralph was concerned enough to take the matter to the Lincolnshire Eyre court in 1282. Here Theobald’s defence was that he was not obliged to make the final concord until he had full possession of the manor of Fenne, and that Ralph retained some of its assets; but at length the jury found in Ralph’s favour and Theobald was ordered to pay substantial damages and complete the final concord, which was eventually done in 1284. From this we learn that the assets of La Grave included “woods, meadows, pastures, waters, ponds, mills” among other things.
Soon after, Theobald de Neville granted his remaining one-third interest in La Grave to Philip de Gayton and Scolastica his wife, and Ralph also granted his two-thirds interest to the same couple, but exactly what title he conveyed would become the subject of ongoing legal fights in the next century.
In 1282 Ralph was involved in another quarrel, this time with William de Braytoft, son of the Henry de Braytoft who had married Ralph’s aunt Nichola de Rochford. It was over two messuages in Boston held under the honour of Richmond – probably the properties Ralph’s great-grandparents Waleran and Albreda had secured in their dispute with Ismenia of Whaplode and her sisters. William de Braytoft claimed that Ralph’s grandparents Ralph de Rochford and Joan had each given Nichola one of the messuages, while Ralph said they had both been given by Joan who held them only as her dower and therefore could not give them away in perpetuity. It is not known what the outcome was, but this property seems to have ended up with Robert son of Ralph de Bungeye by 1291-1292. Meanwhile, Ralph de Rochford maintained friendly relations with other members of the Braytoft family, as around this time he witnessed a charter for William’s brother John de Braytoft.
Like his ancestors, Ralph also witnessed a number of charters connected with the Huntingfields, including an agreement between Nicholas de le Pek, rector of Toft, and William de Huntingfield; and other agreements between John Donne of Toft, William de Wigtoft, Roger Bacun and Hugh del Neuland of Toft with Roger son of William de Huntingfield.
24 July 1287 is the date of the first of many records of Ralph going to war. Edward I had completed his conquest of Wales in 1283, but in 1287 the Welsh lord Rhys ap Maredudd, once a conspicuous ally of the English, rebelled and captured most of Ystrad Tywi in southwest Wales. Ralph was knighted, and he was already on his way to Wales when he and his retinue were granted royal protection “on the king’s service” until October. Their captain was the Lincolnshire lord Robert de Tattershall, heir of the founder of Kirkstead Abbey, and their group included Ralph’s neighbours Peter de Huntingfield, Philip de Kyme and Robert de Kirketon. In Wales they joined a huge army – over 20,000 strong at its peak, far too large and costly for the needs of the expedition. Nevertheless, in September they captured Rhys’ lordship of Dryslwyn, and in January the next year the rebellion was finished off with the fall of the rebels’ last stronghold at Newcastle Emlyn. Rhys himself escaped and spent the rest of his days as a fugitive hiding in the hills and forests of Wales, until his own men betrayed him in 1292.
Meanwhile, in summer 1291 Sir Ralph de Rochford (as he was now called) was on the king’s service again, this time under Richard de Bosco in Scotland, where he was due to stay until Christmas. England and Scotland were not at war: the Scots had asked King Edward to arbitrate in a dispute over who was to be their next king – John Balliol or Robert Bruce – and they had given Edward direct rule over the country in the meantime.
The king spent much of that year and the next in Scotland. It may be that Ralph was able to gain his ear during this time, as it was early 1292 when Ralph de Saint Lo was hauled before the justices of the King’s Bench to be tried for the murder of Ralph de Rochford’s father, John, some 25 years earlier during the Second Barons’ War. Ralph de Rochford failed to appear in court to put his case, for which he was fined forty shillings, but the king’s attorney Richard de Bretteville was present to sue on the king’s behalf and the trial proceeded. Saint Lo presented his defence – that John de Rochford had been killed during a time of war, that he himself had been pardoned any misdemeanours committed during that time as a member of Sir John d’Eyville’s rebel retinue, and that it wasn’t him who did it anyway. The justices put it to a jury of 24 knights and others a few weeks later, and they found in Saint Lo’s favour. Upon this Saint Lo turned to accuse Ralph de Rochford, who was now present, of making false and malicious accusations against him, and sued for damages. Ralph de Rochford complained this would amount to a double punishment, since he had already paid a forty-shilling fine for missing the trial and therefore losing his case, and that it was unheard of for the accuser to be sued in this way. But the justices and the jury were not sympathetic and Ralph de Rochford was ordered to pay Saint Lo the substantial sum of eighty marks.
On 30 November 1292 John Balliol was crowned king of Scots, and less than a month later he swore homage to King Edward, effectively making Scotland a vassal state. For the next few years there would be a fragile peace. Sir Ralph de Rochford returned home to Fenne, where he was able to spend time on trade – he did deals with merchants in Boston and Nottingham – and also with his family. It was during this period, around 1294-1295, that his eldest son and heir, Sayer de Rochford, was born.
But such a peace could not hold for long. In early 1296 the Scots concluded a treaty with France, and their king, John Balliol, refused to attend King Edward’s court. Edward invaded immediately. English forces inflicted decisive defeats at Berwick and Dunbar, and by the end of July Scotland was all but conquered. The country soon went into open revolt under the leadership of Sir William Wallace, Robert Bruce and several other Scottish nobles. Edward responded with second invasion in summer 1298, this time with an army of almost 30,000 men. Sir Ralph de Rochford joined in the company of Sir John de Segrave – they fought in the vanguard at the battle of Falkirk on 22 July, where Wallace’s forces were routed.
Edward had the upper hand, but his conquest was not complete. For political reasons there was no campaign in 1299, but in summer 1300 Ralph was reported to have property worth £40 or more and as such called to Carlisle to muster for a third campaign in Scotland – he was probably at the successful siege of the unusual, triangular castle of Caerlaverock in July that year.
In June the following year, 1301, Ralph joined King Edward’s own company at Berwick-upon-Tweed for a fourth campaign. In September they captured Bothwell , Scotland’s finest and grandest castle, on the Clyde just southeast of Glasgow. From there they moved to overwinter at Linlithgow. In October it was noted that Ralph was staying on in Scotland with the king, perhaps until Easter, and on 1 November he secured a writ of royal protection. At last, in January 1302 Robert Bruce and several other Scottish leaders defected to Edward’s side, and a truce was agreed.
Sir Ralph de Rochford’s growing status during this period is apparent from his inclusion in several rolls of arms, each representing several hundred prominent knights of the time. His name and his arms – Quarterly or and gules, a border sable bezanty – appear in the Lord Marshall’s and Collins’ rolls of 1295-1296, and also a later roll of 1308-1314 called the Great, Parliamentary or Bannerets’ Roll.
During the 1298 and 1301 campaigns the king had granted Sir Ralph de Rochford respite from debts to enable him to stay on in Scotland. Over the previous decades Ralph had registered several debts that suggest he was actively involved in Boston’s thriving import-export trade. These include a debt of twenty marks and two sacks of wool to the foreign merchants Bernard de Laard, Gaylardus Buschon and Peter Glandere of Cahors in France, registered in Boston in 1287; of £40 to James Hugelyn, Henry de Podio, and Donus de Podio of Lucca in Italy, registered in Boston in 1292; two sums of £12 8s and £24 16s to Sir John de Grey in 1293 and 1294; and £40 to Robert le Venour, sheriff of Nottinghamshire, in 1295.
These were large sums. Of particular interest are the Podios or Pogios, who were senior partners of the Riccardi of Lucca. They had been King Edward I’s favoured bankers, supplying him with huge sums of ready cash for his wars, until 1294 when their English operations collapsed in a liquidity crisis. As part payment the Riccardi had had a mandate to collect wool customs due to the crown at source. Sir Ralph’s dealings with the Podios suggest that he was trading on Boston’s sophisticated wool market in a serious way.
In Fenne, meanwhile, Ralph was caught up in running property disputes with his neighbour Lucy Pecche. In 1305-1306 an inquisition was carried out, and in February 1307 Ralph found himself imprisoned by the sheriff of Lincoln as a result, but he was released on 9 February after paying a fine of twenty marks. A couple of days later, on 11 February, Ralph went on record in the Close Rolls owing a fine of six marks with Walter Hakelut to Robert de Bardelby, clerk, but it is not known what for. A few months after this Ralph was called to acquit a number of inhabitants of Benington and other locals “of a service required of them by Lucy Pecche”. In February the following year, 1308, Ralph held the office of coroner for Lincoln, but he was removed from the office for not being resident in the county – it is not known where he was based.
By this time Edward I had died and his disastrous heir, Edward II, was on the throne. On 9 June 1312 the new king’s deeply unpopular favourite (and possible lover) Piers de Gaveston was murdered at Blacklow Hill, just eight miles from Budbrooke, by a group of magnates led by the king’s cousin Thomas earl of Lancaster and Guy de Beauchamp, earl of Warwick. Civil war seemed likely, but at length a peace was agreed and on 13 October 1313 the king issued pardons to Lancaster, Warwick and their adherents. Sir Ralph de Rochford was listed as one of Lancaster’s adherents.
The last record of Ralph is from 1315 or 1316 when his chief antagonist Lucy Pecche recovered a pasture in Freiston from him and others. He was dead by early 1316 when a new row erupted over the manor of La Grave between “Saer son and heir of Ralph de Rocheford” and the heirs of the late brothers Philip and Theobald de Gayton. Ralph was at least 66 years old when he died.
The earliest known record of the Rochfords in connection with the village that came to be known after them, Stoke Rochford in Lincolnshire, dates from around this time – probably just after Ralph de Rochford died. It is a charter by Sir Peter de Limesy of Arley in Warwickshire leasing “half the manor of Stokes … once held by Ralph de Rocheford” for four years for an annual rent of eleven marks. There are plenty of places in England called Stoke, but later events confirm that this was Stoke Rochford. And this probably explains why, at some point during his life, Ralph gave some property to Croxton Abbey, which was just seven miles west of Stoke (although curiously, the property he gave was from his homelands at Fenne and Toft).
At this time the village of Stoke was split in two halves or moieties, North Stoke and South Stoke. Each had its own parson, although there only appears to have been one church between them, which must have caused some friction. The village, and in particular the south moiety, was also sometimes called Stoke by Grantham or Kirke Stoke, and by the mid-1500s the name Stoke Rochford was in use. In the 1800s the settlement at North Stoke was cleared to make way for a stately park – the village centre that survives today is on the site of the old South Stoke settlement. The half-manor Ralph de Rochford owned appears to have been at South Stoke, and to have been returned to the Rochford family by 1335, as we will later see.
In summer 1317, shortly after Ralph de Rochford died, a complicated legal case over dower rights in his property came before the court of King’s Bench. It turns out that Ralph’s second wife, Alice, who had also died, was heiress to a manor at Riseholme just north of Lincoln. After she and Ralph had both died, their eldest son and heir, Sayer, was still under age, so their overlords at Riseholme, Thomas earl of Lancaster and his wife Alice de Lacy, became guardians of Sayer’s Riseholme inheritance.
Sarah, the widow of Edmund Foliot (whose family had been connected with Riseholme since the early 1200s) claimed dower rights in the property, but the guardians declined and the dispute came to court. Here, Sarah lost her case because her plea was based on the property being Ralph de Rochford’s inheritance, rather his wife Alice’s. It is not clear whether this was an error on her lawyer’s part, or due to the actual structure of property ownership in the village. But it is not really the legal detail that makes this case interesting. It offers some clues as to who Ralph’s wife Alice might have been, how he came to have the half-manor at Stoke Rochford, and why he became one of Lancaster’s adherents in the murder of Piers de Gaveston.
In 1434 Henry VI issued a charter for Sir Ralph and Alice’s great-grandson and successor in that century, Sir Ralph Rochford III, confirming a grant that had originally been made by Edward I in 1295 to “Saer de Huntyngfeld, and his heirs, of free warren in all his demesne lands of Riseholme and Scrane”. Free warren was the right to hunt game, much prized by men of status. But the right to do so, even on your own land, was not automatic – kings often granted it as a reward or favour. This particular grant suggests that the Rochfords’ Riseholme inheritance had previously belonged to Sayer de Huntingfield – Alice was probably his heiress.
Sayer de Huntingfield was a scion of the Huntingfield family who were the Rochfords’ neighbours at Toft, and he died in the early 1300s. According to Collins’ Complete Peerage, he also had property at South Stoke, which he made his principal home, and he was succeeded by a daughter Joan, who was married to Sir William Hayward. But Joan does not appear to have inherited all her father’s lands, specifically at Riseholme and Scrane; and in the 1400s her descendants, the Byrons, had just one half of the manor of South Stoke, which Sir Ralph Rochford III bought off them in 1434 to add to the other half which he already had.
So Sir Ralph de Rochford II’s wife Alice was probably Joan’s sister and coheiress, and Sayer de Huntingfield’s property was split between the two when he died. Alice’s share was the manor of Riseholme, half of the manor of South Stoke, and probably also the property at Scrane. After Alice’s death Ralph would have continued to hold them in her right and in trust for their young son and heir, Sayer de Rochford. A family connection between the Rochfords and the Huntingfields would not be surprising given the long-standing relationship between the two families. And if correct, the young Sayer de Rochford was named, of course, after his maternal grandfather father: no earlier Rochfords are known to have been given the unusual name Sayer.
Ralph’s tenure of the manor at Riseholme would naturally have brought him into contact with Thomas earl of Lancaster, who was his overlord for the property. Lancaster was by far the most powerful man in England after the king, and no doubt Ralph was keen to nurture whatever ties he could with his new lord. This is presumably how he came to be one of Lancaster’s adherents in the unrest surrounding the killing of Edward II’s favourite, Piers de Gaveston, in 1312. Moverover, it is probably no coincidence that Sir Peter de Limesy, who leased Ralph’s half-manor at South Stoke to John Bozoun for four years around the time Ralph died, was one of Lancaster’s private coterie of retained knights. It seems that Limesy somehow acquired the wardship of this property, and perhaps even of the young Sayer himself, after Ralph died. Lancaster probably had something to do with it.
Two more of Ralph’s sons are named in a 1335 inheritance dispute: John and Thomas de Rochford. They appear to have been younger than Sayer, so unless Ralph married for a third time, their mother was presumably Sayer’s mother, Alice.
The standout features of Ralph de Rochford’s life are the frequent legal disputes, his arrival on the scene as a fully-fledged, fighting knight in 1287, and thereafter his regular involvement in Edward I’s wars of conquest in Wales and Scotland.
Perhaps the picture that emerges of Ralph as a particularly conflict-prone man is simply down to the times he lived in, the people he dealt with, or the type of evidence about him that survives. But he managed to find himself in court – in a role other than judge or jury – more often than any other member of his family would over the next few hundred years. And at one point he was imprisoned, probably for breaking the terms of a settlement handed down during his long-running dispute with his neighbour Lucy Pecche.
Nevertheless, Ralph’s assertive strategy seems to have paid off, and it was during his time that the Rochfords began to fully establish themselves within the Lincolnshire knightly class. In particular, the deal with Theobald de Neville to secure the manor of La Grave, although confusing, looks to have been quite a coup: it added considerably to Ralph’s estates, generated valuable funds for his heir in later years, and also established a foothold for the family in Warwickshire.
Ralph’s marriage to the heiress Alice was another smart – or perhaps just lucky – move. Her probable father, Sayer de Huntingfield, was a scion of one of the major landowning families of Lincolnshire and Norfolk, and he was deeply involved in Edward I’s wars in Scotland. It may be under Huntingfield’s influence that Ralph was knighted, after at least fifteen years of adulthood, and thereafter played a more prominent role in the king’s wars than any of his predecessors had. And of course, marriage to an heiress brought new property and therefore status to the family.
So it was that Ralph’s son and heir, Sayer de Rochford, began adult life with far more to his name than Ralph himself had.