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Thomas Becket


[ Benedict Of Peterborough abbot in the reign of Henry II ]

Lawlessness Prevailed

At that same time the brother of earl Ferrers was slain privily by night in London. Now when these things were told to the king he was greatly grieved, and swore that he would exact a heavy penalty therefor from the citizens of London. But it was a common thing in London that some hundred or more of the sons and kinsfolk of leading citizens, as it was reported, attacked by night the dwellings of rich men and robbed them. And if they found any man passing by night through the streets, forthwith they would slay him without pity; so that few dared go abroad by night through the city for the fear of them. And so it befell that, in the third year preceding, the sons and the kinsfolk of certain leading citizens of London having gathered together by night for the getting of gain, attacked a house built of stone belonging to a certain wealthy Londoner and broke into it by means of a certain iron wedge which they had, and so entered in by the breach which they had made. But the master of the house being forewarned of their coming put on a shirt of mail and had with him sundry notable men and honest servants, clad in mail, and was sitting with them in a corner of the house. Who when he saw that one of those robbers named Richard Bucquinte, who went before the others with a burning torch, held out a pot full of burning coal, anti was making haste to kindle candles which he held in his hand, he ran upon him, assaulting him fiercely. Which when the aforesaid Richard Bucquinte saw, he drew his knife and smote the master of the house, yet did not wound him because the mail shirt received the blow. Then he, swiftly drawing his sword, attacked him and smote off the right hand of the aforesaid Richard Bucquinte, shouting with a loud voice "Thieves, thieves." And when they heard that, they all fled, save he who had lost his hand, of whom the master of house kept hold. When the morning was come, he handed him over to Richard de Lucy, to the king's justice and he set him in prison. As for that thief, upon promise of sparing his life and limbs he made his comrades known of whom time most were taken, but many escaped. But among the rest who had been taken was one of the most notable and wealthy citizens of London called John the Old. Who when he could not acquit himself through the ordeal by water, offered five hundred marks of silver to our lord the king for his life. But since he had failed in the ordeal by water, the king would not take the coin, and ordered justice to be done upon him and he was hanged.

[ Richard FitzNeal : Dialogue de Seaccario ]

Fitzneale also spelled FITZNIGEL, also called RICHARD OF ELY (b. c. 1130--d. Sept.10, 1198), bishop of London and treasurer of England under kings Henry II and Richard I and author of the Dialogus de scaccario ("Dialogue of the Exchequer").Fitzneale was the son of Nigel, bishop of Ely (1133), and the great nephew of Roger, bishop of Salisbury, who had organized the exchequer under Henry I. His father, who was treasurer under Henry I and Stephen, purchased the office (c. 1158) for his son, who retained it until his death. Fitzneale's name appears in the lists of itinerant justices for 1179 and 1194; he was also a judge of common pleas. He became archdeacon of Ely (c. 1160) and a canon of St. Paul's. He eventually became dean of Lincoln not later than 1184 and bishop of London in 1189.Fitzneale's De necessariis observantiis scaccarii dialogus, commonly called the Dialogus de scaccario, is an account in two books of the procedure followed by the exchequer in the author's time, a procedure which was largely the creation of his own family. Soon after the author's death it was already recognized as the standard manual for exchequer officials. It was frequently transcribed and has been used by English antiquarians of every period, for it describes contemporary exchequer practice with detail and accuracy. The text of the Dialogus shows that its author also composed a chronicle of the reign of Henry II, arranged in three columns and thus named the Liber tricolumnis; the work is not extant.


Master. It happens sometimes that, when the designs of an enemy threaten the kingdom, or break out against it, the king gives order that a certain sum of money be paid for every knight's fee, a mark or a pound; whence come wages or payments for knights. For the prince prefers to expose mercenaries rather than his own people to the chances of war. This sum therefore is called scutage because it is paid in the name of scuta, that is, shields.

Next; "Murder" is the proper name for the secret death of anyone whose slaver is unknown. For the meaning of ''murder'' is, a thing hidden or secret. Now in the first state of the kingdom after the conquest, those that were left of the vanquished English laid ambushes privily against the people of the Norman's whom they dreaded and hated, and everywhere secretly slew them in woods and in places apart as opportunity offered, And when to avenge them the kings and their officers for many years raged against the English with all manner of ingenious torments, nor did they yet altogether desist, this plan was at length arrived at; that that centuriate or " hundred " wherein a Norman was found slain , since he who had slain him did not appear nor make his identity known by flight, should be condemned to pay a heavy fine, it might be thirty-six or forty-four pounds of silver; according to the difference of localities and the frequency of slayings. And it is said that this had the effect that the infliction of a common punishment gave security to those that went to and fro, and everyone made haste whether to punish the crime or to bring to justice the man by whose means so heavy a fine injured a whole neighbourhood.

Disciple. May the privy slaying of an Englishman, as of a Norman, be imputed as murder?

Master. Not at the outset as you have heard; but now that English and Normans dwell together and marry and are given in marriage one to another, the peoples are so mixed that, speaking of those who are free men, we can hardly distinguish to-day who is of Norman and who of English race; always excepting the serfs called villeins, who may not change their condition against their lord's will. Therefore to-day, whosoever is thus found slain, it is punished as murder save where there are clear marks of the servile condition, as we have stated.

Disciple. I marvel that a prince of singular excellency and of exceeding valour should have shewn such mercy to the conquered and by him distrusted race of the English, that he not only spared the rustics by whom agriculture might be carried on, but left their estates and ample possessions to his predecessors in the realm.

Master. Though this is not altogether pertinent to the business I have undertaken, yet I will gladly explain what I have learnt from the people of the land themselves. After the Conquest and the just overthrow of the rebels, when the king and his nobles went over the new territory, diligent enquiry was made, who there were that fought against the king in the war and saved their lives by flight. All these as well as the heirs of those who had fallen in the war were cut off from all hope of the lands arid estates and revenues which they had before enjoyed. For they accounted it a great thing that they should be spared to live under their foes. But those who, having been summoned to the war, had not assembled, or had taken no part in it, being taken up with their own matters and necessary concerns, when as time passed by rendering loyal obedience they won the favour of their lords, began to be treated as tenants in their own persons at their lord's pleasure but without right of succession. But the time came when on every side those whom their lord misliked were turned out of their possessions, and none would restore that which was taken away and a common murmur of the natives reached the king's ears, that, held in general hatred and being utterly despoiled, they were being forced into subjection to foreigners. Having taken counsel thereupon, it was decreed that what they had been able to obtain by their own deserts and by lawful agreement should be granted to them with security of law but that they might claim nothing by hereditary title from the time of the Conquest. It is clear how prudent was this device, especially since they were bound to strive their best, in whatever way was to their own interest, to earn their lords favour by loyal obedience. Thus whoever of the subject race enjoys estates or the like obtained it not because he thought it his due by right of inheritance but solely because he has acquired it by desert or by agreement.