Medieval Gloucester: Crown and Borough, Military History

Pages 18-22

A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1988.

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The Crown and the Borough; Military History

After the Conquest the royal borough of Gloucester retained the close connexion with the Crown that had been established under the Anglo-Saxon kings. Continuing royal interest was ensured by the town's strategic position, which made it an obvious site for a castle and gave it a significant role in most of the upheavals of the earlier Middle Ages. By 1086 and until the beginning of Henry I's reign Gloucester was the accepted venue for the Christmas crown-wearing of the Norman kings, one of three held at the great festivals of the year; in practice William I and his son seem to have kept as many Christmases at Westminster as at Gloucester. (fn. 1) It was at the Christmas council at Gloucester in 1085 that William I gave the order for the compilation of Domesday Book. (fn. 2) William II's visits included that in Lent 1093 when he almost died of an illness and another later the same year when he delivered the snub to Malcolm, king of Scotland, which broke the truce between the two kingdoms. (fn. 3) The Norman kings may have continued to use the palace at Kingsholm, and for the support of their household they kept in hand the large royal manor of King's Barton adjoining the town. It was presumably for ease of carrying on the government from Gloucester that a king's scribe held a house in the town in the late 11th century and the earlier 12th (fn. 4) and that six tenants of King's Barton held by the serjeanty of writ-carrying. (fn. 5)

For a few years immediately following the Conquest, probably while the first castle was being constructed, Gloucester was held at farm by William FitzOsbern (d. 1071), earl of Hereford, and so was attached to the great lordship created to secure the southern Marches. (fn. 6) In that period or soon afterwards the new castle was placed in the charge of Roger of Gloucester (or de Pîtres), whose family, as hereditary castellans and sheriffs of the county, was to dominate Gloucester for the next 100 years. (fn. 7) Roger died before 1086 when his offices and his estates in the county were held by his brother Durand. They passed before 1100 to Roger's son Walter of Gloucester who rebuilt the castle on a more substantial scale (fn. 8) and added the office of royal constable to the family's responsibilities. By 1126 Walter had become a monk at Llanthony Prima (Mon.) and been succeeded by his son Miles, who acquired extensive Welsh estates and founded Llanthony Secunda at Gloucester in 1137. (fn. 9)

During Stephen's reign Gloucester became one of the principal strongholds of the Angevin cause following Miles of Gloucester's declaration of support for the Empress Maud. Miles, who was created earl of Hereford in 1141, escorted the empress to Gloucester on her arrival in England in 1139. She was at Gloucester again in February 1141 when Stephen was brought there after his capture at the battle of Lincoln and she retired there later the same year after her expulsion from London. On one of her visits the empress is recorded as exercising her rights in the borough by alienating part of the landgavel, (fn. 10) but for most of the period the local autonomy enjoyed by Miles and his son Roger, who succeeded on his death in 1143, made them in effect lords of the borough; they appear to have dealt as they wished with the royal demesne lands in the borough (fn. 11) and Earl Roger's control of the town is reflected in a grant of protection he made to the monks of Cirencester Abbey when they came on business. (fn. 12) Earl Roger's rebellion against Henry II in 1155 lost for the family its hereditary offices but his successors to the earldom of Hereford retained their connection with Gloucester, particularly as patrons of Llanthony Priory.

Henry II, who presumably was well disposed towards Gloucester as a result of the part it had played in the struggle against Stephen, granted the town its first charter of liberties and allowed the burgesses to farm the royal revenues for a period of 10 years. (fn. 13) During his reign and that of his successor Gloucester's military importance was as a supply base for operations against the Irish and Welsh. At the time of the Irish expedition of 1171 it was one of the assembly points for men and provisions and its iron industry provided much equipment for the army. (fn. 14) During the campaigns against Rhys ap Gruffudd in the early years of Richard I's reign men and supplies passed through Gloucester into South Wales. (fn. 15)

From King John the burgesses of Gloucester secured one of the most significant advances in their liberties, a charter of 1200 giving them the right to elect bailiffs, though they also suffered from shifts in the royal favour. (fn. 16) John was a fairly frequent visitor in the later years of his reign, (fn. 17) but his son, whose first coronation, in 1216, took place at Gloucester, (fn. 18) was perhaps the medieval king who had the closest connection with the town. During the first half of his reign Henry III was a regular visitor, coming three or four times in some years, (fn. 19) usually residing at the castle. (fn. 20) Several great councils met at Gloucester during the period, including that in 1233 when measures were taken to meet the threat from Richard Marshal, earl of Pembroke, and that in 1240 when David ap Llywelyn, ruler of Gwynedd, was reconciled to the king. (fn. 21) The town also continued its military role. The king ordered men and equipment to be sent from Gloucester when he was campaigning in mid Wales in 1228, (fn. 22) and in 1246 and 1247 the bailiffs of Gloucester were ordered to organize the carriage of provisions to the castles at Builth and Painscastle. (fn. 23) The army for the planned Irish expedition of 1233 was ordered to muster at Gloucester and requisitioned river craft were assembled there. (fn. 24)

Gloucester's strategic position ensured for it a prominent role in the period of the barons' war and the ascendancy of Simon de Montfort. It was involved in an early incident in the disturbances when, in 1263, John Giffard of Brimpsfield, Roger de Clifford, and other local dissidents successfully laid siege to the castle in an attempt to remove the French knight Maci de Bezille from his office as county sheriff. (fn. 25) The castle was later garrisoned for the Crown by Roger de Clifford who, having returned to his allegiance, was given custody of it at the end of 1263. (fn. 26) The following February, as forces led by de Montfort's sons moved westwards to attack the lands of Roger Mortimer in the Marches, Clifford was ordered to fortify and hold the bridge at Gloucester, while all other bridges on the Severn were to be destroyed. (fn. 27) John Giffard and another local knight John de Balun gained entrance to the town in disguise and secured it for the Montfortian forces but the castle held out until Edward, the king's son, came to its relief at the beginning of March and concluded a truce with the rebels under which they withdrew from Gloucester. The prince is said to have imposed heavy fines on the burgesses for having allowed the rebels in. (fn. 28) Gloucester was once more at the centre of events in the spring of 1265 when Simon de Montfort came there with the king in an attempt to reach an agreement with Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, who, with John Giffard, took refuge in the Forest of Dean. There was a further siege in June of that year when, during the campaign that ended in the battle of Evesham, Edward captured the town from a garrison left by de Montfort. (fn. 29) The town and surrounding countryside apparently suffered considerably during the events of the period. In 1266 arrears owed by Gloucester Abbey in the farm of King's Barton manor were attributed to losses during the wars (fn. 30) and the poverty-stricken state of St. Bartholomew's Hospital in 1270 was said to result from the same cause. (fn. 31)

During the next two reigns the Crown's connections with the town were loosened. Edward I and Edward II were infrequent visitors, (fn. 32) though the former held parliament there in 1278 when the statute named from the town was promulgated. (fn. 33) After Henry III's death in 1272 the lordship of the borough passed in dower to Queen Eleanor (d. 1291), who was also given Gloucester castle and King's Barton manor. (fn. 34) The same rights passed on Edward I's death in 1307 to Queen Margaret. (fn. 35) After her death in 1318 the lordship was kept in hand by the kings, though the annual fee farm paid by the burgesses was usually alienated. Among those later granted the farm were Thomas de Bradeston, constable of the castle, who held it from 1330 until his death in 1360, (fn. 36) and two queens consort, Anne of Bohemia, first wife of Richard II, (fn. 37) and Joan of Navarre, second wife of Henry IV. (fn. 38).

In Edward II's reign Gloucester was once more heavily involved in disputes between Crown and barons. In July 1312, shortly after the execution of Gaveston, the king took steps to secure the town by granting custody and the role of 'keeper of the peace' there to Maurice de Berkeley, Lord Berkeley, ordering the townspeople to aid him in repairing the town's defences. (fn. 39) That appointment seems to imply not only the temporary suspension of Queen Margaret's rights but also an invasion of the liberties of the burgesses, and it presumably led the latter to seek the royal confirmation of one of their most important legal privileges that was granted a few weeks later. (fn. 40) The king held council at Gloucester in March 1321 when measures were taken to combat the military preparations of some of the Marcher lords. (fn. 41) In the last days of 1321 or the first of 1322 the town and castle were seized by local opponents of the Despensers led by John Giffard and Maurice de Berkeley, but the king recovered them early in February after his successes against the rebels in the Marches. It was at Gloucester that John Giffard, captured at the battle of Boroughbridge, was executed in May 1322. (fn. 42) Some of the leaders of the burgess community had sympathized with the rebels, among them the wealthy Robert of Goldhill, who was fined £100 as a result of his activities, (fn. 43) and John the tanner, (fn. 44) bailiff of the town in several previous years. (fn. 45) After the rising the town was once more placed under military government for a period: Gilbert Talbot was acting as 'keeper' of the town, castle, and King's Barton manor in November 1322 when the younger Hugh le Despenser was appointed to exercise superior custody. (fn. 46)

In October 1326 an order for forces from Wales and the Marches to muster at Gloucester to resist the invasion by Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer was overtaken by events when the invaders themselves arrived there to be joined by dissident barons and their forces. (fn. 47) The burial of Edward II in Gloucester Abbey church in 1327 (fn. 48) secured the favour of the new king for the town as well as the abbey: while in the town in December 1328, Edward III confirmed the borough charters 'in honour of the body of our father which lies buried at Gloucester'. (fn. 49) For the first few years of the new reign, however, Gloucester was secured for Mortimer's party: the castle was granted for life to Queen Isabella in 1327 and held by her until 1330. (fn. 50)

In the later Middle Ages Gloucester made much more occasional appearances at the centre of national affairs. It was once more the seat of government in the autumn of 1378 when parliament met in Gloucester Abbey, (fn. 51) and parliaments were again held there in 1406 and 1407. Once more, in 1403 during Owen Glendower's revolt, it saw a muster of troops to meet a threat from Wales. (fn. 52) The castle and the farm of the town were granted in 1462 to the infant Richard, duke of Gloucester, but the grant was apparently rescinded within a few years (fn. 53) and the castle was held during Edward IV's reign by successive constables Thomas Herbert the elder and Richard Beauchamp. (fn. 54) Beauchamp, aided by other Yorkist sympathisers in the town, made a decisive contribution to the campaign of 1471 when he prevented Queen Margaret's army from crossing the Severn at Gloucester in an attempt to reach supporters in Wales, forcing it to continue up river to be caught by the Yorkist army at Tewkesbury. A large body of townspeople was said, however, to have then supported the Lancastrians, (fn. 55) and it was presumably to some more recent service that Richard III referred in September 1483 when, shortly after visiting the town, he gave it a major grant of liberties in return for 'the good and faithful actions of the bailiffs and burgesses in causes of particular importance to us'. He gave specific orders that no fine should be exacted for the charter and also reduced the farm of the borough from £65 to £20, (fn. 56) a measure that was reversed by Henry VII. (fn. 57)

By the early 16th century the appearance of royalty in the town had ceased to be a familiar occurrence, and visits by Princess Mary in 1525 and by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in 1535 were made the occasions of much ceremonial by the borough corporation. (fn. 58)


  • 1. M. Biddle, 'Seasonal Festivals and Residence' (TS. of a paper given at C.B.A. conference, Apr. 1975).
  • 2. A.-S. Chron. ed. D. Whitelock (1961), 161.
  • 3. Ibid. 170.
  • 4. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i. 162; Camd. Misc. xxii, pp. 14–15.
  • 5. Hist. & Cart. Mon. Glouc. iii. 69.
  • 6. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i. 162.
  • 7. The account of the fam. given here is based on D. Walker, 'Miles of Glouc., Earl of Heref.', Trans. B.G.A.S. lxxvii. 66–84.
  • 8. Below, Glouc. Castle.
  • 9. V.C.H. Glos. ii. 87.
  • 10. P.R.O., C 115/K 1/6681, f. 76v.
  • 11. Camd. Misc. xxii, pp. 14–15, 29.
  • 12. Ciren. Cart. iii, p. 739.
  • 13. Below, achievement of liberties.
  • 14. Pipe R. 1171 (P.R.S. xvi), 84, 87–8; 1172 (P.R.S. xviii), 119, 122.
  • 15. Ibid. 1190 (P.R.S. N.S. i), 4, 53; 1193 (P.R.S. N.S. iii), 148.
  • 16. Below, achievement of liberties.
  • 17. T. D. Hardy, Description of the Patent Rolls (and) Itin. of King John (Rec. Com.), passim.
  • 18. Rot. Litt. Claus. (Rec. Com.), i. 360.
  • 19. 'Itin. of Hen. III' (1923, TS. at P.R.O.).
  • 20. e.g. Rot. Litt. Claus. (Rec. Com.), i. 359; ii. 91; Close R. 1237–42, 57; 1247–51, 476.
  • 21. Powicke, 13th Cent. 53–4, 58, 60, 398; Close R. 1237–42, 437.
  • 22. Cal. Lib. 1226–40, 115.
  • 23. Ibid. 1245–51, 67, 104
  • 24. Close R. 1231–4, 317, 542.
  • 25. Metrical Chron. of Rob. of Glouc. (Rolls Ser.), ii. 736–8.
  • 26. Glos. R.O., D 4431 (no. 24006).
  • 27. Close R. 1261–4, 374.
  • 28. Metrical Chron. of Rob. of Glouc. ii. 740–6.
  • 29. Powicke, 13th Cent. 199–202.
  • 30. Close R. 1264–8, 200–1.
  • 31. Ibid. 1268–72, 217.
  • 32. Itin. of Edw. I' (1935, TS. at P.R.O.); 'Itin. of Edw. II' (n.d., TS. at P.R.O.).
  • 33. Statutes at Large, i. 64.
  • 34. Cal. Pat. 1232–47, 394; 1272–81, 27; 1281–92, 444.
  • 35. Ibid. 1292–1301, 452; cf. ibid. 1317–21, 1.
  • 36. Ibid. 1330–4, 6, 43; Cal. Inq. p.m. x, pp. 478–9.
  • 37. Cal. Pat. 1381–5, 126; 1385–9, 55, 519.
  • 38. Ibid. 1401–5, 234.
  • 39. Ibid. 1307–13, 480, 484.
  • 40. Glouc. Corp. Rec. p. 11.
  • 41. Cal. Close, 1318–23, 364.
  • 42. R. F. Butler, 'The Last of the Brimpsfield Giffards and the Rising of 1321–2', Trans. B.G.A.S.. lxxvi. 83–90.
  • 43. Cal. Pat. 1321–4, 79; cf. below, trade and ind. 1066– 1327.
  • 44. Cal. Close, 1318–23, 460.
  • 45. Below, Bailiffs of Glouc. 1200–1483.
  • 46. Cal. Pat. 1321–4, 214.
  • 47. Cal. Close, 1323–7, 651; McKisack, 14th cent. (1959), 85.
  • 48. Hist. & Cart. Mon. Glouc. i. 44–5.
  • 49. G.B.R., I 1/22.
  • 50. Cal. Pat. 1327–30, 69; 1330–4, 6.
  • 51. Hist. & Cart. Mon. Glouc. i. 52–4; Cal. Close, 1377–81, 216.
  • 52. Cal. Pat. 1401–5, 440.
  • 53. Ibid 1461–7, 197. The farm was back in the king's hand by 1465: ibid. 467; Cal. Close, 1461–8 345.
  • 54. Cal. Pat. 1461–7, 15; 1467–77, 183, 465; Cal. Close, 1468–76, p. 185.
  • 55. Historie of the Arrival of Edw. IV in Eng. (Camd. Soc. [1st ser.], i), 26–7.
  • 56. G.B.R., I 1/22; cf. P.R.O., C 81/1392, m.2.
  • 57. Glouc. Corp. Rec. p. 19; cf. ibid. pp. 61–2.
  • 58. G.B.R., B 2/1, ff. 119, 120v.–122.