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Roger Rye of Canterbury & Eythorne (died c1425)

Roger Rye’s background is obscure, although it would appear that he came from Dover and that he had legal training and was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in London. In some documents his name is spelt Reye. His legal clientele were mainly drawn from the gentry of Kent. He had also been employed as legal counsel by the city of Canterbury in 1410 in a dispute between the civic authorities and St. Augustine’s monastery. From then on until his death the citizens retained him with an annual fee of £2 and a furred robe. He was associated with John Monyn in 1392 in the completion of a grant of certain properties to the local priory of St. Martin. John Monyn was MP for Dover at various dates between 1379-1399 and MP for Canterbury in 1419. He also held the position of Mayor of Dover or Mayor of Canterbury at various dates between 1372 to 1404.
According to “The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1386-1421”, (ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawlcliffe, Published 1993), Roger Rye “initially held little or no landed property by inheritance“. It goes on to say, however, that quite early on in his career “he purchased the manor of Eythorne together with the advowson of the church and land in Kingston, Nonington and elsewhere, although it seems to have been to marriage that he owed possession of other holdings in Stalisfield“.
Whilst Roger Rye may have possessed Eythorne Manor, it seems improbable that he actually owned it as such and, apart from the “History of Parliament“, I can find no other reference for ownership. Due to the fragmented nature of land ownership at these times, however, it is impossible to be absolutely certain that Rye didn’t own at least part of it. We know that the majority of Eythorne Manor was held by Sir William Halden from 1382 and that on his death in 1386 it passed to Sir William de Guildford who was married to William Halden’s granddaughter, Joan. William de Guildford died in 1394 and his estates passed to his son Edward Guildford. It is unlikely that either William De Guildford or his son actually occupied Eythorne Manor after William Halden died as their family home was Halden Manor in Rolvenden. Halden Manor William De Guildford gained on his marriage to Joan Halden and into which he put much effort into improving. Hence from about 1386 to until 1428, when Edward Guildford released it to “Sir Walter Hungerford, William Darell, Thomas Browne, to the use of Thomas Browne”, it was available as a tenancy. It is believed therefore that Roger Rye occupied Eythorne Manor as a tenant (that is leased it). The fact that he was renting is supported by events.
Either Roger Rye, or his wife Margery (married before June 1414) were related to the prominent East Kent mercantile family of Tonge, with which they were often associated. In 1406 Rye provided securities in Chancery for Richard Tonge, defendant in a suit for debt; two years later he witnessed a deed regarding the Tonge estates; and in 1414 he was named as an executor by Seman Tonge of Faversham, who left him a bequest of ten marks and his wife another of £1. Subsequently, in 1415 Seman’s daughter Isabel, wife of Henry Pay, transferred to Rye her reversionary interest in certain lands in Stalisfield, which Maud, wife of Roger Massy, (also known as Roger le Massy) esquire, was holding for life. Henry Pay (also spelt Paye) was a privateer and smuggler from Poole, Dorset who became a commander in the Cinque Ports fleet. He died in 1419 and was buried in the parish church at Faversham, where under the name of ‘Henry Pay, Armiger’, his death is recorded by a monumental brass. Armiger means esquire, in Latin: a title of a gentleman of the rank immediately below a knight.
Before long a conflict of interests led to a violent quarrel between Rye and Massy. In June 1416 the latter was bound over in £100 to cease molesting Rye and to appear in the King’s bench to answer charges. However, a few years later Roger Rye himself was the plaintiff in a suit in Chancery, alleging that an annuity of 20 marks which Rye had been supposed to pay Massy’s wife, throughout her lifetime, had fallen into arrear.
It would seem there continued to be issues between Rye and Massy as there is a record of pleadings addressed to the Bishop of Durham as Lord Chancellor on the subject of “Rent from the manor and advowson of Eythorne (Eghethorne), with lands in Eythorne, Kingston, Barham (Berham), Nonington, Ash (Esshe), Preston? (Presde), Wingham, Staple, Barfrestone (Berfreyston), Woodnesborough (Wodenesberg), Goodnestone (Godwynston), and Adisham. Kent”. The Plaintiff is Roger Massy and the defendant is Roger Rye who presumably has failed to pay the rent. This confirms Rye is renting Eythorne, apparently from Massy but he may also who have had an arrangement with the Guildford family depending on how the estate was fragmented in ownership. The date of the pleading is 1406-1407, or 1417-1424.
Pleadings mark the beginning of a law suit. Anyone wishing to start a suit in Chancery would get a lawyer to draw up a formal ‘bill of complaint’ to submit to the Lord Chancellor – this was also known as a ‘pleading’ and is sometimes referred to as a ‘petition’. It would set out the offences of the defendant. It needed to claim that because of the plaintiff’s lack of resources and power, or some other factor, the common law courts could not deliver them justice. An equitable solution was therefore asked of the Lord Chancellor.
Whereas Roger Rye had a legal background, Roger Massy was a soldier and one of some importance. On 11 September 1412, Sir Ralph Rocheford was given custody of the strategically important castle of Hammes (Pas de Calais, France) by Henry IV. The following year on 15 October 1413, “protection was granted to Roger Massy who was in the retinue of Ralph Rochefort, knight”. Sir Ralph Rocheford was a close aide to Henry IV, a leading knight of the Lancastrian period, and a mentor and guardian to the young Henry VI. Letters of Protection were legal instruments which contain the names of men who were planning to enlist for military service abroad, to protect their interests while they were away from home and protect them from prosecution while they were abroad. It was mainly soldiers of a higher rank which took out Protections. Hence on 24 October 1413 – “Protection to Ralph Rochefort, knight, governor of Hammes castle, Picardy, in the retinue of the King.” was taken out. It is recorded that Roger Massy did actually join Sir Ralph Rocheford in Hammes Castle along with several other trusted retainers and was certainly present by November 1414.
By June 1414 Roger Rye was in the employment of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry Chichele (1414-1443) and had been appointed Archbishop Chichele‘s bailiff of the Manor of Wingham. A bailiff of a manor, would oversee the manor’s lands and buildings, collect its rents, manage its accounts, and run its farms as well as be the officer executing the legal decisions of manorial courts, and the hundred courts. Chichele had attended the University of Oxford and was legally trained and so he would have valued Roger Rye’s legal training. In his capacity as Archbishop, Chichele remained what he had always been chiefly, the lawyer and diplomatist. He is buried in Canterbury Cathedral, in a “cadaver tomb”. The inscription on the tomb reads “I was pauper-born, then to primate raised. Now I am cut down and served up for worms. Behold my grave” (see picture).
In Easter 1419 Roger Rye was elevated to the position of Steward of the Archbishop’s Liberty and acted as one of the archbishops feoffees (a trustee who holds a fief (or “fee”), that is to say an estate in land, for the use of a beneficial owner. A liberty was an English unit originating in the Middle Ages, traditionally defined as an area in which regalian (monarchs) right was revoked and where the land was held by a mesne lord (i.e. an area in which rights reserved to the king had been devolved into private hands). It later became a unit of local government administration. Liberties were areas of widely variable extent which were independent of the usual system of hundreds and boroughs for a number of different reasons, usually to do with peculiarities of tenure. Because of their tenurial rather than geographical origin, the areas covered by liberties could either be widely scattered across a county or limited to an area smaller than a single parish. The liberty was governed by a high steward and justices of the peace, appointed by the Archbishop. Stewards of the liberty may often have been professional administrators which is how one could consider Roger Rye to be. It can be seen from various contemporary documents that Roger Rye was involved in land transactions throughout England in his role. In the years 1417-19 Rye acted as a trustee of various properties with which, eventually, Archbishop Chichele was to endow All Souls College, Oxford; and he was often recorded in attendance on the archbishop, sometimes in his palace at Canterbury, and on other occasions in his mansion at Lambeth.
This connection probably promoted him into county office: he was MP for Kent in 1417, three years after he first appears as the archbishop’s servant. Rye was apparently only returned to Parliament the one time. He is known to have twice attended the parliamentary elections held at Rochester in 1407 and 1419. Rye’s position as MP is somewhat unusual for a steward of the liberty. Rye was MP for Kent at around the same time as others involved in the Eythorne history such as William Bettenham (MP in 1386 (along with Geoffrey Chaucer) and 1388), John Darell (1407, 1413, 1414, 1417) and Edward Guildford (1419). Darrell and Rye would have known each other well as Darell was (1417) was Steward of the Archbishop’s Estates and—if not already, then soon to become—husband of his niece Florence Chichele, who John Darrell married in 1418. Like Bettenham and Rye, Darell was also legally trained. There is thus a close kinship that existed between various of the parliamentary representatives of this period
Such was the influence which his post as Steward gave him, that his detractor, Roger Massy, asserted that no redress was to be had against him in the common lawcourts in Kent, he being such an ‘oppressor et meigntenor et ad tiel affinite parmy le pays’. The language here appears to be Old French and my best guess at translation is “oppressor and ?? and hath such relationships among the country“. That is Roger Rye is an oppressor but he is well connected. I can find no for the word meigntenor.
Rye was admitted to the fraternity of Christ Church Cathedral Priory, Canterbury, on 19 May 1425. In his will, made on 21 Sept. following, he asked to be buried wheresoever it pleased the Holy Trinity; but his bequests especially favoured the parish churches of All Saints, Canterbury, and Stalisfield (including 20 marks towards building the latter’s nave), and he left instructions that a bowl was to be made into a chalice, ornamented with his shield of arms, for presentation to the church at Charing. The sum of £16 13s. 4d.was set aside to pay for 2,000 masses to be said within a month of his death, for the welfare of his own soul and the souls of his parents and Seman Tonge. Each of his godsons bearing his name was to receive £1. Rye died before 2 December, the date of probate. He seems to have been unfortunate in his choice of executors (John Seintcler, Richard Sentcler, William Chilton and Wm. Barbour) for two lawsuits were subsequently brought against them in Chancery. His predecessor as steward of the archiepiscopal liberty alleged that they had neglected to pay him £49 still owing from when Rye had first taken over the post; and Rye’s widow, fearing that his soul was in peril as a result of the executors’ failings, claimed that they had refused both to hand over to her the sum of 100 marks to fulfil his testamentary provisions and to pay her a debt of £20. The widow also had to resort to petitioning the chancellor for redress when Rye’s feoffees declined not only to grant her seisin (the legal possession of the land) of certain lands in Stalisfield, but also to assign her an annual rent of 20 marks.
For example the case, Rye v Seintcler, date 1426-1432;
Plaintiffs: Margery, late the wife of Roger Rye, of co. Kent.
Defendants: John Seintcler, William Barbour, Richard Seintcler, and William Chilton, executors, and Richard P … and Alexander Charleton, feoffees of the said Roger Rye.
Subject: Lands, etc in Stalisfield, goods, etc. Kent
Date 1426-1432
None of the legal cases started by Roger Rye’s widow concern Eythorne Manor which again suggest non-ownership by Roger Rye and hence something he could not bequeath to his widow. Left elderly and impoverished, Roger Rye’s wife, Margery, survived him by seven years or more.

Vince Croud

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