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Thomas Holbem and Robert Dane

Feet of Fines are court copies of agreements following disputes over property. In reality, the disputes were mostly fictitious and were simply a way of having the transfer of ownership of land recorded officially by the King’s Court. They are a good source of information on land transactions and provide information on land ownership in Eythorne in the 14th and 15th centuries. The documents are obviously handwritten and mainly in Latin. It is not clear to what extent either names or places have been “Latinised” by the scribe. We are, as always, at the mercy of the original transcriber as to what he considers the words actually are.
The agreements were normally written out three times on a single sheet of parchment – two copies side by side and one copy across the bottom (the foot) of the sheet, separated by an indented or wavy line. The purchaser kept one copy, the seller the other and the final copy – ‘the foot of the fine’ – was kept by the King’s Court as a central record of the conveyance (the “Feet of Fines”). Using one piece of parchment separated in this way gave protection against fraud or forgery as only the genuine copies would fit together.
The conveyance took the form of the record of a fictitious lawsuit, compromised or terminated by the acknowledgment of the existing owner (known as the deforciant (D), impedient or tenant, depending on the original writ used to levy the fine) that the land in question was the rightful property of the claimant (the plaintiff, querent (Q) or demandant). In reality, the deforciant had already agreed to sell the land, and the plaintiff to buy it. The suit was a collusive action to ensure the “levying of a fine” between the two parties.
In all actions like this, before the court could render judgment, and typically on the same day the writ was returned, the parties would seek leave of the court to compromise, and then do so on terms where the deforciant admitted the new ownership. A fine was said to be “levied”.
The following are records in the Kent Feet of Fines for Richard II (1377-1399) concerning Eythorne. The dating is in the form of the year being recorded as the number of years into the monarch’s reign (the regnal year). The time during that year that the conveyance took place uses the four law terms, namely Hilary, Easter, Trinity, or Michaelmas. The terms were further subdivided into octaves (eight days). For example, for Trinity Term the Octaves are; the Octave of Trinity, the Quindene of Trinity, the Morrow of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist and the Quindene of the same feast.
Such was the practice at Westminster. In the country, however, final concords were to be levied before the justices “in eyre.” In Medieval England, justices in eyre were groups of itinerant (that is, journeying) judges, who brought the King’s Law into the six circuits, or eyres, they served.
Since it would have been inconvenient always to confine the proceedings to the usual return (term)-days, the practice was to make the writs returnable ‘at the coming of the justices into those parts.’ Since the justices in eyre often sat in vacation, the dates of some of the concords are out of term-time, as for instance, three weeks, or one month from the Purification of the blessed Virgin, three weeks from the Nativity of the Baptist, three weeks or a month from St. Martin.
The property description is formal and not intended for use as a detailed guide to property boundaries. The sum of money given is, by the 14th century, no longer the actual purchase price but a guide price to the value of the property on the open market. Documents concerning a final agreement (concord) always begin ‘Hec est finalis Concordia’ – ‘This is the final agreement’.
The first document is for the reginal year 51 Edward III or I Richard II, which in both instances means the year 1377/8. It describes the sale by Thomas Holbem and his wife Maud (D = the seller) to Robert Dane (Q = the new owner);
Westminster 46 Trinity in 15 days 51 Edw. III; Morrow of St Martin (Michelmas term) 1 Richard II (is 1367) Q: John Dane [or Denne?], Robert his brother, Edmund Godwynston clerk, Richard Tonge chaplain and Henry Hemyng. D: Thomas Holbem and Maud his wife. Moiety of 220 acres land, 3 acres wood, 13s 4d rent and rent of [? one cock] and 18 hens in Eghethorne (Eythorne), Wymelyngwelde, (Wimlingswold or Womenswold) Kyngeston, (Kingston, Nr Aylesham), Berham (Barham), Nonynton (Nonington), Asshe (Ash), Staple, Berfreston (Barfrestone), Wodnisbergh (Woodnesborough), Godwynston (Goodnestone) and Adesham (Adisham) and quarter part of the manor of Eghethorne and moiety advowson of Eghethorne church. To hold (as to the moiety of tenements and advowson) to John, Robert, Edmund, Richard and the heirs of John. (As to the quarter manor held by William Halden for life with reversion to Thomas & Maud and the heirs of Maud) to John, Robert, Edmund, Richard and the heirs of John after the death of William. Warrant against the heirs of Maud. John, Robert, Edmund and Richard gave 100 marks”. A ‘mark’ was worth two-thirds of a pound, or 13s 4d. This was never a physical amount of money represented by a coin, but was a common amount used for accounting purposes.
The document indicates that one quarter part of Eythorne Manor is held by William Halden and will not revert to Robert Dane until after William’s death. As has been noted previously, medieval land holdings were more often than not very fragmented and the 220 acres held by the Holbem’s above is spread between 11 villages.
This is still at a time where surnames (and spelling) were not formalised and it’s not clear if the apparent surnames in the text are exactly that or are simply where the people lived. For example, Edmund Godwynston clerk may simply be a clerk called Edmund living in Godwynston (now known as Goodnestone) or he may be a member of the Godwinson family. Similarly, Tonge, as in Richard Tonge, is a village and manor near Sittingbourne. Thomas Holbem, is also mentioned in a document of the 50th year of Edward III (1376/7) and thus one might assume that Holbem is a surname and spelt as such.
Advowson is the right to nominate a person to be parish priest (subject to episcopal, that is the bishop’s approval). The right to do so was mainly held by the lord of the principal manor. Many small parishes only had one manor of the same name. A major impetus to this development was the legal exaction of agricultural tithes (one tenth of goods produced) specific to the support of churches and their clergy. Landowners needed to establish parish churches on their lands in order to retain tithe income within their estates. The mention of an advowson confirms that Eythorne has a manor that is owned and occupied by a lord.
The mention of the manor of Eythorne is important in determining the overall ownership of Eythorne as a community since the medieval manor, also known as vill from the Roman villa, was an agricultural estate. A manor was usually comprised of tracts of agricultural land, a village whose inhabitants worked that land, and a manor house where the lord who owned or controlled the estate lived. Manors might also have had woods, orchards, gardens, and lakes or ponds where fish could be found. On the manor lands, usually near the village, one could often find a mill, bakery, and blacksmith. Manors were largely self-sufficient. They generally ranged in size from 750 acres to 1,500 acres.
Chickens were valued for their eggs and seldom killed for the plate in the early medieval period. It was far more likely for poultry on the table to be in the form of geese or duck. The chickens most probably belonged to the manor whereas as other farm animals were owned by individuals such as peasants. The picture attached shows a page from a manuscript (The Luttrell Psalter) commissioned by a wealthy landowner, Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, in the first half of the 14th century with an illustration, at the base, of a women feeding chickens.
Richard Dane was a Mercer based in London. Mercers were merchants or traders who dealt in cloth, typically fine cloth that was not produced locally. He was active in the financial affairs of the City of London and hence a man of stature. In 1384 and again in 1386 he is given as a member of Common Council of the City of London for the Ward of Cordwainer (Street), London. The Common Council consisted of “worthy and substantial citizens” who assisted in deciding civic matters, particularly in regards to the finances of the Corporation. We know Robert Dane had a tenement (land) at about the corner of Bucklesbury Street and Walbrook (See Agas Map image for the area in 1561).
On Tuesday the Feast of St. Matthew [21 Sept.], 13 Richard II [A.D. 1389], Robert Dane, along with five others, was elected as an auditor of the accounts of the Chamberlain and Wardens of London Bridge. At this time, London Bridge was one of the four or five main shopping streets of the City, mainly containing the more prestigious trades. A survey of rents from 1358 reveals that there were sixty-two shops located on the east side and sixty-nine shops located on the west side of the bridge (see picture which is the Agas Map of 1561) all of which had a shop at the ground floor (see picture for what shopping on the bridge would have looked like). Hence, the accounts would have been of great importance to the city.
Approximately ten years later, in 1377/8, Thomas Holbem and his wife Maud disposed of further land holdings (farmland and woods) in Eythorne and surrounding villages, this time to Thomas de Grymesby but again to Richard Tonge. Thus;
“Trinity in 15 days, 1 Richard II (1377/8)Q: Thomas de Grymesby Clerk and Richard Tonge chaplain D: Thomas Holbeem and wife Maud 500 acres land 100 acres of wood 20s rent and rent of 1 cock 25 hens 100 eggs and ½ lb pepper in Stalesfeld (Stalisfield), Cherrynge (Charing), Westwelle (Westwell), Egethorne, Wymelyngewelde, Kyngeston, Bereham, Nonynton, Asshe, Staple, Berfreston, Wodenisbergh, Godwynston, Adesham and Little Chart To hold to Thomas de Grymesby and Richard and the heirs of Thomas. Warrant against the heirs of Maud. Thomas de Grymesby and Richard gave 100 marks”. The Tonge family again enter Eythorne history at a later date.
Finally in 1388/9, it would seem that Thomas Holdem and Maud dispose of, what is assumed to be, the last of their landholdings in the area;
“Octave of St [document torn away here] 12 Richard II (1388/9) Q: Robert Dane citizen and mercer of London [Cf 652] D: Thomas Holdem of Stalesfelde and wife Maud, Manor of Egthorne [Eythorne] and advowson of the church of the said manor, 200 acres land, 3 acres wood, 13s 4d rent and rent of 1 cocke and 18 hens in Egthorne, Kyngeston, Nonyngtone, Asshe, Stapule, Berfreston, Wodemesberghe, Godwynton and Adesham. To hold to Thomas and Maud for their lives of Robert and his heirs paying yearly a rose at the Nativity of St John Baptist. Reversion to Robert and his heirs.”
The last sentence is a bit hard to follow but seems to suggest that Thomas and Maud will retain the property for the rest of their lives but that it will revert to Robert and his heirs on their death i.e. Thomas and Maud cannot pass it on. In effect Robert Dane is know the owner and Lord of Eythorne Manor and its associated advowson of the Church, with Manor being as defined above, that is agricultural land, a Manor house, a village, woods, orchards etc). In addition, if we take the first and last documents together, we can reasonably conclude that the sole owner of Eythorne Manor before Robert Dane (i.e., before 1388/9) was Thomas Holdem of Stalisfield and his wife Maud.
“Paying yearly a rose” is payment of a token or symbolic rent of some. Its significance in terms of the land transfer above is unknown. The “Nativity of John the Baptist is a Christian feast day celebrating the birth of John the Baptist. It is observed annually on 24 June.
These are the first times we can clearly identify a single person “owning” Eythorne. We cannot however be certain where the Manor House was situated. The existing Eythorne Court Manor is stated by Historic England to be 15th Century in origin. Although significantly altered over the ensuing centuries it’s possible that Eythorne Court Manor is the site of the manor owned by Thomas Holbem and Robert Dane but that version was demolished.
Also at this time, Thomas Holbem and his wife sold land at Womenswold (that was omitted in the document above) to Richard Dane as in the following Feet of Fines document; “the Octave of [? Trinity80] 12 Richard II (1388/9) Q: Robert Dane citizen and mercer of London D: Thomas Holbem and wife Maud 80 acres land in Wymelyngweld. To hold to Robert and his heirs for ever paying yearly to Thomas and Maud for their lives 13s 4d at Michaelmas. Warrant against the heirs of Maud. Robert gave 20 marks.”. Robert Dane is having to pay a rent to Thomas and Maud for the duration of their lives however.
Hasted is fairly dismissive of Stalisfield in his “History and Topographical Survey of Kent, 1793” but I believe it had greater stature in medieval times and crops up again in Eythorne’s history later. From the dislocated position of the church to the current settlement, we could conclude that church served a manor that no longer survives and the village that should surround it may have been moved to its current position following the Plague (a number of villages were burnt down at this time as ‘pestilential air’ was considered to be the cause of the Plague). The above transactions are just after the Black Death, which ravaged England between 1348 and 1351, killing around forty-sixty percent of its population. An outbreak between 1361-1362 killed about 20%.
There would appear to have been a degree of bad blood between Robert Dane and Thomas Holbem as in 1388/9, Robert Dane, “citizen and mercer of London,” complained (in the Court of Chancery) that when he journeyed to Kent to survey some of his lands and tenements, he found that a certain Thomas Holbem had laid an ambush for him (at Eythorne) with “twenty archers and many other people,” who intended to kill him. Robert therefore asked the court to order Thomas to appear before them and find surety for the peace. The final stage in such a process appears to have been the proclamation of the grant of peace in court, and the outcome “sureties for peace 1388-1389” was recorded.

Vince Croud

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