The Magna Carta Project

John negotiates with the Pope and archbishop Langton

by Professor Nicholas Vincent

24 May 1215 - 30 May 1215


23-24 May 1215

Reading (Berkshire)

RLP, 138

24-25 May 1215

Odiham (Hampshire)

RLP, 138

25 May 1215

Farnham (Surrey)

RLP, 138b

26-28 May 1215

Reading (Berkshire)

RLP, 138b, 141b-2; RLC, i, 213b

28-30 May 1215

Odiham (Hampshire)

RC, 209b; RLP, 142; RLC, i, 213b-14, 268b; Foedera, 129

Odiham Castle

Odiham Castle

The present week saw the King travel between Reading, Odiham and the bishop of Winchester's castle at Farnham, tramping backwards and forwards across a distance of only 20 miles. He spent the morning of Thursday 28 May, the feast of the Ascension, at Reading. There he took possession from the Templars of the regalia ('magnum regale'), once the property of his grandmother, the Empress Matilda, no doubt intended for use in the Ascension day Mass, in normal circumstances a triumphant celebration of Christ's victory over death.1 In the words of Venantius Fortunatus' anthem sung in procession this day, 'Light, firmament, fields and sea, justly praise the God that defeats the laws of death and rises above the stars'.2 However festive external appearances here, the King's movements rather confirm the claims of the chronicler, Ralph of Coggeshall, that John was so terrified by the rebel seizure of London that he dared travel no further eastwards than Windsor.3

Two items of business loomed large. The first was the continued summons to foreign mercenaries, to whom messages were sent on Sunday 24 May and thereafter throughout the week, asking that they attend the commands of Hubert de Burgh, Philip d'Aubigny and William Brewer, having obtained letters from their ports of arrival stating the time and place of their landing.4 The intention was presumably to ensure that such men were properly paid. The letters that they were expected to obtain nonetheless supply an interesting insight into the already established passport system. The second concern was to broker peace with the rebels.  On Monday 25 May, safe conducts were issued for Saher de Quincy to aproach the King before the following Sunday.5 On the same day, the King wrote to William Malet and Robert fitz Pain asking that they come to him within the following week so that they might withdraw from the 'oath and confederacy made against us' ('retrahentes vos a sacramento et confederatione contra nos factis'). Should they do so, they were promised (in slightly menacing language) they would be deemed 'not so far to have offended against us that you might (not), if you wish, be reconciled to our grace'.6 On Wednesday 27 May, John fitz Hugh, Fawkes de Breauté, Walerand Teutonicus and Hugh de Boves, the King's military commanders, were ordered to observe whatever truces Archbishop Langton might inform them had been made between King and barons.7 That same day we receive our first indication that Runnymede would shortly serve as the focus of negotiations, with a grant of safe conduct to Archbishop Langton and 'all those that he is bringing with him to Staines to discuss peace between us and our barons'.8 Staines, on the north bank of the Thames, was chosen both because it was convenient for negotiations between the King at Windsor and the barons in London, and because its bridge (probably a feature since Roman times) allowed easy communication between the Middlesex and the Surrey/Berkshire sides of the river.9 As a manor belonging to the abbots of Westminster, it was also a relatively neutral locality placed under the protection of the Church.10

Meanwhile, a state of war prevailed. That it was officially and in legal terms considered 'war' is suggested both by a rubric inserted in the chancery Close Roll, ('terra data in guerra') next to a letter dealing with the grant to Savaric de Mauléon of estates confiscated from the rebel, Geoffrey de Mandeville (at Petersfield and Mapledurham), and in an instruction that Savaric was to have both the cattle and the 'tenseria' taken from land formerly in his custody at Cranborne in Dorset.11 'Tenseria' was a term generally reserved for coercive wartime payments taken from an enemy's estates. Such payments had been employed as a major incentive to invite Flemish mercenaries to England, in the 1140s, during the civil war of King Stephen's reign, as now in 1215.12 In the present week, besides the orders involving Savaric de Mauléon, we find confiscated chattels being used to reward the schoolmaster of Richard, the King's youngest son.13 The newly appointed sheriff of Cornwall, Robert de Cardinan, was ordered to enquire into the allegiance of Hugh de Beauchamp. If Hugh had joined the King's enemies, then his lands were to be given to Hasculf de Subligny.14

Significant but otherwise unreported military summonses had been issued to the King's men to attend in arms both at Marlborough on Tuesday 26 May, and at Reading. Knights who answered these summonses were now instructed to search out the King between Odiham and Farnham, obeying the instructions of Henry de Pont Audemer and John de Turri.15 Elsewhere, the castle at Bridgnorth was entrusted to Robert de Courtenay.16 Cash was delivered for the defence of Winchester, Devizes and Marlborough, and from Marlborough sent on to Peter des Roches, Pain the Lombard and Robert de Cardinan.17 Instructions were issued that the Queen, now at Marlborough, was to be supplied each Friday and Saturday with roach and small pike.18 At Berkhamsted, Walerand Teutonicus was told to grant the Flemish mercenary, Hugh de Boves, keys both to the castle keep and to the outer bailey.19 In confirmation of the visit to England, anticipated in the previous week by Robert de Dreux, Peter de Maulay was instructed that should Robert land in the west country, he should be permitted to enter the hall and tower of Corfe Castle, perhaps to speak with Peter's state prisoner, the King's niece, Eleanor of Brittany. Should Robert wish to 'refresh himself or take recreation' ('se refocilland(um) et recreandum'), he should be allowed to stay in the town of Corfe.20 In the far north, the prior of Carlisle was granted custody of the vacant bishopric of Carlisle, and two of the more valuable of the bishopric's churches were conferred upon royal clerks.21 At Durham, Philip of Oldcotes was ordered to release a prisoner for whom William Marshal offered securities.22


An archbishop, c.1200, BL Royal 2 A XXII f.221

Finally, but most significantly, this week supplies detailed evidence of the King's ongoing negotiations both with the Pope and (closely related to these) with Archbishop Langton. Writing to the Pope on Friday 29 May, the King furnished a detailed (and less than frank) account of negotiations between himself and the barons, covering the period since the publication of the Pope's letters of 19 March calling upon the archbishop and bishops to broker a peace settlement. This report was itself inspired by the arrival at John's court, on 29 May, of William, an official of the papal chancery, almost certainly bearing papal letters of April 1215 congratulating the King on his vows as a crusader and asking that he send firm plans for his forthcoming expedition to the Holy Land.23 The King's inclination throughout his report was to blame Langton and the bishops, excepting from his criticism only the Italians, Simon of Apulia bishop of Exeter, and Master Pandulf. Langton and the bishops, John claimed, had refused to impose the sentence of excommunication that the Pope had commanded against the rebels, even when John himself agreed to send home the 'great body' of mercenaries and foreigners that he had summoned to his aid. Likewise, the barons had rejected the King's offers of 9-10 May, directly inspired by the papal proposals of 19 March, to submit his differences with them to arbitration by a committee of four representatives from each side, with the Pope at its head. Humbling himself yet further, and in accordance with the Pope's instructions of March, the King had even offered the barons judgment 'by consideration of their peers'. This too they had refused.

As a result, far from being able to report to the Pope on the progress and projected route of his forthcoming Crusade, the King was so 'afflicted by the perverse disturbances of the aforesaid barons' that he could offer no firm assurances as to his crusading. In the presence of William of the papal chamber, and the bishops of Worcester and Coventry, presumably on 29 May itself, the King had once again offered the barons that he would accept the Pope as arbiter. This also had been rejected.24 Taken in conjunction with what else we know of negotiations during the present week, the implication must be that the King's latest proposal for peace was put either to Saher de Quincy, who had been invited to court after 25 May, or via Archbishop Langton during the parley at Staines arranged on 27 May.25 Whatever the precise date of these discussions, once again the barons rejected all proposals from King and Pope. What is especially remarkable here is that the chief cause of this new baronial self-confidence, the fall of the city of London to the barons on 17 May, is nowhere mentioned in the King's letters to the Pope

Rochester Castle

Rochester Castle, in an engraving by H. Adlard after G. F. Sargent, c. 1836

Meanwhile, on Monday 25 May, from the bishop of Winchester's castle at Farnham, the King had sought to communicate directly with Archbishop Langton. The subject of his letters was once again the status and custody of Rochester Castle. On 25 May, William of Cornhill, bishop of Coventry, was commanded to go to Rochester with whatever haste he could muster, 'by day and by night', to ensure that the King's men, Hubert de Burgh and Philip d'Aubigny, were admitted to the castle. Bishop William was reminded of the service that he himself had rendered as keeper of Rochester, during his time as archdeacon of Huntingdon (after 1207).26 If unable to obtain entry for the King's men, he was to bring them back with him, under safe custody, to the King, now established at Odiham.27 The choice of William of Cornhill for this mission is explained by the fact that William was the cousin, or perhaps even the brother, of Reginald of Cornhill who for the past few years had served as a constable of Rochester, acting there as proxy for Archbishop Langton.28 On the same day that he wrote to William, the King sent a remarkable letter to Langton, worth translating in full:

'The King to the lord archbishop of Canterbury etc. You will recall, we believe, how, by your licence and wish, we committed the keeping of Rochester Castle to our faithful Reginald of Cornhill. He swore that he would restore that castle to you, by our wish, at Easter in our sixteenth year (19 April 1215). Afterwards, it was agreed between us, as you know, that this castle should remain in Reginald's custody to the Easter (10 April 1216) following the general council to be held in Rome, when it would be restored to you. Since therefore we have need of that castle at present, we are led devoutly to beg your paternity, asking assiduously that you may choose to command the aforesaid Reginald that, without difficulty, he release that castle to those of our faithful men whom we are sending to you, and they will grant you a security to restore the aforesaid castle to you, without difficulty, at the aforesaid term, namely at Easter next after the general council, or before this if peace should be re-established in our land. Therefore we ask that meanwhile this castle remain under your protection, so that by it no evil or harm can come to us or our realm. And in testimony of this, we have sent you these present letters patent, wishing that which our aforesaid faithful men offer you, both over the security and over restoring the aforesaid castle to you at the said term shall be firm and established. We ask, however, that, should it please you, you inform us by letter of your wishes, rapidly, and via the bearers of the present letters. Witnessed myself at Farnham, 25 May, in the sixteenth year of our reign'29

The transactions referred to here are those already noticed above, including that by which, in August 1214, Reginald of Cornhill had been confirmed by Langton as constable of Rochester for a term set to end a fortnight after Easter 1215 (i.e. 3 May 1215).30 The King's letters of 25 May carry this story a stage further by reporting a subsequent agreement, apparently reached with Langton before 3 May, whereby Reginald's hold on the castle had been extended to the Easter after the General Council. The Council had first been summoned in April 1213 to convene at the Lateran in Rome on 1 November, so Reginald's custody was hereby confirmed to Easter (10 April) 1216.31 Ifor Rowlands, the principal modern commentator on these arrangements, refers to the 'restrained and courteous tone' of the King's letters of 25 May.32 As the translation above should make clear, they are not so much 'restrained' as cringingly polite. What is even more remarkable, and despite the King's anxiety that Reginald of Cornhill was no longer a reliable royal servant, there is no evidence that Langton made any attempt to comply with the King's demands. In due course, the archbishop's failure to secure the delivery of Rochester Castle was to prove not only a principal cause for the renewal of civil war, but one of the signs of disloyalty that branded Langton in the King's eyes as 'a notorious and manifest traitor'.33 In the meantime, it is clear that the King had already identified Rochester Castle as a resource vital to communications between the rebels in London and their potential allies in France.


RLP, 142.


The Sarum Missal: Edited from Three Early Manuscripts, ed. J. Wickham Legg (Oxford, 1916), 155, from the hymn 'Salve festa dies'.


Radulphi de Coggeshall Chronicon Anglicanum, ed. J. Stevenson (Rolls ser., 1875), 171-2, translated in the Feature of the Month: N. C. Vincent, 'Feature of the Month: May 2015 - The Rebel Seizure of London, 17 May 1215'. For the composition of the court during this week, we have evidence that John was attended on 29 May at Odiham by Master Pandulf, the Pope's representative in England, and by the bishop of Exeter: RLP, 138b. The only charter surviving from this week, dated at Odiham on 30 May, was witnessed by Peter des Roches, bishop of Winchester, William Marshal, William de St John, Richard de Canville, Thomas and Alan Basset, Hasculf de Subligny, James and Geoffrey de Caux, Ralph de Raleigh, and the chancellor, Richard Marsh: RC, 209b.


RLP, 138, 139, 141b, including specific safe conducts for Simon de Furnes and his men.


RLP, 138b.


RLP, 138b, 'Quoniam si ad seruicium nostrum fideliter venire volueritis et in fide nobis seruire, non estis adhuc in tanto erga nos transgressi quin gratie nostre si bene volueritis poteritis reconciliari'.


RLP, 142.


RLP, 142.


VCH Middlesex, iii, 13-16, and for timber repairs to the bridge in 1222, RLC, i, 498.


VCH Middlesex, iii, 18.


RLC, i, 213b. At the same time, the men of Poitou, Angoulême and Gascony were instructed to accept the coin that Savaric minted, at the same value and on the same terms as the money of Poitiers: RLP, 141b, in accordance with a privilege first granted by charter in September 1214: RC, 201.


T.N. Bisson, 'The Lure of Stephen's England: "Tenserie", Flemings, and a Crisis of Circumstance', King Stephen's Reign 1135-1154, ed. P. Dalton and G.J. White (Woodbridge, 2008), 171-81.


RLC, i, 213b.


RLC, i, 213b, and for Robert's appointment as sheriff and constable of Launceston, RLP, 142. Hasculf was himself in attendance on the King at Odiham, on 30 May: RC, 209b, where his name is given as 'Arkulf de Suleny'.


RLP, 138b.


RLP, 138.


RLP, 141b-2; RLC, i, 213b.


RLC, i, 213b.


RLP, 142.


RLP, 138b, and for Robert's projected visit, see King John’s Diary and Itinerary for 17-23 May.


RLP, 138b, 142, including the presentation of Gerhod de Rodes (for whom, see also RLP, 99b) to Melbourne, and Ralph de Neville to Penrith.


RLP, 142.


William's arrival is reported in the letters of 29 May, below. For the papal letters of April, including congratulations to John (TNA SC 1/1/14) and letters to the barons, 1 April 1215, demanding that they pay the scutage required by the King (TNA SC 7/19/15), see Selected Letters of Pope Innocent III concerning England (1198-1216), ed. C.R. Cheney and W. H. Semple (London, 1953), 202-6 nos 77-9; he Letters of Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) concerning England and Wales: a calendar with an appendix of texts, ed. C. R. Cheney and M. G. Cheney (Oxford, 1967), nos 1009, 1020, 1020a. William 'de camera' is perhaps the William 'cursor' on whose behalf Innocent III obtained provision from the monks of Canterbury: C. R. Cheney, Pope Innocent III and England (Stuttgart, 1976), 95 n.76, citing Canterbury Cathedral Archives, Chartae Antiquae P53, a settlement of 6 October 1236, devised by John of Ferentino papal chamberlain and archdeacon of Norwich, following Gregory IX's attempts to confer the 'provisio' previously enjoyed by William the courier ('cursor') upon Gregory of Anagni, servant of Pope Gregory's nephew Matteo.


For all of this, see the King's letters of 29 May, printed from an inferior copy, in Foedera, 129, newly edited and translated as a Feature of the Month: N. C. Vincent, 'Feature of the Month: May 2015 - The Papal Letters of 19 March and their Reception in England (May 1215) ',  no.7.


As noted above during the present week's diary.


For William's appointment as archdeacon, 30 June 1207, see RLP, 73b; J. Le Neve, Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066-1300, ed. D. E.  Greenway (London, 1999), iii (Lincoln), 28.


RLP, 138b.


M. J. Franklin, ‘Cornhill, William of (d. 1223)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004) [, accessed 22 May 2015].


RLP, 138b: ' Rex etc domino Cant' archiepiscopo etc. Satis recolit prudencia vestra ut credimus qualiter de licencia et voluntate vestra commisimus fideli nostro Regin(aldo) de Cornhull' castr(um) Roff' custodiend(um). Qui iurauit quod vob(is) castr(um) illud redderet de voluntate nostra ad Pasch(a) ann(o) regni nostri Postea conuenit inter nos sic(ut) scitis quod castr(um) illud remaneret in custodia ipsius Regin(aldi) usque ad Pasch(am) proximum post concilium generale Rom' et tunc vob(is) redderetur. Cum igitur ad presens castro illo indigeamus, paternitati vestre duximus deuote supplicand(um) rogantes attencius quatinus precipere velitis predicto Regin(aldo) quod castrum illud sine difficultate liberet fidelibus nostris quos ad vos mittimus, qui quidem securitatem vob(is) facient quod castrum illud predictum vob(is) reddent sine difficultate ad predictum terminum videlicet ad proximum Pasch(am) post generale concilium vel prius si pax in terra nostra fuerit reformata. Rogamus etiam vos ut castrum illud interim sub protectione vestra consistat, ita quod per illud nullum malum vel dampnum nob(is) vel regno nostro eueniat. Et in huius rei t(estimonium) h(as) l(itteras) n(ostras) p(atentes) vob(is) mittimus, volentes quod firmum sit et stabile quod predicti fideles nostri vob(is) facient tam de securitate facienda quam de castro predicto ad predictum terminum vob(is) reddend(um). Petimus autem super hiis vestre beneplacitum voluntatis nob(is) litteratorie si placet sub celeritate significari per presencium latores. T(este) me ipso apud Fernham, xxv. die Maii, ann(o) r(egni) n(ostri)'


See King John’s Diary and Itinerary 23-29 November, citing London, Lambeth Palace Library ms. 1212 (Archbishopric cartulary) fo.13r (p.23), covering Reginald's appointment as constable in August 1213 and the renewal to a fortnight after Easter 1215, negotiated with Langton's steward, Master Elias of Dereham, on 17 August 1214, whence the study by I.F. Rowlands, 'King John, Stephen Langton and Rochester Castle, 1213-15', Studies in Medieval History Presented to R. Allen Brown, ed. C. Harper-Bill and others (Woodbridge, 1989), 267-280, esp. pp.270-2.


Cheney, Innocent III and England, 43; Selected Letters of Innocent III, ed. Cheney and Semple, 144-7 no.51.


Rowlands, 'King John, Stephen Langton and Rochester Castle', 272.


Rowlands, 'King John, Stephen Langton and Rochester Castle', 273-6, here citing the King's words from the letter printed by V.H. Galbraith, Studies in the Public Records (London, 1948), 161-2 ('proditor nostri notorius est et manifestus').

King John's Diary & Itinerary