Monday, July 25, 2016

Geoffrey de Besiles; ancestor of Gov. Thomas Dudley of Massachusetts Bay Colony

Geoffrey de Besiles was a second generation 'Englishman' whose grandfather, Macey Bezill, was one of numerous Anglo-Norman knights who curried the favor of the English king, looking for positions, land and power. Geoffrey's father was not the heir, but had married an heiress thereby acquiring her estate for their descendants. He, Geoffrey, was a minor when his father Mathias de Besilles died in 1295. He was born probably about 1285 based on testimony given at his mother's IPM. His mother was Elizabeth d' Avranches; her father, John, had died when she was only three. Her inheritance and her marriage were awarded to Emery Bezill, his father's uncle. Elizabeth and Mathias have only one documented child, Geoffrey. In 1315 Geoffrey's mother Elizabeth died, leaving her estates to him. He was said to be somewhere between 24 and 30 years of age at the time of her death.

inquistion ad quod damnum
England was still a feudal society when Geoffrey came into his inheritance. The land still belonged to the king, but two hundred or so years post conquest, the great baronial land holding had been chopped into smaller and smaller pieces. Each time the land was divided it resulted in a new level of over lordship. For instance, if Lord A granted land to Lord B, Lord A was the overlord of B. If B granted land to C, he became the overlord of C. This process was called subinfeudation. Each land holder owed service to his immediate overlord. The crown and the great baronial lords were not happy with the fractionalization of their medieval estates. It made it difficult to maintain control of their feudal rights, such as control of minors and their estates and marriages. 

Elizabeth d' Aranches had experienced first hand what happened when a father died leaving underage children. Geoffrey must have decided that this was not going to happen to his son, so he did what a lot of folks did back then, he employed a medieval loophole. In 1315 he "leased" his land at Bocland and Gamenefeld (Canefeld) to Almeric Fettiplace for 10 marks for ten years. [1] Ten marks, or one mark a year, was an absolute steal for Almeric. At the end of those then years however, the rent would skyrocket to 40 pounds a year, at which point Almeric had the option to drop the lease. 

Why would Geoffrey rent his land for practically nothing? What he was doing was protecting his son's inheritance. It is likely that his son Thomas would reach his majority by the time the 'lease' ran out, but if Geoffrey died in the mean time, his overlord, the king, could not take control of his son and his son's inheritance and marriage. 

Geoffrey employed a second method for protecting his son's inheritance of the manors of Brompton Regis and Radcote. In 1318 he applied to the crown for permission to alienate his land. He was granted a license to enfeoff his land to Robert de Walle who would immediately grant it back to Geoffrey and his wife. [2] The remainder would go to their heir. This meant that Robert de Walle was the 'straw' owner of the land and if Geoffrey died his overlord, in this case the King, would be unable to exploit his rights as lord. 

The crown had caught onto this type of subterfuge and had found a way to fight back. This was called an inquistion ad quod damnum. When Geoffrey applied to alienate his land, the application was reviewed by the escheator beyond Trent, Master Richard de Clare,  who determined the amount of money the crown would lose out on if it was unable to exercise their rights to wardship and marriage of minors. Ad quod damnum means 'appropriate to the harm'. The escheator assessed a fine of 100 shillings. [3]

In 1323 Geoffrey executed a second enfeoff. Again he granted his land to Robert de Walle, and added John de Erlestok to whom he granted his manor at Radcote. This was regranted to him and his wife and the remainder to his son Thomas. [4] This was a complicated business, but if not for these transactions we would know even less about these people.

beatrice or agnes
In the enfeoffeement dated 1318, Geoffrey's wife was identified as Agnes. In the 1323 document the mother of his heir Thomas was identified as Beatrice, daughter of Percival Simeon. In 1343 the widow of Geoffrey was identified as Agnes. It seems possible Geoffrey was married twice, Beatrice being his first wife and mother of his son Thomas. If this was the case, then she was dead by 1318 and Geoffrey was remarried to Agnes. But, in 1349 when Agnes died, Thomas was identified as her son in her IPM. Were Agnes and Beatrice the same woman? Quite possibly so. [5]

death of geoffrey 
Geoffrey was dead by 13 March 1339, the date of his IPM. His heir was identified as his son Thomas, aged 26 or more. [6] He was probably about 54 years old, a good age for the fourteenth century. In 1343 his widow Agnes was given permission to remarry. To whom we do not know. She lived for six more years, dying in 1349.

Does the year 1349 mean anything to you? It should. In 1349 the 'black death' reached England. Radcote was a an important trade stop; goods that traveled overland were transferred to the river Thames and vice versa, making it an easy target for the plague. Did Agnes died of this disease? It is certainly possible. By 1379 many of the small holdings on the manor of Radcote were abandoned, the tenants carried off by the plague. [7]


[1] National Archives, Ref. D/EBp/T64/3

[2] National Archives, Ref. C143/137/11, Calendar of the Patent Rolls Edward II

[3] Ibid, C143/137/11

[4]Calendar of the Patent Rolls Edward II

[5]  "The Bessilles Family of Gloucestershire," Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica and the British Archivist, vol. 5 (London: Mitchell, Hughes and Clark, 1923-1925) Archive ( : accessed 14 June 2016).

[6]  "The Bessilles Family of Gloucestershire," Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica and the British Archivist, vol. 5 (London: Mitchell, Hughes and Clark, 1923-1925) Archive ( : accessed 14 June 2016).

[7] "Langford Parish: Radcot," in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 17, ed. Simon Townley (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer for the Institute of Historical Research, 2012), 250-269. British History Online, accessed July 25, 2016,

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Mathias (Matthew) de Bessiles II and his wife Elizabeth Avranches; ancestors of Thomas Dudley

Mathias Bessiles was the son of Mathias and Beatrice Bezill. The surname of this family has been spelled multiple ways with and with out the 'de'. In most of the records I have looked at his name was the french Mathias not  the english Matthew. His parents married about the year 1249 and as he was not the heir, he was born at least a few years after.[1] Where was he born? His father held the manor of Sherston Magna in Wiltshire, Alfington in Devon and lands in Gloucestershire.   He was constable of Gloucester Castle and of Dover Castle. His children could have been born in any of these places or somewhere entirely different.

When it came to his land he was out of luck, his older brother was his father's heir and he got it all. Luckily Mathias' Uncle Emery Bezill was given custody of the heirs and widow of John de Avranches who died in 1258. John had only three girls age 9,6, and 3 as his heirs. Mathias married the youngest, Elizabeth.  They probably married shortly after she reached puberty and they were definitely married by July 1272. [2] Elizabeth as an heiress brought to the marriage several parcels of much needed land.

brompton regis
Brompton Regis in Somerset was held by William de Say in the late 11th century. He and his daughter Matilda founded a priory of Augustian Canons called Barlynch. William endowed the priory with the manor of Brompton Regis and this was ratified in 1220 by King Henry III.[3] From Matida de Say who married William de Bocland, the manor passed to her daughter Joan de Ferrers Avranches, next to Joan's son John. Joan and her son John continued the family tradition and offered to support the priory. [4] The support of the priory seems to have come to a stop or at least lessened when Mathias Besilles came into the land through marriage.

Brompton Regis was held of the King in chief for 1/4 knights fee in right of Elizabeth's inheritance. In 1276 Mathias claimed the manorial rights for himself despite the prior's claims that they had held the right in grant. These rights include the right to hold fairs and markets, grazing rights, the right to hunt, shoot or fish, and of course keep any income that came from these rights. In Fact in Elizabeth's IPM it claimed she had a fishery on the Hadeho River.[5] It does not seem as if the family ever lived in Brompton Regis, it was some 125 miles from the rest of their property which was centered around the Oxfordshire/Berkshire county border. The manor stayed in the family, passing to the Fettiplace family with the marriage of Elizabeth Bessels and Richard Fettiplace.

farmland in Buckland photo by Steve Daniel
Mathias and Elizabeth did not hold the manor of Buckland. The demense of Buckland was inherited by Matilda de Bocland who married William de Avranches. In turn it was inherited by their daughter Maud who married Hamo de Crevequer and passed on down through their heirs. Elizabeth de Avranches inherited an estate that was part of the manor of Buckland called West Hall. [6] This estate was held of John de Lenham, the heir of Buckland Manor for 20d. and service in his manorial court which was held every three weeks. The estate was 110 acres of land, 14 of which were meadow and the other 96 arable pasture. The estate included a messuage, (medieval dwelling house with out buildings) and a free tenement. This would be a tenant who was free as opposed to a serf who was tied to the land. The tenant paid 20 shillings yearly for rent. [7] Between 1367 and 1374 Robert de Lenham the heir to Buckland sued Thomas and Katherine Bessels over the estate of West Hall.

Radcot manor was in the parish of Langford. It was right on the Thames River and the border of Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It was only a few miles from their estate of West Hall. After the Norman Conquest Radcot was given to Hugh de Bocland and it passed through his heirs to Elizabeth de Avranches. There were as many as 35 households in Radcot during the early middle ages. Radcot was a transshipment area, goods left the river Thames to travel by road or vice versa. The meaning of Radcot is believed to be reed cottage, and the area is mostly flat meadows and marshes. In 1279, of the 35 households, 31 were unfree, or held by serfs. Radcot was hit hard by the black death in 1349 and the population plummeted.

13th Century Radcot Bridge photo by Philip Halling
Mathias Bessiles established a weekly market on Fridays and was granted the right to hold a yearly fair on the 13-15 of September. Mathias also owned a watermill. Their were also fisheries, the Fettiplace family owned a 1/2 mile stretch of the river from their Radcote Bridge Farm. The manor was occupied by either the family or their lesse until the 15th century. A three story manor house was eventually built in 1318 by Geoffrey de Bessiles. Radcot held a manorial court every three weeks and Matthew de Besyles claimed the privilege of infangthief and outfangthief, the right to execute thieves caught red-handed. [8]

man with a barded horse
This caught my eye. In the 1295 IPM of Mathias, it said that he held Redcote from the King in Chief, not for a knight's fee, but of "finding a man with a barded horse in the King's army." What, I wondered was a barded horse. The last decade of the 13th century was one of almost constant war. In 1294 an English army sailed for France to try to reclaim Gascony, in 1295 the English fought with Welsh rebels, 1296 saw Edwards victory over the Scots at Berwick and in a reversal of fortune, 1297 saw the Scottish rebel William Wallace defeat an English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.  Horses were key to fighting the Scots and Welsh and Edward I tried to expand his resources of calvary by requesting payment of feudal dues with 'barded horses and soldiers'. A barded horse was one with it's own suit of armour. [8A]

In 1295 Mathias leased Radcot to John Wogan for the duration of his lifetime.[9] The manor reverted to the Bessiles after Wogan's death. Mathia himself died in late 1295. Elizabeth survived him. It was noted in his IPM that she was the heir of his estate and that she was aged about 40. In 1315 Elizabeth died leaving her estates to her son Geoffrey.[10] If she and Mathias had other children they remain nameless. Mathias was about 40 years old when he died and Elizabeth about 60, old for a medieval woman. The estates she inherited had been handed down from father to daughter almost exclusively. The land would now remain in the Bessels family for a few centuries before another daughter inherited changing the owners name to Fettiplace.


[1] Michael Ray, "Mathias Bezill, The Unpopular Alien?,"

[2] Public Record Office, Calendar of the Charter Rolls, Henry III - Edward I, 1257-1300, (London : Mackie and Co., 1906) 183.

[3]"Houses of Augustinian canons: The priory of Barlynch," A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2, ed. William Page (London: Victoria County History, 1911), 132-134. British History Online, accessed May 18, 2016,

[4] William Dugdale, Monasticon, Vol. 6, p. 384-387.

[5] "Houses of Augustinian canons: The priory of Barlynch," A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2, ed. William Page (London: Victoria County History, 1911), 132-134. British History Online, accessed May 18, 2016,

[6] "Parishes: Buckland," A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 4, ed. William Page and P H Ditchfield (London: Victoria County History, 1924), 453-460. British History Online, accessed July 1, 2016,

[7]  "The Bessilles Family of Gloucestershire," Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica and the British Archivist, vol. 5 (London: Mitchell, Hughes and Clark, 1923-1925) Archive ( : accessed 14 June 2016).

[8] "Parishes: Buckland."

[8A] George Holmes, The Later Middle Ages, 1272-1485, (New York : Norton and Co, 1962) 74-74.
"Bessilles Family", Miscellanea, 72.

[9] Patent Rolls, 1292-1301.

[10] IPM Edward II, File 36/8. (IPM for Elizabeth de Bessiles, 1315)

Have a great day!