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,
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