Fourteenth-century petitions dealing with warfare from Berwick, Cumbria and Durham

It was during the reign of Edward I that the practice of sending petitions was established for dealing with complaints against the royal administration. As seen below, various individuals or groups of people would send a letter to the King, one of his subordinates or parliament, asking for some assistance, usually financial. Although these Ancient Petitions covered a wide variety of grievances and situations, the ones included here deal with the troubles caused by the endemic warfare between England and Scotland throughout the fourteenth-century. Many of these petitions reveal the personal tragedies that befell the residents of northern England and the efforts that were needed to keep up the defence of the region.

Berwick upon Tweed

1. From Ancient Petition E970, c.1315: Randolph de Benton petitions the King and Council that whereas sir Maurice de Berkeleye, keeper of Berwick, and sir Stephen le Blount were commissioned to enquire whether he had issued the King’s victuals in his custody to the garrison of Berwick by false measure and whether he had changed good victuals for bad and taken money to do so: and whereas the commission was intended to ensure that an enquiry was taken by good men and true, the original instigators in their false association came and banded together and all the garrison with them and said that they would maintain what they had started or die in the attempt, and so they procured an enquiry by the most false men of the garrison and the town. the enquiry was held contrary to the terms of the commission and Benton was threatened so that he dared say nothing on his own behalf, as he would have been killed. He requests the King and Council that this enquiry by form of law and with loyal men, when he will prove that the enquiry was taken by false men against the form of their commission.

An enquiry from January 31, 1315, found that Randolph de Benton, keeper of the King’s victuals in Berwick, had sold off the King’s victuals from Berwick and sent them to Newcastle-upon-Tweed, and, furthermore, also used false measures to keep a fifth of the supplies for himself. Benton claimed to have sold victuals amounting to £ 152 18d on divers occasions between 1312 and 1314, in order to have money for necessary expenses.

2. From Ancient Petition E276, April 20, 1317: The mayor, bailiffs and commons of Berwick greet the King and inform him that John le Iirois [Irishman] came to Berwick on the Monday before mid-Lent [March 7] and sought leave of the Keeper to go to western parts to harrass the enemy, and did so, and then returned to Berwick on April 12 with 38 men at arms and 54 hobelars, well equipped, and John and his men are staying in defence of the town up to the date of this letter and still remain.

3. From Ancient Petition E275, April 22, 1317: Information from [the keeper of Berwick] to the King that John le Hireis [Iirois] came to Berwick on Sunday in mid-Lent and left his men in Northumberland and sought leave to go to the parts of Carlisle to harass the enemy as the eastern borders were distant, and he was given leave and returned to his men and went, and they halted the enemy and much grieved them. Then John returned on the Monday after the octave of Easter and staged a muster before the chamberlain and [the keeper] of 28 men suitably mounted and armed with aketon, hauberk and bacinet (where sufficient men less well provided in garrison receive 12d a day), and 26 hobelars normally equipped. It seemed to John that his men were not receiving appropriate pay, but the petitioners had been ordered to treat all as hobelars except John himself, who was allowed a 12d a day. May the King recompense John as one who has deserved a reward, having grieved the enemy to the utmost of his power. God give you good news of your heir.

The accepted rate of pay for a hobelar on royal service in 1319/20 was 6d a day, the ‘captain’ generally receiving 12d a day.

4. From Ancient Petition E378, 1318: His varlet William de Weston petitions the King that whereas he served the King’s father in Flanders and in all his wars in Scotland and now at his castle of Berwick, and his armour are pledged at Newcastle for £ 10, being the costs of his horses since the beginning of the siege of Berwick castle, he requests that against his expenses since entering the castle he will order his treasurer to pay for the release of his horses and armour.

Item, he petitions the King that whereas he is owed for arrears of the wages of himself and his fellows and for restoration of horses lost in his service within the said time, as is shown by bills sealed in the wardrobe and the office of the chamberlain of Scotland, to a total of £ 600 and more, and he has lost all his moveable goods through the Scottish enemy, wherefore he has nothing to maintain him or his fellows unless by royal aid: he requests an order to the treasurer to make some assignment for payment of his debt and maintenance in order that he can serve him in due fashion as previously.

Item, he petitions the King to order maintenance for him and his fellows to serve him as previously, and arrange how and where they should stay.

Item, he petitions the King to grant him some office where he can serve him honourably, such as the bailiwick of Holderness for life.

5. From Ancient Petition E374, post 1318: John Baudewyn, son of Sir Thomas Baudewyn, former burgess of Berwick, petitions the King and Council that whereas he was at horse and arms since the first conquest of the town, inflicting on the enemy what harassment he could within and without, without taking a penny, and he never agreed that the burgesses of the town should undertake its safe-keeping but always warned that they would lose the town through their great meanness and lack of expertise, and requests this be enquired into for the King’s great profit, so that it may be known who were guilty of the loss of the town and pity be taken on those who were not: wherefore he requests maintenance for himself, his wife and children as one who has lost all in the town and then ransomed his wife and children from captivity, his eldest son being still a hostage.

The burgesses of Berwick agreed on 4 June 1317 to undertake the defence of the town for 6000 marks a year. The city was then captured by the Scots in the spring of 1318. The English were not able to take back the city until 1333.

6. From Ancient Petition E383, post 1318: Robert de Blakeburn petitions the King and Council that whereas he had served the King and his late father at Berwick and in the Scottish war for 22 years and more, and then was in the castle there in the company of Roger de Horsle until its loss and was taken prisoner of war and wounded near to death, and at the battle of Stirling lost his brother, and for the past ten years lost the issues of all his lands in the Scottish march worth 80 marks a year, so that he had nothing to live on beyond £ 20 a year from a fishery in the Tweed held of the town of Berwick, and he lived on this until the loss of the town and now has nothing to uphold him. He requests the King that for his long service and great loss he order honourable maintenance until he can recover his lands.

7. From Ancient Petition E412, 1318-1319: His liege Walter de Gosewic petitions the King that he lost all his goods and chattels in the betrayal lately done at Berwick, and he, his wife and household were taken then ransomed by his friends. He requests that in consideration of his good service and his losses and damage as result of his good faith and loyalty to his liege lord he be admitted to his grace and granted that he may live in his realm without harm to body or goods, for otherwise he and his wife and children will perish.

On May 28, 1319, a pardon was granted to Walter de Gosewyk for good service, remitting the King’s anger and rancour of mind because Berwick had been captured by the Scots when he and others were expected to guard it. A concurrent mandate was sent to the mayor and bailiffs of York to release his son Thomas, one of the hostages for the safe custody of the town, then in their prison.

8. From Ancient Petition 1608, 1333-34: The master, poor brother and sisters of the Maison Dieu of Berwick petition the King and Council that whereas during the siege their church and houses were struck down by siege-engines so that they had no place of refuge, and the master at his own expense repaired the said church and houses and so spent more than he received, and pledged his chalices and vestments for the repairs, and the building is so weak that it cannot withstand the winter without rotting for ever; and the master with his slender resources cannot accomplish the work quickly without great help, wherefore he requests the King to provide alms for the repair that work be not lost, since if the King and Council will not help there is no other aid.

9. From Ancient Petition 591, c.1335: Robert de Tughale petitions the King that whereas all his houses in Rock and Scremerston in Northumberland have been burnt and destroyed by the Scots on their last coming into England, and standing grain, namely 80 acres of wheat, 160 acres of oats and 40 acres of barley, were destroyed by the King’s army when he lay about Berwick, and 100 oxen and cows were taken by the Scots the night they came suddenly to Tweedmouth, that he may give him a tenement in the Berwick shambles in the King’s hand by reason of the forfeiture of Emma Bettes, against the divers losses and damage received by him, or ordain some certain relief.

On May 22, 1335, Robert de Tughale was given respite for all his debts he owed the exchequer, until the following Michaelmas. Tughale served as sheriff of Berwick from 1333 to 1337.

10. From Ancient Petition 11299, 1335: Robert de Tughall petitions the King to grant him the hamlet of Edrington and a fishery in Tweed called Edirmouth for his lifetime against his expenses in Berwick, and he may appreciate that Robert has lived there since the town surrendered, and found at his own cost eight armed men and four hobelars, for whom he has taken nothing except that the eight were paid for eight weeks, and he vouches for this all the keepers who have been chancellor, chamberlain and mayor [of Berwick].

Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmorland (Cumbria)

1. From Ancient Petition E417, 1307-1318: Their liegemen of Carlisle petition the King and Council that whereas they have garrisoned the town for seven whole years and suffered hunger, thirst and much other evil, all for want of wages, and have lost horses, armour and whatever they could spend, all for want of pay, for the provision keepers kept moving and would never settle accounts with them, to their great undoing, as well as other evil practices whereby the victuallers supplied them with wine and other victuals of little value, such as bad wine at 9 marks the tun, which would scarcely sell at 2 marks, and similarly grain, and thereby they are brought to poverty; and now the King at Northampton ordered to be issued with clothes and money and no one can meet this because of all the mischief which has befallen.

2. From Ancient Petition 10186, 1314 or 1336: The poor people of Carlisle petition the King and Council for a grant of murage for repair of the town wall, supplying a brattice and recutting the moat and strengthening the gates and drawbridges.

3. From Ancient Petition 3029, c.1316: John de Morpeth petitions the King and Council that whereas he had houses within the walls of Carlisle the Scots came and besieged the town for twelve days and assailed it all day and night with towers and other engines; and Sir Andrew de Harcla and Sir Robert de Swyneburn came with the common people of the town and broke down those houses, worth 5 marks a year, and removed the timber to make towers and brattices for the town’s defence and made no reparation.

4. From Ancient Petition 4086, c.1321: The King’s liegemen of Cumberland, Westmorland and Northumberland petition the King that whereas they are devastated by war and a sudden murrain of beasts so that they have no means of sustenance nor of tillage, they may be pardoned all manner of debts demanded by summons of the Exchequer or otherwise as annual rent for the coming three years or until they have recovered. This debt was respited until All Saints next [November 1], for which they greatly thank him.

5. From Ancient Petition 5208, from 1320-26: John le Denum petitions the King that whereas he has a castle in Cumberland called Melmerby Tower, which could be kept by a dozen men at arms, he has kept it until now and has often been assailed by the Scots to their great loss, and John’s lands are so devastated there and elsewhere that he can no longer bear the expense. He craves help in the form of wages or otherwise until times change, because all the country around would suffer great loss peril and loss if it were taken through lack of garrison.

6. From Ancient Petition 6776, temp. Edward II: A clerk of Northumberland called John de Roubiry petitions the King and Council that whereas he is ruined by the Scottish enemy and his parents killed in earlier warfare, he may have the King’s letters to the Abbot and Convent of Thornton-on-Humber to receive him as a canon in their house and clothe him at their expense; for he has nothing to support himself.

7. From Ancient Petition 4147, temp. Edward II – Edward III: The King’s poor lieges of Cumberland and Westmorland petition the King and Council [that whereas it was] ordered that no lord nor constable nor castellan nor keeper charge them for giving them refuge in castles while the enemy is in power, nevertheless the keepers, etc. exact such outrageous sums from them that they would prefer to evacuate the land for the time being rather than seek such security. [They charge] for two or three nights 5s and sometimes a half mark, regardless of the fact that the same people are willing to expend life and limb and what they have to defend the castles at their own expense, in return for accommodation. They crave remedy, that it may not be necessary to evacuate their land and that there be an order that those returning shall answer any plea according to the law of the land when the King appoints investigators.

On March 23, 1333 the sheriffs of Cumberland and Westmorland were ordered to proclaim that all wishing to leave their counties with their goods and animals on account of the Scottish wars might travel south through the King’s forests, pastures and wastes, and live there and pasture their animals freely.

8. From Ancient Petition 6477, 1379-80: The commons of Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmorland petition the King touching the oppressions they have suffered under the colour of a truce which is more damaging than open war.

First, the Scots have overrun the lands both of the King and of his lieges in the counties of Berwick, Roxburgh, Dumfries,…, valued at £ 30,000 and more.

Item, during this truce they have killed more than 700 persons and mounted forays into the King’s lordships in Scotland as well as England…, and in Northumberland and Cumberland [seized] 700 ploughs and more, and [taken] any able-bodied persons who could harm them.

Item, the town of Berwick pays certain tribute in money, wine and victuals to the earl of the Scottish March,, although the King gave 1000 marks…

Item, Tweedmouth, adjoining that town, paid 10 marks this year.

Item, Wark castle paid 20 marks this year.

Item, the King’s lieges in Roxburghshire paid 100 marks this year.

Item, the men of Redesdale paid 50 marks a year.

Item, divers lieges in Cumberland and Dumfriesshire pay £ 100 a year.

Item, all those ransomed by the Scots are in such state that they dare not support their neighbours when the Scots ride among them to harry the King’s lieges nor make rescues when the Scots return with their booty.

Item, the castle of Lochmaben 20 leagues within Scotland, is in such a strait that neither men, victuals nor provisions can enter without special licence from Sir Archibald de Douglas.

Item, the King’s lieges are ransomed or held imprisoned, contrary to the express terms of truce. For these causes the Wardens have admitted their impotence, and the country lies desolate, and the true lieges if the King evacuate their lands and, seeking their livelihood elsewhere, will abandon the country to the Scots if remedy be not ordained in the present parliament.

Item, apart from these articles, there are the arrears of 8,000 marks and 4,000 marks due at Midsummer, being the ransom of the King of Scotland lately dead, of which sum the kingdom has great need.

At the time of the death of David II in 1371 there was a truce between England and Scotland. This was prolonged, and the new King Robert II agreed to continue to pay the arrears of the ransom of his predecessor. There was fierce Border fighting in 1372 and 1377, and in both 1378 and 1384 Berwick was briefly captured by the Scots.

9. From Ancient Petition 5046, 1385: The poor citizens of Carlisle petition the lords of parliament that whereas they have incurred great expense in repair of the gates, walls and ditches of the city, and in watching by night and day on the city walls and their safe-keeping, and whereas by the good counsel of Lord Neville, the warden, new great works have been begun and not completed, such as turnpikes and great garrets on the walls and new ditches, and whereas they charge annually at the King’s Exchequer with £ 80 for tolls, mills and fisheries, which with the greater part of the city are wholly burnt and destroyed by the Scots, and subsequently all land, tenements, grain, goods and chattels in all parts of the city have been burnt, wasted and destroyed by the enemy, French and Scots, lying in wait before the city since the Assumption last past [August 15], by cause of which losses, impoverishment and the assaults on the city walls every day a great part of the common people have fled the city, and many others wish to flee unless they receive your help. May it please your gracious lordships to consider these mischiefs, and the fact that the tolls, mills and fisheries are wholly destroyed by the enemy, and the great works started not finished, and provide a remedy, namely that they be discharged at the Exchequer for three or four years until the tolls, mills and fisheries and defence works be in order.

10. From Ancient Petition 15295, 1415: The King’s poor lieges of Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmorland petition the Duke of Bedford, lieutenant of England, that whereas they have long been annually burnt, despoiled and devastated by sudden inroads of the Scots they are brought to nothing through great mortalities, as well as by many other losses, damage and burdens by reason of great forays and their resistance to the enemy; wherefore if any tax be put on them and levied they will be ruined and the counties deprived of inhabitants for ever. They crave the Duke to consider this and the fact that the countries are frontiers to the Scottish March and daily vexed and set to insupportable expense, and pardon them all manner of tenths and fifteenths and other taxes or tallages whatsoever granted to the King in this present parliament by the lieges, and to acquit and discharge them and the collectors at the King’s Exchequer for the said causes.

John, duke of Bedford, was regent of England in the absence of Henry V, who was in France for parts of 1415. A pardon for all taxes was given to the inhabitants of Cumberland, Westmorland and Northumberland on November 13, 1415.


1. From Ancient Petition 7419, 1317: John de Wessington petitions the King that whereas the commons of the bishopric of Durham sent him as hostage to Sir Robert de Brus for money for a truce, he was held for two years because 36 marks remained owing, which he himself paid to have his release. And he cannot have for this money remedy or recompense from the commons, and craves from the King a letter to the bishop or his deputy.

2. From Ancient Petition E360, c.1318: Joan, widow of John de la Chaumbre, petitions the King and Council that whereas the King ordered the Bishop of Durham to provide suitable maintenance according to her station in Sherburn Hospital because her husband was killed in the King’s service in defence of Berwick castle in the company of Roger de Horsleye, the Bishop replied that the hospital was so burdened that she could not be accommodated. She craves that the King grant her a portion of victuals from Newcastle upon Tyne for her subsistence, as she has spent all her livelihood on this suit.

3. From Ancient Petition 2537, 1319: The King’s lieges, the mayor and commons of Hartepool, petition the King that whereas Sir Robert de Brus had granted a truce to the whole bishopric of Durham except Hartepool, which he intended to burn and destroy because of a ship they captured at sea charged with his armaments and victuals, the mayor and commons enclosed a great part of the town and are building a wall to the best of their power. They crave a grant of 100 marks which are owed the King for victuals bought of the King’s father by a Robert de Musgrave, whose term for repayment is a year come next Easter.

4. From Ancient Petition 6512, c.1320: Ralph de Neville petitions the King that whereas Sir Robert de Neville his brother was killed by the Scots and Sir Alexander de Neville and John de Neville his brothers and himself captured on the same day, and his two brothers were held until they paid a great ransom, and himself was ransomed for 2,000 marks, for which his hostages are held until the money be paid or he surrenders himself again; he craves aid from the King towards his ransom, with a wardship, marriage or other money-paying asset towards him. And may he give leave to Sir Randulph de Neville his father, whose heir he is, to enfeoff him with his manor of Houghton in Norfolk, which is held of the King, towards the ransom and his maintenance, for the said Sir Randulph is so impoverished through ransoms paid for his sons that he has nothing to which to help Ralph save by giving his land.

5. From Ancient Petition 2160, 1322: The prior and convent of Durham petition the King and Council that whereas they are destroyed by the Scottish war, which has lasted long, and by incursions of the enemy, who often have burnt and devastated them, and by other oppressions and notably by their last coming with the connivance of certain of the King’s enemies, whereby the Scottish enemies stayed from the Friday after St. Hilary [January 15, 1322] until the Saturday before Candlemas, burning the prior’s manors, vills, churches, granges and corn, capturing and leading away his tenants, killing some, ransoming others, so that those remaining cannot maintain the land, oxen, cows, sheep, work-horses, and farm implements being taken away, so that nothing remains on which to live, promote hospitality or sustain other charges. They crave the King, by his affection for St. Cuthbert and the church of Durham, to ordain some aid and sustenance so they may live and maintain divine service there until God in his grave and royal aid brings improvement.

6. From Ancient Petition 13516, c.1323: The King’s poor men of Auckland petition the King that whereas they have nothing on which to live through many devastations by the Scots, and to save their lives they took victuals sold at Newcastle upon Tyne amounting to £ 19 12s and have nothing from which to raise the money, they crave his highness to consider their great losses suffered and their readiness to suffer for his honour in the future. May he allow towards his debt a bill of £ 30 due to them from the time that sir Roger de Northburgh was Treasurer of his Wardrobe, and may they have letters to the collectors of his money at Durham to accept this bill in allowance of the debt.

7. From Ancient Petition 2237, 1327: Roger de Esshe petitions the King and Council that when the King was at Stanhope in the bishopric of Durham his men came in force to Esh and seized, cut and carried his corn and hay worth £ 40, and took and drove off from him and his men 32 great beasts and 88 muttons without making payment. He craves an enquiry in consideration of his great loss, as often before he was burnt and destroyed by the Scots.

These translations were originally published in Northern petitions illustrative of life in Berwick, Cumbria and Durham in the fourteenth century. Ed. C. M. Fraser (Surtees Society vol. 194, 1981). We thank the Surtees Society for allowing us to republish this material.

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