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This article is from "Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford" by Norman Hidden, 2009.

As already shown the manor of Hungerford was held during the 12th century by the Beaumont family, Earls of Leicester. When Robert de Beaumont died childless the estate passed to the de Montfort family and ultimately to Amauri de Montfort of Normandy, who resigned his English estates to his younger brother Simon.

Arriving in England in 1229 Simon, who at this time would have been aged about 21, found that his Leicester estates were in the hands of the Earl of Chester and petitioned the king (Henry III) for their restoration. In 1231 Simon was granted seisin of the estates by the king and enjoyed their revenues from then on, although he was not formally invested as Earl of Leicester until some years later. In the intervening years Simon was busy at Court, developing a friendship with the king and an affair with the king’s sister Eleanor, whom he married in 1238. Unsurprisingly, the Leicester title now followed.

When Simon acquired the manor of Hungerford, one among the many which fell within the honour of Leicester, it is not clear exactly what lands the manor may have comprised. It certainly included the vill of Hungerford and to the south, beyond the huddle of houses in the vill, the fee of Sandon. The church of Hungerford, however, and some lands supporting it, had been granted by Robert the first Earl of Leicester, to the Abbey of Bec[1].

Slight attention has been paid by Simon de Montfort‘s early biographers to his manor of Hungerford; there are two small references by C. Bémont [2], and none at all by M. W. Labarge [3]. As de Montfort and his wife held lands in more than twenty different counties [4], it may not be altogether surprising that an outlying and relatively undeveloped manor such as Hungerford has secured so little attention. It is perfectly true that de Montfort’s two great power bases, Leicester and Kenilworth, lay in the  Midlands; but a recent historian, D.A.Carpenter, refers to Simon’s lesser but nevertheless important bases outside this area, ‘for example at Hungerford in Berkshire’ [5].

De Montfort’s biographers have been concerned in the main to chronicle his campaigns and administration overseas, and at home to focus on the constitutional challenge he raised in his later opposition to the king. In short, they concentrate on the national rather than the local aspect of his life. In spite of this he is an enigmatic figure, whose character remains subject to wide variations of interpretation by historians; and, perhaps because of this level of concentration on national affairs, historians do not seem to convey the reasons for the extraordinary popularity which he enjoyed among the socially lower elements of society in his day, as revealed in song and legend. Miss Labarge states that ‘these scraps of the vernacular give us some idea of the popular feeling. Their enthusiasm helps to explain why Simon de Montfort was so strongly supported by the townspeople, especially by the Londoners,’ and she suggests that the Franciscan tradition, handed down by itinerant friars, regarded him as ‘the saviour of the poor people of England [6]’.

It is possible therefore that a study of de Montfort’s actions in relation to the ‘towns’ and to ‘poor’ people within one of his own manors might yield some clues at least to his popularity. Admittedly, what took place in manorial administration would be carried out by stewards or bailiffs, and it must be borne in mind that Simon himself spent long periods of time overseas; nevertheless the stamp of an outstanding man is likely to press down on his subordinates and so create an image of himself. One would look in particular to see what privileges he might allow his own ‘townspeople’ to enjoy and what welfare aids he may have encouraged for his ‘poor people’.

The earliest reference to Hungerford which involves Simon de Montfort relates to the Hospital of St. John. We do not know when this was founded, but in 1232 King Henry III issued, from nearby Wallingford, letters of protection to ‘the house and brethren of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist of Hungerford [7]’. Whether this protection was obtained through Simon’s influence, we do not know.

We do know, however, that Simon at some stage in his life gave the priory half a carucate of land in Sandon which he held of the king in capite. It is typical of his relations with the king in financial matters that he did so without licence, for which a fee was payable. After Simon’s death the Hundred Rolls in 1275/6 solemnly record his failure to do so as having been to the king’s damage. There may have been a further grant also; for in 1281 an inspeximus and ratification were issued in respect of the grant made by Simon ‘late Earl of Leicester’ to ‘the hospital and brethren of St. John at Hungerford, for lodging poor, sick, and infirm persons, of the half-virgate of land formerly held of him by William le Broddere in Sandon, with a meadow of his demesne near his ‘stank’ [= fishpond or lake] on the north side of Hungerford [8]’. Dugdale’s ‘Monasticon’ states that the priory was endowed with 1 carucate of land, 2 acres of meadow and six cottages, but does not mention whether or not this was the grant of Simon [9]. It is clear, however, that thanks to the benefactions and patronage of Simon, the hospital was enabled to perform its special social functions, viz: to celebrate divine service thrice weekly and to provide relief to the poor inhabitants of the town in time of scarcity.

Just as it is likely that Simon de Montfort may have persuaded the King to issue letters of protection to the hospital or priory of St. John, so in the very same year 1232, his may have been the influence which persuaded the king to issue similar letters of protection on behalf of ‘the leprous sisters’ of St. Lawrence‘s church in Hungerford, that is, for the sisters whose duty was to attend to lepers, presumably in the leper house which was already in existence in 1228 [10].

That Simon’s influence was active within the bounds of the manor is suggested by a Close Roll of 1237 in which the king gives instructions to the sheriff of Berkshire to take into safe custody (in connection with the death of one Ralph Peterborough) two prisoners, Robert Cook and Agnes of Reading ‘whom the bailiffs of Simon de Montfort of Hungerford shall free to him [11]’. From this it would appear that Simon, who is described as ‘of Hungerford’ had been giving protection to the two prisoners. This kind of clash between the king and the baron is reflected in a later presentment (in 1248) by the jurors of Kintbury Hundred [12] that ‘Simon de Montfort and his bailiffs do not allow the king’s bailiffs to enter the vill of Hungerford to make distraints for the king’s debts as they used to do in the time of his ancestors’. In December of the same year the ‘serjeant’ of Simon’s Countess, one Andrew de la Brach, was granted exception for life from being put on assizes, juries or recognitions and from suit of the king’s Hundred of Kintbury. Both in this year and in 1249 the king was most anxious to please his sister, the Countess. In January 1248 he twice gave an instruction that the countess should be provided with a quantity of deer for the stocking of Hungerford Park [13], and in the next year a further gift was made to Simon also for the specific purpose of his new park [14].

This Park was to become in future years an important feature of the manor of Hungerford. Although Balteley has disappeared as a name, its site is defined by its proximity to Foxley as well as by its identification with Hungerford Park. In 1246 Simon had obtained licence from the king to enclose with a dike and a hedge what is described as his wood of Balteley and to convert it into a park, notwithstanding that it was situated within the limits of the king’s forest of Savernake [15]. Since the licence refers to ‘his’ wood it is surprising to find in 1247 an agreement between Simon and the procurator general in England of the Abbey of Bec whereby Simon acquired from the Abbey rights of herbage, pasture and common in Balteley wood in exchange for certain lands and rents in Hungerford [16].

Having obtained royal consent to make the area of Balteley Wood into a deer park, Simon proceeded rigorously to remove all other existing rights in the woods; these were the common rights of herbage, and pannage held by various parties [17]. That the park was a project dear to Simon’s heart may be gleaned from the vigour with which he proceeded to buy out these rights; as well as from the gifts of deer for the park made by King Henry in 1248 and 1249. There is a sense of personal involvement in the creation of this new deer park which is greater than in other routine operations carried out in some minor corner of a great man’s estates. Knowing the Norman love of
hunting, the deer park would almost certainly be a magnet which would draw Simon to Hungerford on frequent occasions within his busy life. Hence perhaps the King’s directions in 1248 and again in 1259 ordering that large sums of money be paid to Simon at Hungerford [18].

A second salient feature of the documents is the light they throw not only on Simon’s energy in pushing through these various agreements so rapidly, but also on his readiness to achieve his ends by paying what seems to have been a generous price in each case. As far as one can tell, the terms of each of the exchanges should
have satisfied those whose rights of common had been extinguished. In his initial concept, in the vigour and energy he displayed in carrying it through, and in his readiness to pay fair, indeed probably generous, compensation to those affected, Simon is seen even in such a local matter, as very much the equivalent of a modern day tycoon. This combination of qualities may help us to understand the strong and lasting memory which he left impressed on the minds of ordinary men.

The exchange he made with the proctor of the Abbey of Bec [19] is of great local significance. By this agreement he removed the rights of the abbey in an area which was well separated from the remainder of their Hungerford estate and for this reason may not have been of so much utility to them as it might had it been located more accessibly. In return the abbey estate acquired certain rents arising from a tenement of Jordan de Mareyse, a cotsetlam of land with the house of John Ginegome in the vill of Hungerford, 1 acre of Reginald Harengs called the Bergar’ together with 4d. per annum for the land of Peter le Sagihere. All these rents or properties are to be held by
the Abbey ‘free from all secular services, disputes and exactions’. In this phrase lies the key to the exception from quit rent of the abbey’s estate in Hungerford; and in their renunciation of common rights in Balteley may lie their corresponding exclusion from the rights of common enjoyed by later free-suitors of Hungerford. The only rent clearly and definitely stated to be in the vill of Hungerford is the cotsetlam of John Ginegome (a cotsetlam may be anything from a cottage to a small farm house). By this means, at least one messuage in the vill of Hungerford, possibly more, came to be possessed by the Abbey of Bec. This fact may help to explain how the abbey came to have holdings (free of quit rent) in the ‘new’ high street as this street developed into a ‘new’ town during the early and mid-thirteenth century.

The development of a new town may have begun prior to the development of Balteley Wood into Hungerford Park, but both projects may have been pushed forward by Simon de Montfort. There are two small links which could perhaps support such a theory. It has been noted (in some Ms notes by W.H.Summers) that in the two tithings of Hungerford and Sandon Fee, Hungerford Park always was included within the town tithing, whereas all other places beyond the town boundaries fell into Sandon Fee, as one
might have expected the Park to have done. Clearly some residual tie remained binding these two otherwise apparently disparate places into one unit. The ancient  association of the Park with the name of the town (rather than with Balteley) may also be significant.

An even greater link between the new town and Simon’s park is revealed by the report of a lawsuit in 1573 when the vicar of Hungerford deposed that a missing charter of Simon de Montfort had granted certain rights of herbage and pannage in the woods of Balteley to the townsmen of Hungerford. The burgesses of Hungerford were horrified to discover that certain charters and evidences which had been kept in the town chest were missing. A suit was brought by the townsmen against two suspects and in the
course of it the vicar, Edward Brouker, deposed that among the items missing from the chest was a ‘copy of a deed in parchment containing a grant made by Simon de Montfort of herbage and pannage ‘liberis hominibus de Hungerford ut bosce sue de Bawkeley (sic) cum chipping la’bo’ et bedding la’bo [20]’. Simon de Montfort is not
known to have had lands in Chipping Lamborne but if ‘bedding labo’ refers to Bedwyn it is known that his wife held the manors of Wexcumb and Bedwyn [21]. Brouker also states that there was a grant by ‘one Brendnoll knight’ of his mead called Wydemarsh [= Woodmarsh] to the townsmen of Hungerford. The loss of these and other charters meant that the townsmen when challenged were unable to prove their ancient rights and privileges.

Brouker reveals himself in his Register to be a simple but direct and honest man, and a competent Latinist. It is highly improbable that he would wittingly testify on oath that there was a charter which said so and so when it did not. His evidence provides a clear indication that there was ‘something’ which Simon had done to the town’s benefit and which the townsmen ‘remembered’ over three centuries later, and that this deed which was remembered by the townsmen had had some connection with his park at  Balteley. The tie between Park and town was undoubtedly established during the lordship of Simon de Montfort and if he looked with favour on them both it may have been because he was well aware of their respective significance in establishing the importance of his manor of Hungerford.

In addition to the valuable right of herbage and pannage (that is, the pasturing of sheep and the feeding of swine upon acorns in the wood) which the townsmen of Hungerford are thus said to have received from Simon de Montfort, they were also stated to have been beneficiaries of rights to grazing in the lush water meadow of Woodmarsh. Such advantages could not fail to give the township the great boost which we know characterised its development in the 13th century.

‘One Brednoll knight’ referred to by Edward Brouker may be identified with William de Breteignol, who held of Simon de Montfort that vague extent of land known as a ‘knight’s fee’. Ideally this consisted of 4 hides of land, about 480 acres, but such precision was rarely found in practice. De Breteignol’s fee consisted of a sandy down to the south of Hungerford, known as Sandon Fee. The grant of rights in Woodmarsh may seem to be confirmed by a later survey of Hungerford taken in 1552 where the jury present that the townsmen ‘have a common in Woodmarsh after Lammas of 20 acres [22]’. Although the grant is said to have been made by de Breteignol it could only have been so made with the consent, and probably at the instigation or encouragement of his overlord, de Montfort.

References to Hungerford in the Patent Rolls and Close Rolls of this period are further indications of the town’s growing importance. In 1253 the king’s arrangements for payment of 600 marks due to Simon, require payment of 100 marks each by the Sheriffs of Wiltshire and Berkshire and it is stipulated that these should be paid at  Hungerford [23]. In like manner in 1259 a similar order is made to the two sheriffs to pay 100 marks to Simon annually in Hungerford [24]. Simon and his wife had other estates in Berkshire, notably at Ilsley, Newbury, Shrivenham, Speenhamland, Woodspeen and Wantage; and in Wiltshire at Compton and Wexcumb (in the Kinwardston Hundred) [25]. Hungerford would have been a suitable control centre for these estates, just as its Park would have provided a recreational outlet for its lord. As we have already seen, a de Montfort ‘serjeant’ or collector of rents was in residence in the Kintbury Hundred. His name ‘de la Brach’ may possibly derive from that portion of Hungerford known as ‘the Breach‘ and as bailiff he may have occupied a portion of the manor house, keeping the remainder of the residence available for visits by his master or mistress [26].

It should be noted, too, that the importance of the town under de Montfort’s lordship may have been one reason that, during this period, several of the king’s patent rolls and close rolls were dated from Hungerford. It seems clear that Hungerford may have provided an appropriate stopping place for the king’s commissariat on his itineraries [27].

The growth of the town, both in size and in importance, which took place during Simon’s lordship is remarkable. Although later local tradition ascribed the grant of their burghal status to John of Gaunt, de Montfort’s energetic and determined lordship, together with vicar Brouker‘s evidence concerning the town’s charters makes clear that the town’s first great benefactor was not John of Gaunt, who continued rather than innovated the town’s burghal rights, but Simon de Montfort.


1 Calendar of Charter Rolls: No.1332.
2 C. Bémont ed. E.F.Jacob Simon de Montfort O.U.P.1930
3 M.W. Labarge: Simon de Montfort 1962
4 Calendar of Close Rolls: 1237-42 p.491
5 D.A. Carpenter: The Reign of Henry III London, 1996. p.227
6 Labarge: Simon de Montfort 1962 pp.11&12
7 Patent Rolls: 14 May and 28 July, 1232
8 Duchy of Lancaster Great Coucher: Vol.2 f.164 no.22
9 W. Dugdale: Monasticon Anglicanum VI (2), London 1830
10 Norman Hidden: The Hospital of St. John the Baptist in Wiltshire Archeological and Natural History Magazine, Vol.83 (1990) pp.96-104
11 Calendar of Close Rolls: 1237
12 Assize Rolls: 32 Henry III
13 Close Rolls: 1248
14 Close Rolls:1249
15 Charter Rolls i, 162
16 Duchy of Lancaster Great CoucherVol.2, f.50 no.26
17 P.R.O.: DL25/2297 and DL25/2296
18 Calendar of Patent Rolls 1248 and 1259
19 The Aerary, Windsor: XL. G.28
20 P.R.O.: DL4/15/6
21 Calendar of Close Rolls 1247-52 p.54
22 P.R.O.: DL42/108 f.91
23 Calendar of Patent Rolls: 1253
24 Calendar of Close Rolls: 1259
25 Labarge: pp.278-9
26 Bémont: p.35, note 1
27 Norman Hidden: Royal Itineraries and Medieval Routes in Wiltshire
Archeological and Natural History Magazine, Vol.89 (1996)

See also:

- Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford