Randolph Jones, Research Associate, Beyond 2022
In her seminal ‘Medieval Record Sources’, Philomena Connolly remarked that there was a ‘dearth of documentation relating to the liberties’ of Ireland. These were palatinates, whose lords ruled independently of the king’s officers in Dublin, holding their own courts, and appointing their own administrative personnel. One of the largest liberties in Ireland was that of Meath, which was held in the mid-fifteenth century by Richard Plantagenet, duke of York (1411-60). After Richard’s son and successor Edward, seized the English throne in 1461, Meath passed permanently to the crown. The liberty’s records remained stored in Trim castle but were neglected. As a result, over time, they were ‘taken and embezzled by diverse persons of malice prepensed, to the great damages and disherison of our said sovereign lord.’ An act was therefore passed by the Irish parliament in 1494 demanding ‘that whatsoever person have any of the said rolls, records, or inquisitions, or knows where they be, and does not deliver them’ to the king’s council in Ireland, will ‘be deemed felons attainted.’ At least one item seems to have been recovered, a remembrance roll which recorded the proceedings conducted in the liberty’s court during the year 30 Henry VI (1451-2). This included customary payments due to the duke, as well as other matters relevant to the financial administration of the liberty. By the middle of the seventeenth century, this roll was held in the Chief Remembrancer’s Office in the Dublin exchequer. After 1867, it was transferred to the Public Record Office of Ireland, where it was destroyed in 1922. When examined in the early nineteenth century, it was said to be in a good state of preservation and comprised fifteen membranes.
Before its destruction, the roll was examined by several antiquarians. The fullest indication of its contents can be found in William Lynch’s ‘repertory’ or calendar, which is held in the College of Arms, London. Extracts were also made by James F. Ferguson in his manuscripts held in the National Archives of Ireland. Sir James Ware and Walter Harris also recorded a solitary entry, which is found in their manuscripts held in the British Library and National Library of Ireland respectively, as did the compiler of the Delafield family papers, whose typed copies of his notes are held in both the National Archives of Ireland and the British Library. It was also noted by James Lydon in the 1960s, that there was ‘a press copy of part of m[embrane] 12 d[orse] in the P.R.O.I., Strong Room, 5/4/11, fols. 121 ff., but it is incomplete and is so faded as to be almost illegible’ which may also provide additional information. Therefore, from this substitute material, it is possible to recover several entries of varying levels of completeness, enabling a tentative reconstruction. The first known entries listed individuals who appointed attorneys during the Michaelmas term of 1451. Mention is made of Robert Rocheford of Kilbride, the ‘farmer’ or renter of Brownstown, Sir John Kerdyffe, and Nicholas Ford of Fordstown, late the sheriff of Meath. The latter put Matthew Englysh of Trim in his place (‘ponit loco suo’), in a plea of debt against the king. There then followed a fine made by Thomas, the brother and heir of Barnaby Nangle, late baron of Navan, for entering two-thirds of the lands he held from the duke. After Barnaby was killed at ‘Balibardan’ or Bardanstown in 1435, the other third would have passed to his widow as her dower. Due to the length of time since his brother’s death, it is possible that Thomas had only just reached his majority. It is also possible that John, the son of George Drake of Drakerath, also mentioned in the roll, made a similar fine to the duke.
A record was also made of the appointment of John Bermyngham of Oldtown as the chief serjeant of co. Meath. Details are also given of a deed dated 8 March 1451, in which Johanna, the sister and heiress of Thomas Petyt, granted all her estates in Rathkenny, Coghelstown, Dreminstown, Horistown, Clogher, ‘Kengarth,’ Dunderk and Chamberstown to John Burnell and Christopher Hart, chaplain, but for what purpose is not known. In the Hilary term of 1452, it was recorded that on 23 February 1450, Robert, the son and heir of Christopher Preston of Gormanston, undertook to pay his late father debts, which the latter had personally acknowledged in the duke’s chancery on 4 June 1433. Robert thereby gained possession of his late father’s lands, which had been temporarily held by Sir John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury. The entry also informs us that Christopher died on 16 July 1441 and that an inquisition into his lands was held in the Trim guildhall on 7 January 1449. Nicholas Husse, baron of Galtrim was also recorded as being the tenant of 4 houses and 1 carucate of land in Balfeaghan, Dromin, Ballyconnell and Preston. These had been held previously by John Nugent, who was dead by 1427-28. Nicholas successfully pleaded a writ out of chancery dated 2 May 1438, in favour of his late brother Thomas, from whom he inherited the same lands, ordering all processes against him to be superseded. Nicholas is also mentioned elsewhere in the same roll as having been granted the temporary custody of ‘Cowlcaman.’ A series of inquisitions also confirmed that Stephen, the son of Johanna Ray and her first husband Henry Fitzwilliam, was the tenant of Raystown, which he held of the duke’s manor of Ratoath. After Henry’s death, Johanna married William Crompe (d. 1432-33), by whom she had a daughter, Margaret. When Johanna died, William continued holding Raystown, ‘courtesy of England,’ to the temporary exclusion of her son and heir, Stephen Fitzwilliam. This prolonged tenure resulted in John, the son of Geoffrey, who was the son of William Crompe by another wife, being mistaken by an earlier jury as the new tenant of Raystown. A pardon granted on 28 August 1450 to Sir William Welles, the duke’s seneschal, was also recorded in this roll, as well as a grant made by the duke himself on 19 July 1450, to the Dominican prior and convent of Mullingar, of 30 acres of land in Kilbride for 21 years, for the spiritual welfare of himself and his family. In the Easter term of 1452, Katherine, the widow of George Symean of Trim, successfully recovered 2 houses and 24 acres in Kells, which she and her late husband held jointly from Marionne Cruys and her husband Thomas Plunket and not from the duke himself. After George died in 1447-8, this property was seized by the duke’s officers because George was indebted to him as the farmer of the duke’s manor of Castlerickard. Katherine’s attorney was Henry Proutefote. The duke’s representative was his sergeant-at-law, John Dyllon, who probably represented his interests in the other cases mentioned in this roll.
Thus, from the entries recovered so far, the contents of this roll suggest that the liberty’s administration was quite active in 1451-2. Thanks to the efforts made by antiquarians of the past, this information has not been lost to us permanently.