Moels [Meulles, Molis], Sir Nicholas de
- Henry Summerson
Moels [Meulles, Molis], Sir Nicholas de (d. 1268/9), soldier and diplomat, was of uncertain origins. The fact that his landed interests came to be heavily concentrated in south-west England suggests an affiliation (albeit probably remote) with the Devon family of Molis or Mules, whose name derived from Meulles in Normandy (Calvados). Moels had entered the service of King John by 1215, probably as a soldier, and was rewarded with grants of rebels' lands; in 1217 he received the manor of Watlington, Oxfordshire, for his maintenance. He fought in Wales in 1223, and took part in the siege of Bedford Castle in 1224. But he also acted as a diplomat, going on embassies to Germany in 1225, and to France in 1228; by this time he was a knight of the king's household. In 1230 he accompanied Henry III to Brittany, and was sent to make contact with the king's mother and her husband, the count of La Marche. In 1232 he went to the Welsh marches, at first to negotiate with Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, and then to take command of St Briavel's Castle, Gloucestershire. In 1234 he was appointed sheriff of Devon, an office he exercised through a deputy, and also warden of the Channel Islands. But he held the latter post for only a few months, and went abroad again on embassy in October 1235. His standing at court is shown by his having been one of the sceptre-bearers at the coronation of Queen Eleanor on 20 January 1236. In 1239 he became sheriff of Yorkshire, and at about the same time had the custody of the vacant see of Durham, and of the lands of the earl of Lincoln and the Earl Warenne.
In 1241 Moels went abroad again, on an embassy to the count of Angoulême, and in the following year accompanied Henry III on his expedition to Gascony. He acted as one of the king's envoys to Louis IX of France, to deliver the charge of truce-breaking which justified the outbreak of hostilities. Then, as part of King Henry's arrangements for the government of Gascony, on 17 June 1243 he was appointed seneschal of the duchy, with a yearly salary of 1000 marks. Shortly afterwards there were serious outbreaks of disorder in the south of Gascony, and during his efforts to suppress them Moels appears to have suffered a sharp reverse before the castle of Gorro. His enthusiasm for his charge dwindled, so much so that on 8 September Henry promised that he could resign his office after a year if he chose. In the event his seneschalcy was reasonably successful. He made peace with the troublesome Arnaud Guillaume, lord of Gramont, and his rule was remembered as benevolent by the townsmen of Sault de Navailles. And when Thibault I, king of Navarre, invaded Gascony in November 1244, in pursuit of a claim to the vicomté of Béarn, Moels defeated him and drove him out of the duchy.
On 15 July 1245 Moels was relieved of the seneschalcy and returned to England; arrangements to pay the arrears of his salary went on being made for several years. On 17 August 1245 he was appointed to the custody of Carmarthen and Cardigan castles, and in the following year was responsible for one of the most notable feats of arms of Henry III's reign, when he led a force of predominantly Welsh troops from Carmarthen to Deganwy on Conwy Bay, forcing the surrender of the recalcitrant Maelgwn Fychan of Is Aeron, and in the process demonstrating that the uplands of north Wales were not impenetrable to English invaders. Moels remained in Wales until 1248, when he returned to Gascony, and from then until 1252 he was constantly involved in efforts first to support Simon de Montfort in Gascony, and later to mediate between Montfort and the Gascons. In January 1250, for instance, he was sent to arbitrate in the increasingly bitter dispute, and in June 1252 he was appointed a conservator of the truce to be made between the two sides. In 1253 he came back to Gascony with Henry III, and remained there throughout the king's sojourn; in February 1254 Henry ordered that Moels be paid £100, on the grounds that he had received nothing from the king during the past year.
In 1257 Moels was once more employed in Wales, but now as a diplomat rather than a soldier, negotiating a settlement with Maredudd ap Rhys Gryg of Deheubarth. In the following year he became keeper of the Cinque Ports, and then sheriff of Kent, retaining the latter office until October 1259. Under the provisions of Oxford, drawn up in June and July 1258, he was entrusted with Rochester and Canterbury castles, but lost control of the Cinque Ports and Dover Castle. It seems clear that his loyalties remained with the king, but he was ageing by now, and when war once more threatened in the Welsh marches, in January 1263, Moels was instructed to send his son to the muster rather than attending himself. He was still alive in November 1268, when (about the 25th) he appeared before assize justices at Gloucester, but was dead by 24 June 1269, when his son Roger was given favourable terms for the payment of the relief due from his father's lands.
About 1230 Moels married Hawise, widow of John Boterel and coheir of James of Newmarket, and thereby became lord of half the barony of North Cadbury, Somerset. Also in 1230 he was given the royal demesne manors of Kingskerswell and Diptford in Devon, and with them the hundreds of Haytor and Stanborough. He received numerous other grants of lands from the king, in several counties, held a number of wardships, and was a regular recipient of gifts of wine, timber, and game. His eldest son, James, who as an infant was brought up with Prince Edward in Windsor Castle, predeceased Nicholas, who also had a daughter, Maud, who married Richard de Urtiaco, the heir to another Somerset barony, that of Stoke Trister. A loyal and able servant of Henry III, Nicholas de Moels enjoyed the rare accolade of a complimentary notice from Matthew Paris, who described him as 'a most energetic and circumspect knight' (Paris, Chron., 4.255).
- GEC, Peerage, new edn, 9.1–4
- F. Michel, C. Bémont, and Y. Renouard, eds., Rôles Gascons, 4 vols. (1885–1962), vol. 1
- Paris, Chron., vols. 4–5
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C. E. H. Chadwyck-Healey and L. Landon, eds., Somersetshire pleas, 2, ed. L. LandonFind it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat, Somerset RS, 36 (1923), 63Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat
A. Hughes, List of sheriffs for England and Wales: from the earliest times to ad 1831, PRO (1898)Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat; repr.(New York, 1963)Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat
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- Y. Renouard, ed., Bordeaux sous les rois d'Angleterre (1965), 97
- J. Ellis, ‘Gaston de Béarn: a study in Anglo-Gascon relations, 1229–1290’, DPhil diss., U. Oxf., 1952
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