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Eustace fitz Johnlocked

(d. 1157)
  • T. F. Tout
  • , revised by Paul Dalton

Eustace fitz John (d. 1157)

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© Copyright The British Museum

Eustace fitz John (d. 1157), justice and baron, was the son of John fitz Richard (b. before 1056), a minor tenant-in-chief in Essex and Norfolk, and an unknown mother. He succeeded Serlo de Burg, who is said (perhaps wrongly) to have been his uncle and to have founded the castle of Knaresborough, as the farmer of the royal manors of Knaresborough and Aldborough. He had two brothers, Pain fitz John and William, and two sisters, Agnes and Alice. Like his brother Pain, Eustace became attached to the court of Henry I, and between 1114 and 1133 was a regular witness of Henry's charters. In the only extant pipe roll of Henry's reign he appears as a justice itinerant in the north, acting in conjunction with Walter Espec. He won Henry's special favour, receiving grants that made him very powerful in Yorkshire and Northumberland, including the manor of Malton in the North Riding of Yorkshire, and was reputed to be a man of great wisdom and counsel. His main places of residence were Alnwick and Malton and he was also custodian of Bamburgh Castle and of the castle and honour of Tickhill (sometimes known as Blyth). After the death of Henry I, Eustace submitted to King Stephen (by Easter 1136), and appears to have been employed by Stephen as a justice in the north. His castle of Alnwick was captured by the Scots before 5 February 1136, but was returned by 22 March 1136. He supported Stephen's invasion of Scotland early in 1138, but afterwards was arrested by Stephen and deprived of the castles Henry I had given him, including Bamburgh. As a result he joined David, king of Scots, when he invaded the north of England again after Easter 1138, and intended to give his own castle of Malton to the Scots. He was present at the battle of the Standard, where he and his followers fought alongside the men of Cumbria and Teviotdale in the second line of King David's host. Wounded in the battle, he escaped to one of his castles, after which his town and fortress of Malton were besieged by English forces. By 1142 Henry of Scotland, earl of Northumberland, had restored him to his Northumberland possessions and granted him extensive lands in the honour of Huntingdon. Eustace supported the attempt by the Scottish chancellor, William Cumin, to establish himself as bishop of Durham in 1141, helped to arrange a truce between Cumin and Bishop William de Ste Barbe in 1143, and thereafter allied himself with the earls of Chester and York in what appears to have been an attempt to restore his power, and probably also to promote Scottish authority, south of the Tees. Coins bearing his name were minted at York in Stephen's reign, and, probably between 1149 and c.1151, he destroyed Gilbert de Gant's castle of Hunmanby in Yorkshire in a war fought for control of the earldom of Lincoln, to which Gant was a claimant. Towards the end of Stephen's reign Eustace made a grant to his son, William de Vescy, perhaps as a means of securing William's succession to his lands; this grant was confirmed by Duke Henry of Normandy in 1153–4.

Eustace was a lavish patron of the church and the special friend of new orders of regulars. His name appears in the witness list of the document purporting to be the charter by which his colleague Walter Espec founded Rievaulx, the first Cistercian house established in Yorkshire. When the first monks of Fountains were in the direst distress and had given away their last loaves in charity, Eustace's timely present of a load of bread from Knaresborough was looked on as little less than a miracle. He also made important gifts of lands to Fountains. In 1147 he founded the abbey of Alnwick for Premonstratensian canons as a daughter house of Newhouse Abbey, which had been the first Premonstratensian community established in England. He was a friend of St Gilbert of Sempringham, and established two of the earliest Gilbertine houses in England. One, probably founded in 1150–51, was a foundation for canons at Old Malton in Yorkshire. The other, founded by Eustace in conjunction with his second wife, Agnes, probably in 1151, was a community for canons and nuns at Watton in the same county. He also made grants to the monks of St Peter's, Gloucester, and to the Augustinian canons of Bridlington.

Eustace made two rich marriages. His first wife, whom he probably married before 1130, was Beatrice, daughter and heir of Ivo de Vescy. She brought Alnwick to Eustace. She died at the birth of their son, William, who adopted the name of Vescy, and was active in the king's service during the reign of Henry II, being sheriff of Northumberland between 1157 and 1170. He was the ancestor of the barons de Vescy. William's son Eustace was prominent among the northern barons whose revolt from John led to the issue of Magna Carta. Eustace fitz John's second wife was Agnes, daughter of William Fitznigel, baron of Halton and constable of Chester, one of the leading lords of the earldom of Chester. They were probably married by 1135 and had a son, Richard Fitzeustace, the ancestor of the second line of Lacys. After the childless death of Fitznigel's son and heir, William, in 1143 or 1144, Eustace obtained from Earl Ranulf (II) of Chester a grant of Fitznigel's estates and titles, in which he was recognized as leading counsellor to the earl, above all the nobles of Ranulf's lands (Barraclough, 28). In his new capacity he took part in Henry II's first expedition into Wales, and was slain in July 1157 when the king's army fell into an ambush near Basingwerk. He was then an old man. Roger of Howden described Eustace as a one-eyed worthless traitor (Chronica … Hovedene, 1.193), but the Alnwick chronicle, while also referring to this physical disability, states that Eustace was an energetic and lawful man.

Sources

  • J. A. Green, The government of England under Henry I (1986)
  • G. Barraclough, ‘Some charters of the earls of Chester’, A medieval miscellany for Doris Mary Stenton, ed. P. M. Barnes and C. F. Slade, PRSoc., new ser., 36 (1962), 25–34
  • P. Dalton, ‘Eustace fitz John and the politics of Anglo-Norman England: the rise and survival of a twelfth-century royal servant’, Speculum, 71 (1996), 358–83
  • Pipe rolls, 31 Henry I
  • Reg. RAN, vols. 2–3
  • W. Farrer and others, eds., Early Yorkshire charters, 12 vols. (1914–65), vols. 2, 12
  • W. Dugdale, The baronage of England, 2 vols. (1675–6), 91

Archives

  • BL, cartulary of Malton Priory, Cotton MS Claudius D.xi.
  • Bodl. Oxf., Dodsworth MSS, charters [copies]
  • TNA: PRO, charters [copies]

Likenesses

W. Dugdale & R. Dodsworth, eds., , 3 vols. (1655–72); 2nd edn, 3 vols. (1661–82); new edn, ed. J. Caley, J. Ellis, & B. Bandinel, 6 vols. in 8 pts (1817–30); repr. (1846) and (1970)
H. W. C. Davis & others, eds., , 4 vols. (1913–69)
G. E. C. [G. E. Cokayne], , 8 vols. (1887–98); new edn, ed. V. Gibbs & others, 14 vols. in 15 (1910–98); microprint repr. (1982) and (1987)
T. Arnold, ed., , 2 vols., RS, 75 (1882–5); repr. (1965)
, PRSoc. (1884–) [pipe rolls]