Abbot Samson of Bury St. Edmunds:
Denial of Claims to Hereditary Right, 1191
Abbot Samson, a strong-minded prelate, expressed himself forcibly when he felt that
the interests of Bury St. Edmunds were in any way likely to be prejudiced. In the one case
he resisted the claims of Adam de Cokefield to half a hundred, on the grounds that the
king might administer the estate under certain circumstances, and in the other case he
objected to the tactics of certain people about the bed of a dying man, and divided the
property of the deceased between the grasping widow, the poor relatives, the brother of
the man, and the indigent.
On the death of Robert de Cokefield, his son Adam came and with him were his
relatives, Earl Roger Bigod and many other nobles. They asked the abbot about the holdings
of the said Adam and especially about half the hundred of Cosford, which was to be held
for an annual rent of one hundred shillings, as if this should be held by right of
inheritance, and they alleged that his father and his grandfather had held it for eighty
years or more. But the abbot, when he had obtained an opportunity for speaking, placing
his two fingers to his two eyes, said, "May I lose these eyes in that day and hour in
which I grant the hundred to be held by hereditary right, unless the king, who is able to
take away my life and abbacy, compel me to do this." And giving his reason for these
words, he said, "If any one hold the hundred by hereditary right, and if he do wrong
against the king in any way, so that he ought to be disinherited, straightway the sheriff
of Suffolk and the king's bailiffs would seize the hundred: and they would exercise their
authority within our borders; and if they should have custody of the hundred, the freedom
of eight and a half hundreds would be in danger."
Then turning to Adam he said, "If you, who claim inheritance to that hundred,
should take as your wife any free woman, who holds in chief from the king one acre of
land, the king at your death would take seisin of all your land and wardship of your son,
if he should be under age; and so the king's bailiffs would enter into a hundred belonging
to St. Edmund's to the prejudice of the abbot. Moreover, your father acknowledged to me
that he would not claim hereditary right in that hundred; and because his service pleased
me I allowed him to hold it all the days of his life, as his deeds might deserve." At
these words much money was offered to the abbot; but he was not to be turned from his
purpose by prayer or price.
Hamo Blund, one of the richer men of that town, being in extremis, hardly wished
to make any will; at length he made a will at a price of three marks, there being no
others present but his wife, his brother, and a chaplain. After his death the abbot
remembered this and called those three into his presence and bitterly chided them about
this, because the brother, who was the heir, and the wife did not allow any other person
to approach the sick man, since they desired to obtain everything for themselves; and the
abbot said in plain hearing, "I was his bishop, and I had the cure of his soul; lest
the ignorance of his priest and confessor should prove harmful to me, because, while I was
absent, I was not able to consult with the sick man, it is to my interest to look after
his welfare, even if it is late. I command that all his debts and movable chattels, which,
so it is said, are worth two hundred marks, shall be written down, and one portion shall
be given to his heir, and another to his wife, and a third to his poor relations and the
indigent. But his horse, which was led before the bier of the dead man and was offered to
St. Edmund, I order to be sent back and returned; for it is not worthy that our church
should be defiled by the gift of him who died intestate, and, whom rumor accused of
customarily lending his money at usury. By God's face, if in my days such a thing should
happen to any one in future, he shall not be buried in holy ground." On these words,
they all went away in confusion.
J. G. Rokewode, ed., Chronica Jocelini de Brakelonda, (London: Camden Society,
1840), p. 42, 67-68; reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Herbert H. Coulson, A Source Book
for Medieval Economic History, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint
ed., New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965), pp. 343-345.
Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by
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© Paul Halsall, October 1998