The Forest of Witingley or Freemantle
and the Agevin Kings
is nothing to suggest that the early kings of England had any particular
interest in the town of Kingsclere, which, as part of the manor of Clere
was granted by Henry II to the archbishop and canons of the cathedral
church of Rouen. The interest of the Angevin kings was in the surrounding
forests where they had houses. No doubt the market in the town was of
interest to the purveyors of the royal household, but they were notoriously
corrupt, and their descent on the town is unlikely to have been a matter
The vill or parish of Kingsclere lay in the foreste de Witengelega, between Pamber Forest on the east and Chute Forest on the west. At its greatest extent it probably extended from the River Enborne in the north to Polehampton in the south, but much that was put into the forests by Henry II and Richard, was disafforested by Magna Carta and the charters of the forest of 1215 and 1217. Even so, it would seem that the knights charged subsequently with making a perambulation of the forest, always keen to secure a diminution of the area under forest law, wilfully misunderstood their instructions, and in 1228 Henry III was forced to issue a charter to put matters right:
Witingley and the woodlands of Kingsclere are ancient forests, and the rest of the bailiwick of Witingley was newly afforested. And therefore we command you that without delay you will make a proclamation throughout your bailiwick, that the forest be kept by the same metes and bounds by which it was kept in the time of John, the king, our father, before the war started between him and his English barons, except for the aforesaid part which the lord Henry, the king and our grandfather, afforested; you will firmly forbid hat anyone shall do wrong concerning vert or venison contrary to the assize of our forest, and that bows and arrows, bracket hounds and greyhounds shall be wholly removed.
From 1158 to 1168 Ranulf de Broc, lord of the manor
of Frobury, had the custody of the forest. He was succeeded by members
of the de Edmundsthorp family. In 1219, 1236 and 1242 William de Edmundsthorpe
was returned as holding 1 virgate of land in Edmundsthorpe of the old
enfeoffment of the king in chief by the serjeanty of guarding the forest
which was variously called Wittingel' or Freidmantel.
John de Keniggeworth' was forester of the fee in 1300-1, and Robert de
la Sale and John de Lovers verderer, when the only extant perambulation
of the forest was made. At that time the forest still extended from Cottington
Hill to North Oakley, and probably included Polhampton.
In the time of Henry II Wolverton was a royal demesne manor, with a deer park. It lay almost on the boundary between the forests of Pamber and Witingley. Repairs to the king's houses were accounted for in the Pipe Rolls between 1158 and 1167, but there is no information concerning royal visits, except that of Queen. She stayed there in 1165 during the king's absence in Normandy, when her expenses amounted to £18. In 1158 the manor was farmed for £10 a year, exclusive of the park which sometimes brought in an additional £1, and occasionally provided venison for the king. Wolverton went out of royal favour, and by the time of the accession of King John in 1199, nothing had been spent on the buildings for thirty years. In 1215 John granted the manor to Peter Fitz Herbert, lord of the manor of North Oakley. Meanwhile, in 1172, there is the first reference to the king's houses (domus regalis) at Tidgrove which lay in the forest of Witingley, two and a half miles south of the town of Kingsclere.
In 1172 the Sheriff of Hampshire claimed credit for an expenditure of £31 9s.7d. on the king's houses, at Tidgrove. This seems too great a sum simply for repairs, and may be compared with that spent by Richard I on building a hunting lodge at Kinver in Staffordshire. There, where the cost of the work was £24 18s. 9d., it included a hall with adjacent offices, a kitchen, a chamber and a gaol for forest offenders. These were surrounded by a 16 feet high palisade which was entered through a gateway defended by a brattice. There was also a fish pond outside the compound. Comparison may also be made with the hunting lodge built by king John at Writtle in Essex where the layout has been recovered by excavation, and appears to be similar to that at Kinver, so far as the evidence goes, but there it was surrounded by a moat and not a palisade. The site of the king's houses at Tidgrove has been established, and it is hoped that further archaeological investigation will be carried out.
Peter de Blois, who was at one time the king's secretary, described life at Henry's court in a letter to friends:
If the king has promised to remain in a place for a day - and particularly if he has announced his intention publicly by the mouth of a herald - he is sure to upset all the arrangements by departing early in the morning. As a result you see men dashing around as if they were mad, beating their packhorses, running their carts into one another - in short giving a lively imitation of Hell. If, on the other hand, the king orders an early start, he is certain to change his mind, and you can take it for granted that he will sleep until midday. Then you will see the packhorses loaded and waiting, the carts prepared, the courtiers dozing, traders fretting, and everyone grumbling. People go to ask the maids and the doorkeepers what the king's plans are, for they are the only people likely to know the secrets of the court. Many a time when the king was sleeping a message would be passed from his chamber about the city or town he planned to go to, and though there was nothing certain about it, it would rouse us all up. After hanging about aimlessly for so long we would be comforted by the prospect of good lodgings. This would produce such a clatter of horse and foot that all Hell seemed let loose. But when our couriers had gone ahead almost the whole day's ride, the king would turn aside to some other place where he had, it might be, just a single house with accommodation for himself and no one else. I hardly dare say it, but I believe that in truth he took a delight in seeing what a fix he put us in. After wandering some three or four miles in an unknown wood, and often in the dark, we thought ourselves lucky if we stumbled upon some filthy little hovel. There was often a sharp and bitter argument about a mere hut, and swords were drawn for possession of lodging that pigs would have shunned.
dated documents exist before 1199, so that we have no itinerary of Henry
II such as it has been possible to construct for the reign of king John,
and we have to rely on the Pipe Rolls for evidence of Henry's visits to
Tidgrove. In 1176 wine was sent there on the king's orders, and it was
presumably during the royal visit of that year that orders were given
for work on the king's chapel. This took place the following year at a
cost of £7 16s. In 1178 work was again done on the king's houses for the
substantial sum of £24 18s. 7d. in preparation for the king's visit the
following year, when supplies were sent to Tidgrove on the orders of the
king. This may have been his last visit, for from 15 April to 26 July
1180 he was in France, and meanwhile orders had been given for the construction
of new houses at the top of the Downs above Kingsclere, at a place which
was to be called Freemantle.
Tidgrove was one of the places where the Fair Rosamund, daughter of Walter de Clifford was said to have a bower. No contemporary writer mentions the legends which have been woven about her affair with the king and about her death. Geraldus Cambriensis, writing at the close of the twelfth century tells us that Henry, having imprisoned his wife Eleanor because she was complicit in the rebellion of their sons, began to live in open adultery with some one who can hardly have been other than Rosamund. This open connection was after the suppression of the great rebellion, so that it must have been in 1174 or 1175 when Henry openly acknowledged his love. There can be no doubt that she was indeed the love and light of his life, and that he was heartbroken when, in 1176, she died. She was buried in the nunnery at Godstow before the high altar, in a tomb adorned with silken hangings, lamps, and waxen candles. According to Roger of Howden, 'For love of her the king conferred many benefits on the convent'. The Pipe Rolls show that during the next three years the sheriff of Oxfordshire, by the king's orders, spent over £70 on the 'work of Godstow'. Timber was fetched from the forest of Wyre in Worcestershire, and 40,000 shingles, and 4,000 lathes came by river from Wallingford. Ten years later Henry allocated £150 from the revenues of the vacant abbey of Abingdon for 'the work of the church of Godstow.' By way of comparison, the only other English foundation to benefit at the hands of Henry was the abbey of Clairvaux to which he gave a large quantity of lead for the roof.
The work on the king's houses at Freemantle was done between 1180 and 1183, when in all £140 19s. 3d. was spent on the buildings. Timber for the work was brought from the Forest of Knepp in Sussex, by way of Shoreham and Southampton. No architectural details have been recorded, but in 1185 repairs to the steps and walls of the king's chamber are mentioned.
The name Freemantle, latinised as Frigidum Mantellum, was borrowed from France where Fromental was a common place-name meaning 'cold cloak'. It has been suggested that it derives from the exposed position of the house, but we must suppose that a name which gained such wide currency, practically displacing the name Witingley for the forest, must have been suggested by the king who cannot then have experienced the rigours of the situation, if such they were. It may be that the move was made because of the death of the Fair Rosamund, and the new residence was to be a cloak for the coldness of the king's heart.
Richard I is known to have stayed at Freemantle on at least two occasions, but it is in the reign of John that we really get an insight into its royal use. Richard died 6 April 1199 and John, who was then in France, was acclaimed Duke of Normandy. A month later he landed at Shoreham, and on 27 May was crowned at Westminster Abbey. The situation in France was so precarious that on 20 June he returned and stayed until February of the following year when he sailed from Barfleur to Portsmouth on his way to Westminster. He was at Winchester by Wednesday 1 March, at Freemantle on Thursday, Windsor on Friday, and reached Westminster on Monday 6 March.
His stay in England was short, and he was back in France by 1 May, where he remained until the first week of October. During that time, on 24 August 1200, he married Isabelle of Angoulême, who was then little more than twelve years old, by whom he was said to be enchanted. They sailed from Valognes at the beginning of October, reached Freemantle on Friday 6 October, and on Sunday 8 October their coronation took place at Westminster Abbey.
In the course of his seventeen years as king, John was at Freemantle on at least 44 occasions for a minimum of 62 days in all. The visits were generally for a day, sometimes for two days, and on three or four occasions for as much as a week. There are a number of entries in the Close Rolls concerning the carriage of wine to Freemantle, and in 1205 the record of a payment of 6s. 8d. on the orders of the king to John the son of Hugh, for carrying the royal jewels from Windsor to Freemantle.
Freemantle is often referred to as King John's Hunting Lodge, but that is to miss its significance. It was primarily a staging post, a day's journey from the castles at Winchester, Ludgershall, Marlborough, Odiham, and Windsor which were always kept ready against his visits. John did delight in hunting, but the central administrative body of the kingdom, a perpetually peripatetic royal household, had also to be fed. It was a considerable establishment. A document of about 1135 describing its organisation, lists well over a hundred clerical and domestic officers, to which must be added the hunting staff who probably numbered another fifty:
A host of official ministered to the domestic needs of the travelling household. Besides the dignified servants like the Seneschal and Chamberlain, the Marshall who organised the bodyguard, and the Butler who brought in the victuals, there were intermediate men of standing like the Master Dispenser of the Bread, the Master Dispenser of the Larder, the Clerk of Household expenses, and a horde of lesser servants who had their place in the almonry, the hall, the butlery, the pantry, the kitchens. There was the Usher of the Chamber: who made the king's bed, Florence who washed his clothes, Ralph who tailored them, and William the bathman who dried them when they were wet. There were something of the order of of a hundred and fifty persons of dignity to be given presents at Christmas time, and a numberless retinue who were glad to pick up scraps..
An indication of the size of the travelling household is given by the fact that it was later considered necessary to provide stabling for eighty horses at Freemantle. Progress was determined by the speed of the cart or carts conveying the royal wardrobe, which consisted of strong chests holding the kings robes and personal valuables, ready cash and important documents, and was limited to about twenty miles a day. The hire of carts for the conveyance of the royal wardrobe is frequently recorded in the Missae Rolls, and other items in the rolls throw light on domestic arrangements,
Monday 7th May 1412 at Odiham:
in the hire of three carts travelling two days and resting one, in conveying the wardrobe from Lambeth to Odiham, 3s. The king himself could make better speed and so could his huntsmen, so on that same day we have: to Ferling the huntsman and Thomas de Porkericiis, with the hounds, 13d. for their expenses one night on the road namely the night after the Lord's Ascension, when the king went from Lambeth to Odiham
Tuesday 8th May at Freemantle:
in the hire of a cart carrying the wardrobe from Odiham to Freemantle in one day, 5d. Also to Adam, the man of William Crok, who brought to the king when he was at Rochester the heads of six Welshmen, servants of Cadwallen, 6s., on the same day, for shoes to Otho the carter, Margaret the laundress, and others, several sums.
Wednesday 9th May at Winchester:
in the hire of a cart bringing the wardrobe from Freemantle to Winchester during one day 5d.
Thursday 10th May at Winchester:
in alms to 100 paupers when the king feasted, because he ate [meat] twice on the Friday next after Ascension at Lambeth, 9s. 4½d. On the same day at Odiham: in cords purchased at Winchester to string the cross-bows which the king brought from Winchester, 5d.
Friday 11th May at Odiham:
to Philip de Albeny as a gift 40 Marks, paid him by the king. Also in the expenses of Hugh the Sumetarius [the groom of the pack-horse] remaining there with the one horse, when the king was at Freemantle and Winchester for two days, 8½d.
Thursday 31 May 1212:
5s. to Stephen de Guildford, the groom of Master Ernald de Auckland, for a wolf caught by his master's dogs at Freemantle.
king was better acquainted with England than John. It has been suggested
that this was because of his loss of France, but he was no less active
before that time. The amount of business carried on at Westminster increased
when the king was out of England, but when at home he took much into his
own hands. He was not only concerned about matters of policy, but about
the most ordinary affairs. He dictated letters about administrative matters,
received payment of debts, heard pleas of robbery or rape, and gave judgement
on very ordinary civil actions. The offices at Westminster have been described
as 'the household in little, the administrative equivalent of a chapel-of-ease'.
Important when the king was out of England, but otherwise the travelling
household was the centre of gravity. This had importance for places like
Kingsclere. The itinerary of the king was generally announced in advance.
This was a necessity for those who had business at court. The household
was pursued, not only by those with official business, but also those
seeking an audience, a favour, or a judgement. All would need accommodation,
perhaps to the profit of the people of Kingsclere. Whether the arrival
of the court was welcomed we cannot know. Some would have profited by
the sale of services or goods, but the royal purveyors were notorious
for driving a hard bargain.
At his accession in 1216 Henry III was only nine years old, and little attention was paid to Freemantle, except for the provision of game. For instance, in 1250 Robert de Edmundsthorp, bailiff of Freemantle, was ordered to send two or three capriolos (roe-buck) to Windsor without delay. In 1251 the king gave instructions for a new house to be built. It was to consist of a hall, a kitchen and a chapel. On the first floor there were to be chambers for the king and queen, and between them a tower. At one end there was to be another chapel, beneath which there was to be a cellar for the king's wine. Stabling for eighty horses was ordered. By 1253 the hall was ready for its roof, but a year later stone was still required to complete the windows, and the work was not completed until 1256, at a total cost of £1300. Henry made Freemantle over to his son and heir, the Lord Edward. It served him as an occasional residence, but he was little more attached to it than his father. In 1276 he granted the manor of Freemantle, with the royal houses, park and appurtenances, to Reginald Fitz Peter for life. Six months later he ordered him to deliver the king's houses there to his friend Pain de Chaworth, and told the sheriff to allow him to pull them down and dispose of the materials to his own profit. In 1280 Edward I sought to recover the estate from Reginald, but failed in his attempt and it did not revert until the death of Reginald in 1286.
The enclosure of the park at Freemantle was begun in 1253 and throughout the fourteenth century, after the estate reverted to the crown, the maintenance of the park and its palings, together with fodder for the deer in winter time, were a small but regular charge on the sheriff's accounts. A parker was appointed at a wage of 2d. a day, but in 1343 Simon Bacon was appointed parker for life at the wage of 3d. a day, together with 13s. 4d. yearly for a robe. The parker was allowed ten cartloads of hay a year for the deer in winter, and from the fifteenth century was paid five marks a year for supplying the game with water in summer. In the sixteenth century was given the right to all the herbage and pannage in the park, reserving sufficient food for the deer.
There are a number of references in the Close Rolls to orders for gifts of deer from the park. In 1293 Edward I ordered the parker to allow Beatrice de Roche, the daughter of William le Brun, to have three does of the gift of the king, and the parker was instructed to aid and counsel her in taking them. In 1315 Edward II ordered his yeoman, John de Knokyn, to take venison in the park, to find salt and barrels for it, and to send it to Carlisle to be delivered to Robert Welle, receiver of the king's victuals. In the second half of the fourteenth century there are references to the king's lodge in the park. It comprised several houses, some tiled, others thatched, and £50 was spent on repairs in 1367-8. Maintenance was administered by Adam of Hartington, clerk of the works at Windsor. It was subsequently undertaken by the Clerks of the King's Works, so that it would appear that the lodge was for royal use rather than that of his parker.
In the sixteenth century the parkers were men of some consequence. Sir William Sandys was appointed in 1510, Sir Humphrey Forster of Clere Woodcott in 1541, and in 1608 James I granted the reversion of the office, after the death of Sir William Kingsmill to Henry Kingsmill.
In the seventeenth century there were still deer in the park, but by 1640 the park had ceased to be Crown property and was in possession of Lord Francis Cottington of Hanworth.