Murder in the First

(The Brief Look)


So we come to the 1200s. The Cantilupes were making their presence felt in King John’s service. Fulk, brother of William (I), was one of the ‘cruel and inhuman knights’ who expelled the monks of Canterbury during the Stephen Langton affair.1 


William I, his son William II and Fulk were also all named and shamed as King John’s evil councillors – it was standard political rhetoric at this time to blame the counselors of a king rather than the king himself, so this should be taken with a good pinch of salt. Unfortunately there’s very little information aside from the rather biased chronicle to tell us what the family members were like as people, so we shall have to look into their track records instead.


William I was certainly loyal to King John, and to John’s nine year old heir, Henry. In 1217 William I is found laying siege to the castles of Montsorrel and Lincoln, helping to repel the French invasion and ensure Henry’s succession, and was named as a baron of the Exchequer in that same year.


Their kinsman Roger, unconnected to the king’s turbulent court, was named as a miles nobilis de Esexsia, a noble knight of Essex, but was accused of disturbing the king’s peace – of which he was convicted, and consequently hanged.2


It is likely that he was a rebel baron at the end of John’s reign, and this is the treason to which the bishop Chester referred some time later. Matthew Paris records that, in 1225, Bishop Alexander Stavenby of Chester complained ‘most severely’ about Roger de Cantilupe, a lawyer, saying that his father had been a traitor and had been hanged for his sins.3  Roger then apparently kept his peace, as his father’s treason was not something he was able to deny.


In searching for this hanged Roger, I found a hanged Hugh: hanged after being defeated in a judicial duel.



Hugh de Cantilupe, hung for ‘felony’, held the manors of Smeethton and Finborough in Essex.4   He murdered John de Goldingham in 1225, after a disagreement between the two families spiraled rapidly out of control. Could the names have been confused, or could the hanged Roger be a relative of the hanged Hugh? Was Bishop Alexander referring to Roger the noble knight of Essex, or was this a mistake on the part of the Annales Monastici, confusing father and son?


Either way, let’s look at the hanged Hugh.


The case between the Goldinghams and the Cantilupes, first concerning pleas of service, then of breaking the king’s peace, had been dragging on since 1224 and had originally been between Peter de Cantilupe and Hugh de Goldingham, both on the king’s service in Scotland, but in the same year Hugh de Cantilupe had become involved versus John de Goldingham.5 
The Goldinghams were neighbours of the Cantilupes, and at some point (probably c.1215 in the chaos of the civil war) John de Goldingham had stopped paying rent for a small parcel of land he held from Hugh de Cantilupe. Hugh took some livestock from John to get him to pay up – a fairly standard practice. John appealed to the courts, and won. Hugh wasn’t having any of that, so he paid a mark to have the case heard before the royal justices at Westminster. In 1224 a compromise was reached: John admitted he owed the 12d in rent plus arrears, and Hugh dropped his right to scutage and other claims he had made.


Then, in 1225, something must have blown up between the two men again – for John was found dead, and Hugh was suspected, arrested and tried for his murder. Clearly Hugh had pleaded not guilty – it was rare for noble families in England to engage in direct acts of violence against each other, particularly in the 1220s when things were relatively stable. It was bad luck that Hugh lost his judicial duel – since he lost, he was found guilty and hanged. This is telling, since all his influential relatives who might have saved him were nowhere to be seen.


Firstly, William I, household steward of the king himself, had fallen out of favour for siding with Peter des Roches, the king’s tutor, against the justiciar Hubert de Burgh. He was just about regaining his former influence at court having been frozen out for a while, but not soon enough to save Hugh.


Then there was the silence of the de Veres, earls of Oxford – the family that Euphemia Cantilupe had married into. Unfortunately Earl Robert de Vere had died in 1221, and his son and heir was only 11. Had Earl Robert been alive, Hugh might have been saved – but as it was, left without influential kinsmen to call upon, Hugh found himself literally fighting for his life… and apparently he lost. Since this was a clear indication of guilt, he was found guilty and hanged for the crime. It seemed to have overshadowed his sons and the next generation for quite some time.


Read more details of this crime here:  Tony Moore, ‘A Medieval Murder Mystery, or the Crime of the Canteloups’, Henry III Fine Rolls Project, Fine of the Month (April, 2006), online resource,


1. Roger of Wendover, Flowers of History, trans. Rev. J. A. Giles, (London, 1849), p. 240.
2. Ann. Mon. iii. 95
3. ‘Episcopus autem ille praenominatus [Alexander Stavenby of Chester] pontificalibus indutus, cum talia sibi objecta cognovisset, necnon quosdam qui regi suggesserunt exasperando, episcopus foventes partes Marescalli velle alium regem creare, commotus est vehementer, maxime adversus Rogerum de Cantelu, legistam, arguens eum sceleris paterni, dicens, quod patris sui proditoris et suspensi pro eodem proditione sequens vestigia patrissavit. Excommunicavit igitur incontinenti omnes qui contra regem iniquitatem hujusmodi sceleris cogitabant, vel super episcopos, qui ominio de salute et honore regis sollicitabantur, malitiose talia imponebant. Et sic manifestata episcoporum ac probata innocentia, confusis discordiae seminatoribus, siluit legista praenominatus [Roger de Cantilupe], ab anathemate, ut videtur, non immunis. …’ Chron. Maj., iii., 268
4. I would like to direct interested parties to the work Tony Moore has done on this case in his Fine of the Month on the Henry III Fine Rolls Project. Moore says, ‘The Essex antiquary Morant describes Goldingham Hall as lying half a mile to the northeast of the church of Bulmer and Smeetham Hall one mile to the north (P. Morant, The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex: compiled from the best and most ancient historians (2 vols, London, 1768), II, pp. 310–11). A surviving deed in the fourteenth-century cartulary of the Goldingham family reveals that the demesne lands of the two families were only separated by one small strip of tenant land (E[ssex] R[ecord] O[ffice] D/DEx M25, f.3v).’
5.See, Cur. Reg., xi., 1431:287, 2392:475, 2445:485-6, 2888:580.