More Medieval Mayhem

The Cayleys of the Middle Ages seem to have been as rough in their ways as most land-owning families of a period when people often took the law into their own hands – or ignored it. Edmund de Caly, who was from the main baronial Cayley branch of Norfolk, was the subject of a complaint by Henry de Hastynges in 1315 that he [Edmund] and many others had assaulted his servants at Gretton, Cambridgeshire when they were carrying cloths from St Ives, “and followed them in hostile manner from Gretton to Cambridge, where the commonalty of the town being assembled they took his servants and imprisoned them, and took from them the cloths and other goods and chattels… and carried the same away.”

Edmund de Caly clearly got the good folk of Cambridge on his side. Probably he believed that right was on his side too – perhaps because of a standing quarrel, or perhaps because he thought that Henry de Hastynges’ servants were stealing. A commission of oyer and terminer – a judicial investigation – was ordered on 3 July 1315, but, alas, I have been able to find no record of what the outcome was. As this was the time when the Cayleys were at their wealthiest and most powerful, one suspects that, whatever the rights and wrongs of the affair, Edmund got away with it.

Source: Calendar of the Patent Rolls, Edward II, 1313-1317, pub. HMSO 1898



A Yorkshire Quarrel

The Court Rolls of Wakefield, Yorkshire are one of the most extensive sets of judicial records, running from the 13th to the 19th centuries. They are full of gems. Cayleys feature quite often in the medieval period, usually with just a record of their having given excuses for non-attendance (a landlord could command all tenants to attend and fine them if they did not have an acceptable excuse for not doing so), a pledge that someone would attend at a future hearing or a guarantee of someone’s good behaviour. But some entries tell rather more of a story.

In the 1290s there was clearly some ill-feeling between members of the Cayley family and one Richard del Bothem. On 16 November 1296 Richard made a formal complaint that Nicholas de Caylli had assaulted him: Nicholas countered with a suit for trespass against Richard. A few weeks later, on 6 December, Richard del Bothem sued Nicholas de Caylli for “assaulting him and wounding him on the head with his sword in his own house, also for carrying off one of his horses which Richard had impounded in his corn, after cutting the tether with his sword”, and sought damages of 100 shillings. The defendant denies it, saying that when he came to redeem his horse, impounded in the common pasture, Richard beat him with a stick, and used insulting words, etc.; he claims damages 100s., and says that he had only acted in self-defence. They both crave an inquisition [a formal court hearing].”

On 1 January 1297 a day is set for the hearing. By then Richard del Bothem is also accusing John de Cailly of trespass as well.

But – as such quarrels must frequently have been – a settlement was reached. On 15 February 1297 “Richard del Bothem and Nicholas de Caylly have a love-day” – a splendid term, highly appropriate for the morrow of St Valentine’s! A ‘love day’ was a day set by a court for arbitration between parties to a legal dispute: it was not always successful, and sometimes one of the parties would even attack the other on the way to arbitration (on one notorious occasion in 1411 a litigant with some 500 men ambushed his opponent on his way to a love day). The arbitration clearly worked in this instance: in the first week of Lent, 1297 Nicholas is recorded as giving 12 pence “for license of concord with Richard del Bothem” and another 12 pence for withdrawing his suit against Richard.

Richard del Bothem must have been quite a difficult character. The Wakefield Court Rolls record other quarrels in which he was engaged, other allegations of assault and insult, theft of timber and nuts from woodlands, a case in which he denied having been paid for a feather-bed, accusations of trespass, and a fine on his guarantor because he was not “faithful” to his earl. I don’t set too much store by the thefts of forest produce – forest laws were strict and such fines were a welcome source of income for feudal landlords. But Richard clearly tended to get caught up in fractious disputes.

Ransomed from the Scots

Several of the de Cailly family inevitably found themselves fighting the Welsh and the Scots in the wars of Edward I, Edward II and Edward III. in 1287 Sir Adam de Cailly was with the English army in Wales. In 1298 and 1301 he was summoned from his Norfolk estates to fight against the Scots.

This Adam’s son, another Adam, had the misfortune to be captured in Scotland (perhaps in the Weardale campaign of 1327, an English defeat which led to the definitive recognition of Scottish independence the following year), staying prisoner until he was ransomed in about 1328. The Close Rolls of the reign of Edward III include this entry for 3 June 1337:

“To Nicholas de la Beche, constable of the Tower of London, or to him who supplies his place. Whereas Adam de Cailly, who was taken in Scotland by the king’s enemies and imprisoned for some time in Dunbar castle, is bringing a letter of the countess of la Marche [Countess of March], who did satisfaction for his ransom and released him from prison, to John Randolf, earl of Murref [Murray], her brother, now in the Tower, the king orders Nicholas to permit Adam to deliver the letter to the earl in his presence, and inspect it with him, and to inform the king or his council if there is anything sinister or any other matter whereby the king can have information.”

Interestingly, the Countess of March who paid the ransom for Adam must have been Joan de Geneville, daughter of Joan of Lusignan, sister of Yolande de la Marche. Yolande may have died in 1314 and married Pierre de Préaux, a cousin of Adam’s descended from the Cailly branch which had its main lands in Normandy after the conquest and adopted the name de Préaux. So Joan was a cousin (if moderately distant) of Adam’s. In 1328 Joan was wife of the effective ruler of England, Roger Mortimer, first Earl of March, whom some believe to have had Edward II killed the previous year. Roger Mortimer was hung at Tyburn for treason and usurping royal power in 1330 after the 18-year-old Edward III seized power into his own hands. The Countess of March whose letter Adam was carrying would have been Joan herself, then dowager countess: the second Earl of March was another Roger Mortimer, Joan’s grandson, who did not marry until later.

John Randolph was a major figure in Scottish history of the time. You can read about him on Wikipedia. In 1334 he became joint Regent of Scotland, but was captured in 1335 and held prisoner in England until 1341. Adam de Cailly was clearly thought to have been carrying a letter which might have implications of national importance for England – not surprising given who John Randolph and the Countess of March were. He must have mixed in politically suspect circles.


  • Calendar of Close Rolls, Edward III: vol. 4, HMSO 1900
  • Knights of Edward I, Harleian Society, 1929

A Medieval Thief

I recently came across this reference to a medieval Cailly. The year is the 14th of the reign of Edward I, which ran from 20 November 1285 to 19 November 1286. The place is North Repps near Cromer on the NE Norfolk coast.

“Roger de Cayly and Robert the groom (valettus) of Henry de Brom, being prosecuted at the suit of the bailiffs of this hundred, took sanctuary in the church of North Repps, and admitted themselves to be thieves.”

Henry de Brom belonged to quite an important East Anglian family.

I do not know how, if at all, Roger de Cayly fits into the Cailly tree, but the fact that he is recorded as ‘de Cayly’ suggests he does somehow – ‘de’ normally signifies a member of a landowning family. About 40 years earlier there are references to a Roger de Cailli/Caly at Heacham on the Wash, where the Cailly’s had long held land, but this is unlikely to be the same person. It looks the thieving Roger was one of the family’s black sheep. Or was this an episode in a quarrel between the Cailly family and neighbours? Such quarrels often led to what we would regard as criminal acts, as State records, manor court records and the Paston Letters show.

Source: Crown Plea Roll, Norfolk, North Erpingham Hundred, in Norfolk Antiquarian Miscellany, vol. 1, ed. Walter Rye, pub. A H Goose and Co, Norwich, 1883

Drinks on the (monastic) house

mug-clipart-free-beer-18In medieval times ancestors of the Yorkshire Cayleys were associated with the Priory of Wymondham, SW of Norwich (which gained full Abbey status in 1448 and is now the parish church). In 1309, the wealthiest and most powerful member of the family, Thomas de Cailly, who inherited through his mother vast estates across much of England, is recorded as having the advowson of the Priory of Wymondham – the right to appoint the prior. Among the perquisites that went with the advowson, and which Thomas enjoyed, was bread and ale to be supplied by the Priory whenever he was in the area. (Venison, suckling pigs and the like do not seem to have been included – but Thomas will have had other sources for those.)

There is no indication that there was a limit to the amount of ale. I can think of at least one or two living members of the family – and one or two people connected with family members – who might have wanted to take full advantage of a right like this!

[Source: Close Rolls, March 1309, cited in the Victoria County History of Norfolk vol 2 p.338]

The Chaucer connection: bawdy trouble at the mill

“At Trumpyngtoun, nat fer fro Cantebrigge [Cambridge],/ There goth a brook, and over that a brigge [bridge],/ Upon the whiche brook there stant [stands] a melle [mill]….”

So begins one of the bawdiest of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, told by the Reeve, in which two students from Soler Hall – the future Trinity College, Cambridge to which so many Cayleys went – get the best of the greedy thieving miller, and one of them has sex with the miller’s daughter, the other with his wife. The plot is derived from a medieval French fabliau, which was also used for one of the tales of Boccaccio’s Decameron.

What connection could there be between this scurrilous and ribald tale and the Cayleys?

Trumpington is now on the outskirts of Cambridge; in medieval times it was a separate village. From the time of William the Conqueror until 1346 – less than 50 years before Chaucer wrote the Tales – it was held by members of the de Cailly family. In 1086 the manor of Trumpington was held by William de Cailly, one of the sons of Guillaume de Cailly who probably fought at the Battle of Hastings and who was rewarded with lands in East Anglia. One of his descendants, John de Cailly, who inherited the manor, died in 1314, leaving a six-year son, another John, who almost certainly died a minor. John de Cailly’s widow remarried – her second husband being John Barrington of Essex, who died soon after 1346: but before then – probably on John de Cailly’s death – Trumpington had passed into the hands of John de Cailly’s sisters Margaret and Agnes and their respective husbands John Ware and John Stanes.

Trumpington Mill dates back to before the Domesday Book, which records its existence as part of William de Cailly’s holding. The full Domesday Book entry reads, in modern English,

“In TRUMPINGTON William de Cailly holds 4 1/2 hides. Land for 5 ploughs. In lordship 2; 9 villagers with 4 smallholders have 3 ploughs. 1 mill at 20s; meadow for 5 ploughs; pasture for the village livestock; 4 ploughshares. The value is and was £6; before 1066 £7. Toki of Walton held this land from the Church of Ely in 1066; he could not grant, sell or separate it from the Church. Afterwards, Frederic, William’s brother, had this land.”

This is, incidentally, the only reference I have found to William de Cailly having a brother called Frederic. (The original Domesday Book wording is “Frederi fr[ater] Willi.’)

The mill no longer exists. In 1375, after Trumpington passed out of de Cailly hands, and shortly before The Reeve’s Tale was composed, one miller was killed. The last recorded mention of the mill as a working entity is in 1467; its ruins were said to be still visible in 1753.

[Sources: Domesday Book entry for Trumpington; Early Yorkshire Charters, Vol 7, ed. William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; Victoria County History – County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely vol.8; A Literary History of Cambridge by Graham Chainey, CUP 1985, revised ed. 1995.]

The Runaway Nun

The baronets’ branch of the Cayleys descended from members of the family who made their main base in Yorkshire in later medieval times. But some Cayleys stayed in East Anglia, where the family had its original landholdings after the Norman Conquest.

In 1389 a nun called Margaret Cailly eloped from St Radegund’s Priory, Cambridge, whose site was taken over by Jesus College when it was founded in 1496. William Courtenay, Archbishop of Canterbury, found her and her partner living in the the Diocese of Lincoln during a visitation he made of the diocese. She had naturally cast off her nun’s habit and was in ordinary secular dress. William Courtenay apprehended her and parcelled off unceremoniously to the custody of John Fordham, Bishop of Ely, who in turn sent her back to St Radegund’s, with strict orders that the prioress was to keep the poor woman in close confinement and impose harsh penances on her.

It is perhaps ironic that St Radegund, after whom the priory was named, was forcibly married in the 6th century to a brutal Frankish ruler who had her brother murdered: she ran away and successfully sought the protection of the Church, founding a double monastery (one which had both male and female members – quite a common practice at the time). For Margaret Cailly the Church was hard and uncompassionate.

Margaret was almost certainly descended from members of the Cailly family who stayed in East Anglia.