Hugh Travers of Alverton

By W. J. Andrew, F.S.A.

As an outcome of the interesting account of Staunton Hall written by the Rev. G. W. Staunton, the following note from Mr. W.J. Andrew bearing on the manumission has been forwarded by the Author. It throws an interesting light on these ancient documents and we therefore reproduce it in extenso.Editor.

FOR what little my opinion is worth, I am sorry to say that it is dead against the construction hitherto placed upon the Staunton charters. Instead of being serfs or "villeins," Hugh and John Travers must have been Norman Knights, or Squires of the family of Travers, allied by marriage to the Earls of Chester. It would indeed have been cheap if a mere villein could have represented the Staunton of Staunton in the Third Crusade. The Crusade had no use for serfs, and no serf could have borne the name Travers. To recite that a villein "took the Cross in my place" by Staunton would have been ridiculous.

But the two deeds do not say anything of the kind. Refer for a moment to the Great Charter, IX Henry III, which consolidated the then feudal law, and apply what was the position of a Knight under Castle Ward when called upon by the king for military service abroad, to the same knight (Staunton) when called upon by the Church to join the Third Crusade.


"No Constable shall distraine anie knight for to give monie for keeping of his Castle if he himself will doe it in his proper person, or cause it to be done by anie other sufficient man if he maie nor doe it himself for a reasonable cause. And if we doe command or send him to our wards, he shall be free from Castle Ward for the time that he hath bene with us in fee of our host, for the which he hath done to us knight's service in our warres."

Obviously, William de Staunton had taken the Cross, although well knowing that he was not able to go on Crusade himself "for a reasonable cause." He was therefore represented by one, possibly two, of his knights as "sufficient men," and certainly could be represented by no less, or they would have been rejected at the Marshal's muster. They, in turn, had their own followers.

It followed that as they were going "on expedition," not for the usual six weeks, but probably for five to ten years, they had to be freed from Castle Ward for the whole of their absence. But the Crusade was a religious movement and therefore their reward was to be more than that.

Whatever Staunton did in relation to Castle Ward had to be confirmed by the Constable—and even possibly also by the Crown.

To my legal mind, therefore, the two deeds speak for themselves and are the natural outcome of the position. Simon Travers, of Alverton, had held his lands in the Staunton Ward and by knight's service to the Stauntons in Castle Ward—a very strenuous tenure. Hugh Travers had succeeded to two bovates of these lands, and was subject to Staunton as his immediate lord for similar knight's service. If he went on Crusade it followed that he could not render Castle Guard, and therefore must be released from his feudal service or he would sacrifice his title to his lands automatically. But the Church went further than this and encouraged the superior lords to encourage the volunteers and reward them.

The Stauntons, as superior lords, held all their lands under the Constable in Castle Ward, therefore so long as Hugh Travers held his land under William de Staunton he was subject to Castle Ward.

But the Church lands were free' from Castle Ward, so the obvious way out was for William de Staunton to release, or quit-claim Hugh Travers from all service to himself—which would include all military service—and transfer his feudal rights to the Church so that Hugh Travers would thenceforward hold his land in eleemosyna. This was a loss, of course, to William de Staunton because he would have to come to an equivalent exchange with the Constable before he could obtain the latter's confirmation charter, to make good, and no doubt it was his contribution to the Crusade, instead of military service in person.

William de Staunton had himself taken the Cross and it was necessary for him to obtain the Church's release from his vows. This he did, as recited in the second deed by a grant of the over-lordship of Hugh Travers' two bovates at Alverton to the Church of St. Mary at Staunton.

Now to convert lands held by military service, into "Church lands," necessitated a complete change in their tenure. There was then only one way to do it:—

  1.  Free the land from its feudal obligations.
  2.  Transfer it so freed.

(1) Feudal service was personal in the owner for the time being, so by the first deed William de Staunton freed, quit claimed and released Hugh Travers and his family for ever from every earthly service, and granted him and them "free for ever" to the Church of St. Mary.

There was nothing unusual in this, for it was the legal method of the age and applied to any gift of lands under Castle Ward to the Church.

For instance, at this very date, 1190, Richard I, himself demised to the Monastery of St. Evroul "free from all earthly dues, especially from exuage and Castle Guard all the lands, etc., etc., and all the men and freedom," etc.

In William de Staunton's case a confirmation deed from the Constable of Belvoir would be necessary.

The effect of this deed would be that Hugh Travers would be free from his fealty to the Stauntons, but would have to apply to the Rector of Staunton for a re-grant of his tenure as a knight under the Church—or squire.

This was granted by the second deed and his tenure altered to that of a tenant in capite holding Church lands and of course liable for the usual military service to the King.

Church lands were often held by rent of a pound of cummin, and/or, a pound of incense—which was always, I believe, paid at the Easter Festival—because to retain the feudal over-lordship it was necessary that acknowledgment should be preserved by some rent. For instance, in a charter of 1174 under the Bishop of Worcester, we have, "to pay the Church of Hallinghis one pound of incense on Easter Eve for ever," and in 1170-75 Henry II granted certain Church lands at "the annual rent of a pound of pepper and a pound of cummin."

The reservation of the rent of cummin to William de Staunton was to reserve his feudal powers over the lands to enforce the usual military service to the King if ever he were called upon to do so by failure of the parson, etc., for he was still responsible to the Crown.

I suppose the "villein" idea originated in the assumption that unless the Travers family were slaves they could not have been "freed"!

Well, here is a bigger illustration of the same thing, and earlier. In 1127-8 Henry I having founded Reading Abbey, being in Normandy authorized his Regent, Roger B., of Salisbury, to grant a charter to the Abbot from which I quote one passage, but there are more to the same effect:—


Know ye that by command of our lord king Henry we have given to Hugo the abbot and monks of Reading one Mint in London where he may both make money and hold an exchange and all else like the other moneyers of the king, Edgar to wit, who by the king's permission thus free and quit and discharge with his house and family from every plea and from all suits and customs and his family from every plea and all suits and customs shall remain in the hand of the abbot and monks of Reading, as if he should have remained at Reading. Whosoever also shall after Edgar, or in his stead, have been placed in the mint at London by the hand of the abbot and monks of Reading in the same manner free and quit and discharged with his house and family shall remain at London in the hand of the abbot and monks of Reading as if he should have remained at Reading.

If that is not giving away a man lock, stock and barrel, what is ? Yet Edgar as a (then) royal moneyer of London was one of its leading and wealthiest citizens. One of his colleagues was Gilbert Beket, father of the Archbishop, who really did go on Crusade (I have found evidence of that), another founded and built one of the city churches, and so on, for only the chief citizens could purchase the office of moneyer.

So, if we read William de Staunton for Henry I, Hugh Travers for Edgar, and St. Mary's for the Abbey, we get exactly the same thing, even to the " and his family, etc."