Fitzpeter, Geoffrey (DNB00)

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FITZPETER, GEOFFREY, Earl of Essex (d. 1213), younger brother of Simon Fitzpeter, sheriff of Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, and Bedfordshire in the reign of Henry II, marshal in 1165, and justice-itinerant in Bedfordshire in 1163 (Norgate, Angevin Kings, ii. 355, n. 2), married Beatrice, daughter and coheiress of William de Say, eldest son of William de Say, third baron, who married Beatrice, sister of Geoffrey de Mandeville, earl of Essex. In 1184 Geoffrey shared the inheritance of his father-in-law with William de Bocland, the husband of his wife's sister (Dugdale). During the last five years of Henry's reign he was sheriff of Northamptonshire, and acted occasionally as a justice of assize and judge of the forest-court (Eyton, Itinerary of Henry II; Norgate). He took the cross, but in 1189 paid a fine to Richard I for not going on the crusade (Richard of Devizes, p. 8). On the departure of the king he was left one of the five judges of the king's court, and baron of the exchequer, and was therefore one of the counsellors of Hugh, bishop of Durham, the chief justiciar (Hoveden, iii. 16, 28). On the death of William de Mandeville, earl of Essex, in this year, his inheritance was claimed by Geoffrey in right of his wife as daughter of the elder son of Beatrice de Say, aunt and heiress of the earl; her claim was disputed by her uncle Geoffrey, who was declared heir by his mother. William Longchamp, the chancellor, adjudged the inheritance to Geoffrey de Say, on condition that he paid seven thousand marks, and gave him seisin. As he made default, the chancellor transferred the inheritance to Geoffrey Fitzpeter for three thousand marks (ib. Preface, xlviii, n. 6; Monasticon, iv. 145; Pipe Roll, 2 Ric. 1). The patronage of the priory of Walden in Essex formed part of the Mandeville inheritance; but, while the succession was disputed, the monks on 1 Aug. 1190 prevailed on Richard, bishop of London, to change their house into an abbey. When Geoffrey went to Walden he declared that the abbot and monks had defrauded him of his rights by thus renouncing his patronage; he seized their lands, and otherwise aggrieved them. They appealed to the Bishop of London, who excommunicated those who disturbed them, and William Longchamp also took their part, and caused some of their rights to be restored. This greatly angered Geoffrey, who set at naught Longchamp's authority, and continued to aggrieve the monks. Nor did he pay any attention to a papal mandate which they procured on their behalf. About this time his wife Beatrice died in childbed, and was buried in the priory of Chicksand in Bedfordshire, which also formed part of the Mandeville inheritance. Towards the end of his reign Richard exhorted Geoffrey to satisfy the monks, but he delayed to do so, and the dispute went on until in the reign of John he restored part of the lands which he had taken away, and the matter was arranged (Monasticon, iv. 145–8). Meanwhile, in February 1191, Richard, who had heard many complaints against Longchamp, wrote from Messina to Geoffrey and the other justices bidding them control him if they found it necessary, and informing them that he was sending over Walter, archbishop of Rouen, to guide their actions (Diceto, ii. 90, 91). Geoffrey took part in the league against the chancellor, served as one of the coadjutors of Archbishop Walter, the new chief justiciar (Giraldus Cambrensis, iv. 400; Benedictus, ii. 213), and was one of the persons excommunicated for the injuries done to Longchamp. When Hubert Walter resigned the chief justiciarship, Richard, on 11 July 1198, appointed Geoffrey as his successor (Fœdera, i. 71). The new justiciar gathered a large force, marched to the relief of the men of William of Braose, who were besieged by Gwenwynwyn, son of the prince of Powys, in Maud's Castle, and inflicted a severe defeat on the Welsh (Hoveden, iv. 53). Richard was in constant need of money, and Geoffrey, as his minister, carried out the oppressive measures by which his wants were supplied. The religious houses refused to pay the carucage, and their compliance was enforced by the outlawry of the whole body of the clergy. A decree was issued that all grants were to be confirmed by the new seal, and the people were oppressed by the over-sharp administration of justice, and by a visitation of the forests (ib. pp. 62–6). When Richard died, Geoffrey took a prominent part in securing the succession of John at the council of Northampton. At the king's coronation feast he was girded with the sword of the earldom of Essex, though he had been called earl before, and had exercised certain administrative rights which Roger of Hoveden speaks of as pertaining to the earldom (ib. p. 90); the chronicler seems to confuse the office of sheriff and the title of earl. He was sheriff of several counties, and among other marks of the king's favour received grants of Berkhamsted and Queenhythe. He was confirmed in his office, and evidently lived on terms of some familiarity with the king (Foss). John is said to have made him the agent of his extortion, and he was reckoned among the king's evil counsellors; he served his master faithfully, and the work he did for him earned him the hatred of the oppressed people. At the same time John disliked him, for the earl was a lawyer, brought up in the school of Glanville, and though no doubt ready enough to gain wealth for himself or his master by any means within the law, can scarcely have been willing to act in defiance of it. He was one of the witnesses of John's charter of submission to the pope on 15 May 1213, and when the king set sail on his intended expedition to Poitou, was left as his vicegerent in conjunction with the Bishop of Winchester. He was present at the assembly held at St. Albans on 4 Aug., and promised on the king's behalf that the laws of Henry I should be observed. He died on 2 Oct. When the king heard of his death he rejoiced, and said with a laugh, ‘When he enters hell let him salute Hubert, archbishop of Canterbury, whom no doubt he will find there;’ adding that now for the first time he was king and lord of England. Nevertheless the death of his minister left him without any hold on the baronage, and was an important step towards his ruin (Stubbs). By his first wife Geoffrey left three sons, Geoffrey and William, who both succeeded to his earldom, and died without issue, and Henry, a churchman, and a daughter, Maud, who married Henry Bohun, earl of Hereford; and by a second wife, Aveline, a son named John, who inherited his father's manor of Berkhamsted. Geoffrey founded Shouldham Priory in Norfolk (Monasticon, vi. 974), and a hospital at Sutton de la Hone in Kent (ib. p. 669), and was a benefactor to the hospital of St. Thomas of Acre in London (ib. p. 647).

[Roger of Hoveden, pref. to vol. iii., and 16, 28, 153, iv. 48, 53, 62–6; Benedictus, ii. 158, 213, 223; Ralph of Diceto, ii. 90; Matt. Paris, ii. 453, 483, 553, 559; Walter of Coventry, ii. pref. (all Rolls Ser.); Roger of Wendover, ii. 137, 262 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Dugdale's Baronage, i. 702, and Monasticon, iv. 145–8; Foss's Judges of England, ii. 62; Norgate's Angevin Kings, ii. 355, 393; Stubbs's Const. Hist. ii. 527.]

W. H.