Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fitzurse, Reginald

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FITZURSE, REGINALD (fl. 1170), one of the murderers of St. Thomas of Canterbury, was the eldest son of Richard Fitzurse, on whose death about 1168 he inherited the manor of Williton, Somersetshire (Collinson, iii. 487); he also held the manor of Barham,Kent (Hasted, iii. 536), and lands in Northamptonshire (Liber Niger, p. 216). He is sometimes called a baron, for he held of the king in chief. He was one of the four knights who were stirred up by the hasty words of Henry II to plot the archbishop's death. They left Bures, near Bayeux, where the king then was, and proceeded, it is said, by different routes to England, all meeting at Saltwood, then held by Ranulf de Broc, on 28 Dec. 1170. The next day they set out with a few men, and having gathered reinforcements, especially from the abbot of St. Augustine's, at whose house they halted, they entered the archbishop's hall after dinner, probably about 3 p.m., and demanded to see him. Reginald told him that he bore a message from the king, and took the most prominent and offensive part in the interview which ensued (Fitzstephen, Becket, iii. 123, Vita anon.,ib. iv. 71). He had been one of Thomas's tenants or men while he was chancellor; the archbishop reminded him of this; the reminder increased his anger, and he called on all who were on the king's side to hinder the archbishop from escaping. When the knights went out to arm and post their guards, Reginald compelled one of the Archbishop's men to fasten his armour, and snatched an axe from a carpenter who was engaged on some repairs. While Thomas was being forced by his monks to enter the church, the knights entered the cloister, and Reginald was foremost in bursting into the church, shouting ‘King's men!’ He met the archbishop, and after some words tried to drag him out of the church. Thomas called him ‘pander,’ and said that he ought not to touch him, for he owed him fealty [for the whole story of the murder see Thomas, Saint]. After the murder had been done the knights rode to Saltwood, glorying, it is said, in their deed (Becket, iv. 158), though William de Tracy afterwards declared that they were overwhelmed with a sense of their guilt. On the 3lst they proceeded to South Malling, near Lewes, one of the archiepiscopal manors, and there it is said a table cast their armour from off it (ib. ii. 285). They were excommunicated by the pope, and the king advised them to flee into Scotland. There, however, the king and people were for hanging them, so they were forced to return into England (ib. iv. 162). They took shelter in Knaresborough, which belonged to Hugh Morville, and remained there a year (Benedict, i. 13). All shunned them and even dogs refused to eat morsels of their meat (ib. p. 14). At last they were forced by hunger and misery to give themselves up to the king. He did not know what to do with them, for as murderers of a priest they were not amenable to lay jurisdiction (Newburgh, ii. 157; John of Salisbury, Epp. ii. 273); so he sent them to the pope, who could inflict no heavier penalty than fasting and banishment to the Holy Land. Before he left Reginald Fitzurse gave half his manor of Williton to his brother and half to the nights of St. John. He and his companions are said to have performed their penance in the ‘Black Mountain’ (various explanations of this name have been given; none are satisfactory; it evidently intended to indicate some place, probably a religious house, near Jerusalem), to have died there, and to have been buried before the door of the Templars' church (Hoveden, ii, 17). It was believed that all died within three years of the date of their crime. There are some legends about their fate (Stanley. Reginald Fitzurse is said to have gone to Ireland and to have there founded the family of McMahon (Fate of Sacrilege, p. 183).

[Materials for the History of Becket, vols. i–iv. (Rolls Ser.); Benedict, i. 13 (Rolls Ser.); Ralph de Diceto, i. 346 (Rolls Ser.); William of Newburgh, lib. ii. c. 25 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); John of Salisbury, Epp. ii. 273, ed. Giles; Garnier, pp. 139–51, ed. Hippeau; Stanley's Memorials of Canterbury, pp. 71–107, 4th edit.; Robertson's Becket, pp. 266–80; Collinson's Hist. of Somerset, iii. 487; Hasted's Hist. of Kent, iii. 536; Liber Niger de Scaccario, p. 216, ed. Hearne; Spelman's History and Fate of Sacrilege, p. 183, ed. 1853; Norgate's Angevin Kings, ii. 432 n.]

W. H.