Vescy, William de (DNB00)

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VESCY, WILLIAM de (1249?–1297), baron, was the son of William de Vescy (d. 1253) and his second wife, Agnes, daughter of William de Ferrers, earl of Derby, and, with her three sisters, coheiress of Walter Marshal, fifth earl of Pembroke [see under Marshall, William, first Earl of Pembroke and Striguil]. His grandfather was Eustace de Vescy [q. v.], and John de Vescy [q. v.] was his elder brother. Early in the campaign of 1265 during the barons' war William held Gloucester against Prince Edward (Wykes, p. 166), but was pardoned, and entered Edward's service as king. He served against the Welsh in 1277 and 1282. He was from June 1285 justice of the forests north of the Trent, and in 1286 married his eldest son John to Clemence, kinswoman of Queen Eleanor. On the death in 1289 of his brother John, whose fortunes he had closely followed, William, then forty years old (Calendarium Genealogicum, p. 402), succeeded to the family estates. He had livery of his brother's lands, and the custody of Scarborough Castle was also granted to him as it had been previously to his brother (Cal. Pat. Rolls, 1281–92, p. 320).

In 1289 Vescy was sent with Antony Bek I [q. v.] and others to represent Edward in Scotland, but on the death of the Maid of Norway he himself appeared among the competitors for the Scottish throne. He derived his claim from his grandmother, Margaret, daughter of William the Lion and wife of Eustace de Vescy (Fœdera, i. 775). The weak part of the claim was that the lady was illegitimate. Vescy himself thought so little of his candidature that he left it to be prosecuted by his son John and by various other proxies, such as Walter de Huntercombe. These duly appeared on the border and joined in the general submission of the candidates to Edward (Dunstable Annals, p. 368; Fœdera, i. 755). At last, on 10 Nov., at the very eve of the king's decision in the great suit, the Vescy claim was withdrawn (‘Annales Regni Scotiæ’ in Rishanger, p. 267, Rolls Ser.)

Vescy's neglect of his weak Scottish candidature was doubtless due to the accession to his wealth and importance which came with the death of his mother, Agnes, before June 1290, whereupon he was at once put into possession of the great estates in Ireland, including the franchise of the county of Kildare, which he had inherited from the Marshals (Cal. Doc. Ireland, 1285–92, pp. 334–6). It was already customary for the English king to rule Ireland through some loyal native lord, and on 12 Sept. of the same year Vescy was appointed justice of Ireland (ib. p. 349). He was to have 500l. a year for his maintenance and respite of all ancient debts so long as he continued in office (ib. p. 351). He landed in Ireland on 11 Nov. (ib. p. 428).

Complaints soon arose against Vescy's government in Ireland. In October 1293 they were laid before the king, who on 10 Dec. appointed a commission of inquiry headed by William de Estdene, treasurer of Ireland. Details of the charges are to be found in the ‘Calendar of Documents, Ireland, 1293–1301,’ pp. 52–7 (cf. Cal. Pat. Rolls, 1292–1301, p. 108). Vescy, who had gone to England to answer the charges, returned to Ireland about December 1293 (ib. p. 51). The commission was ordered to report to the king at his Easter parliament of 1294. Before that, however, a graver complication ensued. Sir John Fitzthomas, lord of Offaly, one of the Fitzgeralds [see Fitzthomas, John, first Earl of Kildare], fiercely quarrelled with Vescy. Fitzthomas and Vescy supported rival claimants to the throne of Connaught, while the proximity of their estates brought them necessarily into antagonism. Fitzthomas now told an elaborate tale to the effect that Vescy had accused the king of personal cowardice at the time of the siege of Kenilworth, and had recently solicited him to join in a conspiracy. The justiciarship was put into commission, and Vescy sued Fitzthomas for defamation before the council at Dublin. On 21 April the king summoned all the parties to Westminster. Fitzthomas did not appear, and Vescy loudly clamoured for judgment in his favour by reason of the default. This was not allowed, and the further consideration of the question was postponed to the parliament in August 1295, when Fitzthomas completely submitted himself to the king's will (Fœdera, pp. 103–4). The process against Vescy was annulled, and he regained the king's favour, though not the government of Ireland. He was restored to his former position as justiciar of the forests beyond Trent (Cal. Pat. Rolls, 1292–1301, pp. 149, 209). He was summoned to three parliaments in 1295, and in December of that year he was sent to Gascony ‘on the king's service.’ In the mythical Geraldine version of the quarrel with Fitzthomas, Vescy's employment in France is represented as his fleeing beyond sea to avoid his antagonist, and in the same way Vescy's surrender of Kildare, effected two years later, is made out to be the consequence of this, and Edward is said to have granted it at once to Fitzthomas, who really became earl of Kildare in 1316. Vescy was now growing old and infirm. He had married Isabella, daughter of Adam de Perinton and widow of Robert de Welles, who survived him (Calendarium Genealogicum, p. 558). But their only son, John, died before his father in the spring of 1295 (Chron. de Lanercost, p. 163). This made William very eager to procure the succession to his estates and dignity for a young bastard son, born in Ireland, and generally called William de Vescy of Kildare. With this object he fell in easily with the policy that Edward I was then employing with regard to Roger Bigod, fifth earl of Norfolk [q. v.], and many other nobles. On 18 Feb. 1297 he surrendered his castle and liberty of Kildare to the king on condition of his and his brother's debts to the exchequer being forgiven. Having abolished its palatine privileges and annexed it for the time to the county of Dublin, Edward regranted Kildare to Vescy on 22 June, but for life only (Cal. Doc. Ireland, 1293–1301, pp. 172–3, 300). On 16 Feb., two days before the Kildare surrender, Vescy resigned Malton and his Yorkshire estates to Antony Bek, bishop of Durham, and received them back for life and entailed after his death on his illegitimate son and his heirs in tail (ib. p. 174). He also enfeoffed Bek with his castle of Alnwick on trust, to restore it to the young William when he came of age. Soon after Vescy the elder died.

In 1300 the bastard William was summoned against the Scots as possessing lands worth 40l. or more in Lincolnshire, besides other estates in Yorkshire (Parl. Writs, i. 887). However, on 19 Nov. 1309, the young William, irritated with the bishop, sold Alnwick to Henry de Percy [see Percy, Henry, first Baron Percy of Alnwick], thus first securing the establishment of the Yorkshire house of Percy on the ruins of the power of the Vescys of Northumberland, just as the Geraldine authority in Kildare was based upon their fall in Ireland. William the bastard was slain at Bannockburn (Chron. de Melsa, ii. 301). The catalogue of his possessions in ‘Calendarium Inquisitionum post mortem’ (i. 261) shows that his father had not been unsuccessful in establishing him in the north. He was summoned, despite his birth, to the parliaments from 8 Jan. 1313 to 29 July 1314. He left no issue, and the estates devolved upon Gilbert de Ayton, who represented a brother of Eustace de Vescy.

[Rymer's Fœdera, Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, Calendar of Patent and Close Rolls, Cal. Inquis. post mortem, Calendarium Genealogicum, Parl. Writs, Rot. Parl., Matt. Paris's Hist. Major, Flores Hist., Annales Monastici, Chronicles of Edw. I and Edw. II, Chron. de Melsa, Rishanger (all in Rolls Ser.); Hemingburgh (Hist. Soc.); Chron. de Lanercost (Maitland Club); Nicolas's Hist. Peerage, ed. Courthope, p. 491; Dugdale's Baronage, i. 93–4; Blaauw's Barons' Wars; Tate's Hist. of Alnwick; Gilbert's Viceroys of Ireland; Foss's Biographia Juridica, pp. 693–4.]

T. F. T.