On November 5th 1380, while holding court at Northampton, King Richard II granted the licence to crenellate (ie. fortify) the manor house of the royal manor of Hemyock. Such a licence was a great privilege, granted only to the most trusted and loyal subjects. No other licences were granted during this fourth year of the young King Richard's reign. Six licences had been granted during the previous year and three were granted during the following year. The licence to crenellate Bodiam Castle was granted in October 1385.
The formal licence to crenellate Hemyock would have been contained in a "Letter Patent", an open letter written in medieval latin and sealed with King Richard's "Seal". The document would have been delivered to Sir William Asthorpe, and not retained in the public records. At present we do not have a copy of this document but the supporting documents still exist in the UK Public Records Office at Kew, London. (Now called the National Archives.)
In medieval Britain, very few people except monks or clergy could read or write. Records and documents would have been prepared by scribes, usually on parchment (sheep skin) or the finer vellum. Scribes would have used quill pens and durable inks containing material such as soot.
Medieval royal courts were surprisingly sophisticated and carefully documented. They contained an equivalent to the modern civil service which raised taxes and administered the state on behalf of the King. Several important documents were formed into "Rolls" where many individual "Membranes" (sheets) of parchment were stitched together to form a roll several feet long. These permanent records were rolled-up and tied with tape for easy storage and transport when the royal court moved around the country. Different rolls were used for different subjects, hence:
The UK Public Records Office still has an almost complete series of documents from this period. In modern times, "Calendars" have been produced of the major documents. These summarize the entries and provide comprehensive indexes - fortunately in modern English!
During the reign of King Richard II, licences to crenellate were usually "enrolled" (ie recorded) on the Patent Roll. During the reign of Edward III and other monarchs, they were usually enrolled on the Charter Roll.
There were several steps to the granting of an important concession such as a licence to crenellate. Each stage was carefully documented.
King Richard II used three different official seals to authenticate his documents: The Signet, Privy, and Great Seals.
The preparation of official documents did not always follow the complete process but King Richard's court was especially well ordered. Some scribes would have been paid only on delivery of completed documents - like modern piece work. Sometimes they were not paid so refused to deliver the documents. Perversely, this means that some documents which might otherwise have been lost have survived in private collections.
The complete process was:
The actual record in the Patent Roll is written in heavily abbreviated, medieval latin. Part is embellished with a large medieval ink blot! Such records would have contained only the essential facts without the flowery language of a formal letter.
The Privy Seal Warrant, contained in a book of warrants, is a fuller document. It is also in medieval latin. In this Warrant, the formal greetings required in the actual Licence appear to have been abbreviated. Presumably these greetings followed the standard pattern so the scribe producing the Licence would have known what to write.
We are still searching for a copy of the actual Licence — if it still exists. The licence may have been sealed with the Privy Seal rather than the Great Seal.
To all those whom it may concern, greetings.
Know ye, that, of our special favour, we have for ourselves and our heirs, granted and given special licence to our trusty and well-beloved William Asthorpe, soldier, and Margaret his wife that they may be permitted to fortify and crenellate their Manor House of Hemyock with a wall of stone and flint.
We further give permission to the said William and Margaret, and their heirs, to occupy the house so fortified and crenellated for ever, without let or hindrance either from ourselves, our heirs, our justices of the peace, our esquires, our lieutenants, or any other whether our bailiffs or other officers whatsoever.
In witness whereof etc. Given by the King at Northampton, 5th November by a brief and under our private seal.
Hemyock Castle, Hemyock, CULLOMPTON, Devon, EX15 3RJ, UK.
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