Falkes de Breauté

Falkes de Breauté

Sir Falkes de Breauté (died 1226) was a British soldier and royal favorite. He was of obscure Norman parentage, and has been described as the illegitimate child of a Norman knight and a concubine, possibly a knightly family from the village of Bréauté. Most chroniclers, however, describe him as from common stock, and he was often referred to only by his first name, which was said to be derived from the scythe he had once used to murder someone,cite book|title=The Struggle for Mastery|last=Carpenter|first=David|pages=306|publisher=Oxford University Press US|year=2003|isbn=0195220005] as a sign of contempt.

ervice under John

The first accurate records of his royal service are from 1206, when he was sent to Poitou by King John on royal service. Upon his return in February 1207 he was entrusted with the wardenship of Glamorgan and Wenlock, and around that time also knighted. He was then made constable of Carmarthen, Cardigan and the Gower peninsula, and gained a fearsome reputation in the Welsh Marches, destroying Strata Florida Abbey in 1212 for its opposition to the king. He served regularly in royal service, including in trips to Flanders and Poitou, and was in high favour with the king. It is often said that he was a foreign mercenary condemned by Magna Carta; this is incorrect, and he was actually one of the royalists who swore to abide by the charter's terms.cite web|url=http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/3305|title=Oxford DNB article:Breauté, Falkes de|accessdate=2008-10-06]

Breauté rose to power during the First Barons' War as an unquestioning subject of King John, earning the hate of baronial and monastic leaders alike. He earned the title of John's steward in 1215, a title he kept until the following year. [cite book|title=The Household Knights of King John|first=S. D.|last=Church|pages=9|publisher=Cambridge University Press|isbn=0521553199] On 28 November 1215, de Breauté captured Hanslope, Buckinghamshire, a castle of William Mauduit, and he soon after captured Bedford Castle belonging to William de Beauchamp, and in reward was allowed to keep it. In 1216 John divided his army between William de Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury and four "alien" captains, one of whom was de Breauté. When Prince Louis invaded landed in the same year de Breauté was tasked with holding Oxford against the baronial forces. On 17 July he and the Earl of Chester sacked Worcester, which had allied itself with Louis. In reward John gave de Breauté the hand of Margaret, the widow of Baldwin de Revières, Earl of Devon, who had died in 1216, and daughter of Warin Fitzgerald, the royal chamberlain, and this marriage made de Breauté ‘the equal of an earl’ as he inherited the Earldom until the heir reached his majority. [cite web|url=http://books.google.com/books?id=FLbdk_L9TYQC&pg=PA306&dq=Falkes+de+Breaut%C3%A9&as_brr=3&ei=TP7qSJ3SHoPWtgPhhNi3Bw&client=safari&sig=ACfU3U18VUTc2JdyWgEdtxsv96iErvZHwQ|title=The Struggle for Mastery: Britain, 1066-1284|last=Carpenter|first=David |date=2003|publisher=Oxford University Press US|pages=306|accessdate=2008-10-07] As Margeret's dowry he gained control of the Isle of Wight, and as part of her inheritance took Stogursey, also becoming chamberlain to the Exchequer. When John died on 19 October de Breauté served as the executor of his will, and was one of the royalists who reissued Magna Carta on 12 November 1216.

ervice under Henry III

Under Henry III de Breauté continued to fight with the same loyalty he had shown John. Holding the High Sheriffdoms of Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire he presented a major obstacle to Louis and the barons, although he lost Hertford and Cambridge in 1217. On 22 January of that year de breauté and his men committed their worst atrocity, attacking St Albans because it had come to terms with Prince Louis, although it had done so under duress. After attacking the townspeople his men turned on the abbey, killing the abbot's cook and only leaving after blackmailing the abbot for 200 marks. His men also attacked Wardon Abbey, and although he eventually compensated St Albans it was felt he only did so to please his wife.

At the end of February he led a royalist force to relieve the port of Rye, although his attack failed. After this he captured the Isle of Ely, before playing a critical role in the campaign leading up to the Battle of Lincoln. He joined the Earl of Chester to besiege Mountsorrel, and in response the rebels were forced to divide their forces, with Louis and half his forces remaining at the siege of Dover while the rest marched north to relieve Mountsorrel. After achieving this they marched to Lincoln to assist a rebel force besieging Lincoln Castle; while the town had fallen to the rebels, the castle garrison had remained loyal to King Henry. By the time they got there the royalist force had already arrived under the command of William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, and he forced a battle in the streets of the town itself. Before the battle began de Breauté had led his force into the castle itself, and his crossbowmen fired down at the rebel force from the walls. Sallying out himself, with such force that he was captured before being rescued by his men, he fought on until the rebels fled, with even the Angevin leaders acknowledging his role in a critical victory against superior forces.

In reward for his role in the victory the royal court celebrated Christmas at his expense at Northampton, but this proved the climax of his career. After the battle he was one of the many fighters who was alienated by Hubert de Burgh, Justiciar of England, over them keeping the castles they had captured for their own profit. Due to his role in the campaign and the victory at Lincoln itself he was unassailable for many years; he deflected judgements made against him in 1218 and 1219 and kept hold of his High Sheriffdoms, including that of Rutland. Between 1218 and 1219 he also served as a Justice of the Peace for Essex, Hertfordshire and East Anglia, and when William de Redvers, 5th Earl of Devon died he was given the castle of Plympton.

He had made many enemies due to his actions during the war; numbered among them were William Marshal, who pawned four manors to him during the war and had difficulty getting them back, and the Earl of Salisbury, who grew to dislike him after de Breauté supported Nicola de la Haie for constable of Lincoln Castle against Salisbury's personal preference. Due to his status as a commoner his position was more tenuous than that of his enemies, as he had no lands to base himself on, and relied increasingly on the favour of noblemen such as the Earl of Chester and Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester, who supported him due to their disenchantment with the rule of Hubert de Burgh. In 1222 he cooperated with de Burgh to supress a revolt by the citizens of London, capturing three of the ringleaders and executing them without trial.


de Burgh's growing ascendancy drew de Breauté and his allies even closer together, but tensions boiled over in November 1223, [cite book|title=The Reign of Henry III|last=Carpenter|first=David|year=1996|publisher=Continuum International Publishing Group|isbn=1852851376|pages=46] when de Burgh and the king were forced to flee to Northampton while de Breauté, the Count of Aumale and the earls of Chester and Gloucester attempted to seize the Tower of London. A new civil war was averted by the intervention of Simon Langton, Archbishop of York, but after a parley in london on 4 December failed tensions rose again. Threatened with excomunication the "schismatics" returned to the king's court, agreeing on 30 December to give their castles and shrievalties to the king. de Breauté immediately lost Hertford Castle and the shrievalties of Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire, and lost the rest of his shrievalties by 18 January 1224.

The failure of de Breauté and his allies gave the advantage to de Burgh, who in February 1224 ordered de Breauté to give up Plympton and Bedford castles, rejecting his claim that Plympton Castle was part of his wifes inheritance. He refused to give the castles up, and in response the royal court sent justices to his land with a fake charge of Breach of the Peace. They found him guilty of 16 counts of Wrongful Disseisin, and on 16 June William de Breauté, Falkes' brother, seized Henry of Braybrooke, one of the justices sent by the king and a personal enemy of both de Breautés. This was foolish in the extreme, as the King and his court were barely 20 miles away discussing the defence of Poitou, and on 20 June the king and his forces besieged Bedford Castle, with Simon Langton excommunicating both the brothers and the garrison as a whole. The siege lasted eight weeks, with over 200 killed by the missiles of the defenders, and after a fourth assault broke the walls William and 80 knights were captured, refused pardon and hanged.


Having lost Bedford and his brother, Falkes submitted to Henry III on 19 August, pleading for forgivness in exchange for the loss of all his posessions. At this his wife left him and plead for divorce, claiming she had been forced into the marriage eight years before; she was unsuccessful, but did manage to recover some of her lands. On 25 August Falkes officially gave up his lands, and chose exile to France rather than judgement from the barons. Arriving in Normandy he was imprisoned by Louis VIII in Compiègne as revenge for his defeat of the french forces during the war, but was released in 1225 either through the intervention of the pope or through his Crusader's Badge, assumed in 1221. After release he spent several months in Rome, and published a fourteen-page defence of his actions, the "querimonia", which laid the blame at the feet of Langton and de Burgh, and begged the pope to support him as a man excomunicated without cause and as a crusader. Departing for England, de Breauté was captured in Burgundy by an english knight he had once imprisoned, but papal intervention yet again saw his release. After this he lived in Troyes, but was expelled from France in 1226 for forbididng to pay homage to the king, and again stayed in Rome, dying slightly before 18 July, allegedly from a poisoned fish.


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