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Abbot Samson of Bury St. Edmunds:
Denial of Claims to Hereditary Right, 1191

Abbot Samson, a strong-minded prelate, expressed himself forcibly when he felt that the interests of Bury St. Edmunds were in any way likely to be prejudiced. In the one case he resisted the claims of Adam de Cokefield to half a hundred, on the grounds that the king might administer the estate under certain circumstances, and in the other case he objected to the tactics of certain people about the bed of a dying man, and divided the property of the deceased between the grasping widow, the poor relatives, the brother of the man, and the indigent.

On the death of Robert de Cokefield, his son Adam came and with him were his relatives, Earl Roger Bigod and many other nobles. They asked the abbot about the holdings of the said Adam and especially about half the hundred of Cosford, which was to be held for an annual rent of one hundred shillings, as if this should be held by right of inheritance, and they alleged that his father and his grandfather had held it for eighty years or more. But the abbot, when he had obtained an opportunity for speaking, placing his two fingers to his two eyes, said, "May I lose these eyes in that day and hour in which I grant the hundred to be held by hereditary right, unless the king, who is able to take away my life and abbacy, compel me to do this." And giving his reason for these words, he said, "If any one hold the hundred by hereditary right, and if he do wrong against the king in any way, so that he ought to be disinherited, straightway the sheriff of Suffolk and the king's bailiffs would seize the hundred: and they would exercise their authority within our borders; and if they should have custody of the hundred, the freedom of eight and a half hundreds would be in danger."

Then turning to Adam he said, "If you, who claim inheritance to that hundred, should take as your wife any free woman, who holds in chief from the king one acre of land, the king at your death would take seisin of all your land and wardship of your son, if he should be under age; and so the king's bailiffs would enter into a hundred belonging to St. Edmund's to the prejudice of the abbot. Moreover, your father acknowledged to me that he would not claim hereditary right in that hundred; and because his service pleased me I allowed him to hold it all the days of his life, as his deeds might deserve." At these words much money was offered to the abbot; but he was not to be turned from his purpose by prayer or price.

Hamo Blund, one of the richer men of that town, being in extremis, hardly wished to make any will; at length he made a will at a price of three marks, there being no others present but his wife, his brother, and a chaplain. After his death the abbot remembered this and called those three into his presence and bitterly chided them about this, because the brother, who was the heir, and the wife did not allow any other person to approach the sick man, since they desired to obtain everything for themselves; and the abbot said in plain hearing, "I was his bishop, and I had the cure of his soul; lest the ignorance of his priest and confessor should prove harmful to me, because, while I was absent, I was not able to consult with the sick man, it is to my interest to look after his welfare, even if it is late. I command that all his debts and movable chattels, which, so it is said, are worth two hundred marks, shall be written down, and one portion shall be given to his heir, and another to his wife, and a third to his poor relations and the indigent. But his horse, which was led before the bier of the dead man and was offered to St. Edmund, I order to be sent back and returned; for it is not worthy that our church should be defiled by the gift of him who died intestate, and, whom rumor accused of customarily lending his money at usury. By God's face, if in my days such a thing should happen to any one in future, he shall not be buried in holy ground." On these words, they all went away in confusion.


J. G. Rokewode, ed., Chronica Jocelini de Brakelonda, (London: Camden Society, 1840), p. 42, 67-68; reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Herbert H. Coulson, A Source Book for Medieval Economic History, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965), pp. 343-345.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall, October 1998
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