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Brookfield Ancestor Project - Surety Barons

Magna Charta Baron Page
Robert FitzWalter
Lord of Dunmow Castle, Essexshire

Fitzwalter Shield

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WURTS’ MAGNA CHARTA provided a brief accounting of the feudal headquarters of some of the Magna Charta Barons. Some of the castles have been badly damaged. Some have disappeared entirely. Often we can learn of them through Medieval and Renaissance accounts, and some of them require the discerning eye of the archeologist. Others await the evidence brought out with a shovel and pick, by the trained archeological historian.

A portion of the information concerning Surety Baron ROBERT FITZWALTER is as follows:

ROBERT FITZWALTER, the Surety, was third lord of Dunmow Castle and leader of the Magna Charta Barons and their Army, styled "Marshal of the Army of God and the Holy Church." The first public act recorded of this subsequently important Baron and standard bearer of the City of London conveys at first a bad impression of him. It is recorded that "in 5th John 1203 Robert FitzWalter, being trusted, together with Saire de Quincey, also a Surety, to keep the Castle of Ruil in France, delivered it up to the King of that realm as soon as he came before it with an army." This appears to imply a measure of cowardice rather than disloyalty, but a short time proved to which of these motives the deed was to be ascribed. There was a possibility that FitzWalter and Quincey surrendered the Castle for a false bribe from Philip. It is also likely that the two were involved in a general Baronial conspiracy against John, knowing that he would have to be lenient with them. In 1212 John was being unusually careful about the use of the exchequer seal, possibly fearing Baronial plotting (that a wrong use would be made of the seal privately) for Canons of St. Paul's, intimates of exchequer officials, were known to be involved in FitzWalter's conspiracy. There is also controversy over FitzWalter's later hasty departure for France. Whether it was because of John's alleged seduction of Robert's daughter or his refusal to live under the reign of an excommunicate King, we cannot say.

At the time the Barons, at home and abroad, were preparing to compel King John to keep his promises in the matter of the proposed statutes, several conspiracies to this end were discovered, wherein Robert FitzWalter was materially concerned. On the discovery of his "treasonable practices," FitzWalter, with his wife and children, sought refuge in France; but the following year, 1213, his friends persuaded him to return home, and, with the other Barons, he was reconciled to King John. But this friendship was only of short duration, for soon it was discovered that he was still plotting against the King in the interests of reform in the government; so his residence in London, the Castle of Baynard, was in consequence almost entirely destroyed, and the hatred between King John and FitzWalter became yet more violent. His lands were seized, effectually binding him to the discontented Barons and the people. The active spirit of FitzWalter made him a desirable leader for their party, and he was selected as one of the commissioners who hoped to cement the differences of opinion at a meeting at Erith Church, and subsequently was elected their leader.

After the granting of Magna Charta, when King John endeavored to elude his promises, FitzWalter was one of the committee of the Baronial party which went to France to invite the Dauphin to accept the throne of England and, on this Prince's coming, he with William de Mandeville and William de Huntingfield, the Sureties, reduced the counties of Essex and Suffolk to the authority of the Dauphin. Upon the accession of Henry III, FitzWalter, then a prisoner, along with a majority of the rebel Barons, finding the Dauphin a useless political factor, dropped him and sent him back to France. In 1218, although he was a prisoner, FitzWalter was allowed to assume the Cross and join a Crusade. He took part in the famous siege of Damietta, returned home and died a peaceful death in 1234. He was buried before the High Altar of Dunmow Priory.

Notwithstanding his enmity to King John and King Henry III, and the frequent confiscation of his property, FitzWalter died possessed of an extensive estate. The monk, Matthew Paris, records: "In the same year (1234/5) at the advent of Our Lord, Robert FitzWalter, a Baron of illustrious race, and renowned in feats of arms, went the way of all flesh." His first wife was Gunora, daughter of Robert, second lord of Valoines, and he married second, Rohese, who survived him. By his first wife, FitzWalter had, with other children, a daughter, Matilda the Fair, called "Maid Marion," said to have been poisoned by King John.

Norwich Castle, once a formidable fortress, has almost but not quite disappeared. It now stands high upon a steep mound. It is still partly surrounded by earthworks, and a ditch is spanned by a very early bridge. Only the square Norman keep remains, with its four tiers of colonades on the outside and an ornate doorway to the Great Tower. From 1345 to 1857 the building served as a prison, but when the new jail was erected outside the City, the Castle was acquired by the City Corporation and, by 1894, was adapted as a museum and art gallery.

Dunmow Castle, the estate of Robert FitzWalter, has not attracted the eye of any historian.

Appreciation is expressed to Reed M. W. Wurts, one of the Heralds of the Society for furnishing the Baron’s Shield on this page.

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