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Sir Reginald (Rainald) FITZURSE

Male 1145 - 1173  (28 years)

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  • Name Reginald (Rainald) FITZURSE 
    Title Sir 
    Birth 1145  Of Bulwick Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Male 
    Death 1173 
    • Eldest son of Richard Fitzurse, on whose death about 1168 he inherited the manor of Williton, Somersetshire (COLLINSON iii487), he also held the manor of Barham, Kent (HASTED III 536) and lands in Northamptonshire (Liber Niger, p. 216). He is sometimes called a baron, for he held of the king in chief.

      The name "Fitz-Urse" is French or Norman, "Fitz" meaning "son", "Urse" meaning "bear".

      Reginald Fitz-Urse was a Knight at the Court of King Henry II of England. The King was in Normandy with his Court when he heard of more trouble being caused him by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. Henry, in his outrage, asked, "Won't anyone rid me of this troublesome Priest?"

      Four Knights of the Court took him quite literally and returned to England where they galloped to Canterbury and killed Becket, hacking him to death with their swords. The deed was done on the night of December 29, 1170, by William de Tracy, Hugh de Morville, Richard le Breton and Reginald Fitz-Urse. The King later denied any knowledge of this to the Pope.

      They left Bures, near Bayeux, where the king then was, and proceeded, it is said, by different routes to England, all meeting at Saltwood, then held by Ranulf de Broc, on 28 Dec. 1170. The next day they set out with a few men, and having gathered reinforcements, especially from the abbot of St. Augustine's, at whose house they halted, they entered the archbishop's hall after dinner, probably about 3 P.M., and demanded to see him. Reginald told him that he bore a message from the king, and took the most prominent and offensive part in the interview which ensued (FITZSTEPHEN, Becket, iii. 123, Vita anon., ib. iv. 71). He had been one of Thomas's tenants or men while he was chancellor; the archbishop reminded him of this; the reminder increased his anger, and he called on all who were on the king's side to hinder the archbishop from escaping. When the knights went out to arm and post their guards, Reginald compelled one of the archbishop's men to fasten his armour, and snatched an axe from a carpenter who was engaged on some repairs. While Thomas was being forced by his monks to enter the church, the knights entered the cloister, and Reginald was foremost in bursting into the church, shouting "King's men!". He met the archbishop, and after some words tried to drag him out of the church. Thomas called him pander, and said that he ought not to touch him, for he owed him fealty.

      After the murder had been done the knights rode to Saltwood, glorying, it is said, in their deed (Becket, iv. 158), though William de Tracy afterwards declared that they were overwhelmed with a sense of their guilt. On the 31st they proceeded to South Malling, near Lewes, one of the archiepiscopal manors, and there it is said a table cast their armour from off it (ib. ii. 285).

      They were excommunicated by the pope, and the king advised them to flee into Scotland. There, however, the king and people were for hanging them, so they were forced to return into England (ib. iv. 162). They took shelter in Knaresborough, which belonged to Hugh Morville, and remained there a year (BENEDICT, i. 13).

      All shunned them and even dogs refused to eat morsels of their meat (ib. p. 14). At last they were forced by hunger and misery to give themselves up to the king. He did not know what to do with them, for as murderers of a priest they were not amenable to lay jurisdiction (NEWBURGH, ii. 157; JOHN OF SALISBURY, Epp. ii. 273); so he sent them to the pope, who could inflict no heavier penalty than fasting and banishment to the Holy Land. Before he left Reginald Fitzurse gave half his manor of Williton to his brother and half to the knights of St. John. He and his companions are said to have performed their penance in the Black Mountain (various explanations of this name have been given; none are satisfactory; it was evidently intended to indicate some place, probably a religious house, near Jerusalem), to have died there, and to have been buried at Jerusalem before the door of the Templars' church (HOVEDEN, ii. 17). It was believed that all died within three years of the date of their crime. There are some legends about their fate (STANLEY). Reginald Fitzurse is said to have gone to Ireland and to have there founded the family of McMahon (Fate of Sacrilege, p. 183).

      Sources Dictionary of National Biography (OUP) which drew on the following sources:

      Materials for the History of Becket, vols. i-iv. (Rolls Ser.); Benedict, i. 13 (Rolls Ser.); Ralph de Diceto, i. 346 (Rolls Ser.); William of Newburgh, lib. ii. c. 25 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); John of Salisbury, Epp. ii. 273, ed. Giles; Garnier, pp. 139-51, ed. Hippeau; Stanley's Memorials of Canterbury, pp. 71-107, 4th edit.; Robertson's Becket, pp. 266-80; Collinson's Hist. of Somerset, iii. 487; Hasted's Kent, iii. 536; Liber Niger de Scaccario, p. 216, ed. Hearne; Spelman's Sacrilege, p. 183, ed. 1853; Norgate's Angevin Kings, ii. 432 n.

      Both Reginald and Richard wore the insignia of the Fitz-Urse family on their tunics over their armor showing three black bears on a field of gold.

      Confirmation of a gift with the seal of Reginald Fitz-urse, England (?), c.1170. ECR 6/5

      This document is a confirmation by Reginald Fitz-urse of an earlier gift made by William de Faleisis to the Church of St. Andrew of "Sutinstoch" in Somerset. The vellum tag at the base is attached to the restored wax seal of Fitz-urse and displays the figure of the bear (a pun on his name derived from the Latin ursus, "the bear").

      Barham - originally Berham - Court is a fine old house made even more interesting by association as the home of Reginald Fitz Urse, one of the knights who murdered archbishop Thomas Becket in his cathedral at Canterbury in 1170. He and the three other knights responsible for the murder stayed at Barham Court on the eve of the murder. As a result of that deed, Fitz Urse fled to his lands in Ireland and it is rumored that he became the head of the MacMahon Clan there. The only basis for this rumor is the similarity of names, "Mac" meaning "son" and "Mahon" meaning "bear". The legend has persisted through the ages and is still believed to be true. The manor passed into the ownership of his kinsman, Robert de Berham. The de Berhams prospered in Kent and became one of the great families of the county. Richard Barham, author of the Ingoldsby Legends, was one of their descendants.

      But at the end of Elizabeth I's reign, the property passed to Sir Oliver Boteler and his wife, Anne. The Botelers (later they changed their name to Butler) were Royalists and Barham Court was sacked by Cromwell's New Army during the Civil War. Their son, William Butler was imprisoned in London for his support of the Kentish Royalists petition of 1642.

      The last of the Butlers, Sir Philip, was responsible for changing the course of the old Tonbridge-Maidstone road, which used to run north of the church and then south of the house on it's way to Barming and Maidstone. He had the road moved 'some hundred rods' (say five hundred and fifty yards) to the south.

      In the 18th century, Edward Hasted described Barham Court, then owned by the Bouverie family, as the greatest ornament of this part of the county. William Wilberforce was a frequent house guest of the first Lady Barham, who is said to have inspired and supported him in his fight against slavery. He loved the place and once wrote that 'for the charm of softness and elegance I never beheld a superior to Barham Court'.

      Today, part of the house has been converted into flats, and the main building into offices and a commercial training centre.

      HOLINSHED's version of the murder of Thomas a Becket
      The king giuing eare to their complaint, was so displeased in his mind against archbishop Thomas, that in open audience of his lords, knights, The occasion of the kings words that cost bish. Becket his life. and gentlemen, he said these or the like words: "In what miserable state am I, that can not be in rest within mine owne realme, by reason of one onelie préest? Neither is there any of my folkes that will helpe to deliuer me out of such troubles."

      There were some that stood about the king, which gessed by these words, that his mind was to signifie how he would haue some man to dispatch the archbishop out of the waie. The kings displeasure against the archbishop was knowne well inough, which caused men to haue him in no reuerence at all, so that (as it was said) it chanced on a time, that he came to Strowd in Kent, where the inhabitants meaning to doo somewhat to his infamie, being thus out of the kings fauour, and despised of the world, cut off his horsses taile.

      The knights that slue the archbishop Becket. There were some also of the kings seruants, that thought after an other maner of sort to reuenge the displeasure doone to the kings maiestie, as sir Hugh Moreuille, sir William Tracie, sir Richard Britaine, and sir Reignold Fitz Urse, knights, who taking aduice togither, and agréeing in one mind and will, tooke shipping, & sailed ouer into England, landing at a place called Dogs hauen, néere Douer.

      Now the first night they lodged in the castell of Saltwood, which Randulfe de Broc had in keeping. The next morning (being the 29. of December, and fift daie of Christmasse, which as that yeare came about fell vpon a tuesdaie) hauing gotten togither certeine souldiers in the countrie thereabouts, came to Canturburie, and first entring into the court of the abbeie of S. Augustine, they talked with Clarenbald the elect abbat of that place: and after conference had with him, they proceeded in their businesse as followeth.

      Reignold Fitz Urse. That is betwéene 4. and 5. in the euening. The first knight sir Reignold Fitz Urse came to him about the eleuenth houre of the daie, as the archbishop sat in his chamber, and sitting downe at his feet vpon the ground without any manner of greeting or salutation, at length began with him thus: "Being sent of our souereigne lord the king from beyond the seas, we doo here present vnto you [135] his Graces commandements, to wit, that you should go to his sonne the king, to doo vnto him that which apperteineth vnto you to doo vnto your souereigne lord, and to do your fealtie vnto him in taking an oth, and further to amend that wherein you haue offended his maiestie." Wherevnto the archbishop answered: "For what cause ought I to confirme my fealtie vnto him by oth? or wherein am I giltie in offending the kings An oth required of him for his baronie. Maiestie?" Sir Reignold said: "For your baronie, fealtie is demanded of you with an oth, and an other oth is required of those clerkes, which you haue brought with you, if they meane to continue within the land." The archbishop answered: "For my baronie I am readie to do to the king whatsoeuer law or reason shall allow: but let him for certeine hold, that he shall not get any oth either of me or of my clerks." "We knew that (said the knight) that you would not doo any of these things which we proponed vnto you. Moreouer the king commandeth you to absolue those bishops that are excommunicated by you without his licence." Wherevnto he said: "The bishops are excommunicated not by me, but by the pope, who hath therto authoritie from the Lord. If in déed he hath reuenged the inurie doone to my church, I confesse that I am not displeased therwith." Then said the knight: "Sith that such things in despite of the king doo please you, it is to be thought that you would take from him his crowne, and be called and taken for king your selfe, but you shall misse of your purpose surelie therein." The archbishop answered: "I do not aspire to the name of a king, rather would I knit three crownes vnto his crowne if it lay in my power."

      The knights command the moonks to sée the archbishop kept safe. At length after these and such words, the knights turning them to the moonks, said: "In the behalfe of our souereigne lord the king, we command you, that in any wise ye keepe this man safe, and present him to the king when it shall please his grace to send for him." The archbishop said: "Doo ye thinke that I will run away? I came not to run away, but looke for the outrage and malice of wicked men." "Truelie (said they) you shall not runne away," and herewith went out with noise and John de Salisburie the archb. Beckets chancellor. threatnings. Then maister John of Salisburie his chancellor said vnto him: "My lord, this is a woonderfull matter that you will take no mans counsell: had it not beene méet to haue giuen them a more méeke and The archbishops resolution. gentle answer?" But the archbishop said: "Surelie I haue alreadie taken all the counsell that I will take, I know what I ought to doo." Then said Salisburie, "I pray God it may be good." Now the knights departing out of the place, and going about to put on their armour, certeine came The knights put on their armor. to the archbishop, & said; "My lord, they arme themselues." "What forceth it? said he, let them arme themselues."

      Now when they were armed, and manie other about them, they entred into the archbishops palace. Those that were about the archbishop cried vpon him to flée; but he sat still and would not once remoue, till the moonks brought him euen by force & against his will into the church. The comming of the armed men being knowne; some of the moonks continued The moonks with force bring the archbishop into the church. singing of euensong, and some sought places where to hide themselues, other came to the archbishop, who was loth to haue entred into the church, and when he was within, he would not yet suffer them to make fast the doores, so that there was a great stur among them, but cheeflie when they perceiued that the armed men went about to séeke for the archbishop, by meane whereof their euensong was left vnfinished.

      At length the knights with their seruants hauing sought the palace, came rushing into the church by the cloister doore with their swords drawne, The knights enter the church. some of them asking for the traitor, and some of them for the archbishop, who came and met them, saieng; "Here am I, no traitor, but As though archbishops can be no traitors. the archbishop." The formost of the knights said vnto him: "Flee; thou art but dead," To whome the archbishop said, "I will not flée." The knight stept to him taking him by the sléeue, and with his sword cast his cap besides his head, and said, "Come hither, for thou art a prisoner." "I will not (said the archbishop) doo with me here what thou wilt:" and plucked his sleeue with a mightie strength out of the knights hand. Wherewith the knight stepped backe two or thrée paces. Then the The courage of the archb. archbishop turning to one of the knights, said to him, "What meaneth this, Reignold? I [136] haue doone vnto thée manie great pleasures, and commest thou now vnto me into the church armed?" Unto whome the knight presentlie answered and said; "Thou shalt know anon what is ment, thou art but dead: it is not possible for thee any longer to liue." Unto whom the archbishop answered: "I am readie to die for my God, and for the defense of his iustice and the libertie of the church; gladlie doo I imbrace death, so that the church may purchase peace and libertie by the shedding of my blood." And herewith taking on other of the knights by the habergeon, he floong him from him with such violence, that he had almost throwne him downe to the ground. This was sir Will. Tracie, as he after confessed.

      Then the archbishop inclined his head after the maner of one that would praie, pronouncing these his last words: "To God, to saint Marie, and to the saints that are patrones of this church, and to saint Denise, I commend my selfe and the churches cause." Therewith sir Reignold FitzUrse striking a full blow at his head, chanced to light vpon the Edward of Cambridge. arme of a clerke named Edward of Cambridge, who cast vp his arme to saue the archbishop: but when he was not able to beare the weight of the blow, he plucked his arme backe, and so the stroke staied vpon the archbishops head, in such wise that the bloud ran downe by his face. The archbish. is slaine. Then they stroke at him one after an other, and though he fell to the ground at the second blow, yet they left him not till they had cut and pashed out his braines, and dashed them about vpon the church pauement. All this being doone, they rifled his house, spoiled his goods, and tooke them to their owne vses, supposing it lawfull for them being the kings seruants so to doo.

      But doubting how the matter would be taken, after they had wrought their feat, they got them into the bishoprike of Duresme, there to remaine till they might heare how the king would take this their vnlawfull enterprise: though (as they alledged) they had lustilie defended his cause, and reuenged his quarell as faithfull seruants ought to doo. Howbeit, it chanced otherwise than they looked it should haue doone: for king Henrie gaue them so litle thankes for their presumptuous act, The murtherers come to an euill end. Matth. Paris. W. Paruus. sounding to the euill example of other in breach of his lawes, that they despairing vtterlie of pardon, fled one into one place, and another into another, so that within foure yeares they all died an euill death (as it hath béene reported.) Some write, that they went to Rome by the kings commandement, and there presented themselues before the pope, to receiue such penance for their wicked act as he should enioine them. Herevpon the pope appointed them to go vnto Jerusalem, their to do their penance, where they remained certeine yeares, applieng themselues verie diligentlie to performe the satisfaction of their offense, according to the maner prescribed to them by the pope, and so at length died.

      FitzUrse left only daughters, one of whom was wife of a fitzBaldwin of Rhyd-y-gors, Pembrokshire to whose family she brought Montgomery Castle. According to Welsh genealogies, William fitzBaldwin's daughter married the son of Walter or William de Lacy who became lord of Rhyd-y-gors and Menorgain and took his surname of Gwyntwr or Winter from Castell Gwyn.
    Person ID I15358  Johnson & Hanson
    Last Modified 3 Dec 2016 

    Father RICHARD FITZURSE,   b. Abt 1095, Northamptonshire or Kent Find all individuals with events at this locationd. Abt 1168, Kent Find all individuals with events at this location (Age ~ 73 years) 
    Mother Maud DE BOULERS,   b. Abt 1097, Of Northamptonshire Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Family ID F4852  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family Beatrice DE LIMESI 
    +1. Maud FITZURSE,   b. Bef 1173
    Family ID F5622  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Histories
    Thomas Becket Murder
    Thomas Becket Murder
    Contemporary drawing portraying the murder of Becket. The cognizance of a bear can be seen on the shield of FitzUrse