FITZ PETER, GEOFFREY (d. 1213), earl of Essex and chief justiciar of England, began his official career in the later years of Henry II., whom he served as a sheriff, a justice itinerant and a justice of the forest. During Richard’s absence on Crusade he was one of the five justices of the king’s court who stood next in authority to the regent, Longchamp. It was at this time (1190) that Fitz Peter succeeded to the earldom of Essex, in the right of his wife, who was descended from the famous Geoffrey de Mandeville. In attempting to assert his hereditary rights over Walden priory Fitz Peter came into conflict with Longchamp, and revenged himself by taking an active part in the baronial agitation through which the regent was expelled from his office. The king, however, forgave Fitz Peter for his share in these proceedings; and, though refusing to give him formal investiture of the Essex earldom, appointed him justiciar in succession to Hubert Walter (1198). In this capacity Fitz Peter continued his predecessor’s policy of encouraging foreign trade and the development of the towns; many of the latter received, during his administration, charters of self-government. He was continued in his office by John, who found him a useful instrument and described him in an official letter as “indispensable to the king and kingdom.” He proved himself an able instrument of extortion, and profited to no small extent by the spoliation of church lands in the period of the interdict. But he was too closely connected with the baronage to be altogether trusted by the king. The contemporary Histoire des ducs describes Fitz Peter as living in constant dread of disgrace and confiscation. In the last years of his life he endeavoured to act as a mediator between the king and the opposition. It was by his mouth that the king promised to the nation the laws of Henry I. (at the council of St Albans, August 4th, 1213). But Fitz Peter died a few weeks later (Oct. 2), and his great office passed to Peter des Roches, one of the unpopular foreign favourites. Fitz Peter was neither a far-sighted nor a disinterested statesman; but he was the ablest pupil of Hubert Walter, and maintained the traditions of the great bureaucracy which the first and second Henries had founded.
See the original authorities specified for the reigns of Richard I. and John. Also Miss K. Norgate’s Angevin England, vol. ii. (1887), and John Lackland (1902); A. Ballard in English Historical Review, xiv. p. 93; H. W. C. Davis’ England under the Normans and Angevins (1905). (H. W. C. D.)