Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Breauté, Falkes de
BREAUTÉ, FALKES de (d. 1226), military adventurer, a Norman of mean and illegitimate birth, was appointed sheriff of Glamorgan by King John about 1211. He soon gained a high place in his master's favour, for he was an able, unscrupulous, and godless man. The disturbed state of the Welsh border must have invested his office with special importance; he became one of the chief of the king's evil counsellors, and was made sheriff of Oxfordshire. In the copy of the great charter given by Matthew Paris his name occurs in the list of those alien disturbers of the peace whom the king swore to banish from the kingdom. At the same time Paris mentions him as one of those who joined themselves to the twenty-five guardians of the charter. A St. Albans historian certainly had good reason to write him down as a disturber of the peace, even if his name was not in the original document (Matt. Paris, ii. 604, n. 1, ed. Luard; Rog. Wend. iv. 10; Gesta Abbatum, i. 267). On the outbreak of the war between the king and the barons in the autumn of 1215 Falkes was appointed one of the leaders of the army which was left by John to watch London and cut off the barons' supplies while he marched northward. The royal forces wasted the eastern counties, destroyed the castles and parks of the barons, and set fire to the suburbs of London. Falkes took the town of Hanslape from William Mauduit and destroyed it, and soon after reduced the castle of Bedford. Greatly pleased at his success, John gave him to wife Margaret, the widow of Baldwin, earl of Albemarle, son of William of Redvers (de Ripariis), earl of Devon, and the daughter and heiress of Warin Fitzgerald. He also gave him the custody of the castles of Windsor, Oxford, Northampton, Bedford, and Cambridge. From these castles Falkes drew a large number of men as unscrupulous as himself. In 1216, in company with Randulph de Blundevill [q. v.],earl of Chester, he took Worcester for the king after a stout resistance, plundered the abbey, and put the citizens to the torture, to compel them to give up their wealth. His men ill-treated the monks of Warden (Bedfordshire), for Falkes had a dispute with them about a certain wood; one monk was slain and some thirty were dragged off as prisoners to Bedford. In this case, however, Falkes showed a better spirit than was usual with him, for he submitted to discipline, made restitution, and took the house under his protection (Ann. de Dunstaplia). Late in the year he joined forces with the Earl of Salisbury and Savaric de Mauleon, and invaded the isle of Ely. He destroyed a tower that guarded the island and made a new fortification. He depopulated the country, spoiled the churches, and exacted 209 marks of silver from the prior as the ransom of the cathedral church. The next year, on St. Vincent's day (22 Jan. 1217). he made a sudden attack on St. Albans in the dusk of the evening, and sacked the town. He then entered the abbey. The abbot's cook was slain as he ran for refuge to the church, for Falkes would not give the monks the advantage of treating with him from a place of security. He demanded 100 pounds of silver of the abbot, bidding him give the money at once, or he would burn the town, the monastery, and all its buildings, and the abbot was forced to comply with the demand. He then marched off, taking many captives with him. In the forest of Wabridge he took Roger of Colville, and more than sixty men, clerks and laymen, with him, who had betaken themselves to the forest and formed a band of robbers. Falkes remembered the wrong he had done the great abbey with uneasiness, for men deemed that St. Alban was not to be offended with impunity. One night when he and his wife were at Luton he dreamed that a huge stone fell from the abbey church and ground him to powder. He woke in terror and told his dream to his wife, who bade him hasten to St. Albans and make his peace. He took her counsel and went off early the next day to the abbey. There he kneeled before the abbot, made his confession, and prayed that he might ask pardon of the brethren. He entered the chapter-house with his knights; they held rods in their hands, and bared their backs. He confessed his sin, and he at least received a whipping from each monk. Then he put on his clothes and advanced to the abbot's seat. 'My wife,' he said, 'has made me do this for a dream; but if you want me to restore you what I took from you I will not listen to you,' and so he turned and went out (Matt. Paris, iii. 12, v. 324; Gesta Abbatum, i. 267-269).
By the spring of 1217 the party of Henry III, who had been crowned in the autumn of the year before, had won many advantages over Louis, the French claimant. Mountsorel was besieged on Henry's behalf by the Earl of Chester, and Falkes led the men of his castles to help the earl. The siege was raised by Robert FitzWalter, and Falkes marched to Newark to join the king's army, which was gathered under the Earl Marshall for the relief of the castle of Lincoln. When the royal army came before the city, the leaders said that it was most important for them to introduce a force into the castle, so as to attack Louis's men in front and rear at the same time. There was some hesitation about undertaking this dangerous duty. Finally they sent Falkes, who succeeded in entering the castle with all his band. From the parapets of the castle and the roofs of the houses he rained down missiles on the enemy's chargers, and when he saw that he had thrown them into confusion with his artillery he made a furious sally into the streets. He was taken and rescued. Meanwhile the king's troops broke into the city, and Louis's men, thus hemmed in by Falkes on the one side and the main body of the army on the other, were cut to pieces in the streets. The victory of the royal army, which virtually ended the war, was in no small degree due to the desperate courage of Falkes and his men. During the Christmas festival 1217-18 he entertained the king and all his court at Northampton. He obtained livery of the manor of Plympton, his wife's dower, and of all the lands she inherited from her father, and was also made guardian of the young Earl of Devon, his stepson, and of his lands. His power was now great. Keeper of several strong castles which were garrisoned by his own men, and commanded by his own castellans, sheriff of six counties, lord of vast estates, and executor of the late king's will, he is described as being at this period 'something more than the king in England' (Ann. de Theok. p. 68; Stubbs, Const. Hist. ii. 35).
The policy of Hubert de Burgh, who demanded the surrender of the king's demesne, was highly distasteful to Falkes and the rest of John's foreign favourites. Although outwardly acting for the king, Falkes abetted the revolt of the Earl of Albemarle in 1220, and secretly supplied him with forces. The failure of the revolt was evidently a severe blow to his hopes, for the next year he and Peter des Roches, bishop of Winchester, who upheld the foreign party in the kingdom, determined to go on the crusade. He was, however, prevented from carrying out this design by the news of the fall of Damietta. He continued, therefore, for a little longer to act as one of the king's officers under the government of the justiciar, Hubert de Burgh. As sheriff he caused a deacon, who had apostatised to Judaism, and who was condemned by the council held at Osney and delivered over to the secular arm, to be burnt at Oxford in 1222. In the same year a dangerous insurrection broke out in London under the leadership of Constantine FitzAthulf, one of the principal citizens. This was more than a local riot, for Constantine was a partisan of Louis of France, and led the citizens with the cry 'Montjoie! Montjoie! God and our Lord Louis to the rescue!' He and two others were taken. The justiciar was afraid to put them to death openly, because of the people. Falkes, however, came to his help. Foreigner as he was, he had no desire for a French king. What he and his party aimed at was not a change of dynasty, but the establishment of their own power at the expense of the royal authority. Besides, he probably had little sympathy with a citizen movement. Early in the morning he took the prisoners across the Thames to hang them. When the rope was round his neck, Constantine, who up to the last had hoped for a rescue, offered 15,000 marks as a ransom for his life. Falkes, however, would not hearken to him, and hanged all three. Then at the head of his men he rode into the city along with the justiciar, and seized all who had taken part in the sedition. At the same time he was by no means prepared to submit without a struggle to the justiciar's policy of resumption. He may have carried on some negotiations with France, though the part he took in quelling the rising of the Londoners shows that at that time at least he had little expectation of help from that quarter. It is tolerably certain that he and the Earl of Chester were at least in sympathy with the rising of the Welsh under Llewelyn ap Iorwerth and Hugh of Lacy in 1223. Even after the insurrection was quelled the danger was still great, and Pope Honorius III, who as guardian of the kingdom pressed the resumption of the castles, urged the bishops to do all they could to maintain peace. Falkes joined the Earl of Chester and other lords in a scheme for seizing the Tower. Finding themselves unable to carry out their design, the conspirators sent to the king, demanding the dismissal of the justiciar. Henry, however, held firmly to his minister. At Christmas 1223-4 a great council was held at Northampton, and there the archbishop and bishops pronounced a general excommunication against the disturbers of the peace. Falkes and the other malcontents assembled at Leicester were informed that unless they submitted to the king on the morrow sentence of excommunication would be pronounced against them by name. This threat and the consciousness of the inferiority of their forces brought them to submission. Falkes and his castellans, together with the other rebel lords, appeared before the king at Northampton, and surrendered into his hands the castles, honours, and wardships that pertained to the crown.
The justiciar lost no time in following up the victory gained at Northampton. In June the king's justices itinerant held an assize of novel disseisin at Dunstable. Falkes was found guilty of more than thirty (Rog. Wend. iv. 94, and Chron. Maj. iii. 84; thirty-five, Ann. Dunst. p. 90; sixteen, Royal Letters, i. 225; and Rot. Claus. i. 619, 655; see Stubbs, Const. Hist. ii. 35) acts of wrongful disseisin. He was adjudged to lie at the king's mercy, and a fine of immense amount was laid on him. In revenge he ordered his garrison at Bedford Castle to seize the justices. The justices heard of their danger and fled. One of them, however, Henry de Braybroc [q. v.] was captured, ill-treated by the soldiers, and imprisoned at Bedford. Falkes provisioned the castle, which was commanded by his brother William. He was excommunicated by the archbishop, and retreated to Wales, taking shelter in the earldom of Chester. The king demanded the release of his judge. William returned answer that he would not let him go without the order of his lord Falkes, and 'for this above all, that he and the garrison were not bound to the king by homage or fealty' (Rog. Wend. iv. 95). The answer expressed the very essence of feudal anarchy, and should be compared with the plea urged by the barons in Stephen's reign on behalf of the garrison of Exeter (Gesta Stephani, 27; see under Baldwin of Redvers). A large force, including clergy as well as laymen, gathered at the king's summon, and the siege of Bedford was formed 20 June. The siege was a matter of national importance, for the land could have no rest so long as Falkes was in a position to defy the law. The king swore by the soul of his father (surely a strange oath) that he would hang the garrison. For the purposes of the siege the assembled magnates granted a carucage of ½ mark on their demesnes, of 2s. on the lands of their tenants, and two days' work at making military engines. Still Falkes was not frightened, for he reckoned that the castle could be held for a year. The Earl of Chester, however, at last joined the king's side. He was forced to leave the earldom, and took refuge at Northampton. The pope wrote earnestly on his behalf. The garrison at Bedford made a desperate defence. The castle was surrendered on 14 Aug., and William de Breauté and some eighty of the garrison were hanged. Soon after the surrender Falkes was taken in the church of Coventry. He was not held captive, for men feared to violate the right of sanctuary. Seeing, however, that he had no other hope, he placed himself under the protection of the bishop (Alexander Stavensby), and in his company went to the king at Bedford. He threw himself at Henry's feet and asked for mercy, reminding him how well and at what cost he had served him and his father in time of war. By the advice of his council the king pronounced all his possessions forfeited, and committed him to the keeping of the bishop of London until it should be decided what should be done with him. His fall was looked on as a judgment for a special act of impiety, for in past days he had destroyed the church of St. Paul at Bedford, and used the materials for the construction of the castle in which he now found himself a prisoner. When the abbess of Elstow heard how he destroyed St. Paul's church, and saw that the offence remained unavenged, she taunted the apostle by taking away the sword from the hand of his image which stood in her convent. After the fall of Falkes she gave the apostle back his sword, for he had at last shown that he knew how to use it (Chron. Maj. iii. 87). When Falkes was in prison, his wife Margaret came before the king and the archbishop, and prayed for a divorce, for she said that she had been taken in time of war and married against her will. A day was fixed for hearing her case, and the king granted her all her own estates, on condition that she paid 300 marks a year towards extinguishing her husband's debts to the crown, placing her and her lands under the wardship of William of Warenne.
Falkes's case was laid before the great council held at Westminster in March 1225. The nobles decided that, forasmuch as he had faithfully served the king and his father for many years, he should not suffer in life or limb, but all agreed that he should be banished from England for ever. Accordingly the king bade William of Warenne see him safely out of the land. Falkes was then absolved from his excommunication, and, wearing the cross which he had assumed when he contemplated going on the crusade, was put on board a vessel with five of his attendants by the Earl of Warenne. As he parted from the earl he bade him with many tears carry his salutation to the king, and tell him that, whatever troubles he had wrought in his kingdom, he had acted throughout at the prompting of the nobles of England. On his landing in Normandy he was seized and carried before the French king. Louis was minded to hang him for all the ill he had done the French in England, and Falkes scarcely saved himself by swearing, as he had sworn to the earl, that he had been simply the tool of others. As, however, he wore the cross, the king let him go. He went on to Rome, bearing letters to the pope, whom he hoped to prevail on to interfere on his behalf. Meanwhile the legate Otho prayed the king in the pope's name to give Falkes back his wife and his lands, of mere charity to one that had served him and his father so well. Henry replied that he had been banished by the judgment of his peers, and that for open treason, of which he had been convicted by all the clergy and people of England, and that, king as he was, it behoved him to obey the laws and good customs of the kingdom. At Rome he had to spend much to forward his cause. He obtained an interview with the pope, who, it appears, made one more attempt on his behalf. The legate, however, met with the same answer as before. Meanwhile Falkes was allowed by the king of France to stay at Troyes. He went on his way again towards Rome, and was hoping to be allowed to return to England, for it may be that he had not heard of the second repulse of the request made on his behalf, when he died suddenly at St. Cyriac in 1226. His death was put down to poison, and Hubert de Burgh [q.v.] was afterwards accused of having caused it. When at the same time the justiciar was accused of having caused the loss of Poitou, his counsel answered that the rebellion of Falkes was the true cause of the loss of Rochelle. Falkes was certainly a greedy, cruel, and overbearing man. For greediness and cruelty, however, he was surpassed by many men of the same time—by John, for example, and, to make a less hateful comparison, probably by Richard also; nor, to quote men more nearly of his own rank, was he more greedy than William Brewer, or more cruel than the Earl of Chester. That he was not wholly without some religious feelings is shown by his repentance and penances for the wrongs done to the monks of Warden and St. Albans, and perhaps also by his assumption of the cross. At St. Albans, however, his love of mockery and his habit of insolence broke through his probably sincere expression of penitence. This insolence made a strong impression on the men of his age; it rendered the injuries he inflicted on others doubly hard to bear. The abbot of St. Albans, for example, complained of the injury done to the crops of his house by the overflow of water from a pool Falkes had made at Luton. 'I wish,' he answered, 'I had waited until your grain had been garnered, and then the water would have destroyed it all.' His evil doings were characteristic of the class of military adventurers to which he belonged. In common with others of that class he was brave, and indeed his courage seems to have been of no ordinary sort. The foremost part he played in the history of his time shows that he was not a mere leader of men-at-arms. He was, however, no match for the wary politicians with whom he had to do, and his statement that he had simply carried out the devices of others was doubtless to some extent true. The Earl of Chester, for example, seems to have used him for a while, and then left him in his time of need. His fall was a crushing blow to the hopes of the malcontent party, and put an end to the importance of the foreign faction. Unlike most other adventurers, Falkes was faithful to his masters. His revolt was not against the king, but against orderly administrative government, which was hateful and ruinous to him. He left one daughter, Eva, married to Llewelyn ap Iorwerth, prince of North Wales.
[Roger of Wendover (Eng. Hist. Soc.), iii, iv, passim; Matt. Paris, Chronica Majora, passim, ed. Luard, Rolls Ser.; Annales de Theokesberia, Burtonia, Waverleia, Dunstaplia, Oseneia, Wigornia, in Annales Monastici, passim, Rolls Ser.; Royal Letters Henry III, passim, Rolls Ser.; Walter of Coventry, ii. 253, 259-74, Rolls Ser.; Gesta Abbatum Mon. S. Albani, i. 267, 296, Rolls Ser.; Dugdale's Baronage; Stubbs's Constitutional History, ii. 7-36.]