Richard of Chilham, King John’s Illegitimate Son

I recently shared an article about Joan, Lady of Wales, illegitimate daughter of King John. Now, John had several illegitimate children, and while Joan is probably the most famous, and certainly had the highest profile, as a Welsh princess, she was not the only one who made it into the history books. Whilst researching the Warenne earls of Surrey recently, I had the chance to look deeper into the story of another of John’s illegitimate brood, Richard of Chilham.

King John

From the late 1180s or early 1190s onwards, Earl Hamelin de Warenne’s relationship with King John was complicated by the fact that John had a brief affair with one of Hamelin’s daughters. Although it has been impossible to determine which of the daughters, the result of the affair was an illegitimate son, named Richard, after John’s older brother. He was known in various guises as Richard of Chilham, Richard of Dover, Richard fitzRoy or even Richard fitz John. He was also known as Richard de Warenne, referring to his maternal line, which is the name that is inscribed on his seal; this seal bears his arms, a derivative of the royal arms, albeit with 2 lions rather than 3, emphasising his Plantagenet descent.

Richard was probably born in the 1190s and was the only one of John’s illegitimate children to gain honorific title, following his marriage to Rose of Dover in 1214, by which he became lord of the castle and honour of Chilham, in Kent. Richard’s lordship held in the region of fifteen knights’ fees, in Kent and Essex. Richard served his father and, subsequently, his royal half-brother, Henry III, as a royalist captain and administrator during the First Barons’ War of 1215-17.

From 1216, just days before his death, John appointed Richard as constable of Wallingford Castle and custodian of the honour of Wallingford; it was a strategically important castle and the honour held some 120 knights’ fees. In May 1218, he was granted the honour at royal pleasure and held it until 1227. Between 1217 and 1221 he was also sheriff of Berkshire, though it appears he had little involvement in the day-to-day duties of the position; Henry Saccario did the accounting for him at the exchequer, with Richard always finding reason to be elsewhere.

Richard distinguished himself at the Battle of Sandwich on 24 August 1217, the sea battle in which the English naval forces intercepted the French bringing equipment and supplies to Prince Louis, the Dauphin of France, who had invaded England in 1216 in an attempt to seize the throne. The dauphin’s French forces and baronial allies had been defeated at the Battle of Lincoln in May but were still causing trouble in other parts of England.

The Battle of Sandwich, showing the capture and killing of Eustace the Monk

Richard commanded one of the ships in the battle, which he brought alongside the French flagship, the most formidable of the enemy’s vessels, commanded by Eustace the Monk. Richard and his men boarded the ship. Roger of Wendover suggests that it was Richard himself who beheaded Eustace the Monk after his capture; and though other sources disagree with this, none deny that Richard’s actions in the battle were significant. The Battle of Sandwich was an important action in that it forced Prince Louis to come to terms with the regency government of King Henry III. As a consequence, Louis agreed to a settlement of £10,000 as an inducement to go home.

1873 illustration of the Battle of Sandwich

In 1218 Richard left to join the fifth crusade in Egypt. He returned home in 1220 or, more likely, 1221. He is known to have reached the crusader camp at Damietta as he borrowed money whilst there, 20 marks from an Italian cardinal, and was pressured for its repayment in 1128. Henry III eventually repaid the loan on Richard’s behalf. Richard was perhaps as much as seventeen years older than his half-brother, King Henry III, and doesn’t appear to have had a close relationship with him and he never appeared on the king’s witness lists. He did receive some gifts from the king, though nothing extravagant or extraordinary, such as venison or estates. Despite the trust his father had held in him, he played a limited role in England’s affairs after his return from crusade.

He fought against the Welsh in 1223 and in the same year accompanied Alexander II, King of Scots, his second cousin once removed through his Warenne family, on pilgrimage to Canterbury. Though it has to be said that the records are unclear, and the Richard involved in either, or both, of these events could have been Richard of Cornwall, the full brother of Henry III and half-brother of Richard of Chilham. It was certainly Richard of Chilham who was one of the tax collectors for Kent in 1225, when the fifteenth was granted for Henry III’s campaign to Poitou.

Most of the evidence of Richard of Chilham comes from the debts and lawsuits held against him. Indeed, one of the advantages of his joining the fifth crusade was that it resulted in the deferment of a court case he was defending. His debts to the crown started with the scutage of 1217, a tax of 2 marks per fee on the fourteen knights’ fees of his Chilham barony. The debts piled up through the 1220s, with Richard failing to appear when summoned. He was threatened with having his land taken into the king’s custody. The debts he owed to one  William Scissor (or the tailor) were to be recovered by distraint of land and chattels, with his land to be returned when he paid his debts.

Henry III

The king stepped in at this point, though for the sake of his sister-in-law, Rose, rather than his brother. Henry III ordered the sheriff of Kent to prevent Richard from wasting, selling or damaging the manor of Northwood, which was assigned to Rose for her maintenance. Richard and Rose were also locked in a long-running dispute with Robert fitz Walter and Richard de Montfichet over Rose’s rights to the manor of Lesnes, which arose out of Rose’s rights to the inheritance of Richard de Lucy, Henry II’s justiciar. The eyre in Kent in 1227 decided that the dispute should be settled by a duel, with each side nominating champions. In all honesty, it was little more than a brawl, which Richard and Rose won. After the duel, Robert fitz Walter recognised Rose’s right to Lesnes and quitclaimed to Richard, Rose and their heirs, for which Richard and Rose paid him 40 marks, which they had to borrow for the purpose.

Their debts thus increased further, in 1229, sheriffs were ordered to take possession of all the manors of Richard and Rose, save Lesnes, which Rose was to keep for her maintenance. Richard joined Henry III’s forces sailing for Brittany, which put two pending court cases against him into abeyance and he was granted respite from his debts. Later in the 1230s, sheriffs were ordered to prevent the sale of lands and woods by Richard, lands which were a part of Rose’s inheritance. By 1242 Richard was back in the king’s favour and was advanced 20 marks to buy equipment and supplies for an expedition to Lundy, although it is possible that this was Richard’s son, also Richard, who would join the king’s expedition to Gascony that same year, receiving an annual fee of 50 marks.

Richard of Chilham and William Bardrolf led the seaborne operations against the notorious outlaw and pirate, William de Marisco. In 1238 the would-be assassin of Henry III, whose attack was foiled by the king spending the night with the queen instead of his own bed, claimed that Marisco was behind the plot. Marisco had based himself on the island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel, from where he attacked shipping, taking ransoms and plunder. Richard successfully captured Marisco and his accomplices, after scaling the island’s cliff to reach them, most of the gang were later executed in London.

In 1243 Richard was granted a pardon for £100 for a debt to the moneylender Benedict Crispin. This seems to have come about, not by Richard’s actions, but by the affection the king held for Richard’s son, King Henry’s nephew, Richard, who is referred to in the fine roll, alongside the paynment of his fee for the Easter term, as ‘our beloved and faithful Richard of Dover.’

Lesnes Abbey, Kent

Richard of Chilham died in 1246, leaving his wife, Rose of Dover, still burdened by her husband’s debts, his son Richard and a daughter, Isabel, who eventually inherited the honour of Chilham. One argument for the identity of Richard’s mother is in the naming of his daughter. It has been suggested that Richard named his daughter after his mother, Isabel, but this is hardly incontrovertible proof; he could have just as easily named her after his grandmother, Countess Isabel. And the younger Isabel had no children from either of her two marriages, which may suggest she was not the mother. The other main candidate is Ela, whose marriages were that bit less prestigious than her sisters’, being to men we known little-to-nothing of besides their names, which may hint at a scandalous past. On the other hand, her second husband was a knight form a gentry family not far from Conisbrough, Sir William FitzWilliam of Sprotborough – which could suggest that she married for love rather than advancement.

Unfortunately, a strange entry in the Annales Cestriensis only adds to the confusion. In 1200, it records that ‘W. de Waren meunch fil Regis‘ was killed, suggesting that Richard’s mother was killed in 1200. Earl Hamelin and Countess Isabel did not have a daughter with the initial ‘W’, however, and neither did any of their children died in 1200. In the Chronicle of Robert of Gloucester, Richard’s mother is merely identified as ‘the erles daughter of Wareine’. With such little information to go on, we can only speculate.


Images courtesy of Wikipedia

Further reading: Cassidy, Richard, Rose of Dover (d.1261), Richard of Chilham and an Inheritance in Kent; Turner, Ralph V., Two Illegitimate Sons of King John: A Comparison of Their Careers; Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne; Lloyd, Simon, Chilham, Sir Richard of (d. 1246) (article); Morris, Marc King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta; Church, Stephen, King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant; Danziger, Danny and John Gillingham, 1215: The Year of Magna Carta; Crouch, David, William Marshal;

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