The Durham Liber Vitae is a manuscript listing the names of those admitted to the confraternity of the Cathedral Priory of Durham, and its predecessors at Lindisfarne and Chester le Street. The first entries are from the ninth century, and few date from after 1300. Among those few is a group of eighteen names, in a fourteenth-century hand, headed by that of Sir Henry de Beaumont. Comparison with other evidence suggests the names are those of part of his military retinue, probably dating to 1314; if so, it is likely that the names commemorate a pilgrimage made by Beaumont and some of his retainers to the cathedral, and its relics of St Cuthbert, on their way to serve under arms in Scotland. Any spiritual benison they might have gained from the exercise does not, however, appear to have translated into worldly advantage, for at least four of those named were subsequently captured at the catastrophic English defeat at Bannockburn.
Sir Henry de Beaumont had an eventful and often contentious career. A foreign adventurer, who made good through a career of continuous military service, in the face of repeated political controversy, he provides an interesting case-study for the investigation of military retinues. A great deal of work has been done on the recruitment and composition of such retinues and their stability, or lack thereof (notably, of course, by Andrew Ayton). However, while the dynamics of a military retinue were, at least in part, the dynamics of lordship, it is has rarely been possible to trace the personal relationships which underpin them. In Sir Henry de Beaumont's case, however, we are unusually well informed, because one of his retainers was the Northumbrian Sir Thomas Gray. And Gray's like-named son was the author of a chronicle, the Scalacronica, composed in the late 1350s, which includes some fascinating details of the elder Gray's relationship with Beaumont, presumably derived from Gray's own testimony.
Born circa 1280, Beaumont was a Frenchman, the younger son of Louis de Brienne, Vicomte de Beaumont-au-Maine, and a relative of both Edward I's queen, Eleanor of Castile, and Edward II's queen, Isabella of France. Beaumont's sister, Isabella, married the English baron John de Vescy, one of Edward I's close associates; and Beaumont himself became a knight of Edward's household in 1297.