Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 August 2020
This chapter presents two case studies involving Louis Beaumont, bishop of Durham (1317–33). The first case study explores the bishop's dispute with the king of Scotland over the bishop's rights to ferry men and goods across the River Tweed, while the second relates the bishop's dispute with Sir Walter Selby, a former northern rebel, over a manor held by the bishop as a forfeiture of war. The two case studies provide an illustration of the multi-functional dimension of medieval petitions in England and the layers of meaning that become evident when supplications are considered within the historical context of their original presentation to the crown. The bishop's petition relating to the River Tweed, which forms the basis of the first case study, is shown to represent a tacit agreement between supplicant and king, the true nature of which was intentionally kept opaque from a parliamentary assembly reluctant to condone a course of action already predetermined by the king. The case illustrates how legal strategy and political developments were closely intertwined, and how the bishop's legal strategy was built around an acute awareness of political developments in which the timing of his petition was of pivotal importance. The second case study, which explores a longstanding dispute between Walter Selby and two consecutive bishops of Durham over the manor of Felling (located near Gateshead and within the palatinate of Durham), provides another example of the multi-functional purpose that petitions could serve. For the bishop, the dispute over the manor of Felling served as a test case in a broader jurisdictional dispute with the crown over the palatine right to forfeitures of war. Although confirmed in 1327, this right had never been fully tested in the absence of any major properties being forfeited after the reign of Edward I.
The Bishop of Durham, the King of Scotland, and the River Tweed, 1333
The complaint brought forward by Louis Beaumont, bishop of Durham, in the parliament of January 1333 appears, at face value, to represent a fairly routine petition seeking restitution for lost revenue. Bishop Beaumont claimed that his predecessors had once enjoyed the right to ferry men and goods across the River Tweed between Berwick and Tweedmouth – a franchise worth more than £20 per annum.