I read some time ago that some men were pardoned for serious crimes if they served in one of Edward III’s armies during the Hundred Years War and I wondered how it worked. Fortunately Henry of Lancaster’s Expedition to Aquitaine, 1345-46, the book I’m reading at the moment, has some answers.
I first came across this when I was reading about the Folville gang. They were basically gangsters who kidnapped people for ransoms and weren’t above the odd murder, rape and theft in the 1320s and 1330s. They were pursued all over the country and eventually caught, or killed. Some of them were pardoned by Roger Mortimer, acting in the name of Edward III, on condition that they fight against Mortimer’s enemies in England. Crime had become a way of life, however, and they returned to their former ways. They were so successful that people were afraid to testify against them when they were caught and tried.
It seems strange that a man could receive a pardon for such serious crimes, but it would be a win-win for the king and the criminal. There was, of course, no benefit to the victims.
It was a benefit to the king because the pardon recipient paid his own costs of serving in the army for a year. If the man was a knight that would save the king at least £36 10s per annum, more if the man lost a horse or two in the course of a campaign, as the king paid compensation for horses killed in his service. Even if the pardoned man was an archer the king saved £9 2s 6d. Edward III was constantly in debt at the beginning of the Hundred Years War and needed to save as much money as he could.
The pardon recipient, of course, received his pardon. It also gave him the chance of what we would call rehabilitation. Eustace Folville, for example, was knighted by Edward III for his services in the war during the early 1340s. As the leader of the Folville gang, Eustace had spent two decades terrorising, robbing and murdering Edward’s subjects. He was also used to commanding men and making both strategic and tactical decisions, exactly the skills needed in a soldier.
As I’ve written before, there was always the chance for soldiers in successful armies to take home plenty of booty and the campaigns of 1345 to 1346 in both the southwest of France under Lancaster and the north under Edward III were particularly successful in that regard. That might also have helped these men to decide to seek a pardon.
There was more to it for the pardon recipient, however, than paying his costs for a year. These men were outlaws and the king needed some means to make sure that they didn’t just jump ship when they reached France. The pardon recipient also had to find someone to guarantee their good behaviour. The guarantor presumably stood to lose something if the pardoned man didn’t behave. I can’t help thinking that men like the Folville gang could probably have found a guarantor simply by threatening them, or a member of their family, with physical harm. In Eustace’s case, however, it seems that he and some of his men had already decided that their lives of crime had come to an end. This doubtless had something to do with the fact that they were fast approaching middle age in the 1340s. Unlike most members of his gang, Eustace died a peaceful death the year after he fought at Crécy.
The members of Lancaster’s retinue are listed in the book. There were a surprisingly large number of pardon recipients. There were five men from Northamptonshire who had been found guilty of murder and two men from Somerset who had also been found guilty of murder. What I found interesting is that in two cases two men with the same surname had killed (or been found guilty of killing, which isn’t the same thing) a man. Although it’s possible that the men had been killed during the course of robberies, something that wasn’t that unusual in the fourteenth century, I also wonder if the victims had not done something dreadful to a member of the family, and their death was an act of revenge. I don’t know. The only information in the book is their names, their county of origin and the names of their victims.
Henry of Lancaster’s Expedition to Aquitaine, 1345-46 by Nicholas A. Gribit