The murder of Brother Jean de L'Epine, Prior of Lihou

From the Guernsey Free Churchman, November 1935, p. 80. Written originally in French by George Rabey.

In the Assize Rolls of 1304 we find Pierre Le Marchant, Bailiff of Guernsey, Ranulph Gautier, former Bailiff, and other officials crossing to Lihou to investigate the murder of Brother Jean de l'Epine [John del Espin], one of the monks there, by a certain Thomas Le Roser (or 'Rouvet,' Edith Carey says 'Le Rouer'). The Clameur de Haro was raised and brother Galfridus, the Prior, with the other monks, raced over to Normandy[?] by boat in an attempt to capture Le Roser. There was a scuffle and Le Roser was killed by Ranulph Gautier, who claimed sanctuary in St Sampson's Church and then went in to voluntary exile.

Later Ranulph was pardoned by the King and returned to Guernsey. What happened next is revealed by a petition made by Gérard Philippe, an important figure of the period in Guernsey, to King Edward, in which he claims that several of Otho de Grandison's officials (of whom we know Gaultier de La Salle was one) had seized his uncle, Ranulph Gautier, whom, he said, they detested, with evil intent, and imprisoned him in Castle Cornet, where they had treacherously murdered him.

The petition ends by asking for 'the king's protection against these officials, who are now his enemies because he wishes to tell the King and the Council how they had murdered his uncle at the Castle.' De la Salle's accomplices escaped and were later pardoned, but de La Salle himself was found guilty of the murder in 1320, the Bailiff presiding being Pierre Le Marchant, and hanged at the old Courtil du Gibet. Tradition has it that he stopped to take his final communion, or rather to confess and be absolved, at the place we now know as 'The Bailiff's Cross.'

There is in the British Museum a document Add ch. 19809, which mentions 'The petition of Cécile, widow of Gaultier de La Salle, claiming his lands, etc., as she bought them with her own money, her husband having arrived in the island with only the clothes on his back [sans nul bien soit son corps].'¹

It seems clear from this document that Cécile and her husband built the house, undoubtedly the one known as 'La Petite Ville,' constituting the former Manor of the Ville au Roi, as she makes claim to 'A house lying within the parish of St Pierre Port, the land forming a part of the fief of Jourdan and Johan des Maons, which she and her husband built with money from her dowry.' Signed St Peter Port on 10th October 1323, in the presence of Geoffrey de la Hougue, Guillaume [Queripel] Karipel, Richard Toullay, Guion Nicolle, Renouf de Vic, Henri de la Mule, Guillaume Le Genne, Johan Falle, Ranulph Le Moigne, de St Pierre Port, and Ranulph de Beaucamp, Jurats of the Royal Court. [See Library collection of documents under seal, 10 October 1323.]

The Assize Roll of 32 Edward I, 1304, mentions the murder of Brother John del Espin, the Prior of Lihou, by Ranulph Vautier and Guillaume Lenginour, who sought sanctuary in the Church of [St Peter Port] and abjured the islands, but who were later pardoned by the King. Guillaume Lenginour seems to have gone on to have become an accomplice of Gaultier de La Salle in the murder of Ranulph Gautier; the Lettres Closes of 1321 speak of the restitution to Guillaume Lenginour of his lands, despite the fact that he remained accused of causing the death of Ranulph Gautier, who was reportedly murdered, and of the theft of a gold ring, not to mention a florin belonging to the Chaplain Jean de Souslemont, Lenginour declaring himself ready to face justice whever he was required.²

Gaultier de La Salle was probably a member of one of the many Anglo-Norman families with connections to the Channel Islands. His wife Cécile appears to have been a Guernseywoman, and part of their property was inherited from Haviré, her mother. It is thought that Gaultier may well be the son of Robert de La Salle and his wife Agnès, who were landowners in England at the beginning of the 14th century. His son Nicolas was Edward II's Attorney in 1372-3.

Edith Carey in 'Relics of the Past,' 1909, comments on de la Salle's execution: 

We can picture to ourselves the dreadful procession coming up from Castle Cornet, and winding through the narrow, almost impassable lanes, which in those days did duty as high roads. When they reached the Pierre Percée Valley, they would have gone on through a lane now done away with, appropriately called La Rue de l'Ombre de la Mort, which led from just above the top gate of Pierre Percée through the back of the Ville au Roi property and then, turning northwards through Colonel de Guérin's field at Le Mont Durand, opened into the high road to St Andrew's.

Edith Carey covers the detail of de la Salle and the documentary evidence in her Editor's Note, p. 246 of MacCulloch's Guernsey Folk Lore. Ranulph Gautier was also Bailiff under Otto de Grandison, 'so the feud between the two may have been of long standing.'

It is not possible to absolutely locate the lands held by Gaultier de la Salle, but in a British Museum MS (Clarence Hopper) is quoted a document, then in the Chapter House, Westminster, showing that part of the Escheat of Galter de la Sale was the Clos du Botiller, which particular Clos has been identified as part of the territory now known as Le Vauqiedor, and in Cécile's petition, she mentions lands bought from Guillaume et Richard le Hubie. Both the Hubits Lanes and the Vauqiedor Estate adjoin that of the Ville-au-Roi, the traditionary seat of Gaultier de la Salle.

It is very tempting to deduce from this that there was some familial relationship between Ralph de Beauvoir, King's Sergeant and bordier of the Bordage Le Botiller in 1309, and Cécile, Gaultier de la Salle's wife, as Ralph's wife was herself called Cécile. Could Gaultier's wife have been Ralph's daughter or step-daughter, a Cécile de Beauvoir?

¹ He was an official working for Otto de Grandison, and under his protection, but not from the islands. Salle is a village in Norfolk from which the ancient Norman family of De Salle took its name, the oldest known member of the family being Warren De Salle. The family of de la Salle is, however, an ancient one in Normandy, and Gauthier's family probably descended from there. There is a petition in the National Archives in which Robert Lyont, parson of St Peter Port, complains about menaces and threats made to him by de la Salle and his henchmen, dated after 1307. Nicholas de la Salle, King's Receiver 1372-72, was the 'cousin' of the Gascon Bailiff, Pierre de St Pey (biographical information on Walter de la Salle, son of Robert, of Lincoln, in Edith Carey, annotated Folk Lore I, facing page 247.)

² 22 April 1321. King Edward II to his beloved liegeman Otho de Grandison, Warden of the isles of Guernsey and Jersey, or his Lieutenant—greetings. Guillaume Lenginour was accused of causing the death of Ranulph Gautier, murdered, so it is said, and of the theft of a silver ring from the said Ranulph, and a golden florin from Jean de Sous-le-Mont, chaplain; and, having sought sanctuary because of these crimes in the Church of St Peter Port, he then abjured the islands. By our letters patent we have forgiven him for his abjuration and granted him lasting peace with us. There are conditions, however; he must face justice before the Court in the said islands, should we or anyone else wish to proceed against him for these aforementioned crimes, more information about which will be found in the said letters. We have come to understand that according to the customary usage in these islands, if anyone abjures the islands by reason of any crime or malfaiseance, but returns to the islands within a year from the date he or she made his oath of abjuration, and declares himself ready to answer for these crimes, and to be bound by the Court's judgment, the lands, holdings, goods, and possessions of this person, who had made an oath to leave them behind, and which, by dint of this abjuration, would have come into our use and possession, should be returned to them. Now, athough the said Guillaume intended to return to the islands within that period of a year from the abjuration, and was willing to face any accuser in Court to answer for these crimes, we kept him back and prevented his return as he was concerned in certain affairs in which we had an interest, the result of which was he was unable to return within the said period; but, as we wish to show him grace and favour, we order that, despite the law of Guernsey being as it is, you must hand his land and possessions, which were confiscated to our benefit, back to him; for the said Guillaume, having finished with the matters in which we were concerned, is willing to face justice for the said crimes, howsoever and whenever.

Signed by the King, at Bristol, the 22nd day of april. Done by the King himself, and delivered by his messenger, Master Robert de Baldock. [Nicolle, W, Lettres closes, &c, Jersey, Société Jersiaise, 1893p. 86.]