Dame Alice de Bryene of Acton Hall

Dame Alice de Bryene (Bryan) of Acton Hall was a middle ranking noblewomen of the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Alice was married at an early age to Sir Guy de Bryene [1309-1386] who had been previously married. Widowed at what appears to be a reasonably early age, Alice was to raise the couples two children, manage their estates, and play host to wardships for whom she entered into correspondence with King Richard II. Her father-in-law, who outlived her husband, was the 1st Baron Bryan, a Knight of the Garter, and tenant in chief. The number of surviving records relating to Alice’s life as a widow, some fifty years, and the preservation of her Day Book [Household Accounts], make Alice de Bryene an ideal lady to study if looking at the roles played by women within noble families.

Alice’s inheritance

The Inquisition Post Mortem for Guy de Bryene makes Alice’s initial inheritance clear:

Guy de Bryene knight, the younger.
Writ after the death of the said Guy, who held by knight’s service of Roger son and heir of Edmund de Muortuo Mari, late earl of March, a minor in the king’s wardship, 16 May, 9 Ric II.
Gloucester. Inq taken at Gloucester, Monday after St Laurence the Martyr, 10 Ric II.
The said Guy and Alice his wife held the undermentioned manor in joint feoffment, to them and the heirs of their bodies, with remainder to the right heirs of Guy. Alice is still living, and holds the manor by virtue of the said feoffment, which was made by Guy de Bryen, the elder, Robert Whytyndon and Morgan Gogh, as appears by their charter shewn to the jurors.
Oxenhale. The manor (extent given) held of Sir Roger de Mortuo Mari, earl of March, as of the inheritance of Geoffrey de Chenyvyle, by service of half a knight’s fee. The extent includes a pack of deer and £6 2s rent of free and bond tenants wheref a third part (40s 8d) is paid to Margaret Grauntson by way of dower.
He died on Monday after the Purification, 9 Ric II. Philippa and Elizabeth, daughters of the said Guy and Alice, aged 7 years and 4 years respectively, are Guy’s next heirs.

The findings of an Inquisition Post Mortem do not result in immediate action or release of lands. In the case of Alice, her rights to the aforesaid manor of Oxenhale were confirmed to the Escheator of Gloucestershire on 12th October 1386. [See Close Rolls]

Additional Estates and Responsibilities

The following year, Alice was appointed to administer a number of lands left by the deceased Philip de Bryene. These lands, mainly in Somerset, saw a series of legal hearings and documents confirming or amending rights of inheritance and wardships over these lands. In simple terms, they gave Alice joint responsibility for a sizeable amount of land and for the wardships of a number of children from noble families. The Fine Rolls (13th March 1387) give Alice rights until the two children she had by Sir Guy were of age. 8th July saw a revocation noted in the Patent Rolls. On 14th November 1387 the administration is updated a third time, introducing John Lovell as a guardian:

Commitment to John Lovell ‘chivaler’ and Alice late the wife of Guy son of Guy Briene knight – by mainprise of John Testewode of the county of Somerset and Thomas Hyne of the county of Northampton – of the keeping of the manors of Frome and Waleys in Selewode, co. Somerset, late of Philip de Briene ‘chivaler’, tenant of the king in chief, to hold the same from Michaelmas last until the lawful age of Philippa and Elizabeth, daughters of the said Guy son of Guy and kinswomen and heirs of Philip, rendering 100s yearly by equal portions at the Easter and Michaelmas Exchequers, and finding fit sustenance for the said heirs; with clause touching maintenance of buildings etc. The said mainpernors and John Lovell are jointly bound to the king, by a recognisance made in the Exchequer, in £10 to be paid at the king’s will in the event of failure by John and Alice to pay their farm within a month after any term by payment. [Fine Rolls]

The matter of inheritance was not over for Alice, or her daughters. Indeed, it was only just beginning. The matter of likely inheritance from Sir Guy’s father and mother was raised as a legal matter by Sir Guy’s brother, William de Bryene. He complained that despite Letters Patent saying otherwise, any inheritance would avoid any daughters that he may have [he had no children when raising the complaint] and go straight to the daughters of Sir Guy and Alice de Bryene. It was a considerable sum that William was concerned about:

and because Sir Guy was aware that by divers entails his own right heirs, the daughters of Sir Guy brother of Sir William, would inherit the fee simple of great number of other manors and lands of his and of Sir Guy the son, Sir Philip and Sir William to the yearly value of 700 marks or more, and by their mother’s side the heritage of Bures to the yearly value of 700 marks or more, of which 1,400 marks and of other the manors aforesaid Sir William’s female issue would inherit nought so long as those daughters his nieces live [Close Rolls, this in an extract of a much longer entry]

Those inheritances are confirmed in part by Close Roll entries from June of 1391.

Estate Management

The following years show that Alice de Bryene was adept at the management of the estates that she had inherited. In doing so, she made use of a range of legal devices to secure payment of debts and documentation exists that illustrates a series of transactions enabling others to hold land from Alice, or providing for the lease of land for specific purposes such as logging. These include having a man sent to the Fleet Prison for non payment [Patent Rolls page 400], pardoning a debtor {Patent Rolls page 296], and paying John Newburgh to leave a manor, possibly settling a land dispute [Close Rolls].

The Household Book of Dame Alice de Bryene

Estate Management of a large amount of land, covering several counties and numerous manors, is complex. It required an organised and well functioning household. In the case of Alice de Bryene we are left in no doubt as to the degree of organisation and energy put into the management of her household. Alice has left a quite remarkable record of daily life in her household. A full account of the year 1412/13 has been preserved. It details all expenses, the number of guests at Acton Hall on any given day, precise details of what food was prepared and served, and the names of many of the guests who stayed at Acton Hall as her guests. It shows that whilst Alice had moved closer to her own kin following the death of her husband, she remained in close contact with members of her husbands family, along with provision for priests who had benefitted from Sir Guy’s commission of a Chantry.

The full household Book of Dame Alice de Bryene is available via archive.org on an hour by hour, or fortnightly basis.

The text was translated and published in 1931. The editorial commentary highlights the value of the accounts to a social historian:

The da-book gives in detail the numbers who were fed at her table, and exactly what they ate down to the last pigeon or herring. It gives a complete picture of the loaves, white or black, baked by the hundred at frequent intervals, and sometimes on a Sunday ; how they were stored in the pantry ; and how many were issued for each day’s consumption. It shows the amount of malt used on each brewing day and records how much of the ale was drunk daily, and how the wine was brought into store in the pantry and issued thence. It shows the small purchases made day by day for for the kitchen, and how the horses of the household of the guests were fed and bedded. It records the arrival of the fishmonger, and enters the date at which each cade*** of red herrings was begun. The lady not only took her meals with her household and her guests ; she also demanded a strict account of all they ate.

The book provides an insight into the diet of the gentry at the time. And it is far more exotic than some may assume. For example, at the end of the year the following were accounted for in the stewards audit:

And for 3 lb. pepper, ½ lb. saffron, 2 lb. ginger, 2 lb. cinnamon, 1 ¼ lb. cloves, 1 ¼ lb. mace, 1 ½ lb. soda ash, 40 lbs. almonds, 5 lb. rice, 1 ½ bush. seed-mustard, and one gall. 2 ½ quarts honey remaining. … And for one frail*, 4 lb. figs, 6 lb. dates, one frail, 2 lb. raisins, and 8 lb. raisins of Corinth, bought of the lady’s providing, and 1 lb. white sugar bought by the said steward.

Copy will of Alice de Bryene, widow of Guy de Bryene, kt

Appoints as feoffees:

John Howard, kt

Geoffrey Bryce, Master of St Gregory’s College, Sudbury

Thomas Sampson, esq.

Robert Cavendyssh

Thomas Milde

John Coo

Henry Pethirton

William Ingesthorp

Richard Andrew

Thomas Hardekyn

Robert Holyere, parson of Reydon

John Chetylbere, parson of Reschforde [Rochford] (Ess.)

Of: messuage with adjoining garden in Aketon [Acton]; all her lands and tenements in Polstede [Polstead]; all lands and tenements called Collys in Newton; all lands and tenements in Aketon, viz. lands and tenements called Struttes and two pieces of land, one called Redelys lying between land of testator and land belonging to Struttes, the other called Cherchelond lying between land of testator and pasture of William Rokewoode, croft called Wattespightel lying between land of William Rokewoode on both sides, piece of land and pasture (2a.) lying in field called Overfeld between land late of Sir Richard Waldegrave, kt, Robert de Peyton, Robert Cressener, John Brook, clerk and Ralph Chamberleyn on west and field called Curnham on east, pightle (1r.), 8d. rent derived from land (1a.) in Aketon lying lengthways opposite tenement called Struttes, viz. between land of testator and common way leading from Melforde [Long Melford] towards Lavenham, with right of free entry and exit over said land to well in north part thereof to draw water, field called Hygynesfeld with adjoining pightle, and moiety of meadow (3a.) in Remedewe, together with various other lands and tenements lately of Richard Dynham and John Slaughtare, chaplains; all messuages in Bures St Mary lately of Richard Dynham and John Bakere, chaplains; and croft —— [illegible]; to hold to uses of testator’s will, of chief lords of fees as more fully appears in charter made to feoffees.

Feoffees, out of profits of all above property (except tenement called Struttes which testator has granted after her death to Alice Davy for life), to fund one suitable and honest chaplain. If chaplain fails in service of testator’s intentions, Geoffrey Bryce or successors as Master of College, to choose another chaplain out of revenues of Struttes after death of Alice Davy.

If said Master fails to elect suitable chaplain, other feoffees to do so regardless of will of Master.

Chaplain to celebrate masses and other divine services daily in Aketon church, viz. in chapel of St Mary on north side of church, for souls of Sir Robert de Bures, kt, Lady Joan de Bures (testator’s parents), Sir Guy de Bryene (testator’s late husband), testator and all her ancestors.

If six feoffees die, survivors to make a sufficient estate of said property to twelve discreet and honest men, to hold to same intent.

Master of College to have for his trouble at each election of new feoffees, 20s.

Chaplain for time being to sufficiently maintain and repair buildings on all lands and tenements.

If no suitable chaplain can be found, feoffees to sell all property and dispose of proceeds in works of charity as seems to them most fitting.

Memorandum that evidences of title to all said property to remain in custody of Master of College and successors.

6 Sep 1434; copy nd (15th cent)

TNA EE 501/6/47, held by Suffolk Archives Bury St. Edmunds

Dan Moorhouse

Dan Moorhouse graduated in History and Politics and has since undertaken postgraduate studies in Medieval History and Education. Dan is a member of the Royal Historical Society and has previously been a member of the Historical Association’s Secondary Education Committee. Dan’s early publishing was in the Secondary School History Education field. This included co-authoring the Becta Award shortlisted Dynamic Learning: Medicine Through Time series for Hodder Murray and contributing to the Bafta Award winning Smallpox Through Time documentary series by Tmelines.tv. A former teacher, Dan now concentrates on research and writing, predominantly in Medieval English history. Books by Dan Moorhouse On this day in the Wars of the Roses On this day in the Hundred Years War

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