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Thomas Corbet: The Raven Baron and the Perilous Politics of 13th-Century England

Thomas Corbet heraldry

Thomas Corbet The Raven Baron

This man was born around 1182 and became a loyal supporter of King Henry III. He lived to a ripe old age during the barbaric thirteenth century, the age of castration, torture, religious fanaticism, be-headings, quartering and burning people alive. 

A compelling character admired by non-other than Winston Churchill, published work on the man. 

This Royalist Baron was as a military commander in the Welsh Wars of the 1250s. Baron Thomas Corbet was quite special. He descended from the Norman blood, who had been marrying into Welsh and English noble families almost since they arrived. In contrast, up until this time, it wasn’t common place for nobility to take an English bride in mainland England—in the Welsh Borderlands, things were different. 

Hugh le Corbeau was the first Corbet in England and he was most likely at Hastings. Hugh built Caus Castle in Westbury. His sons Roger and Robert FitzCorbet are listed in the Domesday book of 1086 as vassals under the Marcher Lord Montgomery. 
Artist Impression Caus Castle
Artists Impression of Caus Castle

After 1102, however, Earl Montgomery’s failed rebellion against the king cost him land and power. Consequently, Henry I took Pembroke Castle and built another fortification in Carmarthen to tighten his grip on Wales. He entrusted the Corbet family with extra borderland territory. The family did well. 

The name Corbet is an old french word for ‘Corvid’ or ‘Raven’ which we can see is used in Thomas Corbet’s family heraldry. Roger is believed by some to be the first Corbet Baron of Caus (Hugh named it after Pays de Caux France). 

Robert Corbet succeeded when Roger died. Many years later, in 1222, we see the death of another Robert Corbet who left Thomas his lands. Thomas Corbet would become Sheriff of Shropshire in 1249, his lands stretched as far as Devon.

Over a decade later, in the Welsh Marches bordering Shropshire, he faced attacks from Llewelyn the last; Simon de Montfort made moves against his castle and fellow Royalists during the war against King Henry III. Thomas Corbet faced violence on both sides of the border. He remained true to his king, even though he saw retainers, as well as another Robert, a Corbet of Wattlesborough, betray him and join the traitor Simon de Montfort. 

What sort of person was Thomas Corbet? It isn't hard to picture him as a strong loyal royalist because who also faced pressures to join the rebellion. A chain-mailed man of condiderable age—he certainly wasn't stupid but very bright. In his day, diplomacy and politics required multilingualism, simply because numerous languages and dialects existed in England. Diversity of language may have been more common along the Welsh borderlands; soldiers, men-at-arms and knights all sent to fight, brought various dialects of the French language with them. Flemish was increasing too, there was an established Anglo-Saxon language with regional variation, not forgetting Latin used for legal and religious purposes. Our modern language began teething and crawling; born from the displacement of the Anglo-Saxons in 1066. Another important language we should respect is Welsh, spoken by those Brythonic Celts and the Corbet family. 

Life was a cycle of fighting, alliances, litigation and rebellions; ongoing family tension, not only between the Welsh and English but sometimes between other Marcher Lords. 

It’s easy to call thirteenth century English combatants bloodthirsty ruffians, when measuring their era to ours. On the other hand, comparatively, I imagine Julius Caesar’s Rome as being a much more civilised, despite it being over a millennium older than the twelve hundreds. The old Raven Baron had a lot of responsibility both legally, and with local domestic disputes regarding tenants. He often gave witness to various deeds, writs and other documents along with other nobles across many counties.

A fact based on narrative following a family called Page:

Robert Page was a free man, but ageing and tired. He lived opposite his large fishpond in a town called Drengeton, modern day Drointon, in Staffordshire. The attacks from the Welsh was common news, any day or at least very soon, he expected Baron Corbet to show up at the village to ask the Meverell’s or the de Staffords for soldiers. 

Lord Bagot of Newton, would be a formidable enemy for them; especially with the likes of Jorvard de Cotes, Richard Pas or sadly, his own son William Page. The poor blighter had not been married long and he would likely end up going out there, he feared. Several years later, in 1256, Aston Rogers, Welsh Marches, Shropshire; only a couple of miles away from Caus Castle.

The Testimony of My Ancestral Grandmother Amice Page:

Our Liege Lord Sir Roger de Eston, holding a knights fee under Baron Corbet, went blind and suffered a slow painful death—it made things uncomfortable. My husband William and I had maintained our fiefdom the longest and had gotten accustomed to the attacks. It was our first place since leaving Drengeton, in Stowe and, it had not been smooth, given we have very young boys, Henry and Stephen. Margery de Eston, Rogers widow, readied herself to sue all of the people who lived on her late husband's land; tenants who worked the soil and held it firm, ready to defend it. 

Dismissing their plights and efforts, Margery wanted a third of her land back, it was her dowry. Complaints circled about how unfair she was being and then, inevitably, the Raven Baron Corbet got involved. Richard Pas maintained thirteen acres of land for his troop, but Jorvard only had four which was considerably smaller than the half a virgate we Pages worked.

Luckily, William and I were dismissed from the land grab straight away; Lord Roger gave Will his fiefdom before he married Margery. Margery de Eston also made claims of Roger de Eston’s heir and nephew; he was only a minor, and thankfully in custody of Baron Corbet. Lord Corbet said the other tenants would be safe if they provided charters of feoffment by Roger de Eston. Everyone respects Baron Thomas Corbet, the Raven Baron. 

Personal Feuds and Vindictiveness

Early 1256, in the assize roll, Thomas Corbet entered into another dispute with a man known as Fulk FitzWarin IV. Fulk accused Thomas Corbet of taking Alberbury from him, a sizeable 120 acres. Thomas wanted him gone, driven off the land like the scoundrel he saw him to be. 

At the assizes they exchanged insults, childish name calling. Thomas Corbet was witnessed being angry and emotional about honour and principles. Unnecessarily, the Raven Baron insulted FitzWarin's dead father, calling him a traitor. Fulk didn't lose his land in the end, he won. 

In truth 1256, is an example of a bad year in Thomas Corbet life. Of course, he refused to accept Fulk winning and tried to regain Alderbury. It sounds like he was quite the battleaxe in his twilight years. On the contrary, I suppose his stresses would cause any modern person to crack, perhaps he was not coping.

Llewelyn ap Gruffudd was increasing in power and audacity. Roger de Mortimer (a knight extremely talented at violence) waged war with the Welsh warrior after his men inevitably invaded Mortimer.

Below is a fact based narrative from ane enfeoffed Salopian, William husband of Amice Page:

In 1263, Caus castle is being upgraded with towers. The Welsh Marches have become more dangerous. The idea of losing Amice or one of the boys to these Welsh raiders is unthinkable. Llewelyn king of Gwynedd has been trying to force us out of Wales and has failed so far. Robert Corbet has postponed taking his knighthood to support us. 
Thomas Corbet of Caus, the old Sheriff of Shropshire and our Lord, did something smart—he wrote to the King, which was understandable, we didn't really need protection—de Montfort and Llewelyn are out for our blood, true; he was just showing the King Henry definition of his loyalty.

He put me and my friend Richard Pas in the letter; as well as Jorvard’s son, John de Cotes. I cannot help but wonder, perhaps we're important now?

Names of retinue in ancient writing
Over the following couple of years, Henry and Simon the younger, sons of the Earl de Montfort, resumed fighting against the us. Cancellation of Jewish debt is one main excuse for the rise in the violence. Llewelyn joined Earl Simon de Montfort and started taking castles across the Marches. During the battle of Lewes in 1264, Fulk fitzWarin IV drown in the Ouse river. Robert the Corbet of Wattlesborough, betrayed us all and aided our enemies. 

Eventually, Simon de Montfort found himself surrounded by rivers during the fighting at Evesham decisive battle. The army of Prince Edward closed in on the Earl. Roger de Mortimer, 1st Baron of Wigmore, personally decapitated the man, hacking off his limbs. As an award, the king let Mortimer take de Montfort's head and limbs to be spiked at Wigmore.
By the end of 1267, Llewelyn surprisingly became the Prince of Wales after the treaty of Montgomery. After raiding his relatives lands with the Welsh, betraying trust by siding with de Montfort; Robert Corbet of Wattlesborough was forgiven by Thomas our liege lord and sire. The bastard was also pardoned by the king! 

Several years later, Thomas Corbet died. It was 1274 and  a very sad time. He was succeeded by his son, also called Robert, but after his father. 


The Corbet family continued to play an important role in English politics and society for centuries, and their legacy can still be seen in old buildings and landmarks that they left behind. William Page survived the wars and his grandson Richard was given land in Eaton, Shropshire. 
Llewelyn faced the wrath of the vicious King Edward I, hammer of the scots, a brutal monarch who declared war against the prince of Wales in 1282. The welsh prince did not survive, neither did Roger de Mortimer.


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