Eustace Folville (died 1347 aged almost 60)[a] is credited with
killing/assassinating the unpopular Sir Roger de Beler, Baron of the
Exchequer and henchman of the despised Hugh le Despencer and
ineffective King Edward II. He was the most active member of the
Folville Gang who engaged in acts of vigilantism and outlawry in
Leicestershire in the early 1300s, often on the behalf of others.
1 Folville family
3 The Folville Gang
3.1 The Slaying of Roger Beler 1326
3.3 The Ransom of Richard Willoughby 1332
5 Later reputation
6 See also
10 External links
Eustace was the second out of seven sons of Sir John Folville, a
respectable member of the gentry who acted on many occasions as a
Commissioner or Knighe Shire for both
Rutland and Leicestershire.
Eustace's elder brother, also Sir John Folville, inherited all of his
father's lands in 1309 and kept out of most (but not all) of the
law-breaking of his younger brothers.
Upon the death of the well respected King Edward I, aka the "Hammer of
the Scots", he was succeeded by his son Edward II who did not inherit
his father's abilities. Edward II promoted a young French knight
Piers Gaveston ahead of the existing aristocracy and his
corruption and abusive nature meant that relations between the King
and his subjects soon broke down. Piers was exiled but returned and
was executed by
Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster
Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster in 1312.
Gaveston was soon replaced in the affections of the king by another
knight, Hugh Despenser the Younger. Despencer's greed and corruption
became rampant and relations between him and the baronage
disintegrated and resulted in the
Despenser War of 1321-22, led by the
Marcher Lords Roger Mortimer[b] and Humphrey de Bohun. This culminated
Battle of Boroughbridge
Battle of Boroughbridge on 16 March 1322 which was won by the
King and Despencer and saw Gaveston's killer, Thomas, 2nd Earl of
Lancaster (King Edward's cousin), himself executed.
Some rebels were imprisoned such as Roger Mortimer (who escaped to
France in August 1323) and Robert de Holland, 1st Baron Holand.[c]
Others fled and engaged in outlawry; Sir
William Trussell (who was to
later become the Speaker of the House of Commons and was to oversee
Edward's abdication) led a rebel group that raided in Somerset and
Dorset in August 1322.
As the injustices continued, and the effects of the Great Famine of
1315–22 lingered, discontent remained. Despenser and his father Hugh
le Despenser, 1st Earl of Winchester were rewarded with lands that had
belonged to Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, including those in
Leicestershire. On 14 Mar 1323 Roger de Beler, Baron of the
Richard de Willoughby and William de Gosefeld were issued
with arrest warrants for Sir William Trussell, William his son, Roger
la Zouch (son of Sir Roger la Zouch, Lord of Lubbesthorpe), Ralph his
Robert de Holland, 1st Baron Holand
Robert de Holland, 1st Baron Holand and others who were
accused by Hugh le Dispenser of stealing horses, oxen, pigs, sheep and
swans from his parks in Leicestershire. The warrant was reissued in
1324 alongside similar ones that dealt with rioting against Dispenser
in Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire by other rebels.
William Trussell was forced to flee to France where he joined
Roger Mortimer and plotted revenge against the Despencers and the
King. Queen Isabella joined them in 1325 and embarked upon an affair
with Mortimer, having been estranged from Edward II since he had left
her dangerously unprotected from the Scottish in 1322.
By January 1326 English supporters of Isabella, Mortimer and Trussell,
perhaps including the la Zouches, were assembling and equipping troops
in preparation for an approaching Invasion.
The Folville Gang
The Slaying of Roger Beler 1326
In January 1326 Eustace led a band of fifty men to a valley near
Rearsby and ambushed and killed the corrupt
Baron of the Exchequer
Baron of the Exchequer and
ardent supporter of the Despencers, Sir Roger de Beler, who had
previously made threats of violence to Eustace, his family and
neighbours. An arrest warrant was issued on 24 January to apprehend
those involved in the murder. A further warrant was issued to
Henry, Earl of Leicester[d] on 28 February.
On 1 March a warrant was issued to multiple commissioners and named
the suspects as;
Ralph son of
Roger la Zouch
Roger la Zouch of Lubbesthorpe
Eustace Folville and his brothers Robert, Walter and Rev. Richard
Folville, Vicar of Teigh
Adam de Barleye
William de Barkeston of Bitham
Roger son of Sir Roger la Zouch, Lord of Lubbesthorpe
Ivo/Eudo son of Sir William la Zouch, 1st
Baron Zouche of
Sir Robert de Hellewell
The listing of the la Zouches of
Lubbesthorpe first implies their
leadership, which is backed up by an order on 24 March to the Sheriff
Leicestershire to seize the lands of Sir Roger la Zouch, Lord of
Lubbesthorpe as he had been indicted of "assenting to and counselling"
the death of Roger de Beler. La Zouch no doubt had a personal
grudge against Beler stemming from the arrest warrant against him in
1324 as well as Beler's desertion from the rebels' side after the
Battle of Boroughbridge
Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322. The Folvilles may have been
mercenaries hired by the la Zouches but Beler's previous threats
probably persuaded them that his removal would be a good thing in
A further warrant on 18 Mar added the following names to the
Robert son of Simon de Hauberk of Scalford
John de Stafford and his brother William
On 14 March a warrant was issued to Edmund de Ashby, Sheriff of Leics
to arrest Thomas Folville for aiding Ralph son of
Roger la Zouch
Roger la Zouch of
Eustace Folville and others escape from England. The
fugitives fled first to Wales and then to Paris to join Queen
Isabella, Mortimer and Trussell where they lost one of their band,
Ivo/Eudo la Zouch, perhaps from wounds received in the attack on
Beler or their subsequent flight from England. Ivo/Eudo was buried in
the church of the friars of St Augustine, Paris on 27 April.
Queen Isabella, Mortimer and Trussell started their Invasion of
England by landing at Orwell, Suffolk, on 24 September 1326 with a
small army of about 1500 (perhaps including the recently exiled
Folville gang) but were quickly joined by a very large number of
people discontent with the reign of Edward and the Despencers.
On 28 September a general pardon was issued by King Edward to all
outlaws provided that they helped defend against the invasion. The
only people excluded from the pardon were Mortimer and the Folville
gang, who Edward obviously suspected were intrinsically linked.
Opposition to the invasion proved to be almost non-existent and so
many barons, sheriffs and knights joined the rebellion that they
gained control within just two months. Both Hugh le Despencer, Earl of
Winchester and his son
Hugh Despenser the Younger
Hugh Despenser the Younger were quickly and
gruesomely executed by Mortimer once captured.
A pardon for the Folvilles was rushed through and granted on 11 Feb
1327, presumably on the request of Roger Mortimer, now the new
fourteen year old king's Steward, and the new Speaker of the House of
Commons, Sir William Trussell, just ten days after Edward III had
been crowned as the new king.
Despite Sir Roger la Zouch, Lord of Lubbesthorpe, seeming to have been
the 'brains' behind the assassination of Sir Roger de Beler, and
providing the link to Sir
William Trussell and the rebellion, Eustace
Folville became celebrated as, according to the Leicestershire
chronicler Henry Knighton, Eustachius de Fuluyle qui Robertum Bellere
interfecerat ('Eustace de Folville who assassinated Roger Bellere')
and is celebrated with the 'Folville Cross', a 1 m (3 ft
3 in) high fragment of an ancient crucifix, supposedly on the
site of the murder, at a crossroads 1 km north-east of Ashby
The Fourteenth Century legal system included practices of vigilantism
and retribution. Debts were often recovered using force, disputes
resolved by duels and judges were only involved when all else failed.
The Folvilles, finding themselves as 'heroes of the revolution' (at
least locally, having saved their neighbours from the nefarious acts
of Despencer and Belers), became emboldened and continued to commit
acts of retribution and, as the years went by, found themselves on
both sides of the law being repeatedly outlawed and then pardoned.
Upon their return to
Leicestershire after the revolution they
initially appear to have targeted Beler's lands at
Kirby Bellars and
elsewhere[f] but within a few years petitions were issued to the
Sheriff of Nottingham, 'complaining that two of the Folville brothers
were roaming abroad again at the head of a band, waylaying persons
whom they spoiled and held to ransom'.
Various indictments from the period portray Eustace and his brothers
as freelance mercenaries, hired 'by the ostensibly law-abiding...to
commit acts of violence on their behalf'. Members of Sempringham
Priory and Haverholm Abbey, both in Lincolnshire, seem to have made
use of their services, and at one stage they were under the patronage
of Sir Robert Tuchet, a major lord of Derbyshire and Cheshire.
The Ransom of Richard Willoughby 1332
The justice Sir Richard Willoughby, another one of corrupt
commissioners appointed in 1323 to arrest
William Trussell and Roger
la Zouch, was appointed to apprehend Eustace and his brothers Robert,
Walter and John in January 1331 for allegedly stealing horse, oxen and
sheep from Henry de Beaumont.[g]
It seems it took a long time for Willioughby to fulfil his duty and it
was not until the next year when he caught up with his prey;
unfortunately rather than capturing them they instead kidnapped the
judge. Willoughby was ransomed for the large sum of 1300 marks and
The Folville gang did not answer to the charges brought against them
and fled to Derbyshire where they "rode with armed force secretly and
openly", allied with the Coterel Brothers and were sheltered by Sir
Robert Tuchet, Lord of Markeaton.
A year after the kidnap of Willoughby, Eustace was serving in the
armies of Edward III against the Scottish. He may well have fought at
the Halidon Hill. In recognition of this military service, Eustace
received another full pardon for his crimes. He was in combat again in
1337 and 1338, in
Flanders respectively. He finally died
in 1347, a member of the council of the abbot of Crowland, having
stood trial for none of the charges lodged against him. He is buried
at St Mary's church, Ashby Folville. His monument has been badly
damaged: a Victorian description states that 'the fragments of his
helmet form the only part of his funeral achievement now
Eustace Folville faced such little resistance in his lifetime, and
suffered no form of legal penalty, despite being known as an habitual
offender for two decades. During this time he went wholly unpunished,
unlike his unfortunate brother Richard. Two factors may explain
Folville's apparent good fortune. Firstly, the political turbulence of
the 1320s worked in his favour, particularly in the case of his worst
crime, the murder of Beler. Beler had been closely connected to the
Despensers: he was appointed attorney to
Hugh Despenser the Younger
Hugh Despenser the Younger in
1322, and used the revenues of confiscated lands to curry favour with
Secondly, and most importantly, there is a widespread perception that
Eustace and others like him were basically honest and forthright, at
least more so than the authorities that pursued them. This would mean
that the justices and their clerks, reliant as they were on
testimonies from local people, would find their job extremely
difficult in the Folville's home territory. As E.L.G. Stones notes,
complaints along these lines are frequently made by the trailbaston
and other commissions: 'in all these things they are aided and abetted
by local people, who incite them to their evil deeds and shield them
after they are done'. While these laments might seem to excuse the
commissions' own failures, there is undoubtedly some truth to them.
After all, a tip-off from a local source allowed the Folvilles and
Cotterels to elude capture in the Peak District.
This popular support seems to be rooted in a sense that the Folvilles
were allies of the common people, combating the crooked establishment
which oppressed them. There is at least some justification for this
view. Eustace's two principal victims were certainly highly corrupt
individuals. Beler used his office to seize land and siphon money to
his patrons, and his murder should be regarded less as a crime by the
Folvilles alone, and more a conspiracy by several Leicestershire
landowners. Eustace's accomplices were members of the Halewell and
Zouche families, which suggests a breadth of ill-feeling against Sir
Roger, going well beyond any one group. Willoughby was no more
popular. In 1340 he was targeted by a second gang, who trapped him in
Thurcaston castle. He was later imprisoned by Edward III on charges of
corruption, indicted by several juries across the country, and forced
to pay 1200 marks for the king's pardon. Eustace was respected as
an opponent of such figures, even if this opposition was not his
For the generations after Eustace's death, the positive view of the
Folville gang only increased. In later sources they are not merely
regarded as law-breakers, but agents of an unofficial law, outside
human legislation and less susceptible to abuse.
In William Langland's (a Midlander himself)
Piers Plowman (c.1377-9),
he sees them as instruments of the divine order. While he is scathing
about popular veneration of 'Robyn Hood and Ralph Erl of Chestre', he
speaks approvingly of 'Folvyles lawes'. The crimes of the family are
presented as correctives to the 'false' legal establishment, and the
'Folvyles' themselves are listed among the 'tresors' that Grace has
given to combat 'Antecrist'. Langland states:
"Therefore, said Grace, before I go, I will give you treasure and
weaponry to fight with when
Antichrist attacks you"
"And some to ride and some to recover what unrightfuly was won;"
"He instructed men to win it back again through strength of hands"
"And to fetch if from false men with Folvilles Laws"
Henry Knighton is no less sympathetic. He portrays Bellere and
Willoughby as entirely legitimate targets: Willoughby's ransom is
reduced to a less avaricious 90 marks, while Bellere becomes the
aggressor of his killers, not only 'heaping threats and injustices' on
to his neighbours but coveting their 'possessions'. Most
interestingly, the kidnap of Willoughby is portrayed as a direct
conflict between the two codes represented by the outlaws and the
justice: Sir Richard is abducted as punishment for trespassing on the
territory of a rival order, specifically 'because of the trailbaston
commissions of 1331'.
For his contemporaries and near-contemporaries,
Eustace Folville was
clearly more than an acquisitive thug. He was something closer to an
enforcer of 'God's law and the common custom, which was different from
the state's or the lord's law, but nevertheless a social order'.
Rob Roy MacGregor
^ his elder brother John was born in 1286
^ whose grandfather
Roger Mortimer, 1st Baron Mortimer
Roger Mortimer, 1st Baron Mortimer had killed Hugh
Despenser the Younger's grandfather, Hugh le Despencer, 1st Baron le
Despencer at the
Battle of Evesham
Battle of Evesham in 1265 initiating a long running
feud between the two families.
^ married to Maud, daughter of Alan la Zouch, Baron la Zouch of Ashby
^ who himself was to join the rebellion against Edward II and the
Despencers in September 1326
^ the la Zouches of
Harringworth were cousins of the la Zouches of
^ looting of lands belonging to the Despencer regime was widespread in
the year following the invasion
^ Beaumont had been one of the few friends of
Piers Gaveston but
eventually threw in the towel and joined the rebellion at Bristol in
October 1326 with a very large force
^ a b Lumley2 1895
^ a b Moor 1929
^ Farnham & 1919–20
^ a b Close Rolls 1224–1468.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Patent Rolls 1232–1509.
^ a b Lumley 1895
^ Fine Rolls 1199–1461.
^ Nichols 1795
^ a b Cal Inq PMs VI.
^ a b c Musson 2009
^ Maurice Keen, The Outlaws of Medieval Legend, rev. ed. (London:
Routledge, 2000), p.198: ISBN 978-0-415-23900-4
^ Henry Summerson, 'Folville, Eustace (d. 1346)', in Oxford Dictionary
of National Biography, ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison
(Oxford: OUP, 2004): ISBN 978-0-19-861411-1
^ William Kelly, 'The Murder of Roger Beler, and the Laws of
Chivalry', Notes and Queries II.VIII (1859), p.496
^ Jens Röhrkasten, 'Beler, Sir Roger (d. 1326)', in Oxford Dictionary
of National Biography
^ E.L.G. Stones, 'The Folvilles of Ashby-Folville, Leicestershire, and
Their Associates in Crime, 1326-1347', Transactions of the Royal
Historical Society 77 (1957), p.131
^ S. J. Payling, “Willoughby, Sir Richard (c.1290–1362),” in
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
^ William Langland, The Vision of Piers Plowman: a critical edition of
the B-text, ed. by A.V.C. Schmidt (London: J.M. Dent, 1978), pp.242-3,
XIX.226-47: ISBN 0-460-10571-X
^ Knighton, Chronicon, I (1889), pp.460-1
^ Eric Hobsbawm, Bandits (New York: Delacorte Press, 1969), p.149:
ISBN 1-56584-619-2. See also Richard Firth Green, 'Medieval
Literature and Law', in The Cambridge History of Medieval English
Literature, ed. by David Wallace (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1999), p.422: ISBN 0-521-44420-9
Farnham, George (1919–20).
Leicestershire Manors: The Manors of
Allexton, Appleby and
Ashby Folville (PDF). Leicester: Leicestershire
Archaeological and Historical Society.
Fryde, Natalie (1979). The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II 1321-1326.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521222013.
Lumley, Joseph (1895). Chronicon Henry Knighton. I. London:
Lumley2, Joseph (1895). Chronicon Henry Knighton. II. London:
Musson, Anthony (2009). Crime, law and society in the later Middle
Ages. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem. VI. London: HMSO. 1910.
Moor, Charles (1929). The Knights of Edward I. London: Harleian
Nichols, John (1795). The History and Antiquities of the County of
Leicester. Leicester: John Nichols.
Close Rolls. Westminster: Parliament of England. 1224–1468.
Fine Rolls. Westminster: Parliament of England. 1199–1461.
Patent Rolls. Westminster: Parliament of England. 1232–1509.
Folville Tomb (possibly Eustace) in St Mar