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                          How objective are historians? The dispute between Bishop’s                                     (King’s) Lynn and Castle Rising over the Toll-booth.


Coat of Arms Robert de Montalt

It is well known that there was a long-standing dispute between Lynn and Castle Rising over the tolls collected from trade, particularly during the the period when the Montalts were Lords of the Manor of Rising.

Here is an account of the dispute by H. L. Bradfer-Lawrence, the historian who in 1932 wrote a history of Castle Rising.

During the time Lord Robert de Montalt possessed Castle Rising, great disputes arose between him and the Mayor and Burgesses of Lynn concerning the tolls of the Port and Market of Lynn, and in the 6th year of the  reign of King Edward II it appears that he brought the action against the Priory and the Mayor ...... for an assault committed upon him and his attendants. .... it is alleged that the assault was committed..... when the said Robert de Montalt came into the said town for the purposes of business, when Nicholas de Northampton and a host of other malefactors with banners, unfurled in a warlike manner, insulted the said Robert de Montalt and his men and followed them to his dwelling-house within the town, which they besieged and broke the doors thereof and that they there beat him and his men and carried away his goods and chattels...... that they led away and imprisoned his men, so that their services were lost........”

In 1907, Henry J Hillen wrote an exhaustive history of the Borough of King’s Lynn.

In 1310 Robert Montalt presumptuously established a court by the bridge spanning the new formed river at St. Germain in Wygenhale. The position was well chosen, it commanded the road as well as the river, and here the Lord of Rising arrogated to himself the right to extort heavy fines from the traders crossing the bridge with their bales of goods, and from the merchants rowing and flowing with their freights in the Lenne waters. Through Walter Payne, his head bailiff, they were summoned in inquests, distrained, attached, oppressed and harassed whenever they came that way. So intolerable was this persecution that many being broken down and greatly impoverished wisely sold their boats and sought employment elsewhere...... But the baron’s despotic usurpation of the King’s Court ....... How could the merchants possibly complete their contracts when hindered by the exacting bailiffs who either hurled stones at them, or slyly dropped great lumps of earth upon their heads as they glided beneath the bridge? How were they to keep the faith with their customers when they were persistently being thwarted .... by Montalt’s unscrupulous partisans?

Suddenly Sir Robert Montalt quitted his baronial residence in the beaytiful chase to sojourn for a while in the insalubrious burgh of Lenne........ Brother John (de Bromholm) was disgusted at his lordship’s bearing..... publicly assaulted him; and the populace, encouraged by the heroic though unwise behaviour of so important dignitary of the church, rose against the intruder who year after year had been deliberately ruining the trade of their port. They  ....wounded his attendants, wrecked the house in which he abided, secured their enemy and bore him off to prison in triumph.

Sir Robert was immediately set free, but being as crafty as was conscientious, he soon afterwards brought the matter before the Court of King’s Bench and the judges decided that the imprudent burghers must pay the Lord of Rising, whom they had so grossly offended, an indemnity of £4000, which was equivalent to the total municipal expenditure for about 36 years.

Most of the fine was actually paid, so no wonder that the feud between the two communities was strong and long-lasting!

There is some overlap between the two accounts but the biases of the two writers are evident.