Thomas de Rokeby (died 1356)

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Sir Thomas de Rokeby (died 1356 or 1357 [1] ) was a soldier and senior Crown official in fourteenth-century England and Ireland, who served as Justiciar of Ireland. He had considerable early success in restoring law and order in Ireland, which was presumably the reason for his appointment as Justiciar, but he was recalled to England after the military situation deteriorated. He was later re-appointed to the office of Justiciar, and returned to Ireland to take up office shortly before his death.



The Rokebys were a prominent landowning family from Mortham in North Yorkshire; Thomas was probably the son of Thomas de Rokeby, who died in 1318 (some sources name his father as Alexander). [2] His nephew, also named Thomas, was closely associated with him in his later years and the elder Thomas was often called "l'oncle" to distinguish him from his nephew. It was almost certainly the nephew, not the uncle, who was the grandfather of the second Sir Thomas de Rokeby, who died after 1423. [3]

North Yorkshire County of England

North Yorkshire is a non-metropolitan county and largest ceremonial county in England. It is located primarily in the region of Yorkshire and the Humber but partly in the region of North East England. The estimated population of North Yorkshire was 602,300 in mid 2016.

Sir Thomas de Rokeby was a 15th-century English soldier, Knight of the Shire and High Sheriff of Yorkshire.

Service in Scotland

Rokeby first came to public attention in 1327 when, after his return from having been a prisoner in Scotland, he received the thanks of the new King Edward III, for being the squire who had first pointed out the approach of the Scots army during the incursion of the previous July. As a reward he was knighted and given lands worth £100 a year. [4] He saw action against the Scots regularly between 1336 and 1342 and had charge of Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle while they were held by the English. He was High Sheriff of Yorkshire 1342–1349. He was one of the English commanders at the Battle of Neville's Cross, and it was said, "gave the Scots such a draught as they did not care to taste again". [5] He was then charged with bringing King David II of Scotland to London, and he received further grants of land as a reward for his good services.

Scotland country in Northwest Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Sharing a border with England to the southeast, Scotland is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, by the North Sea to the northeast and by the Irish Sea to the south. In addition to the mainland, situated on the northern third of the island of Great Britain, Scotland has over 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.

Edward III of England 14th-century King of England and Duke of Aquitaine

Edward III was King of England and Lord of Ireland from January 1327 until his death; he is noted for his military success and for restoring royal authority after the disastrous and unorthodox reign of his father, Edward II. Edward III transformed the Kingdom of England into one of the most formidable military powers in Europe. His long reign of 50 years was the second longest in medieval England and saw vital developments in legislation and government, in particular the evolution of the English parliament, as well as the ravages of the Black Death.

Squire historical profession

Starting in the Middle Ages, a squire was the shield- or armour-bearer of a knight. At times, a squire acted as a knight's errand runner.

Justiciar of Ireland

In 1349 he was appointed Justiciar of Ireland, and given a large armed retinue to accompany him, as it was recognised by the English Crown that "Ireland is not in good plight or good peace". He arrived in December and made a quick circuit of the south of Ireland, mainly to keep watch on the troublesome magnate Maurice FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond. [6]

Maurice FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond Irish nobleman, Lord Justice of Ireland and rebel

Maurice FitzThomas FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond in Dublin Castle, Dublin, Ireland was an Irish nobleman in the Peerage of Ireland, Captain of Desmond Castle in Kinsale, so-called ruler of Munster, and for a short time Lord Justice of Ireland. Called "Maurice the Great", he led a rebellion against the Crown, but he was ultimately restored to favour.

Administrative reforms

Rokeby was praised by his contemporaries for his regard for justice and his zeal in checking the extortion of Crown officials. He undertook what has been called a general overhaul of the Irish administration, aimed particularly at the detection of corruption and the removal of incompetent officials. [7] Arguably he showed excessive zeal in arresting the Treasurer of Ireland, Robert de Emeldon, a man who enjoyed the King's personal regard. [8] Admittedly the charges against Emeldon were very serious, including rape, robbery and manslaughter, but Rokeby must have known that the King, out of regard for their long friendship, had already pardoned Emeldon for killing one Ralph de Byrton, a knight, in 1336. Emeldon was once more pardoned and quickly released.

Extortion criminal offense

Extortion is a criminal offense of obtaining money, property, or services from an individual or institution, through coercion. It is sometimes euphemistically referred to as a "protection racket" since the racketeers often phrase their demands as payment for "protection" from threats from unspecified other parties; though often, and almost always, such "protection" is simply abstinence of harm from the same party, and such is implied in the "protection" offer. Extortion is commonly practiced by organized crime groups. The actual obtainment of money or property is not required to commit the offense. Making a threat of violence which refers to a requirement of a payment of money or property to halt future violence is sufficient to commit the offense. Exaction refers not only to extortion or the demanding and obtaining of something through force, but additionally, in its formal definition, means the infliction of something such as pain and suffering or making somebody endure something unpleasant.

Robert de Emeldon was an English-born Crown official and judge who spent much of his career in Ireland. He held several important public offices, including Lord High Treasurer of Ireland and Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer. He seems to have been a turbulent and violent individual, who was guilty of at least at least one homicide, and was later imprisoned for a number of serious crimes: but he was a favourite of King Edward III and was thus able to survive any temporary disgrace.

Manslaughter is a common law legal term for homicide considered by law as less culpable than murder. The distinction between murder and manslaughter is sometimes said to have first been made by the ancient Athenian lawmaker Draco in the 7th century BC.

In November 1351 Rokeby held a Great Council at Kilkenny. It dealt partly with the problem of official corruption already described, partly with the problem of defence of the Pale, and partly with the question of intermarriage and other close contacts between the Anglo-Irish and the Old Irish. Otway-Ruthven notes that little of the legislation was new, apart from the application to Ireland of the English Statute of Labourers of 1351, and that much of it was repeated in the later Statutes of Kilkenny of 1366. [9]

In the Kingdom of England, the Magnum Concilium, or Great Council, was an assembly convened at certain times of the year when church leaders and wealthy landowners were invited to discuss the affairs of the country with the king.

Kilkenny City in Leinster, Ireland

Kilkenny is the county town of County Kilkenny in the province of Leinster in south-east Ireland. It is built on both banks of the River Nore. The city is administered by a borough council, which is a level below that of city council in the local government of the state, although the Local Government Act 2001 allows for "the continued use of the description city". The 2016 census gave the total population of Kilkenny as 26,512.

Statutes of Kilkenny

The Statutes of Kilkenny were a series of thirty-five acts passed at Kilkenny in 1366, aiming to curb the decline of the Hiberno-Norman Lordship of Ireland.

Military campaigns

In 1353 the Clan MacCarthy of Muskerry, the dominant clan in central County Cork, who had until then been loyal to the English Crown, rebelled. Rokeby showed considerable skill in crushing the uprising and succeeded in replacing the rebellious head of the clan, Dermot MacCarthy, with his more compliant cousin Cormac. Cormac's descendants gained great wealth, extensive lands and the title Earl of Clancarty. [10]

This promising state of good order did not last long: a rebellion by the O'Byrne Clan of Wicklow in 1354 was followed by a general uprising headed by the MacMurrough-Kavanagh dynasty. Although Muirchearteach MacMurrough-Kavanagh, styled King of Leinster, was captured and executed, Rokeby suffered several military defeats. He was unable to overcome the O'Byrnes in Wicklow, and other risings took place in Tipperary, Kildare and Ulster. [11]

Recall and last years

Rokeby was now an ageing and discouraged man, and in 1355 it was decided to recall him. His replacement, rather surprisingly, was that Earl of Desmond whom it had been one of his main tasks to keep in check. Desmond died a year later on 26 July 1356. Rokeby was reappointed Justiciar, and returned to Ireland, only to die soon afterwards at Kilkea Castle. [12]

Kilkea Castle, Rokeby's Irish stronghold, where he died in 1356 or 1357. Kilkea Castle Castledermot Ireland.jpg
Kilkea Castle, Rokeby's Irish stronghold, where he died in 1356 or 1357.


Rokeby was a popular and respected figure in Ireland: he was described as "one who paid well for his victuals, and did not rob the poor" (i.e. he did not abuse the much criticized system of purveyance). [13] The citizens of Cork, protesting at his recall, referred to his "evident good work" in maintaining law and order. Otway-Ruthven contrasts his early successes with his disappointing later record and notes that the 1350s were later seen as the crucial decade in which the English Crown lost control of much of Ireland until the sixteenth century. [14]

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  1. "Rokeby, Sir Thomas". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/24012.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. Kingsford, Charles Lethbridge – "Sir Thomas de Rokeby" – Dictionary of National Biography 1885–1900 Vol. 49 p.152
  3. Kingsford p.152
  4. Kingsford p.152
  5. Kingsford p.152
  6. Otway-Ruthven , A.J. History of Medieval Ireland Reprinted Barnes and Noble 1993 p.277
  7. Otway-Ruuthven p.278
  8. Gilbert, Sir John History of the Viceroys of Ireland Dublin J.Duffy and Co. 1865 p.205
  9. Otway-Ruthven p.278
  10. Otway-Ruthven p.279
  11. Otway-Ruthven p. 280
  12. Otway-Ruthven p.282
  13. Kingsford p.152
  14. Otway-Ruthven p.277
Military offices
Preceded by
John de Strivelyn
Governor of Edinburgh Castle
Succeeded by
Richard de Limoisen
Political offices
Preceded by
John, Lord Carew
Justiciar of Ireland
Succeeded by
Maurice FitzGerald, 4th Earl of Kildare
Preceded by
Maurice FitzGerald, 4th Earl of Kildare
Justiciar of Ireland
Succeeded by
John de Boulton
Notes and references