The Battle Abbey Roll. Vol. III.
The Duchess of Cleveland.


Prepared by Michael A. Linton
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Malebys : evidently a nickname; and, as its Latinized form is Malabestia, not a complimentary one. Gaufrid Malabestia witnesses the foundation charter of Revesby Abbey, Lincolnshire, in 1142, Masura Malebeste is mentioned in the Norman Exchequer Rolls of the end of the twelfth century.

Richard Malbysse, or "Ricardus vero agnomine Mala Bestia, homo audacissimus," as William de Newburgh calls him, bears the blame of having, with Robert de Turnham and Robert de Gant, instigated the massacre of the Jews of York in 1189. When Coeur de Lion had taken his departure for the Holy Land, some of his followers bethought themselves that they should be doing God service by fleshing their swords on the unbelievers at home, before they set out to join him. Moreover, it was an easy and summary mode of disposing of their creditors. Many of them were reduced to poverty by the heavy debts they had incurred to the Jews, who were the principal bankers and money-lenders of the time, and according to the chronicler "the haughty tyrants of the unfortunate Christians, whom they oppressed with their usurious practices." They were very rich; and the two leading members of the fraternity, Benedict and Joses of York, had built sumptuous houses, and lived in such state and "more than regal splendour" as to excite the cupidity of their neighbours. One tempestuous night—whether by accident or otherwise—a fire broke out in the city; and in the confusion that ensued Benedict's house was sacked and burnt, and the inmates put to the sword. The Jews, in dire consternation, begged for an asylum in York Castle; and were admitted by the Governor with their families and valuables; but some that remained in their houses were pitilessly plundered, and offered the alternative of either instant death or baptism. Nor were those that had escaped in much better plight, for the Sheriff, who had entered the city with a large body of soldiers, declared that it would be injurious to the King's service if they were permitted to hold possession of their place of refuge, and summoned the citizens to take the castle by storm. The wretched Jews could only defend themselves by throwing down the projecting stones of the battlements, and one of these killed a Preemonstratensian Canon, or "Eremite," who, after celebrating early mass, daily appeared among the foremost of the besiegers, exhorting them to "trample upon the enemies of Christ." Provisions began to run short in the castle; the final assault was at hand; and at length, driven to despair, one of the Jewish elders, a man "learned in the law, who had come from beyond the sea to be a teacher," called his brethren together to bid them die. "Behold," he said, "death is at our doors. God, to whom we must not say, Why hast Thou done thus? commands us now to lay down our lives for His law. To save them by an infamous apostacy would be worse than death. Let us by our own act freely and devoutly render them back to Him who gave them, for we value them not as dearly as we love the law of our fathers." Many were found ready to embrace his counsel; but first, in order to leave no spoil behind for their enemies, they cast their costly robes into the fire, and "cunningly defaced their choice vessels," and other treasures which the flames would not consume. Then they applied the torch to the buildings that were to be their funeral pile, and cut each other's throats: Joses himself setting the example by immolating his wife and children. The remainder, who had clung to the poor hope of life, narrowly escaped from the conflagration thus kindled; and when, at daybreak on the following morning, the men of York advanced to the assault, these miserable survivors appeared on the ramparts, and with their cries and tears recounted the horrors of the past night. To attest the truth of their words, they flung down the charred corpses of their slaughtered brethren, and earnestly prayed for baptism in the Christian faith. But the mercy it inculcates found no place in the hearts of the savage fanatics into whose hands they fell. By "crafty words of favourable promise," they were lured out of the castle gate, and one and all cut down as they crossed the threshold. Five hundred altogether are said to have perished. "Verily in the time of Our Lord's Passion, on the day before Palm Sunday, these things happened at York."

Robert de Turnham hastened away to the King in Palestine, and suffered no penalty for his participation in this evil deed; but the estates of Robert de Gant and Richard Malebisse were confiscated by order of the Justiciary Longchamp. De Gant died soon after, but Malebisse survived to enjoy his own again in a few years' time.

This Richard Mala Bestia was the head of a family of old standing and high position in Yorkshire, founded by a sub-infeudatory of Roger de Mowbray and Robert de Brus, the two great barons of the North Riding. "The manor of Ayton, in Cleveland, was, soon after Domesday, granted to the ancient family of Malebisse, and was held of the King in capite et de honore. There was anciently a chapel here, built by Sir William Malebisse about the year 1215."—Grave's Cleveland. Richard Malebisse in 1131 held one fee of the Honour of Eye (Rotul. Pip.); and his brother Hugh (Richard II.'s father) made his will in 1138. They had large estates in various parts of the county, and others in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, where they held Kyneton of the Honour of Richmond.—Gale's Richmondshire. Acaster Malbis, near York, which alone keeps the name in remembrance, is believed to have been one of their residences; and the second Richard had a house close to the city, at Clementhorpe on the Ouse. In 1191 he and his brother Hugh were excommunicated by the Pope as adherents and abettors of Prince John; but he contrived to make his peace with the authorities, and in 1198 founded a Praemonstratensian Abbey at Newbo in Lincolnshire, endowing it with all his lands in the village of Newbo, the churches of Acaster, Kyneton, &c. The accession of the new King in the ensuing year brought him into favour at Court; he was employed on several important missions; appointed Justiciarius ad Assicias for Lincoln in 1203, and received license to crenellate at Wheldrake, a few miles from York. "But the citizens of York, having had experience of the turbulent disposition of Richard the malabestia, and fearing that his having a castle so near to them might be to their detriment and disgrace, prevailed upon the Sheriff of the county, William de Stuteville, to forbid its completion on the King's behalf."—Yorkshire Archaeological Collections. His estate at Wheldrake was bestowed upon Fountains Abbey some time before his death, between 1211-18. His brother Hugh had married a Cambridgeshire heiress, Beatrix, Lady of Wyke, and with her founded Spinney Priory for three Augustinian canons in the beginning of Henry III.'s reign. In 1277 "Gilbert de Gant and Richard Malebisse are declared" (by an Inquest taken in that year) "to have a right to take a whale whenever caught in their port of Filey, the head and tail only being reserved for the King." John Malebisse was Joint-Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1314. "The family ended in females in the same century, and the two Yorkshire families of Fairfax and Beckwith claim to represent the co-heiresses of the ancient house of Malbys."—Ibid. In token of this descent, all the chief branches of the latter family bore Argent, a chevron between three hinds' heads ("testes de bis") Gules.

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