Waltham Abbey’s link to Magna Carta

Waltham Abbey was not one of the Magna Carta towns, but weKing John signs Magna Carta (2) have a strong link to it through Hugh de Neville.

Hugh de Neville was a friend and adviser to three kings, Richard I, John and Henry III.   He served on Crusade with Richard, who appointed him Chief Forester of England in 1198.   The Chief Forester was responsible for enforcing the forest law and presided over the forest justices.  He also held the forest exchequer or treasury.   He continued to hold the office under John and Henry, and was Sheriff of several counties including Essex, to which he was appointed in 1197.   He received gifts of land from both Richard and John, much of which was in Essex, and his marriage to Joan, his first wife, brought him properties in Essex.   So he held authority over the Waltham area and owned much land round about.

When John ascended to the throne, de Neville became one of his favourites and his gambling partner.   In 1203 de Neville witnessed the agreement for Queen Isabella’s dowry and from then his name constantly occurs in the ‘Close’ and ‘Patent Rolls’ as witness to grants, and as one of John’s chief advisers.  In 1208 he was appointed treasurer.

In June 2015 de Neville was one of the 27 barons present at Runnymede on the King’s side for the signing of Magna Carta, was mentioned in the preamble as one of King John’s councillors, and signed as a witness to the document.   The medieval chronicler Matthew Paris considered de Neville to be one of King John’s “evil councillors”.

Hugh de Neville died in 1234 and was buried at Waltham Abbey, of which he had been a patron.   He had enriched the Abbey by the grant of Horndon-on-the-Hill, Essex, with the gift being confirmed by his son, John. John succeeded him as Chief Justice and Warden of Forests, and was also buried at Waltham Abbey.   Hugh’s wife, Joan, was similarly buried at Waltham Abbey.

There is reference to Hugh de Neville in Grenville Weltch’s book about the memorials in the Abbey Church, Page 64.   Grenville quotes William Winters, writing in his book in the late 19th century, saying:-

“Winters records that in 1222 the body of the Lord Justice and protho forester of England, Hugh Nevil, was interred in the Abbey Church under a noble engraved marble sepulchre, of which ‘not a vestige remains’.”

So de Neville may have been a “baddie” rather than a “goodie” but he is our link to Magna Carta and he was there!