Sunday, October 4, 2015

John’s Man in Lincoln: Gerard de Camville

by Charlene Newcomb

Gerard de Camville (or de Canville) was Sheriff of Lincolnshire various times during the reigns of Richard I (1189-1199) and John (1199-1216). De Camville was born circa 1132-35. Little is known of his early life. He was the son of Alice and Richard de Camville. Richard had faithfully served Kings Stephen and Henry II. He held lands in Normandy, and had acquired lands in Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Essex, and Somerset through grants from the kings and through marriage. Richard was trusted by Henry to accompany his daughter Joanna for her wedding to William II of Sicily.

Gerard de Camville comes into the records more prominently upon his father’s death in Sicily in 1176. Like his father, Gerard appears to have had the good fortune of being in Henry II’s favor. Gerard married the wealthy widow Nichola de la Haye before 1185.
Lincoln Castle
Through her father, Nichola was the hereditary castellan of Lincoln, and upon their marriage, Gerard acquired that office as well as that of Sheriff of Lincolnshire. When Richard I became King of England, Nichola and Gerard journeyed to Normandy to confirm her inheritance. However, appointment as castellans often came at a price. Richard I sold the offices to raise money for the Third Crusade. Gerard and Nicola received the official charter confirming Nicola’s rightful inheritance and Gerard as Sheriff for 700 marks in 1189. (On an interesting side note, William Marshal offered fifty marks for the Gloucestershire shrievalty and castle.)

While Gerard remained in England, his younger half-brother – also a Richard - was one of three men charged with overseeing King Richard’s fleet during the Third Crusade. When 700 men from King Richard’s fleet were arrested after a night of wild, unlawful behavior in Lisbon in 1190, Richard de Camville had to treat with the King of Portugal for their release so their vessels could rendezvous with King Richard in Marseilles. (They were late; Richard hired other busses and left without them!) Following the fleet’s winter stay in Messina, Gerard’s brother became a joint governor of Cyprus, but later joined the King at Acre and died of illness there.

Jew's House, Lincoln
Gerard was impacted in other ways by the call to Crusade and King Richard’s absence. Lincoln was home to one of the most important Jewish communities in England. Religious fervor stirred outright violence against Jews throughout the country, culminating in the massacre at York in March 1190. Jews were murdered in Lynn (Norfolk) and Stamford, and crowds in Lincoln were incited. With Lincoln’s Bishop, Hugh of Avalon, Gerard provided a refuge for Lincoln’s Jews in the Castle.

Gerard should have been set: lands and estates inherited from his father; his wife’s inheritance; and that nice, cushy job at one of the most formidable castles in England. But with King Richard off at war, the king’s chancellor, William Longchamp, sowed seeds of discontent among the barons. Longchamp removed one sheriff after another and placed his own friends and relatives in positions of authority. When he demanded that Gerard relinquish Lincoln Castle, Gerard did homage to Count John, the king’s brother. Chronicler Richard of Devizes claims that Gerard was “a factious man and reckless of allegiance” who helped John occupy Nottingham and Tickhill. Meanwhile, back in Lincoln, Devizes writes that Gerard’s wife Nichola “proposing to herself nothing effeminate, defended [Lincoln] Castle like a man” against a 40 day siege by Longchamp’s forces. Gerard’s shrievalty was affirmed after John and Longchamp met in July 1191 to arrange a truce.

Gerard appears to have no decisive role in the rebellion of 1193 when Count John conspired with King Philip of France to overthrow the absent King Richard. John and Philip offered silver to the Holy Roman Emperor to hold Richard in custody in Germany; Philip helped pay Flemish mercenaries to invade England on John’s behalf. John had ordered all his castles to be defended against the king’s men.

Golding does note that Gerard supported John, but there appears to have been no action at Lincoln in 1193 even after Queen Eleanor ordered sieges against John’s castles. Perhaps Gerard, who had been granted the honour of Wallingford, was involved in sieges there during this time though my research on that matter does not turn up his name.

Nottingham Castle (circa 1250)
King Richard’s return from captivity in 1194 and Richard’s decisions at the subsequent Council of Nottingham in late March/early April ended de Camville’s position as Sheriff of Lincolnshire and castellan of Lincoln Castle. Like many others, Gerard de Camville’s support for John cost him all his lands and titles. Richard, aware of the need to raise monies to support his war against Philip of France, did restore Gerard’s lands upon payment of 2,000 marks.

When John succeeded Richard as king in 1199, Gerard was rewarded for his loyalty. He was named castellan of Lincoln Castle once again and appointed Sheriff of Lincolnshire. His name appears infrequently in the historical records for the years 1194 – 1215, including the years 1199 – 1205 while he served as Sheriff. He was present when William, King of Scots, appeared before King John in Lincoln in 1200 and was involved in a marshland dispute. Well past his 70th year, he was collecting revenues and serving as an itinerant justice.

Gerard de Camville died in 1215. His exact date of death is not known. There is no evidence showing his awareness of the English barons’ discontent with King John and Magna Carta. However, Gerard’s wife Nicola stood by the king, and within months of John's death, she once again defended Lincoln Castle against the French.

Devizes, R. The Chronicle of Richard of Devizes concerning the deeds of Richard the First, King of England. (1841). Trans, and ed. By J.A. Giles. London: James Bohn.

Golding, B. (2006) “Canville , Gerard de (d. 1214).” Brian Golding In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed., edited by Lawrence Goldman.

Heiser, R.R. (2000). "Castles, Constables, and Politics in Late Twelfth-Century English Governance.” Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Spring, 2000), pp. 19-36

Miller, D. (2003) Richard the Lionheart: the Mighty Crusader. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Newburgh, W. “William of Newburgh.” Trans. & ed. by Paul Halsall, 2000. Internet Medieval Source Book. Book 4

Newcomb, C. (2014) “In Search of Facts…For My Fiction.” The Many Worlds of Char

Turner, R.V. (2009).  King John: England’s Evil King. Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press.

Vincent. N. (2004) ‘Canville , Richard de (d. 1191)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press []


Lincoln Castle "Lincoln Castle Entrance" by Uday R Nair - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Jew’s House By Marek69 [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via WikimediaCommons

Nottingham Castle by kstatelibrarian (i.e., me). CC BY-SA 4.0 via FLICKR

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Charlene Newcomb is the author of Men of the Cross, Book I of Battle Scars. This historical adventure, set during the Third Crusade, is a tale of war’s impact on a young knight serving Richard the Lionheart and of forbidden love. Book II, For King and Country, will be published in 2016. 

Visit Charlene’s website,
On Facebook at CharleneNewcombAuthor
On Twitter @charnewcomb.

Book link: Amazon


  1. This provides valuable insight into a character usually treated as a caricature of evil. Well done, Char.

  2. Forgot to add, I rather like his wife Nicola!

  3. Seems to be a typical nobleman of his times, even compassionate. The "people" are railing against the Jews -- for no legitimate reason -- and he offers them protection.

    All things considered, a fair man.


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