William of Kensham

Have you ever heard of Willikin of the Weald? I never had and even less his association with our village.

William came from Cassingham now Kensham, situated between Sandhurst and Rolvenden.

He lived during the 1st Baron’s War (1215 – 1217) when local aristocratic support was divided between King John of England and the French Dauphin (Louis VIII). Two-thirds of the barons supported France. The deeply forested and sparsely inhabited Weald became a large battle site.

It is recorded that “The Port Reeve of Milton, William Kensham, musters men of Maeredaen to harry French troops who were supporting the barons against King John.” It is also said that he was the Bailiff of the Den of Marden. (This would be because of Marden’s association with Milton)

Roger of Wendover, a monk, spoke of a certain youth who was a fighter and a Royalist. “William gathered a vast number of archers, skilled huntsmen, who would attack the French when they were moving through the forested Weald.” The archers had local knowledge of the landscape and the villages where they could find food and help. The French were causing widespread destruction hence William’s troops gained great local support. The French troops also believed evil spirits dwelt in the forests. The French favouring Barons labelled William an outlaw, and he was brutal. No prisoners were taken; when opponents were captured, they were killed. Being on the move there was nowhere to keep their seized enemy. However, it is said that he returned stolen goods to their English owners – shades of Robin Hood.

William swore allegiance to the next King, the nine-year-old Henry III, and support for Louis faded away. When the French King landed at Dover to rescue his army, William’s archers encircled the camp. They also rebuffed the invaders of Sandwich, Rye, Hythe and Romney. By 1217 he was given command of the army outside Dover by William Marshall, Protector of the young Henry. He was awarded some of the dens which belonged to Middleton, a royal manor. (Marden belonged to this manor). Thus, he gained the title ‘Warden of the Seven Hundreds of the Weald and Sergeant of the Peace.

William died in Cassingham in 1257.

Eunice Doswell – 15. Oct. 2022

Thanks to Imogen Wedd who alerted me to Willikin.

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