Matthew Baker

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Matthew Baker
Governor of Jersey 1486-1494


A sketch of Henry VII's deathbed, including Matthew Baker at the foot of the bed

Matthew Baker was the second Governor of Jersey, and fell out with the Bailiff, Sir Philippe de Carteret. The two men were to have fought a duel until de Carteret's wife intervened

Matthew Baker was a member of Henry Tudor's “affinity” from 1471, and a member of his bodyguard during his exile in both Brittany and France. His name appears several times in quotes from Breton reports of the period, as a messenger and courier between the exiled Earl of Richmond and both the Breton and French Courts. [1].

Security chief

Recent research in the Breton Archives at Rennes and Nantes suggests that Baker became "chief of security" at the Chateau de l'Hermine, Vannes, and the Chateau de Soscinio, Sarzeau, both centres for the small band of exiled Lancastrians following Jasper and Henry Tudor.

In September 1485 Baker and Davy Phillip were appointed two of only nine Squires For The Bodie - such Officers were commoner members of Henry's "privy chamber" or inner household; men who saw the King every day in the most personal of circumstances, two of whom were - along with the four Henxmenne (Henchmen) - required to be always armed in the King's presence as his "last line of defence" against any armed assassin. Soldiers all, the Squires For The Bodie and the Henxmenne also undertook confidential courier duties, and other secret tasks for the young King.

Jersey appointment

On 28 February 1486, Matthew Baker was appointed joint Governor of Jersey and Guernsey with Davy Phillip - "in survivorship. In consideration of services in the parts beyond the sea and in this kingdom". [2]. Henry Tudor, now declared King "by Stele and Parchment" in Parliament, only trusted 400 men in the whole of England, directly after the so-called Battle of Bosworth [3] - those who had been in exile with him in Brittany and France, and stood in his little army against Richard III's much bigger one on 22 August 1485.

Henry Tudor already viewed the Channel Islands as "front-line posts", critical to the security of the English merchant fleets taking wool and finished cloth down-Channel and bringing wine from Bordeaux back to England. The young King knew - (none better, after hiding for several days in the house of the “Red Rose” Bailiff, Clement Le Hardy, in November 1483, [4] when the two men must have talked much about the local situation) - that if the French were able to annex Brittany, and again successfully invaded and occupied the Channel Islands, English merchant ships would have no safe harbours between the mouth of the Gironde and the Calais Enclave, known as the Calais Pale.

And of all those Henry Tudor trusted and rewarded in the last months of 1485 and the two years following - only the warrant granted to Matthew Baker and Davy Phillip, as joint Governors and Capteynes of Jersey and Guernsey, delegated to them almost "vice-regal" powers in the domains they were to govern in their Liege Lord's name. No other warrants issued by Henry VII in the first year of his reign grant such powers to even the highest nobles among his most-trusted supporters. [5]


The Warrant appoints Baker and Phillip to accept renewed oaths of allegiance - to King Henry VII and the new House of Tudor; to raise a militia as had been done between 1461 and 1468, and put the islands in a better state of defence against the threatened French invasion; to collect all monies owing to the Crown, and apply these monies to the payment of officers, soldiery, and the costs of new or rebuilt defences "withouten compt" - that is to say the King did not require accounts of the spending to be submitted for his review and/or approval, - an important further indication of how greatly he trusted these two Squires for The Bodie.

In 1486 the Seigneurs and the States of Jersey had not paid their dues, taxes, and rents to the Exchequer since the death of King Edward IV three years previously, [6] and therefore owed the Crown a substantial amount of money; and in addition to their known Yorkist sympathies, their notorious miserliness may well account for some of their antipathy to the joint-Governors Matthew Baker and Davy Phillip. The de Carteret Family had been "declared Yorkists" since 1461, and by 1486 owed the Crown the equivalent of £250,000 at 21st century values [7] - in unpaid dues, rents, and taxes. Rebuilding the ruined manor house had been expensive, and the 1484 "License to crenelate" works were even more expensive. De Carteret was very short of money)

The warrant appointed Baker and Phillip as heads of the military and civil administrations of both the islands, and also conferred on them the Right of the High, the Middle, and the Low Justice.

Baker and Phillip did not bring a large force of soldiery with them, and were thus in command of a small force of Lancastrians in an Island of largely Yorkist sympathies, after 18 years under the very easy-going Richard Harliston, who had arranged the marriage of his daughter into the de Carteret family.

The Lancastrians would have been heavily outnumbered in the event of a Yorkist uprising; and would have had to manage the population by diplomacy and guile; and the key to that was to get the co-operation of the Seigneurs - who, by all accounts, had forgotten the French Occupation of Jersey, 25 years previously, and seemed quite convinced that there was no danger of another French-instigated invasion, and therefore no reason to spend the money raising a militia, and improving the defences as their new King had ordered be done.

Following his time in Brittany and France, the new Tudor king had better intelligence on the subject than the Jersey Seigneurie, [8].

The Chateau de St Germain - Baker's official residence

According to the Patent Rolls' records, on 10 June 1486 Henry VII gave Matthew Baker the Chateau and Fief of St Germayn "for life" and "at no account" rather than "at pleasure" - which was more usual for Henry VII's awards of lands. [9]

In military terms, given the recent memory of the successful French invasion  of 1461 and partial occupation of the east of Jersey until 1468; and the potential invasion threat from Capetian France under the Regency of Anne de Beaujeu [10], it would have made good military sense for Henry to gift Baker with that manor and fief, as a centrally-located "Command Post and HQ" for his job as Governor and Captain of Jersey.

According to Joan Stevens [11] "Jehan Walsh's Manor La Brequette at L'Etaq having been swallowed by the sea around 1350, he is said to have tried to find a site for a new fortified manor house as far from the sea as possible  [12] This new manor had “a goodly house, and strong tower, surrounded by a strong granite wall”, and further protected by a ditch.

The foregoing explains why - on the earliest map of the Island, dating from the 1500s, there are only three "great houses shown - all of which had received 'licenses to crenellate' from the Crown at various dates, making them what we now class as "fortified manor-houses" - "Sentoun Howse", "St Germayne Howse", and "Rosell Howse". 

St Germayne Howse is shewn on that map as being almost in the geographical centre of the island, very close to Handois. In a later note Stevens identified the location as being in the adjoining field to Les Sts Germains Farm, on the St Lawrence/St John boundary. This is a commanding site, on a ridge-crest between two small valleys. [13]

Stevens then quotes from the Gibbon Roll of Arms "St Germain, an ancient Seat, whose ruins yet remain..."; and from the La Cloche Diary, Messire ph[i]l[ipp]es de Carteret, Cheval[ie]r., Bailly et Lieut-gouverne[u]r de lisle,  Sr de st ouen, fit abbatre la chappelle en clocher du temple de Lislet en averil1639 et fist abbatre le manoir de st germain en st laurens, qui estoit basty en to[u]r Carrée a platte form, en lan 1636/37 et 38 et la pierre acheriee a lislet po[u]r la fortifica[ti]on du Bastiment du Chateau Elizabeth[14]


Of Baker's time as Governor, Balleine, in his History of Jersey, wrote:

"His rule was one long injustice and tyranny." and “The Privy Council had received a barrage of complaints about the high-handed actions of Baker, presented by St Ouen Seigneur Philippe de Carteret” who was married to Margaret Harliston, daughter of Baker’s predecessor as Governor for the Yorkist Kings Edward IV and Richard III, Sir Richard Harliston. [15]

Balleine uncritically copied the earlier writing of the Victorian historian FB Tupper on the matter of the plot of 1494, and Tupper has, equally uncritically, copied the writing of Guillaume De Carteret, which dates from around 1564 - hardly first-hand evidence from an unbiased source.

Sole Governor

From 1488, Matthew Baker was sole 'Governor and Capteyne' in Jersey, as Henry VII had transferred Davy Phillip as sole Governor and Capteyne of Guernsey. From Baker's surviving reports to King Henry VII in the National Archives at Kew, he spent eight years trying to persuade the dilatory Seigneurs to co-operate, to pay their overdue taxes, etc, and put the island in a state of defence against the threatened French invasion, as required by his Royal Master. By 1494 Baker seems to have regarded the most vociferous of his Seigneurial opponents as little better than traitors to the Oaths of Allegiance to Henry VII that they had sworn on the Bible in order to retain their Fiefs, in 1486. [16]

One of the hardest tasks for any historian is working out how people may have thought, in the absence of any contemporary information. At this distance of time one has no way of being certain whether Henry VII ordered Baker to find a way of silencing the Seigneurial opposition by arranging the judicial murder of it's obvious leader, Phillip de Carteret; or whether Governor Baker thought up the idea on his own, thus giving his Royal Master "plausible deniability". Whichever reasoning obtains, there can be little doubt that Baker regarded the obstructionism of the Seigneurs as traitorous, for charges of treason were not lightly made.

Either way, if one assumes that the possibly-biased Guillaume de Carteret recorded the essential details correctly 70 years later; and that Tupper and Balleine were not victims of the "Chinese whispers" syndrome, Baker accused de Carteret of treason, arrested and imprisoned him, and stage-managed the arrangements for a Trial by Battel.

Margaret de Carteret (née Harliston), allegedly risen "straight from childbed", is said to have "escaped" from Jersey, been rowed to Guernsey, taken a distant cousin's ship from there to Poole, ridden "post-haste" 120 miles from Poole to the Palace of Shene (Richmond) [17], gained a pardon from Henry VII through the intervention of Bishop Foxe [18], made the "post-haste" 120-mile ride back to Poole, sailed for Jersey again, and arrived back in the island the day before the Trial By Battel was due to be held, (11 August) with an Order from King Henry stopping it, and ordering her husband's release, and restitution of his confiscated goods.

Despite Seigneur De Carteret's further protestations of loyalty, King Henry remained suspicious of De Carteret and the rest of the Seigneurie of the Channel Islands - as evidenced by the matter of the "bond" detailed below.

In late September 1494 Baker was certainly recalled to London, but not in disgrace as alleged by Guillaume de Carteret some 70 years later.

King makes changes

Having got what he wanted, Henry VII subsequently ruled that in future, the new Governor and successors should no longer have the power to nominate the Bailiff, Dean, Viscount or Attorney-General, which appointments would lie within the King's Grace alone. The Governor's judicial role was reassigned to the Royal Court of Jersey and the Jurats, and the Governor also lost his right to take Oaths of Allegiance, and of arrest for treason.

Thereafter, according to the Exchequer Rolls, the frightened Jersey Seigneurs, realising that if de Carteret could be targeted in such a manner, they too could be individually vulnerable to Henry's justice, speedily paid their arrears of dues, rents and taxes, and Henry VII had no further signs of Yorkist sympathies from Jersey for the rest of his reign.

In the end Henry got what he wanted without bloodshed, back taxes were paid, the de Carterets were put under a bond of £1,000 as a guarantee for their future good behaviour, which they would forfeit in the event of further charges of disloyalty. The rest of the Yorkist-sympathising Seigneurie was frightened into co-operation, and a trusted servant was back at his call for dealing with further 'privy matters'. F B Tupper goes on to restate Guillaume de Carteret, that after the failed judicial assassination plot of May-August 1494, Baker was thereupon "recalled from Jersey in disgrace and died soon afterwards in poverty and misery". This statement Balleine copies uncritically. [19]

Baker leaves Jersey

Baker's appointment in Jersey terminated in late September 1494. Only days after leaving Jersey, on 9 and 11 November, Baker was recorded as a Jouster on the King's Team of "Venans" [Challengers] in a State Tournament at Westminster.

By January 1495 Henry had assigned to Baker "the care [of the security] of the Palace" [of Westminster], and "four goodly houses within the Pale wherein he shall welcome and entertain such Embassies unto Us as We shall charge him withal". Another Grant created Baker "Maister of Heaven, Purgatory, and Helle" [the three parts of Westminster Hall]

In 1497, Baker again jousted in the King's Team in the State Tournament held at Westminster in honour of the [proxy] marriage of Prince Arthur to Princess Catherine of Aragon. At the feast following the tourney, King Henry offered Baker a knighthood, and Baker declined the honour, stating that he wishes for no higher office than to continue serving as a Squire For the Body. [20]

Does this seem like the disgrace gloated over by Guillaume de Carteret? And so uncritically reported by Tupper, Balleine and some later local historians in their turn?

In the Tournament Rolls of London (College of Arms Archives), and in the Great Chronicle of the same, after 1494 Baker is frequently mentioned as a jouster, along with Roland de Velville and others of the Squires - and Knights- For the Bodie. Baker's name is mentioned more often than any other Squire as accompanying the King at tennis, at archery, and when hunting.


The Exchequer Rolls show that Baker continued to receive his various salaries - of 50 Marks of silver annually as a Squire For the Bodie; - for his Office of Castellan of Kenilworth [King Henry VII's favourite castle in the North - the Post included 'a goodly howse ynne th'parke'], and for his Office as Keeper of Customs for the Port of Hamptoun (Southampton). He surrendered his Jersey Manor of Handois and St Germayne to the King, in exchange for the more-valuable Manor of Flytte in the Isle of Wight. [21]

The Great Chronicle of London, and the Spanish State Archives note Matthew Baker thereafter as acting frequently as a "diplomatic greeter" to visiting Embassies in London, and a 'back-corridor' liaison between such visitors and the King's Grace; the Exchequer Rolls record ambassadorial expenses paid to Baker on a number of subsequent occasions - visits to at least four foreign Courts are mentioned, some of them more than once.

On one diplomatic visit to the French Court at Grenoble, Louis XII created Baker a Compagnon de l'Ordre de St Michel for his diplomatic services on behalf of both Ducal Brittany and of France "these many years past, with the gift of a gold chain worth 90li" [22], according to Cardinal Georges D'Amboise reporting to his spiritual Master, Pope Alexander VI. This was France's premier Honour of Chivalry created by Louis XI to rival the Burgundian Order of the Golden Fleece. Louis had come to know the exiled Lancastrians very well as Duc d'Orleans, during his support for Duke François II against the Breton annexation threatened by the French Regents on behalf of the minor King Charles VIII of France.

Cardinal D'Amboise, King Louis' Minister Of State, describes Baker to the Pope as " 'no courtier but a plain-spoken soldier' as the said Esquire told His Majesty. A report from London called him 'a man of the shadows, cunning in battle both open and secret' ". [23]

Knighthood declined

In February 1504, during the celebrations creating Prince Henry, Prince of Wales, Henry VII created Baker's old comrade Davy Phillip a Knight of the Order of The Sword of Cyprus, and offered Baker Knighthood for a second time. Baker again gracefully declined (as reported by the Spanish Ambassador); and Henry then appointed Baker as Master of Bethlem Hospital, and Warden of Bermondsey Abbey. Throughout the next few years Baker was mentioned again and again attending closely upon Henry VII - hunting with hawks or dogs, at archery, at tennis, fishing at Kenilworth, wagering at Tourneys, cards, cock-fights and bear-baiting.

Henry VII's tuberculosis got worse during late 1508 and early 1509; and on 20 and 21 April 1509, he was slowly dying over 27 hours in his privy bedchamber at Richmond. His closest servants and officers were trying to keep this secret to ensure a smooth transition of power to the young Prince Henry.

At 11pm on 21 April the first of the Tudor Kings breathed his last. Sir Thomas Wriothesley, Garter King of Arms, made a sketch recording the scene, and the few members of Henry's officers present at the deathbed, identifying them above their heads by their Escutcheons. At the foot of the bed, identified by his heraldry, stands Matthew Baker - the longest-serving of Henry Tudor's Squires For the Bodie.

A detailed report describing the Funeral of Henry VII exists. Matthew Baker is listed as one of the Officers of The Household, who - after the coffin had been lowered into the grave - each broke their Staff of Office and threw the pieces into the grave alongside the coffin of their late Royal Master.

It might be thought that, after a lifetime of service and companionship to his sworn Liege Lord and Royal Master Henry VII, Matthew Baker might have retired from Court to live at his Manor on the Isle of Wight. Not a bit of it.

Henry VIII

Within a month [24] Baker was reappointed as Squire For The Bodie to the young King Henry VIII. Baker's work as a diplomatic greeter continued, as did his Offices as "security chief" for the Palace of Westminster, and as Castellan of Kenilworth Castle. The Exchequer continued paying his various salaries and annuities, and the Great Wardrobe records regular issues of high-value fabrics - cloth-of-gold, scarlets, velvet, silk, taffeta, sarcenet, bougie, etc - to the Royal Tailor to provide garments - mostly robes, doublets, riding cloaks and the like - 'for the use of Matthew Baker, Squire unto the King's Grace'.

Baker was especially noted by the French Ambassador, who granted him the title of Le grant Esqyer as taking part on the young King's side in three State Jousts at Westminster and Greenwich in 1509 and 1510.

And in 1511, in the 'Great Tournament of Westminster', held by Henry VIII to celebrated the birth of his first child, Matthew Baker was shown in the memorialising Roll [25] riding in the Entry Procession as (temporary) Master of The Horse, presumably since the actual Master of the Horse was taking part in the Tourney as one of the Tenans – the fantasy Knight “Valliant Desyr”. No further official mentions of Baker on duty at Court have been found, though the Exchequer continued to pay his various salaries.

Matthew Baker is recorded as dying and being buried at Bermondsey Abbey in May or June 1513. King Henry VIII paid for a noble funeral for his "great esquire", for a marble tomb chest surmounted by an effigy of the deceased, "wrought by a Journeyman of Torrigiano's" [26] and the new King also paid an endowment to the Abbot for "a hundred Masses for the repose of the soul of the sayd faithful Servant, Matthew Baker, buried before the Image of St Saviour of Barmondesay". [27]

Baker's Will is on record, preserved in the Probate Rolls for 1513, which Rolls are in turn preserved in the National Archives at Kew.

No record has been discovered so far of any marriage Baker may have made, though there are several mentions of a Breton minor-noble Lady [28] acting as his Chatelaine when entertaining Henry's official guests in his official lodgings at the old Westminster Palace [29] But in his probated will he acknowledges a son Richard, for whose schooling he leaves 100Li [equivalent to £48,377 at 2005 values], and he also left another substantial bequest of "20L and 2 featherbeds" [30] to "Johanne attë Killyngworthë (Kenilworth) and the childe she goth withal".

The Abbey of Bermondsey was sold soon after the 1535-1540 Dissolution of the Monasteries had begun, in 1538; and by 1540 the buildings had been almost completely dismantled for their materials, enabling the new owner of the freehold to build a new house on the site, and with that destruction of the Abbey Church, any hope of finding Baker's grave "before the Image of St Saviour of Barmondesay" was gone forever.

Predecessor Successor
Richard Harliston
Matthew Baker
Thomas Ovray

Notes and references

  1. Archives du Moyen Age en Bretagne, Bibliotheque, Université de Nantes; and ditto, Université de Rennes.
  2. Pat p3, m21 (7) 1 Hen VII
  3. Not a contemporary name - in 1485 it was known as Redesmere Fight
  4. Henry's presence in Jersey is not confirmed in any historical documents
  5. The transcriptions of all such warrants are to be found printed verbatim in "Letters and Papers Illustrative of a History of the Reign of King Henry VII", Vols 1 and 2, Pub by The Treasury for the Master of The Rolls from 1868 onwards
  6. CER, 1 Hen VII, 1486
  7. CER,1 Hen VII,1485-6, National Archives, Kew
  8. Henry Tudor knew the French Regents and the young King Charles VIII personally, as did Davy Phillip and Matthew Baker, from the exiled Lancastrians time at Montargis in 1484 and 1485, arranging for the mid-Summer invasion) but the Seigneurs did not realize that
  9. The Grant - PS No 930. Pat p 3, m 2 (26) of 1 Hen VIII - is transcribed verbatim on p452 of "Materials for a History of Henry VII", ed. Campbell, Pub. The Treasury; for the Master of The Rolls in 1878.
  10. Charles VIII was only 13 years old when Louis XI died
  11. Quoting first from de Gruchy
  12. Et il se retira dans la paroisse de St Laurent en ladite Ile, ou il fit bastir un Chateau...... quel'on appelle le Chateau de St Germain
  13. On modern maps this is the land in the centre of the triangle formed by Mont du Bu de la Rue, Route de St Jean, and Rue des Billières
  14. Short rough-translation - In 1639, Philippe de Carteret, Bailliff and Lieut-Governor, ordered the demolition of the ruined Chateau de St Germain and used the stone in the building of the fortifications of Elizabeth Castle
  15. There is no evidence that Harliston was ever knighted. Even after 1486 by Princess Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy, in whose service Harliston died; and indeed, when he is attainted for supporting a later Yorkist rebellion, the official naming in the warrant is Richard Harliston, esquire
  16. The Seigneurs hold their fiefs and manors from the King by reason of some form of feudal service, usually known as "knight Service". The lands did not belong to them, but to the Crown; they were Royal tenants. If they did not fulfil the terms of that feudal service, their fiefs would be escheated back to the Crown
  17. A wonderfully moral tale of the kind much-enjoyed by Victorian commentators and antiquarians, but the details do not stand up to close modern investigation. For example, consider the medical aspects of a just-delivered woman horse-riding astride - sidesaddles were unknown in England at that date - as hard as she could 400 miles over the medieval roads and tracks shown on the Gough Map, the most accurate record of the English roads of the period
  18. Contemporary reports and surviving letters place Fox in his See of Durham during August 1494
  19. The facts as found in the National Archives at Kew, in the Chancery and Exchequer Rolls, the Calendar of State Papers of Henry VII, the Accounts of the Great Wardrobe [transcribed in the various Volumes of the Rolls series], the Great Chronicle of London, and the French, Spanish, and Papal Archives tell us a very different story
  20. Spanish Ambassador Don Pedro de Ayala unto King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella
  21. Notes of Lancaster Herald, in the Howard De Walden Library Collection
  22. £43,750 at 2005 values
  23. Papal Archives
  24. CPR 1 Hen VIII, for May 1509 Rolls Series transcription and/or National Archives, Kew
  25. The "Gt Tournament Roll of Westminster", still in the care of the College of Arms, which prepared it in the first place
  26. Pietro Torrigiano was the Master Artisan who was tasked with creating Henry VII's Chapel and Tomb in Westminster Abbey; and those he accepted as Journeymen became famous Master Craftsmen in their turn.
  27. See CER, 5 Hen VII, June
  28. Out of Pleraneg - modern Ploubazlanec
  29. Baker in bodyguarding-mode seems to have been as professionally-paranoid as any modern Secret Service Agent, and perhaps by remaining officially-single he was consciously avoiding hostage-taking possibilities
  30. Equivalent to nearly £10,000 at 2005 values
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