Eleanor and the luxury Hotel and Spa
Yes, you did read the title correctly! For the next step in my geographical tour of Eleanor-related sites, I am stopping off at Wallett's Court - now a luxury Hotel and Spa perched on top of the White Cliffs to the east of Dover, but once an oppressed outpost of Eleanor's property empire.
The story starts in early 1280 when Eleanor acquired from Aaron son of Vives, one of her main Jewish business partners, the debts of one Gilbert Pecche, possibly amounting to about 1000 marks. Eleanor's trusty man of business Walter de Kancia was prosecuting Pecche on part of the debts by spring 1280, and in June Glibert signed over to Eleanor "A manor at Westcliffe, with its advowson"; upon which, Eleanor told Kancia to release Pecche from his debt. That manor was Wallett's Court.
The precise details of what happened next are obviously lost, but the rich farmlands which we see about the manor now, so useful for provisioning before or after trips abroad or for supplying the hungry mouths at Dover Castle, appear to have been somewhat hard pressed.
For in 1283 we see a cri de coeur from Archbishop Pecham, writing to Eleanor, in the famous letter which has done so much to sully her reputation. For that letter actually relates to the tenants of the land at West Cliffe, who, Pecham says, "are destroyed and oppressed because more is demanded of them than the farm of the town amounts to." He goes on to plead "If you won't take pity on them they are so desperate that their best option will be to leave their lands and houses and go on the streets to beg their bread.". He then goes on to make his more famous plea about Eleanor's use of usury or lands acquired through usury - but that is another story.
Now, this sort of inflation of sums due from tenants was a bad habit which Eleanor's administrators had adopted in other places. It does not mean that she was responsible for the excessive demands - except insofar as she expected good returns and came down hard on administrators who failed to produce them. But elsewhere where this sort of complaint was brought to Eleanor's attention, relief followed; and the fact that there was no further complaint about Wallett's Court, including in the inquest after Eleanor's death, indicates that Pecham did not plead in vain on the specific issue of their wrongs. All the same, it would seem that the incumbents of the manor were very far from well off in the 1280s.
Fast forward to today, and what a different sight: a luxury hotel with spa and glamping. Funnily enough, Eleanor would probably have liked glamping - a few examples can be glimpsed in the book ....