Walter de Islip

Walter de Islip (died after 1336) was an English-born cleric, statesman and judge in fourteenth-century Ireland. He was the first Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer; he also held the office of Treasurer of Ireland, Chief Escheator, Custos Rotulorum of Kilkenny. He also held numerous clerical benefices. His career was damaged by accusations of corruption and maladministration. He played an important role in the celebrated Kilkenny Witchcraft Trials of 1324.

Personal lifeEdit

Walter was born at Islip, Oxfordshire. He was a cousin of Simon Islip, Archbishop of Canterbury,[1] and no doubt his career benefited as a result, though he was some years older than Simon. His most influential patron in his early years was Richard de Ferings, Archbishop of Dublin 1229-1306; he probably arrived in Ireland in the Archbishop's entourage in 1299.

St Nicholas' Church, Islip- Walter was an Islip native

Throughout his career Walter moved back and forth between Ireland and England. In Ireland he initially lived at the Priory of Kilmainham, but later purchased the manor of Thorncastle, in south Dublin County, which is roughly present day Mount Merrion.[2] He also had a town house in Dublin; there is a reference to Dublin Corporation supplying his house with water. He developed strong links with Kilkenny, where he usually lodged with the Outlaw family, who were at the heart of the Witchcraft trials.


In 1308 he was chosen as one of the Barons of the new Court of Exchequer (Ireland); he was given the title of Chief Baron in 1309, but stepped down from office in 1311. He is mentioned again as a Baron of the Exchequer in 1335.[3] He was appointed Chief Escheator of Ireland in 1310.[4]


He served three terms as Lord Treasurer between 1314 and 1325. In 1325 he attended a seemingly routine Exchequer audit in London, where grave irregularities in the Exchequer of Ireland came to light. Serious questions were raised about Islip's integrity, and in one of the first examples of an official inquiry in Ireland, a Dublin jury was selected to determine the truth of the allegations of fraud and corruption against him. Alexander de Bicknor, the Archbishop of Dublin and Lord Chancellor of Ireland, was accused of the same offences. Islip was finally removed from office as Treasurer, and imprisoned for a time in the Fleet Prison. In 1334 he was ordered to repay the Crown the then considerable sum of £1332, and in default of repayment most of his Irish lands were forfeited.[5] In 1336 he obtained a royal pardon for all his faults and transgressions. He also held office as Custos rotulorum for Kilkenny.

John de GrauntseteEdit

In 1329 he was engaged in litigation with one William de London; the striking feature of the case was that de London was represented by one of Islip's colleagues on the Bench, John de Grauntsete. Such conduct seems to have been unheard of even at the time: Cohen calls it "startling" and without parallel in legal history.[6] De Grauntsete was soon afterwards removed from the Bench for a time: the reason for this was apparently not his conduct in Court, but the fact that he had read out letters of excommunication from the Pope, thus allegedly subverting the Royal authority.[7]

Kilkenny Witch TrialsEdit

The Kilkenny witch trials of 1324, in which the principal accused were Alice Kyteler, her son William Outlaw and Petronilla de Meath, deeply divided the Anglo-Irish ruling class. This was partly because many of them were connected to Alice through her four marriages, and partly because the English-born Bishop of Ossory, Richard de Ledrede, the driving force behind the prosecutions, was bitterly unpopular. Islip seems to have been firmly on the side of the accused witches (William Outlaw was a personal friend): as Custos of Kilkenny he refused to order their arrest, and was probably a party to the Bishop's own arrest and brief imprisonment.[8]


Although Walter, unlike his cousin Simon, did not reach the highest ranks of the Church, his career is a striking example of religious pluralism.[9] In England he was vicar of Gresham, Norfolk and of Old Whittington, Derbyshire; in 1318 he became Dean of Wolverhampton. In Ireland he was a canon of St. Patrick's Cathedral, custodian of the Archdiocese of Dublin, Treasurer of Ferns Cathedral and a prebendary in the dioceses of Ossory and Waterford.

All Saints Church, Gresham, one of Walter's numerous livings


  1. ^ Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926 Vol.i p.61
  2. ^ Ball, F. Elrington History of Dublin Alexander Thom and Co. Dublin 1902-1920 Vol.2 p.4
  3. ^ Judges in Ireland p.61
  4. ^ Wright, Thomas, ed. "A Contemporary Narrative of the Proceedings against Dame Alice Kyteler" London Camden Society 1843
  5. ^ Connolly, Philomena The Proceedings against John de Burnham Treasurer of Ireland 1343-49 in "Essays Presented to J.F. Lydon" Cambridge University Press 1993 p.63
  6. ^ Cohen, Herman History of the English Bar to 1450 1929 Sweet and Maxwell Reprinted 2005 p.272
  7. ^ Judges in Ireland p.28
  8. ^ Williams, Bernadette The Sorcery Trial of Alice Kyteler History Today Vol. 2 (1994)
  9. ^ History of Dublin p.4