Vescy (Vesci), William de (1245–97), justiciar of Ireland, was born 19 September 1245, the younger son of William de Vescy and his second wife, Agnes, daughter of William de Ferrers, earl of Derby, co-heiress of the great estates of William Marshal (qv) in Britain and Ireland. During the civil war he supported the Montfortians and, as a consequence, the crown confiscated one of his manors in Lincolnshire in April 1264. Both he and his elder brother, John, underwent significant rehabilitation after the royalist victory at Evesham in 1265, and the latter became a close and trusted companion of Edward I. In March 1276 William received protection to go on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, and in 1277 and again in 1282–3 he was summoned to serve in Wales. He was appointed justice of the ‘forest beyond the Trent’ in June 1285, a position he retained until September 1290, and he was constable of Scarborough castle between August 1289 and June 1292. Before Edward I's ratification of the treaty of Birgham, Vescy was chosen as one of the envoys to negotiate with the Scots in June 1290. Following the death of Margaret, the maid of Norway, heir to the Scottish crown, Vescy appeared among the competitors for the throne of Scotland; he derived his claim from his grandmother, the illegitimate daughter of William the Lion. Apparently aware of the weakness of his candidature, he was represented throughout ‘the great cause’ by proxy and finally withdrew his claim on 10 November 1292. After his brother died in February 1289 he inherited most of John's valuable estates in England, and on the death of his mother (11 May 1290) he succeeded to the lordship of Kildare. In February 1290, at the behest of Queen Eleanor, whose kinswoman his son, John, was to marry in August that year, he received a pardon of £550 of his debt to the exchequer.
Vescy was appointed justiciar of Ireland on 12 September 1290 and had arrived in the lordship by 11 November. His first action in Ireland was to make an examination of the litany of serious charges brought against the troubled treasurer Nicholas de Clere (qv). Much of his time over the following two years was spent on campaign in Connacht and in Ulster with Richard de Burgh (qv) and on a lengthy eyre in Munster. In August 1292 he listened to the accusations of corruption levelled against William de Prene. During 1293 a number of complaints were made by the abbot of St Thomas's, Dublin, regarding Vescy's actions as lord of the liberty of Kildare. The parties were at loggerheads over the vexed question of crosslands – church lands that were supposed to be exempt from the jurisdiction of a liberty. Despite a number of injunctions by Edward I, commanding Vescy not to proceed with charges in his liberty court against the abbot, he would not desist, and in June 1293 he was summoned to Westminster to answer for his disobedience. At the same time Vescy was involved in a bitter dispute with the increasingly powerful John fitz Thomas FitzGerald (qv), nominally a vassal of the lord of Kildare. Although the origin of the conflict was probably a local power struggle, it was compounded by Vescy's decision as justiciar to back a rival claimant to fitz Thomas's nominee for the kingship of the Uí Conchobair of Connacht. Indeed, so seriously did their relationship deteriorate that Vescy summoned the royal service of Ireland to meet at Kildare in July 1293; ostensibly it was called to campaign against the Irish of Offaly, but the summons was hurriedly cancelled by the king, who rightly feared it would be used to march against fitz Thomas.
During a special session of the royal council at the Michaelmas parliament at Westminster in 1293 a series of accusations were levelled against Vescy's conduct as justiciar and as lord of Kildare. In addition to a rehashing of the complaints of the abbot of St Thomas and John fitz Thomas, who stated that no man in Ireland could expect the law to treat him fairly while Vescy was justiciar, there were other charges from the likes of Thomas fitz Maurice FitzGerald (qv) and Edmund Mortimer, one of the co-parceners of Kildare. Though Vescy strongly denied each of the accusations, a commission made up of members of the Irish administration was appointed in December that year to report back to the English parliament the following Easter. During Vescy's absence in England in early 1294 An Calbach O'Connor Faly (qv), almost certainly with fitz Thomas's connivance if not outright cooperation, raided the lordship of Kildare and levelled the castle of Kildare, burning all of the records held within it. When Vescy returned to Ireland he summoned fitz Thomas to Dublin before the king's Irish council to answer charges of defamation. At a meeting in April 1294 attended by Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester and lord of Kilkenny, fitz Thomas refused to recant and went even further, accusing the justiciar of slandering the king, indeed accusing him of lese-majesty. According to fitz Thomas, Vescy had said:
the people of Ireland were the most miserable he knew, for they could be, if they so wished, great lords, . . . if they knew the king as well as he they would not value him, for he is the most perverse and dastardly knight of his kingdom.
Immediately Vescy demanded that fitz Thomas defend his accusations by wager of battle, and a duel was arranged for July before the king at Westminster. On the appointed day Vescy arrived, ready for battle, but fitz Thomas failed to appear and his accusations were dismissed. (In the same way the charges of the abbot of St Thomas were dismissed following his non-attendance at court.)
By this time, however, the sheer volume of complaints had taken their toll and Vescy had been fatally undermined; he had already been replaced as justiciar with a deputy on 5 March 1294, probably pending the outcome of the commission, but notwithstanding his vindication at the April meeting his appointment was not renewed. Though undoubtedly still under a cloud, he was acting as a justice of the forest in September and October 1294 and was made keeper of the same; also in October he was summoned to Gascony on the king's service, in April 1295 he was with the king in Wales, and in November that year he was again summoned to Gascony. Towards the end of 1296 Vescy returned to England from Gascony as an invalid. In February 1297 Vescy, who had no remaining legitimate heirs (his son, John, having died in 1295), entered into an arrangement with the king whereby, in return for a pardon of all of his debts and a general pardon for all crimes he may have committed while justiciar of Ireland, he agreed to grant to the king most of his lands in England and the liberty of Kildare in Ireland. In return the king granted those estates to William to enjoy them for the remainder of his life, though they would revert to the crown thereafter. During the Easter parliament at Dublin that year Kildare lost its status as a liberty when it was shired. Vescy made a similar arrangement with Anthony Bek, bishop of Durham, regarding custody of his lands in the north of England, including Alnwick castle in Yorkshire, which were to devolve on William's bastard son when he came of age.
William married Isabel, daughter of Adam de Periton and widow of Robert de Welles, in 1266; John (d. 1295) was their son. The mother of William's bastard son, William de Vescy of Kildare, was, according to some sources, Dervorgilla, daughter of Domnall Ruad MacCarthy (qv) (d. 1302), king of Desmond. William de Vescy died 19 July 1297 at Malton in Yorkshire.