To err is human – to get your 6’s and 4’s the wrong way round is rather inconvenient if you are writing about the Wars of the Roses. Many apologies and many thanks to the reader who pointed out the switch round. I’d like to blame the computer but sadly I can’t on this occasion. The article has now been changed online.
Bamburgh Castle perched on the edge of Budle Bay is another of the Percy castles but its history is much longer than that. It was home to Gospatrick Earl of Northumbria at the time of the Norman Conquest. He was eventually forced to submit to the Conqueror. Bamburgh was handed over to the Bishop of Durham. Sources differ as to whether it was William the Conqueror who built the first castle on the site or the bishop. Suffice it to say that by the reign of Henry II after several changes of ownership it was in Crown hands – Henry II funded the great keep and it became a venue for a number of Plantagenet visitors.
Now is not the time to discuss the politics of the English East March or the rivalry between the Nevilles and the Percies. Suffice it to say that Bamburgh was a Lancastrian Castle during the Wars of the Roses. Following the Battle of Towton in 1461 Bamburgh, Alnwick, Warkworth and Dunstanburgh remained in the hands of the Lancastrians. This meant that Edward IV was not secure from Scottish incursions or from Lancastrian forces landing along the coast.
Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick , a.k.a. The Kingmaker besieged Bamburgh and it surrendered in July 1462. Unfortunately for the Yorkists Margaret of Anjou landed with troop in October with french mercenaries – the Yorkist garrison now promptly handed themselves and Bamburgh over to the Lancastrians. Edward IV now came north and Margaret decamped to Scotland leaving Sir Ralph Percy and Henry Beaufort (Duke of Somerset) in charge of the castle. There was another short siege and in December the castle was once again in Yorkist hands.
Ralph Percy, the garrison commander, was allowed to swear allegiance to Edward IV. Edward wanted the Percy family on his side but by the new year Ralph had concluded that he preferred the Lancastrian cause to that of the Yorkists and the Nevilles who were, after all, long time enemies of the Percies. In March 1463 Bamburgh was back in the hands of Margaret of Anjou. In the North East of the country 1463 was a year of sieges and intermittent warfare orchestrated by Margaret and her Scottish allies but by the end of the year the politically savvy Scots had organised a truce with the Yorkists.
It says something that during 1462-1464 Henry VI was at Bamburgh at various times. In 1464 looked as though the Lancastrians might be on firmer ground when the Duke of Somerset changed sides once again. John Neville, the Kingmaker’s younger brother now came north and a battle was fought at Hedgeley Moor in April 1464 followed dup by the Battle of Hexham the following month. Neville defeated the Duke of Somerset who was captured and promptly executed. Henry VI left Bywell Castle the day after the Battle of Hexham and went into hiding in the uplands of Northumbria and Cumberland.
The Northumbrian castles that had remained Lancastrian now surrendered but Bamburgh in the hands of Sir Ralph Grey remained obdurate. In part this was because he had been Yorkist in 1463 and having changed sides permitted the Lancastrians back into Alnwick – making this post feel rather like a game of musical castles. The Yorkists told him that they would execute him just as soon as they could – oddly enough this did’t encourage him to surrender nor did the information that one man would be executed for every cannon ball fired at the castle – Nine months, many canon balls and a collapsing tower later Bamburgh had no choice but to capitualte making it the first castle in England to be defeated by the power of artillery. And it wouldn’t have surrendered even then, had Sir Ralph not been knocked senseless and his second in command taken the opportunity to surrender whilst Sir Ralph was out for the count.
The Earl of Warwick didn’t carry out his threat to execute one man per cannon ball but Grey was executed in July. After the fall of Bamburgh the Yorkists more or less controlled the whole country with the exception of Harlech Castle and a few isolated pockets.
Warkworth Castle was not always in the hands of the Percy family. It was presented to them in 1332 by Edward III. Our interest today is in the 1st earl of Northumberland who was so created at the coronation of Richard II. The earl’s mother was Mary of Lancaster, a granddaughter of Henry III. Ultimately the 1st earl sided with his cousin Henry Bolingbroke and helped to topple Richard II from power in 1399. Henry, who had been exiled by Richard II returned to Ravenspur after his father’s death ostensibly to claim the Duchy of Lancaster which Richard had decided to confiscate upon John of Gaunt’s death. Richard II was in Ireland at the time of Henry’s arrival at Ravenspur. Richard returned to England via Wales. He found himself in Conway Castle having a discussion with the Earl of Northumberland and the Archbishop of Canterbury. From there he found himself in the Tower of London, deposed by Parliament on an assortment of charges agains this realm and from there sent to Pontefract where he died- either because he was starved, forgotten about or refused to eat. Henry IV did not see himself as a usurper because legally the throne became vacant when Richard was deposed by Parliament. He had merely stepped up to take the role.
As is the way of these things relations soured between the Earl of Northumberland and Henry IV. Given that there were family links as well as ties of affinity and education it is perhaps unexpected. However, this is where the story becomes more complicated and not just in terms of the politics of power. Hotspur was married to Elizabeth Mortimer. The Mortimers were descended from Lionel of Antwerp who was John of Gaunt’s older brother – thus even though the throne may have been legally vacant Henry Bolingbroke really and truly shouldn’t have become king. The title should have gone to the earl of March – Edmund Mortimer- who was the son of Elizabeth Mortimer’s brother Roger who had been killed by the Irish in 1398. Edmund who was a rather youthful eight at the time. Realpolitik must have noted that Richard II’s minority hadn’t been without its issues. Better a grown man than a youth.
Now in 1403 the initially pro-Lancastrian Percies needed a reason to turn against Henry IV as they discovered that their courses were not running in parallel. They had initially supported Henry Bolingbroke to regain what was rightfully his but he had then taken matters further and toppled Richard II from the throne – or so they said- demonstrating the History is about stories and that one person’s story is another person’s work of fiction. Having been badly disappointed in Henry IV who had taken what was not his, the Percies now decided that it was only right and proper that they help put Mortimer on the throne.
It should be noted that Henry IV had not treated Mortimer or his younger brother badly. They were in receipt of a good education and were, for part of the time raised with the king’s own children. Matters became complicated when Hotspur’s brother-in-law, Sir Edmund Mortimer, managed to get himself captured by Owen Glyndwr and then changed sides – or was at least accused of changing sides by Henry IV. It probably didn’t help when Glyndwr married his daughter to Sir Edmund and that Sir Edmund wrote that his nephew, young Edmund Mortimer was actually the correct king of England rather than Henry IV.
The truth is that it was during the fourteenth century that the North of England saw the Percy family expand their territory and their power. The accession of Henry IV saw Percy being made Constable of England. This bred much resentment both nationally and locally. The start of the fifteenth century was a time when the monarch wished to curtail the Percy power base. Meanwhile there were the local politics to contend with – the Nevilles of Raby were snapping at Percy heels. The Percies became increasingly aggrieved. They were irritated because they had not been properly paid for their protection of the Scottish borders, Henry IV had confiscated their Scottish captives after the Battle of Homildon Hill and thus deprived them of rich ransoms, Henry IV was offering favour to men like Neville and also to George Dunbar who had sought exile in England after a slight to his family honour in Scotland. Sir Edmund had been captured in 1402 and had not been ransomed. It could be argued that Sir Edmund had taken steps to gain his freedom when he reached an understanding with Glyndwr.
It was at Warkworth that the earl plotted the rebellion that led to the death of his son Henry “Hotspur” at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 and his own exile and loss of title and lands. The key conspirators were related to the Mortimers by marriage: Elizabeth Mortimer was married to Hotspur. Sir Edmund Mortimer was married to Glyndwr’s daughter Catherine. They decided to divide the kingdom in three – Mortimer would rule the south, Glyndwr would rule Wales and the Percies would take control of the North. The earl sent his son Henry and his brother Thomas (the earl of Worcester) on ahead of the earl. They raised their standard at Chester.
Dunbar, loyal to Henry IV raised an army as he marched after his Percy adversaries. Hotspur was killed at the battle of Shrewsbury whilst Thomas was executed two days later. Hotspur was initially buried in Whitchurch but when Henry IV heard rumours that Hotspur was still alive he had the body disinterred and then placed between millstones so that it could be viewed. He then had the head displayed on the Micklegate in York. Eventually Hotspur’s remains were entombed in York Minster.
Dunbar was created the Earl of the March of Scotland and given Thomas Percy’s estates as a reward by Henry IV.
The grief-stricken earl of Northumberland made his peace with Henry IV on that occasion but it was not long before he rebelled once again, fled to Scotland with his grandson and finally returned to die at Bramham Moor.
Warkworth did not immediately hand itself over to the Crown. It was briefly besieged although just seven canon shots were required to bring its surrender and then handed into the custody of Henry IV’s younger son John who history would best know as the Duke of Bedford. Eventually when Henry IV died the earl’s grandson who had lived in exile in Scotland was restored to his property although a marriage to Eleanor Neville, the daughter of Ralph Neville and Joan Beaufort was negotiated first – in part to keep Ralph sweet as he had acquired much of the Percy lands and offices in the intervening time.
For more information on Warkworth follow this link: http://www.gatehouse-gazetteer.info/English%20sites/2879.html
Brinkburn is an Augustinian Priory. Usually I’m not terribly keen on buildings that have been restored during the Nineteenth Century. The Victorians were not always terribly sensitive in the changes that they made. However, in this instance the priory church is a truly splendid thing.
Augustinian monasteries, as a rule, were always smaller than their Benedictine and Cistercian counterparts. Exceptions include Carlisle and Hexham. The twelfth century was the apex of the monastery building period in England and Brinkburn fits nicely into the timeframe being founded in the early 1130s, during the reign of Henry I, by William Bertram.
The first prior came from Pentney Priory in Norfolk. In addition to their riverside dwelling which can be accessed down a tree dappled hill the monks also owned approximately 3500 acres nearby. They had other pastureland elsewhere in Northumberland as well as buildings in Newcastle including an inn. Pilgrim Street in Newcastle is supposed to have gained its name from the pilgrims who lodged there. They came to worship at Our Lady’s chapel at Jesmond. There was also a Franciscan Friary where there were supposed to be relics of St Francis. In the copy of a grant of a house to Brinkburn Priory in Northumberland, dated 1292, this street is called Vicus Peregrinorum. In 1564, after the Dissolution of the monasteries the inn, or one of the inns on the street, was mentioned for coining false money. In any event whilst the canons at Brinkburn may have not had the huge amount of acres of their Cistercian counterparts they knew how to turn a profit as in addition to the inn they also owned a shop in Corbridge. More traditionally they gained income from bequested advowsons, that is to say the right to appoint the priest, at Felton and Longhorsely.
So far, so straight forward. Unfortunately Brinkburn is north of Newcastle and it became apparent during the reign of Edward II that living anywhere near the Scottish border wasn’t necessarily a very good idea. In 1315 Robert Bruce destroyed Brinkburn and its thirteen canons had to flee their home and beg for their bread.
The story goes that on one occasion the Scots raided as far south as Brinkburn but the priory was spared because of a thick fog. The raiders passed them by. The canons being a grateful sort of bunch rang the bells to give thanks to God and in so doing directed the Scots to priory. The canons having realised that ringing the bell wasn’t necessarily the smartest move they could have made had fled to the other side of the River Coquet. The story continues to say that as the Scots burned the priory the bell which had summoned them ended up in the river – I’m not sure if this was as the result of the fire or some enterprising Scottish person trying to remove them for their scrap value. In yet another version of the story it was the monks who hid the bell in the river – presumably not wanting one of their number to ring it anymore. And finally, the poor monks were so strapped for cash that they sold the bells to the Bishop of Durham but when they moved the bells up the hill one of them ended up in the river. Take your pick!
The canons must have been delighted by the news that the Scots had been defeated at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346. Unfortunately three years later the Black death arrived and killed half of Northumberland. Things really seem to have gone from bad to worse for the canons. During the early years of the Fifteenth century they suffered from reiver cattle raids and in 1484 the Scots turned up again and having stripped the place burned it to the ground. Then there was the murder. In 1521 Richard Lighton, one of the Canons, was killed by Humphrey Lisle in a property dispute.
When Cromwell’s visitors arrived the priory was valued at only £69 so it was suppressed in 1536. There were only six canons left at that time. After the dissolution Brinkburn changed hands several times. On two occasions, Brinkburn’s owners lost their heads. For a fair portion of the time the property was in the hands of the Fenwick family. Eventually it passed into the hands of Richard Hodgson. His son did some demolition work on the old manor house which contains the west range of the monastery. The manor house he rebuilt was designed to be a picturesque building so much of the monastic masonry remains in situ.
The style of the church, for those folk who like to know these things, is somewhere between Norman and Gothic – the correct term is transitional.
Eneas Mackenzie, ‘The present state of Newcastle: Streets within the walls’, in Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827), pp. 160-182. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/newcastle-historical-account/pp160-182 [accessed 6 July 2018].
English Heritage (2003) Brinkburn Priory
Alnwick, like most of the great castles, has had a succession of owners beginning with Ivo de Vesci who married the granddaughter of Gilbert Tyson, a Saxon killed at Hastings in 1066. The zigzag moulding on the arch in the arch that leads to the inner courtyard reminds visitors that Alnwick has been a fortification for the better part of a thousand years. The barony of Alnwick and its castle continued in the de Vesci hands until the fourteenth century with intermittent lapses into the hands of David of Scotland and William the Lion although it should be noted that during the reign of Henry I Eustace FizJohn was the castle’s owner. He married the de Vesci heiress of the period and their son William assumed his mother’s name.
Ivo built a motte and bailey castle from timber – by which we can suppose some hapless Saxons found themselves moving soil and digging ditches. There were two baileys – one to the east and one to the west. Over the years fortifications were added to the central shell keep and to de Vesci’s two baileys. By 1135 it was one of the strongest castles in Northumberland. In actual fact when William the Lion besieged the castle in 1172 he was unable to capture the castle from William de Vesci. In 1174 the Lion had another go at it and was captured by the English. Part of the reason why William spent so much time hammering on Alnwick’s doors was that he had originally been the Earl of Northumberland but Henry II had removed it from him some twenty years earlier. Perhaps that was why William joined in the revolt by Henry II’s sons and his queen against Henry II in 1173. William found himself bundled off to Newcastle and from there to Normandy. William was forced to recognise Henry II as his feudal overlord and in so doing sewed the seeds of the Scottish Wars of Independence when Edward I insisted on the right to naming the Scottish king and to being the feudal overlord of Scotland.
The de Vescis who did not get on terribly well with King John. It was only luck that the castle wasn’t razed in 1213. William de Vesci died at the Battle of Bannockburn the following century without heirs so the king sold it to Anthony Bek, Bishop of Durham who sold it to Henry de Percy. De Vesci did have an illegitimate son and was able to hand his Yorkshire lands to his natural son.
The Percys did rather a lot of rebuilding based on the income from the Scottish wars; either loot or ransoms. The two huge octagon towers that tower above the inner gateway were built sometime around 1350 and this phase of rebuilding included the rebuilding of the keep with seven U shaped towers. The castle had been successively strengthened by all its owners but this was the time when the Percy family were most wealthy and the reality of having a bellicose neighbour meant that fortifications were a good investment.
The outer wall, around those two baileys encloses something like five acres of ground. The wall contains several towers and turrets. One of them houses a water tower and very sensibly it was here that the castle’s laundry was done. There is also a rather fine well in the inner court yard near the entrance to the keep. The Constable’s Tower is open to the public
The fortunes of the Percys declined with the Wars of the Roses and the accession of the Tudors. Margaret of Anjou had garrisoned Alnwick with three hundred french troops in the aftermath of Town in a bid to retain a toehold on her husband’s kingdom. It was a Scot who rode to the garrison’s rescue on that particular occasion so that Margaret’s troops could make good their escape from the forces of the Earl of Warwick.
Put simply they were the over mighty subjects that a strong monarch needed to keep firmly in check. They continued to fulfil their role on the borders however. The Alnwick Muster Roll dating from 1513 identifies the men who fought under the Percy colours at Flodden and survived the encounter with the Scots. When not at war with Scotland there was intermittent raiding. In 1528, for example fourteen Scottish reivers were hanged in Alnwick. However, not even their hereditary role of warden was secure any longer nor were the earls necessarily cut out for border warfare.
The Percy family were not as wealthy as they had once been and in 1567 when George Clarkson was commissioned to assess the castle it was deemed unfit for purpose. Perhaps lack of cash was something that the earl should have considered before conspiring with the Earl of Cumberland and Leonard Dacre to raise the north in rebellion against Elizabeth I.
In 1569 matters came to a head with the Earl of Northumberland revolted along with the Earl of Cumberland in a bid to return England to Catholicism. The people of Alnwick were caught up in the rebellion. Although numbers of rebels dwindled rapidly after the initial success of capturing Durham and celebrating the Mass there before marching into Percy’s Yorkshire estates Alnwick Castle did prepare to withstand the Queen’s forces. Hartlepool was also captured by the rebels with the intention of providing a safe harbour for the Duke of Alva to land Spanish troops. The Spanish Ambassador it should be noted had already told the conspirators that they had not chance of succeeding in their venture.
The arrival of Sir John Forrester (or Forster depending on the source) the Warden of the English Middle March on the East side of the country was sufficient for earl’s tenants to hand over the castle and hurry to their own homes. Forrester also blocked the passes so that men who might have joined the rebels could not join with the earls whose thoughts swiftly turned to flight.
There was much rebuilding during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to transform the medieval fortress into a stately home. It was in the 1750s that it became the main residence for the Duke of Northumberland who commissioned Robert Adam to make the castle more habitable not to mention fashionable. In the Nineteenth Century Salvin was appointed to create more modifications – the fourth duke liked his castle with a romantic tinge. It remains the second largest inhabited castle in England and reflects a gothic Italian styles admired by the family at that time.
The 9th earl of Northumberland:
The nineth earl, yet another Henry was the eighth earl’s son born in 1564 and like his father spent time in the Tower. He was complicit in the Gun Powder Plot, gambled rather too much and had a nicotine habit.
Prior to getting himself into a treasonous sort of trouble he served under the Earl of Leicester in the Low Countries during the 1580s and was in the fleet facing the Spanish Armada. Not withstanding his evident loyalty to the throne there were suggestions that he might marry Lady Arbella Stuart during the early 1590s. Arbella had a claim to the throne via her father Charles Stuart the younger brother of Henry Stuart (Lord Darnley). The earl also had a claim to the throne albeit a rather distant one. It was suggested that the pair might make a winning team as with the death of Mary Queen of Scots a Catholic alternative was required to Protestant James. Instead of marrying Arbella he married Dorothy Devereaux, the sister of the 2ndearl of Essex (the one executed by Elizabeth I for treason in 1601) and step-daughter of the Earl of Leicester. It was not necessarily a wildly happy marriage although they did have a shared friend in Sir Walter Raleigh.
Initially it appeared that the ninth earl would rise to prominence under the Stuarts. He was made a Privy Councillor in 1603 but Percy was not happy about the way Raleigh was treated and the promised tolerance for catholicism never materialised. He also regarded Prince Henry as a more regal alternative. In short when Thomas Percy was found to have conspired in the gunpowder plot it was one short step from there to the incrimination of the earl himself.
Despite the fact that Lord Salisbury (Robert Cecil) wrote that there was no evidence against him the earl was charged with treason and fined £30,000 – £11,000 of the fine fell due immediately. Percy was in the Tower, his wife appealed to Anne of Denmark and James I confiscated some of the earl’s estates. The earl’s years in the Tower were not badly spent in that he and Sir Walter Raleigh spent their time conducting scientific experiments and reading. He also had plenty of time to fulminate on his dislike of all things Scottish which can’t have been good news when his daughter fell in love with one. In all the earl spent almost sixteen years inside the Tower.
The earl, upon release, having taken the waters in Bath retired to Petworth where he died in 1632.
The 10th Earl of Northumberland:
The tenth earl broke with tradition in that his first name was Algernon but like the rest of his family he didn’t get along with the current occupant of the throne. Whilst he was on his European educational tour his father wrote to him from the Tower giving him advice about what to look at and how to behave. He was the MP for Sussex in 1624 and served as an admiral in various campaigns. Charles I favoured him with assorted promotions over the years but ultimately despite looking like a Royalist with his flowing hair and lace collars he fought on Parliament’s side during the English Civil War. By 1649 he was doing everything possible to prevent the king’s execution. Essentially after Charles I was executed Algernon threw all his toys out from his pram and refused to play with Oliver Cromwell. In 1660 when he returned to politics along with a restored monarchy he petitioned against the actions that Charles II took against the regicides.
The 11th Earl of Northumberland:
The 11thearl was called Josceline – born 1644, he had been a page at Charles II’s coronation. When he died in Turin in 1670 there was just one daughter Elizabeth. She was married to Charles Seymour, the Sixth Duke of Somerset. It was her third marriage and she was only fifteen at the time! Her son Algernon became the Duke of Somerset – the title being superior to that of an earl. Normally his eldest son would have taken the title earl of Northumberland until he inherited the dukedom but he also had only one child – a daughter, Elizabeth Seymour pictured at the start of the post. The dukedom of Somerset would pass elsewhere on Algernon’s death but the earldom of Northumberland was held suo jureor in her own right by Elizabeth as indeed her grandmother had held it. So, her husband Sir Hugh Smithson took the surname Percy in much the same way that had happened back in the thirteenth century. In 1766 Sir Hugh Smithson changed his name to Percy by act of Parliament. It was a move to see that an ancient name and title did not die out. He was created the Duke of Northumberland the same year.
From an earl to a duke.
The Dukedom of Northumberland has been created on three different occasions: John Dudley made himself Duke of Northumberland in 1551 – but he had a nasty accident with an axe thanks to the whole Lady Jane Grey gambit. Charles II revived the title for one of his illegitimate sons but George Fitzroy had no heirs. There was a Jacobite duke in 1715 but he is considered not to count because he was installed by the Old Pretender.
The 5th Earl of Northumberland:
The 5th earl carried the Coronation sword at Richard III’s coronation but grew up in Henry VII’s court as part of the group of young men who were schooled alongside Princes Arthur and Henry. In the first instance it helped remind the 4th earl where his loyalties lay and in the second place it kept the Percy power base under control. He was at Arthur’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon and was part of the train that took Princess Margaret to Scotland to be married to James IV. He had a reputation for being magnificently dressed and travelling in the manner befitting an earl. As such it would be easy to assume that he had royal favour but it is clear that becoming warden of the border marches was something of an issue once he attained his majority. Nor for that matter did he acquire any important national roles. The stumbling block would appear to be the “ravishment” of Elizabeth Hastings – which sounds unpleasant. In reality Elizabeth was the daughter of Sir John Hastings of Yorkshire. She was a ward of the Crown and Percy had arranged her marriage. The language of ravishment and abduction is the language of property being removed from Henry VII’s grasping fingers rather than an account depicting the earl’s predatory nature. Initially he was fined £10,000 but this was later reduced by half. Part of the problem for Percy was that the Tudors had learned important lessons about over mighty subjects. Consequentially Henry VII took a dim view of anyone standing on his prerogatives and he didn’t trust the Percy clan in any event because of their landholding and wealth – not to mention prior form. It was Henry VIII who cancelled the debt once he became king. The question is was Percy unsuited for power or did Henry VII use the case of Elizabeth Hastings to financially kneecap a man known for his lavish lifestyle?
Meanwhile Percy and his wife, Katherine Spencer – a three times great grand-daughter of Edward III had four children born in the first decade of the sixteenth century; Henry (1502), Thomas (1504), Ingram (1506) and Margaret (1508). The year after Margaret was born it was rumoured that the earl had come to an agreement with the Duke of Buckingham to overthrow the Tudors. It was supposed that he would rule north of the Trent. It says something that when Buckingham found himself in the Tower in 1521 on charges of treason that the earl was spared though he had been in the Fleet a few years previously on another ward related charge. It is also evident that Henry VIII ordered Cardinal Wolsey to keep an eye on the earl despite the fact that nothing can really, at this point in history, be levelled against him.
He did all the usual things that Tudor nobles did. He went to war in France in 1512 so was not on hand when James IV of Scotland took the opportunity to invade England. By 1522 he was back on the borders and indulging in some light feuding with the Dacre family. The problem was that Percy saw the warden role in the east and middle marches as one that he was entitled to whilst Dacre had other ideas. The only reason that the Dacre family had become used to serving in the capacity of Warden was that the fifth earl had been a minor when his father was killed by a mob near Thirsk in 1489. Whilst the earl was a ward of the Crown, the Percy estates were administered by the Earl of Surrey and many of the offices associated with the Percy family were offered out to other families. The truth is that Percy had never played the role his forefather’s played either through his youth or because of Tudor distrust. Despite that he attempted to regain the position in northern society he felt was his. By the time he was offered a wardenship he knew that he did not have the necessary military skills to fulfil the role and resigned his commission. The magnificent earl might perhaps have been better described at that stage as the very grumpy earl.
Dacre complained from the borders to the king he wasn’t getting the help from Percy that he thought should have been forthcoming. In 1517 when Margaret Tudor returned to England as a heavily pregnant fugitive, the earl was not overjoyed to see her. He wrote to the king suggesting that Dacre or the Earl of Cumberland might like to look after her. He was probably aware the cost of providing for her would come out of his purse. He attempted to suggest that the countess was indisposed but that didn’t wash with Henry who ordered Northumberland to bring Margaret south. One of the reasons was that the earl was not as wealthy as he had once been. He gambled heavily, spent excessively and seems to have been fined rather a lot by Cardinal Wolsey who seems to have been determined to break the northern powerbase that was the earldom of Northumberland.
Henry’s brother William was much more the border baron than his brother. He fought at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 and was created a knight on the battlefield. Even Lord Dacre wrote highly of William as did Bishop Ogle of Carlisle. It was William who trained the earl’s younger sons in the art of border warfare whilst their eldest brother was sent to London to the household of Cardinal Wolsey for his education and, let’s be honest, as a surety for the fifth earl’s good behaviour.
The Fifth earl turns up in national history in 1526 when he was summoned from the north to sort out the affairs of his eldest son. Henry junior was betrothed to Mary Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, but had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn. The earl was supposed to back up the cardinal who had been ordered to prevent the match.
He died on May 19 1527.
The 6th Earl of Northumberland:
The new earl was of age but Wolsey made the earl of Cumberland, Margaret Percy’s husband, executor of the 5th earl’s estate. The 6th earl was forbidden from attending the funeral of his father and then there was the issue of Mary Talbot – the powerless daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury. The engagement had been a means of breaking off the relationship between Percy and Anne Boleyn but the match was not finalised. It had in fact been halted because the young people did not like one another. Now Percy was required to marry her and to live in the north. The fifth earl had not been impressed with his heir and it would have to be said that either of his younger brothers was more suited to riding around the countryside killing reivers – poor old Henry simply hadn’t been trained for it and was rather on the sickly side. It can’t have helped that his father was so far in debt- more than £17,000- that the plate had to be pawned to pay for his funeral.
Cardinal Wolsey drew up a budget. It was not generous. Wolsey also arranged for the estate rents to be collected and began to have a close look at various Percy deeds and entitlements. Matters came to a head when it was discovered that one of the earl’s retainers, appropriately named Wormme, was sending Wolsey details of the earl’s accounts. The earl was not amused and the gentleman in question is supposed to have spent considerable time in a less comfortable dungeon in Alnwick Castle upon payment of a £300 bribe by the earl specifically to get his hands on the man.
The earl now set about demonstrating that he was more than capable of maintaining order in the north though unfortunately he was less able to maintain order in his own marriage. Mary liked Henry almost as much as he liked her. The pair separated but were required by Wolsey to resume their married life. It was not a happy marriage in any sense of the word. Mary became convinced that Henry was trying to kill her – there is no evidence that he was.
But time was running out for the Cardinal who had been unable to untie Henry VIII from his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. The king had rather an unpleasant sense of humour. He sent the man whose life had been made a misery to arrest the Cardinal and convey him to London. Northumberland arrived at Cawood near York on the 4thNovember 1529 where he behaved, it is said with great dignity and compassion for Henry VIII’s former minister.
In 1531 the earl was made a knight of the garter. He was not involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace. He died in 1537 leaving his money to Henry VIII. He is best remembered as the first love of Anne Boleyn. He collapsed at her trial and never really recovered.
Having no children his title passed to his younger brother unfortunately Thomas had become caught up in Bigod’s Rebellion (the follow on to the Pilgrimage of grace). He was hanged drawn and quartered in London in June 1537 before he could become earl.
The 7th Earl of Northumberland:
The 7th earl was Thomas’s oldest son, also called Tomas – a pleasant change from all those Henrys. To all intents and purposes his father’s death as a traitor should have debarred him from the earldom but when he came of age in 1549 he was restored to some of his lands and his loyalty to Mary Tudor in 1557 saw him restored to the earldom. The Percys had never stopped being Catholic. Unfortunately it all went to his head – quite literally- as he took part in the Northern Rising of 1569. I have posted about the 7th earl before. If you would like to read more click here to open a new page. He was executed in 1572 in York on Elizabeth’s orders. His execution warrant can still be seen in Alnwick Castle.
The seventh earl’s son died before him and he left a family of daughters so the family had to look back up the family tree for the next earl. Not only that but Elizabeth I didn’t trust the family so far as she could throw them so refused to allow them to travel to their residences in the north of the country. During this time Petworth in Sussex became the main Percy residence.
The 8th Earl of Northumberland:
The eighth earl was another Henry Percy and he was the seventh earl’s younger brother. He had the common sense to remain loyal to Elizabeth I during the Rising of the North. Unfortunately he was implicated in assorted plots to release Mary Queen of Scots. He was sent to the Tower as a result of being implicated in the Throckmorton Plot and again in 1584 when he was accused of plotting to allow the Duc de Guise to land troops for the purpose of releasing Mary Queen of Scots and returning England to Catholicism. Off he went to the Tower – for a third time as it happens – he died unexpectedly on 21stJune 1585.
Someone had shot him through the heart. It was decided that he had committed suicide. Let’s just say that warders and officers in charge of the earl’s well being were changed just beforehand to men who were careless about guns. It rather looks as though Sir Christopher Hatton, the queen’s favourite, may have assisted the “suicide.”
I had thought three parts to this little series but having written today’s post which is largely about the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries I shall be extending it to four parts.
Generation 10 of Topcliffe/2 of Alnwick:
Henry Percy Junior was only sixteen when his father died in 1314. Initially John de Felton held his lands in ward but by the time he was twenty Edward II had granted Henry more lands in Northumbria than his father held. These had been part of Patrick Earl of March’s territory. Patrick was Scottish and the land offer reflects the way in which northern territories fluctuated between Scotland and England during troubled times. Henry was no more impressed with Edward II’s choice of male favourite than his father had been nor with the foreign policy and military prowess that saw the Scots raiding deep into Yorkshire.
In no particular order, Percy conspired against the Despensers and was made governor of both Pickering and Scarborough Castle. The northern Percy powerhouse was further built upon when he married into the Clifford family and Edward III granted him Warkwarth Castle. In 1346 he was one of the English commanders at the Battle of Neville’s Cross near Durham against the Scots which must have been a bit irritating given that he had gone to Scotland in 1327 to help negotiate a peace treaty with them.
Generation 3 of Alnwick:
The next generation Henry Percy was at the Battle of Crecy – so should probably be regarded as the Hundred Years War Percy. His correct title was the 3rdBaron Percy of Alnwick. His first wife was Mary of Lancaster – the best way of thinking of her is as Blanche of Lancaster’s aunt. Blanche was the first wife of John of Gaunt who is commemorated in the Book of the Duchess by Chaucer and whose land ensured that Gaunt was the wealthiest man in the country. Mary was a daughter of Henry III. With each marriage the Percy family made the wealth and the prestige of the family rose, as did the amount of land that they held and their proximity to the throne.
Generation 4 of Alnwick – 1st Earl of Northumberland:
The Percy family now found itself elevated to the earldom of Northumberland – after all Mary of Lancaster was a Plantagenet princess so it is only reasonable to suppose that her first born son should have a sufficiently impressive title. The first earl, yet another Henry Percy, was born in 1341. He supported Edward III and then he supported Richard II in his various official capacities on the borders. It was Richard who created him an earl at his coronation in 1377. Unfortunately despite being having been married to Margaret Neville, Percy was distinctly un-amused when his power base was eroded by Richard II who created his rival (and nephew-in-law) Ralph Neville the earl of Westmorland. The First Earl of Northumberland now had a hissy fit because of the creation of the First Earl of Westmorland. He swapped sides. Instead of backing Richard II against his enemies he supported Henry of Bolingbroke, John of Gaunt’s son, against Richard II. Bolingbroke duly became Henry IV and Percy found himself swaggering around with the title Constable of England.
Unfortunately in 1403 the earl swapped sides once more. He was slightly irritated by the outcome of the Battle of Homildon Hill in 1402. It was an English-Scots match that the English won. Percy stood to make rather a lot of cash from ransoming his Scottish prisoners. Unfortunately Henry IV was feeling the financial pinch and besides which felt that the Percys had too much power in the north. So he demanded all the hostages and gave Percy a fraction of their value. The earl was underwhelmed but didn’t immediately voice his irritation.
Having been given the task of subduing the Welsh in 1403, Percy and his son Harry Hotspur now joined with Owain Glyndwr. Hotspur died at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 but Henry IV couldn’t pin anything on the earl who hadn’t taken part in the battle. The most that Henry IV could do was remove the office of constable from Percy who didn’t learn the lesson and continued to conspire against Henry IV. In 1405 Percy decided to take a long holiday in Scotland for the sake of his health. He took Hotspur’s son with him. The earl returned to England in 1408 where he managed to get himself killed at the Battle of Bramham Moor near Tadcaster. This was the final battle in the Percy family rebellion against cousin Henry IV.
2nd Earl of Northumberland:
Hotspur’s son another Henry had spent most of his childhood in Scotland because both his father and grandfather were at loggerheads with the monarch. Very sensibly after his grandfather was killed the second earl remained safely in Scotland. It was only when Henry IV died that Henry Percy took the opportunity to be reconciled with the Crown. He was officially recognised as the 2ndearl in 1413.
He arrived back in England and settled down to a spot of feuding with his Neville relations. The Nevilles, particularly Richard Neville (aka the Kingmaker) and his father the Earl of Salisbury were associated with Richard of York so naturally the Percy family supported Henry VI and the Duke of Somerset. Ironically the 2ndearl’s mother was Elizabeth Mortimer, the grand-daughter of Lionel of Antwerp, so you would have thought that he would have been more sympathetic to Richard of York who based his claims on his descent from Lionel. Not only that but his return to the earldom had been smoothed by Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland. She also arranged his marriage to Eleanor Neville – her second daughter with the Earl of Westmorland – making the Earl of Salisbury Percy’s brother-in-law and the Kingmaker his nephew. Talk about a tangled family web.
I’ve blogged about Eleanor Neville and the Battle of Heworth Moor before so there is no need to write about it again. Enough to say that it demonstrates the depths to which the feud had sunk. And things were about to get worse. The earl was born in 1393 and died on 22 May 1455 at the First Battle of St Albans. It was a comprehensive victory for the Yorkists and according to the chronicles of the time an opportunity for Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, to settle some personal scores – the death of the Earl of Northumberland being on his “to do” list. Obviously it didn’t help the relations between the Percy and Neville families as the Wars of the Roses spiralled towards the bloodiest battle in English history.
3rd Earl of Northumberland:
Another Henry Percy, swearing vengeance for his father’s death was one of the commanders of the army that surrounded Richard of York and the Earl of Salisbury at Wakefield. The deaths of Richard, his son Edmund and the Earl of Salisbury on the 30 December 1460 were part of the continuing vendetta.
The victors of Wakefield were now joined by Margaret of Anjou’s army. They marched south and won the Second Battle of St Albans but stopped short of taking London. Various armies marched back and forth but for the purposes of this post the next time we need to focus is at the Battle of Ferrybridge – 27 March 1461. Northumberland was supposed to stop the Yorkists from crossing the River Aire at Castleford whilst Lord Clifford held Ferrybridge for the Lancastrians. Lets just say that Northumberland arrived at Castleford late allowing Lord Fauconberg and his men to cross the river and come around behind the Lancastrians who retreated to Dintingdale (28th March) where Lord Clifford was killed by an arrow.
On the 29thMarch 1461, blinded by a snowstorm the 3rdEarl commanded the van of the Lancastrian army. Closing with the enemy he was killed.
Edward IV was now the only king in England and issued an act of attainder against all the Lancastrian nobility who had fought at Towton. Edward now rewarded the Nevilles who supported the House of York and punished the Percys who supported the house of Lancaster.
John Neville, Earl of Northumberland.
John was the Kingmaker’s younger brother. He was created Earl of Northumberland in 1464 after he had spent three years finishing off the Lancastrian threat in the north. Unfortunately for John, the Kingmaker became increasingly dissatisfied with Edward IV who, in return, became increasingly suspicious of his cousin. In 1470 Edward removed John from post and gave him the tile the Marquis of Montagu and assorted lands to compensate for the loss of the earldom of Northumberland. It did not go down well with the Neville family who did not see any need for the balance of power in the North to be restored by the return of the Percy family.
Edward was forced to flee his realm in October 1470 but returned in 1471. John had not regained his title to Northumberland despite his brother effectively ruling England with a puppet king in the form of Henry VI on the throne. Rather than attack Edward when he landed at Ravenspur, Neville simply shadowed the returned Yorkist king. Ulitmately Neville would died at the Battle of Barnet along with his brother.
4th Earl of Northumberland:
Henry Percy (what a surprise) was imprisoned in the Fleet Prison in the aftermath of Towton (he was about 12 at the time) and from there he was sent to the Tower in 1464. In 1469 after swearing fealty to Edward IV he was released. He then set about trying to get his estates returned. He petitioned for the reversal of his father’s attainder though this was not granted by Parliament until 1473.
Interestingly his wife was Maud Herbert, the girl who Henry Tudor should have married had events not unfolded as they did in 1470. They had eleven children.
Henry Percy went back to doing what the Earls of Northumberland had been doing for a very long time – i.e. ruling vast tracts of land and skirmishing with the Scots. He held many of the important government posts in the north of England which were traditional in his family including from 10 May 1483, as protector, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, confirmed the fourth earl of Northumberland’s appointment as warden-general of the east and middle marches ‘during the space and time of a whole year’, after which it was renewed for five months but perhaps it would appear not as much power from Richard III as he had hoped. Naturally enough he fought at Bosworth where he commanded the right wing of Richard III’s army. The Percys were naturally Lancastrian by inclination. Percy’s father and grandfather had died for Henry VI. Some historians says that Percy betrayed Richard III by holding his forces back from action. Percy’s northern levies weren’t committed to the battle.
If Northumberland had been a metaphorical spoke in Richard’s wheel he wasn’t very well rewarded by Henry Tudor who now became Henry VII. Northumberland, along with the earls of Westmoreland and Surrey was taken into custody and kept in prison for several months, being released only under strict conditions of good behaviour. He was restored to his position as warden but with curtailed powers. Henry may not have trusted him but Percy knew how to protect England’s northern border. He was also at hand to help defeat the Yorkist forces that gathered during the Lambert Simnel rebellion in 1487.
In 1489 Northumberland was part of the king’s administration gathering £100,000 of tax. This led to the Yorkshire Rebellion. Northumberland had to deal with the resistance of Yorkshiremen to the tenth of incomes demanded for Henry’s Breton war and for the raising of a force against the Scots. Things can’t have gone well for the Earl as his own tenants were up in arms. He was so alarmed that on Saturday, 24 April, he wrote to Sir Robert Plumpton from Seamer, close to Scarborough, ordering him to secretly bring as many armed men as he could to Thirsk by the following Monday. It didn’t do him much good.
On Wednesday, 28 April, having gathered a force estimated at eight hundred men, he came into conflict with the commons, whose ringleader was one John a Chamber, near Thirsk, at a place variously called Cockledge or Blackmoor Edge, and was killed. Popular history claims it wasn’t so much the tax collection that irritated the locals as the fact that as good Yorkshire men their loyalty lay with Richard III.
I always associate the Percy family with the earldom of Northumbria in the centuries following 1066 but it isn’t true that the family have held the title throughout the whole period since the conquest. There was an interlude during the Wars of the Roses when the Neville’s got their paws on the title. It’s also true to say that they weren’t elevated from earls to dukes in the first instance – John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland stole a march on the family – and let’s face it Dukes were normally required to be of royal blood whereas Dudley was the son of a Tudor administrator. Before they reached the elevated social heights associated with dukedoms the Percy family spent a long time as barons.
Generation 1 – Baron Percy of Topcliffe:
Setting aside Saxon earls let us start with the Normans. William de Percy arrived with William the Conqueror in 1066. The first written record of his presence in England dates from 1067. He owed part of his fealty to Hugh of Avranches who gave him land in Yorkshire in the years following 1072 – by which time Hugh had become the 1st earl of Chester. Hugh was hugely wealthy. He was one of the men who bankrolled the Conquest. History sometimes calls him Hugh the Fat although I suspect he preferred the name Hugh Lupus or Hugh the Wolf. Whilst William de Percy was undoubtedly a Norman there is some evidence to suggest that he held lands in England during the time of Edward the Confessor but may not have done so well under the auspices of Harold. I read somewhere that the name Algernon which turns up frequently in the Percy pedigree comes from a derivation meaning be-whiskered. The text suggested that William was unlike many of his Norman contemporaries because he had facial hair which was more associated with Saxons. He turns up in the Whitby Abbey Cartulary and in the Domesday Book holding lands directly from William I. It was in response to his landholdings in Yorkshire that he was one of the patrons who re-founded Whitby Abbey in the years following the Conquest. His brother appears to have been its first prior. And let’s not get carried away with the idea that William was all set to be northern. He also held lands in Essex and Hampshire.
Generations 2, 3 and 4:
William had a son Alan who had a son called William but he died in 1174 (possibly 1175) leaving two daughters. Adeliza of Louvain, the widowed second wife of Henry I arranged for one of them, Agnes Percy, to marry Joscelin of Louvain who just so happened to be Adeliza’s younger half-brother. Joscelin who was a son of Godfrey, Count of Louvain. He was noble from Brabant. He took his wife’s name and settled in England at the family’s seat of Topcliffe in Yorkshire. In return Joscelin gave the Percy family the lion rampant for their crest. Adeliza also gave her brother Petworth in Sussex.
Joscelin and Agnes had several children. Richard de Percy was born in 1170 and died in 1244. He is the fifth Baron Percy of Topcliffe. He was one of the twenty barons assigned to enforce Magna Carta. Unfortunately having signed it King John changed his mind so our Percy found himself knee deep in the Barons’ War. Inevitably John confiscated his lands. As soon as John popped his clogs, having mislaid his crown in The Wash, Richard sought pardon from young Henry III and retrieved all his property. Richard had no children. The barony should have passed to Richard’s younger brother Henry. He married into the Bruce family but died before he could inherit the barony of Topclife.
Generations 6, 7, 8 and 9 – or should that be 6,7,8 and 1:
William died in 1245. He was the nephew of Magna Carta Richard. We then have Henry, John and another Henry. Henry Percy (the last one on the list) was born in 1273 and died in 1314. Henry, born at Petworth, was a posthumous child which was just as well on account of the Percy family running short of males once again. He fought during on the Scottish Wars of Independence in the army of Edward I. Like all his forefathers he fulfilled various local duties and roles associated with the northern wardenry.
And this is where it becomes complicated. Henry was the 9th Baron Percy of Topcliffe. He inherited in 1293. However in 1309 he purchased Alnwick Castle from the Bishop of Durham (Anthony Bek). The barony of Alnwick was different from the Barony of Topcliffe and Henry was created baron of Alnwick by writ – so he became the first Baron Percy of Alnwick. From henceforth the head of the Percy family would be referred to by their Alnwick title meaning that the clock was rewound on the numbers – not particularly helpful.
Henry was not keen on Edward II. He ultimately rebelled over the issue of Piers Gaveston. He also declined to fight at the Battle of Bannockburn. He died at home in his bed at Alnwick pictured at the start of this post.
And I think that is more than enough for today.
Roche Abbey near Maltby was founded in 1147 by Richard de Bully of Tickhill and Richard Fitz Turgis. The valley where the monastery stands is narrow and split by the fast flowing Maltby Dyke- rather thoughtfully the patrons did not specify which side of the dyke the abbey would be built on which is why there are two funders because the valley was owned by both men with the dyke as the boundary of their lands.
Initially monks from Newminster in Northumbria settled the site on behalf of the so-called white monks, the Cistercians, who sought remote locations so that they could better adhere to the rule of St Benedict. Newminster was itself the daughter house of Fountains Abbey. Initially there would have been twelve monks and an abbot as well as a larger group of lay brothers. The numbers have a direct correlation to the number of apostles. The monastic population at Roche peaked in 1175 (ish) with fifty or so monks and twice as many lay brothers. Unfortunately the economic wellbeing of the monks dwindled the following century when their sheep flocks became contaminated with a murrain and this was followed up at the turn of the fourteenth century with the Black Death which carried off the monks and the lay brothers. In between times they had to contend with Scottish raiders during the reign of Edward II. By 1350 the monks had returned to virtually the same as they had been at their founding with only fifteen brothers. In 1380 we know that the abbot of Roche – a certain Hugh Bastard – was taxed 45 shillings by Pope Nicholas.
It would have to be said that the early monks must have felt they had chosen their spot well when one of them found a cross carved into the rocks near their new home – hence the name de rupa. The cross remained a source of holy inspiration and pilgrimage until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536. Cromwell’s visitors to Roche noted the self-same cross under their list of superstitions.
Over time various other patrons bequeathed land or entitlement to the monks. John de Warenne, the Earl of Surrey – and holder of nearby Conisbrough Castle gave the monks the advowson of Hatfield church meaning that they had the right to appoint the incumbent and levy the appropriate ecclesiastical taxes in that location. Unusually for most monastic foundations Hatfield Church was Roche’s only ecclesiastical living.
However Roche did acquire other lands and gifts. Armethorp is described as “A knight’s fee held by the abbot of Roche (de Rupa)” in Inquistions Post Mortem of Edward III. They also held land at Hallaby in the West Riding, territory in Nottinghamshire and Linconshire, Rossington in East Sussex, Derbyshire, Lincoln and York. In Derbyshire the monks held granges at Oneash and Moneyash. Monks who had committed sins in Roche were sometimes sent to Derbyshire as part of their punishment. For a complete list of Roche’s lands and granges click here https://www.dhi.ac.uk/cistercians/roche/lands/appendix.php
Realistically not much more is known about Roche, possibly because Cromwell\s commissioners sold manuscripts and parchment by the cartload for kindling, until the Dissolution.
Cromwell’s visitors were the dreaded Thomas Layton and Legh. In addition to noting the cross carved in the rock they charged five monks with the usual kind of immoralities and carted another off to York Castle on charges of treason. He must have been allowed to return from York after the Pilgrimage of Grace because his signature is on the deed of surrender along with the rest of his bretheren. It was signed in the chapter-house on 23 June 1538. (fn. 9)
Come to think of it the sinning can’t have been that terrible because all the monks were in receipt of their pensions. The abbot was given £33 6s. 8d. a year. He wasl also allowed his books, the fourth part of the plate, the cattle and household stuff, a chalice and vestment and £30 in money at his departure. He may well have regretted having to say farewell to his house, his own personal cloister and his kitchen.
The sub-prior (Thomas Twell) received £6 14s. 8d. and the bursar (John Dodesworth), one of the monks charged with gross misconduct in the notoriouscomperta, £6. Eleven other monks who were priests received £5 each; and four novices 66s. 8d. each.
Michael Sherbrook, rector of nearby Wickersley recorded the suppression of Roche recalling the words of his father and uncle, “as the Visitors were entred within the gates, they called the Abbot and other officers of the House, and caused them to deliver up to them all their keys and took an inventory of all their goods both within doors and without; for all such beasts, horses, sheep, and such cattle as were abroad in pastures or grange places, the Visitors caused to be brought into their presence: and when they had done so, turned the Abbot with all his convent and household forth out of doors.”
He continues to describe the destruction of centuries of craftsmanship – the Roche Limestone being a prized form of masonry in many ecclesiastical buildings. “It would have pitied any heart to see what tearing up of lead there was, and plucking up of boards, and throwing down of the sparres: when the lead was torn off and cast down into the Church, and the tombs in the Church all broken… and all things of price either spoiled, caryed away, or defaced to the uttermost.”
Sherbrook notes that his father was sympathetic to the plight of the monks but like many other men still took part in the destruction. His response was an honest one. “Well, said I, then how came it to pass that you was so ready to destroy and spoil the, thing that you thought well of? What should I do? said he. Might I not as well as others have some profit of the spoil of the Abbey? for I did see all would away; and therefore I did as others did.”
Another source for Roche’s state in 1536 comes from the inventory taken by the commissioners. It included everything from crucifixes to carthorses.
By 1627 the land upon which Roche stood had passed into the hands of the ancestor of the Earls of Scarborough. By the eighteenth century the picturesque and ruined site was described by Horace Walpole as a “venerable chasm,” the fourth earl was so suitably impressed with this gem of information that he hired Capability Brown to make the place even more picturesque – this involved some further levelling of the stonework on the grounds that not all ruins are picturesque. Scarborough then built the so-called Banqueting Lodge so that he and his guests could admire the view whilst partaking of a fine dining experience and discussing suitably intellectual matters having been driven a mile and a half from the earl’s residence.
The remains of Roche, despite the remedial work of Lancelot Brown, adhere to the standard Cistercian plan beginning with the gatehouse to the west of the site.It was designed to impress visitors as they made their way down the valley to the abbey. The quarries from which the Roche Limestone come make for a rather splendid backdrop. The area between the gatehouse and the church has been levelled so that the earl of Scarborough and his guests could enjoy the view but this is the area that visitors would have been made welcome. Hospitality was an essential part of the monastic ethos. Visitors would have been able to access the church which dated from the abbey’s foundation but which was remodelled and extended during the wealthiest times of the abbey’s existence. Today the nave is an open vista punctuated by masonry stumps. There is no sign of the night stairs that would have allowed the monks to access the church from their dormitory other than a handily placed sign.
The grandest part of the ruins are the remnants of the three storey transepts. Each of the transepts contains two chapels of which rib vaulting and ruined piscinas remain as do the altar platforms. The presbytery between the precepts has been largely robbed away. As Lawrence explains the plans of Cistercian abbeys are standard and would have been inspected to ensure that there was no deviation. The buildings to the south side of the abbey church contained the library and the cloister. Buildings to the west of the cloister were for the lay brothers whilst on the other side of the cloister the library, chapter house and parlour could be found – the “engine” end of the abbey. The southern side of the cloister housed the choir monks. Like the lay brothers their refectory was on the ground floor with the dormitory running above it. Next to the refectory was a warming room with a hearth for the elderly and infirm to warm themselves. The latrines, hanging over the dyke, provided a ready made flush – quite what the abbot would have made of that is another matter as his own dwelling lay directly opposite the latrines on the other side of the dyke. He had his own house, cloister and hall in which to entertain important guests. There was also a second kitchen and bakehouse situated nearby.
Lawrence, C.H. (2000) Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages.
‘Houses of Cistercian monks: Roche’, in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, ed. William Page (London, 1974), pp. 153-156. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/vol3/pp153-156 [accessed 22 June 2018].
J E E S Sharp and A E Stamp, ‘Inquisitions Post Mortem, Edward III, File 5’, in Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem: Volume 7, Edward III (London, 1909), pp. 41-56. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/inquis-post-mortem/vol7/pp41-56 [accessed 22 June 2018].