Monthly Archives: January 2014

John Maxwell, Fourth Lord Herries

Caerlaverock Castle

Caerlaverock Castle

John Maxwell was born in Dumfries the year before the Battle of Flodden.  The Maxwells were an important family in the Scottish West Marches – one of their castles was Caerlaverock.  Together with the Johnstones they made their mark on the Scottish West Marches – largely based on their hatred of one another.

When his father died in 1546, after losing the Battle of Solway Moss and spending some time in English captivity John Maxwell succeeded him as warden of the march- he took his role seriously and later in life made suggestions for reforms that set about ridding the region of lawless Grahams, Armstrongs and other reivers.

More immediately however, John needed to make his fortune.  He had set his sights on Agnes Herries- it might perhaps have been a love match apart from the small fact that she was an important heiress whose lands marched with his own.  Mary Queen of Scots’ regent – the Earl of Arran had also identified the match as a good one for his own son so there was a stand-off as to which man should wed young Agnes. Her opinion was not sought.

 

It was the time of the Rough Wooing, Maxwell was an assured Scot – the English had overrun Dumfries and burned the homes of the lairds who’d refused to sign a paper to say that they would support the English.  The assurances came with hostages.  It was an established system.  Maxwell sent twelve hostages to Carlisle as surety for his good behaviour and he received an English pension in return.  The twelve included members of his family.  Maxwell was soon faced with a stark choice: he could marry Agnes Herries but he would have to break his assurance with the English.  Arran would permit the marriage only if Maxwell agreed.  And so John Maxwell became the Fourth Lord Herries.  The hostages were executed and according to a local story Maxwell built Repentance Tower as a sign of his repentance  for their deaths.  More of the tale can be read in my forthcoming book about Harraby Hill – Carlisle’s site of execution.

 

Maxwell was not unduly troubled by the bloodthirsty habits of the times.  He and Agnes produced twelve children; he fulfilled his role as Lord Herries and assumed the role of Warden of the Scottish West Marches for several terms of office.  Maxwell was also praised by John Knox for his staunch Protestantism.  Indeed, the border laird spent time in Edinburgh Castle for his beliefs.

 

It is perhaps strange then Lord Herries, border reiver, Protestant and signatory of the Treaty of Berwick was loyal to Mary Queen of Scots throughout his life.  Mary, captured after the disaster at Carberry in 1567 was imprisoned in Lochleven.  The English Ambassador, Sir Nicholas Throckmorton identified him as the wisest person in the queen’s faction and also reported that   Mary Queen of Scots said  ‘there is nobody can be sure of him.’  Certainly he was very critical of her when she refused to be divorced from the Earl of Bothwell – but then James Hepburn  was a border baron as well.

 

But then having spoken for the infant King James’ party of Lords on the morning of 13 May 1568 he commanded Mary’s cavalry at the Battle of Langside.  Forty-five minutes after the battle began he and his queen were in headlong flight.

 

They rode sixty miles through the night.  The queen slept on the ground and cut her hair short to disguise herself.  Herries led her through Dumfries to his home at Terregles.  Herries wrote to the English Deputy warden, Sir Richard Lowther asking for permission to enter England.  The sad little party moved on to Dundrennan Abbey. On 16 May Herries and  fifteen  loyal followers  of the queen accompanied Mary across the Solway Firth to Workington.

 

Herries found himself drawing on old friendships and travelling to London on behalf of his queen who wrote frantic letters to her cousin asking for help in her time of need.  It was Herries who helped to represent the queen that October at the Conference of York in an attempt to prove her innocence from any complicity in the murder of Darnley at Kirk o’ Field.  By January 1569 it was clear that Mary had thrown herself straight out of the frying pan and into the fire.  She was a prisoner.

 

In Scotland, civil war erupted and simmered for a further two years.  Unsurprisingly Herries found himself in trouble with the Scottish Regent (and Mary’s half-brother) the Earl of Moray.  Once more he found himself in the dungeons of Edinburgh Castle. Although he was released Herries found himself on the receiving end of English raids encouraged by the Scottish government as well as penalties imposed by the Scottish government.

 

Herries was getting old but he made one last attempt to help his queen. He threatened Queen Elizabeth with the suggestion that if she did not support Mary then her friends would have to look abroad for help – a fear that filled Cecil and Walsingham’s minds.  Herries continued to play a part in Scottish politics as well as writing his memoirs- he even took on the office of Border Warden on more time under the Regent Morton.

 

He died at the beginning of 1583, four years before his queen.

 

 

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Filed under Anglo-Scottish history, Border Reivers, Carlisle, Mary Queen of Scots, Sixteenth Century

Pontefract Castle

DSC_0001Wolsey, on his way back to London in disgrace commented of Pontefract Castle, “Shall I go there, and lie there, and die like a beast?”  Perhaps he was thinking of King Richard II who starved to death in the great fortress.

The Normans built their motte and bailey on the Anglo-Saxon Royal Manor of Tanshelf.  It’s builder was Ilbert de Lacy.  Ilbert and his brother arrived in 1066.  The new Lord of Pontefract had done well out of the conquest and didn’t forget to show his gratitude by making gifts to both Selby Abbey and St Mary’s Abbey in York.  DSC_0004

As the centuries progressed so did the castle until its eight towers dominated the town and the landscape beyond. Edward I described it as ‘the key to the north’.  The de Lacy’s continued to be its custodians until Henry de Lacy  (Earl of Lincoln) lost his male heir when he fell off the battlements in 1310.  His daughter Alice an important heiress was married to Thomas, Earl of Lancaster so it was he who became the next custodian of the castle.  He was Edward II’s cousin and it would be fair to say that they didn’t see eye to eye.  By 1318 Alice and Thomas were separated – possibly because of the fraught political situation of the period or perhaps because they just didn’t like one another.  Alice spent most of her time in Pickering while Thomas lived a bachelor life.  Thomas eventually revolted against his cousin on account of the Despencers, made an alliance with the Scots and then rather unfortunately lost the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322.  He was taken back home to Pontefract and unceremoniously executed looking towards Scotland which was the direction of his treachery.  DSC_0021

Eventually the castle passed into the hands of John of Gaunt and from there to his son Henry Bolingbroke who became Henry IV when he usurped his cousin’s throne.  Richard II found himself locked in one of Pontefract;s dungeons and that was the end of him.  Pontefract was now a royal castle and its prisoners reflected its importance and its security.  In 1405, Richard Scrope, Archbishop of York was imprisoned here before his execution.  James I of Scotland spent some time here as an unwilling guest as did the Dukes of Bourbon and Orleans after their capture at Agincourt.  Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury was executed here in 1460 and in 1483 Richard of York had Earl Rivers and Lord Richard Gray imprisoned here and executed – which was one way to reduce the Woodville influence at court but hasn’t reflected well on the man who became Richard III mainly because the two half brothers of the boy king Edward V were executed without trial.

The castle had a grim reputation which is perhaps something that Catherine Howard (Henry VIII’s Fifth wife) ought to have reflected upon before she started her affair with Thomas Culpepper during a Royal Progress.DSC_0011

Pontefract Castle’s days of greatness  and terror drew to a close with the English Civil War.  After the Battle of Marston Moor the castle became a Royalist stronghold.  Parliamentry forces besieged it and when it finally fell in 1648 the mayor of Pontefract petitioned on behalf of the townspeople that the castle should be destroyed.  Work began  in April 1649.

Today a few fragments of the castle remain.  The curtain wall encloses a park which hides a grim secret.  Some thirty-five feet beneath the grass there lurks a network of  cellars and magazines which were once Pontefract Castle’s dungeons.

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Two men, two queens, one surname….and a girl.

Nicholas Throckmorton

Nicholas Throckmorton

Have you noticed the way that one name will repeat itself throughout a period of history.  The Norman period is littered with women called Matilda. Bizarrely the same is true, in the reign of Elizabeth I, of the name Throckmorton.  The two men are Nicholas and Francis Throckmorton; the two queens Elizabeth I of England and Mary Queen of Scots.

Nicholas Throckmorton was a Tudor courtier and loyal ambassador to Elizabeth as well as being Francis’s uncle.  Francis was a Catholic conspirator who plotted to assassinate Elizabeth and put Mary on the throne.

 

Nicholas Throckmorton was also Catherine Parr’s cousin so first met Elizabeth when both of them were in the Dowager Queen’s household.  Young Throckmorton navigated the rocky whirlpool of Tudor politics because of his Protestant sympathies and because he was able to become one of Edward VI’s advisors.  He went on to become and MP and undertreasurer at the mint which was at that time in the Tower of London.

 

He got to know the Tower much better during reign of Mary when his protestant ideas got him into trouble.  Eventually he went to France.

 

After Elizabeth’s accession his fortune’s changed once more and he found himself in France not this time as asylum seeker but as Elizabeth’s ambassador where he met Mary Queen of Scots.  It was he who helped arrange her journey back to Scotland after she’d been widowed.  In 1565 he was sent as ambassador to Scotland.  His task was to prevent Mary, by now a personal friend, from marrying Lord Darnley.  He was in Scotland once more when Mary was overthrown. He found himself in the predicament of irritating touchy Scottish lairds and annoying his famously tetchy queen.  It didn’t help that Elizabeth sent him one set of instructions while Cecil sent a different set of instructions.  He was probably relieved to return to England – where he leapt from the proverbial frying pan straight into the fire stoked by Mary Queen of Scots.

He became involved with the plan to marry Mary to the Duke of Norfolk in 1569.  This led to the Northern Earls Rebellion and to Throckmorton spending an uncomfortable few weeks in Windsor under arrest while Elizabeth fumed at Throckmorton’s stupidity.  He claimed that he thought that Elizabeth was in favour of the marriage.  He escaped trial and imprisonment but he wasn’t allowed any more key political roles and certainly wasn’t allowed anywhere near the Scottish queen.

On to the the second Throckmorton. In 1583 there was a plot to assassinate Elizabeth; at its heart a man called Throckmorton – Francis was Nicholas Throckmorton’s nephew.  He was also very Catholic.  Francis Throckmorton had been recruited by the Spanish to kill Elizabeth at the same time that Henry Duke of Guise invaded England (funded by the Spanish.)  It was the discovery of this plot that led to the Bond of Association which stated that it was sufficient to know of a plot to kill the queen or usurp the throne to be guilty of treason – as in, guilty by association.  Francis was tired and found guilty after making his confession which was gained by torture.  He was executed for treason.

Bess Raleigh nee Throckmorton

Bess Raleigh nee Throckmorton

…And the girl?  The girl is the other famous Tudor Throckmorton.  Bess Throckmorton was Nicholas Throckmorton’s daughter and Francis’s cousin but she is more usually remembered as the lady-in-waiting who fell in love with and married Sir Walter Raleigh much to Elizabeth’ s irritation.

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A Little Bit of Luck

Luck of Edenhall

Luck of Edenhall

When I was a child we used to refer to a bird splattering the car window screen  with its guano as leaving ‘luck’.  As an adult responsible for washing my own car I fail to see what luck has to do with it.  However, back to matters in hand, the lucks of today’s post as rather prettier and infinitely more historic – although once again in some instances ‘luck’ seems to be missing from the equation.

The first luck is the ‘Luck of Edenhall’ which used to be in possession of the Musgrave family of Edenhall. The ‘luck’ is a beautiful gilded and enamelled glass beaker (it looks like a vase to me but what do I know).  It was made in Syria so the chances are that it made its way home in the trunk of a Musgrave crusader.  Remarkably it survived the joys of reiver warfare, heavy handed drinkers and the washing up bowl.  Though to be fair it must always have been prized because when not in use it was kept in a leather container that had been made in the Fourteenth Century. The case bears the letters IHS suggesting that it was once used as a communion challice.

The luck was still in one piece at the beginning of the Eighteenth Century when the current owner decided it would be a good idea to drink the health of the entire family from the priceless heirloom.  Luck must indeed have been on the side of the Musgraves because it survived and went on to feature in a ballad.

Border ballads had been popularised by Sir Walter Scott and James Hogg at this time and “The Drinking Match” was a modern contrivance which featured the medieval glassware.

If this cup should break or fall,

Farewell the Luck of Edenhall.

From there it was one small step to the fairies – quite literally at the bottom of the garden – who were supposed to have given the luck to the Musgraves after water was drawn for them at a well.

The Musgraves aren’t the only family to have a ‘concrete’ luck that they need to guard against disaster.  The Lamb Family of Great Salkeld had a brass dish allegedly given by hobgoblins at a wedding feast.  A girl from the wedding family went to a nearby well to fetch water where she was accosted by a hungry hobgoblin – or gaggle of hungry hobgoblins depending on the account- who said that they would bless the bride and groom in exchange for food and drink.

Sir John Pennington was the Lord of Muncaster Castle during a portion of the Wars of the Roses.  In the aftermath of the Battle of Hexham (15 May 1464) King Henry VI was found wandering over the fell.  He was taken to Muncaster where Sir John and his wife cared for the broken monarch for the next nine days.  When he left the monarch – who could have done with a bit more luck himself- gave the family a glass cup telling them that they would prosper so long as it remained unbroken.  It is still on display in Muncaster Castle.

View across fells from Muncaster Castle

View across fells from Muncaster Castle

The final luck in this post brings us to the Luck of Workington.  Mary Queen of Scots fled across the Solway Firth in a fishing boat with sixteen companions.  When she arrived she had very few possessions and needed shelter.  Lord Herries, a Scottish Lowland laird who’d remained loyal to his queen sent a message to Sir Henry Curwen of Workington with whom he had a friendship.  Sir Henry sheltered Mary until she could be escorted to Carlisle Castle.  When she left she gave the family a small agate cup as a token of her gratitude.  It became known as the Workington Luck.

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Filed under Fifteenth Century, Fourteenth Century, Kings of England, Mary Queen of Scots, Sixteenth Century, Wars of the Roses

La Belle Ecossaise

 lady_janet_stewart_mediumLady Janet Fleming was Mary Queen of Scots governess – and her half-aunt.  She began life as Janet or Jenny Stewart, an illegitimate daughter of King James IV.  When she was about fifteen she was married to Malcolm, the third Lord Fleming who was ten years older than her.  They had eight children before he died at the Battle of Pinkie.

Lady Janet now found herself employed as the infant Mary’s governess and went with her to France.  The journey was difficult and when they arrived the French court took one look Mary’s Scottish entourage and decided that they were barbaric and unwashed with the exception of ‘the beautiful Scot.” – Janet Fleming.  Her daughter Mary Fleming, to be known in history as one of Mary Queen of Scots’ four Marys was packed off to a convent for education and polish while Janet remained with her royal charge.  It may be that she had already caught King Henri II’s attention.  Certainly, she’d made an impression on the Venetian ambassador who described her as “a very pretty little woman.” (The Venetian Ambassador was clearly a contender for patronising ambassador or the year).

Janet spoke only in scots, she didn’t know any french when she arrived in France.  However, clearly there was some effective communication with Henri II because she became pregnant and bore a son Henri de Valois-Angouleme.  She is recorded as believing that her role as mother of the king’s child had secured her position.  She hadn’t bargained with Catherine de Medici or Diane of Poitiers who as wife and mistress respectively clearly felt that they didn’t need the competition.  Janet was despatched back to Scotland in disgrace- the reason being that Mary had just acquired her own household and it was important that the future queen of France should have no scandal attached to her name (a pity that Mary didn’t recall that later in her life).

Little Henri remained in France and was later legitimised.  Janet found herself trapped in Scotland.  She died in 1562.

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Filed under Mary Queen of Scots, Sixteenth Century