As some of you will have guessed I’m on one of my peregrinations resulting in random northern history, pleasant discoveries and battle with the Internet. This morning for instance I have had to find a cafe and partake of a rather delicious walnut and raspberry scone….still, someone has to do it!
In 1092 William Rufus arrived in Carlisle and wrested it out of the hands of the Scots. Ivo de Taillebois, being a henchman of the king, received huge swathes of land in the northwest. Ivo died in 1094 and his wife Lucy (a lady with large parts of Lincolnshire to call home) acquired the huge swathes of land in the northwest, or rather her second husband did. He died shortly after and Lucy acquired husband number three – Ranulph de Briquessart who acquired the aforementioned huge swathes of land in the northwest including the barony of Copeland and Egremont Castle.
Briquessart changed his name to le Meschines or le Meschin and in 1100 was created earl of Chester – part of the price for his swanky new title his title was huge swathes of land in the northwest. Egremont passed back into Crown holdings for a while.
Twenty years later, King Henry I granted de Meschines’ brother William part of his brother’s former northwestern territories – basically imagine a square bounded on one side by the Irish Sea, the mountains of the Lake District on the opposite side and the upper and lower lines of the square being everything to the south of the River Derwent and north of the River Duddon. This area was the barony of Copeland.
William decided to build a castle at Egremont overlooking the River Ehen. The remains of the early castle motte can still be seen (pictured left). Gradually a town complete with a market cross grew up around the castle and the castle grew to become an impressive stone structure with a great hall. The herring bone pattern in the brickwork is an indicator that the castle was built early in the Norman period so people who know these things conclude that Ranulph may have done some building in stone before his brother arrived on the scene.
William had a son who ruled the barony after him but no male heirs. The castle and barony was the inheritance of William’s granddaughter Alice de Romilly, Lady of Skipton.
The barony and the castle were secured by Alice’s husband William FitzDuncan, earl of Moray (a title he gained circa 1130). FitzDuncan had an illustrious northern heritage. His mother was Earl Gospatric’s daughter and his father was the king of Scotland. The marriage between two such notable families must have had something to do with a Scottish bid to take over the whole of the northwest. Ultimately, during FitzDuncan’s lifetime the whole of Cumberland, more or less, was in the hands of the Scots, the English being busy arguing about whether Stephen or Matilda should rule England. According to legend FitzDuncan wasn’t necessarily a terribly warm and friendly chap – and given the age in which he lived that must have been saying something. One of his nicknames was the Butcher of Craven- though to be fair I’ve seen him described as “the Noble” elsewhere. Part of the reason for this was that when King David invaded England in 1136 FitzDuncan, a member of the Scottish royal family, became a key military leader in the area…for the Scots.
In any event he and Alice had only one son- William. The boy went out one day whilst staying in Craven and simply disappeared into the River Wharfe when he missed his footing sometime between 1163 and 1166. He became known in folklore as the “Lost Boy of Egremont.” – which was unfortunate because with his powerful dynastic connections had he survived not only would he have been a powerful northern magnate but also a possible contender for the Scottish crown. It should also be added that he was not the child that Wordsworth depicted in his poem of the story –rather he was about twenty or so years old.
William FitzDuncan died and the estates that he’d accrued over the years were divided between his three daughters:
- Cecily married to the earl of Albermarle,
- Annabel or Mabel depending on the source you read married Reginald de Lucy – offspring of Henry II’s justicar Richard de Lucy.
- Alice married twice but died childless.
When Alice died her share of the estate was then divided between her sisters’ heirs. Egremont came to Richard de Lucy, son of Annabel- this happened in the reign of King John. He married Ada a co-heiress of Hugh de Morville Lord of the Barony of Burgh. Unfortunately the families who owned Egremont seemed to have a general shortage of sons. De Lucy had two daughters also named Annabel and Alice who, as a result of their father’s death in 1213, became co-heiresses. Richard was promptly buried in St Bees Priory and King John acquired two heiresses as wards. He sold their wardships on to Thomas de Multon of Lincolnshire (just in case you wondered where he popped up from)– he also married the girls’ mother, the widowed Ada de Moreville.
Inevitably the de Lucy girls were married into the de Multon family and the castle went with them. Annabel de Lucy married Lambert de Multon and inherited the Barony of Copeland. The de Multons become the lords of Egremont Castle. Let’s just say that they were turbulent times and with King John in charge things were even less straightforward than normal. De Multon spent a lot of time trying to get hold of the property of his two daughters-in-law whilst other people waved family trees around making their own claims.
With Henry III on the throne Lambert gained a Royal Charter from the king to hold a weekly market as well as an annual fair which is still held in September. The de Moultons feature as important northern military figures throughout the reign of Henry III and into the period of Edward I – they provided men and money for Edward’s Scottish campaigns.
If you thought the ownership of Egremont Castle was complex simply because it followed the female line it’s about to get even more complicated. The de Lucy family rejuvenated itself when Annabel’s nephew decided to take the name de Lucy rather than de Multon. Alice de Lucy had never used her married name of de Multon and it appears that her son Thomas, calling himself de Lucy, wasn’t keen on losing his grip on the barony of Copeland or Egremont Castle to his aunt’s family. He made a claim to the Lordship of Copeland and sued the de Multons for what he regarded as his rightful inheritance. The de Multons were forced to hand over the castle (bet that led to some uncomfortable silences at family gatherings.)
The general lack of males heirs to inherit caused the story to spread that Egremont Castle was cursed on account of the fact that its founder, William le Meschin had joined with King Henry I when William Rufus died rather than keeping to his oath of allegiance with Henry’s older brother Robert Curthose. For folks who didn’t like that particular theory there was always the dastardly William FitzDuncan and all those brutally murdered women and children to hold accountable for the fact that none of the lords of the castle appeared able to pass the castle on to the next generation via a male heir.
By the beginning of the fourteenth century Egremont wasn’t worrying about heiresses it was worrying about the Scots. In 1322 Robert the Bruce plundered the town for the second time. The castle probably looked rather battered as a consequence. The de Lucys and the de Multons, in between fighting Scots, were busily engaged in their own private feuds since Edward II proved incapable of ruling effectively. Meanwhile Maud de Lucy, Alice’s great great grand-daughter married the earl of Northumberland.
Back at Egremont in 1335 the castle changed hands because of yet another marriage- Joanna de Lucy (or rather de Multon if you want to be strictly accurate) was one of three co-heiresses. This time it ended up in the hands of Robert Fitz Walter who resided in Essex. FitzWalter and Joanna’s grandson, the imaginatively named Walter FitzWalter, managed to get captured by the French and held to ransom during 1371 in Gascony. The reign of Edward III and the Hundred Years War was in progress at the time. Egremont Castle was promptly mortgaged to the earl of Northumberland to help raise the £1000 ransom.
By the middle of the fifteenth century the castle changed hands yet again through another marriage. It became part of the Radcliffe estate and by this time Egremont had become little more than a shelter during times of Scottish reiver forays.
In 1529 the castle was sold outright to the earl of Northumberland. The sixth earl, Henry Percy (Anne Boleyn’s sweetheart), left all his possessions to Henry VIII. So from 1537 until 1558 Egremont was back in Crown hands.
The castle was returned to the earls of Northumberland but by this stage in proceedings the castle was virtually a ruin. The story of Egremont Castle came to a rather sticky end in 1569 as a consequence of the shortlived Rising of the North when the seventh earl of Northumberland supported a bid to rescue Mary Queen of Scots. Egremont was slighted so that it couldn’t be used defensively but there was one room that was still in tact that was used as a court until the end of the eighteenth century.
That leads neatly to the Battle of Gelt Bridge and Thistlewood Tower which I tripped over yesterday…though when I find the internet again to post my article is anyone’s guess.
In addition to the Lost Boy of Egremont there are two other stories associated with Egremont Castle. The first is called the Woeful Tale and recounts the story of a Lady de Lucy setting out on a hunting jaunt only to be slaughtered by a wolf. The other is better known. The Egremont Horn also concerns the de Lucy’s. Remarkably for a family plagued by lack of heirs it is about two brothers. Apparently the de Lucys’ owned a mighty hunting horn that could only be blown by the rightful heir to the estates. Sir Eustace and Hubert de Lacy went off to the crusades. Hubert who rather fancied being Lord of Egremont arranged to have his brother murdered whilst abroad. Hubert returned but didn’t dare to blow the hunting horn. Then one day Hubert heard the Horn of Egremont echoing through the castle. Eustace wasn’t as dead as Hubert might have hoped. As Eustace rode in through the front gate, Eustace scarpered out by the postern gate.
Salter Mike. (2002) The Castles and Tower Houses of Cumbria. Malvern:Folly Publications