It is starting to amaze me just how often Derbyshire is turning up in the footnotes of History in my reading at the moment. Take the murder that occurred in St Mary’s Church, Chesterfield for example – and yes, that is the church with the twisted spire that legend blames on Old Nick but History blames on lack of skilled workmen following the Black Death.
Anyway, my story involves Ralph Cromwell, Henry VI’s Lord Treasurer (in a roundabout way), his henchman and his henchman’s enemies. Cromwell whose main residence was Tattershall castle in Lincolnshire expanded into Derbyshire via the manors of Tibshelf and South Wingfield (more commonly associated with Mary Queen of Scots these days). His ownership of the aforementioned manors was contested by Sir Henry Pierrepoint (or Pierpoint) from Nottinghamshire. Castor explores the resulting factions in The King, The Crown and the Duchy of Lancaster and concludes that the Lancaster Affinity had split along geographical lines as well as personal ones.
Pierrepoint tried to build up his lands around Chesterfield which resulted in the enmity of Thomas Foljambe of Walton. The Foljambes had been the leading family in Chesterfield for rather a long time and weren’t keen on yielding their position. Consequentially when Pierrepoint leased the Manor of Chesterfield from the countess of Kent things were set to become grim. Even worse the countess let Pierrepoint run the annual and no doubt very lucrative annual fair.
Foljambe sent in his thugs to disrupt the fair. The countess prepared to take him to court. Foljambe blamed Pierrepoint to the extent that he took a bloody revenge on new Years Day 1434 – and remember New Year’s day was deemed to be in March.
First Foljambe nobbled the parish clerk – a man named Thomas Mogynton. Mogynton’s jobs were two fold. He was ordered to lock possible ways of escape from the church and secondly to ring the bells to summon Foljambe and his men.
The accounts vary as to the number of attackers – but let’s just say Foljambe arrived with sufficient men to kill all of Pierrepoint’s party – Henry Longford, William Bradshaw and Thomas Hasilby who were there to hear Mass. Pierrepoint left half his men outside the church so that Pierrepoint’s men couldn’t escape and then when Moygnton rang the bell he entered with the other half of his men with their weapons drawn.
The vicar, Richard Dawson, tried to halt the bloodshed but he was ordered back to the altar.
Sir Henry lost the thumb and two fingers of his right hand making it impossible for him to fight. Meanwhile two of his companions were murdered. Henry Longford was Pierrepoint’s brother-in-law, as well as his squire. Only Hasilby escaped. Longford and Bradshaw died in the church. Pierrepoint was dragged from the church and was only spared when Richard Foljambe of Bonsall argued for mercy.
Inevitably justice for a double murder and a maiming was a protracted affair. There were two juries. The second one, composed of Derbyshire gentry, was inclined to blame Pierrepoint for everything whilst the first one composed of Pierrepoint’s friends and family tended to see things differently.
Somewhere along the way, before the first trial before a jury of Pierrepoint’s friends Foljambe had managed to acquire a dodgy lawyer who ensured that the indictment against Foljambe had the word “junior” after Foljambe’s name meaning that it was his ten-year-old son up on the charge: which even by the standards of the time was taking things a bit far. The same lawyer even presented the jury with a list of men who had taken part in the attack. The only problem was that the jury noticed that the list was largely fictitious.
The matter was unresolved for twenty years – I bet there were some tense encounters during that time. In September 1454 – so at the time of Richard of York’s first protectorate, matters were finally dealt with. Foljambe and those of his men who were still alive found themselves incarcerated in the Marshalsea Prison to await trial. One of the men on the jury who put them there wasn’t entirely unbiased: Sir Henry Pierrepoint must have enjoyed himself enormously.
Unfortunately for my story the jigsaw piece of History that has disappeared down the back of the chronological sofa on this occasion is the trial and what happened next. And there’s no picture because my pictures of Chesterfield Church are so old that the word digital wasn’t something that was associated with cameras!
Castor, Helen. (2000) The King, The Crown and the Duchy of Lancaster , 1399-1461 Oxford: Oxford Univeristy Press