What more could anyone want – a knight, a murky sort of murder and a Yorkshire castle – Scarborough Castle to be precise.
Sir Ralph Eure or Evers came from an old Yorkshire family that had originally arrived with William the Conqueror. His ancestors had been Sheriffs of Yorkshire as well as wardens of the marches. One of them died at the Battle of Towton. Our Sir Ralph’s moment of history came during the reign of Henry VIII. He had temporary charge of Scarborough Castle at the time of the Pilgrimage of Grace. As a result of his loyalty to the king he was made constable of the castle for life. When the castle was besieged in 1536 he kept the gates firmly shut despite the fact that the king had failed to send him supplies for fear that they should fall into rebel hands. Though this appointment was not without a whiff of scandal as Sir Ralph was accused very early in his tenancy of taking the lead off the towers and turrets for his own profit: some of the lead was exchanged for French wine. Despite his inability to read and write Sir Ralph overcame the accusations that he faced and was able to pursue a claim to Sir Francis Bigod’s lands.
Sir Francis had been involved in the second part of the Pilgrimage of Grace which occurred against Robert Aske’s advice in January 1537 and which gave Henry the excuse he needed to execute all the leaders of the pilgrimage including Robert Aske. Sir Francis paid with his life and Sir Ralph benefitted in April 1538 when was he appointed chief steward of Sir Francis Bigod’s lands in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. All straight forward so far. Sir Ralph was on the winning side while Sir Francis gambled and lost.
Except, of course, there was more than the Pilgrimage of Grace between Sir Francis and Sir Ralph. The year before the uprising a man named Davy Seignory was murdered by a group of 10 men from Settrington took place in Malton. Seignory was Eure’s servant. The murderers rode to Scotland where they were safe but returned to England sometime later. However, they remained outside the reach of the law because they stayed in the Bishopric of Durham – at this time the whole county was effectively a sanctuary. Cromwell, apparently, tried to persuade Bigod that although the king could do nothing about this unfortunate situation that Bigod could and indeed should take matters into his own hands. Bigod said that sanctuary was more important than the murder and that was that…well apart from the fact that one of the murderers was related to Thomas Cromwell and also the fact that Bigod was in debt at a time and was in effect Cromwell’s man. Let’s just say that the paperwork necessary to bring the murderers before the court in York was incorrectly completed.
Strangest of all, Sir Francis Bigod had written a treatise recommending the reform of the monastic system – he was a Protestant, a reformer and Cromwell’s man. Yet somehow he ended up taking the side of the Pilgrims. A fact which enabled Sir Ralph to exact revenge, it would appear, for Sir Francis’s part the shadowy events surrounding his servant’s death. A national event but also a question of neighbours vying for power and perhaps – and this is entirely supposition- a matter of personal dislike. Sir Francis’s version of events and his letters can still be read in the National Archives while Sir Ralph did not have the skills to save his thoughts for posterity.
Sir Ralph’s lack of literacy didn’t stop him from becoming in 1542, on the Duke of Suffolk’s appointment, keeper of Redesdale and Tynedale. He took part in many raids and was part of the Earl of Hertford’s ‘Rough Wooing’ in 1544. His actions during this campaign won him the hatred of the Scots. In addition to the usual pillaging of the border he managed to distinguish himself by burning Brumehous Tower- not unusual – but on this occasion the lady and her children were still inside.
Eure, a commander of the army, died at the battle of Ancrum Moor on 27 Feb. 1545, where the Earl of Angus ‘revenged the defacing of the limbs of his ancestors at Melrose upon Ralph Evers.’ The Earl of Arran is said to have wept when shown the body and said, according to Henry VIII’s state papers:
“God have mercy on him, for he was a fell cruel man and over cruel, which many a man and fatherless bairn might rue, and wellaway that ever such slaughter and bloodshedding should be amongst Christian men.”