Tag Archives: Earl of Essex

Westminster Hall

Westminster-Hall-1764

It’s all looking very festive around here – and dangerous.  The road hasn’t been gritted so it currently looks and feels just like an ice rink.  On the plus side I have finished some writing today.  On the minus side not only am I not going out for a Christmas meal tonight but I shalln’t be following Buckingham’s rebellion tomorrow or killing off the Princes in the Tower – nor for that matter shall I be allowing either one of them to turn into a conspiracy theory.  All of which is very irritating and I can only extend my apologies to any of my students who may be reading this.

Halls – right at the start of December I mentioned the fact that halls were where their owners dispensed justice.  And of course, there’s a hall with a rather long pedigree that has done exactly that over the last nine hundred years or so.  Westminster Hall was built in 1097 by William Rufus – it was the largest hall in Europe at the time, or so Historians think.  Richard II had the hall rebuilt because it was looking somewhat battered by the time he came to the throne. The medieval hammer beam roof was one of his modifications. The hall gradually evolved into the administrative seat for the kingdom. It was here that Henry II crowned his eldest son Henry in Westminster Hall in June 1170.  There was a second coronation in Winchester.

 

It is as a law court though that Westminster Hall echoes down the pages of history. William Wallace was tried here and by the time of the Tudors the hall is knee deep in well-known names from the duke of Buckingham tried for treason in 1522 based on his Plantagenet blood and probably having irritated Cardinal Wolsey. Sir Thomas More was tried here in 1535, so were Anne Boleyn and her alleged lovers the following year. Protector Somerset had judgement passed down here and so did the father of Lady Jane Grey for his part in Wyatt’s Rebellion. Jesuits faced english law here during the reign of Elizabeth I and the Earl of Essex was tried in Westminster Hall following his rebellion. A few years later Guy Fawkes stood in his place.  Later Charles I was tried for crimes against his own people and following the Restoration the regicides were also tried here.

The only man who successful escaped the headsman or the noose following a trial for treason during Henry VIII’s reign was also tried at Westminster Hall.  Lord Dacre of the North was found innocent in July 1535. His accusers were described as “mean and provoked Scottish men” – Sir Ralph Fiennes and his co-accuser a man named William Musgrave were not particularly Scottish but there’s nothing like being damned by association.  Dacre’s wife tried to intercede on her husband’s behalf but was told by the monarch to button it until after her husband’s trial.  Apparently Dacre refuted his accusers in a “manly”  and “witty” sort of way for seven hours before being declared innocent.

William Dacre (a.k.a. Baron Greystoke) was married to the earl of Shrewsbury’s daughter and held down a number of responsible border posts such as Deputy Warden of the West March.  This led to a falling out with the earl of Cumberland (Clifford family) who was given a role in 1525 that Dacre believed to be his by right of blood.  Unsurprisingly there was some border high jinks resulting in Cumberland only being able to rule with Dacre at his side. To make matters worse when Dacre did get his hands on the job his counterpart in the East March was given a pay rise whilst he was given the old rate. Its easy to see that hostilities and resentments were not particularly veiled.  Unfortunately for Dacre he did what Border Wardens do – i.e. talk to the Scots. This was in 1534.  He was accused of treason because this conversation took place during a time of hostility. He was hauled off to London where he was put on trial for treason. The chief witness against him was his former servant – William Musgrave.

Dacre was acquitted but as with all things Tudor there is a sting in the tale.  Henry VIII fined him none-the-less. It is perhaps surprising therefore that in 1536 Dacre demonstrated his loyalty to Henry VIII throughout the Pilgrimage of Grace.  His feud with the Musgrave family was not so easily settled and it is known to have continued into the 1550s.

 William Cobbett, David Jardine (1809) Cobbett’s complete collection of state trials and proceedings for high treason and other crimes and misdemeanors from the earliest period to the present time  accessed from https://archive.org/details/acompletecollec03cobbgoog

http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/building/palace/westminsterhall/architecture/early-history/

Westminster Hall 1097

 

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Sir John Gell – Parliamentarian

Sir_John_Gell_original.jpgOne of the things I like about the summer is the opportunity to get sidetracked, which is exactly what I’ve done in this post. I mentioned in my last post that Sir John Gell besieged Royalists holed up in Lichfield Cathedral in March 1643. John Gell was born at Hopton Hall, near Wirksworth in Derbyshire. Hopton Hall today is known for its snowdrops, its roses and its undulating crinklecrankle garden walls.

The Gells were a wealthy family with their flocks of sheep and lead mines. John was born in 1593. Shortly after John’s birth his father died and his mother Millicent, pregnant with John’s brother Thomas, married John Curzon of Kedleston Hall. In addition to John’s younger brother Millicent also provided a half-brother rather confusingly also called John. Gell raised at Kedleston followed the career path of a young gentleman of his era. He went to university but did not take a degree. He married into the local gentry and then proceeded to create a family and get a reputation for womanizing. He is recorded as saying that he never meddled with women unless they were handsome! No one thought to ask his wife her opinion on the subject nor did it seem to interfere with Gell’s Presbyterianism.

 

Our story really starts in 1635 when Gell was appointed sheriff of Derbyshire and given the unpleasant task of collecting Charles I’s ship money. This tax was usually raised in coastal locations to build, outfit and crew ships to fend off pirates….there isn’t much call for sea-going vessels in Derbyshire which rather explains why Charles I’s little wheeze to raise taxes without having to call a Parliament caused consternation across the country. Gell collected the money in Derbyshire rather enthusiastically. It caused huge resentment not least when Sir John Stanhope was charged twenty-four pounds ship money which he refused to pay. Stanhope happened to be the brother of the Earl of Chesterfield. This together with some earlier cause for dislike resulted in a long-standing feud between Gell with Sir John Stanhope and his brother the earl of Chesterfield.

 

Gell became a baronet in January 1642 presumably for his efficient way with the collection of taxes but supported Parliament on the outbreak of civil war when the king raised his standard in Nottingham that same year. It might be possible that it wasn’t religion that caused Gell to side with Parliament, or his connection with Parliamentarian inclined Derby (as a general rule of thumb, to which there are exceptions, towns tended to be more Parliamentarian in outlook whilst the countryside was more Royalist). What else could it be? Well, it could have been concern that Parliament might have wanted a word about those pesky ship taxes or it could have been the fact that the Stanhopes declared for the king – and Gell, if you recall, did not like the Stanhopes one little bit.

 

Gell threw himself into his new role when he was commissioned by the Earl of Essex to secure Derbyshire for Parliament. He went to Hull where he took charge of a company of London volunteers. They returned with Gell to Derby which became a center for infantry and cavalry regiments. Unfortunately, Derby had no castle or walls. It was Gell who ordered the construction of defensive earthworks.

 

One of the first things that Gell did was to order the siege of Bretbey House – it was owned by Philip Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield. More famously he also besieged Wingfield Manor but by then he had settled his squabble with Stanhope. Lord Chesterfield took Lichfield for the king in 1643. Gell and his men joined Lord Brooke there in March. Brooke was killed early in the siege so Gell took over command and when the Royalists surrendered a few days later, the rank and file were permitted to leave without their weapons but Philip Stanhope, Lord Chesterfield was dispatched to London in chains where he remained in captivity until his death in 1656.

 

Many of the Royalists who were allowed to march away from Lichfield sought a new army to join. They made for Stafford which was at that time in Royalist hands under the command of the earl of Northampton.  Gell joined forces with Sir William Bereton of Cheshire. The resulting battle at Hopton Heath near Stafford which has nothing to do with Hopton in Derbyshire was indecisive but the Earl of Northampton was killed.

 

Gell now did something that would earn him the lasting enmity of Charles I. Gell asked for the artillery that he had lost at Hopton Heath to be returned. He also asked the earl’s son for the money that Gell had laid out to have the earl embalmed. Both requests were declined. In response, Gell who had removed the earl’s body from the battlefield had Northampton’s body paraded through the streets of Derby before it was buried.

 

The following year, and after the death of his first wife in October 1644, he married Mary Stanhope, the widow Sir John Stanhope. The marriage was swiftly dissolved. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether that was a match made in Heaven.

 

Gell seems to have become a steadily more  loose canon after 1644. He appointed his friends and family to important positions; allowed his troops to plunder and ignored Fairfax’s order that his troops should join with Fairfax at Naseby. His actions were so suspicious that Parliament believed that Gell was thinking of changing his allegiance. This thought was probably also voiced the following year at the siege of Tutbury Castle when Gell offered different, and rather more lenient, surrender terms than those offered by his fellow commander – Bereton who you will recall had been with Gell at the Battle of Hopton Heath.

 

Rather bizarrely Gell tried to gain a pardon for his role in the war from Charles I during his imprisonment at Carisbrooke Castle by offering to lend him £900 in gold.  In 1650, he was found guilty of plotting against the Commonwealth. Charles II planned to return to his kingdom via Scotland but wanted to be sure of having an army to command.  His council wanted to ensure that parliament didn’t know where the king was going to pop up.   Blank commissions were sent secretly to England with a view to raising divisions of men but the Commonwealth tracked many of these commissions and in so doing unearthed more than one royalist sympathiser. Gell was lucky not to be hanged like the unfortunate Dr Lewen who was found with several of these commissions. Instead, Gell was imprisoned in the Tower of London until 1652 when he was freed. He lived in London rather than returning to Derbyshire.

 

Charles II pardoned him for his role in the civil war and granted him a position at court, where he remained until his death in October 1671. His body was returned to Derbyshire. He is buried in Wirksworth.

 

 

Brighton, Trevor (2004) Sir John Gell. Oxford DNB.

Stone, Brian (1992) Derbyshire in the Civil War. Cromford: Scarthin Books

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Lichfield Cathedral: a prince and duchess and rather a lot of gunpowder

DSC_0049Lichfield Cathedral was besieged not once, not twice but thrice during the English Civil War.

On the first occasion in March 1643 the Royalists found themselves holed up in the cathedral surrounded by a parliamentarian force. Lord Brooke, Parliamentarian in charge of dislodging them went to take a look at the close and was shot and killed by a sniper firing from the central spire of the cathedral – a remarkable feat of marksmanship by John “Dumb” Dyott – so called because he was deaf and dumb. It was remarkably unlucky for Brooke who had only recently arrived in Lichfield.  Depending on your viewpoint Brooke died, shot through the eye,  either at the hands of a thoroughly bad lot or expired still spouting hatred with his last breath.  The event is recorded on a plaque on Dam Street.

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The Parliamentarians were reinforced by Derbyshire men led by Sir John Gell of Hopton Hall near Wirksworth in Derbyshire. In addition artillery arrived and in a decidedly dastardly gesture the Parliamentarians used the relations of the Royalists as a human shield. The first siege came to a close when the royalists negotiated surrender. Their leader the Earl of Chesterfield found himself in the Tower whilst his men, although disarmed, were free to go and find themselves another army.

 

It was at this point that the Parliamentarians demonstrated their thuggish tendencies by destroying much of DSCF2382.jpgthe stained glass, defacing the sculpture and destroying much Lichfield Cathedral’s library. Together with the destruction of the third siege in 1646 the only text that remains of the original cathedral library is one volume of the eighth century Lichfield Gospels which was either found or given into the care of Frances, Duchess of Somerset who owned property in the area (her father was Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex and former favourite of Elizabeth I executed for treason in 1601. Her mother was Frances Walsingham daughter of Francis Walsingham.) She returned the gospels along with a further thousand books from her husband’s collection.  Today the gospels are on display in the Chapter House together with the Lichfield Angel, a wonderful piece of eighth century carving.

 

If I had been describing a football match I would describe the lull after the first siege as a half time interval with a change of ends. The Parliamentarians made the most of their time when not breaking glass and sharpening their swords on centuries old grotesques to strengthen their defences and make good some of the holes in cathedral’s medieval close walls.

 

The match resumed on 7 April 1643 with the arrival of Prince Rupert of the Rhine. The Parliamentarians withdrew from the town of Lichfield to the cathedral and the close. Rupert and his men bounced cannonballs from the cathedral, attempted to scale the walls with ladders and then mined the fortified close. The cannon weren’t really up to the job and it can’t have helped Rupert’s temper when the commander of the Parliamentarians offered to lend him a barrel of powder. Rupert is described as “bellowing at the defenders like a lion” (Gaunt: 138). The prince turned to his mining tactics and the Parliamentarians counter-mined.  A tower in the wall collapsed.  The defenders ultimately negotiated terms and marched off into the sunset leaving a rather sadly battered Lichfield Cathedral in the hands of the royalists for the next three years.

 

In March 1646 that all changed. The war wasn’t going well for the royalists who prepared for a siege. The parliamentarians duly arrived along with their artillery and duly blew up the central spire that fell into the nave and the choir. The garrison didn’t surrender until July when they received a letter from the king telling them to make what terms they could.

The Royalists marched out with their heads held high but the cathedral was in, what can only be described as, a right state.  The local Roundheads decided that the best use for the building was as a pigpen, a calf was baptised and Parliament decided that the best thing to do was to demolish the cathedral given that it was so badly damaged.  It was suggested that if the lead was removed from the roof it wouldn’t take long for the whole structure to collapse (Spraggon: 197).  It was the eighteenth century before the cathedral was restored.

 

Gaunt, Peter. (2014) The English Civil War: A Military History. London: Tauris & Co

Spraggon, Julie. (2003) Puritan Iconoclasm During the English Civil War. Woodbridge: Boydell Press

Double click on the picture below for a new window and a much more detail insight to the three sieges of Lichfield Cathedral as well as the people who were involved with events.

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Matilda Fitzwalter a.k.a. Maid Marian

57457680_1404498519This effigy can be seen in Little Dunmow Church – It is said to be the effigy of Matilda Fitzwalter.

Robert Fitzwalter, holder of Castle Baynard and Lord of Little Dunmow was a revolting baron during the reign of King John and little wonder if the stories are anything to go by.

Robert’s daughter Matilda was a bit of a stunner– men threw themselves at her feet, jousted for her favours etc and dear old King John fell head over heels in lust. Matilda, being a good girl and not having heard that when a medieval king does his best Lesley Philips impersonation that all the usual rules are out of the window told him to be on his way.

John did not take personal rejection well – his penchant for white satin, large collections of jewels and regular bathing, not to mention him being a king, should have made him a hit with the ladies but at no more than five foot five inches, having an inclination to fat as he got older, and an interest in the wives and daughters of his barons was not always as well received by the aforementioned ladies as he might have hoped. Rather than chalk Matilda’s refusal up to experience he tried to cajole Robert Fitzwalter into handing his daughter over: Robert refused. Perhaps John should have had a word with Matilda’s husband rather than her father but more about him shortly. In the stories John sets about destroying Fitzwalter and his property. Fitzwalter was indeed banished in 1212 but was later reconciled to John only to revolt in 1215 as a leader of the ‘Army of God’ that massed against the king. Fitzwalter is one of the Magna Carta barons and Matilda’s sad story is often given as part of the rationale for Fitzwalter’s rebellion.

Presumably because he could, John imprisoned Matilda in The Tower before sending her a message reminding her that all she need to do was to look upon him more favourably. When Matilda persisted in rejecting his advances John sent Matilda a poisoned egg, in some versions of the story a poisoned bracelet, which she promptly ate/put on and expired as a result presumably because she was a) hungry or b) it was a very nice bracelet. The corpse of Fair Matilda was then sent home for burial (very considerate). Elizabeth Norton’s book addressing the life of Isabella of Angouleme says that John forced Matilda to become his mistress – and you would have to say why go to all the bother of locking her up in the Tower to force compliance? Norton uses Matilda as but one example of John’s rapacious tendencies.  What is clear is that by 1212 Matilda was dead.

Matilda Fitzwalter’s story is told by Mathew Paris and the Anonymous Chronicler of Bethune. The criticism of John made by the chroniclers was not that he didn’t know how to take no for an answer but that he had dishonoured the fathers and husbands of the women concerned in the tales of lust that they recounted. Anonymous makes the point that John was devoted to good food and to pleasure – if he’d taken an interest in serving wenches then no one would have batted an eyelid.

From the threads of truth, of which very little actually remains to history, the tale of Matilda becomes steadily more romantic. According to lore Matilda Fitzwalter spurned King John’s advances because she was actually smitten with another – a chap called Robert, Earl of Huntingdon a.k.a. Robin Hood who was at that time away on crusade – making Matilda the fair Maid Marian. The chronicler Mathew Paris called her “Maud the Fair” or “Maid Marian.”  It wasn’t until a couple of centuries later though that Matilda Fitzwalter escaped to the Greenwood to live happily ever after…making Maid Marian an Essex girl.

In this case, however, truth is even stranger than legend. Matilda had actually been married to Geoffrey de Mandeville, the Earl of Essex. After her death de Mandeville married, at vast expense, Isabella of Gloucester – none other than King John’s first wife.

John was able to get his marriage to Isabella annulled because they were half-second cousins which was well within the prohibited degree of consanguinity. At the time of his marriage the Pope had been furious and Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury had placed John and all his lands under an interdict until an ecclesiastical council reversed the decision. At no point in time did John apply for a papal dispensation and it soon became clear that he was looking for a better placed wife with plans afoot fir him to marry Alice, sister of Philip Augustus – rejected fiancée of brother Richard and if stories are true mistress of Henry II and mother of his child. The divorce occurred almost as soon as John became king. Isabella led a half-life for many years neither a captive nor free until John, desperate for cash for a continental war effectively sold Isabella to the highest bidder – Geoffrey de Mandeville. It will perhaps come as no surprise to find out that Geoffrey and Isabella revolted against King John as well.

Norton, Elizabeth. She Wolves: The Notorious Queens of England

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Sir George Carey, Second Baron Hunsdon

george_carey_by_nicholas_hilliard_16014Henry Carey was the son of Mary Boleyn. He may or may not have been the son of Henry VIII. He in his turn married Anne Morgan and went on to father ten children with his wife and to work loyally for his royal cousin Elizabeth I.

George Carey, pictured here in 1601 by Nicholas Hilliard the celebrated miniaturist,  was born in 1547. One of his younger brothers was Robert Carey who wrote an account of his time as warden on the marches between England and Scotland. He is without a shadow of a doubt my most favourite Tudor, so it was with delight that I discovered that big brother George who went on to become the second Baron Hunsdon upon his father’s death was the governor of Carisbrooke Castle for some twenty years.

George, a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge began working on his royal cousin’s (or possibly royal auntie if you think that Henry was the illegitimate son of Henry VIII) behalf in his early teens when he travelled north for the baptism of the infant Prince James of Scotland who would one day become King James I of England. He turns up in Scotland again to discuss the possible marriage between Mary Queen of Scots and the Duke of Norfolk and later during the Rebellion of the Northern Earls when he assisted his father in cleansing the borders of undesirables. He was knighted in the field and went on campaign in the Netherlands. In short he did all the ‘Flasheartish’ things that Tudor gentlemen were supposed to do including a spot of light‘privateering.’

In 1599, he accompanied the Earl of Essex on his ill-fated trip to Ireland. His job was treasurer and he seems to have done rather well out of the whole venture, certainly he came home substantially richer than when he set out. Interestingly he was part of the Cecil faction – so quite what he was doing tagging along with the Earl of Essex is a matter for speculation as the two groups did not see eye to eye.

He also served as an MP on several occasions. His interest in Mary Queen of Scots seems to have continued as he is recorded as being part of the committee that discussed her fate.

George became governor of the Isle of Wight and captain-general of Hampshire. His period in office lasted for twenty years and included the Spanish Armada threat. Carey was known for his hospitality and his concerns about the defence of the island. He was, it turns out, unpopular with the local gentry. A chap called Robert Dillington took umbridge about his use of the title governor and his high-handed approach to getting what he wanted. A list of complaints was compiled. However Dillington’s timing was poor. England was being menaced by the Spanish Armada. The Privy Council sided with Carey and the following year Dillington found himself incarcerated in the Fleet.

George and his wife, a relation of the poet Edmund Spenser, had one daughter called Elizabeth to whom he left most of his wealth when he expired according to Wikipaedia of venereal disease and mercury poisoning in 1603–which is I suppose still rather Flasheartish.

(http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1558-1603/member/carey-sir-george-1547-1603 accessed 7/7/2015 21:24)

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