The Massacre at Ayyadieh – Richard the Lionheart not so lionhearted.

Lionhearts-MassacreRichard I once offered to sell London to the highest bidder in order to finance his role in the Third Crusade.  Folklore remembers him as Richard the Lionheart rather than Richard I  making him relatively unusual amongst English monarchs in that he is remembered by a name rather than a number.  Countless Hollywood productions have presented him as the chap who saves the day when he returns to England in the nick of time whilst his brother John appears as the villain of the piece. I can’t think of any film about Robin Hood where King Richard doesn’t turn up to set matters right – what’s not to like?  Richard was even a popular king in his own time – probably because he wasn’t in his country terribly often.   He did what medieval kings were supposed to do – he was victorious in war…and he had good press in the form of his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine and one of his justicar’s William Marshal.

 

Like many a warrior king before and after him, Richard was responsible for changing England’s financial status from reasonable to disastrous. He spent most of his father’s treasury, increased taxes, sold jobs (how exactly do you think the Sheriff of Nottingham got the title in the first place) and even released William of Scotland from his oath of fealty for the sum of  10,000 marks – which raises the question of exactly what Edward I was doing thinking when he stated his right to choose a Scottish king as Scotland’s feudal overlord and kicked off the Scottish wars of Independence.

 

In 1190, having more or less sold off the family silver, Richard set off to the Holy Land via Sicily. His sister Joan who was the dowager queen of Sicily had been denied her dower rights so Richard got a bit of early practice in terms of storming cities before progressing to Cyprus and then on to Acre, which was under siege.

 

300px-Siege_of_AcreAcre eventually fell to the Crusaders.  On August 20 1191 Richard responded to Saladin’s failure to comply with the terms of negotiation over the citizens and defenders of Acre. Saladin had been stalling over a prisoner swap and failed to make an interim payment of gold coin. Richard killed all his captives.

 

Basically it was normal after a battle or a prolonged siege to swap prisoners.  Richard asked for a list of Christian prisoners but none was forthcoming.   Even worse a piece of the True Cross  and the first instalment of 200,000 gold coins was not handed over on a pre-arranged date as part of the terms agreed after the fall of Acre. Richard believed that Saladin was stalling for time in order to bring in fresh troops and recapture Acre and that he had gone back on his word – whereas in reality it is not totally clear that Saladin had agreed to the terms that Richard demanded.  Time may well have conspired against him with the walls of Acre falling before his instructions could be relayed to its defenders.

 

Richard, who had the full measure of Plantagenet temper, ordered that all the prisoners from Acre should be taken to a hill called Ayyadieh. There in full view of the Muslim army and Saladin’s headquarters, approximately 3000 soldiers, men, women and children from the city were killed.  Even Richard’s estimates are similar.

 

Saladin’s army was so incensed that they attempted to charge Richard’s army but were beaten back.  The Crusaders were able to make their retreat unscathed after the slaughter.

 

Killing unarmed women and children is not heroic, no matter which way it’s dressed up – change the century and the uniform and it looks very unpleasant indeed. The massacre at Ayyadieh is a blot on Richard’s reputation, to modern eyes, although it is never usually referred to in popular histories – as it doesn’t fit with the legend of the heroic king. Richard and his chroniclers justify events by noting that the negotiations fell apart because of Saladin’s failure to meet the required standards.  Further justification, if any is given, is offered in the form that these were bloodthirsty times.  In 1187, the Battle Hattin, which saw the biggest defeat of the period in the Holy Land, was followed by the mass killing and imprisonment of Knights Hospitaller and Templar.

Richard wanted the piece of the True Cross because he genuinely believed it was part of the cross on which Christ was crucified and he was deeply religious (don’t lets even go down the avenue of faith and a life spent at war.) There was also the political statement that it made.  Saladin had acquired the piece of cross after the Battle of Hattin.  In part its return to the Crusaders would have gone some way to reverse their defeat in 1187.  It’s about honour as much as anything else.

 

Strategically speaking the massacre demonstrated that Richard was not a man to mess with.  It also dealt with the problem of a large number of prisoners.  Richard did not have the men to care for them and he could not leave them behind him whilst he continued his campaign.  He could not afford to deplete his army or risk an enemy behind him. There was not so much food that he could really take them with him and there would still have been the need for guards and the problem of a hostile force. The only other alternative would have been to sell the prisoners into slavery and that would have taken time that Richard did not have. Beha ad-Din, Saladin’s biographer, was an eyewitness to events and whilst he was hostile to Richard’s actions it is also apparent that he understand them militarily.  This, is of course, something that a modern reader may well struggle to do – the words war crime spring to mind.  No wonder there are so many texts about how History should be studied and the difficulties of looking objectively at the past.

 

Extremely hostile chroniclers write that Richard always intended the massacre but there is no evidence of him behaving in this manner at other times during the Crusade or indeed in his intermittent wars at home.  Not that it really matters – if, generally speaking we look at the facts of Richard I’s reign- he would not turn up quite so often in films as a hero. He was never in England.  He raised taxes to go to war, then more taxes had to be raised to pay his ransom when he was captured by his enemies on his way home. He did not sit around feeling concerned about the financial plight of his Saxon citizens.  Sometimes it really doesn’t matter what actually happened, even at the time, it’s about perceptions and the story that people want to hear.

 

For a timeline of the Third Crusade:

https://historystack.com/Third_Crusade

 

 

Croxden Abbey, Staffordshire

DSC_0016In 1176 the Cistercians arrived in Cotton but three years later relocated to nearby Croxden.  The land was given by Bertram de Verdun, the lord of nearby Alton.  He was concerned not only for his own soul but also for those of his predecessors and also his descendants. Bits of Alton Castle (not open to the public) date to the twelfth century so are also part of Bertram’s building schemes.   Croxden is the oldest of Staffordshire’s Cistercian houses.  There were twelve monks and their abbot, an English man known as Thomas of Woodstock. They acquired endowments in Staffordshire, Leicestershire and in Hartshorne in Derbyshire amongst other locations from Bertram.  The land at Hartshorne was known as Lees and measured as a carucate. A carucate is of Norse origin and it signifies the amount of land that can be ploughed by one plough team of eight oxen in a season. Carucate is my word of the day! The monks also held Riston and Trusley in Derbyshire.

DSC_0015The choice of Croxden fits with the site selection that is almost uniform to Cistercian monasteries:

  1. by a river – River Churnet.  Usually the monks looked for a bend in the river where they had been granted land.  This method of siting the monastery meant that on most occasions the land was level and that there was agricultural land nearby as well as the opportunity for fish and the creation of fish ponds.
  2. in a valley (aren’t most rivers in a valley or on a plain?)
  3. remote – Staffordshire moorlands.

The Cistercians arrived in England in 1128 in Waverley.  Their foundations demonstrate a simplicity of design in harmony with the idea of obedience to their conformity to the Rule of St Benedict.  Most Cistercian churches for example have a “square” end of the kind that most medieval parish churches exemplify.  However, Croxden doesn’t.  It has an apse- not that much remains aside from the footprint and it has been separated from the main body of the church by the road that was driven through the village after the suppression of the monasteries.  I don’t think that any Cistercian Church survives in tact – possibly because of their habit of building in the middle of nowhere, thus there benign population in need of a parish church at the time of the dissolution – but I could be wrong.

DSC_0017The other feature of Croxden’s architecture to often appear in commentaries is the abbot’s lodging.  The first lodging appears between 1270 and 1290 but the following century Abbot Richard rebuilt a much more splendid dwelling – demonstrating the inevitable shift from poverty and simplicity.

 

In 1199 they  received lands in Ireland from King John  – the following year the abbot persuaded him to swap the lands for an annual annuity of £5.  In 1205 this was swapped again for land in Shropshire and in 1287 it was swapped for Caldon Grange near Leek.

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The thirteenth century saw Croxden at its most prosperous.  There may have been as many as forty monks at one time.  Revenues came from sheep and charcoal burning.  As a result there was extenisve building work as well as other purchases in William of Over purchased a house in London for £20.00.  However, the fourteenth century saw significant changes. As well as the Hundred Years War, Edward II and the Scottish levy there was also the fact that the abbey lost their key patrons.  The de Verdun family had supported them from the time of their foundation but in 1316 the last male of the family died so the title and estates were inherited by Joan de Verdun and her husband Thomas de Furnivalle.  He didn’t appear to understand the role of a patron and instead insisted on stabling his hoses and hounds at the abbey – not to mention the necessity of the abbey feeding seven of his bailiffs every Friday.  He also confiscated livestock and a cart.  Alton became a no go area resulting in the monks barricading themselves into Croxden for sixteen weeks beginning in March 1319. Eventually matters settled down – in 1334 Joan was buried at Croxden when she died in childbirth.  Stone coffins remain in the apse of the ruins.

 

In 1349 the plague arrived in Croxden.  It is recorded in the abbey’s chronicle but not how many of the monks succumbed.  Let us not forget famine and sheep moraine to add to the general joy of the fourteenth century.

 

Aside from the local bigwigs there was also the issue of dodgy royalty and the Scottish wars of independence. In 1310 the Crown required loans for a Scottish expedition and the abbey also had duties with respect to its landholdings.   In 1322 for example the abbot was taken to court for refusing to pay his share for the maintenance of  foot soldiers. By 1368 the abbey owed £165.  Nor did it help that the church roof had been releaded and the abbot’s house rebuilt (nice to know he got his priorities right.)  The following year the section of the abbey adjoining the church collapsed.  The list of problems facing the abbey continued to be chronicles.  There were also floods and storms.  By 1381 the abbot was in charge of six monks.

 

Somewhere along the line – the abbey was able to acquire more land on the Derbyshire/Staffordshire border. Hulton Abbey sold  90 acres of waste ground at Bradnop in the middle of the fourteenth century.  They also managed to acquire Sedsall. In 1402 they gained a house in Ashbourne from Henry Blore.  All these transactions are recorded in the form of royal licences.  Despite these new land acquisitions Croxden struggled to maintain its former wealth and it probably didn’t help that there were a series of law suits.

 

The visitation of 1535/36 valued them at less than £200 a year so they should have been suppressed with the smaller monasteries but the abbot paid a fine of £100 for a licence to continue.  Their income placed them as 67thout of  75 Cistercian houses according to Knowles and Hadcock cited in Klemperer. None the less in August 1538 Archbishop Cranmer wrote to Cromwell asking for a commission to be sent to Croxden, and on 17 September Dr. Thomas Legh and William Cavendish received the surrender of the abbey from the abbot and twelve other monks. One of the reasons that Cranmer was so interested in the fate of Croxden was because the much of the site of Croxden including the watermill was leased to his servant Francis Bassett (who assisted with the destruction of St Anne’s Well in Buxton.) In 1545 the estate was sold to the Foljambe family.

 

As for the monks, they all received their pensions. One of them became the vicar of Alton and he was still in receipt of his pension during the reign of Queen Mary.

 

Cromwell was always on the look out for tales of naughty monks but it seems that for much of Croxden’s history aside from the land deals and court cases that the abbots ran a tight ship. Tompkinson records that when in 1274 a lodger called Thomas Hoby was killed in a fight between grooms the entire household of the abbot’s servants were dismissed.

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The Victoria County history details its landholdings:  the manor and grange of Oaken, Lee Grange in Crakemarsh, and granges at Musden, Caldon, and Trusley; lands and rents in Croxden, Combridge, Great Gate, Ellastone, Alton, ‘Whytley’ in Leek, Onecote, Cotton, Dog Cheadle, Uttoxeter, Denstone, Calton, Caldon, Stafford, Orberton (in St. Mary’s, Stafford), Walton (Staffs.), Ashbourne, Doveridge, Derby, Hartshorne, Thurvaston (in Longford), Langley (Derb.), Burton Overy, Tugby, Mountsorrel (in Barrow-upon-Soar and Rothley, Leics.), Casterton, Stamford, Misterton (? Leics.), London, and ‘Sutton Maney’; the appropriated churches of Croxden, Alton, and Tugby and the tithes of Oaken, Lee, Musden, Caldon, and Trusley Granges; and a ‘wichehouse’ in Middlewich and Hungarwall smithy in Dog Cheadle.   The list doesn’t include the mills and fish ponds nor the saltpan in Cheshire by which method the monks added to their self sufficiency.

 

G C Baugh, W L Cowie, J C Dickinson, Duggan A P, A K B Evans, R H Evans, Una C Hannam, P Heath, D A Johnston, Hilda Johnstone, Ann J Kettle, J L Kirby, R Mansfield and A Saltman, ‘Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Croxden’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3, ed. M W Greenslade and R B Pugh (London, 1970), pp. 226-230. British History Onlinehttp://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol3/pp226-230 [accessed 30 July 2018].

 

William D. Klemperer  Excavations at Hulton Abbey, Staffordshire 1987-1994

Tomlinson, John L. (2000). Monastic Staffordshire. Leek: Churnet Books

 

 

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick CastleAlnwick, like most of the great castles, has had a succession of owners  beginning with Ivo de Vesci who married the granddaughter of Gilbert Tyson, a Saxon killed at Hastings in 1066. The zigzag moulding on the arch in the arch that leads to the inner courtyard reminds visitors that Alnwick has been a fortification for the better part of a thousand years.  The barony of Alnwick and its castle continued in the de Vesci hands until the fourteenth century with intermittent lapses into the hands of David of Scotland and William the Lion although it should be noted that during the reign of Henry I Eustace FizJohn was the castle’s owner.  He married the de Vesci heiress of the period and their son William assumed his mother’s name.

IMG_0237Ivo built a motte and bailey castle from timber – by which we can suppose some hapless Saxons found themselves moving soil and digging ditches. There were two baileys – one to the east and one to the west.  Over the years fortifications were added to the central shell keep and to de Vesci’s two baileys. By 1135 it was one of the strongest castles in Northumberland. In actual fact when William the Lion besieged the castle in 1172 he was unable to capture the castle from William de Vesci. In 1174 the Lion had another go at it and was captured by the English.  Part of the reason why William spent so much time hammering on Alnwick’s doors was that he had originally been the Earl of Northumberland but Henry II had removed it from him some twenty years earlier. Perhaps that was why William joined in the revolt by Henry II’s sons and his queen against Henry II in 1173.  William found himself bundled off to Newcastle and from there to Normandy.  William was forced to recognise Henry II as his feudal overlord and in so doing sewed the seeds of the Scottish Wars of Independence when Edward I insisted on the right to naming the Scottish king and to being the feudal overlord of Scotland.

The de Vescis who did not get on terribly well with King John.  It was only luck that the castle wasn’t razed in 1213.  William de Vesci died at the Battle of Bannockburn the following century without heirs so the king sold it to Anthony Bek, Bishop of Durham who sold it to Henry de Percy.  De Vesci did have an illegitimate son and was able to hand his Yorkshire lands to his natural son.

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The Percys did rather a lot of rebuilding based on the income from the Scottish wars; either loot or ransoms.  The two huge octagon towers that tower above the inner gateway were built sometime around 1350  and this phase of rebuilding included the rebuilding of the keep with seven U shaped towers.  The castle had been successively strengthened by all its owners but this was the time when the Percy family were most wealthy and the reality of having a bellicose neighbour meant that fortifications were a good investment.

IMG_0215The outer wall, around those two baileys encloses something like five acres of ground.  The wall contains several towers and turrets.  One of them houses a water tower and very sensibly it was here that the castle’s laundry was done.  There is also a rather fine well in the inner court yard near the entrance to the keep.  The Constable’s Tower is open to the public

IMG_0224The fortunes of the Percys declined with the Wars of the Roses and the accession of the Tudors.  Margaret of Anjou had garrisoned Alnwick with three hundred french troops in the aftermath of Town in a bid to retain a toehold on her husband’s kingdom. It was a Scot who rode to the garrison’s rescue on that particular occasion so that Margaret’s troops could make good their escape from the forces of the Earl of Warwick.

Put simply they were the over mighty subjects that a strong monarch needed to keep firmly in check. They continued to fulfil their role  on the borders however.  The Alnwick Muster Roll dating from 1513 identifies the men who fought under the Percy colours at Flodden and survived the encounter with the Scots.  When not at war with Scotland there was intermittent raiding.  In 1528, for example fourteen Scottish reivers were hanged in Alnwick.  However, not even their hereditary role of warden was secure any longer nor were the earls necessarily cut out for border warfare.

The Percy family were not as wealthy as they had once been and in 1567 when George Clarkson was commissioned to assess the castle it was deemed unfit for purpose.  Perhaps lack of cash was something that the earl should have considered before conspiring with the Earl of Cumberland and Leonard Dacre to raise the north in rebellion against Elizabeth I.

In 1569 matters came to a head with the Earl of Northumberland revolted along with the Earl of Cumberland in a bid to return England to Catholicism.  The people of Alnwick were caught up in the rebellion.  Although numbers of rebels dwindled rapidly after the initial success of capturing Durham and celebrating the Mass there before marching into Percy’s Yorkshire estates Alnwick Castle did prepare to withstand the Queen’s forces.  Hartlepool was also captured by the rebels with the intention of providing a safe harbour for the Duke of Alva to land Spanish troops. The Spanish Ambassador it should be noted had already told the conspirators that they had not chance of succeeding in their venture.

The arrival of Sir John Forrester  (or Forster depending on the source) the Warden of the English Middle March on the East side of the country was sufficient for earl’s tenants to hand over the castle and hurry to their own homes.  Forrester also blocked the passes so that men who might have joined the rebels could not join with the earls whose thoughts swiftly turned to flight.

There was much rebuilding during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to transform the medieval fortress into a stately home. It was in the 1750s that it became the main residence for the Duke of Northumberland who commissioned Robert Adam to make the castle more habitable not to mention fashionable.   In the Nineteenth Century Salvin was appointed to create more modifications – the fourth duke liked his castle with a romantic tinge.  It remains the second largest inhabited castle in England and reflects a gothic Italian styles admired by the family at that time.

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Egremont Castle – the de Lucys and the de Multons.

 

 

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!DSC_0015.JPG

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.

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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.

 

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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.

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Salter Mike. (2002) The Castles and Tower Houses of Cumbria. Malvern:Folly Publications

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pilsbury Castle, Derbyshire

Pilsbury castle.JPGThe village of Pilsbury in Derbyshire is what experts call a “shrunken Medieval village,” to the rest of us it’s a hamlet. Pilsbury is the start of a new fascination (sorry).  Obviously Derbyshire has Peveril Castle in Hathersage and there’s Haddon Hall which may indeed rejoice in the name ‘manor’ but which looks decidedly castle-ish but where are the rest of Derbyshire’s castles?  They seem to have gone missing.  Apparently there’s a site for a castle in Bakewell but its hardly on the tourist trail. Some ten miles from Bakewell, to the north of Pilsbury along the Dove Valley lies the village of Crowdecote which may have a motte, or large man-made mound upon which to stand a castle. Unlike so many other counties in England the castles of Derbyshire appear to be transient commodities.  Not even the Earl of Shrewsbury’s castle at Sheffield survived the test of time.  So, I’ve added castle spotting to my list of peculiarities.

Pilsbury Castle, which does at least rejoice in the name ‘castle,’ lies between Crowdecote and Pilsbury.  It is inaccessible by road.  You can’t hear any traffic, just the gurgle of the River Dove as it winds around the spur of land on which the earthworks that were once a de Ferrers motte and bailey castle stand.

pilsbury castle 2.JPGThe name Pilsbury gives a clue as to how old the defensive site may be – “pil“ comes from the Celtic, ‘bury,” from the Saxon and “castle” from the Norman – and they all mean much the same thing. Whatever the name of Pilsbury may tell us the archaeology is determinedly Norman with its one wall built into a natural outcrop of rock that was once a reef and its many green banks and mounds that depict a motte and bailey castle – actually its a two bailey castle as the helpful guidance board provided by the Peak District authorities illustrates.

 

dscf2692There are several theories as to how Pilsbury came to be built in the upper Dove Valley. The first is that it came into being during the so-called ‘harrying of the North’ between 1069-1070. The idea is that the Normans having destroyed people’s homes and livelihoods found themselves in a situation where those Saxons who survived took to the hills and turned to outlawry in order to survive. If this was the case it then follows that the Norman landowners had to build defences to keep the Saxons firmly under control especially somewhere like Pilsbury which stands near a ford and a packhorse route and is in terrain ideal for fugitives. It’s not too hard to imagine the dangers of an attack in this isolated spot.

 

There is a problem with this though, as elsewhere in the country.  Hartington and the Dove Valley were in the hands of the de Ferrers’ family. It is unlikely that William the Conqueror would rampage with fire, sword and salt across lands belonging to powerful favourites as the yield from those lands would fall rather drastically as a result making their acquisition somewhat pointless. The same may be said of landholdings, notably in Yorkshire, belonging to Alan the Red for example.

 

So if that theory doesn’t appeal, how about the Normans turfing hardworking Saxons off their lands in order to create a wilderness where they could hunt. The disposed Saxons may well have taken to the hills and caves in the Dove Valley,  again turning to outlawry just to survive. Alternatively maybe the de Ferrers simply wanted to stamp their authority on their land with one of those new fangled castles just to remind the locals who was in charge or to extract “tax” as pack-horses laden with salt and other goods crossed the ford.

A further theory derives from the years of the so-called “Anarchy” when King Stephen and Empress Matilda were slogging it out to see who would rule England. The Rive Dove marks the boundary between lands belonging to the Earl of Derby and lands belonging to the Earl of Chester. Let’s just say that between 1135 and 1153 the pair were not the best of friends with the Earl of Derby backing Stephen and the Earl of Chester backing Matilda. Under those circumstances with a ford just down the valley a fortification becomes rather a sensible idea. Actually come to think of it, the two earls weren’t terribly friendly at other times in history so the castle may simply have been built as part of a neighbourly dispute.

 

The written record after its construction is somewhat vague too. Pilsbury is mentioned in the Doomsday Book but not the castle. Pilsbury is mentioned again in 1262, again the land not the castle, when the Earl of Derby, Robert de Ferrers, granted land to Henry of Shelford. Four years later the Earl of Derby was up to his neck in rebellion and his land was promptly confiscated.  By the thirteenth century the land on both sides of the river was in the hands of the Duchy of Lancaster so there was no need for a defensive structure. And that as they say, is that – though I think we can safely say that the History Jar will be sporadically peppered with images of grassy knolls and hummocks purporting to be Norman mottes.

 

So far as Pilsbury Castle is concerned, it is possible that the castle was used as a hunting lodge during later times but it ceased to be a centre of administration after Hartington received its market charter in 1203 from King John.

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Hart, C.R., 1981, The North Derbyshire Archaeological Survey to AD1500 (Derbyshire Archaeological Trust)

Millward, R. and Robinson, A., 1975, The Peak District (London: Eyre Methuen) p. 115, 121-2

Croxden Abbey- Dissolution, William Cavendish and King John…

croxden-abbey-hero.jpgThe Cistercian abbey of Croxden, in the care of English Heritage, is in Staffordshire, one of approximately thirty religious houses across the county. Its story is similar to many other monasteries. It built its wealth on sheep in the twelfth century and then ran into debt as the political landscape of the countryside changed. By the late thirteenth century it was considerably poorer as a consequence of Edward I’s wars with Scotland and the loans it was forced to make to the warrior monarch. Murrain, plague and poor harvests didn’t help. It never recovered. It’s income in 1535 was given as £103 6s. 7d. which was substantially less than its early income and provided Cromwell with evidence, if he needed it, of the decline of the monasteries.

The Valor Ecclesiasticus reveals that money was paid out to seven laymen who fulfilled essential roles including stewards and bailiffs including the steward of Croxden, Ashbourne, and Caldon, the bailiff of Ashbourne and Caldon. The document for its suppression identifies its full estates of which several were in Derbyshire. Not that the division of land was always simple. Take Trusley, near Derby, for instance. Some of the land around the village belonged to the monks of Croxden whilst other parts belonged to some of Derby’s community of nuns.

By rights Croxden should have been suppressed in 1536 along with the rest of the smaller monasteries but the abbot paid a £100 and received a licence to continue. Two years later on the 17 September 1538 Dr Legh – an infamous abbey visitor and William Cavendish, equally well known at the time but less mentioned in this blog until now, received the surrender of the abbey. Along with the abbot, Thomas Chawner, who received a pension of £26 per annum there were twelve other monks. As with the other abbeys the building was stripped of everything valuable whilst the abbey’s water-mill, its lands and the rectory at Croxden were rented to Francis Bassett who just happened to work for the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. The archbishop wrote to Cromwell on December 14 1538 asking him to “accomplish his suit.”

250px-William_Cavendish_c1547.jpgWilliam Cavendish had been a servant of Cardinal Wolsey.  He also seems to have been very efficient at taking the surrenders of abbeys.  According to Bess of Hardwick’s biographer, Mary Lovell, there was a point in 1538 where he was overseeing ten surrenders a week. He’d begun by auditing the abbey at St Albans and gone on to gain a job with the Court of Augmentations when it was set up in 1536 by Cromwell specifically to oversee the transfer of Church land to the Crown. He earned twenty pounds a year in addition to the ‘profits of office.’ As Lovell observes, the Cavendishs were not alone in making their fortunes from the reformation but Cavendish seems to have been rather good at it. As for William, these days he is more famous for his third wife – Bess of Hardwick, the foundation of Chatsworth House and his role as Mary Queen of Scot’s jailer.

 

The monks received their pensions and were required to sign for them. There is a receipt dated May 28 1541 for one Robert Clarke. Another of the monks, a man called John Stanley, became Vicar of Alton in 1546 until his death in 1569. We know this because along with three other men we have the records of his pensions in 1557-58.

A swift search on the Internet revealed the interesting fact that King John’s heart is rumoured to be buried in the grounds of Croxden Abbey whilst the rest of him was buried in Worcester (http://www.farmonthehill.co.uk/local-history.html accessed 4 November 2016 19:45). This information completely sidetracked me from monks being kicked out of their home by Henry VIII, Cromwell and Cavendish.  It sent me off down the side alley of Croxden’s relationship with King John.

Apparently John awarded the monks of Croxden an annuity of £5.00 each year from the Irish Exchequer in 1200. An English Heritage research report shed that much light on the assertion of John’s heart but what about something more academic than a legend? The Gentleman’s Magazine (volume 38) asserts that the descendants of Bertram de Verdun were buried there – so far so good, he was the founder after all and the same sentence references King John’s ticker. In fact Victorian tomes trip over themselves in their desire to identify Croxden as the last resting place of at least one bit of King John. The Antiquarian and Architectural Year Book for Staffordshire explains that John’s physician was also the abbot of Croxden – which would account for the grisly souvenir.  Another text dating from 1829 identifies the abbot as Ralph de Lincoln but misidentifies Croxden as being in Leicestershire. A book dating from 1844 references a British Museum text from the Cotton collection which looks at the Chronicle of William de Shepesheved who details the fact that John’s bowels were buried at Croxden. The whole thing is starting to sound decidedly offal.

 

Have I been there? No, not yet – but trust me when I say that I shall shortly be finding a reason for being in the vicinity and I shall be studying English Heritage’s interpretation boards with great interest.

 

Graham Brown, Barry Jones Croxden Abbey and Its Environs London: English Heritage

Lovell, Mary S. (2006) Bess of Hardwick:First Lady of Chatsw0rth. 

G C Baugh, W L Cowie, J C Dickinson, Duggan A P, A K B Evans, R H Evans, Una C Hannam, P Heath, D A Johnston, Hilda Johnstone, Ann J Kettle, J L Kirby, R Mansfield and A Saltman, ‘Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Croxden’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3, ed. M W Greenslade and R B Pugh (London, 1970), pp. 226-230. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol3/pp226-230 [accessed 13 October 2016].

 

‘Henry VIII: December 1538 11-15’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 13 Part 2, August-December 1538, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1893), pp. 438-455. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol13/no2/pp438-455 [accessed 23 October 2016].

 

‘Henry VIII: May 1541, 26-31’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 16, 1540-1541, ed. James Gairdner and R H Brodie (London, 1898), pp. 409-429. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol16/pp409-429 [accessed 18 October 2016].

Rochester Cathedral

DSC_0466.jpgIts that time of year again when my mind turns to teaching.  This term I’m back with Henry VIII and his wives and mistresses; the Norman Conquest and the English Reformation so that should keep me out of mischief for a while, though thankfully Henry’s love life is rather closely bound to the progress of the English Reformation.  Today though I’m sticking with cathedrals: Rochester Cathedral to be specific – it has links with all the courses I have just mentioned one way or another.

In the aftermath of the conquest Rochester found itself in the hands of Bishop Odo, William the Conqueror’s half-brother. Once Lanfranc of Bec was created Archbishop of Canterbury the territory around Rochester was wrested from Odo’s control and given to the newly appointed Bishop of Rochester, who at this stage we could think of as a kind of deputy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, not that the influence or power lasted very long.

Both the cathedral with its Benedictine abbey and the early castle at Rochester, an important crossing point for the Medway,  were the work of this bishop.  Bishop Gundulf was a Norman appointment well known to Archbishop Lanfranc.  Like Lanfranc, Gundulf was a monk at Bec before being summoned across the Channel to help reform the English Church along Norman lines.  Gundulf turned out to have been a bit of a builder having a hand in the building of the Tower of London as well as the castle and cathedral at Rochester. He began work on Rochester Cathedral in 1080 using imported stone from the quarries at Caen. By 1083 his workmen had started on the nave which still stands despite a fire in 1138 which saw the monks made homeless for a time. The crypt is also a good example of the Romanesque or Norman style of architecture.

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The problem for later Bishops was that the cathedral’s powerful neighbour in Canterbury owned more of the land around Rochester than Rochester did.   Not only was Rochester a cathedral being the seat of the bishop it was also an abbey.  Inevitably with the passage of time there were ructions between the needs of the more worldly bishops and the more inward looking monks and their prior especially when the bishop was not selected from one of their number.

The first instance of this occurred in 1124 when the monks, fearful of their position, did a spot of creative thinking and miraculously discovered some long lost saintly relics and Bishop Gundulf who was by then a saint was remembered in a new book, the contents of which did’t bother unduly with the actual facts. Whilst they were at it, the monks set about creating a dossier of charters and rights that resulted in the monks and the bishops barely being on speaking terms. Nor did it go down well in Canterbury.  Words like forgery were bandied around.

However, the death of Thomas Becket improved the relationship between the monks and the bishops of both Rochester and Canterbury primarily because the monks now discovered that they were on a booming pilgrim route – think of Rochester Abbey as offering a medieval ‘good night guarantee’.

Just when things couldn’t have been more eye-brow raising a pilgrim who’d managed to get all the way to Jerusalem and back without mishap was murdered in Rochester.  William of Perth arrived in 1201, got himself murdered by his servant and then performed a miracle by curing a woman who touched the body.  She was mad before but apparently became completely sane afterwards. William of Perth, a baker by trade, became an overnight success and a saint. The money that accrued from pilgrims flocking to William’s shrine paid for a new gothic east end to the cathedral.

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We’ll move on from King John who looted the cathedral in 1215.  Things went from bad to worse. In 1264 the cathedral and abbey fell victim to England’s civil war with soldiers stabling their horses in the cathedral.

The later monks didn’t seem to have the same inventive spirit of the earlier ones and by the end beginning of the thirteenth century the abbey was very badly in debt.  Fortunately Prior Hamo came along and gave the monks and the cathedral a badly needed injection of energy.  He launched a new period of building work in 1320.

There remains one more Bishop of Rochester who is impossible to ignore.  He was executed on Tower Hill in June 1535 for failing to accept the supremacy or the fact of his monarch’s new marriage.  His name was John Fisher. The monks at Rochester had all taken the oath of supremacy in 1534.

The following year Dr Layton arrived to visit the abbey as part of Thomas Cromwell’s Visitation of the Monasteries.  In 1539 the monks of Rochester Abbey were shown the door and then allowed to return as the dean and chapter of six canons of one of Henry VIII’s new cathedrals.

 

Cannon, Jon. (2007) Cathedral: The Greatest English Cathedrals. London: Constable

‘Houses of Benedictine monks: The cathedral priory of St Andrew, Rochester’, in A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2, ed. William Page (London, 1926), pp. 121-126. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/kent/vol2/pp121-126 [accessed 17 August 2016].

Edward Hasted, ‘The city and liberty of Rochester: The priory and cathedral church’, in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 4(Canterbury, 1798), pp. 86-110. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-kent/vol4/pp86-110 [accessed 16 August 2016].

Worcester Cathedral

DSC_0102Bishop Wulfstan became a saint much admired by King John.  He was also a canny politician.  He’d been appointed bishop by Edward the Confessor  in 1062 and is said by his biographer a monk called Colman to have advised King Harold. This didn’t stop him from being one of the first bishops to offer his oath to William. The Worcester Chronicle also suggests that Wulfstan was at William’s coronation.

William set about reforming English Bishoprics, generally by removing Saxon clerics and appointing Normans. He demanded that Wulfstan surrender Worcester.  According to its chronicle Wulstan surrendered the staff to the king who appointed him – i.e. Edward the Confessor. No one else could shift it so William was forced to confirm Wulfstan as bishop.  King John trotted this legend out as an example of the way in which the king had the right to appoint English bishops rather than the pope having the right.

DSC_0114Wulfstan ensured that the Benedictine monks at Worcester continued their chronicle and he preached against slave trading in Bristol.  Meanwhile the priory at Worcester was growing (It was a priory rather than an abbey because it had a bishop as well as its monastic foundation- that’s probably a post for another time).  Not much remains of the early cathedral building apart from the crypt with its forest of  Norman and Saxon columns. Wulfstan’s chapter house draws on its Saxon past and is, according to Cannon, one of the finest examples of its time. In 1113 it suffered a fire rebuilding began immediately. Wulfstan’s canonisation in 1203 helped  Worcester Abbey’s and the cathedral’s economy although the Barons’ War ensured that Wulfstan’s shrine was destroyed on more than one occasion although when Simon de Montfort sacked Worcester he spared the priory.

On a happier note, King John was buried there  partly because of his veneration of St Wulfstan.  He’s one of the saintly bishop’s whispering in the John’s ear (see first image). Henry III crowned at Worcester aged nine with a circlet belonging to his mother because the crown was too big and John had famously just lost rather a lot of bling in The Wash (assuming you don’t think there’s a conspiracy behind the whole story).  Simon de Montfort’s daughter Eleanor (whose mother Eleanor was Henry III’s sister) married Llewelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales there in 1278 having been held prisoner for three years by her cousin Edward I.DSC_0102

A building programme was required for the final resting place of a monarch not least because in 1175 the central tower had collapsed possibly because of dodgy foundations. In 1202 there was yet another fire and in 1220 a storm blew down part of the edifice.  In 1224 the rebuilding began ensuring that Worcester is a good example of early English gothic. The building continued to expand.  By the fifteenth century new windows were being added.

 

We shift now to the Tudor period.  In 1502 Prince Arthur died at Ludlow after only a few months marriage to Catherine of Aragon.  His heart in buried in Ludlow but the rest of him was interred in Worcester Cathedral. His tomb and chantry will be posted about separately.  The Tudor propaganda machine provided symbolism with bells and whistles.

In 1535 Latimer was made Bishop of Worcester.  He visited his see in 1537 by which time Cromwell’s commissioners had carried out the Valor Ecclesiasticus. Its income was £1,260.  It was the fourth richest of the monastic cathedrals behind Canterbury, Durham and Winchester (Lehmberg: 46). Holbeach had sent Cromwell “a remembrance of his duty” in the form of an annuity to the tune of some twenty nobles a year – presumably in the hope of being left alone.  Latimer found that the monks were sticking to their old ways of dressing the Lady Chapel with ornaments and jewels rather than new more austere Protestant approach. He laid down the law but three years later Worcester Priory was surrendered by Prior Holbeach on 18 thJanuary 1540.

Two years later it was re-founded as the Cathedral of Worcester. Holbeach became the first dean of the  cathedral. As with many other religious buildings it suffered during the English Civil War – lead was stripped from its roof valued at £8000. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were a time of renovation for Worcester Cathedral.

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DSC_0151Somehow, thirty-nine fifteenth century misericords survive at Worcester.  There are also some fine spandrels (triangular bits between arches) depicting various scenes including a crusader doing battle with a lion not to mention the crypt and Arthur’s chantry with its tomb of Purbeck marble.

‘The city of Worcester: Cathedral and priory’, in A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 4, ed. William Page and J W Willis-Bund (London, 1924), pp. 394-408. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/worcs/vol4/pp394-408 [accessed 27 August 2016].

Cannon, Jon. (2007). Cathedral: The Great English Cathedrals and the World that Made Them. London: Constable

Lehmberg, Stanford. E. (2014) The Reformation of Cathedrals: Cathedrals in English Society. Princetown: Princetown University Press.

 

 

Brough Castle

DSCN0958You can see Brough Castle as you travel into Cumbria through Westmorland along the A685.  For years it was a key landmark meaning we ‘were nearly there.” Having said that it was many years before I discovered that the name of the little river that runs past Brough is Swindale Beck – and no that’s the moat in the first photograph rather than the beck.

The river runs alongside the flat open space that is very obviously Roman.  In fact Brough used to be the Roman fort of Verterae.  Unsurprising then that William Rufus chose the site for his own fortifications.

DSCN1031From there the tale of Brough Castle is very similar to many others in the region with the perennial seesawing between the English and the Scots.  It was a handy stopping off point as well for English monarchs on their way north to administer justice in Carlisle or to do a spot of Scot-bothering.  Edward I and Edward II both stayed in Brough; though clearly the Scot-bothering skills of father and son were markedly different.  The village of Brough was burned by the Scots in the aftermath of Bannockburn in 1314.

CNV00005-5In terms of ownership, the Castle left royal hands in 1204 when King John granted it to Robert de Vipont along with Appleby Castle and shortly after that gave Robert the title Lord of Westmorland – with the right to be held in perpetuity by his heirs which was of key importance to Lady Anne Clifford’s claim to her estates.  Robert’s son was a minor when he died so for a while the castle was held by Hubert de Burgh.  De Vipont’s grandson, also named Robert died at the Battle of Lewes in 1264 fighting alongside Simon de Montfort against the Crown which was fine until the following year when the monarchy headed up by Henry III (King John’s son) won the Battle of Evesham and demonstrated how underwhelmed he was by people demanding parliaments by seizing Robert de Vipont’s estates even though he was already dead.

DSCN1033Leaving aside legal wrangles, reforms and negotiations the estates and title were ultimately returned by the Crown to Robert’s two daughters who were co-heiresses. Their names were Isabella and Idonea.  Isabella was the younger.  Her husband was Roger de Clifford. Idonea was about nine when her father died and she went on to have two husbands but spent most of her life in Yorkshire.  Her son pre-deceased her so when she died  and was buried in Roche Abbey her entitlement to the lands and estates of Westmorland reverted to her sister and the de Clifford family.

CNV00016-8The Clifford family spent time and money making Brough more secure.  They built a tower and a hall block.

The Wars of the Roses saw the Ninth Lord Clifford die at Dintingdale the day before the Battle of Towton, Easter 1461, with an arrow in his throat and the flight of his young son and heir into obscurity.  During this time the Clifford properties were held by Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick.  Once Henry Tudor defeated Richard III the Tenth Lord Clifford came out of hiding and the Cliffords regained their estates.

Then in 1521 there was a very merry Christmas party – so merry in fact that Brough Castle caught fire and was ruined.  I suppose it makes a change from the Scots burning places down for the owners to do it themselves.

CNV00013-8Brough was only restored in 1659 when Lady Anne Clifford came into the inheritance she’d been fighting for most of her life.  She rebuilt Clifford’s Tower – only for it to burn down again in 1666 which must have been rather irritating for Lady Anne who didn’t die until ten years later. After that and because Lady Anne’s descendants weren’t as keen on old castles as she was it swiftly returned to being a ruin having been used as a sort of quarry to repair Appleby and Brough Mill at various times.

Brough remained in the hands of Lady Anne Clifford’s descendants until 1923.  Lord Hothfield handed it over to the Ministry of Works who placed helpful signs on the building:

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Salter, Mike. (2002) The Castles and Tower Houses of Cumbria. Malvern: Folly Publications

King John’s Christmas gift…

King_John_from_De_Rege_JohannePrince John, youngest son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine was born on or around Christmas Eve 1166 or 1167. The fact that the date of his birth is so poorly recorded reflects how unimportant he was in the great scheme of things at that time. Henry II had three other sons who had survived the perils of childhood – Young Henry, Geoffrey and Richard- John nicknamed ‘Lackland’ by his father could have little expected that he would one day become king.

 

What follows is not, by any stretch of the imagination, history. It’s a poem by A.A. Milne. However, what it does do is demonstrate the fact that popular culture is incredibly important when it comes to our perception of key historical figures.  The Victorians were not keen on John and it’s a viewpoint that has endured.  John has certainly had some bad press over the centuries. I’ve posted several accounts linked to King John and with the best will in the world he certainly did have ‘his little ways’ – with nephews, white satin, jewels, women and barons.  The fact remains though, given the behaviour of other medieval kings, that the old A level question is valid – was John a bad king or an unlucky one?

 

King John’s Christmas

King John was not a good man —

He had his little ways.

And sometimes no one spoke to him

For days and days and days.

And men who came across him,

When walking in the town,

Gave him a supercilious stare,

Or passed with noses in the air —

And bad King John stood dumbly there,

Blushing beneath his crown.

 

King John was not a good man,

And no good friends had he.

He stayed in every afternoon…

But no one came to tea.

And, round about December,

The cards upon his shelf

Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,

And fortune in the coming year,

Were never from his near and dear,

But only from himself.

 

King John was not a good man,

Yet had his hopes and fears.

They’d given him no present now

For years and years and years.

But every year at Christmas,

While minstrels stood about,

Collecting tribute from the young

For all the songs they might have sung,

He stole away upstairs and hung

A hopeful stocking out.

 

King John was not a good man,

He lived his life aloof;

Alone he thought a message out

While climbing up the roof.

He wrote it down and propped it

Against the chimney stack:

“TO ALL AND SUNDRY – NEAR AND FAR

Christmas in particular.”

And signed it not “Johannes R.”

But very humbly, “Jack.”

“I want some crackers,

And I want some candy;

I think a box of chocolates

Would come in handy;

I don’t mind oranges,

I do like nuts!

And I SHOULD like a pocket-knife

That really cuts.

And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,

Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

 

King John was not a good man —

He wrote this message out,

And gat him to this room again,

Descending by the spout.

And all that night he lay there,

A prey to hopes and fears.

“I think that’s him a-coming now!”

(Anxiety bedewed his brow.)

“He’ll bring one present, anyhow —

The first I had for years.”

“Forget about the crackers,

And forget the candy;

I’m sure a box of chocolates

Would never come in handy;

I don’t like oranges,

I don’t want nuts,

And I HAVE got a pocket-knife

That almost cuts.

But, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,

Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

 

King John was not a good man,

Next morning when the sun

Rose up to tell a waiting world

That Christmas had begun,

And people seized their stockings,

And opened them with glee,

And crackers, toys and games appeared,

And lips with sticky sweets were smeared,

King John said grimly: “As I feared,

Nothing again for me!”

“I did want crackers,

And I did want candy;

I know a box of chocolates

Would come in handy;

I do love oranges,

I did want nuts!

And, oh! if Father Christmas, had loved me at all,

He would have brought a big, red,

india-rubber ball!”

 

King John stood by the window,

And frowned to see below

The happy bands of boys and girls

All playing in the snow.

A while he stood there watching,

And envying them all …

When through the window big and red

There hurtled by his royal head,

And bounced and fell upon the bed,

An india-rubber ball!

AND, OH, FATHER CHRISTMAS,

MY BLESSINGS ON YOU FALL

FOR BRINGING HIM

A BIG, RED,

INDIA-RUBBER

BALL

A. A. Milne