This post is slightly convoluted due to an explanation about family links which results in two men bearing the same title (I know, first its generations of men with the same name all of whom seem to take a delight in swapping sides if they were alive during the Wars of the Roses, then there’s the Pastons with John the father and then two living sons called John and now I’m presenting you with two different people with the same title) but bear with me I’ll make my point at some point in proceedings!
The Dacre family, having arrived in 1066, made their home in Gilsland. It was their barony. In short they were border barons doing what border barons did: fighting the Scots, stealing cattle, extorting blackmail, feuding and all those other violent border pastimes that MacDonald Fraser describes with such panache in his book The Steel Bonnets.
So far so simple. However, in 1457 Joan Dacre inherited the title from her grandfather. She married into the Fiennes family. She did however have uncles who may not have been terribly pleased with the arrangement of Sir Richard Fiennes becoming Baron Dacre by right of his wife. The matter was somewhat protracted not only because of the legalities of the situation but because it all took place during a period when the Wars of the Roses were rather warm. Whilst Joan held the title her uncle Ralph or Ranulph depending on the source you read (another common cause for complaint on the name front), also styling himself Lord Dacre, held most of the family manors in the north. In 1461 matters resolved themselves somewhat when Ralph managed to get himself killed, allegedly by an arrow fired by an archer perched in a tree, at the Battle of Towton. Ralph was on the Lancastrian side having commanded the left wing of the Lancastrian army. He was buried upright on his horse in Saxton churchyard. The Victorians discovered this wasn’t just a legend when they dug both skeletons up.
Obviously Ralph was on the losing side which meant that when Yorkist Edward IV finally came to resolving the situation in 1473 he had his own reasons for doing what he did next which was to create Ralph’s younger brother Lord Dacre of the North (it was one of his descendants who managed to become embroiled with Mary Queen of Scots and find himself attainted for treason) whilst, and presumably he did this just to confuse historians, he created Joan’s husband as Lord Dacre of the south. Both families made use of the famous Dacre red bull on their standards and as supporters for their coats of arms.
Phew! I’m nearly at the main point of the post. Thomas Fiennes, Lord Dacre of the South born in 1517 was seventeen the year he succeeded his grandfather to be come the ninth Lord Dacre. By the time he was nineteen he’d been part of the jury that condemned Anne Boleyn of incest, adultery and treason and that same year he’d had the sense to avoid becoming involved with the rebels of the Pilgrimage of Grace but had taken the opportunity to continue a family feud with Lord Clifford when he was sent with two hundred men to help quell the uprising in the north. William, Lord Dacre of the North had already indulged in a bout of fisticuffs with the Clifford faction in Carlisle – so its nice to know that that family had bonded in some form or other after their falling out.
At court Thomas Fiennes attended the baptism of Prince Edward, bore the canopy of state at Jane Seymour’s funeral and he met Anne of Cleves along with the Duke of Norfolk on New Year’s Eve 1540. Henry wasn’t keen and there was a divorce within six months besides which Henry had fallen in love with a woman some thirty years his junior- another Howard girl. Thomas Fiennes must have been quite pleased when his cousin, Katherine Howard married the king on 28 July 1540. Thomas’s mother, Anne Bourchier, was the step-daughter of Thomas Howard at that time Earl of Surrey but now Duke of Norfolk. The world spread out before him, although having said that his cousin Anne Boleyn had already been queen, disgraced and executed.
Then it all went hideously wrong for Thomas Fiennes. For reasons best known to themselves on the 30th April 1541 Dacre together with a party of his friends decided it would be a good idea to go poaching in the park of Mr. Nicholas Pelham at Laughton. There is a letter sent to Thomas Cromwell a few years earlier which demonstrates that Thomas was prone to a spot of poaching – clearly he didn’t know that what was acceptable for his family on the Borders wasn’t acceptable in Kent! Apparently this happy little party became separated before they arrived at Mr Pelham’s park or could nobble any of his deer.
Half the party was intercepted by Mr Pelham’s servants. There was an affray and one of the gamekeepers was killed in the brawl. Reasonably everyone involved was charged with murder. But so were the group of men who hadn’t taken part in the fisticuffs because they’d been notable by their absence, Lord Dacre (the southern one) amongst them.
The reason that the Privy Council charged Dacre’s party who’d blatantly had nothing to do with the death of the man was because Henry VIII said they must. So Dacre found himself up before the king’s bench on 27th June 1541. Dacre, not unreasonably, pleaded ‘not guilty.’ However, he listened to what turned out to be some very bad advice indeed. Record states that he was ‘over persuaded.’ He changed his plea to guilty. He must have hoped for, or expected, leniency. There was only one result – death. The judges and Dacre then tried to get the king’s mercy. It wasn’t forthcoming.
Dacre was executed at Tyburn by hanging on the afternoon of the 29 June having been given false hope when a stay of execution arrived in the morning. Three other of Dacre’s party were also executed.
And why am I choosing to blog about Thomas at this point in proceedings? Well, it seems to me, that if Katherine Howard had King Henry VIII suitably embroiled in love or lust then she should have been able to persuade her spouse to show some mercy for her step-cousin and if she couldn’t have done that she perhaps ought to have thought to herself that it wasn’t a terribly good idea to be carrying on with another distant cousin of hers, a certain Master Culpepper. She had another five months of life left to her when Thomas Fiennes was strung up much to the disgust of the London citizens who witnessed his death.