Tag Archives: Naworth Castle

Highead Castle and Thistlewood Tower

high head castlePele or peel towers are a peculiarity of the Anglo-Scottish borders. They came into existence in a medieval environment, largely during the Scottish Wars of Independence, when the population lived in fear of constant attack. Really and truly none should still be standing as when James VI of Scotland became James I of England he decreed that the borders should henceforth be known as the “Middle Shires” and that pele towers should be torn down. He also executed or deported men with the most notorious border surnames, both English and Scots, to drive his message home.

 

In essence a pele tower is a mini castle that is easily defendable. The large ones have a barmkin or yard enclosed by a wall or palisade of some description. In wealthier towers this would be stone in other locations it would be more of a thorny hedge like structure. The idea was that cattle could shelter in the barmkin whilst people sheltered in the tower that was usually several stories high and many feet thick. The basement room of a tower would be vaulted and used for storage. Often the original access to the living quarters of the tower would be through a hole in the vaulted ceiling via a ladder which could then be drawn up after the defenders.

 

I’ve long been familiar with the pele tower at Hutton-in-the Forest which is the home of Lord and Lady Inglewood. The original tower is now the joint of the two arms of the substantial manor house that grew in later centuries. However, it was during a walk near Ivegill that I encountered the remnants of two more pele towers.

 

Highead Castle can’t be seen from the road and I only glimpsed it through trees – a sort of red sandstone Cumbrian Sleeping Beauty affair. It began life as a pele tower and grew into something rather grander in 1550 when it was purchased by the Richmond family. This in its turn was remodeled during the Eighteenth Century to become a rather lovely Palladian house featuring eleven bays and a pediment not to mention rather a lot of carved ornamentation and Italianate balustrading. As is the way of these things the builders fell upon hard times and by the end of the nineteenth century the castle had changed hands yet again.

 

Unfortunately the castle caught fire in 1956 and was left a wreck. There was a plan to pull it down during the 1980s that came to nothing on account of local protest and since then renovation work has commenced. I hope that it will be a bit like a phoenix and eventually turn into a dwelling again as the ruins that I saw through the trees were rather beautiful.

 

The next pele tower on my walk rejoices in the rather lovely name of Thistlewood Tower. DSCF2764.jpgIt’s a two-storey tower with a vaulted undercroft and like some of the rather grander pele towers it was extended once England and Scotland ceased raiding one another and windows inserted – so technically it ceased being a fortification and turned into a rather grand farm house. In this instance the extension is a seventeenth century one.

 

 

The land around Thistlewood is first mention as being owned by John de Harcla, the brother of Sir Andrew de Harcla, who was executed for treason in Carlisle by Edward II. John suffered the same fate meaning that the land became Crown property by reason of the attainder against John.

 

In 1326 Ralph Dacre received tenure of the land and tower that stood on the site for a period of ten years but the following year it was granted to William L’Engles (there is a little bit of surname difficulty at this point as I think the name should be de Beaulieu) for life.   There then followed a legal wrangle between the new owner and the old tenant. In 1330 Dacre petitioned Parliament that he should be allowed to complete his tenure but clearly by 1358 Thomas de Beaulieu was extending the property to include a chapel and it is Thomas who is most often referenced in the Victorian secondary sources. The tower remained in de Beaulieu hands until the death of William de Beaulieu in 1434.

 

The tower passed once more into the hands of the Dacres where it remained until they finally blotted their copybooks once too often during the reign of Elizabeth I.

 

In 1568 Richard Dacre of Aikton and his family were accused of plotting at Thistlewood and Carlisle to aid Mary Queen of Scots. Richard was up to his neck in the middle of the Rising of the North along with his relation, a cousin of some kind, Leonard Dacre.

 

Leonard Dacre’s, the second son of the Fifth Lord Dacre, wrote a number of letters to Mary Queen of Scots who called him “Dacres with the croked back”. The Rising of the North is often seen as a catholic conspiracy but Leonard’s concerns were rather more prosaic. His nephew, the sixth lord though still a minor, had been killed in an accident in May 1569 with a vaulting horse in Norfolk where he was a ward of the Duke of Norfolk along with his three sisters. Unsurprisingly Thomas Howard, the fourth Duke of Norfolk, ensured that three of his sons married the three sisters and that the estates became part of the Howard empire. On 19th June that same year a court in Greenwich concluded that the title of the Baron Dacre of the North had ceased to exist and that, furthermore, the lands should be divided between the boy’s three sisters. Leonard believed that he should be the seventh Lord Dacre – and that meant getting the family loot as well as the title. Leonard was not amused. It should also be said that many of the border families allied themselves with Dacre because of the power of their name in a quasi-medieval society despite the fact that times were beginning to change – for a start many of them wrote to Cecil complaining about Thomas Howard’s management.

Essentially Leonard tried to play both sides of the game. He protested his loyalty to Elizabeth and in so doing settled old scores, was even commended in December 1569 for his actions against the rebels but he continued to play both sides of the field until he saw which way the wind was blowing. At the point where it became clear that Elizabeth’s forces would prevail he secured Naworth Castle as part of his estate, along with other Dacre strong holdings, and refused admittance to his fellow rebels who sought him out to provide a safe haven.

 

By this point everyone was suspicious of him including Lord Scrope who was the Warden of the West Marches based in Carlisle. On the 19th February 1570 Henry Carey Lord Hunsdon received a note from his cousin Queen Elizabeth I, who was nobody’s fool, ordering him to capture Dacre. On the following morning Hundson and Sir John Forster, the Warden of the Middle March rolled up with a large force of riders outside Naworth. Hunsdon realizing that he wasn’t prepared for a siege decided to press on to Carlisle to meet up with Lord Scope’s forces.

For reasons best known to himself Dacre followed along behind until the royal forces reached the banks of the River Gelt at which point he ordered his men to charge – the affair became known as the Battle of Gelt Bridge. According to sources Dacre had an army of 3000 borderers. He was defeated Hunsdon’s force which was approximately half the size of Dacre’s army.

 

Dacre fled into Scotland and from there to the Low Countries where he received a pension from Philip II of Spain and agitated for an invasion until he died in 1573.

Unsurprisingly the Dacre estates fell to the Crown by attainder, Thistlewood Tower tenanted by Richard Dacre of Aikton among them – meaning that it was once again Crown land.

These days it has been restored and is for sale once again.

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In an aside it would appear that Richard’s son William who was married to the niece of the Bishop Edmund Grindal was also implicated in the rebellion. William was pardoned and settled in St Bees.

Rose Castle next I think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Naworth Castle and the Dacres

IMG_7662.JPGDespite the name Naworth, which does look rather castle-like, is actually a pele tower meaning that it started out rather smaller than a castle and was intended as a place of retreat during times of Scottish raiding.   It received its planning permission in 1335 from King Edward III.  Essentially by planning permission I mean that Ranulph de Dacre received a licence to crenellate – this means there was a definite permission to build battlements.  We tend to think that it is just the monarch who could give permission for fortifications but England being what it was there are some notable exceptions.  If you wanted to build a castle in the county of the Prince Bishops i.e. Durham you had to apply to them.  The same was true for the powerful earls of Chester and also within the Duchy of Lancaster whose landholdings seem to have had a tentacle like grip from the north down across the Midlands.

So why would you want a licence to crenellate?  Well, if you lived on the borders between England and Scotland as at Naworth you probably wanted a jolly high wall to keep marauding Scots out. The downside of this so far as the monarchy was concerned was that some nobles, once they’d got their fancy walls with battlements, might sit behind them and revolt against the king.  The other reason for possibly wanting a licence to crenellate was more a matter of keeping up appearances.  Castle building was an expensive pastime – thus not only were you wealthy enough to afford all the masonry and labour but you were probably also posh enough to receive permission in the first place.

Anyway, Ranulph de Dacre  gained his licence and promptly built a stone tower and it grew from there.  Once the bother with the Scots was over and done with in the seventeenth century the Dacres found themselves short of a male heir so married into the Howard family and the border tower turned into a mansion.  In between times they managed to get themselves a fiercesome reputation as the “Devil’s Dozen,” one of them even managing to kill his brother.  The battle cry of the Dacres is “A red bull! A red bull!” Apparently the cry filled the Scots at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 with dread. Thomas, Lord Dacre was in command of the reserves.

The Dacres are one of those families who turn up throughout the history books either as loyal servants of the crown or out and out rebels – though sometimes its hard to tell which is which.  One of the family, as might be expected, managed to get himself killed at the Battle of Towton in Easter 1461.

To tell the full story, Thomas Dacre the sixth baron married into the Earl of Westmorland’s family when he got hitched to  Philippa  Neville.  Philippa was the daughter of the earl of Westmorland’s first wife.  This particular branch of the family wasn’t terribly keen on the Nevilles who were descended from the Earl of Westmorland’s family by his second wife who was Joan Beaufort, the daughter of the John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. This can sometimes be a bit confusing but basically the children of the first wife (Philippa) got the title and what was entailed to the estate whilst the children of the second wife (Joan) got all the money and everything that wasn’t entailed -i.e. the lion share.  Inevitably this caused resentment and by the time the Wars of the Roses came around the Nevilles from the two extended families were at each others throats.  Dacre having married into the first brood of Nevilles fought on the Lancastrian side whilst the Nevilles from the second family are synonymous with the white rose of York (until the earl of Warwick threw his toys out of the pram and changed sides).

The sixth baron died in 1458.  His eldest son was also dead by the time of Towton leaving daughters. This had resulted in the splitting of the barony into two parts – the north and south.  Ranulph or Ralph the second son of the sixth baron became Lord Dacre of the North or just to be even more difficult Lord Dacre of Gilsland. He fought on the Lancastrian side at Towton (remember his mother was a Neville descended from the earl of Westmorland’s first wife and therefore hostile to Nevilles descended from the second wife.)  He was to the left of the duke of Somerset’s men along with the earl of Devon.  Dacre was, according to legend, shot by a boy in a tree on the part of the battlefield known as North Acres. He is buried at the Church of All Saints, Saxton.  Even though he fought for the Lancastrian side someone managed to find time to bury him sitting on his horse – and yes, the Victorians checked.

His brother Sir Humphrey Dacre also took part in the battle.  He was attainted for treason but was pardoned in 1468 and more formally in 1471. In a twist of fate he turns out to be the marital great uncle of Henry VIII’s last wife Katherine Parr having married Mabel Parr.

Sadler, John. (2006) Border Fury. London: Longman

 

 

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The Northern borders during the Wars of the Roses-an overview of 1461-64

images-17images-9In March 1461 Edward of York won the Battle of Towton and became Edward IV of England and Wales. The great northern earls of Northumberland and Westmorland died during the battle as did many other men from the northern marches including Lord Dacre of Naworth Castle whose title and lands were inherited by his brother – though for limited time because he too had fought at Towton on the losing side.

Meanwhile Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou seeing which way the wind was blowing, fled into Scotland handing over Berwick-Upon-Tweed to the Scots on April 25 1461 which rather helped the Lancastrian cause in Scotland as did the fact that Margaret of Anjou got on famously well with the dowager Queen of Scotland, Mary of Guelders.  For a while a marriage was proposed between Prince Edward of England (Henry and Margaret’s son) and Mary, the eldest sister of young James III who was nay eight at the time that Margaret of Anjou first arrived in Scotland.

Meanwhile Edward IV marched as far as Newcastle, where the Earl of Wiltshire (Sir James Butler) was executed on May 1. H Edward’s journey back to the south left several large castles in Lancastrian hands.  He left the borders in the care of the earl of Warwick.  Warwick was also given the power to negotiate with the Scots who sent ambassadors to speak with the new English king, clearly being of the opinion that it was a good idea to hedge their bets.  Edward commissioned Sir Robert Ogle from the eastern marches to work on a truce with Scotland. Rather confusingly, and unsurprisingly, another branch of the family were firmly Lancastrian in their sympathy.   He also set about negotiating a treaty with the Lord of the Isles who became Edward’s liegeman with a pension, as did several of his cronies, and permission to  hold as much of the northern parts of Scotland as he could get his hands upon.  The earl of Douglas was also in receipt of a pension from Edward, suggesting that Edward felt that if the Scots were busy fighting one another they wouldn’t be fighting him.

Meanwhile Margaret of Anjou went to France to raise support from Louis XI in order to regain her husband’s kingdom.  He wasn’t really that interested but gave her a small body of men and a noble called Breze to be her general. Breze who wasn’t terribly popular with the new french king.  In fact, he was let out of prison in order to command the little force that set off for Northumberland.  He took control of the castle at Alnwick where he and his five hundred men were besieged by Lord Hastings, Sir Ralph Gray and Sir John Howard.

They in their turn were troubled by George Douglas, earl of Angus who had received grants of land from Henry and Margaret during their time in the Scottish court.  Angus was a Scottish border warden so was able to gather a body of men to ride to Breze’s rescue in July. Breze and Angus returned to Scotland.  Ridpath makes the point that the reason Breze was able to exit from the postern gate of Alnwick without any trouble was that there was an agreement between the Scots and the Yorkist besiegers army.

Margaret of Anjou arrived in Northumberland in October.  The North did not rise but Alnwick became Lancastrian once more.  This was either because Sir Ralph Gray had a change of heart after time spent as Yorkist governor of the castle or because there was insufficient food to withstand siege.

Edward IV marched north with an army again.

Margaret fled into Scotland. This description is beginning to feel like a large scale game of game of snakes and ladders for poor Margaret.    She went north by sea, taking  Breze with her.  Luck was not on her side. A storm blew up dispersing the Lancastrian vessels.  Margaret finished up in Berwick whilst Breze foundered off Holy Island.  His boats were, quite literally, burned. Four to five hundred of his men were either killed or captured at the hands of John Manors or the rather descriptively named, Bastard Ogle; both of whom I need to find more about. Breze managed to hail a fishing boat and get away to Berwick where he joined Margaret.

Edward and his army arrived in Durham where Edward promptly caught measles. Warwick took command of the army but since there was now no Lancastrian force  in the field he besieged Alnwick, Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh which were in the hands of Lancastrians and had been since 1461. Bamburgh surrendered on Christmas Eve 1462. The other two were in Yorkist hands by the new year.

It is worth noting that one of the Yorkists besieging the Lancastrians was a certain Sir Thomas Malory who had done considerable amounts of porridge during Henry VI’s reign for breaches of the peace. He would write the Morte d’Arthur during another stint in prison.

The duke of Somerset and Sir Ralph Percy were both pardoned by Edward IV in an attempt to bring old animosities to an end. Other Lancastrians were not afforded the same generosity.  The earl of Pembroke and Lord Roos escaped or were escorted back to Scotland depending on which account you read. The earl of Pembroke a.k.a Jasper Tudor was supposed to have gathered a force to land in Beaumaris, Anglesey in 1462 having tried to rally support in Ireland in the early part of the year but had failed to do this.  Instead ‘Plan B’ involved him joining with the conflict in the north of England  travelling via Brittany and Scotland whilst the three Lancastrian castles mentioned above were being besieged.  His job was a to lift the sieges. The Yorkists had more men than him so he’d been forced to take a place inside Bamburgh Castle.

Meanwhile earlier in the year, on the other side of the country, Margaret of Anjou, slightly foiled but not deterred, had turned her attention to the West March.  She, a group of Lancastrians and some over-optimistic Scots arrived in the outskirts of Carlisle in June 1462.  Margaret had told the Scots that if they could take Carlisle they could have it.  There was the inevitable siege and a fire that burned down the suburbs which did not win friends for the Lancastrian cause in the city. John Neville, Lord Montagu (Warwick’s kid brother) arrived later that same month and raised the siege by July.

Humphrey Dacre, whose elder brother had  been killed at Towton and  to whom Neville was related through Dacre’s mother, was now required to hand over Naworth Castle near Brampton to the Yorkists having been attainted for his own role fighting the Yorkists at Towton.

1463 saw Margaret experience another rear disaster when she encountered Neville’s Yorkist forces near Hexham.. She and Prince Edward “by the aid of a generous robber,” (Ridpath: 295) reached the coast and safety. It was said that Margaret fled with only her son and a single squire into Dipton Wood where the outlaw probably intent on mischief was duly inspired to provide assistance and hiding in a cave.  Sadler, who does not trust the story of the ‘Queen’s Cave’  and  notes that Margaret trusted this man so much that she left Prince Edward in the man’s care whilst she attempted to locate her husband. He quotes for Chastellain whose account came from Margaret herself. She was transferred to the coast and from there took ship to the Continent to plead for more cash to try again.

By the spring of 1464 it was all over for the Lancastrians so far as a Scottish alliance was concerned.  Margaret no longer had the ear of the dowager queen who had died in 1463.  The Scots preferred to make a truce with Edward IV. It is worth noting that Edward wasn’t ruling a peaceful kingdom counties across the country were up in arms.

Margaret of Anjou on the other hand didn’t take no for an answer and was able to do a spot of rabble rousing with the promise of loot.  She entered Northumberland along with her husband and son though the accounts do not always agree as to whether Henry was with her or was in Northumberland all along.  Once more Sir Ralph Gray, who seems to have changed sides more often than he changed his doublet and hose, was on hand to take Alnwick for Margaret and once more the duke of Somerset and Sir Ralph Percy who’d been pardoned by Edward IV upon receipt of sizeable amounts of dosh changed sides back to their original Lancastrian red. It didn’t look good for the Yorkists.

Sir John Neville (the earl of Warwick’s kid brother) stepped into the breach. He wasn’t terribly amused in any event.  He’d been sent north to escort James III of Scotland to York to sign a peace treaty with Edward.  En route he encountered the earl of Somerset near Alnwick at Hedgely Moor on April 21 1464.  Somerset’s forces blocked the road.  There was the usual fisticuffs. Sir Ralph Percy found himself encircled and was killed.  Three weeks later, on May 15, Sir John confronted Somerset at Hexham. Somerset ad Lord Roos were captured. Both men were taken to Newcastle where they were executed as were other Lancastrians.

Back at Bamburgh, Sir Ralph Gray perhaps realising that another change of side wasn’t really an option attempted to hold out until he realised it would avail him little and attempted to negotiate surrender.  He was executed at Doncaster.

Sir John Neville, Lord Montagu received his reward in York where the English and the Scots finally signed their peace treaty.  Montagu became the earl of Northumberland which perhaps did not take into account the loyalty of the men of the east marches to their ancestral overlord.

Meanwhile Henry VI who’d sought shelter at Bywell Castle escaped into the hills where he remained for a considerable time sheltered by loyal Lancastrians until he was captured and taken to London.

jaspertudor.jpgI must admit to being interested in Jasper Tudor’s peregrinations in the north of England. The details of his route to and from Scotland are sketchy other than for his presence in the East March. I am also intrigued by  the sides taken by the various border families, although I suspect as with the battles between England and Scotland, men such as the Grahams were Yorkist when they wished and Lancastrian at other times but on all occasions men who looked after their own cares first.

Breverton, Terry. (2014) Jasper Tudor: Dynasty Maker. Stroud: Amberley

Ridpath, George. (1970). Border History. Edinburgh: The Mercat Press

Royle, Trevor. (2009).  The Wars of the Roses. London:Abacus

Sadler, John. (2006). Border Fury. London: Pearson

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