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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The earls of Northumberland and the Percy Family – part 3 of 4. The magnificent and unlucky Tudors.

The 5th Earl of Northumberland:

5th north coat of armsThe 5th earl  carried the Coronation sword at Richard III’s coronation but grew up in Henry VII’s court as part of the group of young men who were schooled alongside Princes Arthur and Henry. In the first instance it helped remind the 4th earl where his loyalties lay and in the second place it kept the Percy power base under control. He was at Arthur’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon and  was part of the train that took Princess Margaret to Scotland to be married to James IV.  He had a reputation for being magnificently dressed and travelling in the manner befitting an earl.   As such it would be easy to assume that he had royal favour but it is clear that becoming warden of the border marches was something of an issue once he attained his majority.  Nor for that matter did he acquire any important national roles.  The stumbling block would appear to be the  “ravishment” of Elizabeth Hastings – which sounds unpleasant.  In reality Elizabeth was the daughter of Sir John Hastings of Yorkshire. She was a ward of the Crown and Percy had arranged her marriage.   The language of ravishment and abduction is the language of property being removed from Henry VII’s grasping fingers rather than an account depicting the earl’s predatory nature.  Initially he was fined £10,000 but this was later reduced by half.  Part of the problem for Percy was that the Tudors had learned important lessons about over mighty subjects. Consequentially Henry VII took a dim view of anyone standing on his prerogatives and he didn’t trust the Percy clan in any event because of their landholding and wealth – not to mention prior form. It was Henry VIII who cancelled the debt once he became king. The question is was Percy unsuited for power or did Henry VII use the case of Elizabeth Hastings to financially kneecap a man known for his lavish lifestyle?

 

Meanwhile Percy and his wife, Katherine Spencer – a three times great grand-daughter of Edward III had four children born in the first decade of the sixteenth century; Henry (1502), Thomas (1504), Ingram (1506) and Margaret (1508).   The year after Margaret was born it was rumoured that the earl had come to an agreement with the Duke of Buckingham to overthrow the Tudors.  It was supposed that he would rule north of the Trent. It says something that when Buckingham found himself in the Tower in 1521 on charges of treason that the earl was spared though he had been in the Fleet a few years previously on another ward related charge.  It is also evident that Henry VIII ordered Cardinal Wolsey to keep an eye on the earl despite the fact that nothing can really, at this point in history, be levelled against him.

 

He did all the usual things that Tudor nobles did. He went to war in France in 1512 so was not on hand when James IV of Scotland took the opportunity to invade England.  By 1522 he was back on the borders and indulging in some light feuding with the Dacre family.  The problem was that Percy saw the warden role in the east and middle marches as one that he was entitled to whilst Dacre had other ideas.  The only reason that the Dacre family had become used to serving in the capacity of Warden was that the fifth earl had been a minor when his father was killed by a mob near Thirsk in 1489.  Whilst the earl was a ward of the Crown, the Percy estates were administered by the Earl of Surrey and many of the offices associated with the Percy family were offered out to other families.  The truth is that Percy had never played the role his forefather’s played either through his youth or because of Tudor distrust.  Despite that he attempted to regain the position in northern society he felt was his. By the time he was offered a wardenship he knew that he did not have the necessary military skills to fulfil the role and resigned his commission. The magnificent earl might perhaps have been better described at that stage as the very grumpy earl.

 

Dacre complained from the borders to the king he wasn’t getting the help from Percy that he thought should have been forthcoming.  In 1517 when Margaret Tudor returned to England as a heavily pregnant fugitive, the earl was not overjoyed to see her.  He wrote to the king suggesting that Dacre or the Earl of Cumberland might like to look after her.  He was probably aware the cost of providing for her would come out of his purse.  He attempted to suggest that the countess was indisposed but that didn’t wash with Henry who ordered Northumberland to bring Margaret south.  One of the reasons was that the earl was not as wealthy as he had once been.  He gambled heavily, spent excessively and seems to have been fined rather a lot by Cardinal Wolsey who seems to have been determined to break the northern powerbase that was the earldom of Northumberland.

 

Henry’s brother William was much more the border baron than his brother.  He fought at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 and was created a knight on the battlefield. Even Lord Dacre wrote highly of William as did Bishop Ogle of Carlisle. It was William who trained the earl’s younger sons in the art of border warfare whilst their eldest brother was sent to London to the household of Cardinal Wolsey for his education and, let’s be honest, as a surety for the fifth earl’s good behaviour.

 

The Fifth earl turns up in national history in 1526 when he was summoned from the north to sort out the affairs of his eldest son.  Henry junior was betrothed to Mary Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, but had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn.  The earl was supposed to back up the cardinal who had been ordered to prevent the match.

 

He died on May 19 1527.

The 6th Earl of Northumberland:

The new earl was of age but Wolsey made the earl of Cumberland, Margaret Percy’s husband, executor of the 5th earl’s estate.  The 6th earl was forbidden from attending the funeral of his father and then there was the issue of Mary Talbot – the powerless daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury.  The engagement had been a means of breaking off the relationship between Percy and Anne Boleyn but the match was not finalised.  It had in fact been halted because the young people did not like one another.   Now Percy was required to marry her and to live in the north.  The fifth earl had not been impressed with his heir and it would have to be said that either of his younger brothers was more suited to riding around the countryside killing reivers – poor old Henry simply hadn’t been trained for it and was rather on the sickly side.  It can’t have helped that his father was so far in debt- more than £17,000- that the plate had to be pawned to pay for his funeral.

 

Cardinal Wolsey drew up a budget.  It was not generous. Wolsey also arranged for the estate rents to be collected and began to have a close look at various Percy deeds and entitlements.  Matters came to a head when it was discovered that one of the earl’s retainers, appropriately named Wormme,  was sending Wolsey details of the earl’s accounts. The earl was not amused and the gentleman in question is supposed to have spent considerable time in a less comfortable dungeon in Alnwick Castle upon payment of a £300 bribe by the earl specifically to get his hands on the man.

 

The earl now set about demonstrating that he was more than capable of maintaining order in the north though unfortunately he was less able to maintain order in his own marriage. Mary liked Henry almost as much as he liked her.  The pair separated but were required by Wolsey to resume their married life. It was not a happy marriage in any sense of the word.  Mary became convinced that Henry was trying to kill her – there is no evidence that he was.

 

But time was running out for the Cardinal who had been unable to untie Henry VIII from his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. The king had rather an unpleasant sense of humour. He sent the man whose life had been made a misery to arrest the Cardinal and convey him to London.  Northumberland arrived at Cawood near York on the 4thNovember 1529 where he behaved, it is said with great dignity and compassion for Henry VIII’s former minister.

 

In 1531 the earl was made a knight of the garter. He was not involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace.  He died in 1537 leaving his money to Henry VIII.  He is best remembered as the first love of Anne Boleyn.  He collapsed at her trial and never really recovered.

Having no children his title passed to his younger brother unfortunately Thomas had become caught up in Bigod’s Rebellion (the follow on to the Pilgrimage of grace).  He was hanged drawn and quartered in London in June 1537 before he could become earl.

 

The 7th Earl of Northumberland:

200px-Thomas_Percy_Earl_of_Northumberland_1566The 7th earl was Thomas’s oldest son, also called Tomas – a pleasant change from all those Henrys.  To all intents and purposes his father’s death as a traitor should have debarred him from the earldom but when he came of age in 1549 he was restored to some of his lands and his loyalty to Mary Tudor in 1557 saw him restored to the earldom.  The Percys had never stopped being Catholic. Unfortunately it all went to his head – quite literally- as he took part in the Northern Rising of 1569. I have posted about the 7th earl before.  If you would like to read more click here to open a new page.  He was executed in 1572 in York on Elizabeth’s orders.  His execution warrant can still be seen in Alnwick Castle.

 

The seventh earl’s son died before him and he left a family of daughters so the family had to look back up the family tree for the next earl.  Not only that but Elizabeth I didn’t trust the family so far as she could throw them so refused to allow them to travel to their residences in the north of the country.  During this time Petworth in Sussex became the main Percy residence.

The 8th Earl of Northumberland:

Henry Percy, 8th Earl of Northumberland (c.1532-1585) (posthumous) by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (Antwerp 1599 - London 1641)

Oil painting on canvas, Henry Percy, 8th Earl of Northumberland (c.1532-1585) by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (Antwerp 1599 – London 1641). A posthumous three-quarter-length portrait, standing, turned slightly to the right, gazing at the spectator, short cropped hair, beard and moustache, wearing full armour, his right hand wearing his gauntlet and holding a baton his left elbow leaning on a ledge and his left bare hand hanging over it. On the ledge is his helmet.

The eighth earl was another Henry Percy and he was the seventh earl’s younger brother.  He had the common sense to remain loyal to Elizabeth I during the Rising of the North. Unfortunately he was implicated in assorted plots to release Mary Queen of Scots.  He was sent to the Tower as a result of being implicated in the Throckmorton Plot and again in 1584 when he was accused of plotting to allow the Duc de Guise to land troops for the purpose of releasing Mary Queen of Scots and returning England to Catholicism.  Off he went to the Tower – for a third time as it happens – he died unexpectedly on 21stJune 1585.

Someone had shot him through the heart.  It was decided that he had committed suicide. Let’s just say that warders and officers in charge of the earl’s well being were changed just beforehand to men who were careless about guns. It rather looks as though Sir Christopher Hatton, the queen’s favourite, may have assisted the “suicide.”

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Henry Hastings, 3rd Earl of Huntingdon

huntingdon3bHenry Hastings, born in 1535, was the great grandson of  Margaret, Countess of Salisbury – the redoubtable lady who defied the executioner in the Tower of London , and as the very entertaining Yeoman of the Guard explained during my visit, “had it away on her toes.”  She was in her 80s at the time and about to be the victim of judicial murder.   He was descended from the Pole family so was a Plantagenet, Margaret was the niece of King Edward IV.  It was a bloodline that did rather mean that his family was prone to sudden death by beheading.  Both his maternal grandparents had suffered a similar fate and his two times great grandfather the Duke of Clarence was the chap who suffered an unfortunate end in a vat of malmsey.

 

Henry loyal to the Tudors and his country was a protestant with puritan tendencies having spent much of his childhood as companion to King Edward VI.  He was even married to the Duke of Northumberland’s daughter Catherine Dudley (making him a brother-in-law to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester).  Upon his father’s death he became the Third Earl of Huntingdon.

 

When Elizabeth was seriously ill in 1562 his name was given as a potential replacement.  It would have meant ignoring the rights of Lady Catherine Grey but his bloodline, his faith and, of course, his gender made his claim a powerful one.

 

His protestant sympathies were so strong that he asked Queen Elizabeth if he could go to France to support the Huguenots.  There was talk of him selling his estates to raise an army.  It is perhaps not surprising then, that as a possible heir to the English throne and a man of Protestant principle he was not one of Mary Queen of Scots admirers; he’d been invited to hear the evidence against Mary as presented by Moray in the form of the Casket Letters.  He was firmly against a marriage between Mary and the Duke of Norfolk in 1569, not least because it would have weakened his own position.

 

At this time the Earl of Shrewsbury, Mary Queen of Scots jailor, was ill and had been with the queen to take the waters in Buxton.  He had gone without Elizabeth’s permission.  Now, ordered back to Tutbury Mary was about to make the acquaintance of Huntingdon.  He was sent ostensibly to assist Shrewsbury to guard the queen against the northern earls who were planning to raise an army, march south and free the queen.  He arrived on the 19th of September.  Mary feared for her life and said as much in a letter to the French ambassador.  Shrewsbury must have agreed with Mary because he wrote back saying that his health was sufficient to guard his charge and that he had no desire to be replaced.  In the event Mary was conveyed to Coventry and out of reach of the Northern Earls via Ashby de La Zouche castle which belonged to Huntingdon.  The shared responsibility for the queen was not a happy alliance as letters in the National Archives demonstrate.

 

Huntingdon soon departed from his temporary role as joint custodian of the queen.  He soon found another occupation.  The threat of the Northern Earls loomed ever larger  in 1569 so it was decided that Huntingdon should be made lord-lieutenant of Leicestershire and Rutlandshire.  He was also created Lord Presedent of the North in 1672.  The following year he was one of the Duke of Norfolk’s judges when he was tried for the crime of treason.

 

His offices in the North grew and as a consequence it was he who represented Queen Elizabeth in a conference with the Scottish regent Moray following the Raid of Reidswire; he looked into the religious beliefs of the gentry of the north – no doubt in search of Catholic plotters- and was part of the force that gathered to repel the expected Spanish invasion.

 

In his spare time he wrote a family history, a poignant task given his lack of children.  He also invested in the early chemical industry buying land in Dorset with an alum and coppera mine, the manor of  Puddletown and part of the manor of Canford, which had previously belonged to Lord Mountjoy.  The two men became involved in a legal wrangle about who had the right to extract the minerals.  Mountjoy claimed that he had stipulated that he should retain the rights to extract the minerals.    The conflict was eventually resolved after many years.  The mines did indeed belong to Huntingdon but he had to pay Mountjoy’s son (the old lord had died by that time) £6000 in compensation.

 

Henry Hastings died in December 1595 and was buried in Ashby-de-la-Zouche.  His brother George became the Fourth Earl.

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Simple Tom

200px-Thomas_Percy_Earl_of_Northumberland_1566Thomas Percy 7th Earl of Northumberland gained the rather unflattering nickname Simple Tom.  He was a key figure in the Northern Rising of 1569.  He’d met Mary Queen of Scots on her journey to Carlisle in May 1568 and it was to Northumberland that Mary, during her journey from Bolton Castle to Tutbury, sent a gold ring with a reminder that he’d promised to help her.

 

Northumberland was not only in contact with Mary.  He also had links to the papacy in Rome and to the Duke of Alva in the Low Countries.  His forceful wife Ann was an ardent Catholic.  Percy had other reasons for resenting the English establishment.  He’d lost the lucrative wardenship of the East marches that he regarded as his birthright and in addition the revenue from copper mines found on lands he owned near Keswick had been commandeered on behalf of the State by Cecil.

He found himself drawn into a scheme later described as incoherent and aimless along with the Earl of Westmoreland and Leonard Dacre.  The aim was to raise the north, march south and free Mary Queen of Scots from captivity.  She was then to marry the Duke of Norfolk.  The earls would then rid Elizabeth of her poor advisors (Cecil).   

The rising  began before the rebels were ready.  Panic caused by the arrest of the Duke of Norfolk, led to the church bells in Topcliffe being rung backwards on the 9th November 1569.  It was the middle of winter – exactly the wrong time for a rebellion.  Before long the rebels found themselves sandwiched between a force from the south led by the Earl of Warwick and a combined force from the north led by Sir John Forster and Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon.  Mass was said in Durham.  Hartlepool was captured so that the Duke of Alva could land but the earls did not receive the support that they’d relied upon.  It wasn’t long before they found themselves turning  north towards home.  

 

The rebels and the forces loyal to the queen, including Percy’s brother Henry, fought briefly at Chester Dean near Hexham.  Percy and his fellow conspirator the Earl of Westmoreland fled the field along with Percy’s wife.

 

They rode as fast as they could to Naworth Castle, home of the Dacre family.  Leonard Dacre had been a conspirator but had changed sides.  Now he kept his doors firmly shut against the desperate earls.  His brother Edward led them into Liddesdale and left them in the hands of the Armstrongs who were notorious border reivers.  It was said of Jock of the Side’s home that it wasn’t fit for a dog kennel.

 Ann was left with Jock of the Side and Black Ormiston.  One or the other of these borderers relieved the countess of her jewels and her horses.  She was eventually rescued by the Kerrs of Ferniehurst who traditionally feuded with the Percy family but who were loyal to Mary Queen of Scots (sounds like a complicated game of chess).  

 Henry Percy’s ill luck continued.  He found himself separated from the Earl of Westmoreland and was betrayed by Hector Armstrong of Harelaw into the hands of Martin Elliott who promptly handed the unhappy earl into the clutches of Moray.  Moray sent his prize to Lochleven Castle where he remained for the next two years while the English and the Scots negotiated with one another over the best price for Simple Tom. 

 

During this time Ann, Countess of Northumberland escaped abroad to raise the money to ransom her husband from the Scots.  It did little good.  Percy was escorted into England in 1572.  He believed that he was going to make his peace with Elizabeth.

 

Upon his arrival in York on the 22nd August 1572 he was executed somewhere near Low Pavement and buried in St Crux Church near the Shambles.  The church was demolished and the site of his burial lost during the Victorian period.  However, the nineteenth century also saw his beatification – so Simple Tom became the Blessed Thomas Percy, Seventh Earl of Northumberland.