Tag Archives: Ralph Dacre

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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Filed under Anglo-Scottish history, Castles, Cumbria, Pele Towers, The Tudors

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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Filed under Anglo-Scottish history, Castles, Cumbria, Fifteenth Century, Law, Wars of the Roses

Lord Dacre and Henry VIII

thomas fiennes.jpgThis 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.

 

catherine howard.jpgAt 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.

 

 

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Filed under Anglo-Scottish history, Sixteenth Century, The Tudors