Tag Archives: Richmond Castle

Sir Walter Urswick – soldier, warrior, constable of Richmond Castle.

john of gauntBefore he became the duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt was the earl of Richmond. The title was confirmed on him by Edward III in 1351, prior to that date the income from the estates lay in Queen Philippa’s hands for the maintenance of the royal children.

Gaunt surrendered the title in June 1372 when he married Constance of Castile and took the title king of Castile. Many members of his retinue had joined with Gaunt as he started to build his train of retainers whilst earl of Richmond. Sir Walter Urswick was one such.

Sir Walter Urswick, who was Gaunt’s master of game amongst other things, joined John’s retinue in 1367 as Gaunt for £40.00 per year. Urswick died a decade later (approx) and was buried in the church at Catterick. Interestingly Urswick’s indenture doesn’t make any mention of serving Gaunt during time of war. Conditions are only attached to peacetime service and Urswick was a very busy man on John of Gaunt’s behalf from his base in the Manor of Catterick. In addition to being Gaunt’s master of game he was also the Forester for Swaledale and in 1371 became Constable of Richmond Castle.  In addition he was the Forester for the Forest of Bowland – Gaunt was the Lord of Bowland in addition to all his other titles. Walter held a property at Whitewell which is an inn today.

Despite not having agreed to serve in Gaunt’s retinue in times of war Urswick turns up in Navarre in 1366 where he was knighted and is mentioned in Froissart as serving with Gaunt in Bruges. Following the good service that Urswick performed in Navarre he attained all the other preferrements identified in the paragraphs above and is noted as one of Gaunt’s most trusted men. A letter recalls:

John, son of the noble King of England, Duke of Lancaster, &c., &c„
to all whom these letters may concern, greeting I Know you that for the
good and friendly service which our well-beloved Master Walter de Urswick
has done us in our expedition to Spain, and for others he will render in time
to come, and also to enable him the better to maintain the order of knight-
hood which he took of us on the day of the battle of Najara, we have given
and granted to him for the term of his. life £40 a year, to be taken, year by
year, in round sums, at the hands of our general Receiver for the time being
out of the issues of our Manors of Katterick and Forcet, in our county of
Richmond.’

https://archive.org/stream/recordsfamilyur01urwigoog/recordsfamilyur01urwigoog_djvu.txt (accessed 25/07/2017 21:24).

Sir Walter’s brother Robert was Gaunt’s receiver and other members of the family appear on the pay roll as well.  It should also be mentioned that he married into the Scrope family – as demonstrated by the impaling of the Urswick arms with those of the Scropes’ upon his monument in St Anne’s Catterick – demonstrating once again the growth of a network binding the Lancaster Affinity together.

Catterick - St Anne Walter Urswick 1375 77.jpg

The picture of Sir Walter’s monument originates from http://www.themcs.org/armour/14th%20century%20armour.htm

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Alan of Brittany

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Richmond Castle is exceptionally impressive, towering at over 300 ft, it is also one of Britain’s oldest stone keeps.  There has been one on this site since 1088 . Richmond was granted to Alan the Red, Count of Brittany in 1071.  Alan was a relation of William the Conqueror, a second cousin.  His father was Count Odo of Brittany. He was part of Duke William of Normandy’s household and was at the Battle of Hastings commanding the Breton contingent.

As a consequence, Alan was an extremely rich and powerful man – a position that he improved upon when he helped to quell the rebellion in the North in 1069.  Click on the image of Richmond Castle to open a new page listing all of Alan’s lands in the Domesday Book. He founded St Mary’s Abbey in York.  His power base was the north and his building work demonstrates how important it was for him to make his mark upon the landscape.  He also built the first castle at Middleham which was in the hands of his brother.  By the time of his death he was the fourth largest landowner in England.5-alan-rufus

His ambitions included marriage to the King of Scotland’s daughter Edith also known as Matilda.  William the Conqueror saw this as a step too far but somehow or other Alan had become entangled with another royal lady during this time.  Edith was living at the nunnery of Wilton.  It appears that King Harold’s daughter Gunnhild was living there as well.  She may well have been sent there for her education as well as her own protection.

Alan’s plans for Edith fell through but apparently Gunnhild took herself off to Richmond to be with Alan.  Seems straight forward?  Well, it would be if there was only one source involved – did she go willingly or was she abducted?  Was she a nun or was she simply living in a nunnery as many well-born women did? Was it love or was it a match between a Saxon and a Norman to secure for Alan the lands that came to Gunnhild via her mother (Edith Swanneck)?  If the latter was the case, then Alan was seeking to secure some of his lands not just by conquest but also by union with the woman whose lands they rightfully were.

When Alan died in 1093, shortly after he carried off Gunnhild, his estates went first to his brother, the imaginatively named, Alan the Black and then to their younger brother Stephen.

As for Gunnhild, having eloped from her nunnery, she was in no hurry to return so she took up with Alan the Black and earned a stinging rebuke from Archbishop Anselm.

There is also the intriguing possibility that the dates given above are not the correct ones and that the correct story occurs much earlier. She and Alan eloped in the 1070s rather than just before Alan’s death.  This isn’t as far-fetched as it seems.  After all there are different accounts as to when he died – one gives the date as 1089 when he was very much alive.  If the dates for the match are earlier then it is possible that the couple had a daughter called Matilda who was married to Walter d’Agincourt. Matilda gave large gifts of land at the time of her marriage to Lincoln Cathedral – these were all the property of Alan the Red. This version would, perhaps, also account for the seemingly dramatic swapping of one Alan for another.

Gunnhild is a chance discovery when I was researching Alan the Red to find out more about the man who built Richmond Castle.  She’s sitting on the margins of history and once again the moth-holed accounts are tantalizingly incomplete.

Sources:

Sharpe, Richard. “King Harold’s Daughter”  The Haskins Society Journal 19: 2007. Studies in Medieval History

 edited by Stephen Morillo, William North.  This can be accessed via Google Books and makes for fascinating reading.

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Filed under Castles, Eleventh Century