Tag Archives: Sir Andrew de Harcla

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

Kirkby Stephen

DSC_0020At Kirkby Stephen I am hard on the trail of Sir Andrew de Harcla, First Earl of Carlisle – hero and traitor.  I’ve posted elsewhere about his treaty with Robert Bruce that left Edward II so enraged that he had Sir Andrew arrested, stripped of his titles and sent to a traitor’s death on Harraby Hill in 1325 despite the fact that Edward owed his crown to Sir Andrew.  Various bits of Sir Andrew’s anatomy were nailed to various city gates but eventually his sister was allowed to gather his remains together and bury him near his childhood home- Hartley Castle- which is just down the road from Kirkby Stephen.

Hartley Castle lies beneath the Eighteenth/Nineteenth Century house that stands on the castle’s outer court.  On Sir Andrew’s death all his property was forfeit to the crown.  It passed from Harcla or Hartley hands into those of Ralph Neville of Raby.  He sold it on to Thomas de Musgrave. The stones from Hartley Castle were used by the Musgraves to build a manor house at Edenhall.

There are two memorials to the Musgraves in Kirkby Stephen Church and until I read the notes in the church I assumed the knightly effigy in the Hartley Chapel belonged to Sir Andrew.  It turns out that the knightly chap is Sir Richard de Musgrave- a good century later than the earl (note to self revisit medieval costume)- while the humble red sandstone slab next to the altar belongs to Sir Andrew.  It makes sense because this is, after all, the position with most honour attached to it.

The church really is well worth a visit. The Norman church stands on the site of an earlier Saxon church.  This in itself sums up Kirkby Stephen.  It’s knee-deep in history  going back to the Stone Age and Bronze Age.  But back to the church.  You enter the church precincts through a cloistered area built in 1810.  Once inside the church, known as ‘the Cathedral of the Dales,’ as well as the mellow smell of wax and polish there’s plenty of evidence of generations of worshippers.  There’re eighteenth century shelves for bread to be given as alms to the poor.

And a Loki stone.  There are only two Loki stones in the whole of Europe and one of them is in Kirkby Stephen.  Loki was the Norse god of mischief.  The other Norse gods chained him up because he was a very naughty god…or words to that effect.  Kirkby Stephen’s Loki stone has been Christianised as he comes from the shaft of a tenth century Anglo-Danish cross shaft.  Loki has been transformed into the devil in chains.

After all that excitement it was time to brave the rain once again and go in search of tea and scones – all of which, I think you will find, are essential to most acts of historical research.

The sun had come out by the time we’d had a nice cup of tea and I was able to explore the town.  It was once on the borders and the inhabitants built it so that the streets were deliberately narrow.  They’ve been widened but it is easy to see how the people of Kirkby Stephen set about protecting themselves from the Scots.

There  was also a fascinating leaflet in the tourist information office about Kirkby Stephen’s secret tunnels.  One of the suggestions made is that there is a tunnel leading to Hartley Castle as part of the defences against the aforementioned Scots- having said that the leaflet also suggests tax avoidance, plague tombs and links with Pendragon Castle which is just down the road.  And yes, Pendragon Castle does have links with King Arthur.  He gets everywhere.

On a more historically viable basis I discovered that Kirkby Stephen was heavily involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536/7 which was the North’s response to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.  James I managed to irritate the citizens of the town when he tried to confiscate some of their land and perhaps unsurprisingly in the light of the previous two facts the town supported Parliament during the English Civil War.  They even managed to get themselves involved with a plot against Charles II in 1663.  The Kaber Rigg Plot failed and its leaders were hung in Appleby.  Who would have thought that such a tranquil little place could have so much fascinating history?

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The Battle of Boroughbridge

DSC_0006Thomas of Lancaster was not Edward II’s favourite cousin.  After all, it was Thomas who was responsible for capturing Edward’s favourite Piers Gaveston and it was Thomas who handed Piers over to the Earl of Warwick and it was Thomas who sat with Warwick in judgement on the favourite.  It wasn’t a happy outcome for Gaveston who found his head separated from his shoulders.

The royal cousins patched things up in the short-term but following the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 when Edward was a rather inglorious runner-up – or perhaps that should be runner away. Lancaster was able to take the moral high ground and wrested power from the king’s hands.  Matters weren’t helped by the fact that the barons were resentful of the king’s bad governance, his failure to beat the Scots and the fact that moderate nobles such as the Earl of Gloucester died at Bannockburn.  It was inevitable that there would be some form of civil conflict.  The trigger was Edward’s new favourite, Hugh Despenser – a particularly unpleasant individual if the chronicles are to be believed.  He acquired land that had belonged to Gloucester on the Welsh Marches and then took the opportunity to help himself to a bit more as well.  Men such as the Mortimers, Cliffords and even the Earl of Hereford found their land holdings in Wales threatened by Despenser and Lancaster found himself with several very enthusiastic supporters.  The time seemed ripe.  He elicited support from the Scots and gathered his army.

Luck, however, was not on Lancaster’s side.  First he lost many of his stores while trying to ford a flooded river.  The king’s army, under the command of the Earls of Surrey and Kent, was larger than expected and Lancaster found himself moving north rather than south.  He wasn’t blessed with particularly talented scouts either.  No one spotted the King’s northern army under the command of Sir Andrew de Harcla heading south to join with the main army.  Lancaster found himself trapped between two forces loyal to the king.

The rebels had no choice but to take the bridge at Boroughbridge if they wished to escape but when they arrived they discovered that de Harcla had got there first. The bridge was guarded by his knights and men-at-arms while the river banks were lined with his archers.   At first, the exchange was limited to arrows singing across the river. It was stalemate, until that is, the Earl of Hereford attacked the bridge in heroic style.  It was unfortunate that armour did not protect the lower regions because Hereford was disembowelled by one of de Harcla’s spearman who’d climbed under the bridge.  There was a moment of panic that saw Roger de Clifford the heir to the castles of Appleby, Pendragon and Brougham felled by an arrow.  The rebels withdrew but in good order.

Thomas of Lancaster was forced to parley with de Harcla.  He reminded the knight that he’d gained his spurs from Thomas himself.  He promised that if de Harcla changed sides that there would be other and greater rewards.  De Harcla refused.  Finally Thomas agreed that he would surrender the next day or suffer the consequences.  Thomas went off for a good night’s sleep in Boroughbridge. De Harcla and his men spent an uncomfortable night watching the bridge.  Personally, I like to think that de Harcla wanted his old mentor to slip through the lines and make his escape because the next morning hostilities didn’t recommence until the arrival of the Sheriff of Yorkshire.

De Harcla began his attack on the town (the image of the battle with the burning houses gives some indication of Boroughbridge’s plight).  There was no more choice in the matter.  Lancaster’s army fled.  Lancaster himself sought sanctuary in a chapel just off the market square.  His sanctuary was not respected.

DSC_0004These days Boroughbridge is much more peaceful I’m pleased to say and the ramshackle wooden bridge that crossed the River Ure is decidedly more solid these days.  Where de Harcla’s men once lined up to stop Lancaster’s army there’s a picnic area.  There are some handy interpretation boards with some delightful illustrations along the way and at Aldborough there’s an opportunity to view Boroughbridge’s Battle Cross.  Up until the Victorian period it had stood in the market square for five hundred years – one of the country’s earliest war memorials perhaps?DSC_0003

When we set off on the four mile walk around the site of the battle the sun even shone – it was the beginning of June and although we didn’t realise it at the time but it was one of the few hot summer days of 2012.  Having said that we did have to pick up our pace over the last mile or so on account of the rather heavy storm cloud that threatened.  Better a soaking  though than the fate that befell Thomas of Lancaster.  He was dressed in his servant’s clothes, paraded through the streets of York, pelted with mud and then tried in his own castle – Pontefract.  When they executed him – they made him face in the direction of Scotland.

 

 

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Filed under Anglo-Scottish history, Fourteenth Century, The Plantagenets