Archive for the ‘Cumbria’ Category

In the little Cumbrian valley of Matterdale there is a local story that has been passed down from generation to generation for more than three hundred years. It tells of how in the late seventeenth century one poor tenant farmer walked hundreds of miles to London to testify in front of the highest court in the land – the House of Lords – in a trial which pitted a group of Matterdale farmers against a powerful local lord of the manor. Is this story true? If so what was it all about and what was the outcome?

Luckily the records of the trial survive in the archives of the House of Lords and so it is possible to reconstruct much of the real history of this small episode. More than this, the long and costly struggle of the Matterdale farmers gives us a lovely insight into the centuries-long, and much opposed, English enclosure process – a process that was just beginning to bite in Cumberland in the seventeenth century.

Matterdale Church, Cumberland

In those days, it was relatively unusual for poor tenant farmers (not to speak of still poorer cottagers and landless peasants) to somehow be able to manage to take their complaints and grievances against their lords all the way through the different levels of the English legal system right up to the House of Lords. It was also quite rare for them to eventually win, as these Matterdale farmers did! Such rarity was both because the legal system was increasingly stacked against poor rural people trying to uphold their age-old common rights against the insidious and inexorable encroachments of powerful local lords, but also it was simply a question of money. Most small farmers simply just couldn’t afford the huge expense of lawyers plus the time and effort required to pursue their case to the very end.

Later I will provide a little background on the English enclosure movement and what protecting common rights meant, as well as giving some colour regarding the protagonists themselves, the judges and the witnesses who were called to appear before the House of Lords. I will also ask if we can identify the person who “walked to London”. But first what follows is the true story of the legal case as best I can reconstruct it.

Background to the trials

Matterdale

Cumberland was a very poor and sparsely populated county. It wasn’t “champion” arable country as was to be found in much of the south and east of the country. It was and still is a land of lakes, mountains and moors. Great barons and lords held almost all the land in “fee” either directly from the King or from their feudal superiors – i.e. from more powerful magnates. The common people, particularly but not only customary tenant farmers, still pastured their livestock on the moors. These once natural rights to “the common treasury of all” had by now become “customary” rights. The Cumbrian farmers’ ‘right of common pasture’ on certain moors near Matterdale lay at the heart of the legal battle that is the subject of this article.

In the seventeenth century, the greatest landowning barons in the area were the Howard family, the Dukes of Norfolk, but another powerful family was the Huddlestons – historically Catholic like the Dukes of Norfolk themselves. Andrew Huddleston had recently converted to Protestantism to avoid the problems and religious persecution suffered by other members of his family. He was the Lord of the Manor of Hutton John. It was Andrew’s actions that were the cause of the farmers’ complaints and legal battles.

The Carlisle trial and the appeal

Hutton John – Andrew Huddleston’s Manor

In 1686, William Mounsey and fifty-three other named customary tenant farmers from Matterdale hired a lawyer and brought a writ, an ‘English Bill’, before the Court of Exchequer in London. Their claim was that they had all had a right of common pasture for their livestock on three nearby moors and wastes in the Manor of Hutton John, called Hutton Moor, Westermell Fell and Redmire.  But that the lord of the manor, Andrew Huddleston, claimed that the three moors were part of his manor and thus ‘belonged’ to him alone and that the farmers had no right of common pasture there. Like his father before him, he had tried to prevent the farmers from making use of these moors for grazing their livestock. When they didn’t stop he impounded (i.e. seized) their cattle. As the farmers couldn’t fight him physically they had had to resort to the law.

The case is called William Mounsey et al, versus Huddleston.

On July 1st 1686, the Exchequer judges referred the case to the Court of Common Pleas, to be heard at the next session of the Cumberland Assizes in Carlisle. This was duly held. The Carlisle assize court was presided over by an itinerant judge; a jury of twelve local men was convened. The judge in the case was called Thomas Powell (later Sir Thomas). The court and the jury heard the arguments of the plaintiff farmers and of the defendant Andrew Huddleston (or at least from their counsels), as well as taking the testimony of other witnesses.

The jury found in the farmers’ favour. But Huddleston wasn’t having any of it. As we will see he was later to argue that the true decision of the jury wasn’t in fact that all these fifty-four Matterdale tenants had a right of common pasture on ‘his’ moors and wastes, but that only he and William Mounsey had such a right. However, in the immediate aftermath of the trial what he in fact did was to continue to harass the farmers and impound their cattle.

The farmers wouldn’t lie down for this. They believed they had right on their side. As the law allowed, they made an appeal to the Court of Appeal to have the trial decision upheld and enforced. This meant returning to the judges of the Court of Exchequer in London when they sat to judge such matters of supposed Error and ‘Equity and Justice’. These sittings were held in the “Exchequer Chamber”. We are told that the judges in the Exchequer Chamber questioned the original Carlisle trial judge, the now ‘Sir’ Thomas Powell, and examined the trial record (the so-called Postea). They upheld the original verdict that all the farmers had the customary right of common pasture and made an injunction restraining Huddlestone from harassing the farmers further.

The House of Lords

London in 1690

Andrew Huddleston still refused to accept the verdict and the injunction made against him that he should refrain from harassing the farmers and impounding their cattle. He decided to appeal to the House of Lords to “reverse” the judgement and decree of the Court of Exchequer and asked that he be “restored to all that he hath lost thereby”.

His petition to the House, written by his counsels Samuel Buck and B. Tonstall, is dated the 3rd of April 1690. His case was that there had been an error in the recording of the verdict of the jury at the Carlisle court and that it had actually found that only he and William Mounsey had the common customary right to pasture their livestock on the moors and not that all the farmers had this right as the Court of Exchequer had found. His petition reads:

At ye next assizes for ye said County after aview averdict was given upon ye said issue that the said Mounsey hath only right of common in Westermellfell and the said verdict was indorsed on ye Pannell and yet afterwards at ye hearing upon ye equity… the said court by reason of ye said verdict decreed that all ye said 53 tenants of Matterdale should enjoy right of Common in Westermellfell and that your petitioner should pay costs and be perpetually enjoyned from distreining any (of) ye said Tenants cattle upon ye said Westermellfell.

He based his case on his contention that:

Ten of the said Jury certified upon Oath filed in ye said Court that it was the meaning of the said Jury that ye said Mounsey had only rights of Comon in Westermellfell and no other of the tenants of Matterdale.

And that:

Ye Postea was not filed in ye Court of Common Pleas….  until ye last long vacacon (vacation) and then notwithstanding ye indorsement Judgement was entered as if it had been found that all ye fifty-three tenants had and ought to have Comon in Westermellfell. All of which your petitioner assignes for Error in ye said Judgement and Decree.

Thus his petition to reverse the decision of the court of appeal was “ by reason of ye said indorsement of Record and ye said Certificates ready to be produced” which proved that “it was not found that any of the said tenants had or ought to have any common…”

Now this all may seem a bit obscure and full of French Law expressions, and it is, but as far as I can understand it essentially Huddleston was arguing that the verdict of the Carlisle trial (no doubt along with a list of jurors) was recorded and annexed to or “indorsed” to the writ on a parchment “Pannell”. This had been either not been seen or was ignored by the Court of Appeal. In addition, the Postea, which was the written report of the clerk of the court after a trial detailing the proceedings and the decision reached, had been delayed in being submitted to the Court of Common Pleas in London and thus had not been seen by the judges of the Exchequer Chamber. He was also claiming that he had sworn written statements (affidavits) from ten of the Carlisle jurymen that they had in fact only found that Mounsey had a right of common and not all the tenant farmers.

On the 3rd April 1690 the House of Lords considered Huddleston’s petition:

Upon reading the Petition of Andrew Hudlestone Esquire; shewing, “That William Munsey, and Fifty-three others, as Tenants within the Vill of Matterdale, in the Barony of Grastocke, in the County of Cumberland, in Mich’mas Terme, 36°Car. IIdi, exhibited their English Bill in the Court of Exchequer against your Petitioner, as Lord of the Manor of Hutton John, complaining, that at a Hearing, 1° Julii 1686, it was by that Court referred to a Trial at Law, whether all or any of the said Tenants of Matterdale have or ought to have Common of Pasture in the said Moors, or any Part thereof; and also of the Judgement given upon that Issue, which he conceives to be erroneous,” as in the Petition is set forth:

It is thereupon ORDERED, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, That the said William Munsey, and the Fifty-three other Tenants before-mentioned, may have a Copy or Copies of the said Petition; and be, and are hereby, required to put in their Answer or respective Answers thereunto, in Writing, on Thursday the 17th Day of this Instant April, at Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon; whereof the Petitioner is to cause timely Notice to be given to the Defendants, to the End they answer accordingly.

This was a tight deadline for the farmers and their counsel asked for an extension, which the Lords granted on the 15th of April:

The House being this Day moved, “That William Munsey and the Inhabitants of Materdale in Cumberland may have a longer Time to answer to the Petition and Appeal of Andrew Hudleston, they being at a great Distance from London:”

It is thereupon ORDERED, That the said William Munsey and others the Inhabitants aforesaid have hereby Time given them for answering thereunto, until Thursday the First Day of May next, at Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon.

The Matterdale farmers gave their answer on the 30th April 1690. They stated yet again that they held they held customary tenements in “the Barony of Greystoke in the County of Cumberland” and that these tenements were “descendible from ancestor to heire according to the custom of the said Barony under diverse rents and services”. In addition they:

Became duly intituled under the right and tithe of the then Duke of Norfolk Lord and owner of the said Barony or otherwise to have common of pasture for all their goates, sheep and cattle levant and couchant on the said customary tenements yearly and at all times of the year in and upon certain Moores or Wast grounds called Hutton Moor, Westermellfell and Redmire or some of them in the parish of Graystoke  as to their customary tenements belonging and which they and their Ancestors and predecessors, tenants of the said customary tenements, had from tyme out of mind enjoyed and ought to enjoy and being molested therein unjustly by the now Appellant who claymes to be Lord of the Manor of Hutton John and that the said Moores and Wastes lye within that Manor and pretended that the now Respondents had no right of common there.

The farmers then described how they had wanted to assert and establish their right of common and had thus presented their ‘English Bill’ to the Court of Exchequer and how their case had been sent for trial at the Carlisle assizes, in the Court of Common Pleas, the question being:

Whether all or any of the customary tenants of the late Henry Duke of Norfolk in Matterdale … have (from) tyme out of mind had and ought to have common of pasture on the waste grounds called Hutton Moor, Westermell Fell and Redmire in any part thereof and at all tymes of the year..

They stated that “upon a long and full evidence and examination on both sides the Jury gave a verdict that all the said customary tenants had common of pasture for their said cattle”, and that this decision had been so recorded in the Postea. They went on to explain how the case “came again to be heard in the Exchequer Chambor” (the appeal court), how the judges had once again examined witnesses, read the Postea and heard counsel for both parties. The judges had also examined the original trial judge, the now ‘Sir’ Tomas Powell, and had “decreed that all respondents had right of common… and that they should enjoy the same without the least disturbance or interruption of the now Appellant (Huddleston) and that “an injunction was awarded for quiet enjoyment and restraining of the Appellant”.

Westermell Fell – Now Great Mell Fell

Basically the farmers were claiming that both the Court of Common Pleas sitting in Carlisle and subsequently the Exchequer appeal court, sitting in the Exchequer Chamber, had found for them. Their rights, they said, had been upheld “in diverse Tryalls at Law”, but that the petitioner Huddleston “being unreasonably vexatious did still molest and interrupt (them) in the enjoyment of their common by impounding their cattle and otherwise and yet (i.e. still) refusing to suffer their right and title to the said common”. Regarding Huddleston’s claim that he had affidavits from ten of the original Carlisle jury, the farmers “suggested that if he had “procured” such certificates then they believed these to have been “unduly obtained” and that “they ought not to be made use of against them in this case” because it would be of “dangerous consequence to admit new evidence” or give credence to any statements of the jurors which were “in opposition or diminution to their verdict entered of record and verified by the Judge before whom the Tryall was had”.

In essence I think we see here the implicit suggestion of the farmers that Huddleston had somehow pressured or extorted the jurors to recant their original decision. We will never know the truth but such things were not unheard of.

Some of the exasperation of the farmers comes to us clearly over the centuries from their final words. Being they said “but poor men” they were “not able to contend with the Appellant who is rich and powerfull and uses all means to weary (us) out”.

They asked that the House of Lords dismiss Huddleston’s petition “with costs” because they had already occurred significant costs and trouble “in the proceedings so far” and that there was still more to pay.

The verdict

The House of Lords in the seventeenth century

The Lords set the 10th May 1690 for the hearing of the case and asked Huddleston to “cause Notice to be given to the Defendants, to the End they attend with their Counsel accordingly” on that day. They also ordered that “Charles Howard Esquire, John Aglionby Esquire, James Bird Esquire, John Mounsey Gentleman, and John Grisedale” should “attend this House, on Monday the 12th of this Instant May, at Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon, as Witnesses on the Behalf of William Mounsey and others Respondents, and wherein Andrew Hudlestone Esquire is Appellant”.

The date of the hearing was moved back twice more, both because the “respondents and Andrew Hudlestone” were “far distant from London” and because their Lordships had had to deal with “more weighty matters”. A final date of 4th December 1690 was eventually fixed.

The day before the hearing the Lords ordered that:

The Custos Brevium of the Court of Common Pleas do attend at the Bar of this House To-morrow, at Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon, with the Record of the Postea and Verdict in the Cause tried at the Assizes at Carlisle, between Andrew Hudleston Esquire and Mr. William Mounsey; and hereof he may not fail.

The Custos Brevium was the chief clerk of the Court of Common Pleas. The judges wanted to see for themselves the written record of the Carlisle trial which was such a bone of contention.

I give the Lords’ verdict in full:

Upon hearing Counsel this Day at the Bar, upon the Petition of Andrew Hudleston Esquire, shewing, “That William Mounsey and Fifty-three others, as Tenants within the Vill of Matterdale, in the Barony of Graystocke, in the County ofCumberland, in Michaelmas Terme, 36° Car. 11di, exhibited their English Bill, in the Court of Exchequer, against the Petitioner, as Lord of the Manor of Hutton John; complaining, that, at a Hearing, the First of July 1686, it was by that Court referred to a Trial at Law, whether all or any of the said Tenants of Matterdale have, or ought to have, Common of Pasture in the Moors or Wastes in the Petition mentioned, or any Part thereof, as also of the Judgement given upon the Issue, which he conceives to be erroneous;” as also upon hearing Counsel upon the Answer of William Mounsey, Richard Grisedale, Jos. Grisedale, Thomas Atkinson Junior, Thomas Atkinson Senior, Edward Grisedale Senior, Edward Grisedale Junior, Thomas Grisedale, Thomas Grisedale, John Pauley, William Greenhow, Robert Grisedale, John Benson, John Wilkinson, William Robinson, Michaell Grisedale, William Dockeray, Thomas Wilson, Thomas Wilson, Thomas Harrison, Thomas Hoggart, John Wilson, George Martin, John Harrison, John Neffeild, Thomas Wilson, Thomas Hodgson, William Wilkinson, Richard Wilkinson, John Dawson, Rich. Sutton, John Nithellson, John Robinson, Chamberlaine Dawson, John Mounsey, William Wilson, Robert Hudson, James Hudson, Agnes Gibson, Robert Rukin, John Brownrigg, Michaell Atkinson, John Greenhow, John Birkett, Thomas Brownrigg, William Robinson, Thomas Greenhow, John Gilbanck, Thomas Greenhow, John Gilbanck, John Greenbow, Thomas Greenhow, and John Coleman, put in thereunto:

After due Consideration had of what was offered by Counsel on either Side thereupon, it is ORDERED and Adjudged, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, That the said Petition of Andrew Hudleston be, and is hereby, dismissed this House; and that the Decree made in the Court of Exchequer, from which he appealed to this House, be, and is hereby, affirmed.

The Matterdale farmers had won. At least for the time being they and their descendants would be able to benefit from their common and customary rights to graze their cattle and other livestock on these Cumberland moors. Of course the Huddleston family didn’t give up their quest to deny the farmers their ancient rights and they were finally able to completely enclose Hutton Fell by an Act of Parliamentary Enclosure in the nineteenth century, by which time many of the members of the families who brought Andrew Huddleston to court had already been forced off the land, to move to the satanic mills of the northern industrial towns, to join the army or to emigrate. But that is another story.

Who were the protagonists and their witnesses?

The full list of all the fifty-four Matterdale farmers was given in the Lords final ruling quoted above as well as in the farmers’ answer to Huddleston’s petition. They were all members of long-established Matterdale families. William Mounsey himself was one of the wealthier tenants and came from Brownrigg in Matterdale, others farmed up and down Matterdale valley, from Douthwaite Head in the south to near Hutton John in the north.

As has been mentioned, Andrew Huddleston came from a long line of Catholics, whose cadet branch had become Lords of Hutton John. Andrew’s Uncle John was a catholic priest and had helped King Charles the Second escape following the decisive Battle of Worcester in 1651 and when Charles was restored after the English Revolution he became his confidant and reconciled him to the Catholic faith on his deathbed. Unlike many of his relatives (including his father) Andrew was flexible and converted to the Anglican faith and then set about restoring his family’s fortunes. The Huddlestons remained Lords of Hutton John for centuries to come.

Regarding the witnesses who were called to the House of Lords as witnesses; on November 8th 1690, when Andrew Huddleston petitioned that “your Lordships appoint a day” for the hearing, his counsel also humbly conceived that “Sir Wilfred Lawson Bart., John Pattinson, Thomas Benn and John Huddleston be fit and material witnesses in the cause”. I will have to leave it for a later time to look at who these people were (and it is certainly of interest). Suffice it to say they were obviously being called to bolster Huddleston case regarding the alleged customary rights of the tenant farmers as well to challenge the decision of the jury at the Carlisle assizes as it had been interpreted by the Court of Exchequer.

Brownrigg In Matterdale – Where William Mounsey lived

But if we want to know who the Matterdale farmer was who, according to the local oral history, walked to London to appear before the House of Lords, we need perhaps to look at the witnesses called to give evidence for the farmers themselves. Earlier I mentioned that the House of Lords had ordered that “Charles Howard Esquire, John Aglionby Esquire, James Bird Esquire, John Mounsey Gentleman, and John Grisedale” should “attend this House … as Witnesses on the Behalf of William Mounsey and others Respondents”. Now Charles Howard (of Greystoke) was the brother of Henry the sixth Duke of Norfolk who had died in 1684 and to whom the farmers repeatedly made reference in trying to establish the legality of their rights of common pasture. He was no doubt being called to testify to this effect. John Aglionby’s family had supposedly come over with William the Conqueror and were a long-established Cumbrian gentry family. John himself was a lawyer and a long-serving recorder of the Carlisle Assizes and was thus without much doubt being called to testify regarding the decision of the jury and court in the original trial. James Bird Esq. remains obscure for the moment, but John Mounsey, who was a “gentleman”, was William Mounsey’s brother. He and John Grisedale (certainly a relative of the numerous Grisdales amongst the Matterdale farmers) were probably being called either to give evidence regarding the customary rights of the farmers “from time immemorial” or regarding the verdict of the Carlisle trial.

So perhaps it was John Mounsey or John Grisedale who had “walked to London”? After all they are the two most likely contenders as we know that the House of Lords had demanded their presence. But of course it could equally as well have been William Mounsey himself or one of the other fifty-three, in their capacity as respondents to Huddleston’s petition. Perhaps we will never know.

What was it all about?

It’s certainly pleasing to know that this group of “poor men” finally prevailed over the “rich and powerful” Andrew Huddleston. It was obviously pretty crucial to their future livelihood that they could continue to pasture their animals on the moors.  But where does this small legal fight fit in the longer sweep of English history?

The majority of the English rural population had “from time out of mind” relied upon being able to make use of the huge swathes of England that were not under cultivation or definitively enclosed to supplement their meagre livelihood. They collected wood from the forests for building and heating, they foraged wild fruits, berries and leaves to supplement their diets, they cut peat or turf to burn and they grazed their goats, sheep and cattle on the wastes and moors. This they had done for as long as people had lived in a specific locality – in England certainly from well before the Norman Conquest. Without wishing to romanticise pre-conquest England, the land and it bounty were a “common treasury” for all.

When The Norman French arrived in and after 1066, England was divvied up between the King and his secular and religious followers. The French feudal system was imposed with a vengeance. The long process of denying people their “rights” (to use an anachronistic term) to make use of the Commons had begun. The Norman French Kings created private “forests” for their own hunting while the French religious and lay barons and lords went about reducing most of the population to de facto or de jure serfdom. But while there was  hardly any part of the country that was not owned (or held in feudal fee) by the Kings or the great magnates and lords, there were still enormous amounts of wastes, woods and moors surrounding the hundreds of nucleated, and usually cultivated, villages. The local people continued to use these commons but now their right to do so had become “customary” rather than what we might call natural.

Sheepfold on Hutton Moor

These customary rights were just part of a whole elaborate web of mutual feudal rights and obligations between lords and their vassals. To take the example of Cumbrian tenant farmers, they had the right to live on and work their tenements because their ancestors had before them. They had to pay rents, they owed labour services on the lords’ home farms – including various boon-days when the harvest needed gathering. They had to pay a fine or “relief” when the tenant died and his successor took over and when the manor itself passed from one generation to the next. But they also had rights in the common. By the seventeenth century all these rights and obligations were seen as deriving from custom. Sometimes they were written down but sometimes the customs were just that: customary, and were claimed to have existed from time immemorial.

An important part of the history of the English people in the nine hundred years following the Conquest is the history of how the majority of English people was inexorably deprived of its common rights and slowly but surely forced off the land. This was the process of English enclosures. It took a long time, starting I would suggest in the thirteenth century, gaining momentum in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and reaching its brutal climax with the Parliamentary Enclosures of the nineteenth century; by which time England had been effectively fully privatised.

George Orwell once put it thus:

Stop to consider how the so-called owners of the land got hold of it. They simply seized it by force, afterwards hiring lawyers to provide them with title-deeds. In the case of the enclosure of the common lands, which was going on from about 1600 to 1850, the land-grabbers did not even have the excuse of being foreign conquerors; they were quite frankly taking the heritage of their own countrymen, upon no sort of pretext except that they had the power to do so.

In the previous century Karl Marx had already summed up what the Enclosures were all about:

We have seen how the forcible seizure of the common lands, accompanied for the most part by the transformation of arable into pasture, began in the fifteenth century and lasted on into the sixteenth […] The advance that has been made in the eighteenth century is shown in this, that the law itself now became the instrument by which the theft of the people’s land was achieved, although the great farmers continued to use their petty private methods in addition. The parliamentary form of this robbery was to pass Acts for the enclosure of commons; in other words, decrees whereby the great landowners made a present to themselves of the people’s land, which thus became their own private property […] a systematic seizure of communal landed property helped, side by side with the theft of the State domains, to swell the size of those great farms which, in the eighteenth century, were called ‘capital farms’ or ‘merchant farms’, and ‘to set the country folk at liberty’ as a proletariat for the uses of industry.

Deprived of the Commons many Matterdale people ended up here

The small victory of the Matterdale farmers in 1690 was important to them, but in the longer term their victory was almost pyrrhic. The Huddlestons wanted more land and they wanted exclusive use of that land. They wanted “private property” in its modern sense. They, like so many other “noble” English families, finally got what they wanted. The bulk of the rural population could no longer support itself. If people couldn’t have access to the commons they were drawn into the new industrial cities and towns there to become a new class of urban proletariat, or perhaps they went to fights the Kings’ wars or had to emigrate to Canada or America or perhaps they were convicted of petty crimes undertaken to feed themselves and their families and were transported to Australia. The descendants of the Matterdale farmers did all of these.

Sources

The details of the hearing of the case William Mounsey et al, versus Huddleston are held in the archives of the House of Lords. Huddleston’s petition: HL/PO/JO/10/1/422/250 and Mounsey et al’s reply: HL/PO/JO/3/184/1. The House of Lords Journal Volume pages 447, 465, 486, 488, 545, 548, 577 and 578 provide further information.

There are also documents relating to the original Carlisle assize trial  held in the Cumbria record office, including D HUD 1/20  and D HGB/1/115.

Did a Cumbrian soldier “save England and Europe” from Napoleon?

In the mid-nineteenth century in the small Cumbrian market town of Penrith there was a public house called the ‘General Lefebvre’. Locals jokingly referred to it as the ‘General Grisdale’, after its publican, an old ex-Sergeant Major called Levi Grisdale. It seems that Levi was quite a character, and we might well imagine how on cold Cumbrian winter nights he would regale his quests with tales of his exploits as a Hussar during the Napoleonic Wars. How he had captured the French General Lefebvre in Spain, as the British army were retreating towards Corunna, or even telling of how it was he, at the Battle of Waterloo, who had led the Prussians onto the field; a decisive event that had turned the course of the battle and, it is usually argued, led to Napoleon’s final defeat.

Scouts of the 10th Hussars During the Peninsular War – W B Wollen 1905

Numerous individual stories survive from these wars, written by participants from all sides: French, British, German and Spanish. Yet a great number of these come from the ‘officer classes’. Levi was not an officer and, as far as is known, he never wrote his own story. Be that as it may, using a variety of sources (not just from the British side) plus some detailed research in the archives, undertaken by myself and others, it is possible to reconstruct something his life. Levi spent 22 years in the army, fought in 32 engagements, including at the Battle of Waterloo, rose to be a Sergeant Major and was highly decorated. There is even an anonymous essay in the Hussars’ Regimental museum entitled: How Trooper Grisdale, 10th Hussars, Saved England and Europe! This suggested, possibly with a degree of hyperbole, that it was Levi who caused Napoleon to leave the Spanish Peninsular in disgust! But the events of the Peninsular War were decisive. Many years later Napoleon wrote:

That unfortunate war destroyed me … all my disasters are bound up in that knot.

I greatly enjoyed discovering a little about Levi. What follows is my version of this Cumbrian’s life and deeds. I hope you will enjoy it too!

Levi Grisdale was born in 1783, near Penrith in Cumberland’s Lake District. He came from a long line of small yeomen farmers. His father, Solomon, and his grandfather, Jonathon, had both been farmers. They were born in the nearby small hill village of Matterdale; where the Grisdale family had lived for hundreds of years. Although obviously a country boy, Levi somehow found his way to London, where on 26th March 1803, aged just 20, he enlisted for “unlimited service” as a private or ‘trooper’ in the 10th Light Dragoons, later to become ‘Hussars’ – an elite British cavalry regiment. How and why he enlisted in the army we do not know. His older brother Thomas was probably already a soldier based at the cavalry barracks on the outskirts of Canterbury, and maybe this contributed to Levi’s decision. We know nothing of Levi’s first years in the army; but in October 1808 he, with the 10th Hussars, embarked at Portsmouth for Spain.

A Charge of the 10th Hussars under Lord Paget

The regiment, having passed through Corunna, joined up with the now retreating British army, under its Commander-in-Chief, Sir John Moore, at Zamora on December 9, 1808. Under Sir John Slade, they became part of the army’s defensive rear-guard. They arrived at Sahagun in Spain on the 21st December – just in time to take part in the tail end of a successful action known as the Battle of Sahagun. Before the battle, Levi had been made a ‘coverer’ – a sort of bodyguard or ‘minder’ – for the fourteen year old Earl George Augustus Frederick Fitz-Clarence. It wasn’t unusual for wealthy and well-connected young men to become British officers at such a tender age, and Fitz-Clarence was certainly well-connected. He was the bastard son of the future King William IV and nephew of the Prince of Wales, the future King George IV – who was the regiment’s Colonel-in-Chief.

During the battle Levi was wounded in the left ankle by a musket ball. It can’t have been too serious a wound because only a few days later he was to take part in another engagement. His exploits there were, in large part, responsible for us being able to reconstruct Levi’s story today. I will take some pains to explain what happened. The account I will present is based on numerous sources and on several eyewitness accounts; not just British, but also German, French and Spanish. There are some inconsistencies but when taken together they provide a coherent enough picture.

The British Retreat to Corunna 1808-1809

Despite the victory at Sahagun, the British army had continued its retreat towards Astorga and Corunna. But Napoleon had heard that the British were intent on a crossing of the River Esla, two miles from the Spanish town of Benavente. He sent his elite cavalry, the Chasseurs à cheval, commanded by one of his favourites, General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes, to cut them off and prevent the crossing. But due to dreadful weather they had been slowed down and they arrived just too late. Sir John Moore had already crossed the river on the 24th and departed with the bulk of the British army. He had, however, left a strong cavalry rearguard in the town of Benavente, and a small detachment was watching the river fords. Early on the morning of 29th December, British engineers destroyed the bridge at Castrogonzalo. When Lefebvre and his force of about 500 – 600 cavalry arrived, we are told that this was at nine in the morning, there seemed no way to cross, because the river “was swollen with rain.”

Lefebvre could see that “outlying pickets of the British cavalry were stationed along the Western bank of the River Esla.” He thought, wrongly as it turned out, that the few scouts to be seen were all that remained of the British at Benavente. Eventually he managed to find one place to ford the river and, according to one report, first sent across “a peasant mounted on a mare” to see find out what response there would be. Seeing there was none, Lefebvre crossed the river “with three strong squadrons of his Chasseurs and a small detachment of Mamelukes” – though not without great difficulty.

One account, drawing on a number of sources, nicely sums up what ensued:

The French forced the outlying pickets of the British cavalry back onto the inlaying picket commanded by Loftus Otway (18th Hussars). Otway charged, despite heavy odds, but was driven back for 2 miles towards the town of Benavente. In an area where their flanks were covered by walls, the British, now reinforced by a troop or squadron of the 3rd Hussars King’s German Legion, and commanded by Brigadier-General Stewart, counter-attacked and a confused mêlée ensued. The French, though temporarily driven back, had superior numbers and forced the British hussars to retreat once more, almost back to Benavente. Stewart knew he was drawing the French towards Paget and substantial numbers of British reserves. The French had gained the upper hand in the fight and were preparing to deliver a final charge when Lord Paget made a decisive intervention. He led the 10th Hussars with squadrons of the 18th in support, around the southern outskirts of Benavente. Paget managed to conceal his squadrons from French view until he could fall on their left flank. The British swords, often dulled by their iron scabbards, were very sharp on this occasion. An eyewitness stated that he saw the arms of French troopers cut off cleanly “like Berlin sausages.” Other French soldiers were killed by blows to the head, blows which divided the head down to the chin.

The French fought their way back to the River Esla and started to cross to its eastern bank – swimming with their horses. But many were caught by the pursuing British cavalry, and either killed or made prisoner. General Lefebvre, however, did not escape. His horse had been wounded and when it entered the river it refused to cross. He and some of his men were surrounded by the British cavalry under Lord Paget, which consisted of the 18th Hussars and half of the 3rd Hussars, King’s German Legion. During this encounter Lefebvre was wounded and taken prisoner, along with about seventy of his Chasseurs.

General Lefebvre is Captured at Benaventa. Painting by Dennis Dighton. Royal Collection, Windsor

So who was it that captured General Lefebvre? Some British sources claim simply that it was Private Grisdale. In Levi’s own regimental book we read that Lefebvre was pursued by the “Hussars” and “refusing to stop when overtaken, was cut across the head and made prisoner by Private Levi Grisdall (sic).” Other witnesses suggest that it was in fact a German 3rd Hussar, called Private Johann Bergmann, who captured the General, and that it was he who subsequently handed over his captive to Grisdale.

Any continuing mystery, however, seems to be cleared away by later witness statements made by Private Bergmann himself. His statement is corroborated by several other German Hussars who had taken part in the action, and by letters written by some German officers who were also present. Bergmann’s extensive testimony, taken at Osterholz in 1830 , is recorded in the third person. It states that there were:

three charges that day… at the third charge, or in reality the pursuit, he came upon the officer whom he made prisoner. He was one of the first in the pursuit, and as he came up with this officer, who rode close in the rear of the enemy, the officer made a thrust at him with a long straight sword. After, however, he had parried the thrust, the officer called out ‘pardon.’ He did not trouble himself further about the man, but continued the pursuit; an English Hussar, however, who had come up to the officer at the same time with him, led the officer back.

Bergmann went on to say that he hadn’t known that the officer was Lefebvre until after the action, when he was told he should “have held fast the man.” He added that he was young and “did not trouble” himself about the matter.  All he remembered was that the officer “wore a dark green frock, a hat with a feather, and a long straight sword.”

All the other German witnesses and letters confirm Bergmann’s story, but we also learn that the General had fired a pistol at Bergmann “which failing in its aim, he offered him his sword and made known his wish to be taken to General Stewart.” But Bergmann “didn’t know General Stewart personally, and while he was enquiring where the general was to be found, a Hussar of the tenth English joined him, and led away the prisoner.”

So this it seems is the truth of the matter: Lefebvre was surrounded by a German troop and captured by Private Johann Bergmann. Levi Grisdale, with the 10th Hussars, might have arrived at the scene at the same time as Bergmann or very slightly after, opinions differ. Lefebvre asked to be taken to General Stewart and so Bergmann, “not knowing General Stewart personally”, handed him over to Private Grisdale who “led the prisoner away.”

Lefebvre was delivered to the British Commander-in-Chief, Sir John Moore. Moore, who, we are told, treated the General, who had suffered a superficial head wound, “kindly” and “entertained him at his table.” He also gave him his own sword to replace the one taken when he surrendered. “Speaking to him in French”, General Moore, “provided some of his own clothes; for Lefebvre was drenched and bleeding.” He then “sent a message to the French, requesting Lefebvre’s baggage, which was promptly sent.”

Napoleon, who had viewed the action from a height overlooking the river, didn’t seem too put out by the losses of what he called his “Cherished Children.” But he was very upset when he heard of Lefebvre’s capture. He wrote to Josephine (my translation):

Lefebvre has been taken. He made a skirmish for me with 300 Chasseurs; these show-offs crossed the river by swimming, and threw themselves into the middle of the English cavalry. They killed many of them; but, returning, Lefebvre’s horse was wounded: he was drowning; the current led him to the bank where the English were; he has been taken. Console his wife.

In the aftermath of the battle, a Spanish report from the town of Benavente itself, tells us that on:

The night of the 29th they (the British) used the striking pines growing on the high ground behind the hospitals as lights, at every step coming under the fire of French artillery from the other side of the river, answered feebly by the English, whose force disappeared totally by the morning, to be replaced by a dreadful silence and solitude….

The British cavalry had slipped away and, with the rest of the army, continued its horrendous winter retreat to Corunna. Levi Grisdale and the 10th Hussars were with them.

General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes

General Lefebvre himself was later sent as a prisoner to England, and housed at Cheltenham where he lived for three years. As was the custom, he gave his word or “parole” as a French officer and gentleman that he would not try to escape. He was even allowed to be joined by his wife Stephanie. It seems that the couple: “were in demand socially and attended social events around the district.” Other reports tell us that General Lefebvre was in possession of a “fine signet ring of considerable value which had been given him years earlier by his Emperor Napoleon. Lefebvre used this ring as a bribe to get escape and was thus able to escape back to France, where he rejoined his Division.” This was, says one commentator, “an unpardonable sin according to English public opinion.” So much for a gentleman’s word!  The Emperor reinstated him as commander of the Chasseurs and he would go on to fight in all Napoleon’s subsequent campaigns, right up to Waterloo – where he would share the field once again with Levi Grisdale.

I have kept us a little too long in Spain. This is, after all, not the story of the retreat to Corunna, much less a history of the first Spanish chapter of the Peninsular War. After the so-called March of Death and the Battle of Corunna, Levi Grisdale was evacuated back to England by the Royal Navy – with what was left of the 10th Hussars. Here his fame started to spread. The Hampshire Telegraph of 18th February 1809 announced that Grisdale was back in Brighton with his regiment and described him as: “tall, well-made, well looking, ruddy and expressive.” He was promoted to Corporal and awarded a special silver medal by the regiment, which was inscribed:

Corporal Grisdale greatly distinguished himself on the 1st day of January 1809 (sic). This is adjudged to him by officers of the regiment.

The years passed. The regiment moved from Brighton to Romford in Essex, but was once again back in Brighton in 1812. Of this time we know little; only a few events in Levi’s life. Soon after his arrival back in England, he somehow arranged to get away to Bath, where on 29 March 1809, he married Ann Robinson in St James’ Church. Their only son, also called Levi, was born and baptized at Arundel on 12 March 1811 – sadly he was to die young. On 17 February 1813, he “was found guilty of being drunk and absent from barracks.” But, it seems, he was neither reduced to the ranks nor flogged. Other evidence suggests that the whole regiment was “undisciplined and tended to drunkenness.” Whether the leniency of his treatment was due to his record at Benavente we will probably never know.

But by February 1813, Levi, by this time a Sergeant, was back in the Iberian Peninsula, serving in a coalition army under Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, who was later to become the Duke of Wellington. With the 10th Hussars, he fought his way through Portugal, Spain and France and, so  his regiment’s records tell us, was actively engaged at the Battles of Morales, Vitoria, Orthes and, finally, at the Battle of Toulouse in April 1814. Here the British and their allies were badly mauled. But news soon reached the French Marshall Soult that Napoleon had abdicated and Soult agreed to an armistice.

It is said that Levi Grisdale led Bluecher's Prussians onto the field at Waterloo

It is said that Levi Grisdale led Bluecher’s Prussians onto the field at Waterloo

And that should really have been that as far as Levi Grisdale’s military campaigning days was concerned. Yet one more chapter lay ahead. A chapter that would no doubt later provide Levi with another great story to tell in his Penrith public house. Napoleon, we might recall, was to escape from his exile on the Island of Elba in February 1815. He retook the leadership of France, regathered his army, and was only definitively defeated at the Battle of Waterloo on 18th June 1815. It has often been said that the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo “hung in the balance” until the arrival of the Prussian army under Prince von Blücher. One writer puts it thus:

Blücher’s army intervened with decisive and crushing effect, his vanguard drawing off Napoleon’s badly needed reserves, and his main body being instrumental in crushing French resistance. This victory led the way to a decisive victory through the relentless pursuit of the French by the Prussians.

And here it is that we last hear of Levi’s active military exploits. According to his obituary, published in the Cumberland and Westmoreland Advertiser on 20 November 1855, Levi had been posted on the road where the Prussians were expected to arrive, and he led them onto the field of battle! We are also told that during the battle “his horse was shot from under him and he was wounded in the right calf by a splinter from a shell.” Finally, according to a letter written by Captain Thomas Taylor of the 10th Hussars, written to General Sir Vivian Hussey in 1829, Levi, who was a by now a Sergeant in No1 troop under Captain John Gurwood, and “who was one of the captors of Lefebvre … conducted the vedettes in withdrawing from French cavalry during the battle.

Of course, Levi Grisdale certainly did not “save England and Europe” from Napoleon. But, along with thousands of other common soldiers, he played his part and, unlike countless others on all sides, he survived to tell his tales in his pub.

What became of Levi? After he returned to England, he was promoted to Sergeant Major and remained another nine years with the 10th Hussars. When he left the army in 1825, aged only 42 but with twenty-two years of active service and thirty-two engagements behind him, his discharge papers said that he was suffering from chronic rheumatism and was “worn out by service.” Hardly surprising we might think. The army gave him a pension of 1s 10d a day. His papers also state that his intended place of residence was Bristol. He was as good as his word as and he was to become the landlord of the Stag and Star public house in Barr Street, Bristol.

Christ Church, Penrith – where Levi Grisdale is buried

Yet by 1832 Levi and his family had moved back to his native Penrith. His wife Ann died there in July of that year. It seems that Levi was not one to mourn for too long. Within about two weeks he had married again. This time a woman called Mary Western – with whom he had four children. He continued his life as a publican and, as I have mentioned, christened his pub the General Lefebvre; he even hung a large picture of the General over the entrance. During his last years, Levi Grisdale gave up his pub and worked as a gardener. He died of ‘dropsy’ on 17 November 1855 in Penrith, aged 72, his occupation being given as “Chelsea pensioner.” He was buried in the graveyard of Christ Church in Penrith.

Despite what we know about Levi’s life, we will never know what was most important to him – his family, his comrades? Nor will we know what he thought of the ruling ‘officer class’? What he thought of the social and political system that had led him to fight so many battles against adversaries he knew little about? Nor whose side he was really on? We will never know these things, though we can imagine!

As General Macarthur once said, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” ‘General’ Levi Grisdale certainly died but, thankfully, his memory has not yet faded away.

Sources

Mary Grisdale. Levi Grisdale. Unpublished research 2006; David Fallowfield. Levi Grisdale 1783-1855, Unpublished article. Penrith; Philip J. Haythornthwaite. Corunna 1809: Sir John Moore’s Fighting Retreat. London: Osprey Publishing 2001; Lettres de Napoléon à Joséphine, Tome Second, Paris 1833, Firman Didot Freres; Christopher Hibbert. Corunna, Batsford 1961; Michael Clover. The Peninsular War 1807-1814. Penguin Books 2003; North Ludlow Beamish. History of the King’s German Legion, Harvard 1832; Christopher Summerville. The March of Death: Sir John Moore’s Retreat to Corunna. Greenhill books 2006; Brime, D. Fernando Fernandez. Historical Notes of the Town of Benavente and its Environs.  Valladolid 1881; Wikipedia.  Battle of Benavente. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Benavente.; The Museum of the King’s Royal Hussars. http://www.horsepowermuseum.co.uk/index.html .

In the little Cumbrian valley of Matterdale there is a local story that has been passed down from generation to generation for more than three hundred years. It tells of how in the late seventeenth century one poor tenant farmer walked hundreds of miles to London to testify in front of the highest court in the land – the House of Lords – in a trial which pitted a group of Matterdale farmers against a powerful local lord of the manor. Is this story true? If so what was it all about and what was the outcome?

Luckily the records of the trial survive in the archives of the House of Lords and so it is possible to reconstruct much of the real history of this small episode. More than this, the long and costly struggle of the Matterdale farmers gives us a lovely insight into the centuries-long, and much opposed, English enclosure process – a process that was just beginning to bite in Cumberland in the seventeenth century.

Matterdale Church, Cumberland

In those days, it was relatively unusual for poor tenant farmers (not to speak of still poorer cottagers and landless peasants) to somehow be able to manage to take their complaints and grievances against their lords all the way through the different levels of the English legal system right up to the House of Lords. It was also quite rare for them to eventually win, as these Matterdale farmers did! Such rarity was both because the legal system was increasingly stacked against poor rural people trying to uphold their age-old common rights against the insidious and inexorable encroachments of powerful local lords, but also it was simply a question of money. Most small farmers simply just couldn’t afford the huge expense of lawyers plus the time and effort required to pursue their case to the very end.

Later I will provide a little background on the English enclosure movement and what protecting common rights meant, as well as giving some colour regarding the protagonists themselves, the judges and the witnesses who were called to appear before the House of Lords. I will also ask if we can identify the person who “walked to London”. But first what follows is the true story of the legal case as best I can reconstruct it.

Background to the trials

Matterdale

Cumberland was a very poor and sparsely populated county. It wasn’t “champion” arable country as was to be found in much of the south and east of the country. It was and still is a land of lakes, mountains and moors. Great barons and lords held almost all the land in “fee” either directly from the King or from their feudal superiors – i.e. from more powerful magnates. The common people, particularly but not only customary tenant farmers, still pastured their livestock on the moors. These once natural rights to “the common treasury of all” had by now become “customary” rights. The Cumbrian farmers’ ‘right of common pasture’ on certain moors near Matterdale lay at the heart of the legal battle that is the subject of this article.

In the seventeenth century, the greatest landowning barons in the area were the Howard family, the Dukes of Norfolk, but another powerful family was the Huddlestons – historically Catholic like the Dukes of Norfolk themselves. Andrew Huddleston had recently converted to Protestantism to avoid the problems and religious persecution suffered by other members of his family. He was the Lord of the Manor of Hutton John. It was Andrew’s actions that were the cause of the farmers’ complaints and legal battles.

The Carlisle trial and the appeal

Hutton John – Andrew Huddleston’s Manor

In 1686, William Mounsey and fifty-three other named customary tenant farmers from Matterdale hired a lawyer and brought a writ, an ‘English Bill’, before the Court of Exchequer in London. Their claim was that they had all had a right of common pasture for their livestock on three nearby moors and wastes in the Manor of Hutton John, called Hutton Moor, Westermell Fell and Redmire.  But that the lord of the manor, Andrew Huddleston, claimed that the three moors were part of his manor and thus ‘belonged’ to him alone and that the farmers had no right of common pasture there. Like his father before him, he had tried to prevent the farmers from making use of these moors for grazing their livestock. When they didn’t stop he impounded (i.e. seized) their cattle. As the farmers couldn’t fight him physically they had had to resort to the law.

The case is called William Mounsey et al, versus Huddleston.

On July 1st 1686, the Exchequer judges referred the case to the Court of Common Pleas, to be heard at the next session of the Cumberland Assizes in Carlisle. This was duly held. The Carlisle assize court was presided over by an itinerant judge; a jury of twelve local men was convened. The judge in the case was called Thomas Powell (later Sir Thomas). The court and the jury heard the arguments of the plaintiff farmers and of the defendant Andrew Huddleston (or at least from their counsels), as well as taking the testimony of other witnesses.

The jury found in the farmers’ favour. But Huddleston wasn’t having any of it. As we will see he was later to argue that the true decision of the jury wasn’t in fact that all these fifty-four Matterdale tenants had a right of common pasture on ‘his’ moors and wastes, but that only he and William Mounsey had such a right. However, in the immediate aftermath of the trial what he in fact did was to continue to harass the farmers and impound their cattle.

The farmers wouldn’t lie down for this. They believed they had right on their side. As the law allowed, they made an appeal to the Court of Appeal to have the trial decision upheld and enforced. This meant returning to the judges of the Court of Exchequer in London when they sat to judge such matters of supposed Error and ‘Equity and Justice’. These sittings were held in the “Exchequer Chamber”. We are told that the judges in the Exchequer Chamber questioned the original Carlisle trial judge, the now ‘Sir’ Thomas Powell, and examined the trial record (the so-called Postea). They upheld the original verdict that all the farmers had the customary right of common pasture and made an injunction restraining Huddlestone from harassing the farmers further.

The House of Lords

London in 1690

Andrew Huddleston still refused to accept the verdict and the injunction made against him that he should refrain from harassing the farmers and impounding their cattle. He decided to appeal to the House of Lords to “reverse” the judgement and decree of the Court of Exchequer and asked that he be “restored to all that he hath lost thereby”.

His petition to the House, written by his counsels Samuel Buck and B. Tonstall, is dated the 3rd of April 1690. His case was that there had been an error in the recording of the verdict of the jury at the Carlisle court and that it had actually found that only he and William Mounsey had the common customary right to pasture their livestock on the moors and not that all the farmers had this right as the Court of Exchequer had found. His petition reads:

At ye next assizes for ye said County after aview averdict was given upon ye said issue that the said Mounsey hath only right of common in Westermellfell and the said verdict was indorsed on ye Pannell and yet afterwards at ye hearing upon ye equity… the said court by reason of ye said verdict decreed that all ye said 53 tenants of Matterdale should enjoy right of Common in Westermellfell and that your petitioner should pay costs and be perpetually enjoyned from distreining any (of) ye said Tenants cattle upon ye said Westermellfell.

He based his case on his contention that:

Ten of the said Jury certified upon Oath filed in ye said Court that it was the meaning of the said Jury that ye said Mounsey had only rights of Comon in Westermellfell and no other of the tenants of Matterdale.

And that:

Ye Postea was not filed in ye Court of Common Pleas….  until ye last long vacacon (vacation) and then notwithstanding ye indorsement Judgement was entered as if it had been found that all ye fifty-three tenants had and ought to have Comon in Westermellfell. All of which your petitioner assignes for Error in ye said Judgement and Decree.

Thus his petition to reverse the decision of the court of appeal was “ by reason of ye said indorsement of Record and ye said Certificates ready to be produced” which proved that “it was not found that any of the said tenants had or ought to have any common…”

Now this all may seem a bit obscure and full of French Law expressions, and it is, but as far as I can understand it essentially Huddleston was arguing that the verdict of the Carlisle trial (no doubt along with a list of jurors) was recorded and annexed to or “indorsed” to the writ on a parchment “Pannell”. This had been either not been seen or was ignored by the Court of Appeal. In addition, the Postea, which was the written report of the clerk of the court after a trial detailing the proceedings and the decision reached, had been delayed in being submitted to the Court of Common Pleas in London and thus had not been seen by the judges of the Exchequer Chamber. He was also claiming that he had sworn written statements (affidavits) from ten of the Carlisle jurymen that they had in fact only found that Mounsey had a right of common and not all the tenant farmers.

On the 3rd April 1690 the House of Lords considered Huddleston’s petition:

Upon reading the Petition of Andrew Hudlestone Esquire; shewing, “That William Munsey, and Fifty-three others, as Tenants within the Vill of Matterdale, in the Barony of Grastocke, in the County of Cumberland, in Mich’mas Terme, 36°Car. IIdi, exhibited their English Bill in the Court of Exchequer against your Petitioner, as Lord of the Manor of Hutton John, complaining, that at a Hearing, 1° Julii 1686, it was by that Court referred to a Trial at Law, whether all or any of the said Tenants of Matterdale have or ought to have Common of Pasture in the said Moors, or any Part thereof; and also of the Judgement given upon that Issue, which he conceives to be erroneous,” as in the Petition is set forth:

It is thereupon ORDERED, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, That the said William Munsey, and the Fifty-three other Tenants before-mentioned, may have a Copy or Copies of the said Petition; and be, and are hereby, required to put in their Answer or respective Answers thereunto, in Writing, on Thursday the 17th Day of this Instant April, at Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon; whereof the Petitioner is to cause timely Notice to be given to the Defendants, to the End they answer accordingly.

This was a tight deadline for the farmers and their counsel asked for an extension, which the Lords granted on the 15th of April:

The House being this Day moved, “That William Munsey and the Inhabitants of Materdale in Cumberland may have a longer Time to answer to the Petition and Appeal of Andrew Hudleston, they being at a great Distance from London:”

It is thereupon ORDERED, That the said William Munsey and others the Inhabitants aforesaid have hereby Time given them for answering thereunto, until Thursday the First Day of May next, at Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon.

The Matterdale farmers gave their answer on the 30th April 1690. They stated yet again that they held they held customary tenements in “the Barony of Greystoke in the County of Cumberland” and that these tenements were “descendible from ancestor to heire according to the custom of the said Barony under diverse rents and services”. In addition they:

Became duly intituled under the right and tithe of the then Duke of Norfolk Lord and owner of the said Barony or otherwise to have common of pasture for all their goates, sheep and cattle levant and couchant on the said customary tenements yearly and at all times of the year in and upon certain Moores or Wast grounds called Hutton Moor, Westermellfell and Redmire or some of them in the parish of Graystoke  as to their customary tenements belonging and which they and their Ancestors and predecessors, tenants of the said customary tenements, had from tyme out of mind enjoyed and ought to enjoy and being molested therein unjustly by the now Appellant who claymes to be Lord of the Manor of Hutton John and that the said Moores and Wastes lye within that Manor and pretended that the now Respondents had no right of common there.

The farmers then described how they had wanted to assert and establish their right of common and had thus presented their ‘English Bill’ to the Court of Exchequer and how their case had been sent for trial at the Carlisle assizes, in the Court of Common Pleas, the question being:

Whether all or any of the customary tenants of the late Henry Duke of Norfolk in Matterdale … have (from) tyme out of mind had and ought to have common of pasture on the waste grounds called Hutton Moor, Westermell Fell and Redmire in any part thereof and at all tymes of the year..

They stated that “upon a long and full evidence and examination on both sides the Jury gave a verdict that all the said customary tenants had common of pasture for their said cattle”, and that this decision had been so recorded in the Postea. They went on to explain how the case “came again to be heard in the Exchequer Chambor” (the appeal court), how the judges had once again examined witnesses, read the Postea and heard counsel for both parties. The judges had also examined the original trial judge, the now ‘Sir’ Tomas Powell, and had “decreed that all respondents had right of common… and that they should enjoy the same without the least disturbance or interruption of the now Appellant (Huddleston) and that “an injunction was awarded for quiet enjoyment and restraining of the Appellant”.

Westermell Fell – Now Great Mell Fell

Basically the farmers were claiming that both the Court of Common Pleas sitting in Carlisle and subsequently the Exchequer appeal court, sitting in the Exchequer Chamber, had found for them. Their rights, they said, had been upheld “in diverse Tryalls at Law”, but that the petitioner Huddleston “being unreasonably vexatious did still molest and interrupt (them) in the enjoyment of their common by impounding their cattle and otherwise and yet (i.e. still) refusing to suffer their right and title to the said common”. Regarding Huddleston’s claim that he had affidavits from ten of the original Carlisle jury, the farmers “suggested that if he had “procured” such certificates then they believed these to have been “unduly obtained” and that “they ought not to be made use of against them in this case” because it would be of “dangerous consequence to admit new evidence” or give credence to any statements of the jurors which were “in opposition or diminution to their verdict entered of record and verified by the Judge before whom the Tryall was had”.

In essence I think we see here the implicit suggestion of the farmers that Huddleston had somehow pressured or extorted the jurors to recant their original decision. We will never know the truth but such things were not unheard of.

Some of the exasperation of the farmers comes to us clearly over the centuries from their final words. Being they said “but poor men” they were “not able to contend with the Appellant who is rich and powerfull and uses all means to weary (us) out”.

They asked that the House of Lords dismiss Huddleston’s petition “with costs” because they had already occurred significant costs and trouble “in the proceedings so far” and that there was still more to pay.

The verdict

The House of Lords in the seventeenth century

The Lords set the 10th May 1690 for the hearing of the case and asked Huddleston to “cause Notice to be given to the Defendants, to the End they attend with their Counsel accordingly” on that day. They also ordered that “Charles Howard Esquire, John Aglionby Esquire, James Bird Esquire, John Mounsey Gentleman, and John Grisedale” should “attend this House, on Monday the 12th of this Instant May, at Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon, as Witnesses on the Behalf of William Mounsey and others Respondents, and wherein Andrew Hudlestone Esquire is Appellant”.

The date of the hearing was moved back twice more, both because the “respondents and Andrew Hudlestone” were “far distant from London” and because their Lordships had had to deal with “more weighty matters”. A final date of 4th December 1690 was eventually fixed.

The day before the hearing the Lords ordered that:

The Custos Brevium of the Court of Common Pleas do attend at the Bar of this House To-morrow, at Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon, with the Record of the Postea and Verdict in the Cause tried at the Assizes at Carlisle, between Andrew Hudleston Esquire and Mr. William Mounsey; and hereof he may not fail.

The Custos Brevium was the chief clerk of the Court of Common Pleas. The judges wanted to see for themselves the written record of the Carlisle trial which was such a bone of contention.

I give the Lords’ verdict in full:

Upon hearing Counsel this Day at the Bar, upon the Petition of Andrew Hudleston Esquire, shewing, “That William Mounsey and Fifty-three others, as Tenants within the Vill of Matterdale, in the Barony of Graystocke, in the County ofCumberland, in Michaelmas Terme, 36° Car. 11di, exhibited their English Bill, in the Court of Exchequer, against the Petitioner, as Lord of the Manor of Hutton John; complaining, that, at a Hearing, the First of July 1686, it was by that Court referred to a Trial at Law, whether all or any of the said Tenants of Matterdale have, or ought to have, Common of Pasture in the Moors or Wastes in the Petition mentioned, or any Part thereof, as also of the Judgement given upon the Issue, which he conceives to be erroneous;” as also upon hearing Counsel upon the Answer of William Mounsey, Richard Grisedale, Jos. Grisedale, Thomas Atkinson Junior, Thomas Atkinson Senior, Edward Grisedale Senior, Edward Grisedale Junior, Thomas Grisedale, Thomas Grisedale, John Pauley, William Greenhow, Robert Grisedale, John Benson, John Wilkinson, William Robinson, Michaell Grisedale, William Dockeray, Thomas Wilson, Thomas Wilson, Thomas Harrison, Thomas Hoggart, John Wilson, George Martin, John Harrison, John Neffeild, Thomas Wilson, Thomas Hodgson, William Wilkinson, Richard Wilkinson, John Dawson, Rich. Sutton, John Nithellson, John Robinson, Chamberlaine Dawson, John Mounsey, William Wilson, Robert Hudson, James Hudson, Agnes Gibson, Robert Rukin, John Brownrigg, Michaell Atkinson, John Greenhow, John Birkett, Thomas Brownrigg, William Robinson, Thomas Greenhow, John Gilbanck, Thomas Greenhow, John Gilbanck, John Greenbow, Thomas Greenhow, and John Coleman, put in thereunto:

After due Consideration had of what was offered by Counsel on either Side thereupon, it is ORDERED and Adjudged, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, That the said Petition of Andrew Hudleston be, and is hereby, dismissed this House; and that the Decree made in the Court of Exchequer, from which he appealed to this House, be, and is hereby, affirmed.

The Matterdale farmers had won. At least for the time being they and their descendants would be able to benefit from their common and customary rights to graze their cattle and other livestock on these Cumberland moors. Of course the Huddleston family didn’t give up their quest to deny the farmers their ancient rights and they were finally able to completely enclose Hutton Fell by an Act of Parliamentary Enclosure in the nineteenth century, by which time many of the members of the families who brought Andrew Huddleston to court had already been forced off the land, to move to the satanic mills of the northern industrial towns, to join the army or to emigrate. But that is another story.

Who were the protagonists and their witnesses?

The full list of all the fifty-four Matterdale farmers was given in the Lords final ruling quoted above as well as in the farmers’ answer to Huddleston’s petition. They were all members of long-established Matterdale families. William Mounsey himself was one of the wealthier tenants and came from Brownrigg in Matterdale, others farmed up and down Matterdale valley, from Douthwaite Head in the south to near Hutton John in the north.

As has been mentioned, Andrew Huddleston came from a long line of Catholics, whose cadet branch had become Lords of Hutton John. Andrew’s Uncle John was a catholic priest and had helped King Charles the Second escape following the decisive Battle of Worcester in 1651 and when Charles was restored after the English Revolution he became his confidant and reconciled him to the Catholic faith on his deathbed. Unlike many of his relatives (including his father) Andrew was flexible and converted to the Anglican faith and then set about restoring his family’s fortunes. The Huddlestons remained Lords of Hutton John for centuries to come.

Regarding the witnesses who were called to the House of Lords as witnesses; on November 8th 1690, when Andrew Huddleston petitioned that “your Lordships appoint a day” for the hearing, his counsel also humbly conceived that “Sir Wilfred Lawson Bart., John Pattinson, Thomas Benn and John Huddleston be fit and material witnesses in the cause”. I will have to leave it for a later time to look at who these people were (and it is certainly of interest). Suffice it to say they were obviously being called to bolster Huddleston case regarding the alleged customary rights of the tenant farmers as well to challenge the decision of the jury at the Carlisle assizes as it had been interpreted by the Court of Exchequer.

Brownrigg In Matterdale – Where William Mounsey lived

But if we want to know who the Matterdale farmer was who, according to the local oral history, walked to London to appear before the House of Lords, we need perhaps to look at the witnesses called to give evidence for the farmers themselves. Earlier I mentioned that the House of Lords had ordered that “Charles Howard Esquire, John Aglionby Esquire, James Bird Esquire, John Mounsey Gentleman, and John Grisedale” should “attend this House … as Witnesses on the Behalf of William Mounsey and others Respondents”. Now Charles Howard (of Greystoke) was the brother of Henry the sixth Duke of Norfolk who had died in 1684 and to whom the farmers repeatedly made reference in trying to establish the legality of their rights of common pasture. He was no doubt being called to testify to this effect. John Aglionby’s family had supposedly come over with William the Conqueror and were a long-established Cumbrian gentry family. John himself was a lawyer and a long-serving recorder of the Carlisle Assizes and was thus without much doubt being called to testify regarding the decision of the jury and court in the original trial. James Bird Esq. remains obscure for the moment, but John Mounsey, who was a “gentleman”, was William Mounsey’s brother. He and John Grisedale (certainly a relative of the numerous Grisdales amongst the Matterdale farmers) were probably being called either to give evidence regarding the customary rights of the farmers “from time immemorial” or regarding the verdict of the Carlisle trial.

So perhaps it was John Mounsey or John Grisedale who had “walked to London”? After all they are the two most likely contenders as we know that the House of Lords had demanded their presence. But of course it could equally as well have been William Mounsey himself or one of the other fifty-three, in their capacity as respondents to Huddleston’s petition. Perhaps we will never know.

What was it all about?

It’s certainly pleasing to know that this group of “poor men” finally prevailed over the “rich and powerful” Andrew Huddleston. It was obviously pretty crucial to their future livelihood that they could continue to pasture their animals on the moors.  But where does this small legal fight fit in the longer sweep of English history?

The majority of the English rural population had “from time out of mind” relied upon being able to make use of the huge swathes of England that were not under cultivation or definitively enclosed to supplement their meagre livelihood. They collected wood from the forests for building and heating, they foraged wild fruits, berries and leaves to supplement their diets, they cut peat or turf to burn and they grazed their goats, sheep and cattle on the wastes and moors. This they had done for as long as people had lived in a specific locality – in England certainly from well before the Norman Conquest. Without wishing to romanticise pre-conquest England, the land and it bounty were a “common treasury” for all.

When The Norman French arrived in and after 1066, England was divvied up between the King and his secular and religious followers. The French feudal system was imposed with a vengeance. The long process of denying people their “rights” (to use an anachronistic term) to make use of the Commons had begun. The Norman French Kings created private “forests” for their own hunting while the French religious and lay barons and lords went about reducing most of the population to de facto or de jure serfdom. But while there was  hardly any part of the country that was not owned (or held in feudal fee) by the Kings or the great magnates and lords, there were still enormous amounts of wastes, woods and moors surrounding the hundreds of nucleated, and usually cultivated, villages. The local people continued to use these commons but now their right to do so had become “customary” rather than what we might call natural.

Sheepfold on Hutton Moor

These customary rights were just part of a whole elaborate web of mutual feudal rights and obligations between lords and their vassals. To take the example of Cumbrian tenant farmers, they had the right to live on and work their tenements because their ancestors had before them. They had to pay rents, they owed labour services on the lords’ home farms – including various boon-days when the harvest needed gathering. They had to pay a fine or “relief” when the tenant died and his successor took over and when the manor itself passed from one generation to the next. But they also had rights in the common. By the seventeenth century all these rights and obligations were seen as deriving from custom. Sometimes they were written down but sometimes the customs were just that: customary, and were claimed to have existed from time immemorial.

An important part of the history of the English people in the nine hundred years following the Conquest is the history of how the majority of English people was inexorably deprived of its common rights and slowly but surely forced off the land. This was the process of English enclosures. It took a long time, starting I would suggest in the thirteenth century, gaining momentum in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and reaching its brutal climax with the Parliamentary Enclosures of the nineteenth century; by which time England had been effectively fully privatised.

George Orwell once put it thus:

Stop to consider how the so-called owners of the land got hold of it. They simply seized it by force, afterwards hiring lawyers to provide them with title-deeds. In the case of the enclosure of the common lands, which was going on from about 1600 to 1850, the land-grabbers did not even have the excuse of being foreign conquerors; they were quite frankly taking the heritage of their own countrymen, upon no sort of pretext except that they had the power to do so.

In the previous century Karl Marx had already summed up what the Enclosures were all about:

We have seen how the forcible seizure of the common lands, accompanied for the most part by the transformation of arable into pasture, began in the fifteenth century and lasted on into the sixteenth […] The advance that has been made in the eighteenth century is shown in this, that the law itself now became the instrument by which the theft of the people’s land was achieved, although the great farmers continued to use their petty private methods in addition. The parliamentary form of this robbery was to pass Acts for the enclosure of commons; in other words, decrees whereby the great landowners made a present to themselves of the people’s land, which thus became their own private property […] a systematic seizure of communal landed property helped, side by side with the theft of the State domains, to swell the size of those great farms which, in the eighteenth century, were called ‘capital farms’ or ‘merchant farms’, and ‘to set the country folk at liberty’ as a proletariat for the uses of industry.

Deprived of the Commons many Matterdale people ended up here

The small victory of the Matterdale farmers in 1690 was important to them, but in the longer term their victory was almost pyrrhic. The Huddlestons wanted more land and they wanted exclusive use of that land. They wanted “private property” in its modern sense. They, like so many other “noble” English families, finally got what they wanted. The bulk of the rural population could no longer support itself. If people couldn’t have access to the commons they were drawn into the new industrial cities and towns there to become a new class of urban proletariat, or perhaps they went to fights the Kings’ wars or had to emigrate to Canada or America or perhaps they were convicted of petty crimes undertaken to feed themselves and their families and were transported to Australia. The descendants of the Matterdale farmers did all of these.

Sources

The details of the hearing of the case William Mounsey et al, versus Huddleston are held in the archives of the House of Lords. Huddleston’s petition: HL/PO/JO/10/1/422/250 and Mounsey et al’s reply: HL/PO/JO/3/184/1. The House of Lords Journal Volume pages 447, 465, 486, 488, 545, 548, 577 and 578 provide further information.

There are also documents relating to the original Carlisle assize trial  held in the Cumbria record office, including D HUD 1/20  and D HGB/1/115.

This is the story of a young girl who became a ballet dancer at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London, who married a famous and well-to-do painter, who lived the good life for a while and moved to America. But later poverty and tragedy were to strike and this young girl eked out her final years hawking fish in Falmouth, Cornwall.

Outside Drury Lane Theatre 1820

Because of tight licensing laws in the early nineteenth century there were only two main theatres in London – The Theatre Royal in Drury Lane was one. It was a world where high culture and society met the demimonde. Shakespearean, German and French plays were produced alongside music and romantic ballets. Talented artists were employed to capture scenes from the plays and ballets as well as being commissioned to paint portraits of the leading actors, actresses and dancers – for example of the famous though scandalous and notorious Edmund Kean. Starting in the 1820s one of the most successful and rising of these artists was the young John William Gear (J W Gear). Born in Alverstoke, Hampshire into a very talented and successful Hampshire family, John Gear’s father, Joseph Gear, was both a renowned marine painter and a musician in the Drury Lane Theatre orchestra.

John painted and engraved dozens of scenes from the vibrant life at Drury Lane. In 1824 he even painted the royal family of Hawaii who attended a performance at the theatre during a “state” visit to London.

John William Gear’s painting of the Hawaiian Royal Family at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1824

As mentioned, as well as tragedies the theatre put on romantic or “pastoral” ballets, which usually followed the heavier and more melodramatic fare. There was also what we would now call a “Corps de Ballet”, with principal and supporting dancers. Starting in 1824 one of these dancers was a “Miss Grisdale”. Her full name was Elizabeth Grisdale; though she was known as Minnie. Her name can be found on many of the theatre’s advertising “bills” in the 1820s – for example in 1825 she danced dozens of times in the “pastoral ballet”  The Rossignol – or, The Bird in the Bush. This followed various tragedies such as Macbeth, Der Freischutz and The Merchant of Venice, which featured among others the great Edward Kean and a young James William Wallack (of whom more later). She might have known Joseph Gear as well. The only record I can find that gives some of her (approximate) words is the report of a trial for theft heard at the Old Bailey on the 6th April 1826, it concerns the theft of a pair of Elizabeth’s drawers:

MARGARET HARDING was again indicted for stealing, on the 27th of October, 1 Pair of drawers, value 1s. 6d., the goods of Elizabeth Grisdale, spinster.

ELIZABETH GRISDALE. I belong to Drury-lane Theatre – I was there in October last. The prisoner was a dresser there. These drawers are my property; they were missed from the Theatre on the night after I left them, when I went there to dress – I cannot say when it was.

THOMAS SAMUEL RAVENSCROFT. I am a pawnbroker. I took in these drawers of the prisoner, on the 27th of October – I have known her some time.

GUILTY. Aged 28.

Recommended to Mercy. – Confined Six Months.

Elizabeth was born in the Tower Hamlets in the East End of London and baptized on 5th July 1807 in the Church of Saint George in the East. Her parents were Gideon Grisdale and Elizabeth Jordan. Gideon was a jeweller living in Ship Alley, Well Close, in Tower Hamlets. Interestingly Gideon had also been a party to a trial at the Old Bailey in 1813:

WILLIAM HALL was indicted for feloniously stealing, on the 16th of April, a clock, value 5 l. the property of Gideon Grisdale .

JOHN DUNN GARMSAY . I am a clock-maker, in the employ of Mr. Grisdale; I made the clock for Mr. Grisdale; he told me the clock was stolen out of the shop.

Q. Did you afterwards see the clock in the possession of the prisoner – A. No.

JAMES BLAND. I am a silversmith; I live in Norton Falgate. I bought the clock of the prisoner about four months ago; that clock was afterwards claimed to be Mr. Grisdale’s property; I delivered it to Hewitt, the officer. I did not ask him how he came by it, nor he did not tell me.

WILLIAM HEWITT. I am an officer. I produce this clock; it was delivered to me by Mr. Bland; Mr. Garmsay saw the clock in Bland’s window; I went and took the clock, and directed Bland to stop the prisoner if he ever saw him again. I know nothing more than finding the prisoner in custody.

John Garmsay . This clock is the property of Mr. Grisdale. Elizabeth Grisdale is too ill to attend.

NOT GUILTY .

London jury, before Mr. Common Serjeant.

Gideon Grisdale was born In Matterdale in 1777, the first of the many children of the old blacksmith in Dockray, Matterdale: Wilfred Grisdale, and his second wife Ruth Slee. Wilfred had been born in 1711 to Joseph Grisdale and Agnes Dockray. He had married Ann Brownrigg in 1733 but the couple had no children. But when Ann died in 1775, Wilfred wasted no time in marrying again. He married a young Ruth Slee (48 years his junior) in 1776, at the age of 65. But children soon followed, six in all: Gideon, Charlotte, Bilhah, Wilfred, Joseph and William. I have told some of the stories of Gideon’s siblings already: Wilfred his brother who took the whole family to Canada and his  dancing brother William.

The Old Bailey

As we know Gideon had moved to London and become first a “pawn broker” and then a “jeweller, trader and chapman”. But for reasons we will probably never discover by July 1813 Gideon had been declared bankrupt. From various notices in the London Gazette we know something of what happened. Several meetings were called where his creditors had to prove the debts owed and where Gideon was “examined” as to his estate. This took the better part of a year. Assignees were appointed to manage the bankruptcy and they then proceeded to sell off Gideon’s lease on his premises plus all his “stock in trade, household furniture, goods, chattels, property and effects”. Two dividends were declared for creditors before Gideon was released from bankruptcy by order of “the Right Honourable John Lord Eldon, Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain” having “in all things conformed himself according to the directions of the several Acts of Parliament concerning bankrupts”.

All this was going on while Elizabeth was still a small girl. What became of Gideon and his wife after the bankruptcy is a mystery, they disappear from the historical record.

A Ballet at Drury Lane Theatre

Returning to Elizabeth, she was obviously a pretty young dancer at Drury Lane and there she must have caught the eye of John W Gear because on the 19th February 1827 they were married in the Church of Saint Martin in the Fields.

John and Elizabeth Gear never had children and when and why Elizabeth stopped dancing is unknown. But John’s career seems to have flourished and he kept on painting and engraving in the theatre throughout the 1830s and 1840s. The couple seem to first have lived in Wilson Street, Gray’s Inn Road, but in both 1841 and 1851 they were living at 5 Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, a very prestigious and well-to-do address. Things looked bright.

Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Mass

Yet for some reason John and Elizabeth left for America in 1852 – moving first to New York and later to Boston. Perhaps the reason was that John’s career was stagnating, or perhaps it was in order for John to live near his father Joseph Gear who had emigrated to the United States many years before and was living and working in Boston; still painting but mostly working as a bassist in the Boston theatre. It’s possible that Joseph was ill and his son wanted to see him before he died – which Joseph did in 1853.

The Houghton Library of Harvard University, where much of John’s work is held, tells us the following:

John William Gear… was an English-born portraitist, miniaturist, watercolor painter, and lithographer, who specialized in theatrical portraits. His greatest work was the publishing of a set of impressions of theater audiences, Portraits of the Public being Heads of Audiences, …. This work was to be published a few at a time in pamphlet form, but only number one ever appeared. He exhibited in London, 1821-1852, and came to Boston ca. 1852 and set-up a business for cleaning and restoring paintings. Although he exhibited his work at the Boston Athenaeum in 1855, he sank into poverty.

We are also told that his father Joseph:

Joseph Gear (1768-1853) was a marine painter, engraver, caricaturist, and a musician. He immigrated to the United States in 1824?, later moved to Boston, and exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum, 1829-1837. He was said to be a “double bassist employed at Drury Lane Theatre, London, and Tremont St. Theatre, Boston, Mass.” John William Gear was his son.

But the sad part for John and for his wife Elizabeth was that:

In 1866 he (John) committed suicide at his father’s grave (Joseph Gear) in Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Falmouth Harbour

A sad but human tale. What became of Elizabeth (Grisdale) Gear? Already in poverty it seems she soon returned to England. By 1871, aged 63, she was living in Falmouth, Cornwall, at 7 Briton’s Yard, right on the harbour. She was a “Shell Fish Dealer”, being born in “Saint George in the East, London”. Elizabeth, now listed as Minnie Gear, was still there in 1881, carrying on the same trade – as a “Hawker”.

A fish hawker was a trader in fish, much like what we now call a fish-monger. She would have bought fish from the returning fishing fleet and sold it to local people, probably from an outdoor stall. We can only imagine what Elizabeth thought when she looked back on her life. How she had been a beautiful ballet dancer at Drury Lane; how she had married a successful and affluent painter; how they had lived at ease in London; how they had gone to America where it had all gone wrong and her husband had committed suicide on his father’s grave and how now she was just selling fish! Who knows? Did her Falmouth customers hear any of this? And if so did they believe her?

Elizabeth “Minnie” Gear died in 1890 in Falmouth.

One coincidence might be mentioned. One of the famous actors who played on the same stage as Elizabeth, and on many of the same days, was a young James William Wallack. After touring extensively in the United States from 1818, Wallack settled in New York in 1852 and started “Wallack’s Theatre” in 1861. In New York one of the actors who was a regular member of his Theatre Group in the 1860s was a certain Walter Grisdale, about whom I wrote briefly on the site. Walter’s great great grandfather, Joseph Grisdale, was also Elizabeth Grisdale Gear’s great grandfather!

Threlkeld is a lovely place in Cumberland. It lies between Keswick and Penrith and just next to Matterdale. I wanted to tell the story of ‘The Shepherd Lord’, Henry Clifford, the father of the first earl of Cumberland and I probably will. But maybe William Wordsworth , Arthur Clifford, Bishop Thomas Percy and even Isaac Albéniz, can tell it better.

In his long poem called The Waggoner, Wordsworth wrote:

And see beyond that hamlet small,
The ruined towers of Threlkeld Hall,
Lurking in a double shade.
By trees and lingering twilight made!
There at Blencathara’s rugged feet,
Sir Lancelot gave a safe retreat
To noble Clifford; from annoy
Concealed the persecuted boy.
Well pleased in rustic garb to feed
His flock, and pipe on shepherd’s reed,
Among this multitude of hills,
Crags, woodlands, waterfalls, and rills.

Isaac Albeniz

Isaac Albeniz

There is even an opera called Henry Clifford written in 1893-95, the first of a series of operas by Isaac Albéniz which were commissioned and supplied with English libretti by his wealthy English patron Francis Money-Coutts. You can listen to the ouverture here. I find it quite beautiful.

In his 1817 history of the Clifford family called Collectanea Cliffordiana Arthur Clifford tells the full story:

HENRY, LORD CLIFFORD, OF WESTMORELAND, / SURNAMED THE SHEPHERD.

“The life of Henry, Lord Clifford, surnamed the Shepherd, father of the first Earl of Cumberland, exhibited a memorable example of the awful vicissitudes of human grandeur. He is known in history by the name of Lord Clifford, the Shepherd, an appellation which he obtained from the following circumstance. His father, John Lord Clifford, being killed in the fatal battle of Towton, in the year 1460, fighting for Henry VI. and the house of Lancaster; and Edward Duke of York, obtaining the crown, the young Lord Clifford, who was then only seven years old, was exposed to such imminent peril from the victorious party, that his mother Lady Clifford found it necessary to conceal him at a’ farm-house, in the dress of a shepherd’s boy. The memory of his father, and grand-father, who was also killed in battle, was so hateful to the house of York, that all their property was confiscated, and their titles attainted ; and had young Henry been discovered, he would most probably have been put to death. He was first committed to the care of a shepherd’s wife, who lived at Lonsborough, in Yorkshire, the seat of Lady Clifford, his mother, who was a great heiress, and Baroness Vescy in her own right. This woman was particularly chosen for the purpose, as she had formerly been nursery-maid at Skipton castle; and therefore the young lord being well acquainted with her, and very fond of her, he the more readily submitted to his hard condition, and to be separated from his disconsolate mother. And she being examined about her children, replied, that she had given positive directions to have them transported beyond the seas, into the Low Countries, there to be educated, and she knew nothing further about them. This answer was the more readily believed, as she had taken the precaution, immediately on her husband’s death, to send both her children to the sea-side, and the youngest was actually sent into the Low Countries, there to be educated, where he soon after died.

Threlkeld Hall today

Threlkeld Hall today

In this manner, therefore, young Henry lived in complete disguise, near his mother at Lonsborough, till he was fourteen years of age; when his grandfather, Lord Vescy, dying, a fresh rumour prevailed in the court of Edward IV. that the young Lord Clifford was alive; and strict enquiry being made after him, his mother, with the help of Sir Launcelot Threlkeld, her second husband, had him removed, together with the same shepherd and his wife, into Cumberland, where a farm was taken for him on the borders of Scotland. Here he lived as a shepherd for about 18 years; but his good father-in-law often came on purpose to see him, and he was sometimes visited very privately by his affectionate mother. Is it possible to fancy a more romantic and more interesting situation?

The greatest inconvenience which resulted to Lord Clifford from this mode of life was, that his education was entirely neglected; as his mother was afraid even to have him taught to read or write for fear of discovery ; and it was not till he had been restored to his lands and honours that he learnt even to write his own name. But notwithstanding the total neglect of his education, he always appeared to be a very intelligent man, and was an excellent economist in the management of his estate, and fortune. He also became a great builder, and thoroughly repaired all his castles in the north of England, and in other parts; which having been in the hands of strangers for five and twenty years had fallen greatly into decay. Skipton castle, and the lands about it had been given by King Edward the Fourth, to Sir Wm. Stanley; and the county of Westmoreland to Richard Duke of Gloucester, afterwards King of England, by the name of Richard III. In this distressful situation, therefore, he lived as a shepherd till he was thirty- two years of age; when Henry VII. of the house of Lancaster, obtaining the crown, Lord Clifford was restored in blood and honours, and to all his baronies, lands, and castles, by an act of parliament in the first of King Henry’s reign, by which his attainder was reversed, and his property restored.

Lord Clifford having passed his youth in this lowly condition among the mountains, appears to have acquired a decided taste for rural retirement; for he passed the remainder of his life at a romantic spot called Barden Tower, in Craven, where he addicted himself with great assiduity and delight, to the studies of astronomy and chemistry, in which he was assisted by the monks of the neighbouring priory of Bolton. However, he was drawn out of his retreat in the year 1513, when near sixty years old, and was one of the principal commanders in the great victory obtained over the Scotch, at Flodden-field, when he shewed that the military genius of the family had neither been chilled in him by age, nor damped by the strange misfortunes of his youth, nor extinguished by long habits of peace. In the old metrical history of Flodden-field, the following description is given of the followers of Lord Clifford the Shepherd :

From Penigent to Pendle Hill,
From Linton to Long Addingham,
And all that Craven cotes did till
They with the lusty Clifford came.
All Staincliff hundred went with him
With striplings strong from Wharledale,
And all that Hanton hills did climb
With Longstroth eke, and Litton Dale;
Whose milk-fed fellows fleshy bred,
Well browned with sounding bows upbent,
All such as Horton fells had fed
On Clifford’s banner did attend.

Flodden Field 1513

Flodden Field 1513

Lord Clifford, the Shepherd, received a summons to the first parliament held in the reign of Henry VII., and to all the succeeding parliaments of that reign, as well as those of Henry VIII. until his death. But in the twenty-first year of the reign of Henry VII. he fell under the displeasure of that avaricious and umbrageous monarch, for having taken part with the commons against the tax-gatherers; so that the king ordered him to produce all his evidences, in order to show by what right he held his lands in Westmoreland, as well as the office of hereditary high sheriff of that county, which he performed to the complete satisfaction of the king and his council.

This Lord Clifford, of Westmoreland, was twice married. His first wife was Anne, only daughter of Sir John St. John, of Bletsho, and cousin-german to King Henry VII. She was a lady of singular virtue, goodness, and piety; and so great a housewife, that she was one of the first who caused those tapestry hangings to be made, which are so often mentioned by Shakespeare, and other early writers, by the name of Arras; but which in this Lady Clifford’s time, were a great rarity in England. Some of these hangings, with her arms and those of Lord Clifford wrought upon them, were remaining at Skipton castle, in the time of Charles I., but they appear to have been destroyed during the civil war between the king and the parliament. By this lady, Lord Clifford had three sons, and four daughters. His eldest son and heir, who was afterwards Earl of Cumberland, was born in the year 1493.

Lord Clifford’s second wife was Florence, or Florentia, daughter of — Pudsey, Esq. of an ancient family in Craven. By her he had two or three sons who died young, and one daughter named Dorothy, who was married to Sir Hugh Lowther, of Lowther, in Westmoreland, from whom the present Earl of Lonsdale is descended.

Lord Clifford’s widow survived him many years and took to her second husband,, Richard, Lord Gray, a younger son of Thomas, first Marquis of Dorset.

By his last will and testament, Lord Clifford appointed that his body should be interred by that of his grandfather, Henry Bromflete, Lord Vescy,. in the monastery of the White Friars, within the suburbs of London, provided he died in that city or neighbourhood. But in case he died in the north of England, he ordered his body to be buried in the abbey of Shapp, in Westmoreland,. or in Bolton-abbey, in Craven, to both of which he was a great benefactor. He died in one of his castles in the north of England, and ended his memorable life on the 23d of April, in the year 1523.”

The Nut Brown Maid by Joseph Southall

The Nut Brown Maid by Joseph Southall

Arthur Clifford also wrote that: “Dr. Whitaker, in his valuable history of Craven, has conjectured with great appearance of probability, that the romantic adventures of Lord Clifford, the shepherd, gave rise to the beautiful old ballad of the “Nutbrown Maid,” modernised by Prior, in his poem of “Henry and Emma.” The Dr. Whitaker Arthur Clifford refers to was Thomas Dunham Whitaker who was born on the 8th of June, 1759, at Rainham, in Norfolk. He wrote:

“Clifford had a miserly father and a jealous step-mother, and owing to the parsimony of the one and the repelling influence of the other, was led into pecuniary embarrassments, which were the natural result of the extravagance of the court.

To relieve himself of these embarrassments, he did not resort, as is the fashion at the present time, to accommodating Hebrews, but in keeping with the ruder and more picturesque character of the fifteenth century, in which he lived, he became an outlaw, gathered together a band of reckless followers, plundered religious houses, and terrorised whole districts to such an extent that the inhabitants were sometimes compelled to seek refusge in the churches.

Having “sown his wild oats” he reformed and married Lady Margaret Percy, daughter of the Earl of Northumberland. It was about the year 1502 that “The Ballad of the Nut Brown Maid” was first printed, and from internal evidences it is inferred that it must have been written within a very short period of that time. Clifford was celebrated in the use of the bow, and the words of the ballad ‘Such an archere, as men say ye be’, would well apply to him. The outlaw in the ballad, moreover, particularly describes Westmorland as his heritage, and thus identifies himself with Clifford. The high lineage of the “nut brown maid” is in keeping with that of Lady Margaret Percy, and it may be that the young outlaw lurked in the forests of the Percy family, and in a disguise, which he told her covered a knight, won the lady’s heart. The inversion in the ballad of the rank of the parties was probably nothing more than a veil of poetic fiction used to conceal an actual episode which was then recent and well known.”

The Nut-Brown Maid is a ballad included by Bishop Thomas Percy in his Reliques of Ancient English Poetry of 1765. Percy wrote: “The sentimental beauties of this ancient ballad have always recommended it to readers of taste, notwithstanding the rust of antiquity which obscures the style and expression. The text is formed from two copies found in two different editions of Arnolde’s Chronicle, a book supposed to be first printed about 1521. The ballad of the “Nutbrowne Mayd” was first revived in The Muses’ Mercury for June 1707, 4to, being prefaced with a little “Essay on the old English Poets and Poetry,” in which this poem is concluded to be “near 300 years old,” upon reasons which, though they appear inconclusive to us now, were sufficient to determine Prior, who there first met with it. However, this opinion had the approbation of the learned Wanley, an excellent judge of ancient books. For that whatever related to the reprinting of this old piece was referred to Wanley, appears from two letters of Prior’s preserved in the British Museum [Harl. MSS. No. 3777].”

Here I use Arthur Quiller-Couch’s edition, contained in his The Oxford Book of Ballads of 1910. It’s exactly as the original except in slightly more modern English:

I

He.  BE it right or wrong, these men among
On women do complain;
Affirming this, how that it is
A labour spent in vain
To love them wele; for never a dele
They love a man again:
For let a man do what he can
Their favour to attain,
Yet if a new to them pursue,
Their first true lover than
Laboureth for naught; for from her thought
He is a banished man.

II

She.  I say not nay, but that all day
It is both written and said
That woman’s faith is, as who saith.
All utterly decay’d:
But nevertheless, right good witnèss
In this case might be laid
That they love true and continùe:
Record the Nut-brown Maid,
Which, when her love came her to prove,
To her to make his moan,
Would not depart; for in her heart
She loved but him alone.

III

He.  Then between us let us discuss
What was all the manere
Between them two: we will also
Tell all the pain in fere
That she was in. Now I begin,
So that ye me answere:
Wherefore all ye that present be,
I pray you, give an ear.
I am the Knight. I come by night,
As secret as I can,
Saying, Alas! thus standeth the case,
I am a banished man.

IV

She.  And I your will for to fulfil
In this will not refuse;
Trusting to show, in wordès few,
That men have an ill use—
To their own shame—women to blame,
And causeless them accuse.
Therefore to you I answer now,
All women to excuse:
Mine own heart dear, with you what cheer
I pray you, tell anone;
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

V

He.  It standeth so: a deed is do
Whereof great harm shall grow:
My destiny is for to die
A shameful death, I trow;
Or else to flee.The t’ one must be.
None other way I know
But to withdraw as an outlaw,
And take me to my bow.
Wherefore adieu, mine own heart true!
None other rede I can:
For I must to the green-wood go,
Alone, a banished man.

VI

She.  O Lord, what is this worldis bliss,
That changeth as the moon!
My summer’s day in lusty May
Is darked before the noon.
I hear you say, farewell: Nay, nay,
We dèpart not so soon.
Why say ye so?whither will ye go?
Alas! what have ye done?
All my welfàre to sorrow and care
Should change, if ye were gone:
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

VII

He.  I can believe it shall you grieve,
And somewhat you distrain;
But afterward, your painès hard
Within a day or twain
Shall soon aslake; and ye shall take
Comfort to you again.
Why should ye ought? for, to make thought,
Your labour were in vain.
And thus I do; and pray you to,
As hartèly as I can:
For I must to the green-wood go,
Alone, a banished man.

VIII

She.  Now, sith that ye have showed to me
The secret of your mind,
I shall be plain to you again,
Like as ye shall me find.
Sith it is so that ye will go,
I will not live behind.
Shall never be said the Nut-brown Maid
Was to her love unkind.
Make you ready, for so am I,
Although it were anone:
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

IX

He.  Yet I you rede to take good heed
What men will think and say:
Of young, of old, it shall be told
That ye be gone away
Your wanton will for to fulfil,
In green-wood you to play;
And that ye might for your delight
No longer make delay.
Rather than ye should thus for me
Be called an ill woman
Yet would I to the green-wood go,
Alone, a banished man.

X

She.  Though it be sung of old and young
That I should be to blame,
Theirs be the charge that speak so large
In hurting of my name:
For I will prove that faithful love
It is devoid of shame;
In your distress and heaviness
To part with you the same:
And sure all tho that do not so
True lovers are they none:
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

XI

He.  I counsel you, Remember how
It is no maiden’s law
Nothing to doubt, but to run out
To wood with an outlàw.
For ye must there in your hand bear
A bow ready to draw;
And as a thief thus must you live
Ever in dread and awe;
Whereby to you great harm might grow:
Yet had I liever than
That I had to the green-wood go,
Alone, a banished man.

XII

She.  I think not nay but as ye say;
It is no maiden’s lore;
But love may make me for your sake,
As I have said before,
To come on foot, to hunt and shoot,
To get us meat and store;
For so that I your company
May have, I ask no more.
From which to part it maketh my heart
As cold as any stone;
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

XIII

He.  For an outlàw this is the law,
That men him take and bind:
Without pitie, hangèd to be,
And waver with the wind.
If I had need (as God forbede!)
What socours could ye find?
Forsooth, I trow, you and your bow
For fear would draw behind.
And no mervail; for little avail
Were in your counsel than:
Wherefore I’ll to the green-wood go,
Alone, a banished man.

XIV

She.  Right well know ye that women be
But feeble for to fight;
No womanhede it is, indeed,
To be bold as a knight:
Yet in such fear if that ye were
With enemies day and night,
I would withstand, with bow in hand,
To grieve them as I might,
And you to save; as women have
From death men many one:
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

XV

He.  Yet take good hede; for ever I drede
That ye could not sustain
The thorny ways, the deep vallèys,
The snow, the frost, the rain,
The cold, the heat; for dry or wete,
We must lodge on the plain;
And, us above, no other roof
But a brake bush or twain:
Which soon should grieve you, I believe;
And ye would gladly than
That I had to the green-wood go,
Alone, a banished man.

XVI

She.  Sith I have here been partynere
With you of joy and bliss,
I must alsò part of your woe
Endure, as reason is:
Yet I am sure of one pleasure,
And shortly it is this—
That where ye be, me seemeth, pardé,
I could not fare amiss.
Without more speech I you beseech
That we were shortly gone;
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

XVII

He.  If ye go thyder, ye must consider,
When ye have lust to dine,
There shall no meat be for to gete,
Nether bere, ale, ne wine,
Ne shetès clean, to lie between,
Made of the thread and twine;
None other house, but leaves and boughs,
To cover your head and mine.
Lo, mine heart sweet, this ill diète
Should make you pale and wan:
Wherefore I’ll to the green-wood go,
Alone, a banished man.

XVIII

She.  Among the wild deer such an archère,
As men say that ye be,
Ne may not fail of good vitayle
Where is so great plentè
And water clear of the rivere
Shall be full sweet to me;
With which in hele I shall right wele
Endure, as ye shall see
And, or we go, a bed or two
I can provide anone;
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

XIX

He.  Lo yet, before, ye must do more,
If ye will go with me:
As, cut your hair up by your ear,
Your kirtle by the knee;
With bow in hand for to withstand
Your enemies, if need be:
And this same night, before daylight,
To woodward will I flee.
If that ye will all this fulfil,
Do it shortly as ye can:
Else will I to the green-wood go,
Alone, a banished man.

XX

She.  I shall as now do more for you
Than ’longeth to womanhede;
To short my hair, a bow to bear,
To shoot in time of need.
O my sweet mother! before all other
For you I have most drede!
But now, adieu! I must ensue
Where fortune doth me lead.
All this make ye: Now let us flee;
The day cometh fast upon:
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

XXI

He.  Nay, nay, not so; ye shall not go,
And I shall tell you why—
Your appetite is to be light
Of love,I well espy:
For, right as ye have said to me,
In likewise hardily
Ye would answere whosoever it were,
In way of company:
It is said of old, Soon hot, soon cold,
And so is a womàn:
Wherefore I to the wood will go,
Alone, a banished man.

XXII

She.  If ye take heed, it is no need
Such words to say to me;
For oft ye prayed, and long assayed,
Or I loved you, pardè:
And though that I of ancestry
A baron’s daughter be,
Yet have you proved how I you loved,
A squire of low degree;
And ever shall, whatso befall,
To die therefore anone;
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

XXIII

He.  A baron’s child to be beguiled,
It were a cursèd deed!
To be felàw with an outlaw—
Almighty God forbede!
Yet better were the poor squyere
Alone to forest yede
Than ye shall say another day
That by my cursèd rede
Ye were betrayed.
Wherefore, good maid,
The best rede that I can,
Is, that I to the green-wood go,
Alone, a banished man.

XXIV

She.  Whatever befall, I never shall
Of this thing be upbraid:
But if ye go, and leave me so,
Then have ye me betrayed.
Remember you wele, how that ye dele;
For if ye, as ye said,
Be so unkind to leave behind
Your love, the Nut-brown Maid,
Trust me truly that I shall die
Soon after ye be gone:
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

XXV

He.  If that ye went, ye should repent;
For in the forest now
I have purveyed me of a maid
Whom I love more than you:
Another more fair than ever ye were
I dare it well avow;
And of you both each should be wroth
With other, as I trow:
It were mine ease to live in peace;
So will I, if I can:
Wherefore I to the wood will go,
Alone, a banished man.

XXVI

She.  Though in the wood I understood
Ye had a paramour,
All this may nought remove my thought,
But that I will be your’:
And she shall find me soft and kind
And courteis every hour;
Glad to fulfil all that she will
Command me, to my power:
For had ye, lo, an hundred mo,
Yet would I be that one:
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

XXVII

He.  Mine own dear love, I see the prove
That ye be kind and true;
Of maid, of wife, in all my life,
The best that ever I knew.
Be merry and glad; be no more sad;
The case is changéd new;
For it were ruth that for your truth
Ye should have cause to rue.
Be not dismayed, whatsoever I said
To you when I began;
I will not to the green-wood go;
I am no banished man.

XXVIII

She.  These tidings be more glad to me
Than to be made a queen,
If I were sure they should endure;
But it is often seen
When men will break promise they speak
The wordis on the splene.
Ye shape some wile me to beguile,
And steal from me, I ween:
Then were the case worse than it was,
And I more wo-begone:
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

XXIX

He.  Ye shall not nede further to drede:
I will not disparáge
You (God defend), sith you descend
Of so great a lináge.
Now understand: to Westmoreland,
Which is my heritage,
I will you bring; and with a ring,
By way of marriáge
I will you take, and lady make,
As shortly as I can:
Thus have you won an Earle’s son,
And not a banished man.

XXX

Here may ye see that women be
In love meek, kind, and stable;
Let never man reprove them than,
Or call them variable;
But rather pray God that we may
To them be comfortable;
Which sometime proveth such as He loveth,
If they be charitable.
For sith men would that women should
Be meek to them each one;
Much more ought they to God obey,
And serve but Him alone.

Wordsworth of course wasn’t content with a few lines, he had to tell the story at greater length, which he did in Song at the Feast of Brougham Castle upon the Restoration of Lord Clifford, the Shepherd, to the Estates and Honours of his Ancestors:

High in the breathless Hall the Minstrel sate,
And Emont’s murmur mingled with the Song.
The words of ancient time I thus translate,
A festal strain that hath been silent long:—

From town to town, from tower to tower,
The red rose is a gladsome flower.
Her thirty years of winter past,
The red rose is revived at last;
She lifts her head for endless spring,
For everlasting blossoming:
Both roses flourish, red and white:
In love and sisterly delight
The two that were at strife are blended,
And all old troubles now are ended.—
Joy! joy to both! but most to her
Who is the flower of Lancaster!
Behold her how She smiles to-day
On this great throng, this bright array!
Fair greeting doth she send to all
From every corner of the hall;
But chiefly from above the board
Where sits in state our rightful Lord,
A Clifford to his own restored!

They came with banner, spear, and shield;
And it was proved in Bosworth-field.
Not long the Avenger was withstood—
Earth helped him with the cry of blood:
St. George was for us, and the might
Of blessed Angels crowned the right.
Loud voice the Land has uttered forth,
We loudest in the faithful north:
Our fields rejoice, our mountains ring,
Our streams proclaim a welcoming;
Our strong-abodes and castles see
The glory of their loyalty.

How glad is Skipton at this hour—
Though lonely, a deserted Tower;
Knight, squire, and yeoman, page and groom,
We have them at the feast of Brough’m.
How glad Pendragon—though the sleep
Of years be on her!—She shall reap
A taste of this great pleasure, viewing
As in a dream her own renewing.
Rejoiced is Brough, right glad, I deem,
Beside her little humble stream;
And she that keepeth watch and ward
Her statelier Eden’s course to guard;
They both are happy at this hour,
Though each is but a lonely Tower:—
But here is perfect joy and pride
For one fair House by Emont’s side,
This day, distinguished without peer,
To see her Master and to cheer—
Him, and his Lady-mother dear!

Oh! it was a time forlorn
When the fatherless was born—
Give her wings that she may fly,
Or she sees her infant die!
Swords that are with slaughter wild
Hunt the Mother and the Child.
Who will take them from the light?
—Yonder is a man in sight—
Yonder is a house—but where?
No, they must not enter there.
To the caves, and to the brooks,
To the clouds of heaven she looks;
She is speechless, but her eyes
Pray in ghostly agonies.
Blissful Mary, Mother mild,
Maid and Mother undefiled,
Save a Mother and her Child!

Now who is he that bounds with joy
On Carrock’s side, a Shepherd-boy?
No thoughts hath he but thoughts that pass
Light as the wind along the grass.
Can this be He who hither came
In secret, like a smothered flame?
O’er whom such thankful tears were shed
For shelter, and a poor man’s bread!
God loves the Child; and God hath willed
That those dear words should be fulfilled,
The Lady’s words, when forced away
The last she to her Babe did say:
“My own, my own, thy fellow-guest
I may not be; but rest thee, rest,
For lowly shepherd’s life is best!”

Alas! when evil men are strong
No life is good, no pleasure long.
The Boy must part from Mosedale’s groves,
And leave Blencathara’s rugged coves,
And quit the flowers that summer brings
To Glenderamakin’s lofty springs;
Must vanish, and his careless cheer
Be turned to heaviness and fear.
– Give Sir Lancelot Threlkeld praise!
Hear it, good man, old in days!
Thou tree of covert and of rest
For this young Bird that is distrest;
Among thy branches safe he lay,
And he was free to sport and play,
When falcons were abroad for prey.

A recreant harp, that sings of fear
And heaviness in Clifford’s ear!
I said, when evil men are strong,
No life is good, no pleasure long,
A weak and cowardly untruth!
Our Clifford was a happy Youth,
And thankful through a weary time,
That brought him up to manhood’s prime.
– Again he wanders forth at will,
And tends a flock from hill to hill:
His garb is humble; ne’er was seen
Such garb with such a noble mien;
Among the shepherd-grooms no mate
Hath he, a Child of strength and state!
Yet lacks not friends for simple glee,
Nor yet for higher sympathy.

To his side the fallow-deer
Came and rested without fear;
The eagle, lord of land and sea,
Stooped down to pay him fealty;
And both the undying fish that swim
Through Bowscale-tarn did wait on him;
The pair were servants of his eye
In their immortality;
And glancing, gleaming, dark or bright,
Moved to and fro, for his delight.
He knew the rocks which Angels haunt
Upon the mountains visitant;
He hath kenned them taking wing:
And into caves where Faeries sing
He hath entered; and been told
By Voices how men lived of old.
Among the heavens his eye can see
The face of thing that is to be;
And, if that men report him right,
His tongue could whisper words of might.
Now another day is come,
Fitter hope, and nobler doom;
He hath thrown aside his crook,
And hath buried deep his book;
Armour rusting in his halls
On the blood of Clifford calls,—
‘Quell the Scot,’ exclaims the Lance—
Bear me to the heart of France,
Is the longing of the Shield—
Tell thy name, thou trembling field;
Field of death, where’er thou be,
Groan thou with our victory!
Happy day, and mighty hour,
When our Shepherd, in his power,
Mailed and horsed, with lance and sword,
To his ancestors restored
Like a re-appearing Star,
Like a glory from afar
First shall head the flock of war!”

Alas! the impassioned minstrel did not know
How, by Heaven’s grace, this Clifford’s heart was framed:
How he, long forced in humble walks to go,
Was softened into feeling, soothed, and tamed.

Love had he found in huts where poor men lie;
His daily teachers had been woods and rills,
The silence that is in the starry sky,
The sleep that is among the lonely hills.

In him the savage virtue of the Race,
Revenge and all ferocious thoughts were dead:
Nor did he change; but kept in lofty place
The wisdom which adversity had bred.

Glad were the vales, and every cottage-hearth; The Shepherd-lord was honoured more and more;
And, ages after he was laid in earth,
“The good Lord Clifford” was the name he bore.

1569 was just another year in the turbulent history of England. But all was not well in the realm of Elizabeth 1 in the eleventh year of her reign. Catholic magnates continued to plot against her, hoping to install her Catholic half-sister Mary Queen of Scots in her place. A year before, after suffering a military defeat at the Battle of Langside, Mary had landed in Workington, Cumberland, but been taken prisoner by Richard Lowther, who was forced to hand her over in Carlisle, from where she was taken to imprisonment in Bolton Castle.

Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland

Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland

The two leading northern magnates plotting against Elizabeth were Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland, and Charles Neville, 6th Earl of Westmorland. They were encouraged in their schemes by the Cumberland lord Leonard Dacre, who would later betray them. In November 1569, Percy and Neville rebelled. They wrote to Queen Elizabeth:

We, Thomas, Earl of Northumberland, and Charles, Earl of Westmorland, the Queen’s true and faithful subjects, to all that came of the old Catholic Religion, know ye that we, with many other well-disposed persons, as well of the Nobility as others, have promised our Faith to the Furtherance of this our good meaning. Forasmuch as divers disordered and well-disposed persons about the Queen’s Majesty, have, by their subtle and crafty dealings to advance themselves, overcome in this Realm, the true and Catholic Religion towards God, and by the same abused the Queen, disordered the Realm, and now lastly seek and procure the destruction of the Nobility; We, therefore, have gathered ourselves together to resist by force, and the rather by the help of God and you good people, to see redress of these things amiss, with the restoring of all ancient customs and liberties to God’s Church, and this noble Realm; lest if we should not do it ourselves, we might be reformed by strangers, to the great hazard of the state of this our country, whereunto we are all bound. God save the Queen.

Their revolt is often called rather misleadingly the Rising of the North. The alternative name The Revolt of the Northern Earls is more apt. They hoped to put Mary on the throne. With their retainers they marched on Durham and then south to Bramham Moor. ‘Elizabeth struggled to raise forces sufficient to confront them. But hearing of a large force being raised by the Earl of Sussex the rebels abandoned plans to besiege York and captured Barnard Castle instead. They proceeded to Clifford Moor, but found little popular support. Sussex marched out from York on 13 December 1569 with 7,000 men against the rebels’ 4,600, and was followed by 12,000 men under Baron Clinton. The rebel earls retreated northward and finally dispersed their forces, fleeing into Scotland’. Percy was hung for treason in 1672, while Neville died in poverty in Flanders.

But this is not a story of political and religious plots, counter-plots and battles, fascinating though those are. Here I want to tell a more prosaic tale. It’s about the little-known history of early industry in England. How German miners and smelters brought modern techniques to England and how rural Cumbrian ‘bauern’ (farmers) were drawn into the venture – usually as suppliers to the more advanced Germans. Queen Elizabeth played a pivotal role in this development, as did, in a negative sense, Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland, and as did, in a different way, Leonard Dacre, in his efforts to inherit the barony of Greystoke. But we can also find on the periphery of all this dozens of simple Cumbrian folk, including members of the Matterdale Grisdale clan. Maybe the juxtaposition of national political events, industrial history and one local family might be worth telling?

Queen Elizabeth in 1575

Queen Elizabeth in 1575

Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, had made several attempts to modernize mining and metal extraction/working in England; from which he might derive more money, on top of what he had earlier expropriated through the dissolution of the monasteries. Elizabeth also had made various attempts to attract the industrially advanced Germans to come to England to develop a mining and smelting industry. She hoped to be able to find gold with which to rival the huge gold bonanza being reaped by England’s enemy Spain from her new colonies in South America. Prior to 1564 this was all to no avail. But in that year Elizabeth granted the rights to exploit her ‘royal monopoly’ to an Augsburg firm:

On 10 December 1564, an indenture was made by the Queen on one part, and Thomas Thurland and Daniel Hoechstetter on the other, by which these two were empowered to search, dig, try, roast, and melt all manner of mines and “ures” of gold, silver, copper, and quicksilver, in the counties of York, Lancaster, Cumberland, Westmorland, Cornwall, Devon, Gloucester, and Worcester, and in Wales. The Queen was to have one-tenth of native gold and silver, and one-tenth of gold and silver ore holding 8 lbs. weight in the cwt.; of every cwt. of copper, 2s., or one-twentieth during the first five years, and afterwards 2s. 6d. or one-fifteenth; “and too have the preferment in bying of all Pretious stones or pearls to be found in the woorking of these mines”; also rights over tin and lead.

Daniel Hoechstetter was acting as agent for David Haug, Hans Langnauer & Co., of Augsburg. They were, writes W. G. Collingwood in his Elizabethan Keswick, Extracts from the Original Account Books, 1564-1577, of the German Miners in the Archives of Augsburg (1912),  ‘already great dealers in silks, cloths, and draperies, in groceries and the spices of the East Indies, and like other wealthy business men of the time, in banking and bill discounting. They had widespread branches, reaching from Venice to Antwerp and from Cracow to Lyons; and though not originally interested in mines, they had recently taken over from the successor of the famous Augsburg house of the Fuggers the control of the copper mines of Neusohl in Northern Hungary. One of their branches was at Schwatz, in Tyrol, near Innsbruck, a celebrated mining centre, where silver, copper, and iron were produced ; and we find… that it was from Schwatz that some of the first miners were sent by them to England’.

German surveyors and mining experts arrived in Cumberland and soon started to find sites where they believed the mining of copper, gold, silver and lead could profitably be started. German managers continually informed Queen Elizabeth of their progress. In April 1565 Hoechstetter had invented a new engine for draining mines, patented in 1568, and he applied for the “privilege of waterworks”, offering to form a company and allot shares. The Queen ‘excused the Company from royalties until work should be established’. And after silver was found in copper ore she ‘gave leave to fell timer in her woods’ and to ‘apprehend disorderly persons employed by them’.

In August 1566, a very rich mine was discovered at Newlands, later to be called the Goldscope mine. Thomas Percy, the earl of Northumberland and lord of the local manor, stopped the Germans working by force but only after 600,000 lbs. of ore had been raised. In October Hoechstetter wrote that the Germans had been ‘ill-treated by the English workmen’. ‘He said that Leonard Stoultz had been murdered by one Fisher and his accomplices.’ This information was passed to the Queen, who, ever desirous to gain a profit from the venture, wrote to Lord Scrope, the Lord Warden of the Western Marches, and to the Justices of the Peace of Westmorland and Cumberland, ‘bidding them repress the assaults, murders, and outrages on the Almain (German) miners lately come there for the purpose of searching for and working minerals’.

Goldscope Mines today

Goldscope Mines today

Early the next year William Cecil, Elizabeth’s chief adviser and Secretary of State, together with the earls of Pembroke and Leicester wrote to the earl of Northumberland ‘requiring him to allow Thurland and Hechstetter, or their assigns, to carry away ore dug at Newlands’. The Queen herself also commanded Northumberland to ‘offer no further obstruction to the miners at Newlands’, and that ‘any lawful claim he may have in the minerals shall be reserved to him’. But the earl thought that any minerals found at Newlands belonged to him. He had, he wrote to the Queen ‘ascertained beyond doubt that the minerals dug at Newlands belong to him only, and that the workers are trespassing on his land’. He requested the Queen, the Lord Treasurer, Sir Walter Mildmay, Lord Chief Baron, and other Barons of the Exchequer, ‘that the injunction respecting the ore dug on his land at Newlands may be dissolved’. The stand-off dragged on and it was important who won because Northumberland’s opposition to Queen Elizabeth wasn’t just about religion, it was about money as well! In September of 1567 Thurland could write to the Queen that they ‘had at length attained to the making of fine and perfect copper’. He sent a specimen. He added that ‘they only want workmen’ and that ‘they desire a conclusion between the Queen and Northumberland’.  Collingwood commented wryly on the Earl of Northumberland’s rebellion: ‘Next year Northumberland led the hasty and fatal Rising of the North, and escaped only into prison in Scotland. But it is interesting to observe that while he was plotting against Queen Elizabeth, and planning to put Queen Mary on the throne, he was letting his woods on Derwentwater to the Royal Company for their building purposes and selling them charcoal..’

On May 25th 1568, the Charter for the Governors, Assistants, and Commonalty of the Mines Royal was signed; authorizing the election of two governors, four deputy-governors, and six assistants…

In October 1568, the Earl wrote to William Cecil requesting ‘a final answer whether he is to have a reasonable composition for the mines or not; otherwise he must assert his right and title to them’. The argument was finally and definitively settled when: ‘The matter went before all the judges and the barons of the Exchequer. It was decided by a majority that as there was more gold and silver in these mines than copper and lead the Queen was within her rights in claiming them ; and this remained the leading case regarding Royal rights in mines until the time of William III.’

The Royal Mines in Keswick in 1576

The Royal Mines in Keswick in 1576

All this palaver had not stopped the Germans from continuing their work: digging the mines and building smelters at Keswick. The ore from Newlands was carried over to the shores of Lake Derwentwater and then transferred by boat to Keswick. Pretty soon nearly a dozen mines had been dug in the area; at, for example, Borrowdale, Stonycroft, Fornside, Grasmere, Newlands, Minersputt, and Buttermere. Keswick itself became the smelting centre. ‘The woodlands in the area were decimated to provide charcoal, needed for fuel in the smelting process.’ With a great deal of belief in the benefits of ‘progress’, a later writer wrote: ‘Although the valleys were denuded of trees… prosperity was brought to many whose previous existence had been limited to scraping a living from fell farming or simple rural trades’; a debatable view at best.

Ian Tyler writes: ‘In 1569, the acquisition of Derwent Island by the Company of Mines Royal provided the miners with somewhere safe to live and form a community. At 250 yards long and 170 wide, the island soon became a veritable German colony, with its own bakery, pigsty, windmill and orchard. Evidence is too scanty to prove that the miners moved to the island because of hostility from local people, however having an area to themselves must have relieved tension between the two groups.’

Derwent Island

Derwent Island

Most of the mining and smelting work was undertaken by the skilled Germans, although Englishmen were later employed as well. In general the English were used as fetchers and ‘carriers’. The surviving Augsburg account books of the Company, translated and edited by Collingwood, list all the payments made for such things as carpentry, wood and boards, smithy and iron, tallow, charcoal, stone coal, building, sacking and the carriage of peat and many more necessary industrial supplies. The names of the English (and German) workmen and carriers are listed as well. There are dozens of local English names, a veritable catalogue of local Cumberland families in the sixteenth century. Just one of these families (and not the most important) were the Grisdales of Matterdale.

Once the mines and the smelters were fully up and running in 1569, we find a certain John Grysdall mentioned twice. In the August 1569 accounts – the Germans did accounts seven times a year- John is listed as a ‘peat carrier’. He received payment for delivering 3 hundred (loads) of peat from ‘Flasco’ (Flaska near Troutbeck in north Matterdale) to the copper smelter at Keswick. He did the same again later in the year. And in 1571 an Edward Gristal (Grisdale) of Threlkeld was also paid as a peat carrier for deliveries from Flasco.

In the middle of 1567 the Company began keeping its own carts and horses, for building and for carriage of special articles close to Keswick; but this did not supersede the use of English packhorses for charcoal, peat, ore, and a little later for stone-coal.

While one can imagine why charcoal was needed for the smelting of ore, what was the peat for? Chemistry, Society, and Environment: A New History of the British Chemical Industry (ed. Colin A. Russell et al, Royal Society, 2000) explains:

Copper ore was mined and smelted at Brigham, near Keswick in Cumberland, under the auspices of the Company of Mines royal… The sulphide ores used at Keswick were subjected to preliminary roasting to burn off excess sulphur, and then treated with nine horseloads of peat and five horseloads of ‘stone coals’ (a horseload was equivalent to 109 litres). Limestone was added as a flux and after smelting a matte or “green stock” was run off. Subsequently, about eight days’ recovery of matte was roasted with six peat fires, each hotter than the last, to produce “copper stone” or “black copper”. This was smelted once a month to give “rough copper”, and involved three separate smelting with lead ore to extract the silver from the copper matte. This process of making copper at Keswick took eighteen weeks and five days.

So that’s all clear then!

Do we know anything more of the ‘peat carriers’ John and Edward Grysdall? Maybe a little, but not much. Unlike the rich and powerful, our records of ordinary people are scant. Matterdale’s parish records don’t start until the early 1630s. The church itself was only founded in 1580 at the request of the people of Matterdale, due to the difficulty in bad winter weather in reaching the parish church in Greystoke to bury their dead and baptize their children. Yet there are in fact quite a few records of the Grisdales of Matterdale in the sixteenth century. There are the very incomplete records of births, marriages and deaths of Greystoke (which continued to be used frequently by Matterdale residents even after they had a local church). There are various surviving wills and there are a few mentions of the Grisdale family as free tenants of the barony of Greystoke going back to 1524. Also, when the local militia was called out in 1581, nine Grisdale ‘bowmen’ of military age from Matterdale turned up in Penrith: John, William, Christopher, Robert, Edward, Richard and three named Thomas.

Douthwaite Head

Douthwaite Head

In the vast majority of cases the sixteenth-century Grisdales are listed as living in Dowthwaite Head. Clearly this was where the family had originally settled. Around the time that John and Edward Grysdall were lugging peat on their packhorses from Penrith to the smelters at Keswick, we find Robert, Christopher, Edward, Thomas, Richard and two John Grisdales, all with one exception living at Dowthwaite Head. The one exception is of great interest.

We find Jane the wife of John ‘Grysdell’ of Dowthwaite Head being buried at Greystoke church in 1575, and his daughter Janet buried at the same place in 1576. This John himself was also buried in Greystoke on 4 June 1579. This might be our ‘peat carrier’ of 1569. But there is another possibility. On 8 May 1568, the unnamed wife of John Grysdell of ‘the Hollesse of Matterdale’ was buried at Greystoke and his son ‘Rolland son of John Grysdell of Matterdale’ was buried there in 1573. So there were obviously two John Grisdales alive at the time. This John of ‘the Hollesse’ left a will in 1581. It’s interesting to note that this is the first mention of ‘the Hollesse’ in reference to the Grisdale clan. This farm was later called ‘Hollas’ or ‘the Hollas’ and is today called the ‘Hollows’. The Hollas Grisdales were certainly related to the main branch in Dowthwaite Head, though the precise relationship is lost beyond reconstruction. The Hollas family included one of the first ‘clerks’, or curates, of Matterdale Church, another John, and, later, a certain Wilfred Grisdale who made his fortune as a brewer in London and became a ‘lord of the manor’ near Cockermouth.

What about the Edward Grysdall, the Threlkeld peat carrier of 1571? He was most likely an Edward Grisdale who had recently moved from Dowthwaite Head to nearby Threlkeld. His wife was buried in Greystoke Church in 1561 and two of his children were also buried there in 1563 and 1569, all said to be of Dowthwaite Head.

A later Copper Smelter

A later Copper Smelter

For some time the Keswick smelters continued to thrive under their excellent German management. More Germans arrived and more English were employed. Despite the initial antagonism, the English and Germans married and merged. Yet in 1670 Sir Daniel Fleming wrote: ‘The smelting-houses were so many that they looked like a little town, yet now there is but one house.’ In 1675 Edmund Sandford wrote: ‘Heer was the bravest water mille of the dutch invented. Daniel and Manuell came from bejond seas in Queen Elizabeths Time for the smelting and fining of Copper Ore, gott in the mountains heer about ; but now the woods are gone and the work decayed.’

What had become of the Keswick smelting works? I’ll let Collingwood explain in his own inimitable words:

In 1604, James I granted a charter confirmatory to the Company, including the names of Emanuel and Daniel, sons of the late Daniel Hechstetter. The Keswick mines survived them both, though Joseph, son of Emanuel, lived to see the wreck of the Smelthouses, which he managed in his turn, at the Civil Wars. It is usually said that this was perpetrated in 1651 by Cromwell’s army on the march from Edinburgh to Worcester. But General Lambert’s troops took Penrith in June, 1648, and Colonel Ashton’s forces came in September of that year to raise the siege of Cockermouth Castle. There were several opportunities, without casting the usual blame on Cromwell, for Parliament men to attack the headquarters of a royal monopoly. How far it deserved attack is quite another matter.

Seventeenth Century Plague

Seventeenth Century Plague

But just before the destruction of the Keswick smelters another tragedy hit the town. The Plague struck. It broke out in May 1646 and over the next few months it claimed hundreds of lives in this small town. Those who died included, in the space of 12 days, six members of the Grisdale family. But that’s another story.

The introduction in Elizabethan times of modern German mining and metal smelting technology into Cumberland (and indeed in to England as a whole) certainly added to the almost total deforestation of the present-day Lake District. This started when the Norse-Irish Vikings arrived in the tenth century and accelerated considerably when large-scale upland sheep farming granges were established by the Norman priories in the century or so following the Conquest of 1066 and the Norman takeover of Cumberland in 1092. The area around Derwentwater was particularly affected. In 1777, Joseph Nicholson and Richard Burn rhapsodized in their History and Antiquities of the Counties of Westmorland and Cumberland about:

Sacred woods and groves, which had for ages shaded the shores and promontories of that lovely lake. Where the rude axe with heaved stroke was never heard the nymphs to daunt. Or fright them from their hallowed haunt.

We have moved from the great fight for the religion and governance of England between Elizabeth 1 and Mary Queen of Scots, through the rebellion of the Catholic English earls and the beginning of German-inspired industry, to some simple Cumbrian peat carriers. One final link is worth noting. Leonard Dacre, who had conspired with the northern earls to overthrow Queen Elizabeth, was a member of the family that had become the barons of Greystoke in the very early 1300s when the original Norse lineage founded by Forne Sigulfson had died out. Matterdale has always been a part of the barony of Greystoke. Leonard was very unhappy when his nephew George Dacre had accidentally died as a child on 17 May 1569  by the fall off a wooden vaulting-horse.

Greystoke Castle

Greystoke Castle

George was then in ward to Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, and his three sisters, co-heiresses to his estates, were married to the three sons of their guardian, the Duke of Norfolk. Leonard Dacre felt angry and slighted that a large patrimony should legally descend to his nieces.

On the outbreak of the rebellion of 1569, Dacre went to court, and Queen Elizabeth, although she had heard that he had been secretly associated with the rebel earls, saw him at Windsor. He professed himself to be a faithful subject, and returned to the north avowedly as an adherent of Elizabeth, but really with the intention of joining the rebels. Their disorderly flight from Hexham convinced him that their cause was desperate. He therefore tried to consolidate a position, seized Greystoke Castle and other houses belonging to the Dacre family, and fortified Naworth Castle as his own inheritance. Under pretence of protecting his own and resisting the rebels, he gathered together three thousand troops, borderers and Dacre loyalists.

And a few of these 3,000 troops were no doubt members of the Grisdale family of Matterdale. It’s a long story, but eventually Dacre’s troops fought Elizabeth’s loyalist forces at Naworth in 1570. Elizabeth forces were ‘outnumbered by a factor of two, but charged Dacre’s foot with… cavalry, killed between three and four hundred of the rebels, and took between two and three hundred prisoners. Dacre escaped’. He died in poverty in Brussels in 1573. The barony of Greystoke passed to the Howard family, the Dukes of Norfolk.

 

 

‘Et Strat Clut vastata est a Saxonibus’ (And Strathclyde was devastated by the Saxons) – Welsh  Annales AD 946.

‘This year King Edmund ravaged all Cumberland, and granted it to Malcolm, king of the Scots, on the condition that he should be his fellow-worker as well by sea as by land.’ – Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for AD 945.

‘How king Eadmund gave Cumberland to the king of the Scots.’ – A.D. 946. ‘Agapetus sat in the Roman chair ten years, six months, and ten days. In the same year king Eadmund, with the aid of Leoling, king of South Wales, ravaged the whole of Cumberland, and put out the eyes of the two sons of Dummail, king of that province. He then granted that kingdom to Malcolm, king of the Scots, to hold of himself, with a view to defend the northern parts of England from hostile incursions by sea and land.’   Roger of Wendover, Flowers of History, circa 1235.

King Edmund

King Edmund

In the year 945/6 a British king of Cumbria (the kingdom of the Strathclyde Britons) called ‘Dunmail’ was probably defeated in battle by the West-Saxon English king Edmund. The event has become legendary. A small kernel of historical truth has been embellished over the centuries to make of King Dunmail a veritable King Arthur or an Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, an heroic figure who lies sleeping, to be called upon one day to return and save his people in their hour of need. I will discuss the historical facts and setting in a forthcoming article. Dunmail was probably Cumbrian King Dyfnmal ap Owain (Donald son of Owen), and he certainly wasn’t the ‘last king’ of the Cumbrians. But here I’d simply like to draw together just a few of the myriad versions of the legend.

Let’s begin with William Wordsworth. In his 1805 poem The Waggoner he wrote:

Meanwhile, uncertain what to do,
And oftentimes compelled to halt,
The horses cautiously pursue
Their way, without mishap or fault;
And now have reached that pile of stones,
Heaped over brave King Dunmail’s bones;
His who had once supreme command,
Last king of rocky Cumberland;
His bones, and those of all his Power
Slain here in a disastrous hour!

Dunmail Stones

Dunmail Stones

Countless generations of tourists to the Lake District have been told that this ‘pile of stones’, which can still be seen on Dunmail Raise as it rises south from Thirlmere, marks the spot of the battle and even, in many versions, Dunmail’s burial place.

Although the seeds of the legend of Dunmail find their origins in the comments of Roger of Wendover in the early thirteenth century quoted above, for a long time antiquaries and travel writers stuck to the basic facts and stated the uncertainty of matters. King Charles 1’s surveyor John Ogilby in his The Traveller’s Guide: Or, A Most Exact Description Of The Roads Of England (1699) only said that there was “a great heap of stones called Dunmail-Raise-Stones, supposed to have been cast up by Dunmail K(ing) of Cumberland for the bounds of his kingdom”.

In 1774, in A Tour of Scotland and the Hebrides, Thomas Pennant wrote:

On a high pass between the hills, observe a large Carnedd called Dunmail Wrays stones, collect6ed in memory of a defeat, A.D. 946. given to a petty king of Cumberland, of that name, by Edmund 1. Who with the usual barbarity of the times, put out the eyes of his two sons, and gave the country to Malcolm, king of Scotland, on condition he preserved in peace the northern parts of England.

William Gilpin said in his Observations, relative chiefly to Pictureseque Beauty, Made in the Year 1772, On several Parts of England; particularly the Mountains and Lakes of Cumberland, and Westmoreland (1786):

 … we came to the celebrated pass, known by the name Dunmail-Raise, which divides the counties of Cumberland and Westmoreland. The history of this rude monument, which consists of a monstrous pile of stones, heaped on each side of an earthen mound, is little known. It was probably intended to mark a division, not between these two northern counties; but rather between the two kingdoms of Scotland and England, in elder times, when the Scottish border extended beyond its present bounds. And indeed this chain of mountains seem to be a much more natural division of the two kingdoms, in this part, than a little river in champaign country, like the Esk, which now divides them. It is said, this division, was made by a Saxon prince, on the death of Dunmail the last king of Cumberland, who was here slain in battle…

Dunmail Raise

Dunmail Raise

Around the same time, 1784, Thomas West wrote in A guide to the lakes of Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire:

… the road ascends to Dunmail-raise, where lie the historical stones, that perpetuate the name and fall of the last king of Cumberland, defeated there by the Saxon monarch Edmund, who put out the eyes of the two sons of his adversary, and; for his confederating with Leolin, King of Wales, against him wasted his Kingdom, and then gave it to Malcolm, King of Scots, who held it in fee of Edmund A.D. 944 or 945. The stones are a heap and have the appearance of a karn, or barrow. The wall that divides the counties is built over them, which proves their priority of time in that form.

It’s only when we get to the Romantic era of Wordsworth and later into the Victorian and Edwardian periods that the legend really starts to take shape. I particularly like John Pagan White’s 1873 poetic rendition in his Country Lays and Legends of the English Lake Country:

KING DUNMAIL.

They buried on the mountain’s side
King Dunmail, where he fought and died.
But mount, and mere, and moor again
Shall see King Dunmail come to reign.

Mantled and mailed repose his bones
Twelve cubits deep beneath the stones ;
But many a fathom deeper down
In Grisedale Mere lies Dunmail’s crown.

Climb thou the rugged pass, and see
High midst those mighty mountains three,
How in their joint embrace they hold
The Mere that hides his crown of gold.

There in that lone and lofty dell
Keeps silent watch the sentinel.
A thousand years his lonely rounds
Have traced unseen that water’s bounds

His challenge shocks the startled waste,
Still answered from the hills with haste,
As passing pilgrims come and go
From heights above or vales below.

When waning moons have filled their year,
A stone from out that lonely Mere
Down to the rocky Raise is borne,
By martial shades with spear and horn.

As crashes on the pile the stone,
The echoes to the King make known
How still their faithful watch they hold
In Grisedale o’er his crown of gold.

And when the Raise has reached its sum,
Again will brave King Dunmail come ;
And all his Warriors marching down
The dell, bear back his golden crown.

And Dunmail, mantled, crowned, and mailed,
Again shall Cumbria’s King be hailed ;
And o’er his hills and valleys reign
When Eildon’s heights are field and plain.

Grisedale Tarn

Grisedale Tarn

W. T. Palmer’s version of 1908 in The English Lakes is more elaborate, literally more inventive and certainly historically incorrect regarding the English king involved and the identity of the Cumbrians themselves:

The cairn of Dunmail, last king of Pictish (sic) Cumbria slain in battle with Edgar (sic) the Saxon, is here, a formless pile of stones. There is a legend concerning this spot.

The crown of Dunmail was charmed, giving to its wearer a succession in his kingdom. Therefore King Edgar (sic) of the Saxons coveted it above all things. When Dunmail came to the throne of the mountainlands a wizard in Gilsland Forest held a master-charm to defeat the purpose of his crown. He Dunmail slew. The magician was able to make himself invisible save at cock crow, and to destroy him the hero braved a cordon of wild wolves at night. At the first peep of dawn he entered the cave where the wizard was lying. Leaping to his feet the magician called out, “Where river runs north or south with the storm” ere Dunmail’s sword silenced him forever. The story came to the ear of the Saxon, who after much inquiry of his priests found that an incomplete curse, though powerful against Dunmail, could scarcely harm another holder of the crown. Spies were accordingly sent into Cumbria to find where a battle could be fought on land favourable to the magician’s words. On Dunmail raise, in times of storm even in unromantic to-day, the torrent sets north or south in capricious fashion. The spies found the place, found also fell-land chiefs who were persuaded to become secret allies of the Saxon. The campaign began. Dunmail moved his army south to meet the invader, and they joined battle on this pass. For long hours the fight was with the Cumbrians; the Saxons were driven down the hill again and again. As his foremost tribes became exhausted, Dunmail retired and called on his reserves—they were mainly the ones favouring the Southern king. On they came, spreading in well-armed lines from side to side of the hollow way, but instead of opening to let the weary warriors through they delivered an attack on them. Surprised, the army reeled back, and their rear was attacked with redoubled violence by the Saxons. The loyal ranks were forced to stand back-to- back round their king; assailed by superior masses they fell rapidly, and ere long the brave chief was shot down by a traitor of his own bodyguard.

“My crown,” cried he, “bear it away; never let the Saxon flaunt it.”

A few stalwarts took the charmed treasure from his hands, and with a furious onslaught made the attackers give way. Step by step they fought their way up the ghyll of Dunmail’s beck—broke through all resistance on the open fell, and aided by a dense cloud evaded their pursuers. Two hours later the faithful few met by Grisedale tarn, and consigned the crown to its depths — “till Dunmail come again to lead us.”

And every year the warriors come back, draw up the charmed circlet from the depths of the wild mountain tarn, and carry it with them over Seat Sandal to where their king is sleeping his age-long sleep. They knock with his spear on the topmost stone of the cairn, and

from its heart comes a voice, “Not yet; not yet; wait awhile, my warriors.”

In 1937 Arthur Mee wrote in The Lake Counties:

A little south of Wythburn the high road crosses over into Westmorland. Beside it at the top of the pass is a great heap of stones known as Dunmail Raise, with its own little tradition of something that happened on this boundary 1000 years ago. Here, it is thought, the battle took place in which the Saxon king Edmund defeated Dunmail, the last king of Cumbria, whose territory was then handed over to King Malcolm of Scotland.

More recently another writer put it thus:

Dunmail Raise marked the boundary between Cumberland and Westmorland, the name coming from a heap of stones which in folklore marks the burial place of the last King of Cumberland, King Dunmail or, as sometimes spelt, Domhnall. In 945, King Edmund, who ruled almost undisputed over the remainder of England, joined forces with King Malcolm of Scotland in order to defeat the last bastion of Celtic resistance in his kingdom. In his last battle, King Dunmail was killed by Edmund himself. His body was carried away by faithful warriors, and buried under a great pile of stones.

King Edmund is reputed to have captured Dunmail’s two sons and had their eyes put out. The Crown of King Dunmail was thrown into Grisedale Tarn on the Helvellyn range. Legend has it that the crown was enchanted, giving its wearer a magic right to the Kingdom, thus it was important to prevent it from falling into Saxon hands. On victory, Edmund gave Cumberland to King Malcolm of Scotland, and it was only when Canute came to the throne that Cumberland came back under English rule in exchange, 87 years later, for Lothian.

The Kingdom of Cumbria -  Strathclyde

The Kingdom of Cumbria – Strathclyde

In their Ghoulish Horrible Hair raising Cumbrian Tales (1981), Herbert and Mary Jackson add yet more details:

In the aftermath of a ferociously fought battle near Dunmail Raise, just south of Thirlmere reservoir, between King Dunmail of Cumberland and the Saxon army, in the year circa 940 AD, the following legend is written:

After the battle, as King Dunmail lay dying, his last words were. “My crown, bear it away, never let the Saxon flaunt it.”

For it was known that whoever wore the crown of Dunmail would succeed to the Kingdom of Cumbria. The King’s personal body guard removed the crown from the head of their dying monarch and with unprecedented gallantry fought their way through the Saxon lines.

Eventually they reached Grisdale tarn, where with all due ceremony and reverence, the crown was consigned to its deepest waters, with these words, “Till Dunmail come again to lead us.”

Each year, on the anniversary of the King’s death, his warriors return to the tarn. The crown is retrieved and carried back to the cairn of stones under which their beloved Dunmail lies. In turn, the warriors knock with their spears on the topmost stones of the cairn.

From that grave a voice cries out. “Not yet; not yet – wait a while my warriors.” The day is yet to come when the spirit of Dunmail will re-join his warriors and crown a new King of Cumbria.

King Owain, Dunmail’s father, came to the throne in circa 920. A battle took place on the flat of a mountain top at Ecclfechan. What happened to Owain after the battle against the English in which he lost in 938 is not known. But his son went on to succeed him.

Shortly after this, another battle took place as they fought step by step up the Ghyll of Dunmail’s beck – broke through all resistance on the open fell, and, aided by a dense cloud, evaded their pursuers. Two hours later the faithful few met by Grisdale Tarn, and consigned the crown to its depths – “till Dunmail come again to lead us.” And every year the warriors come back, draw up the magic circlet from the depths of the wild mountain tarn, and carry it with them over the Seat Sandal to where the king is sleeping his age long sleep. They knock with his spear on the topmost stone of the cairn and from its heart comes a voice. “Not yet; not yet – wait a while my warriors.”

Cumbrian Flag

Cumbrian Flag

It’s all wonderful stuff but there is not a shred of historical evidence for any of it. That a battle was fought in 945/6 between a Cumbrian (Strathclyde British) king and the English king Edmund is quite likely and it’s also quite possible that Edmund was in league at this time with King Malcolm of Alba (Scotland). It’s even possible that the king was the historically attested Cumbrian, King Dyfnwal ap Owain, and even that his two sons had their eyes put out by Edmund – although the earliest mention of this blinding was by the thirteenth-century Roger of Wendover. All the rest is legend, if not purely literary myth, but is a great yarn.

I will show in my forthcoming article that Dunmail/Dyfnwal certainly wasn’t the last king of Cumbria and probably didn’t die in the battle against the English either; facts that haven’t stopped local sub-aqua clubs searching for Dunmail’s crown in Grisedale tarn! I hope they find it.