Posts Tagged ‘barony of Greystoke’

The Grisdale diaspora from Matterdale went on for centuries. We know of lots of cases in the seventeenth century and the pace hotted up in the following two hundred years. Yet it is also clear that quite a few family members left the valley in the 1500s. The only problem is that it’s almost impossible to precisely follow most of them. But there is one interesting exception; it concerns two (and possibly three) Grisdale brothers who left Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale in the later 1500s to become farmers in faraway Essex. This is what I know of them.

The church in Horndon on the Hill, Essex

The church in Horndon on the Hill, Essex

In late 1604 a legal memorandum was written concerning the recent death and wishes of a husbandsman called Edward Grisdale who lived in the small Essex village of Horndon on the Hill. Shortly thereafter in the same place a John Grisdale made his will, which was written in Latin. Horndon is about twenty miles northeast of London and a very long way from Matterdale in Cumberland, yet it seems pretty clear that Edward and John were brothers and did indeed come from Matterdale and in particular from Dowthwaite Head, the ‘cradle’ of the family.

The 1604 memorandum is dated 11 November ‘in the second year of the reign of Kinge James’, that is in the reign of King James 1 of England (and sixth of Scotland), the successor of Queen Elizabeth. Edward said he was ‘in his bed’ but ‘of good and perfect memory’. He revokes all previous wills and makes his wife Elizabeth his executor. He was then asked if he didn’t want his brother Christopher to also be an executor 9note I’ve changed the spelling of Christopher to the modern one):

And being demanded if he wanted not his brother Christopher to be joynte executor with her, he said not in the presence of the saide Christopher. And then being moved by the said Elizabeth to have the saide Christopher to be joint executor with her, he answered he would not, but willed her to choose some other if she would. And being demanded what he would give his brother Christopher, he said in the presence of the saide Christopher, that he hath had his portion, I will give him no more. And said that he did owe him four score pounds and (?) forty shillings which the saide Christopher should have paid him for this last Michaelmas…

There was obviously a bit of tension between the two brothers: Edward and Christopher. The memorandum says more about the debt owed by Christopher to Edward and when it should have been paid. Edward was asked if he would forgive the debt of his brother ‘considering that he was greatly in his debt otherwise’, but Edward refused saying that Christopher must pay it all.  Then he was asked what he would give Christopher’s children. Edward said that they should get twenty pounds each which they should receive when they reached the age of fifteen. But he didn’t quite trust Christopher because although his bequest to Christopher’s children was to be held by their father until they reached fifteen he added that if Christopher didn’t handle it properly it should rather be held by his wife for ‘the best advantage of the saide children’. The rest of his estate Edward gave to his wife Elizabeth who had the duty to pay various debts of Edward himself.

Now as well as the fact that Edward’s name is explicitly and clearly spelt as Grisdale, we also know that he had a brother called Christopher who was present in Essex when Edward made his wishes known.

Shortly after Edward’s death John Grisdale also made his Latin will in Horndon. He first mentions the names of two knights: Sir John Bennett and Sir John Gibson, both of whom were lawyers and later judges of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. That John’s will (and Edward’s) was presented in this court tells of a certain level of wealth and standing.

John Grisdale's Will, 1605

John Grisdale’s Will, 1605

John appoints two people as his executors: his wife Elizabeth Grisdale and his brother Christopher Grisdale. So it is clear that John and Edward were brothers; they both lived in Horndon in Essex and they both had a brother called Christopher. So here we have three brothers, two of whom definitely lived in Essex as most likely the third did too.

In John’s 1605 will we also find the added information that he was born in the reign of Queen Mary. Now Queen Mary was of course the only daughter of Henry the Eighth and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. Known rightly to history as Bloody Mary, she was the queen of England from 1553 to 1558, before being replaced by her half-sister Elizabeth.

There is probably a lot more in John’s will that as yet I am unable to decipher, but here the interest is from where these Grisdale brothers came, and when.

The name Grisdale itself clearly points to a Cumberland origin. But we can say more. The brothers’ names certainly indicate that they came from Matterdale and indeed from Dowthwaite Head Farm.

In the 1500s we find repeated mentions in the records of at least one Christopher Grisdale as well as Edwards and Johns.

In 1560 Thomas son of Christopher Grisdale of ‘Matterdale’ was baptized in Greystoke Church (Matterdale Church had yet to be founded). In 1564 the wife of a Christopher Grisdale ‘of the Head of Dowthwaite of Matterdale’ was buried. In 1565 Janet ‘wife of Xopher Grisdale of Dowthwaite’ wrote her will mentioning sons John and Thomas. In 1568 this Janet Grisdale ‘wife of Xopher Grysdell of Dowthwaite Head;’ was buried.  In 1571 a Christopher Grisdale and Agnes Greenhow ‘both of Matterdale’ were married in Greystoke. In 1575 Elizabeth ‘daughter of Xopher Grysdell of Dowthwaite Head’ was buried. Finally in 1597 Christopher Grisdale a son of Edward Grisdale of Dowthwaite Head died and left a will.

Bloody Queen Mary

Bloody Queen Mary

Now we could be dealing with one Christopher here or two. I tend to think that all these mentions concern one person. If so then he was probably born in the 1520s or early 1530s (to have had a son Thomas in 1560 and probably others earlier). This might mean that Christopher ‘senior’ was the father of the three Essex brothers Edward, John and Christopher. John’s mother would no doubt have been Christopher senior’s first unnamed wife who died in Dowthwaite Head in 1564; remember John said he was born in Queen Mary’s reign, i.e. between 1553 and 1558. Janet, Christopher’s supposed second wife, died the next year in 1565, and the ‘sons’ John and Thomas she mentions in her will must, I think, have been her stepsons: the John we have mentioned and the Thomas born in 1560. I would guess that Edward who died in Essex in 1604 was also the son of Christopher and his first wife and was therefore born sometime in the 1550s or 1560s.

There is more suggestive name evidence. In 1561 the wife of ‘Edward Grisdale junior of Matterdale’ was buried in Greystoke as were two of his children in 1563 and 1569. Edward was said to be of Dowthwaite Head. If there was an Edward junior there must have been an Edward senior, possibly still alive at the time (i.e. in 1561). Now we know that the Christopher senior who died in 1597 was the son of an Edward Grisdale, and this Christopher was probably born in the 1520s or early 1530s  Thus it is quite possible that Edward junior was the brother of Christopher Grisdale senior (the putative father all the three Essex brothers: Christopher, Edward and John.

Dowthwaitehead Farm

Dowthwaitehead Farm

If we place Edward junior’s birth in Dowthwaite Head in about the 1520 or early 1530s; and if his father was also called Edward (as seems reasonable) then he (Edward senior) would have been born in the late 1400s or very early 1500s, which would likely make him either the brother or even the son of the John Grisdale I sometimes refer to as ‘the first Matterdale Grisdale’ (see here).

I could go on about other possible relationships between the early Grisdales of Dowthwaite Head, including more on John, Richard and Robert Grisdales (Grysdells). But let’s return to the name Christopher. It’s a name that not only appears in the sixteenth century but also in the seventeenth. There is a ‘deed of administration’ dated 1616 for the death of a Christopher Grisdale in Matterdale, although I have yet to obtain a copy. I think this is most likely the ‘Essex’ brother so mistrusted by his brother Edward. Later, after the Matterdale parish records start in 1634, we find one or two other Christopher Grisdales, but I will leave them for another time.

Given the gaps in the records it is not possible to determine all the exact relationships, nevertheless it is more than likely that these later Matterdale Christopher Grisdales were either directly descended from, or at least very closely related to, the Christopher Grisdale who was having children in Dowthwaite in the 1560s and to the Essex Christopher whom I believe returned from Essex to Matterdale, had he in fact ever left.

Matterdale Church

Matterdale Church

Matterdale Church was founded in 1581 after the request of the people of the valley to the Bishop of Carlisle saying that the snow and other bad weather often prevented them getting to Greystoke.

In fact they had had to trek miles to Greystoke Church, which is where we find nearly all the early mentions of the Grisdales of Matterdale. After Matterdale Church was built the people of the valley would usually go there for the baptisms of their children or to be buried. The problem is that the early clerks of Matterdale (who included at least one Grisdale) either didn’t record these events or the records have been lost. The earliest extant Matterdale parish records only start in 1634, so we are left with a huge lacuna. This is a shame as if we had these records we could join up so many dots.

The earliest mention of a Grisdale of Matterdale in the Greystoke parish register is for the burial of the ‘wife of Edward Grysdell junior of Matterdale’ in 1561 which I mentioned previously. Before that either baptisms were not recorded or the Dowthwaite Head Grisdales (and others) had been deterred by the distance and the weather from making the trip. (Remember too it was only around this time that the churches and clergymen of the recently ‘protestant’ Church of England were compelled to keep records.) It was during this period (in the 1550s to 1560s) that the three Essex Grisdale brothers, Edward, John and Christopher, were most likely born, and hence the lack of records for their births.

Greystoke Church

Greystoke Church

It is interesting to conjecture why and how the three brothers (or at least two) had moved from Matterdale to Essex. I don’t think they just ventured there ‘on spec’. More likely there was a connection between the Barony of Greystoke (in which the Grisdale were free tenants) and Horndon in Essex. Maybe one day I’ll discover this link.

When might the brothers have moved? If they were born in the 1550s it is most likely that they already established adults when they did so. So perhaps the move took place in the late 1570s or 1580s, if not later.

In 1581 the Cumberland militia was again called out to guard against the repeated incursions of the Scots. They mustered at Penrith. Here we find nine Matterdale Grisdale ‘bowmen’ of military age: John, William, Christopher, Robert, Edward, Richard and three named Thomas.

Notice an Edward, a John and a Christopher. This Christopher might have been the older Christopher (the putative father of the Essex brothers), but I think he would have been too old to have been much use against the Scots. Much more likely this Christopher (and possibly the Edward and John too) was the one we find in Essex about twenty years later.

Returning to Essex, if seems that Edward and John didn’t have children but their brother Christopher did. I think we see the descendants of some of these children in the seventeenth century Matterdale records. But besides the genealogical interest it is also interesting to find at least one example of where some of the very early Grisdales of Matterdale went.

 

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The early history and dating of the first lords of the barony of Greystoke in Cumberland is of interest not only in itself but also because it can help shed light on the governance of Cumbria both prior to the Norman Conquest of 1066 and in the years and decades which followed. This is the subject of this article. It is a very partial story of how a Norse-descended Cumbrian lord was able to survive and even thrive under the Norman yoke. As you will see the investigation leads us down several unexpected avenues.

Greystoke Castle

Greystoke Castle

The first Norman-recognized lord of Greystoke was Forne son of Sigulf. Forne’s own son Ivo started to build Greystoke castle in about 1129 at the time of his father’s death. What I’d like to explore is Forne’s likely date of birth, something of his career and his two known children: Ivo and Edith. Ultimately the question is whether Forne was one of King Henry 1’s ‘new men’, whether he was one of the men that the Anglo-Norman monk and chronicler Orderic Vitalis referred to as being ‘raised from the dust’, or as I and many other historians believe to be the case, maybe he was rather already a significant lord or even magnate before Henry made use of his services? Also was his father Sigulf also a power in the north of England, perhaps even in pre-Conquest days? Many of the contentious issues regarding these questions, while perhaps not being capable of being completely resolved, can at least be illuminated by a close attention to possible dates. Some historians of the North have paid little attention to mundane questions such as the likely births, deaths and ages of the people involved; things that are the stuff of genealogists and family historians.

Let’s start this exploration with Forne’s two known children.

William Rufus

William Rufus

As far as we know Ivo was Forne’s first son. After Forne’s death in about 1129/30, Ivo was reconfirmed by Henry I in his father’s northern estates – most importantly the barony of Greystoke in present-day Cumberland. The charter confirming this still exists. Although it is not an original thought, I have suggested elsewhere that Forne named his son Ivo after the first Norman ‘strongman’ sent by King William II (or as he is often called William Rufus) to try to subjugate Cumbria. His name was Ivo Taillebois. Ivo Taillebois was a Norman from lower Normandy and he probably arrived in Cumbria with or shortly after William Rufus’s captured Carlisle in 1092. This was the first time the Normans ‘arrived’ in Cumbria, although for quite a long time thereafter they were holed up in their new castles, from where they periodically sallied forth to pillage and rape. It seems that Norman Ivo didn’t last long; he died in either 1093 or 1094. If Forne, whose family all bore Norse names, gave his son the decidedly French name of Ivo, then this, I hazard to suggest, was quite possibly to ingratiate himself with Ivo Taillebois. And if so that would only have made sense if Ivo son of Forne was born while Ivo Taillebois were still alive in Cumbria, i.e. between 1092 and 1094. It could no doubt have been slightly later, ‘in remembrance’ of Ivo Taillebois, but I find this unconvincing. Such a date of birth is of course just conjecture, but I will suggest later that in terms of Forne’s likely age and Ivo’s death it makes sense.

But we can pin things down even more if we consider Forne’s daughter Edith Forne Sigulfson, who became King Henry I’s mistress. It is well established that Edith bore King Henry one son, called both Robert fitz Edith (son of Edith) and Robert fitz Roy (son of the king). There was probably also a daughter called Adeliza. When was Edith Henry’s mistress? I think the evidence indicates that it was in the early 1120s. As Ann Williams writes in her excellent essay Henry 1 and the English:

Henry was clearly playing away, though the aggrieved party was not Queen Matilda (Henry I’s first wife) but her successor Adeliza of Louvain.

Why is this dating of Henry and Edith Forne’s liaison likely? In about 1142 the Norman Robert of Torigny wrote that their son Robert was still young and unmarried. In fact the first mention of this Robert was in the Pipe Roll for 1130/31, ‘when his lands, which lay in Devonshire, were being administered by guardians (‘vigiles’)’. So Robert was clearly still a minor in 1130/31.

Robert fitz Edith (Robert fitz Roy) later supported his half-sister, the ‘Empress Maud’, against King Stephen at the siege of Winchester in 1141. Therefore, as Ann Williams rightly suggests, it’s probable that Robert was born in 1122/23.

Osney AbbeyRobert would also attest various charters in the period between 1141 and 1147, in which he was referred to as ‘Robertus filius Regis’ i.e. Robert the king’s son. When the empress Maud confirmed the  grant made to Osney Priory (later an Abbey) in Oxford, first made in 1129 by Edith Forne’s later husband Robert d’Oilley but at her instigation, the empress calls Robert ‘Robertus filius regis frater meum’, i.e. ‘Robert the son of the king, my brother’. Not only that but Edith also got her son Robert to make a grant to her beloved Osney, in which he is referred to as ‘Robertus Henrici regis filius’, and this grant was made with the consent of his half-brother ‘Henrici de Oleio fratris mei’, that is ‘Henry d’Oilley my brother’, the son of Edith by her later husband Robert d’Oilley. Robert fitz Edith (fitz Roy) was to marry the widowed Norman heiress Maud of Avranches, probably in the late 1160s, but possibly in the 1140s.Their only daughter Maud FitzRoy died in 1224, which might argue for a somewhat later marriage date for her parents. Robert fitz Roy himself in 1172, possibly aged around 50.

If all this dating evidence is in any way correct, and I believe it is, then it is possible, likely even, that Edith first met King Henry during his one and only visit to York and Carlisle in 1122. If Edith had been a relatively young woman at the time, perhaps only in her early twenties, then she could have been born either in the later 1090s or the very first years of the 1100s. If so when Edith died around 1157 she would have been roughly sixty.

All that's left of Wetheral Priory

All that’s left of Wetheral Priory

Let’s take stock. The evidence seems to indicate that Forne was having children in the 1090s. This narrows down his possible birth a bit. In the 1090s Forne could perhaps have been been in his twenties, thirties or maybe even in his forties. But to narrow this down even more let’s look at what else we know about him.

All historians of the north of England in the period agree that Forne was one of King Henry’s trusted officers in the region in the 1120s. He witnessed many important charters during this time. His co-signatories being the few other members of Henry’s locally important men, including Robert de Brus and King David of Scotland. Also, between about 1106 and at the very latest 1112, Forne was a witness to the foundation charter of Wetheral Priory in Cumbria. In addition, at some point between 1115 and 1122, King Henry confirms that he has given ‘Forne son of Sigulf’ land in Thornton-le- Moor in Yorkshire:

H(enricus) rex Anglorum Turstino archiepiscopo et Nigello de Albini et Ansch(etillo) de Bulmer et baronibus de Euerwicsira salutem. Sciatis me dedisse Fornoni filio Sigulfi terrain de Torentona que est de feodo Robert! Malet, unde Alueredus filius Ilvingi reddit xx.s. per annum pro omnibus illis consuetudinibus quibus tenet aliam terram suam; et Walterus Espec eum inde seisiri faciat. Testibus: cancellario Ranulfo et Pagano filio Johannis, apud Windesor.

Dr. Hugh Doherty of Oxford University has also rediscovered the confirmation of Forne in his lands made by Henry I.

All this establishes without too much doubt that Forne was already a significant force in the North before King Henry visited Carlisle in 1122. This is strongly confirmed by the fact that Forne appeared ‘at the gathering in 1121 of the ‘chief men’ (principales vires) who heard the claim of the community of St. Cuthbert to Tynemouth Priory’. ‘Forne is listed alongside Robert de Brus, Alan de Percy, and Walter Espec (who precede him) and Robert de ‘Witeleven’ and Odard sheriff of the Northumbrians (‘vicecomes Northymbrensium’), who follow him, with the unnamed maiores of the shire and many others.’

Forne may also have been a witness to the charter for Scone Abbey in 1120, although the authenticity of this attribution is still somewhat contentious.

What all this makes abundantly clear is that Forne, the ‘first’ lord of Greystoke, who had children in the 1090s, was already a major player in Cumbria and in the north in general by at least the early 1100s.

Nunburnholme Church

Nunburnholme Church

Yet we can go further back to the Domesday survey of 1086 ordered by William the Conqueror. Here we find a Forne in possession of some pretty decent lands in Yorkshire. Remember the vast bulk of Cumbria and all of Northumberland were not included in the Domesday survey because they were yet to come under Norman control and thus we don’t know if he possessed lands there as well. In Domesday Forne is mentioned as one of the ‘taini regis’ of the East Riding of Yorkshire holding a manor at Nunburnholme. The critical relevance of Nunburnholme is that this estate was in later years always an integral part of the barony of Greystoke! Forne also held other lands in Yorkshire in 1086, in Millington and Biebly for instance, which were also later parts of the barony of Greystoke. This is all, I suggest, no coincidence. All historians who have seriously looked at the question agree: the 1086 Yorkshire Forne and Forne Sigulfson were one and the same.

Putting all the evidence together it would appear that Forne, the ‘first’ Norman lord of Greystoke, was probably a youngish man in 1086, had children in the 1090s and was later a powerful northern officer of King Henry until his death in about 1129/30. So we might tentatively conjecture that he was born in or around the period 1060 to 1065, just before the Conquest. This would mean that at the time of his death he was about 65 to 70. This seems reasonable.

Taking their lead from William Farrer in his Early Yorkshire Charters of 1915, several historians have suggested that Forne was one of King Henry’s ‘new men’; that he was ‘raised from the dust’. Farrer himself put it thus:

Of Sigulf, the father of Forne, nothing whatever is known. Possibly he was the son of an unnamed sochman of the East Riding contemporary with the Domesday Survey. Forne, his son, comes into prominence during the second decade of Henry I’s reign as a trusted minister of the crown in Yorkshire.

Note the supposed simple ‘sochman’ Farrer conjured up was not Sigulf but his father (if we take ‘he’ to refer to Sigulf and not Forne). In his wonderful 1979 book The Norman Conquest of the North, William E. Kapelle contends that Forne was ‘in reality, a Northumbrian new man’.

I believe all the available evidence suggests that this was not the case.

Certainly Henry wanted to put his own men in charge in the North, but this doesn’t mean that they all came from nowhere, that they were very simple and relatively unimportant men. They were in fact mostly already ‘noble’ Normans or Anglo-Saxons, perhaps not great magnates but significant people nonetheless. I can’t help but agree with Ann Williams:

It is likely… that Forne was rather more than a sokeman’s son or even a minor thegn. He seems in fact to have been one of the local magnates of Cumbria, ‘where title to their land’ (as Professor Barlow has observed) ‘went back well before the Norman annexation’.

King Henry 1

King Henry 1

Remember the Norman annexation referred to was of Carlisle in 1092 by William Rufus.

There are two other indications that this was the case. First, Forne’s daughter Edith became King Henry’s mistress and the mother of maybe two of his children. I’ve suggested this liaison followed Henry’s visit to Carlisle in 1122. To me it goes against the grain of all the available historical evidence that a king such as Henry would form an enduring sexual liaison with a simple sokeman’s daughter; a woman whom he later married off to an important man and also gave  to her a significant estate in her own name. Henry himself had more mistresses and concubines than perhaps any other king of England. But all of Henry’s numerous other known mistresses were members of quite powerful families; they were not peasants or anything approaching it. Some historians, with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, have suggested that Forne’s rise to power was due to his daughter’s relationship with Henry.  It no doubt helped, but as Henry 1’s greatest biographer Charles Hollister put it:

The mother of a recognized bastard (and Edith’s son… was recognized) would usually have been a woman of at least minimal social status.

Cutting though the academic caution and understatement, I think we can get the point. Forne was in all probability already a northern magnate when Henry came to Carlisle in 1122. It’s quite possible, though we can’t prove it, that Henry and Edith first met in that year in either Carlisle or York. It was his only visit to the North if we exclude his reputed Yorkshire birth.

As Ann Williams says:

Since he (Forne) is addressed in a royal writ of 1121, he must already have held some office in Yorkshire and Northumbria and would therefore have been present to greet the king on his arrival in the north.

This brings us to the hoary question of the status and the dates of Forne’s father Sigulf. That his father was called Sigulf is certain. All historians agree. In the foundation charter of Wetheral Priory, perhaps dating from as early as 1106 but definitely not later than1112, he is called Forne son of Sigulf, as indeed he is elsewhere.

The Kingdom Of Cumbria -  Strathclyde

The Kingdom Of Cumbria – Strathclyde

As I discussed in my article The Normans come to Cumbria, Sigulf is mentioned in ‘earl’ Gospatric’s famous writ, written in English, which granted, or more likely reconfirmed, Thorfinn Mac Thore in his estates in Allerdale, in northern Cumbria. Let me reproduce this writ or letter again in full:

Gospatric greets all my dependants and each man, free and dreng, that dwell in all the lands of the Cumbrians, and all my kindred friendlily; and I make known to you that my mind and full leave is that Thorfynn  MacThore be as free in all things that are mine in Alnerdall as any man is, whether I or any of my dependants, in wood, in heath, in enclosures, and as to all things that are existing on the earth and under it, at Shauk and at Wafyr and at Pollwathoen  and at bek Troyte and the wood at Caldebek; and I desire that the men abiding with Thorfynn at Cartheu and Combetheyfoch be as free with him as Melmor and Thore and Sygulf were in Eadread’s days, and that (there) be no man so bold that he with what I have given to him cause to break the peace such as Earl Syward and I have granted to them forever as any man living under the sky; and whosoever is there abiding, let him be geld free as I am and in like manner as Walltheof and Wygande  and Wyberth and Gamell and Kunyth and all my kindred and dependants; and I will that Thorfynn have soc and sac, toll and theam over all the lands of Cartheu and Combetheyfoch that were given to Thore in Moryn’s days free, with bode and witnessman in the same place.

The Sigulf mentioned here is now generally accepted as being Forne Sigulfson’s father. It also seems clear from the wording that Sigulf was already dead at the time Gospatric wrote this writ. This touches on many hotly debated issues regarding the dating of the writ itself and on Gospatric’s own life and status at the time.

As the writ was written in ‘old’ English, in Anglo-Saxon, it has been suggested that it dates from the 1050s or even the 1040s. I will return to the evidence for such a dating at another time. Others have dated the writ later. Ann Williams writes: ‘Charles Phythian Adams has recently suggested that his (Forne’s) father was the Sigulf (the name, incidentally, is not common) named as a tenant of land in Cumbria in a writ issued by Gospatric of Allerdale, which Phythian-Adams further argues should be dated 1067-69.’ In fact Forne’s parentage was mentioned by numerous historians years ago. Regarding the dating of Gospatric’s  writ, the Rev. James Wilson wrote in 1904:

The date of this charter may be assigned to some period before the conquest of 1092, but perhaps after 1067 when Gospatric purchased the earldom of Northumberland from William the Conqueror, or more probably after 1072, when King Malcolm of Scotland gave him Dunbar and the adjacent lands in Lothian.

If Forne Sigulfson was born as I am suggesting around 1060 to 1065, then the earlier datings of Gospatric’s writ seem suspect. Sigulf must have been alive at the time of his son Forne’s birth or at the very least nine months before?

There is much more to be explored and said about Gospatric, (who was certainly a former earl of Northumbria and, given his name, probably of Cumbric descent), and his unique writ. I will return to this matter another time.

But let’s return to the subject of this article: Forne Sigulfson. As we have seen, he was already a Yorkshire land holder in 1086. His holding in Nunburnholme, for example, was held in ‘King Edward’s (the Confessor’s) time’ by Morcar. This is without any doubt the Northumbrian earl Morcar. As this is so then who held Morcar’s ‘manor’ of Nunburnhome between 1066 and 1086 when Forne surely held it? We don’t know. Although Earl Morcar didn’t die until 1087, after his participation in the rebellion against William the Conqueror initiated by the Abbot of Ely in 1071, he had been captured and imprisoned by the Conqueror. Morcar had already ‘forfeited’ (had been robbed of) his lands, including those in Yorkshire and Northumbria. It seems that by 1067 earl Morcar’s earldom had already been granted to Copsi. But Copsi himself was soon killed by Osulf, and he in turn was also soon killed. The earldom of Northumbria passed in 1068 to none other than our Gospatric. Sigulf was undoubtedly Gospatric’s ‘man’, and Sigulf’s son Forne held Nunburnholme in 1086. Gospatric was finally (for a second time) stripped of the earldom of Northumbria in 1072. Perhaps it was in 1072, or even back in 1068, that Nunburnholme was granted to (or maybe even already held by) Forne’s father Sigulf? Sigulf was most likely Gospatric’s man when he was earl of Northumbria. This is all conjecture and I really shouldn’t go further down this hazy route.

Simeon of Durham

Simeon of Durham

This thought does however lead to another one. The almost contemporary chronicler Simeon of Durham mentioned a local magnate called Forne filius Ligulfi in his Historia Regnum. The suggestion has on occasion been made that Simeon’s Forne son of Ligulf was the one and the same as Forne Sigulfson, and that this Ligulf was the one who was will killed in a very important clash in Durham in 1080 which sparked a northern rebellion against the Conqueror. While discussing Edith Forne, medieval historian Horace Round once speculated, ‘if the bearer of so uncommon a name was identical with the Forne Ligulfson (“Forne filius Ligulfi”), who is mentioned by Simeon of Durham, in 1121, as one of the magnates of Northumbria, and if so, whether the latter was son of the wealthy but ill-fated Ligulf, murdered near Durham in 1080. Should both these queries be answered in the affirmative, Edith (Forne) would have been named after her grandmother “Ealdgyth,” the highly born wife of Ligulf.’

Personally I don’t, yet, find this identification convincing, although I acknowledge that it could be the case. We shouldn’t put too much store on the spellings of Ligulf and Sigulf. The letters S and L have often been conflated or confused. In later times in Cumbria even Forne’s father Sigulf was quite often written as Ligulf. But Ligulf, unlike Sigulf, was a pretty common name in the North at the time. There are many examples. I’ll have to put this question aside for the time being. As I have said, at present I can’t support the identification of the ‘Cumbrian’ Sigulf and the Northumbrian Ligulf who was killed at Durham in 1080, but I admit the dates and some other facts look tempting.

So what is the conclusion regarding Forne the first lord of Greystoke?

Ivo fitz Forne (to use the new Norman naming pattern) was the man who first started to build Greystoke castle in about 1129, around the time his father died. In fact at first this was more of a simple defensive ‘peel’ tower than the classic Norman castle it would later become. Forne his father was already a magnate in the north of England in 1086 before becoming one of Henry 1’s key northern officers. And Forne’s father Sigulf was, at the very least, a powerful Cumbrian land holder in the days before the Norman Conquest. Whether he was also a magnate in Yorkshire and Northumbria is open to question.

When the Normans invaded and conquered England the vast majority of the English, whether magnates, thegns or simple people, lost their land and were reduced to de facto feudal serfdom. Some however, particularly in the North, were able to make an accommodation with the hated French conquerors and even prosper. Forne’s Norse family was one of these. As Ann Williams puts it:

It was by securing the cooperation of such native lords in Cumbria that the Norman kings fixed their authority in the region.

The Norman Conquest was a disaster for the English people

The Norman Conquest was a disaster for the English people

This we can understand. Local rulers have always tried to hold onto their power and privilege when new rulers arrive. Only when they can’t do so do they resist and usually perish. The historical examples are legion. But for the people of the north of England, as for England in general – be they of Cumbric (northern British), Scandinavian, or Anglo-Saxon stock – the advent of the Normans was a disaster. The English people suffered under their yoke for centuries. It doesn’t much matter that the Normans themselves were the descendants of northern Vikings, Normans means North Men, or even that Normandy itself was settled almost two centuries earlier by Vikings from the east of England and by the Norse-Irish from both Ireland and Cumbria. What matters is that present-day England and the English people were brutally and unequivocally reduced to servile status by a French invader and conqueror. Some see this as a good thing for England’s future development, and we all have to interpret history, I however do not. The question is: ‘Whose side are you on?’ I’ll state the point quite clearly: I’m on the side of the majority, the vast bulk of English people who have been repressed and exploited ever since 1066.

I don’t want to engage in counter-factual history, although it is, I admit, nice to dream of what might have happened if King Harold had defeated William the Bastard at Hastings or the kings of Denmark had managed to dislodge the Conqueror. But sticking to real history, what did the Norman invasion mean for the people of England? First, it meant brutal repression and reduction to servile status. There was even genocide in the North. Second, it meant being a source of taxes for the French-speaking ‘English’ Plantagenet and Angevin kings. Third, England was a pool of soldiers, who later became ‘cannon fodder’, for these French kings’ of England; for their rampages in France against their French cousins, or in the Holy Land. And then, later on, English people were dragged all over the world to fight in meaningless wars, to conquer untold countries, which became the British Empire; to die in a parts of the world that were ‘forever England’. England, and Britain, might have become a world power, but what did it ever mean for the majority of the English or British people? Answer this yourself.

Sources and references:

William E. Kapelle, The Norman Conquest of the North, 1979; Ann Williams, Henry 1 and the English, 2007; James Wilson, An English Letter of Gospatric, SHR, 1904; William Farrer, Early Yorkshire Charters, Vol 2, The Fee of Greystoke, 1915; John Crawford Hodgson , The House of Gospatric, in A History of Northumberland, Vol 7, 1901; James Wilson, A History of Cumberland, in William Page (ed) The Victoria County Histories; W G Collingswood, Lake District History, 1925; Edmund Spencer, The Antiquities and Families in Cumberland, 1675; John Denton, An Accompt of the most considerable Estates and Familes in the County of Cumberland (ed R S Ferguson, 1887); Sir Archibald C. Lawrie, Early Scottish Charters Prior to AD 1153, 1905; Marc Morris, The Norman Conquest, 2012; Roy Millward and Adrian Robinson, The Lake District, 1970; Richard Sharpe, Norman Rule in Cumbria 1092 – 1136, 2005.