Posts Tagged ‘Carlisle’

‘I will bury him myself. And even if I die in the act, that death will be a glory… I have longer to please the dead than please the living here.’ Antigone, Sophocles.

Thomas Howard, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, unfurled the Royal Banner in Carlisle in February 1537. He was declaring martial law in the North of England. Martial law wasn’t really law at all; it was simply a suspension of the accepted process and procedures of English law. It meant that anyone taking part in or supporting a rebellion, or defying the crown in any way, could be summarily dealt with as a traitor. They could be executed without the bother or uncertainties of a jury trial.

Royal Banner of Henry the Eighth

Royal Banner of Henry the Eighth

Howard had taken it upon himself to ‘unfurl the banner’ in the name of King Henry VIII, whose authority had been challenged by the recent uprising in Lincoln, by the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’ in Yorkshire, Northumberland and Durham and by a serious rebellion in Westmorland and Cumberland. Henry had broken with Rome and, advised by the unpopular Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, was setting about dissolving and robbing catholic England’s monasteries and abbeys. He was also increasing the tax burden of the people and encouraging the theft of common land via private enclosure. All of these measures were deeply unpopular over great swathes of the country. They were obviously resented and resisted by monks, friars and other clergymen, but also by gentry and commoners as well – though for different reasons.

The uprising in Lincoln in late 1536 had managed to muster thousands of people to the cause but had ended after just two weeks. Just as the King’s representatives were about to wreak their revenge on the Lincoln rebels, a more serious challenge arose: the people of Yorkshire and surrounding parts of Northumberland, Durham and Lancashire had also rebelled. Under the leadership of lawyer Robert Aske, this was essentially a conservative protest and one that the rebels wanted, if at all possible, to keep non-violent. Aske himself christened it the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’, a name that perhaps unfortunately has stuck. The rebels didn’t want to challenge the King’s right to rule, rather they wanted to pressure him to stop the dissolution of the monasteries, restore the link with Rome and suppress the spread of Lutheran versions of Protestantism. They also hoped that some of Henry’s hated advisers would be removed, particularly Chancellor Thomas Cromwell, who they blamed for both the religious policies and, as importantly, their own worsening economic plight.

The Holy Wounds Banner of the Pilgrimage of Grace

The Holy Wounds Banner of the Pilgrimage of Grace

In this sense the Pilgrimage of Grace was both a social and a religious revolt. The impetus came from below, from the ‘commoners’, but some of the local gentry joined in willingly, while others needed to be coerced.

Under Aske’s leadership, the leaders of the rebellion called themselves ‘Captains of Poverty’ or sometimes, in the case of monks and priests, ‘Chaplains of Poverty’. These captains started to call out the northern ‘host’, usually a thing done by the king or the local barons. Their numbers swelled, to reach around 28.000 – 35,000 by October 1536. They were disciplined and organized and more than enough to face down, and defeat if necessary, the 4,000 mercenary troops, under the Duke of Norfolk, who Henry had sent to put them down. The rebels had captured Pontefract castle without much trouble.

Robert Aske - Leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace

Robert Aske – Leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace

This isn’t the place to retell the events and causes of the Pilgrimage of Grace. There are many fine histories of what happened. In brief, Norfolk knew he couldn’t defeat the rebels by force of arms, so he prevaricated and seemed to play along with, even sympathize with, their demands. A truce was called on 27 October at Doncaster Bridge and on 6 December Norfolk promised a royal pardon in the name of the King. He also promised that many of the rebels’ demands would be met. Eventually, and not without great deliberation, the northern rebel host dispersed and the Pilgrimage was effectively over. It is only in retrospect that we can judge them naive.

All this was not to Henry’s liking. Henry’s instinctive and invariable reaction was always to crush any opposition, not to make concessions or compromises. He soon reneged on the pardon and had many of the leaders or sympathizers of the revolt executed. He never took England back to Rome and he redoubled his drive to dissolve the monasteries and expropriate and appropriate their considerable wealth.

Let us return to events in Westmorland or Cumberland (which together I rather anachronistically will call Cumbria). This was a region that the Duke of Norfolk himself was to call the ‘poorest shire in the realm’. During the Pilgrimage appeals had been made to the people of these counties to join in and to take the Pilgrims’ Oath. Local ‘Captains’ were appointed and some of them were to go to Yorkshire on at least two occasions to consult with Robert Aske and the other leaders. Two of the most prominent Cumbrian captains were Nicholas Musgrave and Robert Pullen, but several others went as well.

The Cumbrian captains started to gather support. To try to remain anonymous they usually called themselves ‘Captain Poverty’ – like their Yorkshire colleagues. Eventually a force of 15,000 was gathered and was planning to march on Carlisle, the administrative and military centre of the ‘West Marches’. But before they could progress any further, news came that the Pilgrimage was over and, despite the fact that Sir Francis Bigod and John Hallam tried to resurrect it, unsuccessfully as it turned out, the Cumbrian rebel host disbanded and returned home.

Over Christmas 1536, and into the early New Year, the commoners started to fear that their local gentry had abandoned them and that they had slipped off to London to declare their allegiance to King Henry. They were right. Madeleine Hope Dodds and Ruth Dodds wrote in 1915, in their still seminal two volume study The Pilgrimage of Grace and the Exeter Conspiracy:

The chief reason for the agitation was the departure of so many gentlemen to court. The commons distrusted the King, who might have the gentlemen beheaded, and they distrusted the gentle men, who might betray them to the King. When the gentlemen were away, the bailiffs and other officers found it impossible to keep order.

And that might have been that were it not for Henry’s reprisals. He wanted all the leaders of the Pilgrimage hunted down and executed as traitors. In early January 1537, it became known that ‘Captains’ Nicholas Musgrave and Thomas Tibbey were in the Westmorland town of Kirkby Stephen. On 6 January, Thomas Clifford, the ‘bastard son’ of Henry Clifford, the first earl of Cumberland, was sent to the town to capture them. ‘Musgrave was warned and with Thomas Tibbey he took refuge in the church steeple, so defensible a position that Clifford was obliged to withdraw without his prisoners’. This, we are told, ‘stirred the country greatly’. A watch was to be kept for them in every town. ‘The men of Kirkby Stephen plucked down all the enclosures in their parish and sent orders to the surrounding parishes to follow their example.’

Things started to get tense. In Cumberland, one of the King’s men, Sir Thomas Curwen, wrote that ‘The west parts, from Plumland to Muncaster, is all a flutter’. He told how ‘on Saturday 13 January a servant of Dr Legh came to Muncaster. The whole country rose and made him prisoner. He was carried to Egremont and thence to Cockermouth. A great crowd filled the market-place, crying, “Strike off his head!” and “Stick him!”

Kirkby Stephen Church

Kirkby Stephen Church

The region was in ferment and it only needed a spark to set it alight. This spark was provided on 14 February when ‘bastard’ Thomas Clifford returned to Kirkby Stephen, once again trying to capture Musgrave and Tibbey. This time he came with a group of ‘mosstroopers from the waters of Esk and Line ’. These were rough border reivers, ‘strong thieves of the westlands’, with a penchant for violence.

Musgrave and Tibbey fled to their old fastness in the steeple, and there defied their pursuers. The townsfolk took no part either for or against the rebels, but while Clifford and some of his men were debating how to take their quarry, the rest of the riders, following their inbred vocation, fell to plundering. This was more than flesh and blood could bear. The burgesses caught up their weapons and fell upon the spoilers, causing a timely diversion in favour of the men in the steeple. Scattered about the narrow streets of the town, the horsemen were at a disadvantage and soon showed that their prowess was not equal to their thievishness. Two of the townsmen were killed in the skirmish, but their enraged fellows drove the borderers from the town and followed up their retreat until they were forced to take refuge in Brougham Castle.

Moss Troopers

Moss Troopers

Musgrave and Tibbey had escaped again. But having witnessed the brutality of the King’s forces, the local people realized that they would get no quarter or justice either from the King or the local nobility. They could expect no fair hearing of their economic or other grievances. ‘The commons saw that they were committed to a new rebellion, although they had risen in defence of their property ; indeed, a panic seems to have spread through the countryside that they would all be treated like the people of Kirkby Stephen. The two captains raised all the surrounding country and sent the following summons to the bailiff of Kendal, whom they knew to be on their side’:

To the Constable of Mellynge. ‘Be yt knowen unto you Welbelovyd bretheren in god this same xii day of februarii at morn was unbelapped on every syde with our enimys the Captayne of Carlylle and gentylmen of our Cuntrie of Westrnerlonde and haithe destrowed and slayn many our bretheren and neghtbers. Wherfore we desyre you for ayde and helpe accordyng to your othes and as ye wyll have helpe of us if your cause requyre, as god forbede. this tuysday, We comande you every one to be at Kendall afore Eight of the clok or els we ar lykly to be destrowed. Ever more gentyll brether unto your helpyng honds. Captayn of Povertie. ‘

None of the local gentry joined them and very few priests. They were more afraid of losing their aristocratic privileges and the wrath of the King than they were concerned about Henry’s religious reforms. The ‘commoners’ were on their own. Their plans were simple. ‘They had long before decided that the first step in case of a new rebellion was to seize Carlisle.’

Thomas Howard 3rd Duke of Norfolk

Thomas Howard 3rd Duke of Norfolk

The Duke of Norfolk was still in Yorkshire continuing his clean-up and reprisals after the Pilgrimage of Grace. Carlisle was commanded by Sir John Lowther, Thomas Clifford and John Barnsfeld. They were out-numbered and they were worried. They knew that they needed the help of Sir Christopher Dacre, who, in the absence of his nephew Lord William Dacre, welded the most power in the area. Christopher Dacre’s loyalty to the crown was still much in doubt and the Clifford and Dacre families were old adversaries – enemies even. On 15 February the three Carlisle commanders wrote to Sir Christopher Dacre:

In the King our sovereign lord’s name we command you that ye with as many as ye trust to be of the King’s part and yours, come unto this the King’s castle in all goodly haste possible, for as we are informed the commons will be this day upon the broad field … further that ye leave the landserjeant with the prickers of Gillisland so that he and they may resist the King’s rebels if the said prickers of Gillesland will take his part, or else to bring him … and that ye come yourself in goodly haste. (Castle, of Carlisle, 15 February at 10 hours.)

When the Duke of Norfolk, who was in Richmond, heard about the danger in Cumbria, he too wrote to Dacre on the same day:

Cousin Dacres, I know not whether you received the letter I sent you yesterday. I hear those commons now assembled draw towards Carlisle, and doubt not you will gather such company as you may trust and, after your accustomed manner, use those rebels in a way to deserve the King’s thanks and to aid your nephew, my very friend, whom I look for every hour. I will not instruct you what ye shall do, for ye know better than I. Spare for no reasonable wages, for I will pay all. And spare not frankly to slay plenty of these false rebels; and make true mine old sayings, that ‘Sir Christopher Dacre is a true knight to his sovereign lord, an hardy knight, and a man of war’. Pinch now no courtesy to shed blood of false traitors; and be ye busy on the one side, and ye may be sure the duke of Norfolk will come on the other. Finally, now, Sir Christopher, or never. (Richmond, 15 Feb.) Your loving cousin if ye do well now, or else enemy for ever.

Norfolk had written to the king the previous day informing Henry that ‘when Cumberland’s bastard son, deputy captain of Carlisle, came to take two traitors at Kirkby Stephen, they keeping the steeple, his horsemen, in great part strong thieves of the Westlands, began to spoil the town, and the inhabitants rose to defend both their goods and the traitors. A skirmish ensued, in which one or two rebels were slain, and Thomas my lord’s bastard son, was forced to retire to Browham (Brougham) castle. The country has since risen, some say 4,000 or 5,000 together, and are sending for others to aid them.’

Norfolk thought that ‘no such thing would have occurred if this enterprise had been handled as it was promised’.

By 16 February about 6,000 local Cumbrians were camped on Broadfield Moor, a few miles south of Carlisle. They were ‘more or less effectively armed and mounted’. They knew Carlisle was, as it has always been, the key to controlling the region. They didn’t have gentry leadership, but in no way were they a rabble, as too many histories have disparagingly called them. They were in fact the very same people, the same ‘host’, which the local barons would usually call out when they needed military support. Clifford and the other commanders of the town had been busy rallying the local ‘artisans’ to the defence of the town. The Cumbrian host didn’t really know how to go about attacking or besieging a fortified town.

Carlisle Castle

Carlisle Castle

On Saturday 17 February, the host prepared for the assault on Carlisle. ‘The rebels carried a cross as their banner principal… It does not seem to have been such a vigorous attack as the word now implies. They approached within bow-shot, and showered arrows on the defenders who appeared on the city walls. This went on until they exhausted their supply of arrows, when they retired a little way to consider what to do next.’

After the failure of their attempt to take the town, the rebels were considering how best to attack again when, suddenly, Sir Christopher Dacre arrived on the scene with ‘five hundred border spearmen’ – called ‘prickers’. The commons broke and turned to flee. This emboldened the defenders and they sallied forth from Carlisle. Together with Dacre’s men they set about the now fleeing commoners. The mosstroopers were ‘in no mood to spare the countryfolk who had beaten them so ignominiously on Monday’.

The rejoicings in London were great. Sir Christopher Dacre was the hero of the hour. It was said that he had slain 700 rebels or more and taken the rest prisoners, hanging them up on every bush.

Exactly how many of the commoners were massacred is not known. Perhaps not the 700 reported. But compare this with the fact that in the whole of the more famous Pilgrimage of Grace (I exclude the later reprisals) there had only been one death – and that was accidental. Hundreds of prisoners were taken back to Carlisle, including it seems Thomas Tibbey, but not Nicholas Musgrave. The rest of the host fled back to their homes or went into hiding. Christopher Dacre had proved his loyalty and was later rewarded for his decisive intervention.

On the day of the attack and subsequent massacre, the Duke of Norfolk was still at Barnard’s Castle in Yorkshire and had raised 4,000 men – ‘everyone they could trust.’ But news soon reached him that this ‘splendid little army’ would not be needed. Norfolk was delighted. He wrote to King Henry that Christopher Dacre had ‘shown himself a noble knight’ and that ‘seven or eight hundred prisoners were taken.’ He was, he wrote, ‘about to travel in all haste to Carlisle to see execution done.’

Norfolk arrived at Carlisle on Monday 19 February. This is when he ‘unfurled the banner’ and imposed martial law, not just on Cumbria but on the whole of the North of England. He used the pretext of the Carlisle events to be better able to punish those involved in draconian fashion, as well to be able to more easily and brutally punish those involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace itself. Norfolk reported that: ‘There were so many prisoners in the town that he found great difficulty in providing for their safe-keeping.’ ‘He wrote that night to the Council to promise that if he might go his own way for a month he would order things to the King s satisfaction. It would take some time, because he must himself be present at all the convictions and proceed by martial law, and there were many places to punish.’ He added, significantly, that ‘not a lord or gentleman in Cumberland and Westmorland could claim that his servants and tenants had not joined in the insurrection.’

Proclamations were issued which ‘commanded all who had been in rebellion to come to Carlisle and submit themselves humbly to the King’s mercy.’  ‘The country people began to straggle into the city in scattered, dejected bands. They had lost their horses, harness, and weapons in the chase; they were in instant fear of a traitor’s death for themselves, and of fire, plunder, and outrage for their homes and families.’ Norfolk wrote that ‘they were contrite enough to satisfy any tyrant’ and ‘if sufficient number of ropes might have been found (they) would have come with the same about their necks’

Taking advice from the local lords, Norfolk chose seventy-four of the ‘chief misdoers’. ‘That is of the braver and more determined of them, and turned the rest away without even a promise of pardon’.

On 21 February, Norfolk wrote to Thomas Cromwell: ‘The poor caitiffs who have returned home have departed without any promise of pardon but upon their good a bearing. God knows they may well be called poor caitiffs; for at their fleeing they lost horse, harness, and all they had upon them and what with the spoiling of them now and the gressing (taxing) of them so marvellously sore in time past and with increasing of lords’ rents by inclosings, and for lack of the persons of such as shall suffer, this border is sore weaked and specially Westmoreland; the more pity they should so deserve, and also that they have been so sore handled in times past, which, as I and all other here think, was the only cause of this rebellion.’

Norfolk knew that if he left justice to the mercy of local juries he probably wouldn’t be able to execute as many as both he and, importantly, the King and Thomas Cromwell wanted. ‘Many a great offender’, he said, would be acquitted if juries were called. He was quite honest about this. He later wrote to the King:

All the prisoners were condemned to die by law martial, the King’s banner being displayed. Not the fifth part would have been convicted by a jury. Some protested that they had been dragged into rebellion against their will. The most part had only one plea, saying, ‘I came out for fear of my life, and I came forth for fear of loss of all my goods, and I came forth for fear of burning of my house and destroying of my wife and children… A small excuse will be well believed here, where much affection and pity of neighbours doth reign. And, sir, though the number be nothing so great as their deserts did require to have suffered, yet I think the like number hath not been heard of put to execution at one time.

As the Dodds wrote: ‘They had not, in fact, turned against the law, they had risen to defend all that the law should have defended for them from Clifford’s police, the thieves of the Black Lands.’

Henry the Eighth

Henry the Eighth

Henry was pleased with what Norfolk and the defenders of Carlisle had done. His reply to Norfolk on the 22nd was blunt and brutal. He started with his thanks: ‘We have received your letters of the 16th, about the new assembly in Westmoreland, and your others of the 17th by Sir Ralph Evers, touching the valiant and faithful courage of Sir Chr. Dacres in the overthrow of the traitors who made assault upon Carlisle, reporting also the good service done by Thomas Clifford, and the perfect readiness of all the nobles and gentlemen in Yorkshire and those parts to have served in your company against them. We shall not forget your services, and are glad to hear also from sundry of our servants how you advance the truth, declaring the usurpation of the bishop of Rome, and how discreetly you paint those persons that call themselves religious in the colours of their hypocrisy, and we doubt not but the further you shall wade in the investigation of their behaviours the more you shall detest the great number of them and the less esteem the punishment of those culpable…  We desire you to thank those that were ready to have served us. We have thanked Sir Chr. Dacres in the letters which you shall receive herewith, and will shortly recompense him in a way to encourage others.’

Referring to Norfolk’s decision to declare martial law, Henry continued:

We approve of your proceedings in the displaying of our banner, which being now spread, till it is closed again, the course of our laws must give place to martial law… Our pleasure is, that before you shall close up our said banner again, you shall, in any wise, cause such dreadful execution to be done upon a good number of the inhabitants of every town, village, and hamlet, that have offended in this rebellion, as well by the hanging them up in trees, as by the quartering of them and the setting of their heads and quarters in every town, great and small, and in all such other places, as they may be a fearful spectacle to all other hereafter, that would practise any like mater.

Finally, as these troubles have been promoted by the monks and canons of those parts… you shall without pity or circumstance, now that our banner is displayed, cause the monks to be tied up without further delay or ceremony.

Anyone who had participated in the uprising and escaped was still pursued. On February 28 the earls of Sussex and Derby and Sir Herbert Fitzherbert wrote to the King from Warrington in Lancashire: ‘There came lately to Manchester one William Barret, a tanner dwelling in Steton in Craven, who declared to the people that my lord of Norfolk at this his being in Yorkshire would, as he heard, either have of every plough 6s. 8d. or take an ox of every one that would not pay, and that every christening and burying should pay 6s. 8d. Being apprehended and brought before us, he confessed he was one of those who made the late assault at Carlisle and shot arrows at those in the town, and that the constables of the townships, after divers bills set upon church doors, warned him and his company so to rise, alleging that one of the Percies would shortly join them. We think he deserves the most cruel punishment; but Mr. Fitzherbert says the words are no ground for putting him to death, and that he cannot be indicted in one shire for an offence committed in another; we therefore forbear to proceed till we know your pleasure.’ (Warrington, 28 Feb.)

This brings us to the main point of this short article. What was to be the fate of the 74 rebels that Norfolk and the local lords had picked for summary execution? Henry had ordered Norfolk to hang ‘them on trees, quartering them, and setting their heads and quarters in every town’. We don’t know how many of them, if any, were actually hung, drawn and quartered as Henry had clearly wanted, and as was often the case for traitors under martial law. The punishment itself was described by Chronicler William Harrison as follows:

The greatest and most grievous punishment used in England for such as offend against the State is drawing from the prison to the place of execution upon an hurdle or sled, where they are hanged till they be half dead, and then taken down, and quartered alive; after that, their members and bowels are cut from their bodies, and thrown into a fire, provided near hand and within their own sight, even for the same purpose.

Gibbet Irons

Gibbet Irons

It’s most likely that none of the rebels were hung, drawn and quartered. Even Robert Aske was finally spared this fate. They were in all probability all ‘hung in chains’. When Norfolk later wrote to Thomas Cromwell, he said, ‘All in this shire were hung in chains.’  What was hanging in chains? It was a form of punishment and deterrence used for centuries in England until it was abolished in 1834. An eighteenth century French visitor to England, Cesar de Saussure,  described what happened:

There is no other form of execution but hanging; it is thought that the taking of life is sufficient punishment for any crime without worse torture. After hanging murderers are, however, punished in a particular fashion. They are first hung on the common gibbet, their bodies are then covered with tallow and fat substances, over this is placed a tarred shirt fastened down with iron bands, and the bodies are hung with chains to the gibbet, which is erected on the spot, or as near as possible to the place, where the crime was committed, and there it hangs till it falls to dust. This is what is called in this country to ‘hang in chains’.

But in Tudor times the punishment was often even more barbaric. People were frequently hung alive in chains and they first starved in agony before putrefying on the gibbet. How many of the rebels were ‘gibbeted’ alive and how many dead is not known. The point of these executions was of course not simply to kill people, it was also to make them and their relatives suffer and to be so terrifying that it would act as a deterrent to any future challenges to royal authority. The cadavers were not allowed to be removed and buried. They should remain rotting, sometimes for years, in full sight of their communities. For the condemned and their relatives this was not just a question of suffering and grief, it was also a matter concerning their eternal souls: Many still believed that the resurrection of the dead on judgement day ‘required that the body be buried whole facing east so that the body could rise facing God’

Hanging in Chains

Hanging in Chains

The rebels were hanged (in chains) in their own villages, ‘in trees in their gardens to record for memorial’ the end of the rebellion.

Twelve were hanged in chains in Carlisle for the assault on the city, eleven at Appleby, eight at Penrith, five at Cockermouth and Kirkby Stephen, and so on; scarcely a moorland parish but could show one or two such memorials. Some were hanged in ropes, for iron was ‘marvellous scarce’ and the chain-makers of Carlisle were unable to meet the demand. The victims were all poor men, farm hands from the fields and artisans of the little towns; probably the bailiff of Embleton was the highest man among them. Only one priest suffered with them, a chaplain of Penrith.

Once the executions of these poor men had been carried out, in village after village throughout Cumberland and Westmorland, their women wanted to bury their husbands, sons and fathers. Like latter-day Antigones, they thought this to be their natural right and duty. But Henry’s law, like that of Creon, forbade it. At great risk to their own safety and lives, the women crept out at night and cut down their men and secretly buried them.

In May, when Norfolk heard that ‘all’ the rebels’ bodies had been cut down and buried, he ordered the Cumberland magistrates to seek out the ‘ill-doers’. They sent him nine or ten confessions in reply, but he did not consider these nearly enough: ‘It is a small number concerning seventy-four that hath been taken down, wherein I think your Majesty hath not been well served.’

The Dodds write: ‘Of all the records these brief confessions are the most heart-breaking and can least bear description. The widows and their neighbours helped each other. Seven or eight women together would wind the corpse and bury it in the nearest churchyard, secretly, at nightfall or day break. Sometimes they were turned from their purpose by the frightened priest, and then the husband’s body must be buried by a dyke-side out of sanctified ground, or else brought again more secretly than ever and laid in the churchyard under cover of night. All was done by women, save in two cases when the brother and cousin of two of the dead men were said to have died from the “corruption” of the bodies they had cut down.’

Norfolk asked the King what he should do with these offenders. They were all, he said, women: ‘the widows, mothers and daughters of the dead men’. Thomas Cromwell was displeased, suspecting that Norfolk had ordered or countenanced this. Norfolk tried to placate him and shift any blame to the Earl of Cumberland. He wrote to Cromwell:

I do perceive by your letter that ye would know whether such persons as were put to execution in Westmorland and Cumberland were taken down and buried by my commandment or not: undoubtedly, my good lord, if I had consented thereunto, I would I had hanged by them; but on my troth, it is 8 or 9 days past since I heard first thereof, and then was here with me a servant of my lord of Cumberland called Swalowfield, dwelling about Penrith, by whom I sent such a quick message to my said lord, because he hath the rule in Cumberland as warden, and is sheriff of Westmorland and hath neither advertised me thereof, nor hath not made search who hath so highly offended his Majesty, and also commanding him to search for the same with all diligence, that I doubt not it shall evidently appear it was done against my will.

We don’t know what the subsequent inquiries about these women’s actions disclosed and what, if any, were the consequences.

Henry's Field of the Cloth of Gold

Henry’s Field of the Cloth of Gold

This brutal episode in English history is usually given scant mention in histories of the period, particularly in histories of Henry VIII  – concerned as they depressingly are with political machinations, battles and the deeds of ‘great men’. Yet surely such events tell us more about the real history of England, or better said the real history of the English people, than do Henry’s dealings with the Holy Roman Emperor, the Papacy, his opulent and ostentatious ‘Field of the Cloth of Gold’ or his tedious litany of marriages?

Of course the Pilgrimage of Grace and the Cumbrian rebellion had failed – although taken together they were the most significant challenge Henry would ever face at home. But in the case of the Cumbrian rebellion, its significance does not lie in its success or failure. It lies in the fact that it is just another much neglected example of what happens when ordinary English people try to protest against the repression of their rulers, their economic pauperization or the suppression of their religious or other rights. As Leveller leader Colonel Thomas Rainborough was to write in the seventeenth century:

For really, I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it’s clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first, by his own consent, to put himself under that government.

Antigone buries her brother

Antigone buries her brother

What I find a pity is that Antigone’s poignant and courageous act of burying her brother, whether it really happened or not, has been studied and dissected for at least two thousand years. German Philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel even saw it as a clash of right against right: familial natural right against the right of the state; others interpret it differently. Yet ‘only’ five hundred years ago, dozens of poor Cumbrian women did the same thing and ran the same risk as Antigone, but they are hardly remembered at all. Who would dare today to present their bravery and humanity as a clash of two equally valid rights?

Sources:

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 12; Madeleine Hope Dodds & Ruth Dodds, The Pilgrimage of Grace and the Exeter Conspiracy, (1915); M. L. Bush, The Pilgrimage of Grace: A Study of the Rebel Armies of October 1536, (1996); Michael Bush & David Bownes, The Defeat of the Pilgrimage of Grace: A Study of the Postpardon Revolts of December 1536 to March 1537 and Their Effect, (1999).

The United States declared war on Britain in 1812 when all Britain’s attention was focussed on, and resources stretched, fighting Napoleon’s French, who had subjugated much of Europe. Many factors were involved but essentially it was an attempt by the Americans to grab more or all of British North America (Canada) while Britain was occupied elsewhere. So Britain had to fight a war on two fronts, on either side of the Atlantic. It’s a long and fascinating story, at one point the British captured Washington D.C. and burnt the White House; the Americans were only saved by a huge storm which forced the British to withdraw. The war dragged on the two and a half years before being formally ended by the Treaty of Ghent on 24 December 1814, although fighting continued into early 1815.

Throughout all this time the Royal Navy was actively involved, blockading the American coast, fighting American ships and landing troops on the coasts. One young Royal navy Lieutenant involved in all of this was a certain Charles Grisdale. Charles was most likely involved when a fleet of some 30 warships sailed out of Negril Bay, Jamaica on 26 November, 1814. ‘The fleet under command of Admiral Cochrane moved into the Gulf of Mexico ready to attack New Orleans. Cochrane’s fleet was transporting 14,450 British troops who had recently been fighting in the Napoleonic wars in France and Spain.’

Battle of New Orleans

Battle of New Orleans. January 1815

Perhaps Charles Grisdale was injured at the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815, whatever the case shortly thereafter Charles was back in Jamaica where he boarded the ‘postal packet’ Princess Mary bound for Falmouth in England.

But shortly after leaving Jamaica the ship ‘experienced the most dreadful weather’, in fact a ‘hurricane’, during which it ‘was struck by lightning… by which Lieutenant Charles Grisdale, of the Royal Navy, was killed, and several of the crew seriously injured’.

Princess Mary

Princess Mary

The newspapers reported the ‘instantaneous’ death after the Princess Mary arrived in England and mentioned Charles’ father, the Reverend Benjamin Grisdale of Withington in Gloucestershire. When Benjamin and his family heard of Charles death in their Rectory in Withington they must have been devastated. Whether Charles was buried at sea or brought back to England I don’t know, I presume the former.

Charles was only twenty-two and Benjamin’s first born child. He was named after Benjamin’s close friend General Charles Cornwallis, the commander of the British forces which had surrendered to George Washington’s Americans at Yorktown in 1781. Benjamin had been a long-time chaplain in the British Army and served throughout the American War of Independence; he was with Cornwallis at Yorktown. I wrote about him in a story called Rev Benjamin Grisdale and the siege of Yorktown 1781.

But in 1815 Benjamin still had three other living sons: Edmund (1799), Henry (1800) and William (1807), another son had died in infancy. He and his wife Elizabeth Unwin also had two daughters, all born in Withington Rectory. But before his death in 1828 aged eighty-four, Benjamin would have another tragedy. His next oldest living son, Edmund, had joined the Indian Army been made an Ensign then a Lieutenant and was shipped with his regiment to Bombay in 1819. But on 4 December 1820 Edmund died at Surat. We don’t know the circumstances of his death – I suspect he died of something like malaria rather than in battle.

Bombay 1820

Bombay 1820

Before I tell of the fate of Benjamin’s other children after his death I would like to say a little about his family and particularly that of his younger brother Browne Grisdale.

Both boys were the sons of Matterdale-born Benjamin Grisdale and his wife Anne Browne. They were born in Threlkeld, the next-door parish to Matterdale – Benjamin in 1744 and Browne in 1750. I don’t yet know which Grammar School they attended; it might have been St. Bees or Barton, or possibly Carlisle where Browne was later headmaster. But no doubt with the help of their uncle, Joseph Browne, who was both the provost of Queen’s College and the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, they both went to study to be priests at Queen’s College in Oxford.

Joseph Browne was elected Fellow 1 April 1731, and became a successful tutor; took the degree of D.D. 9 July 1743, and was presented by the college with the living of Bramshot, Hampshire, in 1746. In that year, he was appointed Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy and held that office until his death. He was instituted prebendary of Hereford Cathedral on 9 June of the same year (he was later called into residence), and on 13 February 1752 was collated to the chancellorship of the cathedral.

On 3 December 1756, Browne was elected Provost of Queen’s College. From 1759 to 1765 he held the office of Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University. He had a severe stroke of palsy 25 March 1765, and died on 17 June 1767.

In 1776, while his older brother Benjamin was still in America with the army, Browne by now a priest and schoolmaster in Carlisle, married Ann Dockray in St. Cuthbert’s church in Carlisle. Five children followed, one after the other: Joseph Browne 1777, named after the Rev Joseph Browne, Mary Ann 1778, Elizabeth 1779, John 1780 and Caroline 1782.

Carlisle Cathedral - where Browne Grisdale was Chancellor

Carlisle Cathedral – where Browne Grisdale was Chancellor

Of course this family had sprung from yeoman farming stock in Matterdale, but Browne and his brother had both gone to Oxford and entered the priesthood and so other courses were expected of their children. Both of Browne’s sons, Joseph and John, were pupils at Carlisle Grammar School where their father was first a teacher and then headmaster. Browne himself later became the Chancellor of the Diocese of Carlisle and a powerful local Justice of the Peace.

Son Joseph entered the army and became a Lieutenant in the 17th Regiment of Foot, which was posted to the island of Minorca in 1800 as part of the long struggle with Napoleon. And there he died in early 1801, aged just twenty-three. In April 1801 an announcement appeared in The Monthly Magazine which, under ‘Deaths Abroad’, reported:

At Minorca, J. B. Grisdale, esq, lieutenant in the 17th regiment of foot, much lamented by his brother officers.

I wrote of Joseph in a story called Death in Minorca.

Browne’s younger son John on leaving Carlisle Grammar School (where he was a bit of a star) had gone to Christ’s College, Cambridge and won the second highest prize in mathematics. John had first entered Trinity College in 1799 but switched the following year to Christ’s. His decision to move to Christ’s was probably connected with Dr William Paley. Paley had graduated from Christ’s in 1763 as “senior wrangler”, became a tutor at Christ’s and since 1782 had been Archdeacon of Carlisle Cathedral and a colleague and friend of John’s father Browne Grisdale.

I told John’s story in an article called Alas how false our hopes! – the short life of John Grisdale.

Christ's College, Cambridge

Christ’s College, Cambridge

Not to repeat the story here, but John became at lawyer in Lincoln’s Inn in London but died suddenly ‘in his office’ there in 1812, aged just thirty-two. His father Browne, the Chancellor of Carlisle, died two years later

Withington Rectory where Benjamin Grisdale lived

Withington Rectory where Benjamin Grisdale lived

Down in Gloucestershire, Browne’s brother Benjamin, the Rector of Withington, would have heard of his nephews’ deaths with sadness. But then as we have seen he was soon to experience the deaths of two of his own sons: Royal Navy officer Charles returning from Jamaica in 1815 and army officer Edmund in Bombay in 1820.

What became of Benjamin’s other sons – Henry and William?

Henry followed a career path I don’t yet know, but on 27 June 1829 the Oxford Journal reported that ’an inquest was held at Withington, Gloucestershire, by Joseph Mountain, gent. coroner, on the 10th..  (for) Mr. Henry Grisdale, who, in a fit of temporary insanity, destroyed himself with a razor’

When I get a copye of the inquest report we will know more of Henry and his suicide.

After attending Rugby School youngest son William had followed his father and uncle and studied at Queen’s College, Oxford. He became a curate at Cubberley in Gloucestershire where his brother-in-law William Hicks was Rector. (William Hicks had married Mary Grisdale in 1833.) But in August 1841 William died in Cubberley Rectory aged just thirty-four – I don’t know the circumstances.

Cubberley Church

Cubberley Church

So the upshot of all this tragedy and death is that not one of the six sons of the ‘successful’ cleric brothers, Benjamin and Browne Grisdale, had survived long enough to have families of their own! There are no descendants bearing the Grisdale name.

On another occasion I might tell something of the daughters. Brown’s daughter Mary Anne married the Reverend Walter Fletcher who became Browne Grisdale’s successor as Chancellor of Carlisle. Benjamin’s daughter Mary married the Rev William Hicks of Cubberley as already mentioned.

This is the story of four Penrith Grisdale sisters born in the 1850s and early 1860s. Their lives turned out to be very different but they always kept in close touch to the end even when thousands of miles apart. The girls were Ann, Agnes, Emma and Hannah. Agnes Grisdale was my great grandmother.

First we need to say a little about the girls’ parents. Their father was a Penrith carpenter called Wilfred – what else! Born in 1815 in Penrith, Wilfred was the first of nine children of William Grisdale and his wife Mary Charters. Strangely enough in this rural town, William, helped by his wife, was a ‘Dancing Master’. I wrote a little about them before (see here).

Wilfrid_Grisdale1

Wilfred Grisdale, the sisters’ father and my 2x great grandfather

William’s was a family that spread all over the world from its origins in Matterdale: William’s brother Wilfred emigrated with his family to Canada in 1816/7 (see here); his son William emigrated to the goldfield town of Mansfield in Australia and had many adventures there (see here and here); while his London-born niece (his brother Gideon’s only child) first became a ballet dancer in Drury Lane, then married a famous painter called John William Gear, emigrated with him to Boston where he committed suicide, and ended up hawking fish in Falmouth in Cornwall (see here). There are others I could discuss.

Coming back to Wilfred, the girls’ father, he grew up with his brothers and sisters in Penrith, no doubt seeing his parents go off each day to teach dancing. But he obviously didn’t have such a bent and having done an apprenticeship he followed the more usual family route and became a joiner/carpenter.

The family lived in Rawcliffe Lane. In 1837 Wilfred married Penrith girl Hannah Robinson in St. Andrew’s church, where hundreds of the family had been and would be baptized, married and buried. Over the next ten years Wilfred and Hannah had seven children: William, Joseph, Thomas, Mary Ann, Wilfred, Elizabeth and Sarah. No doubt worn out by all this child-bearing Hannah died in 1853 at the age of thirty five.

Wilfrid Grisdale2

Wilfred Grisdale again in his Penrith garden

Wilfred was left with all these children. What was he to do? Men in those days, and perhaps still today, couldn’t do without a wife and a mother for their children. If Wilfred couldn’t get another wife soon the options were the orphanage and the workhouse. So in 1855 only two years after his wife’s death he married the widowed Elizabeth Nicholson (nee Hayton), who brought with her two Nicholson children. So now there were nine children. But not content with this Wilfred and Elizabeth soon produced four more daughters, the subject of this story: Ann 1856, Agnes 1858, Emma 1860 and Hannah 1863.

As the girl’s were growing and some of their older half-siblings started to leave, the family was living in Rawcliffe Lane, the same street as Wilfred’s parents.

Wilfred Grisdale spent his last years as the caretaker of Penrith’s Liberal Club in Devonshire Street. He loved horses and gardening and died in Penrith in 1893 aged seventy-seven.

That’s enough factual genealogical background. Let me consider the later lives of the four sisters, in the order of their birth.

Ann Grisdale 1856 – 1937

Nathan, Ann & Douglas

Nathan and Ann (Grisdale) Thomlinson with son Dougie

Oldest sister Ann Grisdale married Westmorland farmer turned ‘Mineral water Carter’ and travelling salesman Nathan Thomlinson in Penrith in 1893. The family stayed in Penrith, living first at in Benson Row before moving sometime during the First World War to 146 Graham Street where they died: Ann in 1937 and Nathan in 1941.

They had two children but one died young. Wilfred Douglas Thomlinson (yes Wilfred again!) was born in 1895. He joined the Border Regiment in 1913 before the outbreak of war and served throughout the war in the Machine Gun Corps, mostly in India but also in North Africa. He became a Sergeant and was demobilized in 1919.

Wilfred Douglas has some family still living not far from Penrith.

Agnes Grisdale 1858 – 1925

Agnes Grisdale

Agnes Grisdale

Agnes was my great grandmother. Somehow and somewhere she met the Shropshire-born railway ‘fireman’ and later engine driver Frederick Lewis who lived in Southport in Lancashire. Although trains certainly came to Penrith, I think Agnes had for some reason moved to Southport sometime prior to 1885 but after 1881 when she was still with her parents working as a general domestic servant. The reason is that when Agnes married Frederick on 30 April 1885 in Southport’s St. Andrew’s church, they both said they resided in Southport. Their first child William was born in December; as I say again later: do the maths yourself. Over the next seventeen years nine more Southport children were born, making ten in total: Edith 18887, Wilfred 1889, Percy 1890, Winifred 1892, Agnes 1894, Herbert 1896, Gertrude 1898, Reginald 1900 and Edith 1902.

Throughout this time Frederick was a railway engine driver.

Notice all the ‘Grisdale’ names: Wilfred, Agnes and William, although William Lewis was Frederick’s father.

Briefly said, William Lewis 1885 joined the Royal Navy as a gunner, was commissioned in the First World War, and served for thirty years. He lived near the Chatham naval dockyards in Kent; one of William’s sons was a RAF pilot and was killed in Algeria in 1944 (see here). Son Wilfred became a carpenter like his father but found it difficult to find work so he emigrated to Massachusetts in 1911 and was soon followed by three of his sisters: Agnes, Edith and Gertrude, but only Wilfred and Agnes stayed. Percy Lewis followed his father by becoming a Southport-based engine driver all his life; he was my grandfather.

Frederick Lewis died in Southport 1913 aged fifty-two. Agnes (Grisdale) Lewis died in the same place in 1925 aged sixty-seven.

fred lewis family

Frederick Lewis (top middle) with siblings in Southport in 1882

Obviously I never knew Agnes or Frederick, but I did know several of their children. My ‘American’ grand aunt Agnes Lewis (Agnes Grisdale’s daughter), who was said to be very like her mother, was one of the jolliest people I have ever met.  My ‘American’ grand uncle Wilfred was dearly beloved by his Massachusetts family, not a thing that is said about my Royal Navy grand uncle William.

Agnes Grisdale’s descendants today live in the United States, England, France and even Hong Kong.

Emma 1860 – 1930

Plumpton1 (7)

Stone Mason William Lowthian with parents and son in Plumpton

Now let’s turn to the third sister Emma, born in Penrith in 1860. After living with her parents, sisters and various half siblings, she became a domestic servant in the town. In 1887 she married the Plumpton Stone Mason William Nicholson Lowthian in Penrith – William was seven years her junior.  They had four sons in Plumpton: Joseph William Simpson Lowthian 1887, Herbert Stanley Lowthian 1889, Tom Simpson Lowthian 1896 and Wilfred Edward Lowthian 1902. The family lived in first in a cottage Brockley Moor and then for most of their lives in England at ‘Hill Top’, both in Plumpton Wall.

By 1903 Emma’s eldest son Joseph W. S. had started work in Carlisle as a railway clerk with the London & North-western railway. He was still there in 1911. It was probably through his work with the railway that Joseph had the idea of emigrating to Canada. It might even have been that he had a job offer from the Canadian Pacific Railway, for whom he was to work until his retirement.

1911 was a busy year: on 2 April he was still single and working as a railway clerk in Carlisle, he must then have immediately married local Carlisle girl Phoebe Hodgson Couling before departing a few days later from Liverpool on the steamship Tunisian which arrived in Halifax Nova Scotia on the 14 April. Joseph said he was a clerk and would be that too in Canada, giving his destination as Winnipeg. Whether he ever went to Winnipeg I don’t know because in 1911 he came to Revelstoke, B.C., where he went to work for the Canadian Pacific railway. Phoebe, by now pregnant, arrived in Quebec on the ship Laurentic on 15 July 1911 and took the train to Revelstoke. There their first daughter Amy Elizabeth was born in November – you can do the maths yourself. Another daughter Phoebe was born in 1917, but mother Phoebe died giving birth, aged just thirty-one.

Plumpton2 (5)

Emma (Grisdale) Lowthian with her four sons outside their house in Plumpton before they started the move to Canada and the US

But going back to Cumberland, Emma’s husband, the Stone Mason William Lowthian, had died in 1912 aged forty-five. Two years later Emma’s third son Tom Simpson followed his brother to Canada and settled in Field, British Columbia, where he too became an ‘agent’ on the railway. Tom was drafted into the Canadian army, went to fight in France but returned safely at the end of 1918. Back in England in 1915 his younger brother Herbert Stanley, by now living in Penrith, joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was killed in Flanders in 1917.

Portland

Portland, Oregon in the 1920s

All this left Emma and her youngest son Wilfred Edwin the only members of the family still in England. This changed in 1922 when they both arrived in Canada on the S/S Montrose, their passages having been paid by Joseph in ‘Vancouver’. Emma said she was coming ‘to keep house for son (who is a widower)’. Actually Joseph had already moved from Vancouver to Seattle in Oregon in 1918, where he was working in the Canadian Pacific’s traffic department as a ticket agent; he moved again to Portland in 1924 and ‘was retired on pension June 30, 1952’. He died in 1953 having been married briefly again in 1924 to an interesting Washington D.C. woman called Maude Sedalia Proctor (worthy of a separate story). He somewhere also had a daughter called Mary.

Brother Tom Simpson moved from Vancouver to Seattle after his marriage in 1924 and had two sons there. Brother Wilfred (Fred) moved to Washington State, married and had one son also called Wilfred.

Emma (Grisdale) Lowthian died in Portland in 1930 aged 70; many of her descendents still live in Oregon, Washington and elsewhere in the United States.

Hannah Grisdale 1863 – 1947

grisdale family garden

The four Grisdale sisters together

Unfortunately we don’t know much about the youngest sister Hannah; all I have are a few pictures. She never married and after a life in domestic service in Cumberland and Cheshire died in 1947 in Carlisle aged eighty-four. Perhaps it was because she wasn’t worn out by having children that she lived so long?

I know this has been a bit of a wiz through countless lives, each one of which probably merits a story of its own. To finish I’d like to mention two things. First, I said that the sisters always kept in touch. I know this is true from communications with various descendants of the sisters. Letters were sent backwards and forwards from Oregon. The Thomlinsons and the Lewis’s visiting each other. When Agnes Grisdale died in 1925 flowers and greeting came from the Oregon family. I have lots of other examples.

In my own grandfather’s diary I find several mentions of him going to visit his cousin ‘Dougie’ Thomlinson (i.e. the ex-soldier Wilfred Douglas Thomlinson). But by now all the personal links are gone. When we discover a relative linked to us by the four sisters we are surprised, and I hope delighted too. Such is the way of the world.

wilfred-grisdales-house-in-deerfield

Wilfred Grisdale’s house in Deerfield, Michigan. His father, grandfather and great grandfather were all called Wilfred!

Second, I want to mention the name Wilfred. In my Grisdale lineage it is almost the defining family feature, like say Robert is in other lines. It all goes back to the Dockray, Matterdale Blacksmith Wilfred Grisdale (1711 – 1795). Very late in life Wilfred had a number of children with his second wife Ruth Slee. From them are sprung the literally hundreds of Wilfred Grisdales, or people with Wilfred as a middle name, who were and are found throughout the world. This is true in Canada and the United States as well as in Britain. It was even once true in Australia. See here for just one example.

Not only was there my 2x great grandfather, the Wilfred Grisdale I began with, but my ‘American’ grand uncle was called Wilfred Lewis too.

Now this Blacksmith Wilfred was not the first of that name in Matterdale, he was the second. The first was a Wilfred Grisdale born in 1675 in Hollas (The Hollows). He went on to make a fortune in London as a brewer before returning to Cumberland as a lord of the manor. Even after his death his money paid to build Wordsworth House in Cockermouth where the Lakeland poet William Wordsworth was born and raised (see here).

percy in us

My grandfather Percy Lewis with two of his brother Wilfred’s grandchildren in Massachusetts the 1950s

The farm at Dowthwaite Head is the ‘cradle’ of the Matterdale Grisdales. When did the first person who would bear the Grisdale name arrive there? I’m afraid no definitive answer is possible. The family weren’t nobility and thus the early records of their lives are scant. So some of what follows is conjecture, some isn’t.

Grisedale Valley, Cumberland

Grisedale Valley, Cumberland

In an article titled Were the Grisdales Vikings? I discussed the Scandinavian/Norse-Irish name Grisdale. It just means Valley of the Pigs. There are several places called Grisdale or Grisedale in Cumberland. As I mentioned, the ancestors of people called Grisdale had at some point obviously moved from one of these Grisdales to elsewhere. At first they would have been called, just for example, John or Robert of (or ‘de’) Grisdale, to differentiate them other Johns or Roberts – like John (the) Forrester or Robert (the) Smith.

It’s my belief that the Grisdales of Matterdale most likely came from next door Grisedale Valley. Grisedale Beck runs down through the valley from Grisedale Pike, under Grisedale Bridge, to finally empty into Lake Ullswater near Patterdale. It’s a rather deserted place today but hundreds of years ago the records show it was a thriving small community. Most likely one or more person/s moved the few miles from Grisedale to Matterdale and it was from him or them that the family took its name. (See new view here.)

One shouldn’t be too concerned by more modern variant spellings: Grisdale, Grisedale or even Grizedale. It’s all the same name. In all the earliest records there were in fact no Es and certainly no Zs. When early Grisdales signed their names, or they are mentioned elsewhere, we find Grisdale, Grysdale, Grysdall, Grysdal, Grysdell. Grysdel and even Grysdaille. The variant E was usually added later by priests at the time of baptisms, marriages or deaths. Gris after all is the Old Norse word for a pig.

When did the move from ‘Grisedale’ to Matterdale happen? And where exactly did the earliest members of the family settle?

Dowthwaitehead Farm

Dowthwaitehead Farm

The earliest historically attested Grisdale in Matterdale was farmer John Grisdale. In 1524, in a survey of the barony of Greystoke he is listed as a ‘yeoman’ and as a ‘free tenant’. His farm was given as being at Dowthwaite Head. John is not only the only Grisdale mentioned but he was also the only ‘free tenant’ of any name living at Dowthwaite Head. He was clearly an adult man and might have been born sometime, say, between 1475 and 1500. I guess he was living with a wife, and possibly already had children, and raising sheep there. Dowthwaite Head was without any doubt the ‘cradle’ of the Matterdale Grisdale clan. Some of the family remained there for at least three hundred years – while others moved to other areas in Matterdale and from there further afield.

Vikings come to Cumbria

Vikings come to Cumbria

Before I go further, maybe we should pause a little and consider a couple of linguistic matters. First, regarding the thousands of Norse place names in Cumbria; names that gave many families their name. As elsewhere, Matterdale is full of them: Dowthwaite, Crookwath, Thornythwaite, Lowthwaite and even Matterdale itself, to name but a few. The Norse-Irish Vikings first settled in Cumbria in the tenth century. The whole area had been peopled by Cumbric speaking Britons for centuries. Around the fringes of the mountains there were also English villages, founded by Northumbrian immigrants/conquerors. The Norse-Irish carved out space for themselves and gave them Norse names. Matterdale itself contains the Norse dalr, meaning valley. While ‘Matter’ could derive from a Norse person’s name, although there are more poetic explanations. Grisdale also. Thwaite is Old Norse for a clearing made in the forest, and so Dowthwaite was a clearing either made by a person (dubh?) or near a place like the River Dove in Yorkshire – from whence the present-day Douthtwaite we find there. One could go on.

The question is often: When were these places first established? When were the thwaites cut out of the forest or from the thorns? One should beware implying that all these names go back to the tenth or even the eleventh century. These Norse settlers continued to speak a form of their Scandinavian language well into the twelfth century. And even as the language slowly morphed in Cumbrian English they still kept many Norse words. For example, a thwaite remained the word for a clearing for centuries and is still used as such today.

With this let’s return to Dowthwaite Head, the cradle of the Matterdale Grisdales. Dowthwaite valley runs southwest from the tiny Matterdale village of Dockray, up to its ‘Head’ under the bleak hill of Great Dodd. The question of who (or what) was the original Dow or Dubh can’t be answered. The answer is lost forever in the mists of time. But when was the forest cleared? When was the thwaite cut? It could have been at any time between the tenth and the fifteenth century, by which time the name was firmly established.

Dowthwaite from Dowthwaite Head

Dowthwaite from Dowthwaite Head

I understand that the present farmer living at Dowthwaitehead Farm believes the place was named after a ‘mine manager’ who once lived there. I would certainly like to discuss this with him, but it must be openly said that there is absolutely no written evidence for this view. None. There was a little mining in and around Dowthwaite, but there are no written records of it. If this putative ‘manager’, Mr Dowthwaite, existed at all, which I doubt for now, he would have had to have been there prior to about 1500. He would also have probably had to have lived there for a fair old time for the valley, the farm, and for the surrounding Dowthwaite Crag and Dowthwaite Moss, in fact for the whole area, to have been named after him. It’s interesting to note that during the whole of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and beyond, there is not a single person called Dowthwaite anywhere in Matterdale, which is interesting given the proliferation of the family name Dowthwaite/Douthwaite in Cumberland and Westmorland.

Places can of course be named after people and not just the other way round. We see it all the time: From old Bir-ming-ham (the settlement of ‘Bir’s’ people), to the more modern Thompson’s Farm. But if a pre-1500 Mr Dowthwaite gave the valley his name (whether he was a mine manager or not), this just begs the question of where the Dowthwaite was he came from. There is only one other Douthwaite (with a U) that I know of: Douthwaite Dale near Whitby in Yorkshire. I don’t find the idea of a very early Mr Douthwaite/Dowthwaite trekking from near the coast of northeast England, across the barren Pennines, all the way to Matterdale, very convincing at all. I prefer to believe that Dowthwaite was so called because it was a forest clearing, a thwaite, cut from the wood or thorns of Matterdale. Whenever that occurred and whoever did the cutting.

Dacre Coat of Arms

Dacre Coat of Arms

There is another fact that we can throw into the pot. It may or may not be relevant. In 1418, an Inquisition Post-Mortem was taken of the barony of Greystoke on the death of Baron Ranulph de Dacre. His lands were surveyed and the rents payable by each one listed. Nearby Watermillock is listed as providing £4, 6s 9d per annum from its ‘tenants’. But Matterdale has no tenants mentioned and is termed a ‘forest’ yielding £10 per annum. A forest here does not mean it was wooded, though some of it still may have been. Rather it means it was a private hunting ground belonging to the barony, which yielded £10 in forest dues. Such hunting ‘forests’ were tightly regulated. Any encroachments, whether by poachers or by farmers, were severely punished in the Forest Court. So Matterdale was in all likelihood either not settled at all in the early fifteenth century, or not settled very much. It certainly didn’t have ‘customary’ free tenants paying rents. My guess is that the thwaite of Dowthwaite had been cut from the forest at an earlier date but that there probably was no one living there by 1418, but this cannot be proved.

As one or two of the ‘natives’ in New York used to say when I was a student there thirty years ago: ‘Enough already!’

Does this all mean that yeoman farmer John Grisdale was the first Grisdale to settle at Dowthwaite Head? And was he the first sheep farmer there? We don’t know and we probably never will. He may have been. What is known is that for the next two or three hundred years the Grisdale family were often the only family living at Dowthwaite Head, although marriages did later bring in other names, such as the Atkinsons. To me this all smacks of a ‘founder event’ as they say in human population genetics.

Let me finish by considering numbers for a minute. As I have mentioned, John Grisdale was the only ‘yeoman’ free tenant living at Dowthwaite Head in 1524. He was also the earliest person bearing the Grisdale name I can find anywhere in Matterdale. He was probably married with children, and it’s not out of the question that there might have been one or two of his other relatives living with him – though if you look at the size of the place I wouldn’t imagine too many. If John was the first Matterdale Grisdale (for which there is no proof at all), then does this gel with the way the family multiplied in the decades to come?

Matterdale Church

Matterdale Church

Matterdale Church records didn’t start until 1634, even though the church itself had been founded in 1580. There is a yawning gap in our knowledge between these two dates. Prior to the foundation of the church, the people of the valley had had to trudge in all weathers to Greystoke Church for baptisms, marriages and burials. They wrote at the time to the Bishop of Carlisle saying that the snow often prevented them getting to Greystoke – so they asked for a church to be authorized in Matterdale itself. I’ll tell the interesting story of Matterdale Church another time. Here we’re concerned with the sixteenth-century Grisdales. Despite the fact that the earliest ‘clerks’ of Matterdale Church failed to keep records of baptisms, marriages and deaths taking place there until the 1630s, there are in fact still a number of other sources and records from the sixteenth century.

The first of these is Greystoke Church’s Parish register. Between 1560 and 1597, we find sixteen Matterdale Grisdales mentioned, mostly their burials. All of them from Dowthwaite Head or simply from Matterdale. To this record we can add three others. First there are some sixteenth-century Grisdale wills. I have nine between 1565 and 1600. They are difficult to read but most of them say that they are the wills of people living at Dowthwaite Head. Next there are a couple of mentions in 1569 and 1571 of two Grisdales working as peat carriers: John Grysdel and Edward Gristal . They were bringing peat from the peat bogs at Flasco, near Penrith, to the German-run copper smelters at Keswick. Finally, in 1581, the Cumberland militia was called out yet again in the face of the never-ending threat from Scottish raids. At the Penrith Muster nine Matterdale ‘bowmen’ of military age turned out: John, William, Christopher, Robert, Edward, Richard and three named Thomas.

I won’t attempt here to describe or differentiate all these families nor relate them to their seventeenth-century descendants. What I’d like to highlight is this: By the latter part of the sixteenth century there were at the most a single handful of separate, though related, Grisdale families living at Dowthwaite Head and, by now, elsewhere in Matterdale. The situation wasn’t much different immediately after the records of Matterdale Church began. This was all about two or three generations after John Grisdale was found in 1524 at Dowthwaite Head. This would have been plenty of time to see such a growth in numbers.

So maybe John Grisdale, who was probably born in the last quarter of the fifteenth century, was the first to bear the name in Matterdale? Or maybe he wasn’t! It’s just a thought.

In an earlier article I wrote about a Solomon Grisdale who became Curate of the tiny and poor Durham country parish of Kirk Merrington. I told the story of his ‘Cow’. At that time I still didn’t know from which Grisdale family he came. I now do. Also a correspondent has helped with more details of his life. So this is a slightly longer and more detailed story of Curate Solomon Grisdale’s life.

Solomon Grisdale was born in Patterdale, Westmorland in 1764. He was christened as ‘son of Solomon Grisdale’ on 26 May 1764. Solomon senior was the son of Joseph Grisdale and Jane Martin of Dockray in Matterdale; he married Ann Bewsher at Barton (the principle church for Patterdale) in 1747. They lived initially in Patterdale and had the following children christened there: Joseph 1749 (christened in Barton Church), Ann 1749, Elizabeth 1754, John 1756, Jane 1759, Agnes 1762 and then Solomon in 1764. They subsequently moved to Swinside in Matterdale. Solomon senior died there in 1799 aged 82. In his Will he referred to his surviving children, Ann, the wife of Daniel Thwaites , Joseph, Jane, the wife of Thomas Graves, Agnes and Solomon, who he refers to as a ‘clerk’.

Rose Castle, Palace of the Bishops of Carlisle

Rose Castle, Palace of the Bishops of Carlisle

Although Solomon seems to have been in for a troubled life, things started out quite well. His ‘patron’ was his educated relative, the Rev. Dr. Browne Grisdale, who would become the Chancellor of the Diocese of Carlisle. But in 1787 Browne was the Rector of Bowness, and Solomon was ordained Deacon and made Browne’s Assistant Curate on 22 July. The ordination took place in Rose Castle, the salubrious palace of the Bishops of Carlisle. A year later in the same place Solomon was appointed ‘priest’ and curate of Burgh by Sands. He was described as a ‘lit’, which is: ‘The common abbreviation for ‘literate’ or ‘literatus’. Its use indicates that a clergyman did not possess a degree, but that he was judged by the bishop to possess sufficient learning to qualify for ordination.’ Solomon was still curate of Burgh in 1790. Sometime over the next few years he moved to Durham. Why had he changed Dioceses?

Kirk Merrington Church, County Durham

Kirk Merrington Church, County Durham

Solomon married a Mary Earl in Lamesley in County Durham on 16 June 1803. The couple had at least four children: Mary (1803), Joseph (1805), Jonathan (1807) and Ann (1809), all in Merrington, Durham. He was consecrated curate of Kirk Merrington in 1814, having probably already been schoolmaster. Referring to the marriage in Lamesley, my correspondent says, ‘Lamesley does not appear to have any connection to the families at this point. At this time, Solomon was already curate at Merrington so one may wonder why the marriage was not held in his parish. When we consider the date – 16 June 1803 and the date of daughter Mary’s birth – 20 Dec 1803, we may have an answer. Solomon had previously been curate of Rothbury in Northumberland and when I looked at the parish records to check the dates, I came across his predecessor’s burial. Jonathan Earl buried Jan 1801 aged 45. I believe he was Mary’s half brother…  This could be how Solomon and Mary met. Perhaps Mary was housekeeper for Jonathan and stayed on.’

And then there is the story of Solomon’s cow:

Solomon Grisdale, Curate of Merrington, who was very poor, and had a numerous family, lost his only cow. Mr. Surtees determined to raise a subscription for another cow; and waited on the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry (the late Earl Cornwallis), then Dean of Durham, and owner of the Great Tithes of Merrington, to ask what he would give? “Give,” said his Lordship, “why a cow to be sure. Go, Mr. Surtees, to Woodifield, my steward, and tell him to give you as much money as will buy the best cow you can find.” Mr. Surtees, who had not expected above a five-pound note, at most, exclaimed, “My Lord, I hope you’’ ride to Heaven upon the back of that cow!” Awhile afterwards he was saluted in the College, by the late Lord Barrington, with – “Surtees, what is the absurd speech that I hear you have been making to the Dean?” “I see nothing absurd in it,” was the reply: “when the Dean rides to Heaven on the back of that cow, many of you Prebendaries will be glad to lay hold of her tail.”

I hope he got the new cow!

Robert Surtees (1779 – 1834) was a historian and antiquary who wrote The History and Antiquities of the county Palatine of Durham (1816). His memoirs were later published in 1852, from which I derive this tale.

Bishop James Cornwallis

One interesting little connection is that Bishop James Cornwallis, who offered to buy Grisdale a replacement cow, was the brother of the Earl Charles Cornwallis who had been the commander of the British forces at the Siege of Yorktown in 1781, and who was accompanied there by his friend the Rev Benjamin Grisdale, a distant relative of our poor Solomon, and the brother of the Rev. Dr. Browne Grisdale I mentioned before.

Just before Solomon’s death in 1818, Merrington was visited by representatives of the Select Committee for the Education of the Poor, where they found “five schools in which 104 children are educated”. One of the schoolmasters (and the curate) was Solomon and he told the visitors that “a considerable part of the poorer class are without the means of education and are desirous of possessing them”.

There is quite a story regarding his death. I thank a correspondent for providing this information. The History of the Urban District of Spennymoor by James J Dodd (1897) stated:

Solomon Grisedale appears to have been pursued by his unfortunate destiny right up to the end of his days. He finished by committing suicide, and the stains of his blood can still be discerned on the floor of the old vicarage at Merrington.

It does look as if the Church ‘closed ranks’ and attempted some type of cover up. I’ll leave that for another time.

Solomon it seems was a ‘very poor’ but good man, although obviously troubled. But he can’t have been that poor because his son Joseph fared somewhat better; he was able to study at Emmanuel College, Cambridge (which doesn’t come cheap), and became both a clergyman (curate of Wattlefield) and headmaster of King Edward’s Free Grammar School in Wymondham, Norfolk. He died aged 88 in 1893.

In three previous articles I kept hovering around Gospatric, an earl of Northumbria in the eleventh century. Sometime before or after the Norman Conquest he issued a writ granting the use of some of his lands in northern Cumbria to one of his men: Thorfinn Mac Thore. It’s a fascinating document not least because it is written in old English (Anglo-Saxon). It’s also about the only such written source we have concerning the governance of Cumbria in the pre-Norman era, i.e. before King William Rufus first captured Carlisle in 1092. But who was Gospatric?

Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick

It’s been a question which has generated several conflicting answers over the years. Let me start my own investigation with his name. Gospatric (or Gospatrick) is a British name and means ‘Servant of Patrick’.

The Cumbric personal names Gospatrick, Gososwald and Gosmungo meaning ‘servant of St…’ (Welsh/Cornish/Breton gwas ‘servant, boy’) and the Galloway dialect word gossock ‘short, dark haired inhabitant of Wigtownshire’ (Welsh gwasog ‘a servant’) apparently show that the Cumbric equivalent of Welsh/Cornish gwas & Breton gwaz ‘servant’ was *gos.

Patrick refers to Saint Patrick, who was, and still is, the patron saint of Ireland, but who was originally a mainland British-born ‘Celt’ before being captured by Irish pirates and brought up in Ireland.

The languages the native British and Irish spoke at the time of the Anglo-Saxon advent in the fifth and later centuries are usually grouped by linguists into two groups: Goidelic, which includes Irish and Scots Gaelic, and Brythonic, which includes what is now Welsh and, importantly for us, Cumbric; plus  Cornish and Breton.

Gospatric is undoubtedly a Brythonic Cumbric name.

Cymru

Cymru

The Brythonic (‘British’) languages were all basically just variants of the same language. The Welsh today call their language Cymraeg and themselves Cymry. The country is called Cymru. The French version is Cambria, as in the Cambrian Mountains. The same people who lived in the north-western region of present-day England and over a large swathe of southern ‘Scotland’ were called Cumbrians; their land Cumbria and their language Cumbric. It’s the same word for essentially the same people. From this we obviously get modern Cumbria and the anglicized Cumberland. All these names are descended from the Brythonic word combrogi, meaning ‘fellow-countrymen’.

The use of the word Cymry as a self-designation derives from the post-Roman era relationship of the Welsh with the Brythonic-speaking peoples of northern England and southern Scotland, the peoples of Yr  Hen Ogledd (English: The Old North). It emphasised a perception that the Welsh and the ‘Men of the North’ were one people, exclusive of other peoples.

To understand better who Earl Gospatric was we need to understand a bit about the history of Britain from the time of the Anglo-Saxon advent up to and after the Norman invasion, particularly the history of the northwest of the country. Over time the Cymry (Welsh) had become cut off from their cousins in Cumbria, although undoubtedly many links were maintained by sea for centuries. Starting in around AD 600 the Angles under King Aethelfrith of Northumbria had started to make incursions into Cumbria, including into large tracts of what is now lowland Scotland.

Aethelfith conquered more territories from the Britons than any other chieftain of king, either subduing the inhabitants and making them tributary, or driving them out and planting the English in their places.

The Kingdom of Cumbria -  Strathclyde

The Kingdom of Cumbria – Strathclyde

In ‘English’ Cumbria the Northumbrians did establish settlements but these were in general restricted to the lowlands and along the coast, they made almost no impression on the mountain fastness of the Lake District or in Galloway in the southwest of present-day Scotland. These areas were still predominantly the realm of the Kingdom of Cumbria, often referred to as the Kingdom of the Strathclyde Britons. Westmorland for example, where there was more Anglian settlement than in Cumberland, is an English word simply meaning ‘West of the Moors’, and the moors were the Pennines, over which the Angles had to come. The centuries-long battle for hegemony in the north of Britain involved three powers: the kings and later earls of Northumbria, the kings of Gaelic Alba (Scotland) and the kings of Cumbria (Strathclyde Britain). There were two other participants: the Norse-Irish Viking who started to arrive in this part of the world in the tenth century and the Gaelic Galwegians, who were feared as barbaric rapers, pillagers and general wreakers of havoc, until they were finally absorbed into Gaelic Scotland.

The borders of the kingdom of Cumbria ebbed and flowed – at one stage they possibly stretched from the Clyde all the way to Chester – mostly down the west coast of the British island but also in ‘Scotland’, including most of the Scottish lowlands.

Once the Norse-Irish Vikings has started to raid and settle in Cumberland they also started to make incursions and raids over the Pennines into English Northumbria and into Cumbrian regions in present-day southern Scotland. Shifting alliances continually fought each other for dominance. It was at least in part these Norse Viking raids that prompted the Northumbrians to try to get a better grip on Cumberland and Westmorland.

King Edgar at Chester in 973

King Edgar at Chester in 973

The kings of Cumbria did eventually have to acknowledge their allegiance to the ‘West Saxon’ English king Edgar at Chester in 973. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded:

This year Edgar the etheling was consecrated king at Bath, on Pentecost’s mass-day, on the fifth before the ides of May, the thirteenth year since he had obtained the kingdom; and he was then one less than thirty years of age. And soon after that, the king led all his ship-forces to Chester; and there came to meet him six kings, and they all plighted their troth to him, that they would be his fellow-workers by sea and by land.

One of these kings was Malcolm, king of the Cumbrians, who together with King Kenneth II of Scotland, Maccus of the Isle of Man and several unidentified Welsh kings rowed King Edgar across the River Dee in Chester.

But Northumbrian and later English hegemony in Cumbria remained for a long time very incomplete, mostly nominal, and always contested by the Cumbrians themselves.

It’s a long and complicated history. I particularly recommend William E. Kapelle’s magisterial The Norman Conquest of the North and Tim Clarkson’s The Men of the North: The Britons of Southern Scotland. But let’s return to Gospatric, the Cumbric eleventh century earl of Northumbria. There are many questions; not least how a British Cumbrian chieftain became an English earl? Here are a few things we do know about Earl Gospatric:

In late 1067 Oswulf, the short-lived titular earl of Northumbria, was ‘killed by bandits’. Gospatric ‘who had a plausible claim to the earldom given the likelihood that he was related to Oswulf and Uchtred, offered King William a large amount of money to be given the Earldom of Bernicia. The King, who was in the process of raising heavy taxes, accepted’.

In early 1068 Gospatric joined with Edgar Atheling (the English claimant to the throne), Edwin earl of Mercia and Earl Morcar his brother, in an uprising against William the Bastard. They lost and Gospatric was stripped of the earldom.

William replaced Gospatric as earl by a Fleming called Robert Cumin (or de Comines). As I described in my article The Normans Come to Cumbria, this was to lead to another rising of the North of England, with the support of the Danish king Swein. Gospatric joined this too.

The Harrying of the North

The Harrying of the North

King William heard of the revolt and, says Orderic Vitalis: ‘Swift was the king’s coming’, with ‘an overwhelming army’. Norman massacres ensued and William ravaged York and its church. Many of the English magnates escaped, including Gospatric, hopefully to fight another day. Annoyed with these pesky and rebellious Northerners, William committed regional genocide: the mildly named Harrying of the North.

In early 1070 Gospatric submitted himself to King William, who, interestingly, re-granted him the earldom. He remained earl until 1072 when William took the earldom  away once more and gave it to Waltheof, Danish earl Siward’s son.

Gospatric fled to find refuge in ‘Scotland’, and for a time in Flanders, before returning to Scotland. The Scottish King Malcolm III Canmore (probably Gospatric’s uncle) then granted him the future earldom of Dunbar (Lothian).

Sometime shortly thereafter it is contended that Gospatric died. Chronicler Roger of Hoveden wrote:

Not long after this, being reduced to extreme infirmity, he sent for Aldwin and Turgot, the monks, who at this time were living at Meilrose (Melrose), in poverty and contrite in spirit for the sake of Christ, and ended his life with a full confession of his sins, and great lamentations and penitence, at Ubbanford, which is also called Northam, and was buried in the porch of the church there.

Details of Earl Gospatric’s death are debated. I’ll leave that aside for the present.

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle

All historians are in agreement that it was because of Gospatric’s blood relationship (of whatever type) with the ancient earls of Northumbria, based on their castle of Bamburgh, that he was deemed eligible and acceptable to become earl of Northumbria, even if only for a few years. Certainly this relationship was with the Bamburgh earl Uchtred ‘the Bold’, who died around 1016.

Before going further we need to try to distinquish between several different Gospatrics (or Cospatrics). All were descended from Northumbrian earl Uchtred.

First there is Gospatric the third son of Earl Uchtred’s by his second wife Sige (daughter of Styr, son of Ulf). Unlike his two brothers Ealdred and Eadulf we know that this Gospatric never became earl of Northumbria; Simeon of Durham tells us this explicitly. It seems clear that this Gospatric was murdered in 1064 on the orders of Earl Tostig, King Harold’s brother, and that it was either his son or grandson Eadulf (‘called Rus’) who led the massacre of Norman Bishop Walcher and his men at Durham in 1080. From the date of his death and from the explicit statement of Simeon of Durham we know that this Gospatric was not the earl Gospatric, although some believe he might have been the Gospatric who issued the Cumbrian writ.

Next, Simeon of Durham is quite explicit that earl Gospatric was the son of Cumbrian ‘Prince’ Maldred (maybe even ‘King’) by his wife Ealdgith (Edith) of Bamburgh, the daughter of Northumbrian earl Uchtred and his third wife Aelfgifu, daughter of English King Ethelred ‘the Unready’. I concur with the bulk of Scottish and northern English historians in seeing this ‘earl’ Gospatric as being the issuer of the Cumbrian writ.

Thirdly there is a third Gospatric: the son of Sigrida and Arkil son of Ecgthryth. Sigrida is seen as being the daughter of Yorkshire thegn Kilvert who married Uchtred’s discarded wife Ecgthryth (daughter of Durham bishop Aldhun). This Gospatric was therefore also related to Earl Uchtred. There is much more to explore here but as it’s somewhat tortuous and even incestuous I’ll leave it for another time.

So it was assuredly his descent from Uchtred that legitimized Cumbrian Maldred’s son Gospatric becoming earl of Northumbria in 1068. To place Uchtred in a little context this is what William Hunt wrote about him in the Dictionary of National Biography (1885-1900, Vol 58):

UCHTRED/UHTRED (d. 1016), Earl of Northumbria, was son of Waltheof the elder, earl of Northumbria, who had been deprived of the government of Deira (Yorkshire), the southern part of the earldom. Uhtred helped Ealdhun or Aldhun, bishop of Durham, when in 995 he moved his see from Chester-le-Street, to prepare the site for his new church. He married the bishop’s daughter Ecgfrida, and received with her six estates belonging to the bishopric, on condition that as long as he lived he should keep her in honourable wedlock. When in 1006 the Scots invaded Northumbria under their king, Malcolm II (d. 1034), and besieged Durham, Waltheof, who was old and unfit for war, shut himself up in Bamborough; but Uhtred, who was a valiant warrior, went to the relief of his father-in-law the bishop, defeated the Scots, and slew a great number of them. Ethelred II (968?–1016), on hearing of Uhtred’s success, gave him his father’s earldom, adding to it the government of Deira. Uhtred then sent back the bishop’s daughter, restoring the estates of the church that he had received with her, and married Sigen, the daughter of a rich citizen, probably of York or Durham, named Styr Ulfson, receiving her on condition that he would slay her father’s deadly enemy, Thurbrand. He did not fulfil this condition and seems to have parted with Sigen also; for as he was of great service to the king in war, Ethelred gave him his daughter Elgiva or Ælfgifu to wife. When Sweyn, king of Denmark, sailed into the Humber in 1013, Uhtred promptly submitted to him; but when Canute asked his aid in 1015 he returned, it is said, a lofty refusal, declaring that so long as he lived he would keep faithful to Ethelred, his lord and father-in-law. He joined forces with the king’s son Edmund in 1016, and together they ravaged the shires that refused to help them against the Danes. Finding, however, that Canute was threatening York, Uhtred hastened northwards, and was forced to submit to the Danish king and give him hostages. Canute bade him come to him at a place called Wiheal (possibly Wighill, near Tadcaster), and instructed or allowed his enemy Thurbrand to slay him there. As Uhtred was entering into the presence of the king a body of armed men of Canute’s retinue emerged from behind a curtain and slew him and forty thegns who accompanied him, and cut off their heads. He was succeeded in his earldom by Canute’s brother-in-law Eric, and on Eric’s banishment the earldom came to Uhtred’s brother, Eadwulf Cutel, who had probably ruled the northern part of it under Eric.

By Ecgfrida, Uhtred had a son named Ealdred (or Aldred), who succeeded his uncle, Eadwulf Cutel, in Bernicia, the northern part of Northumbria, slew his father’s murderer, Thurband, and was himself slain by Thurbrand’s son Carl; he left five daughters, one of whom, named Elfleda, became the wife of Earl Siward and the mother of Earl Waltheof. By Ethelred’s daughter Elgiva, Uhtred had a daughter named Aldgyth or Eadgyth, who married Maldred, and became the mother of Gospatric (or Cospatric), earl of Northumberland. He also had two other sons—Eadwulf, who succeeded his brother Ealdred as earl in Bernicia and was slain by Siward, and Gospatric. His wife, Ecgfrida, married again after he had repudiated her, and had a daughter named Sigrid, who had three husbands, one of them being this last-named Eadwulf, the son of her mother’s husband. Ecgfrida was again repudiated, returned to her father, became a nun and died, and was buried at Durham.

Earl Gospatric was certainly the son of Maldred, Simeon of Durham tells us and William Hunt agrees. But I believe there is another clinching factor in the identification of Earl Gospatric’s as the issuer of the Cumbrian writ: his many Cumbrian connections.

Maldred’s parents were Cumbrian ‘Thane’ Crínáin (Mormaer), Abbot of Dunkeld, and Princess Bethoc, the daughter of Scottish King Malcolm II. Maldred’s brother (and Gospatric’s uncle) was Duncan I (Donnchad mac Crínáin), who was killed by Macbeth, but who had became the first ‘Cumbrian’ King of Scotland via his descent from his grandfather the Scottish King Malcolm II. (It’s interesting to note that the chronicler Florence of Worcester later called King Malcolm III (Canmore) ‘the son of the king of the Cumbrians’. His father was Duncan I)

King Malcolm Canmore

King Malcolm Canmore

The detailed genealogical arguments are lengthy and at times obscure; nothing is totally certain. But the important thing is that if the majority of historians are correct not only can Gospatric’s putative ancestry explain his link to the earls of Northumbria (and hence his title to the earldom) but also much of what we know of him and his descendants in later years. Gospatric’s father Maldred was probably born into a Cumbrian family (in its wider sense) in Dunbar in Lothian. He was certainly Lord of Allerdale in present-day northern Cumberland and might also for a time have been king of the Cumbrians. Gospatric himself was also ‘Lord of Allerdale’; it is clearly in that capacity that he issued his famous writ granting lands in Allerdale to his man Thorfinn Mac Thore. The lordship of Allerdale was to pass down in Gospatric’s family in the generations to come, firstly to his son Waltheof. Regarding Dunbar and Lothian, after his was stripped of his Northumbrian earldom by William the Conqueror in 1072, Gospatric was granted ‘Dunbar and lands adjacent to it’ by Scottish King Malcolm III (Canmore) – who was King Duncan I’s son and thus Gospatric’s cousin. This Lothian grant later became the earldom of Dunbar (or Lothian) and was passed to Gospatric’s son Gospatric II and then to his descendants. (It seems Gospatric’s daughter Ethelreda also married King Malcolm III Canmore’s son King Duncan II.)

So what we are seeing in the person of Earl Gospatric is a powerful lord of impeccable royal Cumbrian descent and credentials; also descended from and related to the Gaelic Scottish royal family as well as the Bamburgh earls of Northumbria, and even descended from English King Ethelred! He was a native British Cumbrian Prince (or at least an ‘earl’) whose family had held extensive lands in greater Cumbria (in the kingdom of the Strathclyde Britons) in pre-Norman Conquest days, perhaps for many generations.

Kenneth mac Alpin

Kenneth mac Alpin

There used to be, and unfortunately still sometimes is, a tendency in both English and Scottish historiography to regard events in the north of ‘England’ and in the south of ‘Scotland’ as being driven, in England, by English Kings and Anglian Northumbrian earls, with periodic interventions of Norse Vikings and Danish Kings. They interacted with ‘Gaelic’ Kings of Scotland – descendants of Kenneth mac Alpin. Through a long process and countless struggles the borders between England and Scotland were finally fixed roughly where they are today. This is a bit of a travesty of history. The native kings and people of Strathclyde Britain – the ‘Cumbrians’ – are either almost erased from history or seen as more or less ‘defunct’ by the eleventh century.

It’s only when we correct this aberration that we can really understand who Gospatric was. When we do so many of the things we know about him, and particularly of his descendants, start to be seen in a clearer light.

It has often been maintained that Gospatric’s position in Cumberland was owed to the Danish earl of Northumbria, Siward (Sigurd), who came to prominence as one of Danish king Cnut’s (Canute’s) strongmen in the region after Cnut had conquered Northumbria in the 1010s. In 1033 Siward became earl of York and in 1041/2 earl of Northumbria.  In 1054 he defeated Macbeth. It has been suggested by William E. Kapelle that as part of the ongoing struggles for mastery over northern England and southern Scotland, Siward invaded Cumberland sometime before 1055, when he died. Was it then that Siward installed Gospatric in lands in Cumberland, including the lordship of Allerdale?

Now there is little doubt that Cumbrian Gospatric at some time owed allegiance to Earl Siward, this seems clear from the wording of his famous writ, regardless of its date and whether or not Siward was alive or dead at the time of its writing. He orders ‘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 … ’. I reproduce this writ 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.

Allerdale

Allerdale

What I would like to ask, perhaps rhetorically, is this: Even if Siward had invaded Cumbria as Kapelle suggests, is it not more likely that Earl Siward was able to come to terms with a resident Cumbrian lord Gospatric, whose family had held the lordship of Allerdale, and no doubt other Cumbrian lands, for quite a long time? No doubt Gospatric’s family connections with both the ancient Northumbrian house of Bamburgh and the kings of Scotland helped as well? This is how I see it.

Of course I’ve not yet addressed the hoary question of the dating of Gospatric’s writ. Was it pre-Conquest or post-Conquest but prior to William Rufus’s arrival in Carlisle in 1092? I haven’t even addressed the question of whether the ‘Dolfin’ who was the lord of Carlisle in 1092 and who William Rufus expelled was Gospatric’s son? A view held by most but not all historians. Nor even have I examined when and where Gospatric was to die? I hope to return to these issues.

In the eleventh century present-day English Cumbria was neither predominantly peopled by descendants of Norse Vikings, nor unequivocally ruled by either the kings of England or the kings of Scotland. All of these had an important role to play to be sure, but the case of Gospatric makes it clear that the native Britons, the Cumbrians, were still there and in some cases still powerful; even though the heyday of their power had surely passed. It was only after the Normans really started to get a grip on the region under King Henry I that the Cumbrians finally make their exit from history

Sources and references:

Tim Clarkson, The Men of the North: The Britons of Southern Scotland, 2010; H. W. C. Davis, England under the Normans and Angevins 1066 – 1272, 1937; Archibald A. M. Duncan, Scotland: The Making of a Kingdom, 1975; Marjorie O. Anderson, Kings and Kingship in Early Scotland, 1973; William E. Kapelle, The Norman Conquest of the North, 1979; Ann Williams, King 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.

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.