25 May, 2016

Thomas of Lancaster Seizes Some Yorkshire Castles, 1317

Edward II's relations with his wealthy and powerful cousin Thomas, earl of Lancaster, reached the lowest of all low points in 1317. That year, Thomas accused the king, whether correctly or not, of colluding in the abduction or rather escape of his wife Alice de Lacy. The Westminster chronicle Flores Historiarum says that in 1316/17, Edward armed himself against his cousin, and certainly Thomas blocked Edward's route through Yorkshire and jeered at him from his castle at Pontefract. Thomas may also have been behind Sir Gilbert Middleton's attack on the cardinals in September 1317.

And that was far from being the end of it. On 5 October 1317, Thomas sent some of his men to seize two castles: Knaresborough in Yorkshire and Alton in Staffordshire. Edward II heard about it on 3 November 1317, when he declared that "certain malefactors lately entered the castle by night, and detain it from the king...". Actually Edward had surely heard of the attacks well before then, but on 3 November learned that "they assert that they have done these things in the earl's name," and wrote to Thomas directly ordering him to have Knaresborough handed over to the sheriff of Yorkshire. [Calendar of Close Rolls 1313-8, p. 575; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1317-21, p. 46] Knaresborough had once been Piers Gaveston's, and Alton was in the king's hands following the death of Theobald de Verdon, who had abducted and married Edward's niece Elizabeth de Clare in early 1316 and died less than six months later. Sir Roger Damory, Edward II's great 'favourite' at the time and his nephew-in-law since his marriage to Elizabeth de Clare earlier in 1317, was custodian of both Knaresborough and Alton. This was the reason behind Thomas of Lancaster's attack: he loathed and feared Damory, and claimed that Damory was trying to kill him. Whether this was merely paranoia or Thomas did have good reason to believe that this was the case, I don't know.

Not only did Thomas of Lancaster entirely ignore the king's orders, he "with a multitude of armed men, besieged and captured diverse castles" in Yorkshire which belonged to the earl of Surrey: Sandal, Conisborough and Wakefield. [CCR 1313-8, p. 575] The earl of Surrey, John de Warenne, had aided Alice de Lacy escape from her husband Thomas, and therefore was Thomas's second deadliest enemy in 1317. Thomas also ejected Maud Nerford, Surrey's mistress, from her property in Wakefield, and by the beginning of 1318 had taken firm control over Surrey's Yorkshire lands. Edward II's chief priority, as ever, was the safety and well-being of his friends, and he took Roger Damory's lands in Yorkshire, Herefordshire and Lincolnshire into his own hands on 18 October 1317 in an attempt to protect Damory from his cousin's aggression, also ordering a clerk to remove Damory's stud-farm from Knaresborough to the royal manor of Burstwick. He restored Damory's lands to him on 2 December, assuming the danger from Lancaster was past. [CPR 1317-21, pp. 34, 46, 58] An inquisition taken on 3 October 1318 [Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1308-48, pp. 98-99] says that Knaresborough Castle was seized for Thomas of Lancaster by one John Lilburn or Lilleburn, and that it wasn't surrendered to Edward II until 29 January 1318.

Thomas of Lancaster's seizure of various castles in 1317/18 isn't perhaps particularly important, but it does reveal something of the intensely personal politics of the decade. Thomas seems genuinely to have feared Roger Damory's influence over the king (as did others; on 24 November 1317, while all this was going on, the earl of Pembroke and Bartholomew Badlesmere signed an indenture with Damory in an attempt to limit his malign influence over Edward), and he was wealthy and powerful enough to be able to make a gesture like this to signal his displeasure with his cousin the king. He suffered no penalties as a result of it. Edward II's orders to Thomas to "desist entirely from these proceedings" were completely ineffectual, and it seems that Thomas only gave up the castles when he felt like it some months later. It's all just rather interesting and revealing of the chaos in England in the mid to late 1310s, when the country had a king who played favourites but had no strong leader at the helm.


sami parkkonen said...

Yes, Thomas was not a nice guy either, even if he eventually lost his head - litterally.

As for the Sandal castle, if I am not entirely wrong or mistaken, Thomas burned it down and made it a ruin somehow. It was one of the bigges castles before that but just like many other castles, it had a very small token garrison at place normally.

Had it been fully "loaded" I think it would have taken years from anyone to take it, such a castle it certainly was.

chris y said...

Thomas may have damaged Sandal in taking it, but it was garrisoned by the Yorkists in 1460 and used as their base at the Battle of Wakefield (where, memorably "Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain"). According to this site, it fell into disrepair but was nonetheless garrisoned by the Royalists during the Civil War, and was slighted by Parliament after they took it in 1646.

The site is now owned by Wakefield Council, and their web site says that the access bridges have been temporarily closed for safety reasons, so, although it's only twenty miles from where I live, I shan't be visiting soon. Pity.

Anerje said...

I find it hard to believe there were plans afoot to make Lancaster a saint!

sami parkkonen said...

Thanks for the info Chris! I read that Lancasters troops "burned" it so assumed that they wrecked it too.