Digging back into the archives today, and my visit to Lanercost Priory with Sophie, and our erstwhile companion Mike, in 2014. I did a couple of posts on it back in the day but no-one who follows this blog has seen those (except Stevie), plus I did a rubbishy history bit, so I’m starting over.
The History Bit ☕️ 🍪 *Long Post Alert*
We’re going back in time to 1169 or thereabouts, when a prominent 12th-century English noble called Robert de Vaux founded Lanercost Priory to house Augustinian Canons.
A little digression~ Canons are not Big Guns firing big stone balls, they were originally, back in the 8th century, clerics who lived together, so a bit like monks I guess. Later on in the 11thC some churches had it that these clerics also had to give up all their private wealth and then they became Augustinian Canons Regular. The ones who didn’t give up their wonga were known as secular canons.
Our Bob turned out to be a bit of a useless effort really. He had to pay scutage to Henry II as he didn’t join in the Norman Invasion of Ireland, which cost him 40 shillings, a lot back then. Then he was appointed Sherriff of Cumberland in 1174 and whilst he held Carlisle Castle when the Pesky Scots led by King William I of Scotland invaded Cumberland in 1173, he then surrendered it in 1174 when they came back and had another bash. In 1186 he was fined a hundred marks for a variety of offences including allowing prisoners to escape. Robert died around 1195 and was succeeded by his brother Ranulf as Bob and his Missis Ada only had one lad, and he died young.
Another digression ~ Scutage is a medieval English tax. Under feudalism the king, through his vassals, provided land to knights for their support. The knights owed the king military service in return. The knights were allowed to “buy out” of the military service by paying scutage (a term derived from Latin scutum, “shield”)
Most of the church building dates from the late 13th century, though there is evidence of earlier work. The Priory buildings were constructed, at least in part, from stones derived from Hadrians Wall, including a number of Roman inscriptions that were built into its fabric. Unfortunately the Priory was built close to the border with Scotland, and that determined a turbulent history as it was a target of the Pesky Scots’ attacks in retaliation for English raids.
When the Wars of Scottish Independence broke out in 1296 the Scottish army set fire to Hexam Abbey, then Lambley Nunnery before arriving at Lanercost and encamping there. Luckily they were chased off before they did too much damage. A chap called William Wallace, was one of the blokes in charge of the War, and he was well Pesky. If you’ve seen a movie called Braveheart you might have thought he was Australian, but nope, he was a Scottish Knight though little is definitely known of his family history or even his parentage, so who knows? Anyway he continued to attack and plunder the Priory which naffed off the English who called for reprisals.
I guess I should digress and talk a little about the Pesky Wallace, a revered man of great standing in Scotland (and possibly Australia). There’s statues of him and everything all over Scotland. As I say, no-one has come up with much evidence about his early life, the surname Wallace means he could even have Welsh ancestry. Anyhoo, he was good at War stuff. His first act was to kill William De Heselrig the English High Sheriff of Lanark, in May 1297. He then joined Lord Douglas in the Raid of Scone, one of several rebellions taking place across Scotland, including those of several Scottish nobles and in the north.
On 11 September 1297, an army jointly led by Willy and Andrew Moray won the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Although vastly outnumbered, the Scottish army routed the English army. John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey’s feudal army of 3,000 cavalry and 8,000 to 10,000 infantry met disaster as they crossed over to the north side of the river. It was a complete clusterf**k. The bridge the English were crossing was narrow so the Scots held back until half of them had passed and then killed the English as quickly as they could cross. Then one of Willy’s captains, caused some of the English soldiers to retreat as others pushed forward, and under the overwhelming weight, the bridge collapsed and many English soldiers drowned. Thus, the Pesky Scots won a significant victory, boosting the confidence of their army. Hugh de Cressingham, King Edward I’s treasurer in Scotland, died in the fighting and it is reputed that his body was subsequently flayed and the skin cut into small pieces as tokens of the victory. The Lanercost Chronicle records that Willy had “a broad strip [of Cressingham’s skin] … taken from the head to the heel, to make there with a baldrick for his sword”. (Don’t mess with Willy!! ) Afterwards they made Willy a Knight, and a Guardian of Scotland along with Moray.
After that he went on to cock up the Battle of Falkirk in April 1298 when the English totally pasted the Scots and many of them died, though Willy escaped. He resigned his Governership and went off to France to beg for assistance from the Pesky French King Philip IV, after which he returned to Scotland and got involved in some skirmishes, but in 1305 was captured by a Scottish Knight called John de Monteith, a turncoat who gave Willy up in return for lands and titles from King Eddy. Willy was put on trial for treason and for atrocities against civilians in war, and on August 23rd was dragged naked through London at the heels of a horse to the Elms at Smithfield where he was strangled by hanging, though let down whilst still alive, whereupon he had his specifically male appendages lopped off, followed by disembowelment – the contents of which were set fire to before his eyes. Finally he was beheaded, then his limbs were hacked off and displayed seperately in Newcastle, Berwick, Sterling and Perth. (Don’t mess with King Eddy!!)
OK, OK, hands up. King Eddy was a real bad guy and you can’t blame the Pesky Scots for wanting shot of him. Anyhoo back to the Priory….
In August 1311 the Peskiest Scot of all Robert Bruce, King of Scotland turned up and made his headquarters in the Priory for 3 days, “committing infinite evils” according to the Canons, some of whom he imprisoned, though later released. I won’t digress into King Bob’s life, he did what Willy couldn’t and fought successfully during his reign to regain Scotland’s place as an independent kingdom. He is now revered in Scotland as a National (pesky) Hero.
Although King Bob and King Eddy III had made a truce in 1328, King Bob died a year later, and later on Pesky King David II arrived in 1346 and he ransacked the conventual buildings and desecrated the church. Fresh from the overthrow of Liddel he and his army “entered the holy place with haughtiness, threw out the vessels of the temple, stole the treasures, broke the doors, took the jewels, and destroyed everything they could lay hands on”. Sigh. The fortunes of the priory were linked to the state of warfare and raids on the border. The priory was in relatively affluent circumstances before the outbreak of the war of Independence in 1296, and the annual revenue of the house was returned at £74 12s 6d in the 1291 valuation of Pope Nicholas IV. But by the taxation of 1318, the value had fallen almost to nothing.
Moving swiftly forward now (phew!) Old Henery the Eighth did his thing with the dissolution of everything churchy in 1538 and the conventual buildings were stripped of their roofs, excepting the church building which continued in use as the parish church. In the late 17th century, as the nave deteriorated, the congregation used just the north aisle which had been re-roofed. In 1747, the nave was re-roofed, but by 1847 the Priory was in a state of disrepair to the extent that the east end roof collapsed. However, by 1849, The church was in use again after a major restoration by Anthony Salvin and in the 1870s, there was further restoration by the Carlisle architect C.J. Ferguson.
At the Dissolution, ownership had passed to the Dacre family, and then in the early 18th century to the Howards. In 1929, the Priory ruins were put into public ownership, and today they are managed by English Heritage.
That’s it! Do you need a toilet break now? 🙂 Well done if you got through all that.
On with the pics!
I think that will do for this week, next time we’ll have a look at some of the tombs and effigies in the Priory and learn about who is buried inside them 😊
All pics clickable to embiggen.