Ranulph De Gernon

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Ranulph De Gernon (1128-1153: Second Earl, Second Creation - changed sides in the Stephen/Matilda War)

(Kings: Henry I, Stephen)


Ranulph De Gernon - Town Hall staircase

Born in 1099, he was apparently pious early in his life. He became earl in 1128, while stil relatively young, under the kingship of Henry I, who would die in 1135. The loss of lands to the Scots (in 1136) led to revolt against his king (Stephen) and his taking sides with Matilda, who also claimed the throne. There was a short reconciliation with the king in 1145/6 but after this he appeared to favour the Angevin cause. Whether Ranulph was so black a traitor as painted, or whether he was simply concerned with looking after his own house while the country fell apart is still the subject of much debate. Henry of Huntingdon describes him as follows:

  • "A man of reckless audacity, ready for a plot, not to be depended on in carrying it out, prepared to rush into war, careless of danger, with designs beyond his powers, aiming at impossibilities."

What appears certain is that he was both brave and bold - he apparently took Lincoln Castle with a handful of troops by a clever ruse. Even after his death, Ranulf's ability to apparently "change sides" and stir up trouble seems to have been undiminished.

  • Parents: Ranulf de Meschines (le Briquessart), Earl of Chester and Lucy of Bolingbroke, Countess of Chester. Ranulph De Gernon, Viscount d'Avranches, Earl of Chester was born around 1099 in Castle of Gernon, Normandy, France.
  • Spouse: Maud Fitrobert de Caen. Ranulf De Gernon and Maud were married about 1141. Maud's father Robert of Gloucester was the illegitimate son of Henry I.
  • Children: Joanna De Gernon (questionable); Hugh de Kevelioc; possibly Richard of Chester (died 1170/1175), buried in Coventry; Beatrice of Chester, married Raoul de Malpas; possibly Ranulf of Chester, fought in the siege of Lisbon, granted the lordship of Azambuja by Afonso I of Portugal. Ranulf had an illegitimate son, Robert FitzCount (died before 1166), by an unknown mistress - married Agnes fitz Neal as her second husband.

There is an interesting variation between the de Gernon coat of arms shown in the church window on the right below and that shown on the Queens Park Suspension Bridge. The window shows a metallic lion on a red field, while the bridge shows the opposite. To add further confusion Ranulf de Meschines (de Gernon's father) has arms which are, on the bridge a white lion on a red ground and in the stained glass of the town hall possible a red lion on some other colour ground. Could it be that one or the other has got the arms of the father and son mixed up or is this some subtle pun on "turn-coat" (as both father and son revolted against their kings)? The arms on the lodge in Grosvenor Park also show that the father and son had oppositely coloured arms (it seems like the garden-gnome like statues are in the right order) but in this case they had become blue and gold until renovated!

The other stained glass image has a curious history. These are now to be found at Eaton Hall: according to John Barber's "Historical Collections":

  • the dining room has Hugh Lupus (first Earl of Chester,) in stained glass; the anti-dining Room contains the portraits of three of the Earls of Chester in stained glass and a nearby drawing room has the effigies of the remaining Earls of Chester, on stained glass.

Another set of stained glass panels of the Earls can be found in Warwickshire. This glass of the third quarter of the 16thC was originally made for Brereton Hall, Brereton Green, in Cheshire. The glass was sold at auction in Liverpool in 1818 and bought by Abraham Bracebridge, who installed it in his library at Atherstone Hall, Warks. On his death he bequeathed the glass to his friend Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey, Warks, where it remains today. This glass has Ranulfd coat of arms as a white (silver) lion on a red ground as reproduced below, and is believed to be correct.

Religious establishments

Ranulph De Gernon's Coat of Arms

Ranulf was born at Gernon castle, Normandy around 1100AD to Ranulf le Meschin, and Lucy of Bolingbroke (Lucy of Mercia). Historical sources conflict over the exact origins of his mother. A charter of Crowland Abbey, now thought to be spurious, described Thorold of Bucknall, perhaps the same as her probable father Thorold of Lincoln, as a brother of Godgifu (Godiva), wife of Leofric of Chester, Earl of Mercia. The same charter contradicted itself on the matter, proceeding to style Godgifu's son (by Leofric), Ælfgar, as Thorold's cognatus (cousin). A later source, from Coventry Abbey, made Lucy the sister of Earls Edwin and Morcar while two other unreliable sources, the Chronicle of Abbot Ingmund of Crowland (a known forgery) and the Peterbrough Chronicle also make Lucy of Bolingbroke the daughter of Earl Ælfgar. There has been much speculation that the marriage of the Saxon earls of Chester and Wessex, meant that Ranulf's mother Lucy may well have been descended from both the Mercian earls and the English kings. Could this have set Ranulf apart from the Norman battle over succession? Perhaps he may have thought that if Stephen and Matilda could on the one hand claim the validity of descent through the female line and on the other the acceptability of a female ruler, his own ancestry carried enough royal blood... This is of course, mere speculation.

In 1132 Ranulph de Gernon founded Basingwerk Abbey (Abaty Dinas Basing) now a ruin near Holywell, Flintshire. Following its establishment, monks from Savigny settled there. In 1147, the abbey became part of the Cistercian Order and therefore a daughter house of Buildwas Abbey in Shropshire. In 1133, The Savignac abbey at Combermere, dedicated to St. Mary and St. Michael, was founded by Hugh Malbank, second baron of Wich Malbank. The foundation charter was witnessed by Ranulph II, whom Malbank wished to be regarded as the principal founder and protector of the new abbey.

Ranulph De Gernon - wearing plate armour that would not become available for a few hundred years
Henry I - too fond of lampreys for his own good

Henry I was a member of the House of Normandy (who ruled over the Duchy of Normandy) this was but one of the four main dynasties in northern France, the other three being:

  • the House of Blois which ruled over Blois and Champagne
  • the House of Anjou (Angevins)
  • the House of Capet, the royal house itself, which controlled personal possessions in the Ile-de-France, and exercised a theoretical authority over all of feudal France.

Out of these four, the House of Anjou was third-most important, superior only to Normandy, and the house of Blois was in second place. The Angevins were considered unruly and it has been suggested that the counts may have been violently unstable - back in 999 Fulk III of Anjou notoriously had his first wife (Elisabeth of Vendôme) burnt to death in her wedding dress to punish her for adultery. He is described as:

  • plunderer, murderer, robber, and swearer of false oaths, a truly terrifying character of fiendish cruelty, founded not one but two large abbeys. This Fulk was filled with unbridled passion, a temper directed to extremes. Whenever he had the slightest difference with a neighbor he rushed upon his lands, ravaging, pillaging, raping, and killing; nothing could stop him, least of all the commandments of God

The Counts of Anjou had been vying for power in north-western France for a long time. The Counts were recurrent enemies of the Dukes of Normandy and of the Dukes of Brittany and sometimes even of the King himself. The Angevins fell to a lower status to the Normans after the Duke of Normandy, William, became the King of England, which placed them at the bottom of the pecking-order.

King Henry I of England had defeated his brother, Robert Curthose and thereby made an enemy of Robert's son - William Clito - who became Count of Flanders in 1127 and used his paternal inheritance to claim the Duchy of Normandy and the Kingdom of England. Henry I had tried to establish an alliance with Anjou against Flanders by marrying his only legitimate son, William Adelin, to Fulk V's daughter but the former died (together with Richard of Avranches) in the White Ship disaster in 1120. Henry I therefore, in 1128, married his daughter (William's granddaughter) Matilda to Geoffrey "Plante Genest" (Plantagenet), count of Anjou, giving the Angevins the basis of a claim to succeed Henry.

Legend holds that Matilda's first husband Henry V (officially dead since 1125) was living as a hermit in Chester's Hermitage at the time and further legends have Henry being buried in Chester Cathedral - (much of that may be rumour started by Hugh de Kevelioc to discredit the validity of the succession of Henry II).

King Stephen

King Stephen "nothing but strife, evil and robbery"

Henry died on 1 December 1135 of food poisoning from eating "a surfeit of lampreys". As usual with William's family, the funeral was not without interest. According to William of Newburgh:

  • His body, after the extraction of the brains and intestines, was embalmed, sewed up in skins, and brought from Normandy to England, where it was interred at Reading, a monastery of which he had been the pious founder and munificent benefactor. The man, indeed, who had been hired, at great expense, to extract the brain, became infected, as it is said, from the intolerable stench, and died; and thus, as the body of the departed Elisha reanimated the dead, so Henry's dead body gave death to the living.

Following the death of Henry I, the previous loss of the White Ship, in which the heir drowned, now became the cause of the conflicting claims to the throne during the period of what the Victorians would term "The Anarchy" (1135–1154) during which: "men said openly that Christ and his angels slept".

Stephen and Matilda's claims to the throne and the relation to Ranulph de Gernons via his wife

Three of the leading players in this period were:

  • Empress Matilda (sometimes Maud or Maude; later Countess of Anjou and Lady of the English; February 1102 – 10 September 1167) - daughter and dispossessed heir of Henry I of England;
  • Robert of Gloucester (c. 1090 – October 31, 1147) - an illegitimate son of King Henry I of England and therefore a half-brother to Matilda. Robert was Ranulph's father-in-law. Some sources suggest that Ranulf's wife, Maud of Gloucester, was close to the Empress Matilda which further divided loyalties when Robert changed sides from Stephen to Matilda in 1138.

Before Henry I's death (1135), a baronial majority swore to support Henry's daughter Empress Matilda. Notably, at Henry's death (1135) there appear to be only eight English Earls; viz.

  • Gloucester (the King's illegitimate son Robert) - as mentioned above.
  • Surrey (William Warenne II - died 1138) - his father had married Gundred (sister of Gherbod the Fleming - Earl of Chester)
  • Warwick (Roger of Beaumont) - in 1130 he had married Gundred de Warenne, daughter of William de Warenne
  • Leicester (Robert of Beaumont) - some of whose lands were seized by Ranulph of Chester
  • Bucks (Walter Giffard III),
  • Chester (Ranulph de Gernon)
  • Richmond (Alan of Britany) - was deprived of Cornwall by Ranulph de Gernon, 2nd Earl of Chester after the Battle of Lincoln (1141),
  • The combined earldoms of Huntingdon and Northampton - held by David I of Scotland (enemy of the Earl of Chester)

This tangled web of conflicting rivalries and loyalties could be nothing other than a recipe for disaster. Upon King Henry's death, Stephen of Blois (son of Stephen, Count of Blois, and Adela (daughter of William the Conqueror)) laid claim to the throne, stating that Henry had changed his mind on his deathbed and named Stephen as his heir. Once crowned, Stephen gained the support of the majority of the barons, including the Earl of Chester as well as Pope Innocent II and the first few years of his reign were generally peaceful.

Matilda's first husband had been Henry V the Holy Roman Emperor. After Henry V's death (1125) Henry I had married his daughter Matilda to Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou. Following Henry I's death (1135), Geoffrey V first sent Matilda alone to Normandy, in a diplomatic mission to be recognized Duchess of Normandy to replace Stephen. However, Geoffrey V was not far behind, at the head of his army, and he quickly captured several fortresses in southern Normandy, which he was never to lose. It was then that an Angevin noble, Robert III of Sablé, rose up, opening a front on Geoffrey's rear and forcing him to withdraw to Anjou to end the revolt. When Geoffrey V returned to Normandy in September 1136, the region was plagued with local struggles and infighting among the barons. Stephen was not able to travel to Normandy and as result, the situation remained chaotic. Geoffrey had found new allies with the Count of Vendôme and, most importantly, the Duke of Aquitaine. At the head of a new army and prepared to conquer Normandy, Geoffrey V was wounded and was forced to return to Anjou once more. Adding to that, an outbreak of diarrhea plagued his army. As Orderic Vitalis put it:

  • the invaders had to run for home leaving a trail of filth behind them

However Stephen's reign did not get off to a good start for Ranulph. In late January 1136, during the first months of the reign, David I of Scotland crossed the border and took Carlisle, Wark, Alnwick, Norham and Newcastle upon Tyne. In February, Stephen reached Durham with a force of Flemish mercenaries. Under what became known as the first Treaty of Durham, the King was returned Wark, Alnwick, Norham and Newcastle, but the Scottish King was granted Carlisle and Doncaster. With Carlisle went much of Cumberland and the "honour of Lancaster" - lands especially important to Earl Ranulf as they were the lands of his father before he was forced to surrender them.

The raids by the Scots led to the establishment of a beacon chain running through much of the north of England. Some sources say that it was Ranulph who established this chain, later to be used to signal the appearance of the Spanish Armada.

Events in Wales

By 1136 an opportunity arose for the Welsh to recover lands lost to the Marcher lords after Stephen had displaced his cousin Matilda from succeeding her father to the English throne the previous year, sparking the Anarchy in England. The revolt began in south Wales, as Hywel ap Maredudd, lord of Brycheiniog (Brecknockshire), gathered his men and marched to the Gower, defeating the Norman and English colonists there. Inspired by Hywel of Brycheiniog's success, Gruffydd ap Rhys, Prince of Deheubarth, hastened to meet with Gruffudd ap Cynan of Gwynedd, his father-in-law, to enlist his aid in the revolt. However, with Gruffydd ap Rhys' absence the Normans increased their incursions into Deheubarth, and Gwenllian, Princess of Deheubarth, gathered a host for the defense of her country. Gwenllian was the youngest daughter of Gruffydd ap Cynan, and after she eloped with Gruffydd ap Rhys she joined him resisting Norman occupation in south Wales. With her husband meeting with her father in Gwynedd, Gwenllian raised an army to counter Norman incursions ravaging Deheubarth. Gwenllian met the Norman army, led by Maurice of London, near Kidwelly Castle, but her forces were routed. Captured, the princess was beheaded by the Normans. Gwenllian's "patriotic revolt" and subsequent death in battle at Kidwelly Castle contributed to the Great Revolt of 1136. When word reached Gwynedd of Gwenllian's death and the revolt in Gwent, Gruffydd ap Cynan's sons Owain and Cadwaladr ap Gruffud had invaded Norman controlled Ceredigion, taking Llanfihangel, Aberystwyth, and Llanbadarn Fawr - as:

  • "bold lions, virtuous, fearless and wise, who guard the churches and their indwellers, defenders of the poor [who] overcome their enemies, affording a safest retreat to all those who seek their protection".

By late September 1136 a vast Welsh host gathered, which included the combined forces of Gwynedd, Deheubarth, and Powys and met the Norman army at the Battle of Crug Mawr which was a resounding defeat of the routed Normans. Realizing how vulnerable they were in the face of this "Great Revolt", many Marcher lords began to become estranged from Stephen and to shift their allegiance to the Empress Matilda, who would arrive in England in September 1139. Gruffudd ap Cynan, elderly and blind, died in 1137. With Gruffudd at his deathbed were his family, but also leading church figures, including the diocese bishop and trusted advisor David the Scot, the archdeacon of the diocese Simon of Clynnog, and the Prior of St Werburgh's in Chestor.

The "greatest of traitors"

The Empress Matilda - In 1139 Matilda crossed into England to take the kingdom by force, supported by her half-brother, Robert of Gloucester and her uncle, King David of Scotland, while Geoffrey focused on conquering Normandy. Matilda's forces captured Stephen at the Battle of Lincoln in 1141, but the Empress's attempt to be crowned at Westminster collapsed in the face of bitter opposition from the London crowds. As a result of this retreat, Matilda was never formally declared Queen of England, and was instead titled the Lady of the English. Robert was captured following the Rout of Winchester in 1142, and Matilda agreed to exchange him for Stephen.

The Earl left the court in rage upon learning of the concessions to the Scottish King. From being the founder of an Abbey and the protector of another, Ranulf would eventually become one of the most traitorous of knights. He has been accused of changing sides seven times during the civil wars of Stephen's reign. It should be noted that changing sides in this war was not a rare thing, even the King's own brother, the Bishop of Winchester, Henry of Blois, was not beyond changing sides either.

The eventual cause of Ranulph's revolt was that in 1139 King Stephen re-negotiated his Treaty of Durham with King David of Scotland, and with the second Treaty of Durham granted David's son (Prince Henry of Scotland) the Earldom of Northumbria which included Carlisle, Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire north of the Ribble. Ranulf claimed these lands through his father, who had been forced to surrender them to the crown so he could inherit the Earldom of Chester and claimed that Henry I had disinherited his father.

As the Anglo Saxon Chronicle puts it:

  • After this waxed a very great war betwixt the king and Randolph, Earl of Chester; not because he did not give him all that he could ask him, as he did to all others; but ever the more he gave them, the worse they were to him.

Stephen also managed to antagonise Ranulf by making William de Albini Earl of Lincoln. Both Ranulf and his half brother William de Roumare believed that they had better claims to the Earldom of Lincoln. Both were sons of Lucy of Bolingbroke who is thought to have been daughter of Thorold, sheriff and Castellan of Lincoln. William was the son of Lucy's second husband Roger fitz Gerold and Ranulf was the son of her third husband Ranulf de Meschines.

Ranulf's first plan was to capture Henry of Scotland who was due to make a visit to England, but word of the plot found its way to King Stephen who escorted Henry and his wife back to the border. Ranulf's plans were thus thwarted and Stephen undoubtedly now had cause for concern over Ranulf's loyalty.

In 1140 Ranulf seized Lincoln Castle by a daring attack, according to Orderic Vitalis he and his half-brother William de Roumare sent their wives to visit the constable’s wife in the castle. When they had been there some time Ranulf also arrived, dressed in ordinary clothes and escorted by only three knights, with every appearance of arriving only to fetch the ladies. However they seized weapons and admitted the men of William de Roumare into the castle who ejected the Royal Garrison.

Orderic Vitalis tells it so:

  • Ranulf, earl of Chester, and William of Roumare, his uterine brother, rebelled against King Stephen and, by a trick, captured the castle which he held at Lincoln for the protection of the city. They cunningly found a time when the household troops of the garrison were widely dispersed, and then sent their wives ahead to the castle under the pretext of a friendly visit. While the two countesses were passing the time there, laughing and talking with the wife of the knight who ought to have been defending the castle, the earl of Chester arrived, unarmed and without his cloak, as though to escort his wife home, and three knights followed him without arousing any suspicion. Once inside the castle they suddenly snatched crowbars and weapons which lay to hand and violently expelled the king's guards.

According to some historians King Stephen was forced to seek terms: "de Albini" was transferred to Sussex, de Roumare became Earl of Lincoln and Ranulph gained administrative and military powers over Lincolnshire and the town and castle of Derby (this is not mentioned by Orderic and occurs at the very end of his chronicle, when he would have been in his mid 60's shortly before his death). This is almost certainly untrue: William d'Albini fought loyally for King Stephen, who created him first Earl of Arundel (more precisely, Earl of Sussex) (c. 1138) and then the first Earl of Lincoln c 1141. The Earldom was created for a second time by King Stephen sometime after 1143 for William de Roumare. William d'Albini is mentioned as Earl of Lincoln in 1143 in two charters for the Abbey of Affligem, representing his wife Adeliza of Louvain, former wife of King Henry I. Also, Derby is not known to have had a permanent castle at the time, but there may have been a temporary structure on "Cockpit Hill".

Supposedly the new governorship of Lincoln was terrible and Bishop Alexander and the citizens of Lincoln complained to Stephen about their treatment. The exact details are lost as the surviving copy of Henry of Huntingdon's chronicle is damaged at this point, but we can read:

  • ".. that he would make amends for all in which he had offended. Wherefore the king resolved that» renewing his agreement and re-establishing peace with this man he would silently observe whether his actions fulfilled his promises, and so he turned his attention to other matters. After considerable time when there was no appearance of the earl being more devoted to the king than before, and, living in the castle of Lincoln with his wife and children, he oppressed the townsmen and people of the neighbourhood, they privately sent messengers to the king, repeatedly imploring him to take the earliest opportunity of besieging the earl and his people in the castle."

The record of events may be modified by the fact that Bishop Alexander was the patron of Henry of Huntingdon. The bishop was known for his ostentatious lifestyle and castle-building and Stephen although he had imprisoned Alexander in 1139 (and threatened to starve him to death) needed hom as an ally. However Orderic makes it clear that Alexander was among those who complained:

  • "Bishop Alexander and the citizens sent intelligence of this occurrence to the king, who became greatly enraged at it, and was much astonished that two of his dearest friends, on whom he had lavished honours and dignities, should have acted so basely"

The Siege of Lincoln

In early 1141 Stephen returned and in a rapid attack laid siege to Lincoln Castle. Ranulph escaped (leaving the castle besieged) and collected his Cheshire and Welsh retainers. Ranulf now shifted his allegiance clearly over to the Angevin side as he also appealed to his father-in-law, Robert de Caen (Robert of Gloucester) for aid. Robert's daughter Maud (Ranulf's wife) was still besieged in Lincoln castle, this may well have been a ploy by Ranulf to guarantee Robert's assistance.

The identity of the Welsh supporters is subject to some doubt. Owain Geynedd's brother Cadwaladr is said by some earlier writers to have joined with Ranulph in the attack on Lincoln. However that appears to have been a misreading of Orderic Vitalis who stated that the Welsh contingent was led by two princely brothers, "Mariadoth et Kaladrius". The first of these two men has been identified as Madog ap Maredudd, but it is now believed that he only allied with Ranulph later. A more likely indentification is that the first is the son of Madog ab Idnerth of Maelienydd (who would have been Maredudd ap Madog) and the second may have been a heavily mutated Cadwgan, his brother (sometimes known as Cadwallon ap Madog).

The Gesta Stephani (acts of Stephen) records it as follows:

  • The king, arriving suddenly and unexpectedly, was admitted by the townsmen and found the castle almost empty, except for the earl's wife and brother and a few of their adherents, whom the earl had left there when the king entered the town, just managing to escape by himself. So, as the king besieged the castle with resolution and spirit and most grievously afflicted the garrison with catapults and other engines of different sorts, the Earl of Chester sent to Robert Earl of Gloucester, Miles also, and all who had armed themselves against the king, and likewise brought with him a dreadful and unendurable mass of Welsh, all in agreement, in complete harmony, together to overthrow the king.

William of Malmesbury (a supporter of Robert, Duke of Gloucester) wrote this account of the battle of Lincoln:

  • King Stephen had gone away in peace from Lincolnshire before Christmas [1140], and had added to the honours of the earl of Chester and his brother. That earl had married the earl of Gloucester's daughter long since in King Henry's time. Meanwhile the citizens [Ce burgesses] of Lincoln, wishing to lay the king under a great obligation, informed him by messengers when he was staying at London that the two brothers had settled unsuspiciously in the city's castle. As they expected nothing less than the king's arrival, they could easily be surrounded. They themselves would see to it that the king got possession of the castle with the greatest secrecy. He, unwilling to miss any chance of increasing his power, hastened thither joyfully. And so the brothers were surrounded and besieged during the Christmas festival itself. This seemed unfair to many because, as I have said, he had left them before the festival without any suspicion of ill-will, and had not, in the traditional way, renounced his friendship with them, which is termed defiance. But the earl of Chester, though involved in critical danger, yet made good his escape from the close siege of the castle. By what device I do not determine, whether by the collusion of some of the besiegers, or because valour, when caught in a snare, will cast around for and commonly find a remedy. Then, not satisfied solely with his freedom, but being anxious also about the freedom of his brother and wife, whom he had left in the castle, he turned his mind in every direction. It seemed the wisest policy to beg aid from his father-in-law, though he had long since offended him for various reasons, chiefly because he seemed ambivalent in his loyalty. So he sent to him promising by the messengers a lasting fidelity to the empress if, from motives of pity rather than any deserts of his own, he would rescue from wrong those who were in danger and on the very brink of captivity.

In return for Robert's aid, Ranulph agreed to promise fidelity to Matilda. Ranulf and Robert united their forces at Castle Donington in January 1141 (including a host of Welsh mercenaries allied to Earl Robert). Ranulf was not the only one "disinherited" by Stephen. Stephen made a series of poor decisions that caused resentment amongst his former supporters and many of those disinherited (particularly the Angevin's) would turn up on the opposing side at the Battle of Lincoln.

The Battle of Lincoln

Battle of Lincoln: "The best knights and men-at-arms were in the king’s army; but the enemy outnumbered them in infantry and the Welsh levies. It is certain that William d’ Ypres with his Flemings, and Alain with his Bretons, were the first to give way; thereby emboldening the enemy, and spreading panic in the ranks of their confederates. This engagement was disgracefully distinguished by the most scandalous treachery; for some of the great lords, with a few of their retainers, accompanied the king, while they sent the great body of their vassals to secure the victory to his adversaries. Thus they deceived their lord, and may justly be considered as perjured men and traitors. Count Waleran and his brother William de Warrenne, with Gilbert de Clare, and other knights of high renown, both Norman and English, as soon as they saw the first rank routed, turned their backs and fled in alarm for their own safety. On the other hand, Baldwin de Clare, Richard Fitz-Urse, Engelran de Sai, and Ilbert de Lacy, stuck closely to the king during the battle, and fought stoutly by his side till the day was lost".

On 2 February 1141 they crossed the Fossdyke, swollen large by the winter rains, and swept aside the few guards posted by the king. Henry of Huntingdon says of the Earls approach:

  • With difficulty and great daring the earl traversed an almost impassable marsh

Stephen now had to decide whether to fight or flee. Older, wiser supporters counselled Stephen to leave Lincoln under siege and return to London to raise a full army. The younger hot-heads, however, were intent upon battle and persuaded the king to advance down from the city heights to meet the rebels in the open. Stephen was also possibly influenced by his father's "desertion" from the crusade during the second siege of Antioch. On 2 February 1141 the Earls met and defeated King Stephen at the Battle of Lincoln.

Ranulf's part in the battle seems to have been as commander of the right wing or 'battle' of the rebel forces. Orderic Vitalis describes how he fought on foot:

  • In the opposing army Earl Ranulf dismounted with his troops and reinforced a brave contingent of foot-soldiers from Chester to give battle.

Henry of Huntingdon describes how the earl of Chester, "a warlike man, who gleamed with glorious arms", addressed Earl Robert and the other nobles prior to the battle:

  • “To you, invincible duke, and to you, my noble comrades in arms, I render many thanks, from the bottom of my heart, for you have generously demonstrated that you will risk your own lives, out of love for me. So since I am the cause of your peril, it is right that I should put myself into danger first, and should be the first to strike out at the line of this treacherous king, who has broken the peace after a truce had been allowed. Indeed, being confident, both of the king's wrongfulness and of my own courage, I shall now split open the royal squadron and prepare my way through the midst of the enemy with my sword. It is for you brave men to follow the one who goes before, and imitate him as he strikes through and through. Already in my mind I seem to see the royal lines fleeing across the field, the nobles being trampled under foot, the king himself being pierced through with a sword.”

Henry has Robert speak next and amongst a tirade of disparaging comments he includes:

  • "..I have had to be silent on the subject of the fugitive William of Ypres. For words have not yet been invented which can properly describe the extent and ramifications of his treacheries, the filth and horror of his obscenities..".

Aumale of York is then described as:

  • "a man who is remarkably consistent in wrong‑doing, swift to enlarge it, intransigent over giving it up, because of whose intolerable filthiness his wife left him and became a fugitive.".

Speeches were also made on the king's side. Henry of Huntingdon records the following utterance of Balwin, one of the King's supporters as regards the Earl of Chester:

  • The earl of Chester has nothing for which he ought to be feared, for he is a man of reckless daring, ready for conspiracy, unreliable in performance, impetuous in battle, careless of danger, with designs beyond his powers, panting for the impossible, having few steady followers, collecting together a ragged troop of outcasts. For every time he begins something manfully, he abandons it impotently. Indeed, throughout his career he has been unsuccessful in war, for either he has run away when overcome by his opponents, or, on the rare occasions when he has been victorious, he has sustained losses greater than those of the vanquished. Let the Welshmen he brings with him be no more than objects of scorn to you, for they prefer unarmed boldness to battle and lacking both skill and experience in warfare, they charge like cattle towards the hunting-spears. The others, both noblemen and knights, are deserters and vagabonds: if only more were coming, for the more there are, the worse the result for them!

Stephen was aided at Lincoln by six earls; Earl Alan of Richmond, Norfolk, Southampton, Surrey, Worcester and York. The first five commanded the right wing of the king's army while the earl of York (William Aumale) commanded the royal left. King Stephen's armoured knights under William Aumale and William of Ypres charged and smashed the poorly armed, 'but full of spirits', Welsh mercenaries, but (according to Henry of Huntingdon) were themselves in turn routed 'in a moment' by the well-ordered military might of Earl Ranulf who stood out from the mass in 'his bright armour'. According to Henry of Huntingdon Ranulf then turned his attention to the king:

  • ..No rest, no breathing time was granted them, except in the quarter where stood that most valiant king, as the foe dreaded the incomparable force of his blows. The earl of Chester, on perceiving this, envying the king his glory, rushed upon him with all the weight of his armed men. Then was seen the might of the king, equal to a thunderbolt, slaying some with his immense battle-axe, and striking others down.

It might seem odd that Stephen was fighting with an axe rather than a sword but legend has it that his sword broke and a citizen of Lincoln handed him an axe with which to continue fighting. William of Newburgh described the full series of events as follows:

  • In the sixth year of his reign, king Stephen laid siege to the castle of Lincoln, which Ranulph, earl of Chester, had entered by stratagem, and still possessed; and the siege was protracted from Christmas to the Presentation of our Lord. To raise the siege, the earl brought with him the earl of Gloucester (natural son of king Henry), his father-in-law, and some other very intrepid nobles, with considerable forces, and announced to the king, that unless he should desist, they would attack him. The king, however, being aware of their arrival, had collected troops on all sides; and, disposing them without the city to receive their opponents, he prepared for the battle with perfect confidence; for he was himself a most courageous warrior, and was supported by superior numbers. In addition to this, the opposing army, wearied with a long winter's march, seemed more in need of rest to recruit its vigor, than calculated to encounter the perils of war. Still, however, though inferior in numbers and equipment, yet excelling in courage alone, and aware that, such a distance from home, there could be no place of refuge in a hostile country, they rushed undauntedly to the conflict. Having dismounted, the king himself, with his company, ranged his cavalry in the vanguard, to give or to receive the first assault; but it being vanquished and put to flight by the first charge of the enemy's horse, the whole brunt of the battle fell upon the division in which was the king. Here the conflict raged most desperately, the king himself fighting very courageously amid the foremost; at length being captured, and his company dispersed, the victorious army triumphantly entered the city to plunder, while the royal captive was sent to the empress, and committed to custody at Bristol.

Orderic Vitalis adds a few more details:

  • Count Ranulf and his victorious comrades entered the city, and pillaged every quarter of it like barbarians. As for the citizens who remained, they butchered like cattle all whom they found and could lay hands on, putting them to death in various ways without the slightest pity.
  • After this battle and the capture of the king, a great division arose in England. Henry, bishop of Winchester, immediately joined the party of the Angevins; and receiving the countess with respect in the royal city, entirely deserted his brother, the king, and all who were on his side. Earl Waleran, William de Warrenne, Simon, and several other lords adhered to the queen, and pledged themselves to fight resolutely for the king and his heirs. Thus the mischief spread on all sides, and England, which formerly overflowed with wealth, was now miserably desolated, and abandoned to rapine, fire, and slaughter.

After the battle a new tower, called the Lucy Tower was added to Lincoln Castle - named after "a 12th century owner" (Lucy), Ranulph's mother Lucy, Countess of Chester.

There would be a second battle of Lincoln in 1217. The then earl of Chester Ranulf de Blondeville would take part and afterwards (1217) become the earl of Lincoln.

The country in chaos

The Earl of Chester took advantage of the confusion and disarray in the weeks after the Battle of Lincoln by taking Earl Alan of Richmond’s northern castles. Richmond tried to ambush Ranulph, but (in 1141) was captured in turn, put in chains and tortured in a dungeon until he submitted to Ranulph and did him homage. Henry of Huntingdon described the state of the country as follows:

  • .. they set no bounds to the malevolence and impiety with which they were imbued, but, their bad spirit actuating them to every sort of wickedness, they devoted themselves to the prosecution of their rebellion, and engaged, with increased eagerness, in every destructive enterprise through all parts of England. All the northern counties were subject to the tyranny of the Earl of Chester, who subjected the king's barons in the neighbourhood to his yoke, surprised their castles by clandestine assaults, and wasted their lands by hostile incursions; and, breathing in his rage nothing but war and devastation, was the terror of all men.

But as Henry of Huntingdon adds, even the Bishops were at it:

  • The bishops themselves, shameful to say, not all indeed, but several of them, assumed arms, and, girt with the sword and sheathed in bright armour, rode on mettlesome war-horses beside the ravagers of the country, received their share of the booty, and subjected to imprisonment and torture soldiers who fell into their hands by chance of war, and men of wealth wherever they met with them; and while they were at the bottom of all this flagitious wickedness, they ascribed it not to themselves, but to their soldiers only. To be silent for the present, respecting others, for it would be wrong to accuse all alike, common report stigmatized the Bishops of Winchester, Lincoln, and Chester, as more forward than others in these unchristian doings. . . .

From 1141 onwards Ranulph conducted a private war with Robert Earl of Leicester. It has been suggested that Ranulph was actually far more interested in recovering his own lands (largely covering the territory of Mercia) than in getting involved with the war between his relatives, Stephen and Matilda, over the succession.

With the King captive, Empress Matilda should have secured the throne, but a combination of stubborn royalist support, the Empress's miscalculation and military misjudgement led to her failure. On 14 September 1141 Earl Robert and the Empress were trapped by a royalist army in an ill-judged attempt to seize control of Winchester, then held by King Stephen's brother Hernry of Blois] who was also the Bishop of Winchester. Exactly who's side Ranulph was on at this point is unclear as while the Gesta Stephani lists Ranulph as being on the side of Empress Matilda, John of Hexham suggests that Ranulph had been on the other side (led by the other Matilda) until "a murmuring of those in the army who dreaded some treachery" caused him to "go over to the besieged". Earl Robert of Gloucester was captured fighting a rearguard action against the forces of Matilda of Boulogne, Stephen's wife, at the river crossing of Stockbridge to allow his sister to escape. Ranulph barely escaped and made it back to Chester. Earl Robert was imprisoned for two months at Rochester Castle before he was released in an exchange with King Stephen. A period of stalemate then followed between Stephen and Matilda, so Ranulf took the opportunity to take his army into Wales and together with his ally Madog ap Maredudd attacked Owain Gwynnedd.

Stephen once again laid siege to Lincoln castle in 1144 after Ranulph had recovered it. The king make preparations for a long siege but eighty of his men were killed by a collapsing siege tower and Stephen abandoned the attempt. In 1144 Ranulph was the subject of an attack at Coventry by Robert Marmion which did not go as planned according to William of Newburgh:

  • Robert Marmiun was a man warlike and ferocious, crafty, bold, and almost without compeer in his day; at length, after gaining notoriety for his wide-extended successes, and profaning that noble church by the introduction of the servants of the devil, he harassed the earl of Chester, to whom he was more particularly inimical, with frequent and dreadful assaults, and went purposely to attack the earl as he was advancing with considerable forces; but while proudly riding on a fiery steed, in the sight of both of the contending parties, forgetful of his own stratagem -- for he had intersected the ground with ditches to keep off or annoy the enemy -- he unconsciously fell, by the judgment of God (I say), into the pitfall which his artifice and labor had made; and being incapable of extricating himself, in consequence of the fracture of his thigh, his head was cut off, in the presence of all, by an obscure soldier of the adverse party

Marmion was buried at Polesworth, in unconsecrated ground as he had been excommunicated for his desecration of St Mary's Priory to provide a fortified position for his assault.

A turncoat again

Ranulph changed sides (briefly) from the Empress to Stephen in 1145 - probably because this would give him the opportunity to continue his quarrel with David of Scotland, who had become an ally of Matilda in 1141 - and also because of large grants of land (much of which was taken off others). Ranulph apparently demonstrated his good will by helping Stephen to capture Bedford from Miles de Beauchamp and by bringing 300 knights to the siege of Wallingford Castle.

The Welsh under Owain Gwynedd now started to annoy Ranulph by raiding into Flintshire and clashing with Madog ap Maredudd again despite the fact that Madog was married to Susanna, Owain's sister. Ranulph now tried to persuade Stephen to accompany him on an expedition into Wales in support of his long-standing Welsh ally. However later in 1146 some of the baron's who had previously been "robbed" of land by Ranulph managed to persuade the king to start a quarrel with Ranulph and imprison him. The list is said to include:

  • William de Clerfeith, ('who fought for the King at Lincoln and escaping from the field to the castle at Tickhill from there harassed the Earl of Chester');
  • Gilbert de Gant, (who had been compelled by Ranulph to marry his niece, the Lady Hawyse de Roumare);
  • Earl Alan of Richmond, (who Ranulph had imprisoned in 1141);
  • William Peverel (the younger) of Nottingham, (who would later be implicated in the Earl's supposed poisoning);
  • William d'Aubigny, Earl of Arundel (Ranulph had taken the 'honour of Belvoir' from him); and
  • John, Count of Eu (Ranulph had taken Tickhill from him after Lincoln)

William of Newburgh tells the story as follows:

  • Again the catastrophes of his eleventh year obscured the success which appeared to counterbalance the calamities of the year preceding: for though Ranulph, earl of Chester, with whom he had ratified a truce, and who had become a faithful and attached friend, had rendered him powerful aid at Wallingford, yet the king, very soon after, forgetful of his royal majesty and honor, seized the earl, who was coming to him peaceably and securely, in the court at Northampton, and compelled him to resign the castle of Lincoln, with everything else which he appeared to have usurped. In consequence of this, the earl was liberated, and became the king's irreconcilable enemy ever after.

Meanwhile the Welsh took advantage of the absence of Ranulf to invade Cheshire. As the Annals of Chester Cathedral record:

  • Ranulphus comes de Cestrie dolo captus est a rege Stephano apud Northamantiam iiij kal. Septembris. Quo audito Walenses vastaverunt provinciam. Contra quos Robertus dapifer cum paucis armatis perrexit ad bellum, et multa millia occidit apud Wichum iij non. Septembris - (Randle, earl of Chester, was made prisoner by stratagem by king Stephen at Northampton, August 29. When the Welsh heard of it, they laid waste the province [of Chester]. Against whom Robert [de Montalt] the seneschal [of Chester] advanced to battle with a few armed men, and killed many thousands at Nantwich on September 3)

When was set free Ranulph “burst into a blind fury of rebellion scarcely discriminating between friend or foe” and made abortive attacks on Coventry and Lincoln. King Stephen was wounded recovering Lincoln.

  • In the twelfth year of his reign, king Stephen having (as before-mentioned) wrested the city of Lincoln from the earl of Chester, was desirous of being solemnly crowned there on Christmas-day, wisely disregarding an ancient superstition, which forbade the kings of England from entering that city. On his proceeding into the town, without the least hesitation, he encountered no sinister omen, as that idle tradition had portended would be the case; but after having solemnized his coronation, he retired from it, after a few days, with joy. and contempt at this superstitious vanity.

In 1146 King Stephen had held Gilbert fitz Richard de Clare, earl of Hertford, as a hostage for the "good behavior" of Richard's uncle Ranulf, earl of Chester (This Gilbert was also the nephew of Gilbert, earl of Pembroke). When Ranulf was relased and changed sides to support the Empress Matilda, King Stephen forced Earl Gilbert of Hertford to surrender his castles and lands. This action immediately drove Gilbert to support Matilda, along with his uncle Earl Ranulf. Stephen, in anticipation of Earl Gilbert of Pembroke following his nephew, took the earl's lands and castles. This enraged the earl of Pembroke so that he also changed sides, following his nephew to the side of Empress Matilda and taking his sixteen-year old son, Richard, with him.

Ranulph continued his scheming. In 1147 a gathering of leading Angevin supporters (and family) was convened in Chester by Ranulph. These included:

  • his nephews Earl Gilbert of Clare (the hostage mentioned above) and Earl Roger of Hereford,
  • Cadwaladr ap Gruffudd, younger brother of Owain the ruler of Gwynedd, and
  • William FitzAlan of Oswestry.

The de Clare's and the ap Gruffudd's had been at war in the Great Revolt of 1136, and Cadwaladr's father Gruffydd ap Cynan had been imprisoned at Chester Castle by Hugh of Avranches but clearly things had changed.

Cadwaladr was also now a relative of Ranulph having married Alice de Clare, Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare's daughter (sister to Gilbert and Robert) by Adeliza (Ranulf's sister). In fact, Cadwaladr was out of favour in Wales and was soon to be exiled to England.

Serving Duke Henry

Henry II "What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and promoted in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born clerk!"

In 1149 the young Duke Henry (later to be Henry II) met David of Scotland and Ranulf at Carlisle where they agreed to attack York. Stephen raced north with a large army, forcing the rebels to disperse and Henry to flee. At the same time, Ranulf resolved his territorial disputes with the King of Scotland and a suitable compromise was reached: the southern portion of the "honour of Lancaster", between the Ribble and the Mersey, was conceded to Ranulf. who in return resigned his claim on Carlisle. In addition a marriage was apparently arranged between one of the Earl's sons and one of David's granddaughters - (to complicate matters one of David's grandsons would marry Maud of Chester(1171-1233), daughter of Hugh de Kevelioc - a later Earl of Chester). Ranulf, now the loyal retainer to the young Prince Henry, assisted Henry's escape by creating a diversion (attacking Lincoln, again). In the midst of this Ranulph manages to get bad press again, as, according to John of Hexham, "Earl Ranulph did none of the things he had promised" - "nichil eorem quae condixerat prosecutus".

A charter survives from this time (c1147-1151) between Ranulf and Robert Earl of Leicester (Palaeograph. Soc. ii. pi. 40).

  • Haec est conventio inter Comitem Ranulfum Cestriae et Robertum Comitem Legrecestriae, et finalis pax et concordia quae fuit concessa et divisa ab eis coram secundo Roberto episcopo Lincolniae ... Si oportuerit Comitem Legrecestriae ire super Comitem Cestriae cum ligio domino suo, non poterit ducere secum plus quam viginti milites ; et si Comes Legrecestriae vel isti viginti milites aliquid ceperint de rebus Comitis Cestriae, totum reddetur. Nee ligius dominus Comitis Legrecestriae nee aliquis alius poterit forisfacere Comiti Cestriae nee suis de castris ipsius Comitis Legrecestriae nee de terra sua ; et ita quod Comes Legrecestriae non poterit propter aliquam causam vel propter aliquem casum impedire corpus Comitis Cestriae, nisi cum dofidaverit quindecim dies ante. Et Comes Legrecestriae debet juvare Comitem Cestriae contra omnes homines praeter ligium dominum ipsius Comitis Legrecestriae et Comitem Simonem. ... Nee Comes Cestriae nee Comes Legrecestriae debentfirmare castrum aliquod novum inter Hinchelai et Couintre, nee inter Hinchelai et Hardredeshellam ... nisi communi assensu utriusque. Et si aliquis in predictis locis vel infra predictos terminos firmaret castrum, uterque alteri erit auxilio sine malo ingenio donee castrum diruatur.

Earl Robert's (he was known as "Robert "Le Bossu" (meaning "Robert the Hunchback" in French)) principal activity between 1141 and 1149 had been his private war with Ranulf. By the end of this war Robert had gained control of northern Leicestershire and the strategic Chester castle of Mountsorrel originally built in 1080 by Hugh of Avranches.

The earliest known charter connected with the House of Benedictine nuns of St Mary dates from about the year 1150, though it is known the nuns were in Chester before that date, possibly at another site. The charter says:

  • "Randulph, Earl of Chester, etc., grants to God and St. Mary and the nuns of Chester, those crofts which Hugh, son of Oliver, held of the demesne of the grantor, with the goodwill of the said Hugh, who has quit-claimed them before grantor and his Countess, etc., towards the building there of a church in honour of God and Saint Mary, for the remission of grantor's sins, etc., and for the founding of their building. Witnesses: John and Roger, chaplains, Matilda the Countess, Hugh the Earl's son, Fulk de Brichsard, Ralph Mansell, Richard the butler; at Chester.

The buildings were damaged during the siege of Chester in 1645 by the owner, Sir William Brereton, and only a few ruins remained by the beginning of the 18th century. A century later the ruins were removed to improve the approach to the new shire hall and several stone coffins and fragments of windows and doorways were unearthed; the arched doorway, still standing in 1816, was removed c. 1840 to the house called St. John's Priory and later re-erected in Grosvenor Park - where it still stands. Excavations in 1964 before the County Police Headquarters was built allowed the exact dimensions of the church (58 by 43 feet) and the cloisters (55 by 62 feet) were established. Inside the church the foundations of four piers, indicating three central arches, were discovered and, on the evidence of some decorative floor tiles and other sherds, a 13th- or 14th-century date was assigned to the remains.

The nineteen year winter (1135-1153)

While the reign of Stephen was generally insecure, the worst of the lawlessness known as "The Anarchy" seems to have been confined to a few of the years. Two factors helped bring back order: First, the Angevin cause was weak - following Matilda's early success until the rise of Henry. Second - the fall of Edessa in 1144 eventually led to the Second Crusade - many Anglo-Norman noblemen took the opportunity to slaughter and/or get slaughtered in the Middle East.

Nevertheless, the Anglo-saxon chronicle paints a grim view of these times:

  • They cruelly oppressed the wretched men of the land with castle-works; and when the castles were made, they filled them with devils and evil men. Then took they those whom they supposed to have any goods, both by night and by day, labouring men and women, and threw them into prison for their gold and silver, and inflicted on them unutterable tortures; for never were any martyrs so tortured as they were ... This lasted the nineteen winters while Stephen was king; and it grew continually worse and worse ... and every man robbed another who could. If two men, or three, came riding to a town, all the township fled for them, concluding them to be robbers. The bishops and learned men cursed them continually, but the effect thereof was nothing to them; for they were all accursed, and forsworn, and abandoned. To till the ground was to plough the sea: the earth bare no corn, for the land was all laid waste by such deeds; and they said openly, that Christ slept, and his saints. Such things, and more than we can say, suffered we nineteen winters for our sins.

The "Nineteen Year Winter" only drew to a close with the succession of Henry II. While Ranulph had originally be won over by Stephen with large grants of land he now later joined Duke Henry (later King Henry II). Henry's claim to the throne was that he was Matilda's son (he also had a large army). Early in January 1153 Henry crossed the Channel with a fleet of 36 ships, transporting a force of 3,000 footmen and 140 horses. The Treaty of Winchester with Stephen ensured that Duke Henry would succeed on Stephen's death (which followed in 1154).

Ranulph permitted stalls and a market to be set up before the abbey gate, and prohibited trading elsewhere in Chester while the fair lasted. Ranulph later pledged his peace to all attending the fair and extended responsibility for its policing to the barons of Cheshire.

Death by Poisoning

Britain in 1153, The red area is controlled by Stephen, the blue by the Angevins, grey by Welsh and yellow Ranulph De Gernon

Ranulf was not to see the death of Stephen and the succession of Henry II. In 1153 Ranulf survived an attempt at murder by poison by one of his arch-enemies, William Peverel of Nottingham (and possibly also his own wife), when he was guest at Peverel’s house (some say at Peverel Castle). There is an interesting link to a later earl (Ranulph) through William Peverel's cousin Miletta Peveril and her son Fulk FilzWaryn.

Ranulf had seized land from Peverel and Peverel had been one of the Magnates who had worked for Ranulf's imprisonment in 1146. Moreover, in 1153 (that is, before ascending the throne) Henry of Anjou (later Henry II) had granted some of Peverel's lands to Ranulph Earl of Chester. William had allegedly poisoned the wine that Ranulf and his men had drunk. Three of Ranulf’s men died but the Earl "recovered", to die (at Castle Gresley in Derbyshire) on the 16 December 1153. The suggestion has been made that the earl died an excommunicate but just why is not clear. Stephen lasted until 25 October 1154.

William Camden records the poisoning in his history of Nottinghamshire, and mentions the rumour that William Peverel's grandfather was the illegitimate son of William the Conqueror:

  • William surnamed the Conqueror appointed over this shire William Peverell his base sonne, not with the title of Earle, but of Lord of Nottingham: who had a sonne that died before his father, and he likewise had a sonne of the same name, whom King Henry the Second disinherited for that hee went about to poison Ranulph Earle of Chester.

One other notable event of 1153, was that Duke Henry granted Ranulf Staffordshire. After his death, the Earl’s son and heir Hugh was allowed to inherit Ranulf’s lands as held in 1135 (that is, before the original fall-out with the King), and other honours bestowed upon Ranulf were revoked. This was to lead to problems in 1173 when the next Earl would revolt against his king. Ranulph wss buried in St Werburg's Abbey, Chester, now the Cathedral.

In 1155, William Peverel, was dispossessed of his estates by the recently crowned King Henry II, for conspiring with Maud, Countess of Chester, to poison the late Earl. Given that William Peverel was a staunch supporter of Henry's old rival Stephen, the charge of poisoning the Earl of Chester (and witchcraft was thrown in) was particularly convenient for Henry. Notably, Henry himself does not specifically charge Peverel with the poisoning, but this cause is given in the Chronicon Roffense, Register of Dunstable, and by Matthew Paris, Matthew of Westminster, and Gervase of Dover. William disappeared — it is said that he first took the cowl and hid himself in a monastery:

  • fearing, the severity of, the King for that foul crime, he fled to a Monastery of his own Patronage (which doubtless was Lenton), where he caused himself to be shorn a Monk; but being privily advertised of King Henrie coming that way from York, he quitted his habit, and privily fled away, leaving all his Castles and possessions to the King's Pleasure. (Dugdale)
  • that this William PEVEREL, fearing the rigour of the king, betook himself first to the monastery at Lenton, founded by the elder PEVEREL, and not thinking himself safe there, as Henry was on his journey to York, he quitted the habit he had newly taken upon him and fled. The king seized the major part of his possessions, and amongst others of his castles that of Nottingham, which he first granted to Ranulph, Earl of Chester, but soon afterwards had that and the rest of PEVEREL's lands in his own possession again, and kept them in his hands for a considerable number of years. (Gervase of Dover)

— and Henry bestowed the forfeited Peverel estates upon his son, the future King John. William Peverel, is not heard of again after 1155. Curiously, it has been suggested by Anne Gilchrist that Ranulf (or Randal) III of Chester, was a possible source of the "name" in English and Scottish forms of the ballad "Lord Randal" which contains the lines "I fear you are poisoned, Lord Randall, my son",(Journal of the Folk Song Society, vol. III, 1908, pp. 43-4). Unfortunately, there is no evidence that the actual ballad is that old (the earliest known version being a 1629 setting by Camillo il Bianchino, in Verona) although it was reworked (in 1963) by Bob Dylan into "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall".

Ranulf's legacy (goes to Hell, gets thrown out, visits his grandson and founds an abbey renowned for mayhem)

One might think that with his death Ranulf's ability to cause chaos would be over. However, even after his death it appears that Ranulf could successfully escape seemingly impossible situations and still "change sides", for the following curious tale of Ranulf's posthumous adventures is told:

  • It is said of Earl Randle Gernons that a number of beings under command of a powerful leader passed by the cell of a hermit near Wallingford. Being asked who they were, and what was their errand, one of the company replied, "We are demons, and we are hastening to the death-bed of Randle to accuse him of his sins." The demon being adjured to return within a month and report what had been done, said on his return that " Earl Randal for his crimes had been condemned to the pains of hell ; but the dogs barked so incessantly as long as he was there, as to fill our homes with their clamour, until our prince in his annoyance ordered that the Earl should be expelled from our confines," for no greater enemy of theirs than Earl Randle had ever entered the infernal dominions.

Ranulf still wasn't finished. He managed an encore in 1214 when he appeared to his grandson (the seemingly sane and stable Ranulf de Blondeville) in a vision, and commanded him to found an abbey near Leek. The elder Ranulph told his grandson to go to 'Cholpesdale in the territory of Leek' and found a Cistercian abbey on the site of the former chapel of St. Mary the Virgin there, providing it with buildings and ample possessions. Ranulph went on to command that in the seventh year of the interdict that was to be laid on England his grandson was to transfer to this new site the Cistercians of Poulton (in Pulford, Ches.); this was a daughter-house of Combermere (Ches.) and had been founded in the elder Ranulph's name by Robert the Butler between 1146 and 1153. When the younger Ranulph told his new wife Clemence about his vision of his grandfather and the proposed foundation she exclaimed in French: 'Deux encres!' — 'May God grant it increase!' hence the name of the place - Dieulacres. Curiously, the same tale told of the earlier Ranulf has been associated with Ranulf de Blondeville where the "barking dogs" has been interpreted as a reference to the prayers of the monks of Dieulacres.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the manner of it's foundation, the abbey was often the source of problems in the area as the abbot maintained an "armed band". The Abbot ruled the town of Leek, and his power was absolute, erecting gallows in Market Street, which he was legally authorized to hang anyone he pleased. The only stipulation of this law was he had to give 48 hours notice to the person concerned. A royal commission in 1379 noted that:

  • "the Abbot of Dieulacres, in order to control the area, had used his armed men, to do all the mischief they can to the people in the county of Stafford and that they have lain in wait for them, assaulted, maimed, and killed some, and driven others from place to place..."

In 1380 the abbot himself was arrested and imprisoned following an incident during which a John de Wharton was beheaded by these men at the orders of the abbot. Suspiciously, he was soon pardoned and released. In subsequent years members of the community were accused of theft and the abbot criticized for appearing to protect them. There were also numerous lawsuits. In 1517, Abbot William Albion and eight of the monks were charged with being involved in a major riot in Leek with the purpose of preventing the arrest of an abbey steward for murder. Even the abbot was witnessed in use of a bow! He was deposed, as was his successor. The last abbot, Thomas Whitney was known to have violently abused abbey tenants and was possibly involved in fraud whilst actually accusing a former incumbent of such.

The abbey was surrendered in 1538 putting an end to 400 years of mayhem brought about by Ranulf - unless he has something to do with the "Phantom Coach" seen thereabouts...

Sources - de Gernon


Related Pages



  • (1996) Stephen and Matilda: Civil War of 1139-53, Sutton Publishing, ISBN 075090612X