Thursday, 8 September 2011

Nocton Hall - Revelations of an Imp - Chapter 3

The Saxons and Normans

Between 800-900A.D. Nocton received its first Danish visitors to settle into into the community. The names Lindsey and Kesteven came into circulation to strengthen the cosmopolitan mix and covered a wide area of Lincolnshire.

The Domesday Book records two Saxon gentlemen with a touch of Celtic blood who went by the names of Ulf and Osulf. These two landowners were progressive farmers. During the time of the Roman administration, it is more than probable that a Consul set up home on the present site of Nocton Hall.

The character of a nation's habits seldom alter significantly, and judged by modern development, we watch the process of knock down and rebuild going on around us today. We also have the advantage of archaeological digs revealing the same process in such places as York and London, where Saxons built on Roman, followed by Norman on Saxon.

Ulf is recorded as having 23 carucates. Osulf one. A carucate is approximately 100 acres. A simple mathematical calculation shows us that Ulf's estate was large. Osulf may have been his land agent with only 100 acres, but this was also a big farm in Saxon England.

Ulf's home would have been a large dwelling with sufficient accommodation to house a staff large enough for a Saxon noble's needs. As a calculated guess, the present Nocton Hall has its foundations on a Roman mansion, later restored by the Saxons to become the home of Ulf as Lord of the Manor. Ulf, completely happy in his Manor, and farming 2,300 acres, felt he hadn't a worry in the world other than the natural seasonal changes that regulate a farm estate. A good weather pattern would assure Ulf's success on the fertile land around Nocton. Both his stock and crops would do well and the City of Lincoln provided an open door for his farm products.

The political storm clouds were gathering, but it is unlikely that such news would reach Nocton. A grave threat was developing far to the south. The Duke of Normandy planned an invasion and had with meticulous care, evolved a daring plan, if successful, it would give both he and his nobles, England on a plate. The odds against success were stupendous.

Between four and five hundred men equipped with armour, bows and horses, set out across the Channel from Normandy. Just a small 'commando' style raid with the necessary back up. These soldiers supporting William, were not just very tough and experienced fighters, but were intelligent administrators and landowners. The landing on the east Sussex coast was unopposed. Plenty of time to equip themselves for battle, rest the horses and prepare for what lay ahead. A guard was mounted to protect the ships and leave a line of retreat.

King Harold hadn't a chance. A forced march from the north had sapped both the strength and will of his numerically greater army. A lucky arrow from the force of archers killed Harold and brought about the total collapse of his army. The weary foot soldiers had no stomach to face a disciplined tight line of Norman cavalry. An awesome sight, ready to come through the foot soldiers and archers. The Saxons broke for the Sussex woodland and safety.

Duke William ruled England. Amongst his leading soldiers was one Norman de Adreci (D'Arcy), who in two years time, was to arrive at Nocton.

It is worth recording that after the withdrawal of the Roman administration, England was in a state of turmoil. Money had given way to barter and an organised way of life seldom existed. The English maintained their influence for 150 years, but Danish settlers were arriving and making their homes in Lincolnshire.

A joint English, Saxon and Danish element, fragmented by a further penetration of Scandinavians and West Europeans, completed the change of Lincolnshire society.

From 827-1066, our country accepted 20 different rulers which illustrated the unstable state of the nation. It is unlikely that Ulf and Osulf would have developed Nocton into a well organised farming community but for the farmers and quiet small businesses holding the people together in a fight for survival.

After Hastings, William the Conqueror realised this unhappy state of England. As quickly as possible, he elected his senior soldiers and administrators to take over and control large parts ofEngland. Hence in our early history, we find so many 'De's' signifying a Norman Baron appointed to overlord a portion of country.

Norman D'Arcy was allotted 33 parishes at a meeting of the ruling authority in Lincoln under King William. Norman then had the task of selecting his residence. Ulf's Nocton Manor was chosen and remained in the D'Arcy family for the next 600 years. King William designated this ruling authority as 'The Great Council'. It was composed of Barons, Bishops, Abbots and Monks. The latter being the only people capable in those days of recording in writing, the rules and laws of the authority.

In 1093, Norman D'Arcy attended the Great Council at Gloucester. King William was determined to create stability after 600 years of turmoil. His dedication to this task was outstanding and his energy in moving to different parts of England for meetings of his Grand Council showed a sincerity of purpose which must mark him as a great ruler. He had to see for himself that our nation was gently returning to a quieter life under his local Barons.

The Battle of Hastings 1066 to King William's death in 1087 at the age of 60, marked the foundation stone of our present recorded history. Norman D'Arcy was to outlive two Monarchs and died 1114, a fortunate man to have enjoyed Nocton for 44 years and established it as the family seat.

Robert, his son and heir, succeeded him. Nocton was in the gentle hands of an understanding person who recognised the need for education, influenced by the great monastic revival brought about by Henry 1 (1100-1135) and Stephen (1135-1154). He gave the Churches of Nocton and Dunston to the Benedictine Monks of St. Mary's Abbey, York, financed by gifts of land from his estate which came under the control of the Cistercian Monks of Kirkstead, acting as trustees.

Robert then founded the Priory on Abbey Hill, Nocton, and also created a convent adjacent to the Priory, which were dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene for Canons of the Order of St. Augustine (an order first founded in 1108 in England).

Alas, today what remains of Robert's Priory has been hidden by natural growth and vegetation, but the uneven ground on Abbey Hill overlooking a vast area of treeless fen, marks the place where once in our history, human activity abounded and education thrived under the monks and nuns.

In 1118, during the reign of Henry 1, Robert D'Arcy conferred ownership of 300 acres of his estate to support the Nocton religious houses. This land was developed to provide good products and sustain the life of the priors as well as providing an annual income for their endeavours.

Robert's ambition was to create a well ordered society and provide education for all the young children by attending school at the Priory and Convent and Rectories in Nocton and Dunston and other nearby parishes.

When the Grand Council under William gave Norman D'Arcy 33 parishes, we assume only a small proportion was allotted to him, qualified with a document of title of ownership. These official grants to the D'Arcys covered Blankney, Scopwick, Metheringham, Dunston, Nocton and Mere, but there is no evidence in the exact size of Norman's personal estate. Historical evidence shows an area stretching north east to the Humber Estuary. One must assume the remainder of the parishes were under his overlord control, but not ownership. The early D'Arcys, therefore, ruled a large area of Lincolnshire, including Horncastle, Kirkstead Abbey, Scottlethorpe near Grantham, Cawkwell and Sleaford, the latter being developed as a garrison town protected by a Castle.

West of the early road from Lincoln to Sleaford, the countryside was nothing but wild heath with virtually no population around 1070. In return for his gifts of land, Norman and his successors were responsible for policing the territory and organising the sparse population under his control.

Robert's wisdom to involve the monks gave additional benefits. The priors and abbots were able to maintain parish records covering a wide aspect of Norman development. The learned gentlemen of the Church were continually travelling across England and into Europe and by this means, news was carried throughout the country and kept people informed. Journeys were slow but provided enough monks were visiting each other to maintain a church postal service, they were able to support trade and pass information and ideas to the different communities.

One must remember that in this transitional period, language was a difficulty, but the common tongue of Latin, gave the Church free communication. In this capacity, the monasteries were able to act for all the cosmopolitan country dwellers. To illustrate how such a journey was undertaken in the time of Robert D'Arcy: The Lord of the Manor would let it be known he had been summoned to London or a regional Capital on state business. The Prior would respond by letting Robert know that monks, priors and sometimes bishops would be spending the night at Norton Priory before making their way to an appropriate destination on the same route. A wagon-train was developing but only the most noble ladies were privileged with wheel and covered transport. Pack horse were more common and frequently used as transport of merchandise. The Lord of the Manor would finally complement those on such a journey by providing an armed guard. One or two soldiers would be mounted on faster horses to ride ahead and notify the manor, priory or abbey that they represented travellers including Lord D'Arcy and as many other high dignitaries these couriers might name. On arrival, these travellers who sought bed and breakfast, would on arrival, welcome friendly hospitality and a liberal feast washed down with cider, beer and wine.

This system worked well and created good relations amongst the travelling societies and allowed news of the nation to circulate. Information of what lay ahead and which routes would be favourable, came as part of the service. If roadways were subject to weather conditions such as flooding and heavy mud an alternative route would be suggested, perhaps on higher ground. If brigands and robbers were reported to be attacking and interfering on a section of road, the guards were alerted. Steep gradients were to be avoided at all costs, time consuming and tiring to a weary traveller who hoped to reach a Five Star Manor House or Abbey before dusk. The daily distance travelled depended on the time of year and weather, but seldom averaged over 20 miles.

This short summary on travel circa 1100, remained the customary method of getting from place to place until 17th/18th century, but in the early Norman period, it made those travellers who faced long journeys, secure and avoided robbery and death, which might have been inevitable to a lone traveller.

Robert's son, Thomas, followed him at Nocton. He was the first to carry this name for the next three generations from 1118-1204, a period of over 84 years, and saw the passing of four Kings - Henry 1, Stephen, Henry 2 and Richard 1 (1100-1199).

The second Thomas died in July 1181. He had married Alice, the daughter of Sir Ralph D'Eyncourt of Blankney. At some earlier date, Blankney must have been sold to the D'Eyncourt family. Thomas thereby made a shrewd marriage to re-link this lost acreage of the Nocton estate. Alice bore him a son, Thomas, the last of this Christian name at Nocton, as a D'Arcy.

A continual parochial controversy between the Church and Nocton Hall over who held the gift of the parishes of Nocton and Dunston was the only highlight of these years.

The last Thomas accepted the judgement of the Archbishop of York when given in favour of the Prior, but it remained a contentious issue over who should select the priest for these parishes.

D'Arcy felt the priors were eroding the estate and claimed privileges far beyond the early wishes of his family who had given the Priory and lands in good faith. The greedy churchmen were soon to fall out amongst themselves. Between 1203-1206, a lawsuit arose between the Abbot of York and the Prior of Nocton over their right of selection of a priest to these livings. The Prior of Nocton again won the day.

In 1205, Nocton had a second Norman to administer the estates. (John 1199-1216) Whether the D'Arcy good looks held the affection of King John's lady friends or the 'needle' between the Barons, that made King John and Lord D'Arcy sworn enemies, must remain unanswered.

D'Arcy was one of many Barons who enacted the Great Charter sealed by the King on 15th June 1215 near the banks of the Thames at Runnymede.

John secretly planned the destruction of these impudent Lords. D'Arcy must have been near the head of his list. During the short time following the signing of the Magna Carta and his death, the King led his forces into the Fens on two occasions. On 12th October 1215, John lost his entire personal wealth. The Wash estuary, at this point where the King hoped to cross, was four miles wide, dry at low tide but treacherous with quicksands. A wise traveller went across the path accompanied by a guide to test the firm ground with a long pole. The King had made the crossing, but he and his guide had neglected to keep their lead down to a few feet ahead of the train of baggage wagons, pack horses and soldiers. It was a cold and misty October evening with patches of thick fog obscuring the travellers from each other. The tide was mending rapidly. On reaching firm ground, the King turned and saw the horse and wagons flounder as they strayed from the firm route. Heavy carts blocked the pack horses and in a few seconds, the tide enveloped the stranded victims. In the confusion, John's personal treasure house of jewels, gold, silver and coronation regalia, were sucked into the quicksands. A Royal heritage lost to the nation.

In a fit of rage over his stupidity, John revenged his personal feelings by forfeiting Norman D'Arcy's estates, thus flouting the law, clearly set out in the Magna Carta.

It was a useless gesture. The King had no way to enforce the confiscation, other than with the help of Dame Nicola de la Hay with a detachment of her soldiers in Lincoln Castle.

King John was to learn that his tantrums only led him into deeper trouble. Nicola found herself in a state of siege and the only way she could escape out of the clutches of the Lincolnshire barons, including Lord D'Arcy, was by the King himself breaking through to relieve the Castle.

King John, for the second time in twelve months, made for Kings Lynn with his army. A goodly feast awaited his arrival at Norfolk town, but alas, the table was weighed down with such tempting dishes that the King over indulged. The food was washed down with cider. Next day, dysentery set in, but the King's stubborn resolve against this physical complaint, kept him going, but with increasing discomfort. He and his soldiers thrust forward into southern Lincolnshire. Nature's calls on his parsonage whilst making this journey across the bitterly cold, bleak, windswept fen land, had given the King a severe chill which now developed into pneumonia.

The Royal supporters realised John's life hung in the balance the morning of their arrival at Sleaford Castle, after their journey the previous day from Swineshead Abbey. An urgent message was despatched to the Abbot of Croxton, a monastery, south west of Grantham. It was then decided to move on to Newark to meet the Abbot, but John's physical condition was beyond the power of medical aid. By the time the Abbot reached his Royal Master, it was too late.

Any thought of an advance north on Lincoln to rescue the beautiful Dame Nicola de la Hay, had been set aside. She looked in vain towards the south, hoping to see the banners of John's force break the skyline.

The news of his death on the 18th October 1216 eventually reached Nicola. Perhaps a tear was shed, but so lovely a lady, whose memory is carried in the name of a beautiful rose, was soon to adjust her position and compromise with the Barons. It was the King's wish to be laid to rest in Worcester Cathedral. Loyal supporters set out on the long journey from Newark, following the Fosseway to the south until the funeral cortege turned west through Stratford and Alcester. Lord Bishop Walter of Worcester performed the Last Rights and officiated at the King's requiem. It is recorded that King John was five feet five inches in height.

With John's death, Norman D'Arcy was once again able to turn from military matters to the more pleasant parochial task of running the Norton estates. He and his family continued their interest and involvement with the Priory. An agreement dated 3rd August 1243, showed a caring relationship prevailed. Norman gave 'Rights of Common Pasture' for limited grazing - no less than 13 sheep or a baker's dozen - over certain fields.

Norman no longer a young man, the Prior with gentle encouragement and an eye on the future, assured the safety of his Father and Mother with the souls of his ancestors and successors, a safe journey to celestial pastures. The monks fixed the cost of such a transfer agreement at 120 sheep with a permanent right of way, not to Heaven, but what is known as the Priory Lane, joining the Priory on Abbey Hill with Dunston's Water Mill, thereby making it possible for the monks to take their corn to the Mill to be ground and return with their flour on this quicker route.

Norman's stewardship at Nocton amounted to 50 years, but Henry III who, as a young man, had officially given back these estates to the D'Arcy family, earlier confiscated by King John, now granted custody to Norman's son, Philip. The latter, a soldier in true character of his ancestry, had distinguished himself in the French Wars of 1230-1242. He also gained the King's favour when he denounced the corruption of Sir Henry De Bothe, a King's Justice, in 1250.

After Norman's death in 1254, Philip was to live another nine years and on his death in 1263, the third Norman, Philip's son and heir became the Master of Nocton. Another 34 years were to pass before the third Norman, yet another dedicated soldier, joined his ancestors. This period covered the reigns of Henry III (1216-1272) and Edward I (1272-1307).

In Norman's early life, he was soon in trouble. True to his political feelings, he was strongly influenced by Simon De Montfort's radical democratic outlook. At the Battle of Lewes, Simon and his army defeated Henry III and took control of the country, setting up Parliament in 1265. 'True democracy to all subjects' was De Montfort's avowed ambition, but these ideals were not acceptable to the majority of the powerful barons and landowners. Henry must be restored. De Montfort's idea of 'too much democratic nonsense' was too far reaching for the minds of the nobles who preferred less radical changes. Norman joined Simon De Montfort's son, in command of a small force at the Battle of Northampton in 1265 when he was taken prisoner. De Montfort had sent these soldiers, under his son, to prevent supporters of Henry joining the King's main army, heading for Evesham.

News of he defeat at Northampton, didn't reach Simon in time to adjust his strategy. On a Sunday morning, without these essential reserves, his army was committed to battle. The day developed into a bloody and dreadful contest. No quarter given or expected. In the afternoon, Simon was hacked to death. His head mounted on a pike, was taken the same evening through Evesham from the outlying battlefield. Norman D'Arcy, lucky to escape with his life at Northampton, suffered forfeiture of his estates - now a regular feature! In two years, his land was again restored. Henry's great respect for the D'Arcy family, and particularly Norman, as a soldier influenced the King's generous decision.

During the remainder of his life, his respect for the Crown, and his direction as a senior adviser to Henry III, brought him a high position again with Edward I, who personally summoned him to parliament in September 1283.

The King bestowed the status of the Lords of Nocton as hereditary Barons by writ, before Norman's death in 1296. His son and heir, Philip, likewise shared this honour as Lord D'Arcy and was duly summoned to all Parliamentary sessions from February 1297 to June 1307.

Philip was to the last of the male D'Arcy family to reside at their Lincolnshire estate. Born in 1258, he lived into the 14th century, dying sometime in 1330, thus concluding 260 years at Nocton Hall under the D'Arcy Coat of Arms.

Before closing our history of the male descendant's, two further complications developed - one of a domestic nature at Nocton, the second a more serious state matter.

In 1315, Philip became entangled in a domestic row between the Prior of Nocton and himself. The Prior accused Philip of employing men for the purpose of cattle rustling. The prior claimed belligerent men prevented his monks farming. Horses, plough oxen and equipment were stolen and any peaceful work was upset by gross unneighbourly behaviour.

The Prior addressed a formal petition to the King's Council, setting out their grievances against Lord D'Arcy. The Court appointed three justices: Edward D'Eyncourt, Robert De Willoughby, and Roger Coppeldik. The outcome of the Court's findings is not recorded, but let us hope these wise men restored peace in a situation so out of character with the Nocton way of life. In London, Philip, due to his high principles and disagreements with the King's advisers, became involved in the revolt of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, the King's uncle.

What he hoped to gain by joining another uprising against the Crown, when he must have realised his Father's good fortune in escaping such a mad venture with his life in the Simon De Montfort affair, one finds difficult to understand.

Edward II marched north and at Boroughbridge on 16th March 1322, inflicted a decisive defeat on his uncle's army. The D'Arcy estates were again forfeited, but after Thomas was executed, Edward reconsidered Philip's situation and conduct. The Nocton estates were returned to his ownership and another D'Arcy escaped with his life on the promise that he would thereafter support his Monarch.

In mitigation of Philip's disloyalty to the Crown, one must consider his dilemma, when he and his son Norman pledged their loyalty to Thomas, Henry III's younger son who then carried the additional titles of Earls of Lincoln, Leicester, Derby, Salisbury with estates in Yorkshire, Lancashire, the Midlands and Southern England. Edward I was a tough nobleman and respected by all as a man. His son, Edward II, was the reverse. The nobility had a strong distaste for his effeminate nature, although he was married to a demanding girl, Isabella of France. To her humiliation, she found the King's two closest advisers as men endowed with female qualities. These 'gentlemen' named Gaveston and Despenser, would today be referred to as 'gay'. The former soon met a 'sticky end' at the hands of the nobility, but Despenser, a more ruthless and cunning individual with an unlimited ambition, played his cards carefully.

Although the Battle of Boroughbridge, 13th March 1322, was a victory, the King's future was now in question. The strong distaste of unmanly habits at Court, further weakened Royal respect.

Five years were to pass before the final act in Edward's homosexual affair. In 1327 at Berkeley Castle, the King's assassins thrust their daggers into his body. The Barons of England completed the final act. Despenser's execution followed with a clean blow of the axe.

Queen Isabella, daughter of King Philip IV of France 1785-1314, motified by her husband's relationship with these 'nice boy' was triumphant at the death of her husband and his boyfriend.

Philip's son the fourth to be called Norman, was not to see the Nocton estates pass to him. A true D'Arcy, he accompanied Edward III to his Flemish Wars of 1338-9 and died on 28th March 1340. Yet another son, alas, died as a very young man before the age of 21, like his father, succumbing to the plague.

By a Court Deed of Ownership, taken at Lincoln on 3rd December 1350, Nocton was divided between Julianna, wife of Sir John De Lymbury and her sister Agnes, the wife of Sir Roger DePedwaerdine, both declared co-heirs to the Nocton estates as daughters of Philip D'Arcy.

Philip's younger brother, John, not important to the immediate Nocton history, was of the uttermost importance as the only surviving male member of the D'Arcy family. John had already moved to Knayth Park, 12 miles north west of Lincoln, before the tragic death of Philip who had succumbed to the bubonic plague. King Edward II created him Baron D'Arcy De Knayth, a title still proudly carried today by a D'Arcy of female descent who is known as Baroness D'Arcy De Knayth.

John adopted a military career and served the army of Edward I in Scotland. Under Edward II, the titles of Sheriff of the Counties of Nottingham and Derby were bestowed on his person and in 1327, he became Sheriff of Yorkshire. The King further appointed him Lord Justice of Ireland, to be again re-appointed to this office by Edward III in 1341 and subsequently accepting this appointment for life.

In such an exhausting military career, he served in the English Embassies to Scotland and France and in further campaigns in Flanders, Brittany and the French War of 1346. Additional honours included the Stewardship of the King's Household and Constable for life of the Tower of London.

John first married Emmeline, daughter of Walter Heron, granddaughter and heiress of Lord William Heron. Emmeline died in 1296, leaving two sons and a daughter.

His second wife, Joan, was the daughter of Richard De Burgh, Earl of Ulster, and this marriage produced three children. His estates now extended from Lincolnshire into Yorkshire and by his death in 1347, he had made certain the D'Arcy name would be carried forward into future generations.

A D'Arcy was to become the Second Earl of Holderness, a high distinction for the First Earl to carry the title, was brother of a reigning Monarch.

John's ancestry was eventually to bring D'Arcy blood again back to Nocton when those of the family on the female side had terminated the D'Arcy association as Ladies of the Manor. John D'Arcys successors, either in direct line on the male side or indirectly through the D'Arcy ladies, impregnated a blood line that was interwoven with the greatest of English, Irish and Scottish aristocracy. Dukes, Marquises, Earls and Barons possessed D'Arcy blood.

Casualties in history were more frequent the higher an individual climbed the political ladder. This hazard became additionally perilous when the influenced events. A D'Arcy was beheaded on Tower Hill - the Nocton luck had run out. Lord D'Arcy was convicted of high treason and died 15th June 1538. His conscience of faith would not compromise with Henry VIII's demands. A true D'Arcy and soldier.

We must salute the quality of a family that endeavoured through our history to go forward with such total dedication in what they believed right. A glance at the D'Arcy Coat of Arms on the west face of Nocton Hall will remind us of such gentlemen who would not accept anything but the highest ideals compatible with human existence. Three times the Lincolnshire estates were forfeited by the Crown, yet this did not deter a D'Arcy. Both after Northampton and Boroughbridge, the head of the family escaped execution, but when it came to a matter of religious belief, Lord D'Arcy accepted his fate.

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