Welcome to my website

I’m an author of historical fiction and non-fiction. On this Sept 2013 052front page you’ll find details of my current novels. If you delve a little deeper, you’ll discover all sorts of interesting stuff. Just click on the links above or keep scrolling down to get started.

A large print edition of Favoured Beyond Fortune has been P1040212published by Ulverscroft. Look out for it in your local library.


The first of March is publication day for the audiobook of

An Honourable Estate An Honourable Estate audiobook cover

Many Kinds of Silence

MKOS cover 22 Sept-page-0– the lost years of William Shakespeare.

When William Shakespeare leaves his home in Stratford in the company of a Catholic priest he knows that he is walking into danger, but the vast libraries held in the name of God are enough to tempt him to risk his life in the pursuit of knowledge. However, the capture and death of his mentor, Edmund Campion, and his return to Stratford set William on an altogether different path. Marriage to Anne Hathaway means he must turn his back on the priesthood, but there are other ways for a clever and charming young man to be of use to the faith.

Many Kinds of Silence traces the story of a young William Shakespeare and his patron, Ferdinando Stanley, and reveals how religion, science and choosing in whom to place your trust meant the difference between life and death in Elizabethan England.

Now available as paperback and ebook for kindle.

 amazon.co.uk amazom.com 

Read the first chapter

Many Kinds of Silence is a cleverly conceived and captivating novel, casting adrift a young and restless William in a maelstrom of religious strife and intrigue whilst exploring the adventurous spirit of a generation in pursuit of scientific knowledge. Lancashire Evening Post

The Circle of Fortune  


is now available as an ebook and a paperback.

When Roger Mortimer escapes from the Tower of London, Alicia de Lacy and her husband, Eble le Strange, support his campaign to rid England of Edward II and his hated favourite, Hugh le Despenser. But as Mortimer’s power increases he becomes as corrupt as his predecessors, and Alicia and Eble are forced to decide where their loyalties really lie.

Buy from Amazon

 Favoured Beyond Fortune


Alicia de Lacy was one of the richest noblewomen in England. But  lost everything when her husband, Thomas of Lancaster, led a rebellion against King Edward II.  

Everything except the love of one man.

Read the first chapter 

The ebook is now available from Amazon UK, Amazon.com and other Amazon sites. Paperback also available.


By Loyalty Bound

is  available as an ebook and a hard cover book from Pen and Sword Fiction 

Or buy from Amazon

Watch the book trailer 

Still not convinced? Read the first chapter here

When 17 year old Richard, Duke of Gloucester, defies his elder brother, Edward IV, and 

BLB book jacket jpegrides to Hornby Castle in the north of Lancashire to help James and Robert Harrington defend their birthright against Sir Thomas Stanley, he engenders a chain of events that will have repercussions for years to come. His fight for justice for the Harringtons and his relationship with Anne Harrington, whose wardship has been given to Thomas Stanley, cause a rift between the two men that will never be healed, and which will lead to Richard being betrayed when he most needs Stanley’s support.

By Loyalty Bound tells the story of defiant Anne Harrington, the woman who would later become mistress to the enigmatic Richard as a consequence of his involvement in the trials of her family. With her father and grandfather killed fighting for the Yorkists at Wakefield in 1460, Hornby Castle falls to her as an inheritance at the tender age of five years old. When her ward-ship is handed over to Thomas Stanley by the king himself, Anne’s uncles and the influence they might otherwise have wielded are virtually cut off. The story traces the Harringtons fight to keep possession of their ancestral home, the support given to them by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and Richard’s tumultuous and beguiling relationship with Anne as she is forced into a marriage arranged for her by her guardian, a man who has objectives beyond the determination to secure her future happiness. 

Here is the cover for the hardback edition. Out now!

BLB hardback cover


An Honourable Estate 

is based on the legend of Mab’s Cross at Wigan and is available as a paperback and an ebook. 

England 1315

Famine and unrest spread across the country and when Sir William Bradshaigh joins Adam Banastre’s rebellion against their overlord, the Earl of Lancaster, things do not go to plan.  

Sir William is lucky to escape with his life after a battle at Preston and, as a wanted man, has no choice but to become an outlaw.  Meanwhile, the lands at Haigh are forfeit to the king and are given to Sir Peter Lymesey for a year and a day, and Lady Mabel Bradshaigh must make a hard choice if she is to protect her children and herself.

Watch the book trailer

Buy from: Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

The novel has its own page on the website here: http://elizabethashworth.com/an-honourable-estate/ where you can read more about the historical background to the story and follow the reviews.

You can also visit The Honourable Estate facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/AnHonourableEstate

Also available as a large print book and an audio book:


P1020997 (2)

An Honourable Estate audiobook cover







The de Lacy Inheritance

was published by Myrmidon Books in 2010.  It was followed by a large print edition from Ulverscroft and an audiobook version from  ISIS Soundings.  The printed books and the audiobook are all available for sale or from your local library.

The de Lacy Inheritance is set in Lancashire and Cheshire.

When Richard Fitz-Eustace returns from the crusade suffering from leprosy he resolves to live as a hermit and seek forgiveness for his sins. But first he must fulfil an obligation to his grandmother.  He must seek her kinsman, Robert de Lacy, and ask his consideration of her claim to his estates. Meanwhile, Richard’s sister, Johanna is distraught. The fate of her brother has done more than leave her bereft. Her mother has contrived a marriage for her and without Richard’s protection there seems little she can do to prevent it. 

Buy it at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

If you’ve read the book, why not take the quiz at Goodreads – http://www.goodreads.com/trivia/work/5478660

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off | Edit

The builders of the Ribblehead Viaduct

If you have been following the television drama series Jericho, you may be aware that it is loosely based on the building of the railway viaduct near Ribblehead in North Yorkshire.

Ribble source to sea pics (Yorkshire) 012The magnificent Batty Moss viaduct, 1320 feet long and 104 feet high with its 24 arches which span the valley has been heralded as one of the great achievements of Victorian engineering.  It was built by the Midland Railway between 1870 and 1874 and it crosses some of the most difficult terrain in the country.


At one time 7000 men, known as navvies, were employed on the railway project, with 2000 of them in the Ribblehead area.  They laboured in horrendous conditions and lived, many with their families, up on the moors in shanty towns during its construction.  The towns were complete communities with post offices and schools. Some were given supposedly inspiring names such as the Crimean victories at Inkerman, Sebastopol and others, like Jericho, had biblical names. The remains of one of these camps, Batty Green, where over 2000 people lived and worked can still be seen near Ribblehead.

Life was brutal. The work was hard and difficult and performed mostly without the aid of mechanisation. The boggy ground meant that piers had to be sunk to a depth of 25 feet below the peat and set in concrete to provide foundations.

Death and disease were common.  Smallpox as well as accidents took many lives.  Eighty people died at Batty Green alone following a smallpox epidemic and the victims were buried in local graveyards in unmarked graves.

Memorial to railway workers St Leonard Chapel le Dale

Memorial to railway workers St Leonard Chapel le Dale

To mark the millennium in the year 2000 a memorial was placed in the graveyard at the church of St Leonard in nearby Chapel-le Dale.  A large stone, part of a redundant gatepost from a local farm, has a memorial plaque which is inscribed: The church community of Chapel le Dale erected this plaque To the Memory of the many men, women and children resident in this Parish between 1870 and 1877 who died through accident or disease during the construction of the Settle to Carlisle Railway and who were buried in this churchyard.

The memorial in the church at Chapel-le-Dale.

The memorial in the church at Chapel-le-Dale.




The churchyard, which had to be extended to accommodate the hundreds of deaths,  also has other graves connected to the building of the viaduct.  One is the grave of James Mather, to be found near the church porch. He was the popular host of the Welcome Home – a drinking place frequented by the navvies.  He was visiting Ingleton when a horse and cart ran out of control.  James bravely tried to grab the reins of the startled horse but was dragged under its hooves and died.  He was aged 45 years.


The grave of Ribblehead viaduct subcontractor Job Hirst.

The grave of Ribblehead viaduct subcontractor Job Hirst.

Another grave, near the lych gate, is that of Job Hirst. The inscribed tombstone records that he was a sub-contractor of the Batty Moss viaduct.  He was mugged by unknown persons whilst riding a horse towards Ingleton.

It would seem that the true stories of these workers is at least as sensational as their fictional counterparts. Ans although the viaduct is very picturesque  those who lost their lives during its building should never be forgotten.

| Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

First Footers

A first footer is the first person to cross the threshold of a house on New Year’s Day and who that person is will dictate the luck you will have in the following year. In Lancashire, a tall, dark-haired man will bring you the best luck, especially if he also brings a gift. My uncle, who was dark-haired, was often asked by his neighbours to visit their homes just after midnight and ‘bring in’ the New Year for them. He would take with him a lump of coal which symbolises warmth and comfort in the home. The neighbours were then assured of good fortune for the coming year and did not have to fear the bad luck that would be brought in by a fair-haired man or woman being the first to enter their house on New Year’s Day.

Another tradition associated with the New Year is mummers. They would come to the house wearing a scarf and flat cap and with blackened faces to disguise themselves. They would bring with them a dustpan and brush and were not allowed to speak, only to ‘mmm’ (to frighten away any evil spirits) until they had swept away the bad luck from the doorstep.

The New Year was also closely associated with the art of divination. If a girl wanted to know more about her future husband she would pour some melted lead into a glass of water and watch to see what image would be formed as it cooled. If it resembled scissors then she would marry a tailor, if she could see a hammer then she would marry a carpenter and so on.

The New Year was also a time to watch the weather carefully. If New Year’s Day dawns with dusky red clouds there will be much strife and debate during the coming year as well as many robberies.

| Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Mexico Disaster


The lifeboat memorial where five crew men of the Laura Janet are buried at St Annes parish church.

The lifeboat memorial where five crew men of the Laura Janet are buried at St Annes parish church.

The Mexico was a large barque from Hamburg which set sail from Liverpool bound for Guayaquil in Ecuador on the night of 9th December 1886. Not long after setting out,  it signalled that it was in distress to the south-west of Lytham.  At around ten o’clock the Lytham lifeboat, Charles Biggs, was launched in a moderate west-north-west gale with a very heavy sea.  At eleven o’clock that same night the lifeboat from Southport, the Eliza Fernley was also launched and managed to come within about twenty yards of the Mexico, which was breaking up, but a huge wave struck the lifeboat, tipping her upside down and all her crew were washed into the raging sea.  At around half past ten the St Annes’ boat, Laura Janet, had also set out, under sail, but she was quickly swept away.  The boat from Lytham eventually managed to reach the Mexico, plucking the captain and crew from the sinking vessel and bringing them safely to shore.  Coxswain Thomas Clarkson and his crew then went back into the raging sea to try to save the crew of the St Annes boat.  But they were too late.  All the crew of the St Annes boat drowned that night.  A total of twenty-seven lifeboatmen died at sea in the Mexico disaster.

In the churchyard of St Annes parish church there is a memorial, paid for by public subscription, which marks the grave of five members of the St Annes lifeboat crew:

Charles Tims age 43, Reuben Tims age 30,Thomas Bonneyage age 35, James H Dobson age 28,Thomas Parkinson age 28. The memorial is also inscribed with these words from the gospel of St John: Greater Love Hath No Man Than This.  That A Man lay down His Life For His Friends.

Laura Janet memorial St Cuthbert's Lytham

The Laura Janet memorial at St Cuthbert’s, Lytham.


There is another memorial at St Cuthbert’s church in Lytham  where other members of the drowned crew are buried:

James Bonney age 21,Nicholas Parkinson age 22,Richard Fisher age 45, Oliver Hodson age 39, James Johnson age 45, John P Wignall age 22,William Johnson (coxswain) age 35. It also mentions James Harrison age 19 who is buried in Blackpool Cemetery.



The grave that adjoins the memorial at St Annes is that of Sir Charles Wright Macara.

lifeboat memorial and Charles Macara's grave

He was born in 1845 at Strathmiglo in Fifeshire and was the eldest son of Rev William Macara who was a minister in the Free church of Scotland.  After being educated by his father and at school in Edinburgh he began work, at the age of sixteen, for a firm in Glasgow whose business took him on visits to Manchester where he subsequently worked as a representative of Cox brothers of Dundee.  In 1880 he became a partner in the firm of Henry Bannerman and Sons and acting as the managing director from 1884.  And in 1875 he married Marion, who was a granddaughter of one of the founders of the firm.

Charles Macara's grave St Annes parish church

In 1884 he fought a strike by the Bannerman workers but became associated with the rights of both workers and employers.  From 1894-1914 he was president of the Federation of Master Cotton Spinners’ Associations and in 1899 was instrumental in the formation of the Manchester Cotton Employers’ Parliamentary Association. During the cotton strike of 1892-3 he resisted the workers’ wage demands but also opposed employers’ attempts to crush the union and as chairman of the Manchester Master Cotton Spinners’ Association he was largely responsible for the Brooklands Agreement of 1893, which established new guidelines for negotiations during labour disputes within the cotton industry.

From 1885 he spent his weekends at St Annes where he loved to sail and when donations

The lifeboat memorial at St Annes.

The lifeboat memorial at St Annes.

to help the bereaved families of the Mexico disaster, including contributions from Queen Victoria, the German Emperor and the Port of Hamburg, were received he became the chairman of the Relief Fund.  Following this he founded the Lifeboat Saturday Fund.  The first event was held in 1891 in Manchester when thirty thousand people attended and five and a half thousand pounds was collected.  The Fund spread to the rest of the country and became an annual event and his wife Mrs Marion Macara helped set up the Ladies Auxiliary Committee which led later to the formation of the Ladies Lifeboat Guilds.   Charles Macara revolutionised charity fundraising and his ideas still raise money for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Charles Macara was created a baronet in 1911. He died at his home at Hale, Cheshire on the 2nd January 1929, but was buried at St Anne’s.








| Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Halton Castle

If you have read The de Lacy Inheritance you will know that it begins at Halton Castle in Cheshire as Richard is read the Mass of Separation. I visited the castle when I was researching the novel but didn’t write about its history at that time, so when I made another visit at the weekend I decided it was time for some photos and a bit more information.


The remains of Halton Castle.

The hill where Halton Castle is sited must have been a defensive position long before the Norman Invasion. The view is amazing, even on a fairly dismal day, and I must try to visit again when the weather is clear and remember to take my binoculars with me. You can see across the river Mersey to Lancashire, to the distant mountains of north Wales, across the Pennines to Yorkshire, to Derbyshire and of course swathes of Cheshire. So, it isn’t surprising that it was on this sandstone outcrop that Nigel of Cotentin, the first Baron of Halton, built his Norman stronghold.


The Barons of Halton Castle.


Looking out over the Mersey towards Stanlow. The castle controlled a strategic river crossing.

It was Nigel’s son, William FitzNigel,the second Baron of Halton, who in 1115 founded an Augustinian Priory in Runcorn, which was later moved by his son, William FitzWilliam to Norton in 1134. The castle and the priory are still linked today under the care of The Norton Priory Museum Trust, although after a varied history the castle is now part of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Those familiar with the story of The de Lacy Inheritance will know that Albreda de Lacy, the cousin of Robert de Lacy (2) was the wife of Richard FitzEustace, the fifth Baron of Halton and she bequeathed her share of the de Lacy estates to her grandson Roger who took the name de Lacy. He became the seventh Baron of Halton and from that time the castle remained in the ownership of the de Lacy family until it was surrendered to King Edward II on the execution of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster who had married Alicia de Lacy. You can read more about that story in Favoured Beyond Fortune.

The castle may have lost some of its importance after it came into the possession of the de Lacy family. They had bigger and better castles, such as Pontefract, and probably didn’t spend much time living at Halton, although it would have been an important administrative base. There was a visit from King John in 1207 and he gave £5 towards the upkeep of the chapel.


By 1362, John of Gaunt was using the castle as a hunting lodge and between 1450 and 1457 a new gatehouse was built at a cost of £347. A survey  from 1476 mentions a number of  buildings  at the castle, including a great chamber, a withdrawing room, a chapel, a hall and domestic buildings including a stable.

During the English Civil War, the castle was a royalist stronghold in the charge of Earl Rivers, who was Steward of Halton. The priory, which had passed into private ownership following the Dissolution, was owned by the Brooke family who were parliamentarians. There were two sieges of the castle and it was eventually taken by Cromwell’s men. Much of the castle was deliberately ruined at this time to prevent its future use by the royalist supporters.

P1040494In 1737, the gatehouse was demolished and a courthouse was built in its place. You can see the remains of the lock-ups in the castle bailey. The building currently houses a pub.

In the 1800s, the Brooke family kept the castle as a ‘romantic ruin’, building new follies and creating a sunken Victorian garden.

Remains of the Victorian sunken garden.

Remains of the Victorian sunken garden

Today, what remains is a Grade I listed building and research into the castle’s history is ongoing. This summer (2015) there was an archaeological dig which uncovered, amongst other items, two skeletons. The age of these remains and whether they were buried within the castle chapel is part of an ongoing investigation. I’ll be interested to see what is revealed.


Priory or Friary – Who Lies Where?

The histories of various well-known people, including Richard, Duke of York and Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, record that they were buried at Pontefract. However it takes a little more digging to discover exactly where, because Pontefract had both a priory and a friary and even the information displayed on the signage board at the site of St John’s Priory seems to be incorrect when compared with historical records.

P1030922 The Cluniac Priory of St John is the older of the two monastic establishments. There are no remains above ground but the site of the priory is preserved and the outlines of the buildings can clearly be seen on images from Google Earth. The site can be found on Box Lane, close to Pontefract Castle.

The Priory of St John was founded by Robert (1) de Lacy in the reign of William Rufus, although the exact date is unknown. Norman lords were keen founders of ecclesiastical institutions and the foundation of St John’s near to the castle at Pontefract was no doubt an attempt to ease the passage of the de Lacys to heaven. The priory was founded ‘for the good estate of the founder, and the souls of William I, the founder’s parents – Ilbert and Hawise – and all his ancestors and heirs’.

The priory was a daughter house of La Charité-sur-Loire. The first monks came from thereP1030926 and were housed in what later became St Nicholas’ Hospital. The appointment of the prior was by the mother house in France and a yearly payment was sent from Pontefract, although this was confiscated in the reign of Edward III.

It’s recorded in the Historia Laceiorum, a 15th century genealogy of the de Lacy family, that several members of the de Lacy family lie here. Robert’s parents, Ilbert and Hawise are said to be buried at the right and left of the altar. Robert’s son Ilbert is recorded as being buried between the tomb of his mother, Matilda, and the wall at the altar of St Benedict, and the founder himself is recorded as being buried at the right hand corner of the altar of St Benedict, within the priory church. Most historians dismiss this information and record that the date of death and place of burial of both Ilbert de Lacy and Robert de Lacy is unknown. The probable reason is that the Historia Laceiorum is a flawed document with provable errors which has led to it being widely mistrusted, but it would be reasonable to suppose that at least Robert’s wife, Matilda, and son, Ilbert, were buried here.

Another burial in the priory was that of Archbishop Thurstan. He retired here in January 1140 to fulfil a vow taken in his youth to become a monk of the Cluniac order. He died on 5th February after reciting the office of the dead. ‘Whilst the rest were kneeling and praying around him he passed away to await in the Land of Silence the coming of that Day of Wrath, so terrible to all, of which he had just spoken.’ Some years later his grave was opened and his remains were found to be sweet smelling and undecayed.

It was also in St John’s Priory that Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, was buried in 1322 following his execution after the Battle of Boroughbridge where he had led a rebellion against Edward II. After he was beheaded on a nearby hill, the monks begged for his body and buried it at the right hand of the high altar. It was to this church that pilgrims, who viewed Thomas as a martyr, began to come in their thousands as stories of miracles began to spread. ‘Certain miracles which were said to be done near the place both where he suffered and where he was buried caused many to think that he was a saint. Howbeit, at length, by the king’s commandment, the church doors of the priory where he was buried were shut and closed, so that no man might be suffered to come to the tomb to bring any offering or to do any other kind of devotion to the same.’ 

P1030950The Dominican Friary of St Richard at Pontefract has also disappeared, although traces were found during the construction of the new hospital when it was discovered that it lies somewhere to the east of Friarwood Valley Gardens.

The friary was founded by Edmund de Lacy in 1256. After the death of his father, John de Lacy, Edmund became a ward of the king and was given into the care of a tutor, Richard Wych, who later became Bishop of Chichester and was made a saint after his death on 3rd April 1253. Edmund chose the town of Pontefract to establish the friary in his honour and the story of the foundation is told by a contemporary Dominican, Ralph de Bocking, in his life of Richard Wych. Edmund de Lacy, accompanied by discreet men, both religious and secular, laid the foundation stone with his own hands, saying: ‘To the honour of our Lady Mary, mother of God and Virgin, and of St Dominic, confessor, to whose brethren I assign this place, and also of St Richard, bishop and confessor, formerly my lord and dearest friend, I wishing to found a church in this place lay the first stone’. Upon these words, the stone split into three parts, as if to approve the choice of the three patron saints.

Unlike the Cluniac order, the Dominicans were an open order who went about the countryside in pairs, preaching. They were known as the Black Friars from their black habits.

When Edmund de Lacy died on 22nd July, 1257, he left his heart to be buried in the Dominican church at Pontefract. It’s probable that the church was not complete at this date and the rest of his remains were buried beside his father and grandfather at Stanlaw Abbey in Cheshire, but were later moved to Whalley Abbey when the monks transferred there.

A list of burials at St Richard’s Friary was compiled by John Wriothesley, Garter King-of-Arms, who died in 1504. Presumably taken from the friary records, he records that the heart of the founder, Edmund de Lacy, is buried there. Also listed are Edmund’s wife, Alice, daughter of the Marquess de Saluzzo, their infant son John and daughter Margaret; also the heart of Alice’s husband, George de Cantlowe, and their infant son; also Agnes de Vescy, who was Alice’s sister.  He also lists the hearts of Richard, Duke of York and his son Edmund, Earl of Rutland; also Richard Nevill, Earl of Salisbury, and his son Thomas. These are the Yorkist noblemen who were killed at, or executed following, the battle of Wakefield. It is sad, however, that when I visited Pontefract, the information board that has been put up on the site of the Priory of St John claims that those who were killed at Wakefield were buried there.

The bodies of the duke of York and his son Edmund were transferred from Pontefract in 1476 when the duke’s son Edward was king. They were taken in procession to the church near to their family home at Fotheringhay.  Richard Nevill and his son Thomas were removed to Bisham Abbey.

At the reburial of Richard III earlier this year, Benedict Cumberbatch commented that P1030934having found the king under a car park, in the remains of the Greyfriars, he hoped the tomb in Leicester Cathedral would not be lost to future generations. It was a thought-provoking thing to say because I’m sure that Robert de Lacy and Edmund de Lacy never even considered that their magnificent religious foundations would one day no longer exist and that their tombs would be destroyed. It took the actions of only one man – Henry VIII. We must strive to ensure that someone in the future doesn’t destroy the history we have now and that what remains is recorded accurately and preserved.

| Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Secret Burial of Saint Margaret Clitherow

Stydd Chapel: Up a narrow track on the outskirts of the village of Ribchester is the small Stydd Chapel and Ribchester 001chapel of St Saviour, Stydd. It is a tranquil place and the simple building with its stone-flagged floor and plastered, white-washed walls is one of only a few early medieval churches in Lancashire still in use as a place of worship; monthly Sunday services are held here in the summer, as well as at Christmas, Easter and on other special occasions.  Yet, in this unprepossessing place it is believed a saint is buried. Beneath the altar at Stydd chapel are thought to lie the remains of St Margaret Clitherow, also known as St Margaret of York or the Pearl of York.

There has been a place of worship here since the 12th century when deeds refer to ‘the hospital of St Saviour, under Longridge and the Master and brethren also serving God there’.  It could have been a monastery and perhaps a place where travellers could stay on their journey, as the term ‘hospital’ referred to hospitality before it became widely used as the name of a place to cure the sick.  And as Ribchester, once a Roman settlement, was sited at an important road junction where the north/south crossing of the Ribble met the east/west route across the Pennines it would seem reasonable to assume that such a resting place would have been welcome.

In the mid 13th century there is a record that the Knights Hospitallers of the Order of St John of Jerusalem acquired the site from Adam, the Chaplain-Warden of the house of St Saviour at Dutton, ‘together with the surrounding plough-lands, wood and moor and with rent from land in Dutton, Ribchester and elsewhere.’ 

By the 14th century the religious community was gone and the Knights Hospitallers rented out the land for agriculture use, although the chapel survived as the tenant was required to keep it maintained and to provide a chantry chaplain to sing masses for the dead.  In 1501 Nicholas Talbot endowed a priest to sing for twelve months at Stydd, where his mother and father were buried.  Local parish registers record that the burial ground surrounding the chapel was still in use up until 1879 when burials were formally discontinued.

 After the Reformation in the reign of Henry VIII, land owned by the Knights Hospitallers was forfeit to the crown and Stydd was sold to Sir Thomas Holt of Grizehurst, though still on condition that he paid a small stipend to a chaplain to hold occasional services in the chapel.

In 1686, Stydd Manor, including St Saviour’s, was bought by a group of local gentlemen (all Roman Catholics) including James Stanford, Richard and John Shireburne of Bailey Hall and their cousins Richard and John Walmsley of Showley Hall at Clayton-le-Dale.  It is possible that they purchased the chapel and burial ground to use quietly for religious purposes.

The shrine to Margaret Clitherow in her former home on the Shambles in York

The shrine to Margaret Clitherow in her former home on the Shambles in York

Margaret Clitherow was born in York in around 1553. She was the fourth child of Thomas and Jane Middleton. In 1571 she married wealthy local butcher John Clitherow, who was a widower with two young sons, and they lived in the Shambles area of the city.

Although she had been raised as a Protestant and her husband also conformed to the new religion, she found ‘no substance, truth or comfort’ in that faith and having undertaken instruction she became a Roman Catholic in 1574.  It is said that she prayed for an hour and a half every day, fasted four times a week and went regularly to confession and mass.

But the increasing religious suppression in the reign of Elizabeth I resulted in a requirement by the law that everyone attend their local parish church every Sunday and every feast day. And although her husband willingly paid her fines for non-attendance, Margaret was imprisoned on a number of occasions after recusancy was made a treasonable offence in 1576.  However she continued to hear the mass in her home and housed a schoolmaster to instruct her own and other local children in the Roman Catholic faith.

Then a law was introduced in 1585 that made it high treason, punishable by death, to aid or harbour a Roman Catholic priest. Yet Margaret had a secret room constructed that could be accessed from the upper floor of her home where priests and their vestments could be hidden. She also sent her son to Douai in France to study for the priesthood.

When her step-father Henry May became Lord Mayor of York on 15th January 1586, he pursued the policies of the Council of the North in rounding up and punishing recusants.  The sheriff’s men raided and searched the Clitherow’s home and although the schoolmaster escaped through the secret passage, everyone else in the house was arrested – including a twelve year old Flemish boy who was stripped naked and threatened with a flogging if he didn’t reveal the hiding place.  The terrified boy showed them the secret room where they found enough evidence to charge Margaret with treason.

She was arrested on 10th March 1586 and accused of harbouring priests and hearing the mass. Shw was put on trial at the Guild Hall on 14th March. When she was asked for her plea, she replied: “Having made no offence, I need no trial.  I will be tried by none other than God and your consciences.”

Her refusal to plead condemned her to peine forte et dure, being ‘pressed to death’. This consisted of the victim lying on the ground with a sharp stone under their back, their arms outstretched and their hands tied and bound to two posts. Then a wooden board or door was placed on top of them and weights were added to the board until the person was crushed to death. Margaret took fifteen agonising minutes to die, during which time she cried out for Jesus to have mercy on her. 

After her death, at just 30 years of age, on the 25th March 1586, which was Good Friday, her body was taken by her executioners to be buried at midnight in an obscure corner of the city where no one would find it.  However, it was found six weeks later and was secretly taken away, embalmed and properly laid to rest, although one hand was removed as a holy relic.  It is now kept in the Bar Convent in York.

Although there is no absolute proof of St Margaret’s final burial place it is recorded that the body was brought ‘a long journey on horseback’ that took a week, and as Lancashire was a place where many families stayed true to the old religion, and there was a connection between priests that Margaret had known and William Hawksworth of Mitton it is possible that the body was brought to this area.

In 1915, historians from Stonyhurst excavated the ruins of a chantry chapel which had been attached to Bailey Hall, the home of the Shireburn family, who remained Roman Catholic.  Beneath the site of the altar they discovered thirteen stone steps that led down to a crypt, laid out as a lavish shrine to a martyr; it was empty. The hall and the chantry chapel had been founded in the 14th century by Robert de Cliderow, so it does not seem unreasonable that this burial place was where Margaret’s body was brought.  However, in later years Richard Shireburn joined Bonnie Prince Charlie in the Jacobite Rebellion and when it was unsuccessful his estates were forfeit.  So was the body of Margaret moved before the house was handed over?

The grave reputed to be the burial place of St Margaret.

The grave reputed to be the burial place of St Margaret.

As already mentioned, St Saviour’s at Stydd had been bought by a group of gentleman, including John Shireburn. As the Anglicans had their own church of St Wilfrid in Ribchester, they didn’t need the chapel at Stydd and it’s possible that it was quietly used by Roman Catholics for their worship.  It is also recorded that the Anglicans in Lancashire were sympathetic to the defeated Jacobites and that the Vicar of Ribchester had accepted two men ‘executed for treason’ for burial in his churchyard. Father Sir Walter Vavasour, who is also buried at Stydd, must have been on good terms with the vicar and it seems there would have been little to prevent the body of Margaret Clitherow being re-interred in the chapel. There is a story that says: “She was taken a horse’s journey at night and was buried; there she will remain until the church is restored to its own”.

 She was canonised as a saint and martyr on 25th October 1970 by Pope Paul VI.  She is also the patron saint of the Catholic Women’s League.

Her two sons, Henry and William both became priests.  Her daughter Anne, to whom she sent her shoes and stockings on the morning of her death so that she could follow in her footsteps, became a nun at St Ursula’s, Louvain, although she was imprisoned in Lancaster Castle in 1593 for ‘causes ecclesiastical’. What she was doing in the region is not recorded, but it may have been to visit her mother’s grave.


This article is an extract from my book Lancashire: Who Lies Beneath?

P1030687Originally priced at £8.99 the publisher Countryside Books have decided to sell off some stock and I have some signed copies at the special price of £3.99 including postage. UK only. If you would like one, please send your postal address to: ‘elizabethashworthauthor@gmail.com’

and I’ll send you payment details for either a cheque or paypal.


| Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Queen, the Duke of Lancaster!

Lancaster Castle

Lancaster Castle

Tomorrow (Friday 29th May 2015) the queen will make a private visit to Lancaster Castle to mark the 750th anniversary of the creation of the Duchy of Lancaster. She will also visit a farm in Myerscough which has been owned continuously by the Duchy since its creation in the 13th century when King Henry III, gave the honour, county, town and castle of Lancaster to his younger son, Edmund ‘Crouchback’ (brother of Edward I), along with the title Earl of Lancaster.

After the death of Edmund, the earldom passed to his son, Thomas, who was married to Alice de Lacy, daughter and heiress of Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, in an agreement that would see the de Lacy lands also pass to Thomas, combining the honour of Clitheroe with the honour of Lancaster. However, Thomas rebelled against his cousin Edward II and was defeated at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322. He was executed as a traitor and all his lands were forfeit to the crown. (You can read more about Alice de Lacy in my novels Favoured Beyond Fortune and The Circle of Fortune.)

Thomas’ younger brother Henry, the 3rd Earl of Lancaster, recovered some of the lands during the reign of Edward III.  In December 1326 he was granted, ‘to hold during the King’s pleasure’ the honours of Lancaster, Tutbury and Pickering with their castles and other former family estates.  After Henry’s death in 1345 his son, Henry Grosmont succeeded him as Earl of Lancaster.  Henry Grosmont was one of the most celebrated noblemen of his day.  He took part in many of Edward III’s military campaigns and ‘in recognition of astonishing deeds of prowess and feats of arms’ Edward III created him 1st Duke of Lancaster on the 6th March 1351.  In the same charter, the king raised Lancashire to a County Palatine for Henry’s lifetime.  This meant that the Duke had sovereign rights in the county.  The law courts were under his administration and he appointed the sheriff, judges, justices of the peace and other senior officials.  In medieval England, Palatinate powers were used in regions where central government was difficult and the creation of Lancashire as a County Palatine may have been intended as a protective barrier against the Scots.

When Henry Grosmont died in 1361 without a male heir, the ducal title became extinct and the palatinate powers reverted to the king.  Henry Grosmont left two daughters, Maud and Blanche.  Blanche, who held Lancaster as part of her dowry, had married the third son of Edward III, John of Gaunt, in 1359 and when her sister Maud died without children in 1362 the whole of her father’s inheritance passed to her.  John of Gaunt was created 1st Duke of Lancaster (second creation) in 1362.  John recovered many more of the Lancaster possessions that had been lost in 1322 and on 28th February 1377, Edward recreated the Palatinate for John’s lifetime.  Then, in 1390, the grant was extended to include John’s heirs.

Pontefract Castle

Pontefract Castle

When Edward III died in 1377 his ten-year-old grandson, Richard II, became king and John of Gaunt acted as Regent.  But John’s son, Henry Bolingbroke, had a disagreement with the king and in 1398 he was banished from the kingdom for six years.  When John of Gaunt died in 1399, Richard II confiscated the Lancaster inheritance and extended Henry’s banishment to a lifetime sentence.  However, Henry returned to claim his lands and, with the support of leading families, he regained control of the Lancastrian strongholds, captured Richard II, forced his abdication and imprisoned him in Pontefract Castle (the original seat of the de Lacy family).

Henry Bolingbroke was crowned Henry IV on 13th October 1399 and one of his first acts was the Charter of Duchy Liberties, later known as the Great Charter of the Duchy, which specified that the Lancaster inheritance should be held separately from other Crown possessions and should descend to Henry’s male heirs.  This meant that even if Henry lost the throne he would not lose his Lancastrian inheritance.

The Duchy passed down through Henry V to Henry VI and when Edward IV took the throne during the years known as the Wars of the Roses, Henry VI’s possessions, including the Duchy, were declared forfeit and held by the new king, although Edward IV kept the arrangement by which the Duchy was administered separately from other Crown possessions.  By Act of Parliament, he incorporated the Duchy possessions under the title ‘The Duchy of Lancaster’ to be held ‘forever to us and our heirs, Kings of England, separate from all other Royal possessions.’

After Henry VII defeated Richard III at Bosworth in 1485, the houses of Lancaster and York were united but a charter of that year confirmed the Duchy of Lancaster as separate from other Crown lands, and under its own management. There has been no new settlement since.

During the reign of Elizabeth I in 1556 the Duchy was described as ‘one of the most famous, princeliest and stateliest pieces of the Queen’s ancient inheritance’, however James I and Charles I sold large parts of the Duchy to make money.  After the execution of Charles I in 1649 the Duchy ceased to exist although Cromwell did preserve the jurisdiction of the County Palatine of Lancaster.

Following the restoration of Charles II in May 1660 the Duchy was returned, but sales or grants of the land continued.  During the next century the Duchy was almost bankrupt and when George III surrendered his other hereditary estates (except the Duchy of Cornwall) in return for an annual Civil List payment the Duchy of Lancaster was not even mentioned, either because it was worth so little or because it was separate from the hereditary revenues of the Crown.

During the reign of George III the fortunes of the Duchy improved and in the reign of Queen Victoria the Chancellor of the Exchequer considered giving up the Duchy to the public purse.  The Duchy Council successfully argued that this would increase public expense but it was agreed that the Duchy should publish a full financial report to both Houses of Parliament, an arrangement that continues to this day.

The River Hodder at Whitewell.

The River Hodder at Whitewell.

The Duchy of Lancaster continues to provide the Sovereign of the day with a source of income independent from Government and the public purse. The Duchy is self-financing and does not rely upon public funds in connection with its activities.  The present Queen, the Duke of Lancaster, retains a keen interest in the Duchy and was once quoted as saying that she would like to retire to the Whitewell Estates in the ancient Royal Hunting Forest of Bowland, which was an ancient Duchy possession.  In Lancashire the Duchy owns five agricultural estates located between Preston and Lancaster, covering an area of 11,500 acres.  They are Myerscough, Wyreside, Whitewell, Salwick and Winmarleigh.  Only Myerscough has been owned by the Duchy continuously, the others having been purchased or repurchased over the years.  Of course, Lancaster Castle is also a Duchy possession. And in Lancashire the loyal toast remains ‘The Queen, Duke of Lancaster!’ I’m sure she will be made very welcome tomorrow.





| Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment