The Last Wolf in England

november-2Yesterday I visited Grange over Sands and was reminded that it was here, on Humphrey Head, that the last wolf in England was killed – or so the story goes.

I included this story in my book Tales of Lancashire, because Grange is in the original county of Lancashire, in an area known as Lancashire over Sands.

Sir Edgar Harrington of Wraysholme Tower had sworn to hunt out and kill every last wolf from Cartmel Forest.  He had also promised that the man who killed the last wolf would receive the hand of his niece in marriage and half of his lands as well. His niece was a beautiful young girl named Adela who had been orphaned and was now Sir Edgar’s ward. Many of the local men were keen to make her their wife, especially a knight named Laybourne, but Adela was in love with her cousin, Sir Edgar Harrington’s son, John. Sir Edgar disapproved of this attachment and, following an argument, his son had gone away to fight in a foreign war, but before he left the young couple had sworn to be faithful to one another.

It was thought that John Harrington had been killed in battle, but the night before the wolf hunt a young knight, a stranger mounted on a white Arab stallion, came to Wraysholme Tower, calling himself Delisle. He was invited to stay and join the hunt.

The next day the huntsmen set out.  Laybourne rode a large Flemish carthorse, of the type that could carry the heavy weight of a knight in chainmail and metal armour.  The stranger, Delisle, rode his fleet-footed Arab.

They hunted the wolf from its lair through a long and tiring day, chasing it all around Cartmel Forest and even across part of Windermere, before heading it off towards Humphrey Head late in the evening. Out of all the men who set out, now only Laybourne and Delisle remained in the hunt. They chased the wolf up the limestone crag, but when they reached a gaping chasm in the rock, Laybourne’s heavy horse refused to jump across. But the knight Delisle was determined to win the hand of Adela and spurred his horse across the gap. It was too wide and the horse’s hooves couldn’t get a grip on the far side and it tumbled to its death, but Delisle managed to cling onto the ground and was unhurt.

Meanwhile, the wolf had cornered Adela who was watching from her horse nearby. It leapt at her barking and growling with bared teeth, and she was terrified, thinking that she would be torn apart by the ferocious creature. But Delisle drew his spear and flung it at the wolf, killing it. He then revealed his true identity as John Harrington – Sir Edgar’s long lost son and Adela’s true love. Sir Edgar welcomed back his son and told him that he would have Adela as his bride as he had won her so bravely.

As father and son embraced, the Prior of St Mary passed by to drink at the nearby Holy Well. The monk was asked to marry John and Adela on the spot, to which request he complied and the cave where the wedding took place was known afterwards as Sir Edgar’s Chapel.

The couple lived happily ever after, producing many healthy children, and used the image of the wolf on their crest. They are buried together in a quiet corner of Cartmel Priory, with their effigies cut in stone and a wolf carved at their feet.

John Illingworth [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
John Illingworth [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
In fact, John Harrington is buried in Cartmel Priory, although the name of his wife is Joan. But as a gesture towards the story, the weathervane on top of Cartmel Priory is in the shape of a wolf’s head and it is believed that Humphrey Head was the last place that a wolf was ever seen in England.


Who Was Jane Fromonds?

According to the astrological chart drawn up by her husband, John Dee, Jane Fromonds was born on Monday, 22nd April, 1555 at noon. She  was the daughter of Bartholomew Fromonds of East Cheam and served as a lady-in-waiting to Lady Howard of Effingham, whose husband, Lord Admiral Charles Howard, later commanded the British fleet against the Spanish Armada.

John Dee
John Dee

She probably met John Dee at court. He was a widower who had been married twice before and was aged fifty when he married twenty-two year old Jane on 5th February 1578 at one o’clock – although he omitted to record the exact place in his diary.

Jane Dee was the mother of eight children, although not all survived to adulthood. Her first son, Arthur, was born on 13th July 1579. The same night at ten o’clock, records Dee in his diary, Jane’s father was seized with a fit and rendered speechless. He died the following day at four in the morning. It must have been a time of mixed emotions for Jane.

Most of what we know about Jane comes from the entries that John Dee made in his diaries. He recorded household affairs such as money he gave to her to pay wages to their servants, and added anecdotes about their children, such an accident to Arthur when he slipped and fell from the top of the Watergate Stairs at Mortlake and cut his forehead on the right eyebrow, and the time when Jane was so angry with their daughter, Katherine, that she boxed her ears so hard it made her nose bleed. He also recorded more intimate details about her, including her menstrual cycles, their sexual relations and his investigations into a foetus that she miscarried. It is also interesting to note that after the children were born they were sent to live with local wet nurses until they were old enough to be weaned and brought home.

John Dee often recorded that his wife was angry with him, which was perhaps not surprising when you consider that they were forced to leave their home at Mortlake and travel widely across the Continent as he sought patronage for his experimental work into alchemy and the discovery of the philosopher’s stone. Although he was well known at court and acted as an advisor to the queen, he was not a rich man and most of their marriage was beset by money worries. They also seemed to be often at odds over the role of Edward Kelley in their household and there are hints in Dee’s diary including this one from 6th May 1582 when he writes: Jane in a merveylous rage at 8 of the cloke at night, and all that night, and next morning till 8 of the cloke, melancholike and ch[?ided me] terribly for…. Exactly what she chided him for is unclear as the following part is illegible, perhaps erased, but Dee goes on to say that come to me only honest and lerned men, so it could be that she had made her opinion of Kelley well known to her husband.

Kelley remained with the Dees despite Jane’s protests and perhaps the best known incident in her life is the infamous wife-swapping pact. This was, according to Kelley, an instruction from the angels. Dee records in his diary that when he proposed this ‘cross-matching’ to his wife she wept and trembled for a full quarter of an hour before bursting into a fury of anger. He records that he pacified her as well as he could and it seems that she was eventually persuaded to obey him.  “I trust,” said she, “that though I give myselfe thus to be used, that God will turn me into a stone before he would suffer me in my obedience to receive any shame or inconvenience.” She would eat neither fish nor flesh, she vowed, until this action, so contrary to the wholesome law of God, and so different from former actions, which had often comforted her; was confirmed.

The pact marked the end of the association between John Dee and Edward Kelley. The Dee’s returned to Mortlake to find that their house, which had been left in the care of Jane’s brother Nicholas, had been ransacked and much of Dee’s vast library was lost. Around nine months later, Jane gave birth to a son, Theodore, who may have been Kelley’s child.

Chetham’s Library has not changed much since the Dee family lived there.
Manchester Cathedral

Impoverished and in need of an income, in 1596 John Dee accepted the role of Warden at the Collegiate Church of St Mary in Manchester, now the cathedral. The family lived in what is now the Chetham’s Library. It was here that Jane died in 1605 during a plague epidemic. She was buried on March 23, but has no marked grave.

Some of the children may also have died at this time as only Arthur and Katherine survived their father who died at Mortlake in 1609.

Read Jane’s story in my novel The Merlin’s Wife


The new museum at Norton Priory

Norton Priory is the most excavated monastic site in Europe. Thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, its brand new £4.5m museum tells its 900 year story, displaying hundreds of medieval and later period objects discovered during the extensive archaeological digs.

A viewing gallery has been built above the undercroft.
A viewing gallery has been built above the undercroft.

On Sunday, I visited the new museum at Norton Priory. The transformation from the previous museum, where I did a book signing of The de Lacy Inheritance, is delightful. Everything is now under one roof with a spacious central atrium where you can see the St Christopher statue. There are many more artefacts on display in the new galleries and it’s all updated with interactive touch screens, more information and new signage outside in the ruins to help interpret the site.

St Christopher statue
The huge statue of St Christopher would originally have been painted in bright colours.
The new atrium
The new atrium brings everything under one roof.







I had never heard of Norton Priory until I began my research into the de Lacy family and my original visit was to see the gravesite of Richard de Cestria (Richard FitzEustace in my novel). The Historia Lacieorum records that he was buried in the Chapter House: ‘Iste eciam Rogerus habuit quendam fratrem, Ricardum nomine, cui dedit villam de More; et hic postmodum fuit leprosus, et sepultus est in capitulo canonicorum de Northton.’

Chapter House gravesMy first visit revealed a stone coffin at that site where a skeleton had been exhumed that showed signs of leprosy. It seemed that these remains were those of Richard, who was stored in a box in the archive apart from some finger bones that were on display. But history is rarely that simple, new information often comes to light and the latest work has thrown doubt on the identification. I chatted with Tom Hughes, who was taking guided tours around the site, and he told me that the finger bones that had been identified as showing signs of leprosy did not actually belong to the exhumed skeleton but were from a different female burial. He checked the archaeological records for me and it seems the Chapter House burial dates from the 14th century when the Chapter House was extended. So, probably it isn’t Richard after all. He may be there somewhere, but identification of his remains seems improbable at the moment.

The undercroft
The tiling in the undercroft has been restored.

Another burial at Norton that I researched was that of Alice, the first wife of John de Lacy. Again this is recorded in the Historia Lacieorum: “cui successit Johannes de Lacy (primus comes Lin. colniae) filius ejus et hacres, et duxit in uxorem Aliciam filiam Gilberti de Aquila, qua defuncti et sepulta apud Norton.”

Alice’s parents were Gilbert de l’Aigle and Isobel (Warenne/de Lacy). Isobel was the second daughter of Hamelin, Earl of Warenne and sister of William Warenne. Her first marriage was to Robert de Lacy and after his death she married Gilbert. There had been connections between the Warennes and the de Lacys since the Conquest, so a marriage between John de Lacy and Alice de l’Aigle is not unexpected.

Norton facial reconstruction female
This young woman died late in her pregnancy.

I’ve seen 1214 given as a marriage date but haven’t verified it. I’ve also seen 1216 given as a date of death for Alice, but she was certainly dead before 1221 when John de Lacy remarried (Margaret de Quincy). Given that Alice died shortly after her marriage it is possible she died in childbirth. With this in mind I was intrigued by a new facial reconstruction that is on display at Norton of a young woman who was buried there and was pregnant – the remains of the foetus being found in her grave. I asked for more information about her and the site of her grave was in a part of the church used for burials from the 14th century onwards. So it’s unlikely that this is Alice de Lacy. Death in childbirth was all too common at the time and it would not have been an isolated incident.

Alice coffin lid
The ‘Alice’ coffin lid.

Another artefact that had previously interested me was an ornate coffin lid that marked the grave of another Alice. New research shows that this was a lady named Alice de Helsby.

Perhaps the most exciting discovery to come out of the new research is the identification of the remains of Geoffrey de Dutton. There has been a facial reconstruction of his skull to show what he may have looked like. It also seems that he came to an untimely end, not dying of natural causes as previously thought, but at the hands of a murdered. There’s more about it here. And there is another link with the de Lacy family. It seems probable that Geoffrey’s wife was a daughter of John de Lacy.

These remains were buried in the nave of the church.
These remains were buried in the nave of the church.
Geoffrey de Dutton may have looked like this.
This is what Geoffrey de Dutton may have looked like.

Norton Priory has lots more fascinating stories to tell and the research is ongoing, so new matches of remains with historical people are possible. If you’re in the area do go in and have a look and support their work. I can highly recommend it.


About Me

Sept 2013 052

I’m an author of historical fiction and non-fiction based in the beautiful county of Lancashire from where I draw many of my stories. On this site you’ll find the first chapters of my novels and some short stories to read for free. If you delve a little deeper, you’ll discover all sorts of interesting things that I’ve come across in my research – especially about the history of the de Lacys, Lords of Blackburnshire. Just click on the links to get started.

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, founded an Augustinian Priory  in 1115 at Runcorn. This religious house was 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.

Could this be Alice de Lacy?

When I visited Lincolnshire earlier in the year I went to see the church of St Michael at Swaton.

Having been warned that the church is kept locked and that a key holder needs to be located I approached the small village with trepidation.  Friends had told tales of not being able to gain access and having to stand on upturned flower pots to peer in through the windows, but I managed to obtain the huge key from a lovely lady at the tearooms just down the road and having turned the locks – top and bottom – on the old wooden church door I stepped inside.

St Michael’s dates back to the Normans.  William the Conqueror gave Swaton to Wido de Credon, a King’s thane and it is thought that a church was built here soon afterwards.  There was rebuilding in 1230, but it is the extensive alterations that were undertaken in 1320 that interest me most as the church was, at this time, in the possession of Alice de Lacy.

At the back of the church is an effigy of a lady.

The information leaflet in the church says: “The effigy of a lady with a sleeping dog at her feet is dressed in 13th century costume and is therefore older than the nave.  It may commemorate the wife of Gerard de Camville, Lord of the manor of Swaton in the first quarter of the 13th century.”

The wife of Gerard de Camville was Nicholaa de la Haye.  She was the daughter of Richard de la Haye and Matilda de Verdun who had been given Swaton as a dowry by Henry II after it had passed back into royal possession.  Nicolaa was the hereditary custodian of Lincoln Castle and after her husband’s death she became the constable in her own right and held the castle against a siege for King John.  She was buried at Swaton Church so it seems reasonable to assume that the effigy is hers.  But experts claim that the style of the effigy is from a later date.

The lady’s head rests on a double cushion.

It shows a lady whose head is resting on a double cushion and up until around 1300 it was usual to have only a single cushion.  Her feet rest upon a dog, which looks a little like a spaniel, and up until the beginning of the 14th century it was more usual for the feet to rest on a lion.   The style of dress, with the tightly buttoned sleeves, which can be clearly seen, would also date the effigy to the early 1300s.

It has been suggested that the effigy could be that of Nicolaa’s granddaughter, Idonea de Camville who married William Longspee (2), or her great granddaughter, Ela (or Emma) Longspee.

Amongst the entries relating to Alice de Lacy’s lands after the execution of her husband in 1322 is one dated 10th July at York.  It reads:

Grant to Alice de Lascy, countess of Lincoln and Salisbury, late the wife
of Thomas, earl of Lancaster, and her heirs, that she may enter upon and
hold the manor of Avington, co. Berks, upon the death of Emma de
Lungespeye, who holds it for life of the inheritance of the said Alice, and
which upon the death of the said Emma ought for certain causes to pass
into the king's hands. By K.

This Emma de Lungespeye was a cousin of Alice's mother.  She would have been an elderly lady by this time and had no children so it is possible that when she died, possibly in 1331, her body was buried in her family's church and Alice commissioned an effigy.

Or could the effigy be Alice herself?  She was buried at Barlings Abbey in 1348.  It isn’t known whether there was an effigy on her tomb there or who might have commissioned it although it was not unheard of for effigies to be commissioned by people in their own lifetimes.  It is an outside possibility that Alice had the effigy carved during her lifetime and that it was intended for her own tomb.  Perhaps it was rescued from the abbey church at the Dissolution and brought back to Swaton from Barlings?  It seems unlikely.

It is also unlikely that the effigy is of Alice’s mother Margaret Longspee (de Lacy).  She was buried at Lacock Abbey which was founded by her ancestor Ela Longspee and although her tomb may have born an effigy it is very unlikely that this is it.

Perhaps Alice commissioned an effigy of her ancestor Nicolaa de la Haye to be placed in the newly refurbished church to mark the site of her burial.  That would explain the discrepancy between the date of Nicolaa’s death and the date of the carving.

I don’t think the identity of the lady can ever be certain but I’m sure there must be some link with Alice de Lacy.  After her husband, Thomas, earl of Lancaster, was executed as a traitor in 1322 most of her lands were confiscated, including the ones that she held by right through her mother’s family, but she asked for permission to grant the church at Swaton to Barlings Abbey:

dated at York, 16 July, 16 Edward II, by Alice de Lacy, countess of Lincoln and Salisbury,to the abbot and convent of St. Mary’s, Barlinges, of the manor of Swaveton, co. Lincoln, and the advowson of the church thereof, with knights’ fees, homages and services of free tenants, free fair, free market, and free warren, for the good of the souls of Edward I and Eleanor his wife, Henry de Lacy, sometime earl of Lincoln, and Margaret his wife, her father and mother, Edmund her brother, her ancestors and heirs. 

It seems that the church of St Michael was special to Alice as a place that had been in the possession of her mother’s family for generations.  I enjoyed seeing it for myself and if you’re in the area do take the trouble to locate a keyholder and go to look inside.  It’s well worth seeing and you will also find the remains of a medieval wall painting of the wheel of fortune – fortune that was not always kind to Alice de Lacy.

The Wheel of Fortune

Holy Trinity Church at Tattershall

During my exploration of Lincolnshire I visited Holy Trinity church at Tattershall.


Having received a charter from Henry VI to demolish the old Norman church of St Peter and St Paul, Ralph, 3rd Baron Cromwell, began his new church in  1439.   It was not until 1500 that it was completed and the intervening years saw the power struggle between the Yorkist and Lancastrian kings that is known as the Wars of the Roses.

In August 1453 a wedding took place in the church between Maud, the niece and co-heiress of Lord Cromwell, and Sir Thomas Neville.  There is an interesting short essay displayed in the church that explains some of the significance of this marriage. Rather than repeat it all, I’ve added my photo of it below.  Click to enlarge:


If you don’t want to read it all, or can’t make the text large enough it basically explains that this marriage led to bad feeling between the Nevilles and the Percys of Northumberland to the extent that there was a pitched battle at Heworth Moor in Yorkshire as Thomas Neville took his new bride home.  The troubles, as was common in the middle ages, centred around land and in particular the manors of Wressle and Burwell which had once belonged to the Percys, but had been given to Lord Cromwell by Henry VI.  It then goes on to explain a little about the roles of these families in the Wars of the Roses.

Another interesting feature of the church is the tiny grave of ‘Tom Thumb’ a local resident who died in 1620.  It is lovingly marked with flowers and a short poem in his honour.


The church also has a small tea room at the back of the nave, where drinks and home made cakes are served and is worth a visit for that alone.


Ralph, 3rd Baron Cromwell, also demolished his ancestors nearby stone castle to make way for a new brick built one which was also constructed during the 1440s.  The whole area must have been one vast building site during those years.  But as Lord Treasurer to Henry VI he certainly had the resources to show off his wealth and status.


I didn’t have time to go inside the castle on this visit so I’m hoping to go again sometime when I have more time and I’m able to climb all those steps!  Meanwhile there’s a short history of the building here: