I’ve written about Eble previously: Who Was Eble le Strange but this was my first visit to Knockin to see the place he was probably born and grew up.
Knockin is just south of Oswestry and is a small village that straggles a busy road. Originally named Cnukyn, Welsh for a small hillock, it was once a market town. On one side of the road there is a pub, the Bradford Arms, The Forge, which is bed and breakfast accommodation, and a post office named The Knockin Shop. The church of St Mary and the tree covered mound where the castle once stood are across the road. Apart from a few houses, a community hall and a cricket club that’s about it. Although Knockin is the site of one of the radio telescopes in the MERLIN array. There is also Knockin Hall. The present hall is a Grade II-listed property, built on the site of a formal medieval hall, which dates from the early 18th century. It isn’t visible from the road and is not open to the public, though you can get a sneaky look via this link from the Oswestry Family and Local History Group: Knockin Hall
It was the church and the site of the castle that I wanted to see, so after a dash across the road, avoiding the thundering lorries, I found the gate and walked through the small graveyard to have a look. The church was founded by Ralph le Strange between 1182 and 1195, although it was restored in the 19th century and only the chancel, nave, and north aisle are Norman. It’s only small and would have been smaller originally as it was intended to serve only the inhabitants of a small castle. Inside the floor was covered by cloths as they have bats roosting there!
To the east of the church is a distinct mound that is now covered in trees. It stands at the confluence of two streams. There are no visible remains of the castle although there could be some buried beneath the earth. Knockin was a motte and bailey castle founded by Guy le Strange between 1154 and 1160. It was probably built from the local sandstone and was similar in colour to the porch of the church, which is a much later addition. The inner bailey enclosed the chapel and an outer bailey stood around the village. There was also a mill, although the location is not known.
The castle was the principal holding of the le Strange family throughout the Middle Ages but was described as ruinous in 1540. In later years Knockin passed into the ownership of the Earls of Bradford. The title of Lord Strange passed into the Stanley family.
According to Dugdale the le Strange family originated from a mythical Duke of Burgundy, whose youngest son Guy made his home in England. Although there is no credibility to this story, the family can be traced back to the twelfth century when they held land in Norfolk and Shropshire.
The le Strange family were closely associated with the Fitz Alans who became Earls of Arundel. William Fitz Alan, Lord of Oswestry was a Breton and a close ally of King Henry I who brought men he could trust from France after he experienced disloyalty from some of the original Norman lords over his right to the throne. This William died in 1160, leaving his son William as a minor and Guy le Strange was appointed as his guardian.Guy le Strange was given the lordship of Knockin in Shropshire and it is from him that Eble le Strange was descended.
Eble le Strange was the third son of John le Strange (V), the first Lord Strange of Knockin (sometimes spelt Knockyn) in Shropshire. John le Strange was married twice. His first wife was Alianora (Eleanor) de Monz, the daughter of Eble de Monz (a royal steward and lord of Ketton in Rutland) and Joan de Somery.(Because John witnessed some grants alongside Joan de Somery after the death of Alianora she is sometimes mistakenly taken for his wife rather than his mother-in-law). John and Alianora may have had a daughter, Hawise, who married Sir Robert de Felton. After Alianora died, John’s second wife was Maud (Walton) d’Eiville, the daughter of Roger d’Eiville of Walton d’Eiville in Warwickshire. She was the mother of Eble le Strange.Eble le Strange had two elder brothers John and Hamon who were both dead by 1322 and a sister, Elizabeth.The occurrence of Eble as a forename in the le Strange family had not occurred before and I wonder if he was named after the father of John le Strange’s first wife. Eble de Monz was still living as late as 1307 and may have been his godfather.
Eble le Strange probably grew up in Shropshire until he was old enough to enter the household of another family to learn to fight, read and write and wait tables. He is recorded as being a member of the household of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster in 1313 when he is included with his brother Hamon, and his cousins Fulk and Robert of Blackmere, in the pardon, granted on 16th October, to the adherents of the Earl of Lancaster for the death of Piers Gaveston.It may have been whilst he was serving in the household of Thomas of Lancaster that he first met Alice de Lacy, but when and where they met remains open to speculation as there is no evidence. But the accusations that Eble le Strange had a relationship with Alice de Lacy before the death of Thomas of Lancaster cannot be dismissed. Certainly they married as soon as they could after Thomas was executed and were married before 10th November 1324 when the Sheriff of Lincoln was ordered to pay
Eble and ‘Alice, daughter and heiress of Henry de Lacy, late Earl of Lincoln, now his wife’ the arrears of £20 yearly for the third part of the county of Lincoln. And looking at other payments made to them they could possibly have been married as soon as Easter 1324.
On 24th January 1326 Eble was appointed one of the four supervisors of Array in the county of Lincoln, with special powers and by a further commission he was directed, on 23rd July ‘to assist and counsel the Earl of Arundel as captain and chief supervisor of the Array in Lincolnshire’. The last mention of him during the reign of Edward II is on December 9, 1326, when he obtained letters of protection for a year – although what the protection was for is not recorded.Although he was entitled to call himself the Earl of Lincoln through his marriage to Alicia, it seems that he did not use the title and when he was called to parliament in December 1326 he was named as Ebulo le Strange and ranked with the barons. He was not even made a knight until a year after his marriage when he was made a Knight of the Bath by Edward II and received the robes of a Banneret.During the minority of Edward III when Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer were ruling England, Eble and Alicia seem to have come under suspicion of promoting rebellion and I can’t dismiss the idea that Eble may have been one of the men who helped Edward III secure his throne by overthrowing Mortimer in a midnight raid from the tunnels beneath Nottingham Castle.
After Edward III became king, Eble and Alice regained many of the lands that had been taken from her after Thomas of Lancaster’s defeat at Boroughbridge, including her favourite home at Bolingbroke. That Edward found Eble trustworthy and reliable is also emphasised by his being named as one of the men sent to bring Queen Isabella from Berkhampstead to Windsor for Christmas 1330.
Eble and Alicia appear to have been happy and in the favour of the king after many difficultyears. But in 1335, Edward III invaded Scotland and, tragically, Eble died whilst on campaign. He was buried at Barlings Abbey in Lincolnshire where, later, Alicia would be buried beside him.