Return to Title Page

Duffield Castle
Lecture by William Bland
at the Temperance Hall, Wirksworth, on Tuesday, January 11th 1887

The following is a passage which the author of this website has donated to Wikipedia.

Robert de Ferrers, 6th Earl of Derby (1239 - 1279), was the son of William de Ferrers, 5th Earl of Derby and the Earl's second wife Margaret de Quincy (born 1218), daughter of Roger de Quincy, 2nd Earl of Winchester and Helen of Galloway.

Early years

In 1249, at the age of 10, he married the seven-year-old Mary, daughter of Hugh XI of Lusignan Count of La Marche, the eldest of Henry III's half-brothers, at Westminster Abbey. This arranged marriage is an indication of Henry's high regard for his father. William unfortunately died in 1254, so that although Robert became a knight and inherited the title, he was still a minor. He and his estates became a ward of Prince Edward. In 1257, Edward sold the wardship to the queen and Peter II, Count of Savoy for 6000 marks, which might have been a source of his later antipathy for the prince.

His inheritance

Robert finally came of age in 1260 and was able to take possession of his lands. He inherited vast estates. Firstly those which had passed to him from his Norman ancestors, the large part of Derbyshire known as Duffield Frith, together with parts of Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire. In addition, there was Chartley Castle in Staffordshire, and all Lancashire between the Ribble and the Mersey. This had come from the estate of Ranulph de Blondeville, 4th Earl of Chester whose sister, Robert's grandfather had married. By careful management the estate was worth around £1500 which which meant that the Ferrers family was among the wealthiest in the country.

However the estate was crippled by charges arising from William's death. Firstly a third of its worth was accounted for by his mother's dower which included the major asset of Chartley. Nearly half was supporting a debt of around £800 incurred by his father, which the exchequer was calling in. To pay this he had taken a further loan, possibly from Jewish financiers in Worcester. Finally there was provision for his brother William and his wife Mary, who held two manors herself. It would seem that before taking his inheritance his only income had been the maritagium bestowed by King Henry.

Baronial unrest

In the early years, Robert had taken little interest in politics, perhaps because he had inherited a severe form of gout from this grandfather, or perhaps because of his preoccupation with the estate. Nevertheless he was acquainted with the reforms that were being pursued, and with Richard de Clare, earl of Gloucester, and Simon de Montfort, friends of the family.

However when de Montfort returned to England in 1263 to begin a rebellion against the king which became known as the Second Barons' War he was required to take sides, and moved towards de Montfort. He is on record during May and June of taking the 'Three Castles' - Grosmont, Skenfrith, and Whitecastle - in South Wales belonging to Prince Edward. When in January 1264, Louis IX of France declared that the Provisions of Oxford were unlawful and invalid, further unrest followed.

Robert first attacked Worcester in February 1264, sacking the Jewish quarter, plundering the religious and private houses, and damaging the fences and lands of the Royal parks in the neighbourhood. He carried away the bonds recording his loans - effectively ameliorating his debt problem. He then attacked Gloucester Castle, recently taken by Edward. To Robert's extreme annoyance, Edward escaped, having made a truce with Henry de Montfort, Simon's son. It would seem that de Ferrers' motives were less about support for reform, than they were about hatred of Edward.

The origins of this may well have been in the Ferrers family's long held claims on the estate of Peverel Castle through the marriage of Margaret Peverel to Robert the second earl. King John had assigned stewardship of the estate to the fourth earl, Robert's grandfather, but King Henry had taken it back and awarded it to Prince Edward in 1222. Finally there was Edward's custodianship during Robert's minority and the fact that some land had not been relinquished. Be that as it may, Robert of Gloucester (the historian) observed that "Of no one was Edward more afraid."

Edward's brief escape, however, allowed him, in March 1264, to attack de Ferrers at Chartley Castle, and later to destroy Tutbury Castle. This was followed by the Battle of Lewes in May. That Robert did not join de Montfort there would support the idea that his activities were largely motivated by self-interest.

Prince Edward and the king having finally been captured gave de Ferrers his opportunity, gaining the royal castles of Bolsover, Horston (Horsley), and Tickhill in Yorkshire. By the end of 1264, he had also taken Peverel and, it is believed, Chester castles.


De Montfort's Parliament broadened elected representation beyond the nobility to freeholder groups. Some of the Barons felt that he had gone too far and he began to lose support. Meanwhile Edward continued under house arrest, and de Montfort was working out an agreement for his release which included the surrender of large portions of his lands.

Since these lands were those that de Ferrers had appropriated, it meant that de Montfort was a new and dangerous adversary. He summoned the Ferrers to the session of Parliament for January 1265, and then ordered him to surrender Peverel Castle and accused him of "diverse trespasses," following which he had him arrested and sent to the Tower of London.

Maddicott suggests: "The summons to a parliament that otherwise comprised only staunch Montfortians was an almost blatant device to remove Derby from the scene of his triumphs and to open his lands, new and old, to a Montfortian takeover . . . It is a mark of Earl Robert's characteristic lack of political cunning that he fell into the trap, with predictable results. . . . . . . Derby's removal was essential to Montfort's territorial ambitions, and that it could be accomplished without much risk because the earl's violent self-seeking had left him friendless."

Rebellion once more

Meanwhile de Montfort was steadily losing support and, in May, the Earl of Gloucester, deserted to the side of the King. With his assistance, and that of Roger Mortimer, Edward escaped from Kenilworth Castle. When he defeated de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in August 1265, the rebels were shown little mercy.

In spite of de Ferrers' activities against Prince Edward's estates, however, his support in the North Midlands was potentially useful to King Henry, as was his money. Derby was released and, on paying 1500 marks, was given a pardon, his inheritance was secured, and mediation in his quarrel with Prince Edward.

Far however, from accepting his good fortune, in 1266 he joined a number of previous Montfortian supporters, including Baldwin de Wake, lord of Chesterfield, in a fresh rebellion. Initially, it would seem that the rebels gathered at de Ferrers' substantial Duffield Castle. However, from Tutbury, the royalist army, under Prince Henry, a nephew of Henry III., bypassed Duffield and proceeded to Chesterfield, in order to intercept a force from the North, commanded by John d'Ayville.

Robert was, therefore, compelled to move northwards, crossing the River Amber, which was then flooded, reaching Chesterfield, May 15th, 1266, just as d'Ayville arrived from Dronfield. There they engaged the Royal forces in battle and were defeated. One account suggests that they were surprised in their quarters and most of them killed. Other accounts suggest that de Ferrers himself managed to take Chesterfield but was left exposed by the defeat of the other participants. Most of them withdrew into the forest where they lived as outlaws for two years. However de Ferrers was taken prisoner, some accounts suggesting that he was taken while having treatment for his gout, some that he was in hiding and was betrayed.

Robert was captured, attainted of high treason, and imprisoned in Windsor Castle until 1269. Duffield Castle was pulled down and Henry's second son, Edmund Crouchback, was given possession of his lands and goods.

However, the Dictum of Kenilworth, issued in October 1266, provided that de Ferrers could reclaim his lands in return for a redemption payment of seven times their annual value. They were returned at Windsor in 1269, with a debt of £50,000 to be paid to Edmund by 9 July.

Although the chances of Robert finding such a sum were remote, Edmund and his associates made their position more secure by a move that was unlikely to have been intended by those who drafted the Dictum of Kenilworth. De Ferrers was taken to the manor of Cippenham, Buckinghamshire, the property of Richard, earl of Cornwall. There, in the presence of John Chishall, the chancellor, he was required to assign the lands to twelve manucapters as security.

He was kept imprisoned at Richard of Cornwall's Wallingford Castle until the end of May and on 9 July the estate was transferred to Edmund. In time it would provide a considerable part of the revenues of the Duchy of Lancaster, while de Ferrers was left virtually landless and deprived of his title.

Declining years

He lived for another ten years, during which he attempted to regain his estates, with little success, largely because the machinations at Cippenham had been quietly supported by the King and his council. Edmund, in any case, was absent at the crusades until 1273 and no legal redress could be sought.

Soon after Edmund's return, de Ferrers siezed his old Chartley Castle by force, but was soon ejected. He then took a more considered approach, enlisting the help of Gilbert de Clare, 7th Earl of Hertford|Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester. In 1274, when Edward, now King, returned to England, de Ferrers's pleaded that he had accepted the Kenilworth ruling, with its seven years' redemption period, but that Edmund had refused. Edmund's defence was the Cippenham 'agreement' and Ferrers's failure to meet its terms. Ferrers argued that the 'agreement' was made under duress, but it was held that chancellor Chishall's presence at the signing gave it full legal validity.

Ferrers's case was dismissed and, although, in 1275, he was able to recover his manor at Chartley (but not the castle), it marked the end of one of England's most powerful families.

His final years were spent in the company of his family. His first wife, Mary, had died some time between 1266 and 1269, and the marriage had been childless. In 1269, a month after his release from prison, he married Eleanor, daughter of Humphrey de Bohun and granddaughter of Humphrey de Bohun, 2nd Earl of Hereford. Until 1275, when he recovered Chartley, the family appeared to have lived on his mother's dower lands in Northamptonshire. The couple had at least two sons: John in 1271, and Thomas, some time between 1274 and 1279.

He died in 1279 and it is thought that he was buried at the priory of St Thomas, at Stafford. His widow survived until 1314. She initially brought a claim against Edmund for dower in the past de Ferrers lands, but she finally settled at the manor of Godmanchester, Huntingdonshire.


1. Maddicott, J.R., "Ferrers, Robert de, sixth earl of Derby (c. 12391279)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 28 Oct 2007