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Lecture by William Bland
Temperance Hall, Wirksworth, on Tuesday, January 11th 1887
The following is a passage which the author of this website has donated to
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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