De Brus Of Skelton iN clEVELAND Part 1. From 1100 To 1200.

The De Brus were one of the major players in Northern English politics and events in the years from c1100 to 1270. From their power base at Skelton in the Cleveland are of Yorkshire, they lead forces in battle, witnessed Royal charters and even opposed kings. Their early history is in dispute but most scholars agree they were originally Flemish and settled in the Contentin(Cherbourg) peninsula around Brix.

Brix in the Contentin.

It is thought that lack of mention of them in the Cleveland area in Domesday, probably means they were one of a number of later arrivals on the English scene after the conquest. One branch of the family settled in Southern England while the other was granted lands in Yorkshire, mainly in the Cleveland area.

The original castle was a Motte and Bailey in Castleton before moving to Danby and then finally establishing at Skelton.

Robert de Brus l is thought to have accompanied Henry l when he came across from Normandy to take the throne of England. At the time William Count of Mortain was tenant-in-chief of the Yorkshire manors but in 1106 at the Battle of Tinchebrai, he chose to support the brother of Henry l, Robert and upon Henry's victory was stripped of all his lands. Robert de Bruce was granted Williams possessions for his support of the King and took up residence in his Yorkshire holdings. At first a wooden castle was built at Castleton in the Esk Valley before moving to Danby and ultimately Skelton which was a much superior strategic position not only dominating the surrounding country but also giving views of everything moving along the coast and in the River Tees.

Artists impression of Skelton castle from descriptions.

Robert De Brus married Agnes, the daughter of Fulk Pagnell, and through her he became lord of Hart and Hartness [manors around Hartlepool] and Carlton and other manors in Cleveland. They had two sons Robert and Adam.

Priory ruins and artists impression.

In 1119 Robert De Brus of Skelton Castle granted land to the Canons Regular of St Augustine for the building of Guisborough Priory. Robert's brother, William, became the first Abbot. Robert also granted to the Priory:-

The manors of Guisborough, Kirkleatham, part of Coatham and areas corresponding to the present day Guisborough and Commondale moors as well as ten churches in Yorkshire and Durham with their lands were presented to the priory which gave the prior the right to collect the tithes. [A "tithe" meant a tenth part and was in those days like a Tax paid to the Church in kind, usually a 10th of a parishioner's agricultural production.] The black cloaked Augustinian order took over responsibility for local churches in the area, including Skelton's.

Robert, it is said, was urged into his generosity by the Archbishop Thurstan of York and the Pope Calixtus II [1119-1124]. People believed in these times that after death the soul entered "Purgatory" to suffer and to be cleansed of the sins committed in life.

De Brus Cenotaph Guisborough

Gifts to God and the prayers of holy men were thought to reduce the suffering.

The arms of the Priory.

The Charter of Guisborough Priory shows how the Norman held land only by virtue of fealty to the king:-

"I, Robert de Brus, and Agnes my wife, and Adam our son and heir, to the church of S Mary at Gyseburne, and to the brethren serving God there, in free, quiet and perpetual alms, with all the liberties, free customs and privileges which we possessed in them by the gift and grant of Henry, King of England".

In 1124 a Royal Charter granted Robert De Brus the lordship of Annandale in Scotland. This came about because Robert De Brus, was a friend and supporter of David, the Scottish king or that his second son, also called Robert, married the heiress to Annandale.

The Bruce Annandale arms and map

Thus began the chain of events which would see his direct successor, Robert the Bruce, take the throne of Scotland two hundred years later.

Henry I had about 30 bastard children, [many of whom he married to French and Scots magnates for diplomatic reasons], but only one other legitimate child, his daughter Matilda. He demanded that the lords of the realm, including De Brus, swear an oath accepting her as the future Queen. In 1135 Henry I died.The throne was claimed by Stephen, Henry's nephew.Many Norman lords, including De Brus of Skelton, went back on their word to support Matilda, believing a woman would be a weakness to the realm. Also she was married to Geoffrey of Anjou, an area that bordered Normandy, and had always been a threat to their French possessions. Stephen was crowned and this eventually precipitated a civil war in England.

In 1138 David I, the king of Scotland, was Matilda's Uncle and took up arms against Stephen, seeing the possibility of extending his own territory into England. He invaded and laid waste Northumbria, committing gross atrocities wherever the Scots army went. Thurstan, the Archbishop of York, declared a holy war against this Scots army and it is said villages were emptied of men and boys joining the cause, as parish priests were ordered to call them out.

Archbishop Thurston exhorts the English army.

In August the Battle of the Standard was fought at Cowton Moor, North of Northallerton, N Yorks. Robert De Brus of Skelton Castle was a supporter of Stephen's cause, but now he had greater reason to fight as the Scots were threatening his own lands. He was one of those who tried to mediate with David I and prevent bloodshed. But the Battle of the Standard was fought and the Scots lost. Their advance into England was halted, though they retained Northumbria and Cumbria for the rest of the civil war.

There is a story that Robert De Brus the younger, of Annandale, fought on the side of the Scots King to preserve the de Brus Annandale Estates and was taken prisoner by his own father, Robert De Brus of Skelton. He was handed over to the King who gave him back to his father. The younger Robert went to live on the Annandale estate in Scotland and thus the family split into two branches. In 1183 Robert would be taken back to Guisborough Priory upon his death for burial with his family.

Robert l died in 1141 followed two years later by his son Adam who had inherited the Skelton barony. Both were buried in the Priory at Guisborough. They were followed by Adam ll whopas £16 in lieu of Knights service in the Welsh wars of Henry ll. He also sat in Henry's parliament and granted lands to the Priory at Guisborough.

Adam de Brus II married Ivetta, the daughter of William de Arches, Lord of Thorpe Arches near Wetherby. They would have five sons, Peter, Roger, Richard, Simon and Hugh and a daughter Isabel. By this marriage he acquired 7 "knight's fees" in the West Riding of Yorkshire, held of the honor of Mowbray, including Walton in the Ainsty and Thorparch.

He fought in engagements against the Scots and in 1185 Adam de Brus was with Henry II's forces in NW England. Lochlann, or Roland in French, the Lord of Galloway in SW Scotland was attempting to extend his territory by claiming the neighbouring lands of his cousin, who was in Henry's protection. The threatened invasion of Scotland brought about the submission of Roland at Carlisle.

Carlisle Castle.

Adam de Brus II died and was buried in Guisborough Priory, He was succeeded by his son, Peter.

Peter de Brus had to pay a fee of 500 marks [1 mark = 13s 4d = two thirds of a pound]] for his father's lands, on doing fealty to Richard l on the succession. In 1196 Peter married Agnes, the widow of William de Romara, Earl of Lincoln. She was the daughter of Stephen, Earl of Albemarle and Holderness and by this marriage Peter acquired manors in that area. Agnes died in the same year. In 1198 Peter re-married to Joan, whose ancestry has not been traced.

In 1199 came the death of Richard I and his brother John was later crowned on the 27th May.

King John.

The second part will deal with the involvement of the de Brus family in the events of the reign of King John and Henry lll.

Geoffrey Young 2016.

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Geoffrey Young
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