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The Middletons of the much visited tourist attraction Belsay Hall and Castle fame were descended from Richard Middleton who was Chancellor to Henry III. His grandson Sir Gilbert Middleton took part in a rebellion against Edward II in 1317. This took place around the castles of Mitford and Horton, near Blyth. Middleton was eventually captured and executed, but not before he had caused havoc in what was one of the most notorious episodes in Northumberland's history. This is the story from the Northumberland County History:
"Gilbert de Middleton II was born on August 1st, 1279, and consequently attained the age of twenty-one in 1300. He was initiated into a soldiers life in August of that year, when he served in the kings army in Scotland as squire to his old guardian, Sir William de Felton. [Felton is on the A1 just North of Morpeth.] Nothing further is heard of him for thirteen years. He was then, in 1313, one of the captains of the garrison of Berwick-upon-Tweed, from which position he rose to be a warden of the marches, and was entrusted with the custody of Mitford castle by Aymar de Valence. [Earl of Pembroke, who had purchased the estate from the Crown. Mitford Castle is now very ruinous and difficult to access, but it was one of the first to be built by the Normans in Northumberland and probably the first guarding the crossings of the River Wansbeck. Middleton was appointed Captain of the Castle.]
[The Wars of Scottish Independence between England and Scotland began in 1296 and initially the English were successful under the command of Edward I, having won victories at the Battle of Dunbar (1296) and at the Capture of Berwick (1296). The removal of John Balliol from the Scottish throne also contributed to the English success. The Scots had been victorious in defeating the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. This was countered, however, by Edward I's victory at the Battle of Falkirk (1298). By 1304 Scotland had been conquered, but in 1306 Robert the Bruce seized the Scottish throne and the war was reopened. Edward II of England came to the throne in 1307 but was incapable of providing the determined leadership that had been shown by his father, Edward I, and the English position soon became more difficult. Stirling Castle was one of the most important castles that was held by the English as it commanded the route north into the Scottish Highlands. It was besieged in 1314 by Robert the Bruce's younger brother, Edward Bruce, and an agreement was made that if the castle was not relieved by mid-summer then it would be surrendered to the Scots. The defeat of the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in that year opened up the north of England to Scottish raids.]
The years that followed were the most disastrous that ever befell the northern border. Continual Scottish invasions forced the men of Tynedale and Redesdale from their allegiance to England. Scarce a soul, in the words of a monkish chronicler, dared to live in Northumberland, unless it was near to some castle or walled town. For fifteen years the county remained desolate, without human life, abandoned to beasts of prey. Adam de Swinburne, sheriff of Northumberland in 1317, ventured to inform his sovereign as to the state of the marches, and did not choose his words too carefully, but spoke to the point. Edward II laid him under arrest. So at least ran the tale told by Sir Thomas Gray of Wark.
Swinburne was a relation to Gilbert de Middleton on his mothers side, [Sir Arthur Middleton's detailed account 1918 of the rebellion disputes this relationship however] and the news of his arrest decided Middleton to break his fealty and to head revolt. He pledged himself to win Northumberland for the Scots. Perhaps he meditated reviving in his own person that semi-independent earldom of which memories still lingered. The Middletons and Swinburnes
accepted him as their leader; the Mauduits of Eshot, and many other of the smaller gentry of the county, discredited officials, condemned felons and Scottish adventurers, flocked to his standard. News of an act of rare audacity suddenly startled the kingdom, and came as the first intimation that insurrection had broken out.
Edward II had lately forced the convent of Durham to accept as bishop his wife's relation, the courtly Lewis de Beaumont. He was of good birth, a St. Albans historian observed, but by no means well-read, and as is the case with so many Frenchmen, he was lame in both feet. If the Pope had seen him, he would never have made him bishop. Beaumont timed his first visit to his new see to coincide with the journey northwards of two Roman cardinals, Gauselin and Luca di San Flisco, who had been sent to England with legatine powers for the negotiation of a peace between Edward II and Robert Bruce. The presence of two papal legates was intended to enhance the splendour of the new bishops enthronement, which had been fixed for Sunday, September 4th, that being the great Durham festival commemorative of the Translation of St. Cuthbert. On Tuesday, August 31st, the bishop, with his brother, Henry de Beaumont, constable of Norham castle, and the two cardinals and all their train, reached Darlington, where they spent the night. There they received a message from Geoffrey de Burdon, prior of Durham, bidding them be on their guard against ambush; but the bishop and his brother made light of the possibility of attack, saying that the king of Scots dare not, and this was a trick on the part of the prior to interpose obstacles to the coming consecration. So early next morning, on Wednesday, September 1st, they set out along the road to Durham. They had reached a point near Rushyford, between Woodham and Ferryhill, and in half an hour Beaumont might expect to get his first view of the towers of his cathedral. Suddenly an armed band broke from a neighbouring wood, headed by Middleton and Walter de Selby [The township of Seghill had passed into the Selby family "by marriage or otherwise" sometime between 1221 and 1242. He received a knighthood in 1278. In 1304 Selby had married a Delaval and received the estate of Biddlestone in North Northumberland. It remains the family seat to this day. When the rising eventually failed Selby's lands were seized by the Crown and given to Monboucher of Horton, whos castle he had held by force for several weeks but were restored to Selby on Monboucher's death]. Their business was with the bishop and not with the cardinals, but some resistance was offered, and the whole company found themselves at the mercy of these freebooters. Bags and boxes were rifled. No personal violence was offered to the cardinals; they were allowed to continue their journey to Durham on foot, leaving horses and baggage in the hands of their captors; but Lewis de Beaumont and his brother Henry were carried off to Mitford castle and there held to ransom. The Translation of St. Cuthbert drew nearer, arrived, and passed; and the bishop-elect was still a prisoner; and the Italian cardinals poured their wrath over the loss of their property upon the prior of Durham.
All present thought of continuing the embassy into Scotland was abandoned; the cardinals gloomily waited at Durham for the arrival of Thomas, earl of Lancaster, who was to escort them back to York, and in the interval pronounced their sentence of excommunication upon the robbers. With admirable effrontery, Middleton chose this occasion to come to Durham in order to have speech with Lancaster, entered the cathedral at the head
of his men, and there demanded absolution from the cardinals, whereby he further enraged them against the monks for suffering this indignity to be put upon them. Service was proceeding, and the monks kept their
eyes fixed religiously on the ground, and failed to see the intruders whom they dared not eject.
Edward II was then at Nottingham. He at once hurried to York, where, on September 8th, he held a council and issued orders for a general muster of forces, to be held on the 19th at that place and at Northallerton. Two days later he sent the Pope a full account of the outrage, informing him of the measures taken for the punishment of the malefactors. Prompt action was needed to restore popular confidence in the strength of the government, and on the 20th it was thought wise to issue a public proclamation to the effect that such action was being taken.
Prior Burdon was left with the ungrateful task of collecting so much of the cardinals property as could be recovered. He indeed found seven shillings in the dusty recesses of a little purse, and carefully forwarded them to York, but nothing else had been left that was of sufficient value to cover the cost of carriage.
Few as yet knew the name of the daring robber. He was generally rumoured to be John de Eure, formerly escheator [A sort of civil servant enquiring into the property of deceased subjects of the Crown] of the northern counties, and, on September 30th, William de Ridell, sheriff of Northumberland,
and Richard de Emeldon, mayor of Newcastle, were instructed to arrest and imprison Eure and his accomplices upon suspicion. But the name of Middleton soon became renowned. Riding at the head of his troops with banner displayed, burning and pillaging, he forced the unlucky people who came in his way to join his standard, or carried them off to Mitford castle, where he held them up for ransom. Others followed his example; Walter de Selby at Horton, and John Quoynt with his companions at Aydon hall, occupied positions from which they ravaged the surrounding country; while John de Cleseby raised insurrection in Richmondshire, and Annandale in the west and
Cleveland in the south felt the ravages of Middleton and the bandits or shavaldores who owned his leadership.
By the payment of large sums in blackmail the county palatine of Durham obtained a costly peace, and a ransom suitable to his dignity released Bishop Beaumont from Mitford castle. Middleton neither lacked money nor supporters. Thomas, earl of Lancaster, who might have crushed the rebellion, preferred to connive at it, and commenced a private war in the West Riding against Earl Warrenne. The Scots threatened Berwick and Wark. Middleton attempted to gain Tynemouth. Bamburgh was in the custody of William de Felton, who had been guardian to Middleton and had trained him to arms.
Yet the loyalty of the Feltons remained undoubted. One of the kings first acts on the outbreak of rebellion had been to put John de Felton in charge of the young Henry de Percys castle of Alnwick. It was a serious blow to the royalist interest when, in the latter part of November, John de Middleton, brother of the rebel leader, succeeded in capturing Felton, and released him only upon his engaging to surrender Alnwick upon a certain date.
Before the day came, a bold stratagem had entirely changed the position of affairs. Middletons foster brother, the younger William de Felton, with Thomas de Heton, Robert de Horncliff and others, opened negotiations for ransoming the prisoners in Mitford castle. Part of the money had been paid, and in the third week of December Felton and his friends came to make their final reckoning. Middleton awaited them in the castle; his men had gone forth on a foray. The young men told him that they had secreted their money in the village and asked leave to go out and fetch it. Then, on reaching the castle gates, they turned on the warders, slew them, and gave admittance to a party of soldiers who were waiting outside. Middleton and his brother were surprised and overpowered, loaded with chains, and carried off to Newcastle, where the town rabble greeted them according to their kind.
A few days later Gilbert de Middleton was placed on a vessel in the port of Tyne. At first the wind prevented a passage over the bar, and in the interval, Middleton humbled himself in the priory church of Tynemouth, where he sought pardon for the wrongs he had done to St. Oswin and the monks. Then the wind shifted to the north. The ship set sail, but such a storm blew that the mariners put in at Grimsby, whence Middleton was brought on horseback to the Tower of London.
Walter de Selby still held out with a remnant at Horton Castle, in the parish of Blyth; otherwise the rebellion ended with the capture of its leader. On January 6th, 1318, commissions were issued for the arrest of rebels in Northumberland and Yorkshire. Two days later the Northumbrian commissioners were instructed to receive into the kings peace all those who rose in insurrection against him in the county of Northumberland and the neighbouring parts, and to receive all who, through want of victuals or by force or fear, were in insurrection and who wished to come into the kings grace.
No mercy could be shown to the man who had kidnapped a prince bishop and played Robin Hood with the Popes cardinals. It was January 21st when Middleton reached London. On Thursday the 26th he was brought before the king at Westminster to have sentence of death passed upon him. That same day he was dragged at horses tails to his execution; was hanged, drawn, and quartered. His head was set up in the city, and the poor remains of his body were exposed to view in Newcastle, York, Bristol, and Dover. His brother, John de Middleton, was likewise attained and met the same fate of hanging and drawing.
[Sir Arthur Middleton expands on the period after Sir Gilbert de Middleton's execution: "After Sir Gilbert's death some of his adherents, being still under the ban of the cardinals, and thus unable to obtain pardon, defended themselves as best they could. Trokelowe says that those who had not been captured at Mitford Castle fled to Walter de Selby, who lay hid in the peel of Horton, two-and-a-half miles south-west of Blyth. This he had seized from Sir Bertram Monboucher... It was a strong place, for it held out against the King's forces for ten weeks, causing the King's officers great expense; Here Selby defended himself, accompanied by Roger Mauduyt of Eshot, a place eight miles north of Morpeth, who had been an adherent of Sir Gilbert in the rebellion." The king made a proclamation that he was willing to make peace with the remaining rebels and that the would be pardoned. Horton Castle was surrendered but de Selby somehow escaped and allied himself with the Scots. He took control of Mitford Castle with Scots support and it was from here he accepted a ransom payment made to the Scots. He eventually surrendered sometime in May 1318 and was imprisoned in the Tower of London.]
So, wrote a monastic chronicler, ended a year that was barren of every crop but misery, when Northumberland, wasted by the Scots and reduced to poverty by its own outlaws, lay between the hammer and the anvil.
Ransoms and plunder had swelled Gilbert de Middletons personal estate to the large sum of £2,615 2s. 4d. Besides a toft and ten acres of land in Caldstrother, worth 5s. 4d., he held the manor of Briardean and the moiety of the village of Hartley.