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Whalley Abbey and Lathom House

HALLEY ABBEY was built in 1296, for the White or Cistercian monks of Scanlan, in the Wirral of Cheshire, by Henry Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, and it flourished till the dissolution of the monasteries.

Of the abbey there are considerable remains, including two stately gateways, a building thought to have been the abbot's private oratory, and other parts less perfect, yet all of them good specimens of Decorated and Perpendicular English architecture. In the parish church of Whalley are three plain stalls, and some good wood screen work, supposed to have been brought from the abbey.

The abbot had a large jurisdiction, for it extended over all Whalley, which is one of the most extensive parishes in England. But in Henry VIII.'s time the end came to Whalley as to other abbeys.

The changes in the Church, followed by the excommunication of the king, aroused the hopes and zeal of the northern Catholics, who were devotedly attached to their old faith.

An insurrection first broke out in Lincolnshire; it was, however, put down by the Earl of Suffolk, and by the effect of letters from the king; but before the insurgents (fifteen of whom were sacrificed to Henry's vengeance) had dispersed, a fierce rebellion broke out beyond the Trent, and spread from Yorkshire into Durham, Northumber-land, Westmoreland, and Lancashire. The king was greatly alarmed; he sent money to the Earl of Suffolk, who was at Newark, to buy, off some of the ringleaders; the Earl of Shrewsbury was constituted the king's lieutenant, north of the Trent, and the Duke of Norfolk was sent into Yorkshire with Lord Exeter and five thousand men; there was thus a regular army of ten thousand men in the field. But the rebels amounted to forty thousand, and were under the command of Robert Aske, a Yorkshire gentleman. The men of the North gave a religious character to their rising. They called their expedition the Pilgrimage of Grace, and carried banners on which were depicted the five wounds of Christ. They demanded the driving away of baseborn councillors - alluding to Cromwell - the suppression of heresy, and the restitution of the goods of the Church; and they were in bitter earnest, for they had felt cruelly the suppression of the monasteries, where they had been fed and tended in sickness, and consoled in sorrow. They were soon joined by the Archbishop of York, Lords Darcy, Latimer, and Scroop, Sir Thomas Percy and others, who seized York and Hull.

The undisciplined host was not unanimous, however, in its intentions, and there was difference of opinion and contention in the camp.

When they moved upon Doncaster, they were checked by Shrewsbury and the Duke of Norfolk, who had drawn out a strong battery of cannon to front of the town.

The rebels paused, and Norfolk entered into an armistice with them. He was authorised, after a little delay, to give such assurances to the rebels as would induce them to separate and disperse, and the king wrote gracious letters to his "trusty and well-beloved" Lord Darcy and Captain Aske, expressing his earnest desire to see and converse with them, trusting that they were at heart repentant. But they were wise enough to decline the royal invitation. Treachery, however, was in the midst of them; every man doubted the good faith of his comrade, and they grew disheartened, and dispersed. Lord Darcy, Aske, and most of the original leaders were taken, sent to London, and executed as traitors. Encouraged by the early promise of the rebellion, the Abbot of Whalley and his monks, who had been evicted from the abbey, returned in triumph to it, but the act was fatal. They were charged with being in communion with Aske, and the abbot and one of his monks were executed for treason.

With them also suffered the abbots of Barlings, Fountains, Jervaux, Woburn, and the Prior of Bridlington.

Lathom House, the seat of Lord Skelrnersdale, is a magnificent edifice on an elevated plain, commanding extensive prospects, but it is a modern house, its oldest part, the south front, having been commenced by William, ninth Earl of Derby, and completed in 1724, by Sir Thomas Bootle.

Lathom was for many centuries the house of the great Stanley family, but it was transferred by marriage, in 1714, to Lord Ashburnham, who sold it to Mr. Henry Furness. He in turn disposed of it in 1724 to Sir Thomas Bootle, whose niece and heiress carried it by marriage to Richard Wilbraham, of Rode Hall, Cheshire, who then took the name of Bootle. Lathom descended to their eldest son, created in 1828 Lord Skelmersdale.

Of the famous old Lathom House no traces remain, yet it is to that renowned dwelling both the historical record and legend of the Stanleys belongs.

It came by marriage to them, Isabella, sole heiress of Lathom, Knowsley, and other large estates, having married Sir John Stanley, who thus acquired immense wealth.

The legend of the Eagle and the Child, the crest of the Stanleys, belongs to this pair.

Sir Thomas Lathom, Isabel's father, had an illegitimate son, though no male descendant had been borne by his wife. He managed to have this infant laid by a confidential servant at the foot of a tree in his park, which was frequented by an eagle. He and his wife taking a walk, of course by his instigation and direction, found the babe. The lady, believing that it had been brought thither by the eagle, and miraculously preserved by their approach, took the infant in her arms and adopted it as her son. The name of Oskatel was given to the child, its mother being named Mary Oskatel. From this time the crest of the Eagle and Child was assumed; but as the old knight approached the end of his life, his conscience smote him, and on his deathbed he bequeathed to Isabel the principal part of his fortune; leaving to Oskatel only the manors of Irlam and Urmston, near Manchester, and some possessions in Cheshire, where he settled - he had been knighted by the king - and became the founder of the family of Lathom of Astbury.

Put this is merely a legend, and a legend told, also, in the time of King Alfred.

Old Lathom House was built in the reign of Edward I., 1304.

The second Lord Stanley married the mother of Henry, Earl of Richmond, afterwards Henry VII. of England. Heedless of the honours they had received from the House of York, both Sir Thomas and Sir William Stanley deserted Richard on his last battlefield, and went over to Richmond; a desertion that decided the victory, and which Henry acknowledged when he became king by creating Thomas first Lord Derby. William was rewarded, ten years afterwards, by Henry's causing him to be beheaded on a charge of high treason for being engaged in Perkin Warbeck's conspiracy.

A few months after this cruel and ungrateful deed, the king paid a visit to his mother (Thomas's wife) at Lathom, at that time in all its splendour. But the king's visit seems to have been shortened unpleasantly. A tradition remains in the Stanley family, that when Henry was entertained at Lathorn, he went over the whole house - his mother's - and then was taken by Lord Derby on the leads, that he might see the prospect of the country. The earl's fool had followed them, and seeing the king standing near the unguarded edge of the leads, he stepped up to the earl, and pointing to the king, said, "Tom, remember Will." The king caught the words, and understood their meaning. He turned immediately, and hastened off the leads and out of the house; while the jester long after was greatly grieved that his lord had not had courage to avenge the death of his brother.

At Lathom House, King James I. stopped for two days on his progress from Edinburgh to London, and made many knights.

But the chief historical memory of Lathom is its gallant defence by a woman. It was in the reign of Charles I., that the wife of the seventh Earl of Derby defended Lathom, the key to its district in Lancashire, for the king.

She was a beautiful and high-born woman - let France be proud of her daughter! - the child of Claude de la Tremouille. James, Lord Derby, had taken arms for the king, and left his lovely wife and children almost defenceless at Lathom House. The Parliament, quite aware of the importance of the place, laid siege to it with so large a force that the handful of men that made Lady Derby's garrison seemed of no avail. But Lathom House was not as defenceless as the Parliamentarians believed. Though situated on flat springy ground, it had a strong wall, two yards thick, all round it. Upon the wall were nine towers flanking each other, and in every tower were six pieces of ordnance that played three in one direction, and three in the opposite one. Within the wall was a moat eight yards wide and two deep, upon the brink of the moat between the wall and the graft was a strong row of palisades, and in the midst of the house was the Eagle Tower surmounting all the rest. The gatehouse was also a strong and high building, with a tower on each side of it, and in the entrance to the first court upon the top of these towers were put the excellent marksmen who had been wont to attend the earl in his field sports. " Nature seemed to have formed the house for a stronghold. The situation of it might be compared to the palm of a man's hand - flat in the middle, and covered with rising ground around it, so that during the siege the enemy was never able to raise a battery against it."

The besiegers formed a line of circumvallation round it at a distance of one hundred or two hundred yards from the wall, and on the 27th of February, 1644, General Sir Thomas Fairfax took up his quarters in front of Lathom House.

On the following day he sent Captain Marsland to the countess with an ordinance from the Parliament requiring her to yield up Lathom House upon honourable conditions, and declaring the mercy of Parliament to the Earl of Derby if he would submit to their authority.

The lady replied that she was surprised that Sir Thomas Fairfax should require her to give up her lord's house without any offence on her part to the Parliament. She desired a week to consider the demand. But Fairfax, of course, aware that she only wanted time, replied that he could not give her a week for reflection; he invited her instead to come to her lord's house of New Park, to which he would take her in his own coach, and where the colonels and himself would discuss matters with her. Lady Derby, at once refused; her birth, her sex and her lord's honour required, she said, that Fairfax should come to her, not she to him.

Other conditions were proposed; she rejected them with disdain, and proposed terms herself. She asked to continue a month in Lathom House, and that then she should, with her children, her friends, her soldiers and her servants, have free transfer to the Isle of Man, then her husband's; and that after her departure no soldiers should be quartered in the lordship of Lathom, nor any garrison put into Lathom or Knowsley House, and that none of her neighbours, tenants, or friends should suffer in their persons or estates.

Sir Thomas Fairfax sent in reply that she must evacuate Lathom House by ten the next morning. She sent back word that she was glad he had refused her terms, and that she was ready to receive their utmost violence, trusting in God for aid and deliverance. The siege commenced. On Tuesday, March 10th - the lady had managed to effect a little delay - a sally was made by her garrison upon the works that had been thrown up by the besiegers. The attack was led by Captain Farmer, aided by Lieutenant Bretargh; they slew about thirty men, took forty arms, one drum and six prisoners. On the 20th, the Roundheads brought one of their cannon to play upon the walls, pinnacles, and turrets.

The same day Fairfax sent a letter that he had received from Lord Derby, who was then at Chester, desiring an honourable and safe passage for his wife and children if she so pleased, being unwilling to expose them to the hazards of a siege. But Lady Derby answered that she would willingly obey her lord, but till she was assured of his pleasure by a letter to herself she would not desert his house.

Then she despatched a messenger to Chester, and the siege proceeded.

On Monday, April 1st, the enemy brought six cannons, loaded with chain shots and bars of iron, to play on the fortress, and next day their mortar piece, loaded with stones, thirteen inches in diameter and eighty pounds in weight.

The Parliamentary Colonels Aston and Moore, dispirited by the small effect of their artillery, now besought their ministers and "all persons in Lancashire well-wishers to their righteous cause, to offer up prayers for the fall of Lathom House."

On the following Wednesday, the besieged made a sally. Captain Farmer, Captain Molyneux Radcliffe, Lieutenants Penketh, Worrell and Walthew, with 140 soldiers, issued from a postern gate, beat the enemy back from all their works which they had raised near the house, spiked all their cannon, killed fifty men, took sixty arms and one colour, and three drums, Captain Fox giving the signal when to march and when to retreat by flags from the Eagle Tower, according to the motions of the enemy; for from that height he could see all over the field. From the 4th to the 24th of April, the cannon of the Roundheads played incessantly on the walls and the Eagle Tower, but without producing much effect. On the 25th, Colonel Rigby, who had been left in command by Fairfax, sent a messenger, under a flag of truce, to Lady Derby, requiring her to yield up Lathom House, and all persons, goods and arms within it into his hands, and receive the mercy of Parliament.

Having read this missive the countess called for the messenger, and told him that the due reward for his pains would be to be hanged up at the gates. "But," she added, "thou art the foolish instrument of a traitor's pride. Carry this answer back to Rigby," and she tore the letter in pieces; "Tell the insolent rebel that he shall have neither persons, goods, nor house. When our strength and provisions are spent, we shall find a fire more merciful than Rigby; and then, if the providence of God prevent it not, my goods and house shall burn in his sight; and myself, children and soldiers, rather than fall into his hands, will seal our religion and loyalty in the same flame!" These brave words were spoken before the soldiers, and they broke out into acclamations of joy, crying unanimously, "We will die for his Majesty, and your honour! God save the king!"

On the 26th, about four in the morning, before sunrise, Captains Chisenhall and Fox, lieutenants Bretargh, Penketh, Walthew and Worrell issued forth at the postern gate, and, assisted by Captain Ogle and Captain Rawstorne, took possession of the enemy's trench and scaled his ramparts with considerable slaughter. The main works being thus gained, the two captains lifted the great mortar piece to a low drag, and the men drew it into Lathom House. They endeavoured also to carry off the enemy's cannon, but they lay beyond the ditch, and were of such bulk and weight that all their strength could not bring them away, before the whole of the Roundhead army would have been upon them.

This fight continued for an hour, and the Lathom soldiers lost only two men. From this time till May 25th the besieged had an interval of quiet, as no gun was fired against Lathom.

On Thursday, May 23rd, Captain Edward Mosely brought another summons from his chief, fuller than the former, offering mercy to the garrison.

"The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel," said Lady Derby calmly; "unless you treat with my lord, you shall never take me or my friends alive."

The same night a spy got through the beleaguering army and told the garrison that Prince Rupert was in Cheshire, and on his march to the relief of Lathom House. The same intelligence having reached Col. Rigby, he drew off his forces on the 27th to Eccleston Common, and raised the siege of Lathom House, marching his soldiers off to Bolton. Thus Lady Derby remained victor.

Bolton was in its turn besieged by Rupert and Lord Derby, and captured, and the spoils taken there yielded several trophies to the Cavaliers; all these were presented to the heroic countess, in testimony of the army's admiration of the triumph attained under her command by her gallant little garrison of three hundred soldiers, who had been assailed by ten times their number. During the siege, Seacome tells us, the enemy shot at the house 109 cannon balls, thirty-two stones, and four grenadoes, at a cost of a hundred barrels of gunpowder. Their loss amounted to 500 killed and 140 wounded, while the besieged lost only four or five men in all.

After the siege was raised Lady Derby retired with her children, and under the protection of her husband, to the Isle of Man, leaving Lathom House to Colonel Rawstorne.

"The stronghold," writes Mr. Gunn, in "abbeys and Castles," "made a gallant and successful stand for some time, but the ancient spirit no longer animated the defenders. The wild enthusiasm of last year, which made the countess's men regard death - to them the only alternative with victory - with a gay welcome; and the quick ingenuity of the lady leader - providing for every possible contingency, planning the most daring sallies to be carried out, with deadly and dispiriting effect on the besiegers, and at the smallest possible expense of life to the besieged - these, as well as the primal motive and cue for action, the circumstance that their commander was a lovely woman, who sought their protection while she guided their efforts, were all now wanting to the defenders of Lathom House."

Their munitions of war exhausted, and no reinforcements coming from the king, who was in Chester that September, Colonel Rawstorne was obliged to surrender on bare terms of mercy.

The besiegers plundered the fine old house, threw down the towers, and destroyed the defences.

The Parliament were so delighted at the fall of the famous house, that they ordered thanksgivings to be returned to God on the next Lord's Day for its surrender.

The brave and beautiful Lady Derby was destined to endure a great sorrow. Her gallant husband, James the seventh Earl of Derby, was taken prisoner after the battle of Worcester, and beheaded by the Roundheads in 1651. The countess survived him for twelve years, dying in 1663. She was buried at Ormskirk.

After the Restoration, the celebrated ruins and estate were returned to the Derby family, but in 1714 the property was, as we have before said, transferred to Lord Ashburnham.

Knowsley Hall is the present seat of the Stanleys, a magnificent structure, situated in the parish of Huyton, Lancashire, seven miles from Liverpool, and two from Prescot.

Knowsley Hall

Knowsley Park is ten miles in circumference, and is full of the most lovely and picturesque scenes of sylvan beauty.

The mansion itself is rather grand from its dimensions than for architectural beauties, though the part rebuilt in 1820 has fine battlements, turrets and crenelated parapets. Lathom House is ever the glory of the family, and over the south or front entrance of Knowsley, beneath the shield of arms, is this inscription: "James, Earl of Derby, Lord of Man and the Isles, grandson of James, Earl of Derby, and of Charlotte, daughter of Claude, Duke de la Tremouille, whose husband James was be headed at Bolton, 15th October, 1652, for strenuously supporting Charles II., who refused a bill passed unanimously by both Houses of Parliament for restoring to the family the estates lost by his loyalty to him, 1732." A lasting record of royal ingratitude.

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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004