Robin Hood in Waltham?

I recently came across some intriguing information linking an infamous family of medieval outlaws with Waltham:

The Folville family (of Ashby Folville fame) were infamous outlaws. John Folville had inherited the manor of Ashby Folville and seems to have lived within the law. However, his brothers Eustace, Laurence, Richard, Robert, Thomas and Walter formed the core of a criminal gang.

They were involved in the murder of Roger Bellers in 1326. And in 1332 the Folvilles kidnapped judge Sir Richard Willoughby, near Waltham on the Wolds, demanding 1300 marks for his release. King Edward II duly paid the ransom.

A little research on the internet has shed some more light on the story:

At a time when the rules of inheritance meant the eldest son received all the father’s lands and titles, younger sons were forced to find ways of making a living. And this could prove difficult for those from wealthy land-owning families who felt that learning a trade was beneath their dignity. Particularly when the king wasn’t hiring soldiers for foreign wars.

John de Folville was lord of Ashby Folville and the manor of Teigh (a small village between Waltham and Oakham). He had seven sons. John was the eldest and inherited his lands on his father’s death. Eustace was the second eldest son. On 19th January 1326, Eustace and his younger brothers led a band of some 50 men in an ambush on another local land-owner, Sir Roger Bellere.

Folville cross.

Folville cross

Bellere was killed during the attack (Folville cross on the right is said to mark the spot). The Folville brothers were immediately summoned to stand trial, but managed to flee and were declared outlaws.

Within a few years the Sheriff of Nottingham was complaining that “two of the brothers were roaming abroad, at the head of a band waylaying persons whom they spoiled and held to ransom”.

Eustace was accused of three robberies, four murders and a rape. But it seems there may have been some sympathy for the Folvilles amongst the common people. Bellere was a fairly disreputable character, and Eustace was already being cast in a similar role to the modern Robin Hood tales as a robber of the rich and supporter of the poor.

The Folvilles were one of two powerful bands of outlaws roaming the East Midlands during the early 14th century. With evidence for Robin Hood being so thin, they must have a very good claim to providing the inspiration for the famous tales. Particularly since the Sheriff of Nottingham complained about their exploits, and the brothers and their band of outlaws would have hidden in the local forests.

JP kidnapped close to Waltham

In January 1332 the Folvilles captured Sir Richard Willoughby on the road to Grantham near Waltham. Willoughby was a Justice of the King’s Bench and a very important local nobleman (click here to view his tomb in Willoughby on the Wolds Church). He was eventually released on payment of 1300 marks and made to swear allegiance to the Folvilles.

Like Bellere, Willoughby had a poor reputation – at one time he was charged with corruption but threw himself on the king’s mercy and was pardoned on payment of 1200 marks. The fact that both men were seen as corrupt helped bolster the Folville’s reputation amongst the poor. (Two local abbeys even employed the brothers as mercenary ‘heavies’.)

Teigh Church.

Teigh Church

Eustace and his brothers seem to have escaped immediate justice for the kidnapping, and within a year he was reported fighting for Edward III against the Scots.

But in 1340, one of the younger brothers – Richard, who had been appointed rector at Teigh by his eldest brother – was cornered in his church (right) by Sir Robert Coalville, a Keeper of the King’s Peace.

After a brief fight – in which arrows were fired from the church, killing one of Sir Robert’s men – Richard was dragged into the churchyard and summarily beheaded.

The pope absolved Sir Robert and his men for killing the priest, on condition that they were whipped at each of the main churches in the area as a pennance. Waltham Church may well have been one of those included on the list. Exciting times!

Sources: Eustace Folville, Richard Folville, Medieval outlaws, Outlaws in Hathersage

1 Comment

  1. Ken has forwarded a link to a page on the BBC’s website which seems to confirm that the Folvilles did capture Willoughby close to Waltham. Click here to read it.
    (There are links on the same page to excerpts from the radio programme on outlaws and highwayman.)

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