Tudor and Jacobean Northumberland

Tudor and Jacobean Northumberland

The re-establishment of stable government under the Tudors after 1485 did not end the Anglo-Scottish border warfare’, which intermittently flared up. After peace from 1497 to 1511 there was the campaign which led to the Scots’ disaster at Flodden Field, there were minor invasions in 1522-23, and lengthy conflict in the 1540s. But if the Tudors were unable to halt the border conflicts, they had a more deliberate policy towards the border magnates, notably the Percies. To destroy any potential threat to royal supremacy the Tudors and. their servants Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell systematically undermined the influence of the Percies as border lords. Wolsey cncouragcd the growth of a Crown party in Northumbdand; gentry who got state pensions for service on the border and who looked to London and not to the Percy organisation for advancement. In the 1520s and 1530s a group of the Forsters, Whartons, Radcliffes and Grays, led by Sir Reynold Carnaby, formed the core of this anti-Percy party. The fifth Earl was excluded from border office, though he made things so difficult that in 1527 the sixth Earl had to be made Warden as no one else could govern. The power of the Percies was, however, gradually weakened. In the 1530s the split between the sixth Earl and his brothers, Thomas and Ingram, led the brothers into the rebellion of the Pilgrimage of Grace and the Earl into dependence on Cromwell. At his death the earldom became extinct and the estates passed to the Crown. Under Edward VI the Crown party got lucrative leases of Percy lands and former monastic property. However, with the accession of Mary the older border lords became more significant: the sixth Earl’s nephew regained the earldom and Percy estates and also the Wardenship of the Marches, which had been in the control of the King and the Crown party since 1537.

After Elizabeth’s accession the anti-Percy policies were again pursued. Earl Percy was replaced as Warden of the Middle Marches by the leader of the Crown party, 60-year-old Sir John Forster of Adderstone, near Bamburgh, and in the East March by Lord Hunsdon, a southern civil servant. Such men relied on the Crown for their position and authority, and posed no threat to Elizabeth. During the 1560s the Earl became more isolated until in 1569 he joined the Rising of the Northern Earls, which failed and led to his execution in 1572. His loyalist brother was allowed to succeed him, but not allowed to return to the North, and for the next 60 years the Earls were absentee landlords, not feudal lords. It was the end of feudal Northumberland.

These changes were not all the result of government policy. Attitudes were changing of their own accord through contact with other regions and with commercial Tyneside. The Percy Earls did not get the support they had got earlier: in the 1569 Rising only a small number of Northumbrian gentry, including Tristram Fenwick of Brinkburn and Cuthbert Armorer of Belford, followed the Earl. However, the new border regime did not necessarily lead to border peace or better administration. As feudal attitudes decayed, so feudal methods of warfare such as the muster of tenants grew less effective. The new leaders could not turn out the tenantry. The non-pensioned gentry would not help: in 1 542 it was reported ‘there is continual spoils and robberies, the countrymen looking through the fingers thereat, bidding such as take pensions of the King’s highness to go to the remedy thereof’. The 1540s warfare required royal garrisons and even mercenaries from Europe like the horsemen under Captain Andrea at Glanton and the foot soldiers at Charlton under Captain Ventura, whilst the local gentry ‘lieth at home, hawking, hunting and going to weddings . . . to the evil example of others in this most chiefest time’.

The Scottish Reformation after 1559 led to the end of the ‘Auld Alliance’ with France that had so often led Scotland into war with England. Unfortunately, Scotland remained politically unstable and border disturbances continued. Even after the Treaty of Berwick in 1586, James’s resentment at Elizabeth’s attitude to him led to conditions more like warfare than peace. On the English side the Crown and its officials had largely broken the border reivers and surnames of Tynedale (Chapter XII), but James was still encouraging the raiders of Liddesdale and Teviotdale. In 1587 Forster wrote to Walsingham ‘I am credibly informed that one of the chief men of Liddesdale was with the King [James], who commanded him and his company to take all that could be gotten out of England’. The ageing Sir John Forster was not noticeably successful in dealing with Scottish raids, and a rival faction led by Sir Cuthbert Collingwood of Eslington was constantly trying to get him out of office. Nor were matters helped by the absenteeism of Lord Hunsdon for long periods, and the general reluctance of southern officials to stay in the winter wilds of Northumberland. Incidents were plentiful. At a border meeting at Windy Gyle in 1585 Forster’s son-in-law, Lord Francis Russell, was killed. Edmund Craster, a member ‘of the Forster faction, was also there and helped Forster draft a report to Lord Burghley. In the 1590s Robert Carey, Hunsdon’s son, reported that the Northumbrian gentry of the Scots’ raiding routes paid blackmail, and in 1587 there had been a major raid of 400 horsemen on Haydon Bridge. In 1596 a band of Sir Robert Kerr’s men rode into Ainwick itself, and the following year 30 horsemen attacked Sir John Forster’s house ‘but that by good happ being espyed coming up the staires his lady gott the chamber doore put to and bolted’.

The end of border conflict came with the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth. James was ambitious for the full unification of the two countries (much of which was not achieved until 1 7 07) and called the English and Scottish border countries his ‘Middle Shires’. In 1607 he said ‘The Borders of the two Kingdomes are now become the Navell or Umbilick of both Kingdomes’. The Wardenships and the March or Border Laws were abolished, and life became more like that in more southern counties. At Berwick (which had changed hands no less than 13 times since 1296 and where the trading life had been ruined by the wars) the almost total withdrawal of the garrison damaged the local economy, but in general the Union prospered the county. There were still, as elsewhere, factional disputes amongst the gentry, but ‘by 1611  the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of Northum­berland were as law-abiding and deferential towards those in authority as people in any other part of England’ (S. J. Watts), though that year saw the last of the border raids. Robert Elliot of the Redheugh in Liddesdale rode with 50 horsemen to Lionel Robson’s house at Leaplish in North Tynedale, killed Robson and others and broke down his house with their axes.

Nowhere can the decline of feudal attitudes in Northumberland be seen better than in the changes in farming and land management during the Elizabethan and Jacobean years. Landlords began to view their land in a more commercial, profit-making light, rather than as capable of supporting so many men for the declining border musters. The Percies themselves were pioneers in this. The Earl’s agent, George Clarkson, had surveyed the estates in 1567, and in the early 17th century the absentee Earl had land-surveyors draw up detailed maps of his villages and fields, such as that for Acklington in 1616. Suggested improvements included rationalising the allocation of strips in the village fields and grouping the demesne lands into one block. This took place at Chatton, Rock and elsewhere, but securing agreement on an equitable I distribution was a slow business. The Earl’s agents had more room for manoeuvre with his parklands. In the 1560s the parks around Alnwick were still very much hunting. forests, but during the following 50 years they were enclosed for big sheep and cattle farms, and in 1612 Cawledge, Hulne and West Park were all large leasehold farms giving good rents. Crown leases and sales of former monastic lands also provided scope for the commercial farmer, and after the Union of 1 603 a series of court cases helped destroy the traditional tenant-right and border tenures that gave inheritable tenancies and low rents in parts of Northumber­land, and landlords were able to impose leasehold agreements at rising economic rents.

The declining need to maintain tenants for border service meant landowners could alter the land-use to profitable sheep farming, evicting the villagers and creating new single farms. At Outchester, at the head of Budle Bay, near Bamburgh, sometime before 1580 Thomas Jackson of Berwick expelled the 12 tenants and turned the fields to pasture. The deserted villages (not all of them dating from this period) can often still be seen today, with their streets, house

foundations and ridge-and-furrow open-fields fossilised under the grass, as at Halton, Ogle, and South Middleton. The deserted village of West Whelpington, near Kirkwhelpington, has been excavated by M. G. Jarrett, and although not deserted until the early 18th century, has revealed many details of peasant village life. The medieval stone-walled houses grouped around a green were primitive, most having only one room; even the rebuilt 17th-century village had similar houses with open-hearthed fires, though they acquired glazed windows and some had locks.

The change to sheep farming did not always mean mass evictions and depopulation. Many villages were already ‘decayed’ by the Scottish wars, plague and migration, and these villages were the most susceptible to conversion. William Selby, Northumberland M.P., and son of the Newcastle hostman, defended the enclosures in Parliament, arguing that the county ‘was so nigh Scotland, and their countrey was so infected with the Plague, that not only whole Families, but even whole villages, have been swept away with that calamity’. In many cases the new farms must have absorbed much of the available local labour. When Sir Robert Delaval bought out the 15 tenants at Hartley in south-east Northumberland in the 1570s and converted to grass, six tenants got new holdings in Seaton Delaval and five others cottages in Hartley, though Sir Robert later also converted Seaton Delaval. But by 1600 the main wave of conversions was over as prices shifted, and in the following years Delaval was converting back to mixed husbandry. Despite all these changes, however, Northumbrian agriculture, especially outside the coastal plain, was still in 1625 very backward compared with southern England.