Our dark ages of plague and mystery

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Sadly, the next set of four great-grandfathers yielded very little information beyond their existence and their part in connecting the roots and the rest of our tree. But then this is the late 13thcentury to the late 14thcentury and its history in general is swathed in something of a mist. There were things happening but they were not always reliably recorded.

Interior of Gothic Church

Religiously, this was the time of one-faith, of Christendom, of crusades and pilgrimages. New church architecture was ‘gothic’ and ‘decorated gothic’, creating masterpieces such as York Minster, Wells Cathedral, Salisbury Cathedral, Lincoln Cathedral and the original St Paul’s Cathedral in London.  We were obliged to worship and our lives and seasons were described and controlled by church festivals.

Politically, when it first began to use the St George’s cross England was at odds with Wales and Scotland. Worse we were shaping up for what would become the Hundred Years’ War with France to protect our territories there. Parliament was first conducted in English by 1363.

Tower of London

Financially, the Royal Mint had moved into the Tower of London and sterling was set as the ‘coin of the realm’. In 1344 new gold coins were introduced, the florin then worth six shillings, the leopard three shillings and the helm eighteen pence. Sadly these did not contain a commensurate amount of gold and were withdrawn. Our avoirdupois (non-metric) system of weights and measures was being established at that time. 

Educationally, Merton College Oxford was the first British college to receive its statutes and set up its library; it is the world’s oldest in continuous daily use.

Culturally, the rules of the sport creag were recorded for Edward I at this time (1300). A very early form of cricket played in Kent.

Map of the advance of the Black Death

In 1348 England suffered its first outbreak of Black Death, seen by many as a preamble to the ‘End of Days’. The first wave struck Europe in 1348 and wiped out 20% of the population, a second pandemic came later in the 14thcentury and it recurred until the 17thcentury, the last outbreak in England being 1665-1666,

This last outbreak was called the ‘Great Plague’. It was actually quite mild compared to the 14thcentury epidemic, yet it still killed 100,000 in London. Urban legend has it that the nursery rhyme ‘Ring a Ring o’ Roses’ with its ‘A-tishoo! A-tishoo! We all fall down’ refers to the plague.

Ring of Roses, painting by Frederick Morgan

A family of Dentons living in Ossett Yorkshire was wiped out by the plague in July/August 1593. They lived at Sowood Farm which subsequently became known as Denton’s House, its road becoming Denton Lane. Christopher Denton was the eldest, the head of the household, and the first to succumb. To avoid passing on the infection he was buried at his own house on 18 Jul 1593. His sons Christopher (aged 23) and William (aged 18) suffered the same fate on 31 July. Four days later on 3rd August Isabell (aged 21), James (aged 16), Thomas (aged 11) and Margaret (aged 3) were buried together with Alice their mother.

That’s eight Denton family members killed by the plague in just a fortnight when the norm was a 50- 75% mortality. A related Elizabeth Denton baptised at Dewsbury who was nineteen at the time survived. There is no indication if she was at the farm or fortuitously elsewhere; she was the sole survivor of the family unit. Four unrelated local people also contracted the plague, died, and were buried at Denton’s House though it is unclear if they were servants or neighbours. This isolation approach did not stop the disease spreading to Ossett later that year.

Sowood Farm built in 1689 on the site of the 14thcentury Denton’s House

Today Sowood is a listed building but is not the original 1302 manor house where the plague wiped out a Denton family. It is suggested it was constructed using timbers from the original manor house.

This period also encompassed the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) when England sought to assert its rights over its French territories, particularly the wine business in Guyenne and the wool business via Calais and Flanders.

We saw that in 1337 one of our ancestors Sir Richard de Denton in preparing to go overseas had appointed attorneys to look after his affairs. He accompanied the first Earl of Northampton who was involved in the Battle of Sluys on 24 June 1340, one of the opening salvos of the Hundred Years’ War. It is likely then that Sir Richard de Denton was involved.

In 1430, quite late in the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), Baron Thomas the 8th Baron de Ros, born in 1406 at Belvoir Castle, was involved in a late skirmish and drowned in the River Seine on 18 August 1430. His granddaughter Margaret Spencer was second wife to James Denton LLD a thirteenth great-uncle and son of Thomas Denton of Fyfield.

Eleanor Beauchamp (aka Margaret Beauchamp) was Thomas de Ros’s widow. She was born in Bletsoe Castle, Bedfordshire. She remarried John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, a major player in the war and a son of John of Gaunt. As captain-general of Aquitaine and Normandy Beaufort supervised the last days of English ownership in France. John took much of the blame for the loss under a weak Henry VI and it led to the Wars of the Roses.

Margaret Beauchamp (aka Eleanor) effigy in Westminster Cathedral
Detail of Margaret

Margaret’s (aka Eleanor) effigy in Westminster Cathedral

Effigies of John and Margaret Holland (his second wife) in Wimborne Minster

John and Eleanor’s first child was the Countess Margaret Beaufort of Richmond (b.1418 Bletsoe) who was married in 1445 to Edmund Tudor; their son Henry Tudor Valois would become Henry VII.

Henry VII
Margaret Beaufort

The family was embroiled in the Wars of the Roses. Henry VII eventually won the crown at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 where Richard III was killed and the battle crown presented to Henry.

In death Margaret was rather upstaged by John Beaufort’s second wife Margaret Holland lying in a three-in-a-bed tomb between two of her four husbands, John Beaufort and Thomas of Lancaster, the 1st Duke of Clarence (son of King Henry IV).

The Duke of Somerset, Lady Margaret Holland and the Duke of Clarence in the St Michael’s Chapel of Canterbury Cathedral.

This tomb inspired the poet Emma Lazarus. She is most famous for the verse she wrote to raise money for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York, including these famous lines, 

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

On seeing the three-in-a-bed tomb above Lazarus was moved to write,

And all at once I stand enthralled again
Within a marble minster over-seas.
I watch the solemn gold-stained gloom that creeps
To kiss an alabaster tomb, where sleeps
A lady ‘twixt two knights’ stone effigies,
And every day in dusky glory steeps
Their sculptured slumber of five centuries.

Eleanor/Margaret Beauchamp provides another Denton connection. Her fourth husband was a Sir Lionel (or Leo), Baron of Welles Lincolnshire and 1st Lieutenant of Ireland (b.1405). Their daughter Katherine married Sir Thomas de la Launde who was involved with the Yorkist side in the Battle of Losecote Field (March 1470). Some claim 10,000 men died in this battle. Certainly Thomas was captured and beheaded at Stamford. His descendants intermarried several times with the Dentons, perhaps most notably when Johanna de la Launde married John Denton (16GGF).

Thomas de Denton – GGF20

All I could establish about this Thomas was that he was the son of John de Denton and the Heiress de Vaux, and father of GGF19 Thomas below.

Thomas Denton of Appleton and Eaton (1320-1388) – GGF19

Here at least I was able to establish a birth date and a date of death. His title places him in Oxfordshire in what is today’s parish of Appleton-with-Eaton, its 2011 population just 915.

Appleton means ‘an orchard’ and historically it formed part of the manor of Abingdon Abbey. William the Conqueror’s half-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, did own land here according to the Domesday Book, which details that it had the most valuable fishery in Berkshire, valued at £1 4s 2d.

Appleton 12thcentury manor house

Appleton House dates from 1147 and has an ornate doorway and some other interesting features added in the Tudor period after Thomas’s time.

The local 12thcentury St Laurence Church has a monument to Sir John Fettiplace who died in 1580. His predecessor Edmund Fettiplace was the first husband of Margaret Mordaunt who became my GGM11 when she subsequently married Thomas Denton in 1542.

John Denton of Appleton and Eaton (1345 -?) – GGF18

Sadly I found only a 1345 birth date for this John and that he had a son Thomas.

Thomas Denton – GGF17

For this Thomas we know he married the daughter of a John Wike (1356-1379), though we are not given her name They had a son who became John Denton of Fyfield (1375-1401) who as mentioned above married Johanna de la Launde (1378-1401). And with this John we are back into a period when genealogy does provide us something to work with.

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