Earl Shilton in the pre-modern age

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Earl Shilton is a village in Leicestershire, England. This article relates to its history from the Iron Age to the early Tudor eras.

Iron Age and Roman Era Earl Shilton[edit]

Shilton Hill, the site where the village of Earl Shilton would evolve, was a well-known landmark to the Celtic Iron Age tribes of south Leicestershire. Below the hill ran an ancient trackway known as the Salt Road, which began at Croft and ran into the northwest over Ambion Hill and onto the Mease Valley, connecting east and west Leicestershire.

A tribe known as the Corieltauvi constructed this ancient road, running along the southern edge of the Great Leicester Forest, a vast tract of impenetrable woodland which entirely covered west Leicestershire and stretched up into Nottingham and Derbyshire. The Salt Road would prove to be a major artery of trade and passage for many centuries to come. Indeed, Richard III used this route to move his army to Bosworth Field in 1485. (Foss)

The Corieltauvi tribe had moved to Britain from continental Europe some time after 100 BC. They were a confederation of Belgic warriors who carved out a kingdom, which stretched from the Humber to south of Leicestershire. These ancient Britons were not really a unified tribe, but a collection of like-minded peoples sharing the same outlook and way of life. The tribe generally did not rely on hill forts for their protection. It appears that the Corieltauvi were better farmers than warriors, for they lived in lowland settlements, usually beside streams, frequently surrounded, or even hidden, by areas of thick forest.

Roman Invasion[edit]

The Roman army arrived in Britain in 43 AD, and quickly set about its conquest. Roman Legions spread north and west and by AD 47 were pushing on into Leicestershire. At this time, Corieltauvi tribal chiefs were being severely harassed by their neighbours, the Brigantes, and so welcomed the Romans as a source of protection and stability. Ostorius Scapula, the Roman Governor in Britain, established the frontier zone delineated by the Fosse Way through the middle of friendly Corieltauvi territory.

Earl Shilton’s first industry arrived during this period, as a pottery was established on Shilton Heath, (behind the modern day Heathfield High School). There was an excellent vein of clay found in the vicinity of Earl Shilton’s Roman kiln. Early in the second century it started producing low grade, grey ware pots, used for everyday cookery and storage (John Lawrence). Locally there was another pottery at Desford, and Stoney Stanton lived up to its name by the opening of a Roman quarry.

Saxon and Danish Settlement[edit]

Following the departure of the Romans, Jutes, Angles and Saxons were rapidly spreading throughout England. The Britons, by fierce fighting, checked these Germanic tribes for a time, but by the mid sixth century the Anglo Saxons had started to expand once again, eventually carving out seven kingdoms. Earl Shilton lay in the kingdom of the Middle Angles. Middle Anglia and Mercia were built around the River Trent and the rivers that flow into it, such as the River Soar.

The first recorded attacks on Saxon England by Viking raiders came at the end of the eighth century. Being well inland, early Viking raids did not affect the villagers of Earl Shilton. But in 874 – 875 a great heathen army of Danes moved up the River Trent and into the heart of Mercia. They attacked and overran Nottingham before moving their ships along the River Trent into North Leicestershire.

The Vikings called their farmsteads a ‘thorpe’, and designated who owned the land with the word ‘by’. There are many examples of villages with Viking names such as Elmesthorpe, Ullesthorpe, Ashby and Cosby, which show the Danish settlement throughout Leicestershire. The name Elmesthorpe, originally Aylmersthorpe, derived from a Saxon lord named Aylmer and Thorpe, a Danish word for village. Earl Shilton retained its Saxon name of Sheltone despite the settlement of Danes in the area. The name relates to a ‘shelf’ as the original village was perched on the hill around Hilltop.

Before the Norman Conquest the Saxon Thegn, or Lord, of Earl Shilton is not known, but records show that Shultone had 5 ploughlands worth 5 shillings at the time of Edward the Confessor. Shultone’s neighbour, the village of Barwell, stood on the lands of Leofric, Earl of Mercia (John Lawrence).

Early Medieval Earl Shilton[edit]

The Normans[edit]

One of the parcels of land granted to Hugh de Grandmesnil[1] by King William the Conqueror was the village of Scheltone, now known as Earl Shilton. The village measured some 500 acres (2 km²), standing on the top of a long, narrow ridge in the southwest of the county. Schulton or Scheltone is an ancient word, which means shelf. Shilton is therefore Scheltone or shelf-town. The village boasted 3 ploughs, with 1 serf and 4 sokemen. Sokemen were the highest class of free peasants, a lower aristocracy, and were thought to be the descendants of the Danes who settled in the East Midlands. The village also had a priest, 10 villeins and 5 bordars. Villeins and bordars were below sokemen and tied to the land. Villeins often held between 30 and 100 acres (100,000 to 400,000 m²), while bordars were of a lower standing and usually had a smallholding.

Attached to the village of Sheltone were 12 acres (50,000 m²) of meadow and a mill of 16 pence (£0.07) value, with woodland 8 furlongs (1609 m) in length and 3 broad valued at 70 shillings (£3.50). Following the Norman invasion there must have been some inflation as during the time of Edward the Confessor Sheltone’s woodland was valued at 5 shillings (£0.25).

Grandmesnil and Beaumont[edit]

The development of the medieval manor at Earl Shilton is closely entwined with the animosity between two Norman aristocratic families, Grandmesnil (also called Grentmesnil) and Beaumont.

The story of the Grandmesnils begins in the mid eleventh century, in central Normandy, where the family were famous for the breeding and training of the great war horses of the age, so prized by the knights. The De Grandmesnils had made a fortune from a string of stud farms which they owned on the plains of Ouche, but during the minority of Duke William the stability of Normandy began to break down as old scores were settled as the barons made a grab for each other’s territories.

Roger de Beaumont brought savage warfare to the lands of Roger de Tosny, as he tried to grasp control of the Risle valley, in 1041. De Tosny was joined by his ally Robert de Grandmesnil, but in June their forces were shattered in a surprise attack by the Beaumont clan. In the savage fight, de Tosny and two of his sons were killed. Robert de Grandmesnil fared little better. He was carried from the field mortally wounded and died three weeks later. His two sons, Robert and Hugh, divided his property between them; Robert joined the church, while Hugh took on his father’s mantle of warrior politician.

Hugh de Grandmesnil wielded power at the court of William Duke of Normandy, but the paranoid Duke banished Hugh in 1058. For five years Hugh was out of favour at court but in 1063 he was reinstated as Captain of the castle of Neufmarch en Lions. The Grandmesnil star continued to rise and Hugh was made a cavalry commander for the invasion of England in 1066.

England’s King Harold was in Yorkshire defeating a Viking army when news was brought that the Duke of Normandy had crossed the channel, and he immediately started south to meet this new threat. Rashly, Harold forced marched his Saxon army to Kent where he met William on the battlefield of Hastings.

There is a popular story (told by Wace) that Hugh de Grandmesnil almost came to a sticky end at the battle of Hastings. As fierce battle raged, Hugh’s horse leapt a bush during a cavalry charge and his bridle broke. Barely able to keep upright in the saddle, and with no control over his horse, Hugh saw to his dismay that he was all alone, and careering towards a great band of Englishmen, each wielding a five-foot axe while baying for blood. In moments the English would surround him and hack him down. But just as Hugh was preparing to die and his enemies leaped in for the kill, the Saxons gave out a great shout in triumph. Hugh’s horse immediately shied in fear and bolted in the opposite direction. Frightened by the Saxon victory cry, the stallion carried its helpless master away from the English and back to the safety of his own lines. By shear luck Hugh had survived, aiding his Duke in victory. With the death of Harold, late in the day, Duke William became King William I of England.

Following the conquest William I assailed Leicester, and took the city by storm in 1068, about two years after the Battle of Hastings. William handed the Government of Leicester over to Hugh de Grandmesnil, one of the Norman adventurers.

He also gave De Grandmesnil 100 manors for his services, sixty-five of them in Leicestershire, including Earl Shilton. He was appointed sheriff of the county of Leicester and Governor of Hampshire. He married the beautiful Adeliza, daughter of Ivo, Count of Beaumont-sur-l'Oise, with whom he inherited estates in Herefordshire, and three lordships in Warwickshire. Hugh had become one of William the Conqueror's main men in England and was at the heart of Anglo-French politics. In 1067 he joined with William Fitz Osbern and Bishop Odo in the government of England, during the King's absence in Normandy. He also was one of the Norman nobles who interceded with the Conqueror in favour of William's son Robert Court-heuse, and effected a temporary reconciliation.

Domesday Survey, 1086[edit]

Earl Shilton, like many English villages, first appears in recorded history in the Domesday Book of 1086, which is the first complete tax record for the whole of England. One of the parcels of land granted to Hugh de Grandsmesnil by William the Conqueror was the village of Scheltone, now known as Earl Shilton. The village measured some 500 acres (2 km²), standing on the top of a low ridge in the southwest of the county. Schulton or Scheltone is an ancient word, which means shelf. The village boasted 3 ploughs, with 1 serf and 4 sokemen. Sokemen were the highest class of free peasants, a lower aristocracy, and were thought to be the descendants of the Danish army, who had settled in the East Midlands during the wars with Wessex. The village also had a priest, 10 villeins and 5 bordars. Villeins and bordars were below sokemen, serfs tied to the land and their lord's whim. Villeins often held between 30 and 100 acres (0.4 km2), while bordars were of a lower standing and usually had a smallholding. Attached to the village of Sheltone were 12 acres (49,000 m2) of meadow and a mill of 16 pence value, with woodland 8 furlongs in length and 3 broad valued at 70 shillings. Following the Norman invasion there must have been some inflation as during the time of Edward the Confessor Sheltone’s woodland was valued at 5 shillings. The population of the village would have been 75 to 80 people.

The fields of Earl Shilton manor were open spaces divided, almost imperceptibly, into long narrow strips. Only the fields being grazed by cattle were fenced. The others were open and were identifiable as separate fields only by the crops which they bear. The unusual detail was that the single crop in each field was separately farmed - in individual strips - by peasant families of the local village.

Some of the strips which belonged to the local lord, were farmed for him by the peasants under their feudal obligations. Strip-farming was central to the life of a medieval rural community. It involved an intrinsic element of fairness, for each peasant's strips were widely spread over the entire manor; every family would have the benefit of good land in some areas, while accepting a poor yield elsewhere. The strips also enforced an element of practical village democracy. The system only worked if everyone sowed the same crop on their strip of each open field. What to sow and when to harvest it were communal decisions. The field could not be fenced, or the cattle let into it, until each peasant had reaped his own harvest but when the harvest was in the peasant would compulsorily pay their lord to grind the corn in his mill.

Ploughing too was a communal affair. The heavy wheeled plough needed for northern soils was expensive, as were horses or oxen to pull it so a team of horses and plough worked successive strips of an open field for different peasants. The long narrow shape of the strips reflected the difficulty of turning the team at each end. In addition to the open fields, each village or manor had common land where peasants had right to graze cattle, collect wood, cut turf and at times catch fish.

Hugh's family[edit]

Hugh de Grandmesnil and his wife Adeliza, who died in 1087, had five sons and as many daughters together - namely, Robert, William, Hugh, Ivo, and Aubrey; and daughters Adeline, Hawise, Rohais, Matilda, and Agnes. On the death of William the Conqueror, also in 1087, the Grandmesnils like most of the Norman barons were caught up in the civil war raging between his three surviving sons. Then lands in Normandy and England had two different masters, as Robert became Duke of Normandy and William Rufus was installed as King of England. Royal family squabbles put fortunes at risk if Barons took the wrong side, and ultimately this was the fate of the Grandmesnil family for they supported the fickle Duke of Normandy against the English king, although allegiances changed frequently. Duke Robert did not always support his barons' loyalty, which is illustrated in Hugh’s later struggles.

Siege of the Castle of Courci[edit]

By 1090 Hugh de Grandmesnil, even as an old man, was still defending his lands in Normandy. Hugh made a stand along with his friend Richard de Courci at the Castle of Courci-sur-Dive, as Robert de Belesme laid siege to them. Belesme had driven his army into the lands along the river Orne, and the Norman Barons, in the true tradition of clan warfare, had quickly joined the fight depending on what suited their political and territorial ambitions.

Robert de Belesme did not have enough troops to totally surround the castle of Courci, so he set about building a great wooden engine called the Belfry. This monster was a great tower which had several floors and could be rolled up to the castle walls, delivering scores of knights to the front line on the castle walls. But unfortunately for Belesme, every time the Belfry was rolled forward, Grandmesnil sallied from the castle and attacked a different part of the line. This would mean that soldiers manning the Belfry were urgently needed elsewhere to beat back Grandmesnil’s attack. These skirmishes were frequent savage and bloody. On one occasion William, son of Henry de Ferrers (another Leicestershire landowner, whose family would become Earls of Derby), and William de Rupiere were captured by de Grandmesnil and ransomed for a small fortune. But the boot was on the other foot when Ivo de Grandmesnil, Hugh’s son, and Fitz Gilbert de Clare were seized by the attackers. Ivo was later released, but de Clare unfortunately did not survive the horrors of Belesme’s dungeon (Planche).

As the siege continued a bizarre deadly ritual was played out. The inhabitants of Courci had built their oven outside the castle’s fortifications, and it now lay midway between the main gate and the enemy’s Belfry. The men of Courci therefore, would stand to arms and rush from the castle to surround the oven, so that the baker could go to work. Here they would defend their bread, as the attackers would attempt to carry it off. This would often lead to a general engagement as each side poured more troops into the fray. There was much slaughter over a few loaves of bread. But on one occasion Grandmesnil’s charge was so ferocious that De Belesme’s men were scattered. The men of Courci overran the great siege engine. It was quickly torched, the blaze reducing it to a pile of ashes. But this success was short lived, as Duke Robert of Normandy took sides with De Belesme. It now looked all over for De Grandmesnil and De Courci. Fortunately, King William Rufus arrived with a fleet in arms against his brother, and so Duke Robert and De Belesme simply packed up and went home. This illustrates Norman baronial society, where petty land squabbles escalate into all out warfare. Friends and allies are made on the spur of the moment to suit current circumstance, and enemies are very easily made.

Death of Hugh de Grandmesnil[edit]

In 1094, Hugh de Grandmesnil was again in England, and worn out with age and infirmity, and his end approaching. In accordance with the common practice of the period, he took the habit of a monk, but died six days after he had taken to his bed on 22 February at Leicester. Hugh’s eldest son, Robert, inherited his Norman lands in the Ouche valley in Normandy, while Ivo de Grandmesnil became Sheriff of Leicester, and master of Earl Shilton manor. Following a long futile war with his brother William Rufus, Duke Robert through his tardiness failed to take the English crown.

Henry II of England[edit]

Upon his victorious return from the First Crusade, Duke Robert was appalled to find that his young brother had snatched the throne of England. William Rufus had died in a hunting accident, and Henry had promptly succeeded to the throne. It appears that Ivo de Grandmesnil was influenced by his brother Robert, who held the family lands in Normandy, and joined the faction fighting against King Henry of England: war quickly followed.

Duke Robert set sail for England in 1101 and his army caught up with Henry at Alton, on the Winchester road. A peace was quickly negotiated and Robert went back to Normandy with promises of English gold. Unfortunately, this left the Duke’s supporters high and dry and King Henry, ‘a famously unpleasant individual’ took note of his enemies, including the Grandmesnils (Morris).

King Henry bestowed the manors of Barwell, Burbage, Aston, Sketchley and Dadlington on Hugh de Hastings, as he set about eliminating baronial opposition. Thus, Ivo, Sheriff of Leicester, found that he was in disgrace at court, and also swamped with lawsuits and delayed judgements by the king. At court, courtiers openly called him ‘ropedancer’, a reference to his escape from Antioch. His star was definitely on the wane, and when he overreacted to the jibes, Ivo was fined for turbulent conduct at court. To escape his situation, Ivo had little choice but to finance another trip to the Holy Land, where he could regain his honour fighting for God.

Ivo and Robert de Beaumont make agreement[edit]

Ivo approached Robert Beaumont, Count Mulan, to procure a reconciliation with the king, and to advance him five hundred silver marks for his expedition. For this service the whole of Ivo's domains were pledged to Beaumont as a security for fifteen years. Beaumont was also to give the daughter of his brother Henry, Earl of Warwick, in marriage to Ivo's son, Baron Hinckley, who was still in his infancy, and to restore him his father's inheritance. This contract was confirmed by oath, and ratified by the King. But the luckless Ivo died on his crusade to Jerusalem, and when he did not return Robert Beaumont broke his oaths and took control of the whole of Leicester. He dispossessed Ivo’s children, forgot about the marriage, and added all the Grandmesnil estates to his own. By sleight of hand, Earl Shilton manor was now held by Robert Beaumont, who was created the first Earl of Leicester by the king.

Ivo’s son and heir, Hugh de Grandmesnil, Baron Hinckley, never recovered the honour of Leicester, however, his daughter, Petronella, married Robert de Beaumont, the third Earl of Leicester, and thus the two antagonistic families were joined.

Robert Beaumont, Count of Mulan, died on 5 June 1118, and his son, another Robert, known as Bossu, became the 2nd Earl of Leicester. Robert and his twin brother, Waleran, were taken into the court of King Henry I on the death of their father. Although Robert Bossu held lands throughout the country, in the 1120s he began to rationalise his estates in Leicestershire. The estates of the See of Lincoln and the Earl of Chester were seized by force. This gave Bossu a compact block of estates which were bounded by Nuneaton, Loughborough, Melton Mowbray and Market Harborough.

Later Medieval Earl Shilton[edit]

Earl Shilton Castle[edit]

Robert Beaumont (Bossu) was present at the death of King Henry in 1135, and the Earl of Leicester became a close advisor to the new king Stephen. Unfortunately Henry’s daughter Matilda felt that she should be on the throne, and with the aid of her half brother the Earl of Gloucester, launched a ferocious war upon Stephen, her cousin.

As the defence of his lands became paramount, it is likely that Robert Bossu began the fortification of Shilton Hill. The Earl of Leicester’s new motte and bailey castle would protect the vale of Kirkby, along with Beaumont’s lines of communication to the South and West.

Earl Shilton's castle was built around the site of an existing twelfth century chapel called Saint Peter's that lies between Church Street and Almey’s Lane. This area is known locally as ‘Hall Yard’. Nearby are the springs, from which the castle drew its water, now known as Spring Gardens.

The castle, as a fortress, lasted for 30 to 40 years before its destruction, and subsequent conversion to a hunting lodge. There are no records of a siege or fighting in the area of Earl Shilton, even during the civil war, which probably shows that the castle was doing its job (John Lawrence). When the parish church was rebuilt in 1854, the stone was used from the castle for its construction.

In 1173 it was Prince Henry who started a rebellion against his father King Henry II. Robert Beaumont the Earl of Leicester was in France when the rebellion began and eagerly joined the Prince’s faction fighting several battles. While still on the road, on October 17 at Farnham, outside Bury St Edmunds the king’s supporters attacked. Norfolk and Leicester were surprised and defeated. Beaumont was captured and carted off to prison at Falaise in Normandy.

The king now set about destroying the Earl of Leicester’s castles, and the demolition men soon moved into Earl Shilton. Only the fortress of Leicester and Mount Sorrell survived this destruction. However, Earl Shilton manor would remain, being a good source of revenue.

Shilton Park[edit]

Shilton Park was probably created by Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester, after he became Earl of Leicester. De Montfort’s association with the village was such that he added the prefix ‘Earl’ to its name.

The original purpose of Shilton Park therefore, was to provide a hunting ground, stocked with game, for the lord of the manors’ sport and table. The park was surrounded by a deep ditch, to keep the animals in, and beyond that, a high fence to keep the general population out. The Earl of Leicester’s park of Tooley sat below Shilton Hill, stretching into the northwest towards Desford. It enclosed 450 acres (1.8 km2).

The upkeep of the park lay in the hands of the Earl's bailiff, or ‘Keeper of the park’, a much sought after occupation, as the park generated substantial revenue to help offset its huge running costs. It supplied a rich source of timber, horses were raised, and the park provided a continual supply of fresh meat, while fees were levied on anyone wishing to graze their animals on parklands. The bailiff could graze his own animals in the park freely, at the Earl’s discretion.

Edmund Crouchback and after[edit]

King Henry briefly held Shilton manor and park following the death of Simon de Montfort, before giving it over to his son Edmund. Created Earl of Leicester and Lancaster, Edmund ‘Crouchback’ took possession of Earl Shilton in 1272, for a security of 3,000 gold marks, and the parish was held of Lancaster from this time (John Lawrence).

The Earl appointed Richard de Schulton, the elder, to manage the running of the estate in Earl Shilton. He also collected the Earl's dues. A service that Richard de Schulton would perform for the Earls of Lancaster for roughly the next thirty years.

The Manor of Sheltone 1297 The main house with gardens and all its issues are worth three shillings. There are 240 acres (1.0 km2) worth yearly £7 at 6d per acre. There are in villainage 34 bovates of land for which the villains render 10/- 5d. There are 8 acres (32,000 m2) of land in villeinage which render 49s 8d. The natives hold 27 acres 1 rood which render 27s 41/2d. Free tenants render 27s 7½ d. The cottars render 80 hens worth 6s 8d. There is a windmill and a watermill worth 53s 4d, a pasture worth 40shillings. The grazing is worth 10s. The Park of Tolowe (Tooley) is not extended because the bailiff has all his animals there.

A knight, Richard de Schulton, the elder, held the land from Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, and saw to the daily business of the estate. Richard is the first person that we know who lived and worked in Earl Shilton. His recorded history began when he attended King Edward I's Easter court at Leicester in 1283. Richard de Schulton and his wife, Constance, became lord and lady of the manor, and had at least two sons, Richard, the younger, and John. The family were minor Leicestershire gentry who are known to have held other lands in Thurleston, Mershton, Normanton juxta Thurleston, Weston juxta Blaby, Normanton Turville, Countesthorp and Bitmeswelle.

Thomas of Lancaster became the new overlord of Shilton Manor in 1298, on the death of his father Edmund ‘Crouchback’. Earl Shilton manor at this time had 240 acres (1.0 km2) worth yearly £7. Two years later, in 1300, Thomas of Lancaster was fighting in the Scottish Wars alongside his uncle Edward I at the siege of Caerlaverock Castle.

The same year Roger of Desford’s son, Richard, along with his friend Simon, son of the provost, were caught cutting down trees and carting them from Priors Wood in Kirkby Mallory, and Richard de Schulton brought them up before the king’s justice later that year demanding compensation.

Richard de Schulton, the elder, died in 1314. His wife Constance, remarried and William de Nevil moved into the manor with her. This took up much court time, as the family squabbled over their inheritance with the younger Richard de Shulton.

William de Nevil was also in court for various crimes and thefts of his property. In 1321 three men from Shilton, Ricard Blodewe, John Annys and John, son of Rodger, were all charged with taking Will de Nevils’ boar, worth 20 shillings and hunting it maliciously with dogs.

In 1324 Henry, who had succeeded his brother to the title of Leicester and Lancaster, met with John Norton, Mayor of Leicester and his burgesses at Shulton Manor. The great Earls’ arrival at Earl Shilton must have been a grand occasion, as accommodation and food were made available for a large retinue of barons, knights and servants.

Cost to the Mayor and Burgess of Leicester for meeting Henry, the Earl of Leicester and Lancaster, at the manor of Shulton 1324.

The burgesses' records recall the expenses of the occasion

To Robert of Cadeby for having his counsel 2 shillings On Friday before the Lords coming - bread 6 ½ d - wine 2 s 8d

Sent to Sir Thomas le Blount and Sir Ric de Rivers Present to the Earl

  • bread 29s
  • wine £8 16s
  • 3 carcasses of beef £2 5s
  • 7 pigs £1 11s 6d
  • with porterage and dressing 7d
  • 20 quarters of oats £1 17s 6d
  • 21 pairs of hose, given to the esquires and officials £1 11s 0d
  • To the Earls messenger 1 shilling for hose
  • To the poultry keeper 6d for shoes

Total £17 17s 31/2d [2]

An armed raid took place in Earl Shilton in 1326. Nicholas de Charnels, at the head of a band of brigands rode into Earl Shilton intent on plunder (John Lawrence). This party of raiders contained three other knights, the parson of Aylmesthorp (Elmsthorpe), along with their servants and retainers. They burst into the manor house yard and grabbed what they could, eventually riding off with goods and chattels worth £300. William de Nevill must have been distraught for he had lost an absolute fortune. But the manor was held from Henry Earl of Lancaster, and it was not long before the miscreants were up in court. In the Trinity court of Edward II, held in Leycester 1326 -

Nicolas de Carnels, Parson John de Charnels, Walter de Bodicote of Weston, Richard de la Hay of Aylmersthorp and Roger de Claybrook of Leycester, were made to answer for their crime.

Richard de Schulton, the younger, had been born in the last years of the thirteenth century, and would become a young knight in the retinue of Henry de Ferrers of Groby. Henry de Ferrers, was a notable warrior who fought for Edward III in Scotland and France. Henry married Isabel Verdon and took part in the first battle of the Hundred Years' War at Sluys in 1340.

The grand old lady, Constance de Shulton died on 20 May 1349, the year the Black Death arrived at Earl Shilton. Her second husband William de Nevil had already died, some twelve years before, in 1337. Whether her death was related to the plague is unknown, but she was over seventy years of age. She had survived two husbands who had been Lords of the manor at Earl Shilton, and had been at the heart of Leicestershire knightly society since the reign of Edward I. Her son Richard, who must have been in his 50s, took over running the family estates at Earl Shilton. Richard de Shulton also lived for over seventy years, but by 1361 John de Neld held the manor at Shulton on the death of Henry Grosmont, Earl of Leicester.

In September 1365, burglars were at work in Neubold Verdon. Tomas Danyel of Shulton and William Bannebury of Neubold, took away goods and chattels from the home of William Savage, the parson, and ‘dispastured his hurbage with cattle.’

The manor of Earl Shilton was given to John of Gaunt as part of her dowry when he married in 1359 Blanche, younger daughter of Henry Plantagenet, Duke of Lancaster. John of Gaunt would often enjoy the hunting offered by Shilton Park and its Manor, when he was in residence at Leicester Castle.

Robert de Swillington, a knight, was leasing a plot of land in Shilton Park by 1392. This included Priors Wood, 10 acres (40,000 m2) in Kirkby Mallory, and Shilton Wood, another 8 acres (32,000 m2). It was passed onto Roger de Swillington, who on his death, in 1418, left the property to his son John, who died the following year. The woodland was passed to his sister Joan. The De Swillington family’s association with Shilton Park ended with the death of Joan in 1427.

A gang of serial poachers were caught in Shilton Park in 1420. Three men from Thorneton, Yeoman Thomas Harryson, together with Thomas Jakes and William Northowe, both husbandmen, aided by John Oakes of Odeston, were all charged with ‘breaking the kings park of Schulton and hunting therein’. William Armeston, representing the king also accused them of the same crime at Desford and Leicester Firth (New Parks). How the court disposed of these illicit hunters is not recorded, but the king's retribution would probably be administered in a swift and grisly fashion.

Hostilities in France continued, but momentum swung to the French with the appearance of Joan of Arc in 1428. The Nock Verges, Earl Shiltons’ archery ground, would have been in constant use during this time as the wars with France raged on.

During the reign of the Yorkist King Edward IV, the Shilton Park laws were rescinded, probably as it had belonged to the Lancastrian princes, and the land was given over to the Ruding family.

On Friday, 19 August, King Richard III left Nottingham and travelled south toward the city of Leicester. In Leicester, with his captains still mustering his men, he learned from his scouts that the army of Lord Stanley was at Stoke Golding while William Stanley was at Shenton. Henry Tudor and his small army were camped around Atherstone. On the following day, Richard and his royal army left the city of Leicester expecting to meet his rival near Hinckley.

Swinging into the southwest, Richard is thought to have used the ancient track way to Shilton Hill and his army spent the night camped around the churches of Shulton and Elmesthorpe. No doubt all the food in the village was requisitioned before the royal army moved on to Sutton Cheyney and Ambion Hill where Richard was defeated and killed.

But even in Earl Shilton, a manor that historically belonged to the house of Lancaster, cheers were muted. For as the Earl of Richmond’s foreign mercenaries marched on to Leicester they carried the sweating sickness with them. This can be traced in contemporary records, from Milford Haven to Leicestershire (Biggs). Sweating sickness, also known as the "English sweate" (Lat. sudor anglicus), was a mysterious and highly virulent disease which struck England and later Europe in a series of epidemics the first beginning in 1485 and the last in 1551, afterwards apparently vanishing. The onset of symptoms was dramatic and sudden, with death often occurring within hours. Its cause remains unknown.

At the end of the Wars of the Roses Edward Trussel held plots of land in Derby and Earl Shilton and was Overseer of Elmesthorpe manor held from Lord de la Zouche. Elmesthorpe was valued at £34 at this time, while his holdings in Earl Shilton were worth 40 shillings. When Trussel died his children were still young and his lands were held by the king, for his son, John Trussel, was still in his minority. Unfortunately John Trussel did not have very long to enjoy his estates, for he quickly followed his father, dying on 20 December 1499. The next heir was John’s sister, Elizabeth, who was born in 1497, and was ten years old when the court granted her inheritance in 1507. Elizabeth Trussel's fate is unknown but shortly after this period Elmesthorpe was depopulated and the church fell into disrepair.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Domesday Book: a Complete Transliteration. London: Penguin, 2003. p. 655 ISBN 0-14-143994-7
  2. ^ Borough of Leicester records
  • Crouch, David (2002) The Normans
  • The Crusades
  • Foster, G. H. (1940) History of Earl Shilton Tooley Park and Potters Marston. Baxter
  • Foster, G. H. (1947) History of Earl Shilton and Tooley Park. Baxter
  • Morris, Mark (2003) Earl Shilton Castle. Pan Books
  • Wood, Michael. The Domesday Book
  • Wace. The Companions of William the Conqueror
  • Schama, Simon. A History of Britain
  • Lawrence, John N. (2006) Associations with Earl Shilton, a Leicestershire village

Coordinates: 52°34′35″N 1°18′41″W / 52.5764°N 1.3113°W / 52.5764; -1.3113