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Sir Peter de Middelton (c.1290-1335) - A Prominent Fourteenth Century Knight from Ilkley

An edited version of this article was published in the Ilkley Gazette on 1 April 1993


Tucked away in a quiet corner of the ancient Parish Church in Ilkley is one of the town's greatest historical treasures. Under an arched recess, in the small chapel off the north aisle, lies a finely carved effigy of a knight, which is over six hundred and fifty years old. We must thank Eoian Lewis for his recent drawings of this monument which are, I believe, the first to accurately portray it.

Sir Peter de Middelton


A description of c.1929, by Mr. William I'Anson, runs:

The knight, whose head rests upon pillows which are supported by angels, wears a round-topped skull-cap under a hood of mail; his hands, uplifted in prayer, are protected by mail gauntlets secured at the wrists by buckled leather straps; a guige [a strap for the shield], passing over the right shoulder, carries the shield; the surcoat, which reaches almost to the ankles, is girt at the waist by a narrow buckled strap, the pendent tag of which is looped up and tucked away at the right side; below and beneath the skirt of the hauberk [the coat of mail] is seen the lower extremity of the padded and quilted gambeson [a coat for wearing underneath chain mail]; the cuir-bouilli [boiled leather] knee-cops are ridged and decorated by miniature shields; the mail-clad legs are crossed; short prick spurs are worn, and the feet rest upon a lion.

The knight's shield carries the arms of Middelton but for many years there has been uncertainty as to which member of the Middelton family it represented. The Middelton family, who took their name from Middleton in Wharfedale, can be traced back to the twelfth century and continued their association with Ilkley until the twentieth.

Camden, writing in the late sixteenth century, attributed the effigy to Adam de Middelton, who died in 1317. But the will of Sir William Middelton, dated 11 March, 1552, in which he requests to be buried under the stone where his ancestor Sir Peter Middelton lay in Ilkley Church, throws doubt on this attribution. Collyer and Turner, in 'Ilkley: Ancient and Modern' decided that the effigy belonged to Adam's father Peter, but I'Anson, who looked at many monuments in the county, believed it was of a later date.

I'Anson's suggested date for the effigy of c.1335 indicates that it was made for Sir Peter de Middelton, nephew of Adam and grandson of Adam's father Peter. However, some scholars thought that I'Anson was dating monuments too late, and discussion on this issue was cut short by the destruction of I'Ansons library by fire and his death before the publication of his work. At the moment, however, we must give his opinions the benefit of the doubt until further work is done.

Sir Peter was the son of William de Middelton and Agnes, daughter of Nigel le Boteler of North Deighton. He must have been born c.1290, but we know nothing of his early life. He was married c.1319 to Eustachia, daughter of Robert de Plumpton, knt., who settled on them lands in Nesfield and Plumpton. Peter and Eustachia had several children, and Peter's eldest son and heir Thomas was born c.1321.

Peter's uncle Adam de Middelton was lord of Middleton, and joint lord of Draughton and Askwith. He also became the lord of Stockeld, near Wetherby, after a series of transactions in the last decade of his life. Adam was a justice of the king, and rector of Arncliffe, and other public positions he held included the offices of keeper of the town of Kingston-upon-Hull, custodian of the Abbey of Furness, warden of the Hospital of St. Leonard in York, and keeper of the seal of the bishopric of Durham. Sir Adam died on or about 24 February, 1317, leaving Sir Peter as his heir.

Sir Peter followed his uncle's lead into the legal profession, and we hear of him in 1327 being asked to investigate an assault at Ellerker near Hull. He was subsequently recorded as a justice for the county of Northampton, and in 1332 was appointed with others to be 'keeper of York Castle'. In 1334 he was appointed a Justice in Eyre of the forest of the county of Nottinghamshire, and later that same year of the county of Yorkshire. His last position was that of Sheriff of York, which he was granted in 1335.

The effigy of Sir Peter makes it plain he was seen as a man of arms. We know of several episodes in his life which would today be seen as 'incompatible with his public duties'.

In May, 1316, commissioners were sent to investigate a complaint by John de Goldesburgh that Adam de Middelton, Peter de Middelton and many others had assaulted him at Stockeld, killed three of his horses to the value of 100, and carried away his goods and assaulted his men and servants. Later that year a further commission investigated the death of John Folbaroun of Goldesburgh [possibly the 'John de Goldsburgh'] which was said to have been caused by Peter and others, several of whom had been involved in the earlier offence. Sir Peter was later acquitted. A payment of 10 marks, in part payment of 100 marks, to Alice, widow of John Folbaroun, from the executors of the will of Adam de Middelton, recorded in Nov. 1318, was perhaps related to this murder.

In 1317, a further complaint was made against Peter by John de Stockeld that with others he had burned his houses, hedges, and hays at Stockeld, and three horses to the value of 10, 'broken his park there', and felled and carried away his trees.

Later, in 1329, John de Moubray made a complaint against him and others that they had driven away 40 horses and 300 sheep of his in Ingleton, and committed trespasses at his hunting grounds at Kirkby Malzeard, Burton in Lonsdale, Hovingham and Thirsk in Yorkshire.

In arms for the Government he was equally active. After Robert the Bruce led the Scots incursion into Yorkshire in 1319, when Ilkley and many other places were badly burnt, he was ordered in November of that year to raise arms against the Scots. It is unlikely that any further fighting took place that year, as shortly afterwards King Edward II agreed to peace terms with the invaders.

In 1330 he was appointed with others by Henry de Percy, at his manor of Spofforth, to array all men-at-arms and men on foot, and to bring them to him suitably equipped to go on the King's service, giving him power to punish rebels and contrariants.

Three years later, in May 1333, King Edward III ordered Peter de Middelton and William de Mohaut to raise twenty light horsemen and two hundred foot soldiers, either bowmen or others, to fight the Scots and in June was ordered to take them to Richmond or Northallerton. A grant by Edward I of Scotland [Edward Bailiol] to Sir Peter of several manors in Scotland, was probably made as a result of Sir Peter's role at the battle of Halidon Hill [near Berwick], on July 19, 1333, when David II, King of Scotland, was defeated by Edward III in support of Bailiol.

Back home, carrying out his duties as Sheriff of York, Sir Peter was again in trouble in 1335:

...when Peter de Middelton, the Sheriff, went into the West Riding to hold his Tourns [the Sheriff's twice yearly tour of the courts of the county], on Saturday the vigil of Palm Sunday, 1335, Robert de Stopham, with other malefactors, viz. John le Vavasour of Weston, Mauger le Vavasour the younger, Alan le Venour of Storthes and Simon son of Peter del Chirche of Oxton, and others unknown, by procurement of John Vavasour, came against the King's peace, and lay in wait for Peter to slay him, at Ottelay and divers other places, so that the Sheriff could not hold his Tourns, and scarcely escaped death through their malice....

There seems to have been something of a blood feud between the Middeltons and the Vavasours, for Peter son of Richard de Middelton [I believe this Peter was first cousin of Sir Peter] had been murdered near Dacre Grange in Nidderdale in 1333 at the instigation of Thomas son of Mauger le Vavasour. Peter's son Richard avenged his father in 1345 when he mortally wounded Thomas Vavasour by stabbing him sixteen times about the heart as Thomas was walking in his orchard at Denton.

By 1335 Sir Peter was back in Scotland as is shown by an order to the Exchequer to pay Sir Peter and his household their expenses and wages to cover their recent trip from York to Edinburgh and back to attend the king.

We last hear of Sir Peter at the castle at Wark on the Tweed, on 11 Sept. 1335, when Michael de Presfen, one of the king's yeomen and keeper of the castle, gave him a receipt for 100 in silver which Sir Peter had been assigned by the bishop of Lincoln, treasurer of England, to deliver to Sir Michael's lord, Sir William Montague.

A receipt for monies paid by his executors shows us that by 24 October 1335 he was dead. No details have yet come to light as to the manner of his death, but perhaps future researches will tell us more of the history of this prominent fourteenth century knight.

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