Yorkshire at the eve of Farndale history






Setting the scene immediately before we pick up the history of the Farndale family






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John Thomas Farndale (FAR00405) was involved in a play in 1907 about the History of Thirsk re-enacting key moments. The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 18 February 1907: PROPOSED HISTORIC PLAY AT THIRSK. In the Assembly Rooms, Thirsk, on Saturday afternoon, a meeting was held to consider a proposal for the production of a play illustrative of the history of Thirsk. Major Bell, of Thirsk Hall, who presided, said it was intended to use the proceeds of the play for the parish church insurance fund, and to provide a new heating apparatus for the church. It was the finest church in the north riding and was not insured as it ought to be. He had been looking at some parliamentary records of boroughs in the North Riding, and he found that Thirsk was a borough in the reign of Edward the first. The Reverend F L Perkins said they were much to obliged to Mr Bell for promising the loan of the park for the undertaking. After explaining the objects in view, he said the seems practically suggested where as follows: 1. A forest glade near Thirsk, in which Britons and Norsemen figure; 2. Thirsk marketplace and the collection of evidence for the doomsday book, AD 1080; 3. Thirsk castle and grounds with troops mustered for the march to the Battle of the Standard on the other side of Northallerton, AD 1140; 4. The destruction of Thirsk castle, 1170; 5. A historic scene, when tradition said the Earl of Northumberland came to impose a tax, but was stoned in the marketplace and carried off; 6. An Elizabethan scene, when the heroes of the Armada came to Thirsk and old English revels took place. The chairman proposed that the play be taken in hand. Mr J T Farndale seconded the motion and it was carried unanimously. Mr J T Farndale was elected secretary. A committee was elected with power to add to their number.


This webpage will be developed to cover aspects of the history of Yorkshire at the eve of the history of the Farndale family.


The arrival of the Normans


1066 was a turning point in English history. Following the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror took the throne after the death of King Harold. However the tribal organisation within Britain at the time meant that defeat in the south was not recognised by those who lived in the north. So towns like Northallerton continued to resist the new Norman rulers.


William grew frustrated, and Normans were sent north to suppress resistance with force. The Conqueror showed himself to be a despot from the moment of his victory at Hastings. In the north, faced with the growing menace of the Norman baronage, Yorkshiremen began to fight back. By 1086, war spilled across most of England and the whole of the north was in ferment. In Yorkshire, bands of outlaws drawn from the persecuted Saxon nobility took an oath that none should sleep under a roof until the Normans were driven out of England.


Angered, William marched northwards meeting Edgar and Morcar ‘where the Ouse and the Humber conjoin’. He inflicted so bloody a defeat that thousands of Saxons withdrew to the hills.  York was soon subdued and garrisoned by Norman troops. The Normans then used Saxon labour to build and fortify York, to become the primary fortress of the north. Many Northumbrian and Yorkshire chieftains fled to Scotland.


The new Norman Governor of York, William Mallet, reported to the Conqueror that the land around the city, later called Ainstie, and the Forest of Galtres, was becoming precariously dangerous. The over ambitious Norman Commander, Robert de Comine, marched northwards through Yorkshire, intending to conquer Country Durham, but was swiftly dispatched by Saxon guerrillas, when attacking the city of Durham. He was burned alive with his military staff. The Saxons were supported by allies from abroad, including from Denmark. On hearing of their arrival, thousands of Dalesmen came hurrying to join them. The Governor of York, William Mallet, in his battle preparations, accidentally set fire to the city. In the chaos 3,000 Normans fled the burning city, to be slaughtered by the Saxons. York Minster and its priceless library was burned. This Saxon insurrection gave rise to a vengeance of ferocious intensity.


When the news reached William he roared Per Deum Splendorum (‘By the splendour of God’) and even his own entourage were in terror. William swore that not a rood of northern land, a cottage or a human life should go unscathed. Village by village were terrorised with such savagery that most Saxon leaders fled to Scotland again, never to return.


150,000 people died or fled during brutal slaughters. The land was torched. For twelve long years the land laid barren and towns stood stark for half a century. The terrifying experience for those living in Yorkshire and northern Britain was known as the Harrying of the North.


William’s commissioners then came, with sword, to lay the foundations of the new Norman aristocracy. Such brutal overlords included William de Percy, ancestor of the Earls of Northumberland, who was given eighty Saxon manors. Large tracts of North Yorkshire fell to the hands of William’s cousin, Alan the Red who built Richmond Castle. The mighty De Mowbrays were dominant across Yorkshire and soon there became established the powerful houses of Clifford of Skipton and Scope of Wensleydale. 


Norman influence grew, with military structures such as forts and castles built around Britain. The Normans claimed land from Britons, and took it from private owners. To demonstrate ownership and make taxing more efficient, the Doomsday Book was written to record every person living in Britain and everything they own. Effects of this were seen in investments such as large cathedrals and impressive architecture. Norman Lords started preparing for the crusades, raising taxation from their lands. The noblemen were promoted, for instance to baron, due to their success as a crusader. Those who funded the noblemen were the inhabitants of the land.


Desperate times and illegal hunting


In 1315, one of Britain's worst storms halved the crop yield and half a million died as a result. Thus, the price of crops increased driving many to hunt illegally. Folk took to hunting but where they did so in royal forests, such as Pickering, it was a criminal offence. Such men must have been skilled bowmen, potentially also those who may be called upon to fight for their king if called upon. But when they hunted in the royal forests they were criminals. The hunters were chased by the king's foresters and were often caught unless they could evade capture. Such exploits sparked the legend of Robin Hood.


Many of our Farndale ancestors hunted illegally in the royal forests of Pickering. Our ancestors were spirited individuals who were not afraid to take risks to protect their interests. One of our ancestors, William Farndale, was later married in the church where legend says Robin Hood married Maid Marion.


Sky’s series The British tells the story of People Power in Episode 2.  It narrates the rampages and rebellions of medieval Britain, the Black Death and Peasants' Revolt. It even depicts poachers in Pickering forest where our Farndale ancestors were also poachers and suggests that such exploits were the inspiration for the British spirit that developed and the legend of Robin Hood. If you are interested in early Farndale history, you will enjoy the second episode of this series.


The Black Death


By 1349, merchant ships transported rats carrying the black death to Britain. The black death soon swept through the villages in the south and then the north of Britain.  Soon it swept through most villages in Britain. In London, mass graves were used to preserve the dignity of the dead.


An end of serfdom and the growth of a new middle class


Due to the lowered population, there was a food excess which was sold for profit to create a new middle class and a more prosperous nation. As more tax was demanded of these merchantmen from their lords a resistance grew; leading to the peasants' revolt. The rebels marched on London.


And so whilst the rebel leaders were executed, the changed circumstances meant that serfdom was slowly replaced in England, giving rise to an alternative path to many of the European nations.


Meantime the English tradition of archery gave rise to a formidable force that fought at Agincourt in October 1415 under the inspiring leadership of Henry V. The longbow allowed the British to become victorious due to the ranged advantage and the high rate of fire. After its release from serfdom, the English forces were loyal to their homeland, which they had an interest to defend.