[DE BRUS FAMILY IN NORTH EAST ENGLAND - Before 1350

​As secretary and chairman of the Robert de Brus Society Commemerative Trust based in South West Scotland, Margo and Ian gave a talk on their work in the Dumfries area. Their very illuminating and entertaining talk was illustrated with a visual presentation that unfortunately cannot be displayed here. We were delighted that they made such a great effort to travel from South West Scotland to attend the symposium.

Further information on their work can be seen by clicking on their website at  www.brucetrust.co.uk/trust.html

​Christopher was executed for treason by King Edward. He was captured by 16th August 1306 and drawn and hung at Dumfries, on the hill then called Chrystal Mount - Chrystal was his short name. It was an horrific death by torture.

​22 years later, after famine, battles, destruction in the northern counties, and Scottish independence still not recognised, King Robert made a grant to the shrine on Crystal Mount, to say prayers for the soul of Christopher de Seton. It says, it is given in all affection and benevolence for the said Christopher whom non merited more. Scots today would also acknowledge Christopher de Seton, an Englishman, Without him saving his friend's life, at least twice, there would have been no King Robert the Bruce. Well, maybe an insignificant 3 month reign. In 1707, before the first joint parliament, Queen Anne's speech desired that the Scots and English act "with respect and kindness to one another".

​​Egglestone is a small and very plain abbey which suggests that the carving of the cenotaph was most probably carried out in Guisborough.

​The cenotaph remained in the ruins of Gisborough Priory for about 100 years after the dissolution until it was relocated at the South East corner of the church, where the remains of the base are still clearly visible.

Major enlargement of the church took place in 1790 at which time the cenotaph was taken apart, the top probably used as an altar table, the two long sides mounted into the walls of the church porch, and the two ends being sent elsewhere. The church again underwent substantial alteration between 1904 and 1907, and it was at this time that the cenotaph, barring the west end, was reassembled in its present location. 

​But who paid for it? The theory of a gift from Egglestone has already been ruled out, but there remains support for the idea that it was gifted by Margaret, Queen of Scotland, sister of Henry Vlll. This seems to rest almost entirely on the carving of a Tudor Rose in the top left hand corner of the English side. However, the Tudor Rose is not solely related to Queen Margaret but to the whole Tudor dynasty, so as the inclusion of a bishop's mitre signifies the allegiance of the Priory to Episcopal rule, it is also possible that the Tudor Rose acknowledges also the secular head, namely Henry. 

 

Ruth Blakely

Ruth's talk was based on her book "The de Brus Family in England and Scotland 1100-1295", in which she discusses all aspects of the family over the period. 

​Bryan Sandford.

​Perhaps, as a military commander, he was concerned about the defensive prospects. A motte and bailey castle would have been, initially, nothing more than a hastily thrown up earthen mound capped by and surrounded by a wooden palisade. Not a structure to offer resistance to a serious attacker. At Skelton, the chosen site was on top of a promontory, surrounded on three sides by steep slopes, probably of bare rock in those days. To attack the walls would mean a difficult approach over adverse terrain; all under a relentless rain of arrows from the defenders.

​Finally, consider his parental situation. He has come across with Henry I and endured a lengthy military campaign. He will not have had much in the way of personal property with him. He now wishes to set up his home in north-east Yorkshire. He will want to "move house" as we would say today. That would involve bringing over from Normandy all his personal possessions: furniture, fittings, clothes, valuables etc. Some of these would probably be quite bulky and heavy. How is he going to get them to his new home? By sea is the obvious answer; and at Marske he had an excellent beach from which to load and unload cargoes.

​From Marske, a natural and ancient route leads, today, southwards: Marske High Street, the Four Lane ends cross-roads, Skelton, Skelton Green, Boosbeck  High Street, Jenny Frisk Lane, Birk Brow and south onto the moorland ridge. At Skelton that north-south route intersects the east-west route that links Whitby, Lythe, Easington, Loftus, Brotton, Skelton, Guisborough, Great Ayton, Stokesley, Whorlton and all points north of Yarm, west to Northallerton, south to Thirsk and beyond. By choosing Skelton for his base he was at a major cross-roads in the road network. Why Skelton? It was the perfect spot at which to collect tolls and taxes from the passing traffic.

​But I can give a different answer, and now I speak as one who was born and bred in the village, who has lived most of my life there. Why Skelton? Why not it's a wonderful place to live!

​Marie's talk was based on linking the history of the period to the education of the modern day and a more detailed report will appear here shortly..

​Jean Eccleston.

​Christopher de Seton was Lord of the Manor of Seton/Staithes in Yorkshire: the 7th generation..They were Norman knights, all in the service of both branches of the de Brus family, in Cleveland and Scotland.

Christopher was married to the sister of Robert de Brus, the future King of Scots, and he was in the church with Robert when John Comyn was killed, the brutal act which re-ignited the war for Scottish independence. It was a difficult choice. would Christopher stay loyal to his English King Edward, to whom he had pledged homage and fealty? Or would he go with his best friend Robert and his own wife? He fought for them. 

​Margo and Ian McClumpha.

​Marie Prior

​Speakers.

​As a canon worshiping and officiating at St Nicholas Church in Guisborough, Bryan was the ideal person to give his view on the historical cenotaph which rests in the church..

Bryan's talk followed the stone of the cenotaph from its source near Barnard Castle to its present position in St Nicholas Parish Church. The quarry, which was its source, was owned by the canons of Egglestone Priory. Egglestone was a Premontratensian foundation, as opposed to the Augustinian foundation of Gisborough Priory, and was founded over 50 years later than Gisborough.

At the Dissolution, Guisborough was the fourth richest monastic house in Yorkshire whereas Egglestone was very poor. The fact that Egglestone had no fraternal reason nor the financial means seems to rule out the theory that the cenotaph was a gift from Egglestone to Guisborough.  

​​Peter Appleton.  (Skelton History Group​)

When Robert de Brus first settled in the north-east of Yorkshire, he chose Castleton as his base. The motte and bailey castle that he erected gave the village it's name. That home was set in , what is today the beautiful valley of the river Esk. For some reason or other, he left Castleton and made Skelton-in-Cleveland his home. Why Skelton? What factors might have influenced his decision? 

​There is no documentary evidence to draw upon; only some logical analysis. One possible factor might have been: to increase the deference effect. The Anglo-Saxon earls of Northumbria had sworn allegiance to William the Conqueror in 1066. Two years later they rebelled against him. This led, in the winter of 1069/70, to the event known as the Harrying of the North. Within the Cleveland area, the last hold-out of the rebels was in Coatham Marsh. So perhaps he wanted to be nearer to a known trouble-spot.  

​More significant is the inclusion on the English side of a cock standing on a reel, next to a cockle shell, the sign of St James. Here is a rebus clearly representing James Cockerell, the penultimate prior of Guisborough..​There are records which indicate that Cockerell was lavish in his use of the wealth of the priory.

Alan Young

Alan opened the symposium with a very interesting and entertaining talk based on his research and published work in his books and support of television programmes.


​Robert Bruce - Scottish Hero/English Villain? (a Yorkshire Perspective).


Summary

​In 1296 the Scottish War of Independence broke out and links between Yorkshire and Scotland built up over two centuries were changed forever. The situation affected the Bruce family who had developed territorial and political interests in Scotland but still regarded Guisborough Priory as their spiritual home as late as 1295. Yet contrary to Robert Bruce's reputation in Scottish tradition as a Scottish war hero, the first ten years of the war saw young Robert Bruce (22 years old in 1296) start the war on the English side and changed sides several times - he was neither a "Scottish hero" nor an "English villain" but gave priority to the Bruce family's dynastic ambitions to be kings of Scotland. 

​Bryan's conclusion was and is that this cenotaph was James Cockerell's great ego trip.

The Symposium was held on Saturday 5th March 2016 in Prior Pursglove College, Guisborough.

To achieve this he usurped the Scottish crown in 1306 after first murdering John Comyn the leader of the Scottish political communityand chief supporter of the Scottish king, John Baliol. The fact that this murder occurred in the Greyfriars Church, Dumfries defined Robert Bruce in the eyes of Yorkshire monastic chroniclers such as Walter of Guisborough - not only was he a "villain", he was a "sacrilegious murderer"..

A villain by reputation became a villain by deed as far as Yorkshire was concerned after the Battle of Bannockburn when Scottish raids deep into Yorkshire became a regular feature. These raids, particularly those of 1318, 1319, 1322, have been underestimated in achieving what Bannockburn failed to achieve i.e. English Acknowledgement of Robert Bruce's kingship and Scottish independence. The campaign of 1322 was of particular significance because of Robert Bruce's personal involvement, the relative length of the Yorkshire campaign (over a month) and the great strategic and tactical victory over English forces at the Battle of Old Byland (and the near capture of Edward himself).

​Yorkshire chronicles, tax exemptions and ecclesiastical revelations of property point the finger at the Scots as the main cause of Yorkshire's economic woes in the first decades of the fourteenth century especially in the lowland areas such as the Vales of York and Pickering. Other factors, however also played a part - poor harvests and famine between 1308 and 1315 contributed to an agrarian crisis and York's role as a war capital puts another strain on Yorkshire's resources. Bruce does not seem to have had any sentimental attachment to those parts of North Yorkshire such as Guisborough Priory and Skelton which had special significance in Bruce family history.

Selection of Feedback from people attending.


  1. ​Very much enjoyed the de Brus day on Saturday. Very informative and very well organised . I will keep an eye out for future events and please thank everyone who had a hand in creating the event. Everything went off well and my experience was that time flew by which is always the way when lectures and presentations are so absorbing. Household arrangements were excellent , feeding the common man obviously well covered and the guided tours went well. Adie and Evie did well there and so Prior Pursglove College was a good venue to use. (Chris).
  2. ​I just wanted to congratulate you and thank you for the symposium on Saturday. It was very interesting and informative. It has stimulated my interest to find out more about this side (North Yorks and Districts nearby) as well as the Scottish connection. (Jim).
  3. ​You must all be delighted that the day was so clearly a huge success, a tribute to all the hard work required to organise such a major event. (Olwen).
  4. Robert the Bruce would have been proud to have your committee as part of his army. (Roger).
  5. ​The lectures were varied and interesting and the guides to the Church and Priory (the students) were very helpful and informative. A most enjoyable day. (Christine).