Sir John Dalton and the wealthy widow….


I have seen the above painting used an an illustration for the abduction of Guinevere. All that’s lacking are the fluffy kittens with pink satin bows. If it was really a medieval abduction, it wouldn’t be anything resembling this idyllic springtime scene, but much more likely to be as the illustration below!

I’ve posted before about the shameful practice of abduction of women carried out almost as a matter of course by many medieval knights who needed land and wealth for their future, and so picked a suitable widow or heiress upon whom to force themselves. The women’s wishes were of no consequences in a realm where men had control of everything. They were a commodity, and weren’t even protected by having influential menfolk. The men at the top, e.g. Edward of Woodstock, the “Black Prince”, aided and abetted these crimes, and even rewarded them. Women didn’t stand much of a chance.

The illustration above is from here. Sir John Dalton of Bispham, Lancashire was one of these rapacious scoundrels. He wasn’t Sir John at the time, but became so when his landowning father, Sir Robert Dalton, died three years later. Aided and abetted by said father, together with a large party of friends, including knights, he abducted the widowed Margery de la Beche from her castle of Beaumys, near Reading. Lionel, Duke of Clarence, a child and then Keeper of England, was staying there at the time with other royal children. Children were often granted lofty titles, so this wasn’t unusual to just Lionel. It means that the offence was committed “within the verge of the Marshalsea of the household of the said keeper”. There was scandal and uproar, as you can imagine.

All that remains of Beaumys Castle now are earthworks and the moat

Margery was born Margery de Poynings, and her father was Michael, Lord Poynings, from an important family.

Her first husband was Edmund Bacon of Essex, constable of Wallingford Castle, from whom she received several manors. Then she married Nicholas, Lord de la Beche  who was tutor of Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales, as well as Constable of the Tower and Seneschal of Gascony.  From him she gained his secondary property, Beaumys Castle. He is buried at St Mary’s church, Aldworth. 

Nicholas de la Beche, knight, and Margery, his wife, have given, granted and confirmed to William fitz Elys and Isabel, his wife, the manor of Idenne [Iden] in the county of Sussex together with the advowson of the church of Idenne. To hold to them and the heirs of their bodies lawfully begotten, of the chief lords. Remainder to the right heirs of Isabel for ever.
Warranty by Nicholas and his heirs to William and Isabel.
Witnesses: Robert Achard, knight, Robert de la Beche, knight, William de Borton’, knight, Gilbert de Shotesbrok’, Robert de Boxere.
Given at Aldeworth’ on Monday next before the feast of St Edmund the Archbishop, 16 Edward III.
[11 November 1342]

Her next husband was Thomas Aderne (her most elusive spouse to trace) and when widowed again she would have married Gerard de l’Isle, Lord l’Isle had she not be carried off by force by the determined Dalton. Some sources say she was already married to Gerard. As the plague was rife in England around this time, it’s thought to have been the reason for the frequency of her marriages. I have no idea if she entered into any of these unions voluntarily, but I believe she must have been young and presentable as well as wealthy enough to be desirable on all fronts. Quite a prize as far as most wife-seekers were concerned.

Gerard de Lisle, Lord Lisle

In the process of abducting her with such violence, the Daltons murdered her brother, another Michael Poynings, who for some reason was known as “the uncle”. As far as I can tell, he wasn’t her uncle, but definitely her brother, but I’m prepared to be proved wrong. During these events others were killed, including a priest, and there were injuries. The arrest was ordered of the attackers, who fled to Lancashire with their prize. They took refuge “….in the neighbourhood of Dalton, thus bringing into the number of their ‘accomplices’ Sir John’s father, Lady Maud de Holland, the Priors of Upholland and Burscough and others, the offenders having, apparently, taken refuge in the lands of Lady Maud and the rest without their knowledge….”  There are sources for this story in Cal. Close, 1346–9 and Cal. Pat. 1345–8, 1348–50.

Margery died on 30 Sept. 1349, leaving Dalton a well-off widower who married again. Whether Margery died as a result of these traumatic events in 1347 isn’t known, only that she didn’t survive beyond a couple of years. Dalton kept his stolen wife and was pardoned and received back into royal favour. His parents were pardoned too, having been part of the plot. Nice to keep it in the family, eh?

All Hallows parish church, Bispham, Lancashire, seen from west-southwest. By Michael Beckwith. Wikidata.

A variant of the tale is found here, stating: “….It was while staying at Beaumys with Prince Lionel, and several other children of King Edward III, that this widowed lady was abducted by her lover. Sir John Dalton broke in with sixty-four Berkshire and Lincolnshire squires and made off with, the not so reluctant, Margery to Scotland….”

If Margery was indeed a willing abductee, then it’s to be supposed she lived happily with her rough-and-ready husband, but if she wasn’t willing, and he’d been responsible for the murder of her brother, she must have had a pretty miserable time.

The whole business took place before dawn on 7th April, 1347 which, for good measure, happened to be Good Friday, so the niceties of religion were ignored as well as the niceties of civilised behaviour. The Daltons (they sound like something from the Wild West) weren’t pernickety about such things. All that mattered was getting what they wanted. There is a lengthy description/account of the affair at the daltondatabank, under the sub-heading 7- SIR JOHN DALTON I,

We may all be fascinated by the medieval period, and have our favourite kings and so on, but in truth it was a turbulent, aggressive era which, in spite of its chivalric values and so on, didn’t really much care what happened to women.

This being so, Richard III was a man apart. He didn’t have long on the throne, but in that short time he made moves to protect women and ordinary people. And they call him a vile, murdering usurper?

However, returning to the Dalton affair, and introducing a note of acid levity, I’d loved to be able to say that all medieval women had to leave a record of their husbands’ skills between the sheets. Null points, as I remember Katie Boyle saying on Eurovision….

PS: Since writing the above a friend has pointed me to another case which was even worse for the woman concerned, this time the first cousin of the same Edward III. She was beaten to death by her “noble” husband and two other men, who were all “let off”. Nice one Edward III. You now go down even further in my estimation.

To read all about it, go to the blog of the renowned and respected author and historian, Kathryn Warner.




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