I’ve written before, more than once, about the abominable practice of medieval men abducting women and forcing them into marriage in order to lay hands on their estates. It was a capital way for impoverished, unprincipled knights to improve their status and finances. In this they were only too usually aided and abetted by lords who viewed them as too useful as soldiers to be incarcerated in some prison or other. So it was to Hades with the unfortunate women concerned.
It never ceases to amaze me the lengths to which these men would go to get what they wanted. Some of them were completes brutes, as I have now learned about a certain Sir Henry Ilcombe, “of Kirland in Bodmin and Bodardle in Lanlivery, Cornwall”.
This awful man abducted and raped (I think in the sense that we know today, not the greyer definition applied in the medieval period) a woman named Isabel Moun and took her to Staverton, Devon. “…There, having raped her, Ilcombe kept her against her will for over a year. As soon as she regained her freedom Isabel started legal proceedings against him in the King’s bench. Although, in July 1379, Ilcombe gave himself up to the Marshalsea prison and was released on bail, when, in Easter term 1380, the case next came up for a hearing, he compounded the crime not only by assaulting Isabel on her arrival by boat at the palace of Westminster, but also, and in sight of such reliable witnesses as the justices of the court of common pleas, by setting upon Guy, Lord Bryan, and the others who came to her aid….” Then, claiming to have married the lady, Ilcombe escaped justice by enlisting (along with his brothers) in the army of Edmund of Langley, then Earl of Cambridge, that went to Portugal in 1381.
Not chastened by having come close to severe punishment, Ilcombe and his brothers were ringleaders of the mutiny that led to the failure of the expedition. Needless to say, the Earl of Cambridge wasn’t best pleased. “….[returning to England] Sir Henry hastened to Westminster in order to tell his version of events first; and it was expressly ‘for his good service in Portugal’ that, on 23 Oct. 1382, he was granted a pardon for the rape of Isabel Moun.
Cambridge, however, on arrival at Court, laid his charges and, indeed, produced a list of those ringleaders of the mutiny whom he held responsible for his failure, with the result that a royal commission was issued in November following for the arrest of Ilcombe and his brothers on charges of rebellion against their commander. The Ilcombes evaded the King’s officers and were still at large, probably in Wales, as late as June 1384. That summer, when English troops were again recruited for service in Portugal, Sir Henry enlisted once more, this time in the retinue of the chancellor of Portugal. But it was not until February 1385 that, through the auspices of the countess of Cambridge, he received a pardon for his previous rebelliousness.4….”
He was subsequently elected to Parliament as a representative of Cornwall, see the History of Parliament online .
What a noble fellow. A true adornment to knighthood and chivalry. One wonders what else he got up to that never came to light. As it was, he seems to have sinned enough to be brought before the courts more than just once. And why would Cambridge’s countess move for him to be pardoned? I can’t begin to imagine the earl’s thoughts when he found out. Or, yet again, is there far more to this than meets the eye?
Ah, but now things become a little tricky. Maybe Isabel Moun wasn’t quite what seems at first sight. Here is another extract from the above link. “….Moreover, despite his earlier pardon for rape, Ilcombe was still being harassed by the courts to appear to answer the charges, and it would seem that he had not undergone a valid marriage ceremony with the lady as he had asserted. The solution to his problems was clearly to formalize the relationship, and accordingly, about two years later, the reconciled couple were married in St. Margaret’s church at Margaret Roding, Essex….”
Reconciled? Hmm…. So what are we to think? That Sir Henry and Isabel had what might be termed a tempestuous relationship that got completely out of hand?
Whatever, he became escheator of Cornwall in the late 1390s, when “….in the course of his duties ‘by divine visitation became blind’….” In spite of this, he remained escheator for another ten months, and in July 1399 was recorded as preparing to serve in Ireland in the retinue of Richard II’s half-brother, John Holand, then Duke of Exeter. This could hardly be in a fighting capacity, so either he had some other duties…or perhaps the blindness had been temporary.
One other strange thing here. When Ilcombe first abducted Isabel Moun, he took her to Staverton, Devon. Staverton is adjacent to the Duke of Exeter’s residence at Dartington, although it wasn’t the duke’s property then. But clearly the two men eventually knew each other well. And the duke was once said to be romantically involved with….none other than the Countess of Cambridge….
There just has to be much more to this whole story, but I’m darned if I know what it might be. Except that the medieval world was a small one.
As a footnote, Ilcombe makes it to number seven in the list of top ten law-breakers in Cornish history.