Ranulph Lord Dacre of Gilsland – The Lord who was buried with his horse.

Reblogged from A Medieval Potpourri @sparkypus.com


The monument in All Saints Church, Saxton over the grave of Ranulph Lord Dacre and his horse. Photo Mary Emma1@Flkir

Ranulph/Ranulf/Randolph/Ralph, Lord Dacre of Gilsland’s precise date of birth is lost to us – as is his exact Christian name it would seem -but has been suggested as c.1412 although his date of death is very well known.   For he would  fall at the battle of Towton, fought on the 29th March 1461, making his age at time of death therefore about 50. His parents were Thomas Dacre,  6th Lord Dacre (b.1387 – d.1458) and his mother was Lady Philippe Neville.  Lady Philippe (born sometime before 20 July 1399 and death before 1458) was the daughter of the formidable Ralph Neville, Ist Earl of Westmorland (b c.1364- d.1425) and his first wife Lady Margaret Stafford ( b. c. 1364, d. 9 June 1396).  It’s well known how Westmorland would go on to  largely disinherit  his sons from his first marriage to Margaret for those by his second wife Joan Beaufort.  The second set of offspring would include Cicely Neville, mother to two Yorkists kings, Edward IV and Richard III.   This grave miscalculation on the part of Westmorland would lead to years of  repercussions, turmoil, destruction and bloodshed.   As J L Laynesmith puts it in her biography of Cicely Neville the disinheriting of the children from the first marriage would ‘inevitably set generations of Nevilles at odds with one another and contributed to the baronial infighting of the Wars of the Roses’.  W E Hampton wrote:‘Ironically,  the brilliant and unjustly favoured offspring of his second marriage were to bring about the destruction of the houses of Lancaster and Beaufort while the issue of the first marriage, although injured by their stepmother,  were to support Lancaster and Beaufort with results disastrous to themselves’ ( 1).  Thus it’s highly likely Ranulph’s fierce Lancastrian loyalty would no doubt have been learned at his mother’s knee.   Ranulph married Eleanor FitzHugh, daughter of  Henry FitzHugh, 5th Lord FitzHugh with their marriage appearing to have been childless.

Ranulph who came from an old Cumbrian family and was an MP for Cumberland before inheriting his father’s peerage is rather a shadowy figure but we do know he was a seasoned soldier (2). W E Hampton tells us that he  possibly fought at Wakefield, while certainly fighting both at Mortimer’s Cross and at the second battle of St Albans.

George Goodwin, author of Fatal Colours tells us he was ‘a soldier experienced in the harsh clashes of raid and counter raid in the Scottish borders; he had organised the Lancastrian Commission of Array in Cumbria in 1459 and has probably done so again in 1460-61’ (3).

He commanded the rear left wing at Towton,  his brother-in-law, Henry Lord Fitzhugh fighting alongside Ralph as one of his lieutenants as well as  Humphrey, Ranulph’s brother (4).  Both Henry and Humphrey managed to make their escape from the horrendous carnage that day but Ranulph was fatally wounded by an arrow after he had removed his helmet to drink to quench his thirst.

He would be taken for burial in the churchyard of the  nearby All Saints Church Saxton.    This would seem strange, a 15th century nobleman being buried in a churchyard,  when it was usual practice for people of high status to be interred inside the church and as close to the altar as possible.  However when you learn that Ranulph’s horse was buried with him it immediately makes perfect sense.  Prima facie the first reaction to the  story of his horse being buried with him may be to groan and ask if it is yet another one of those local myths – like willow stakes pinning bodies down at Stoke or dead kings being thrown into the Soar at Leicester etc – that have evolved over the years, usually a creation of the Georgians.   But no – it is actually true.  W E Hampton writing in 1979 stated that Ranolph was ‘buried in an upright position with his horse under him. In March 1787,  John Rogers,  Vicar of Saxton, dug up the skull of Lord Dacre and in 1861 the sexton, while digging a grave close by, dug into the horse’s skull. It’s vertebrae extended into its master’s grave. In 1863 a bed of concrete was laid over the grave which was not again disturbed and on which the monument was reerected (5).

A W Boardman in an article in 2021 taken from his book Towton 1461: The Anatomy of a Battle goes into more detail….

To continue reading click here.


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