Archive for the ‘Minor Actors’ Category

Over nearly twelve years of studying the time of the Scottish Wars of Independence, the story of the attack on the bishops has long been familiar to me.  It is mentioned in passing in one of the volumes of The Blue Bells Chronicles.  (Westering Home, if I remember correctly.)  The short story is that churchmen were attacked in their travels and their money stolen.  Two of the Pope’s legates were with them.

I’ve never had cause to research that particular incident further, and yet never come across more details.  I was under the impression the ‘robbery’ happened on the Bruce’s orders.  Only now have I stumbled on more detail about that incident, while looking for other information.

For instance, the date: September 1, 1317.  To a high school student, this would be boring, unimportant information.  (I know this because I was once a high school student.)  To a historical novelist, this is utterly fascinating and imperative to how it fits in with what Niall or the Laird or Hugh is doing from August to September of 1317.  (I know this because I am a historical novelist, and history is so much more fascinating from this angle–although I wish that all history teachers made it as fascinating as it is!)

Where: On the road between Darlington and Durham, at one of three places–Rushyford, Ferryhill, or Ache–depending which report you read.

My secret source gives details on who was attacked: Lewis de Beaumont, second cousin to King Edward II and almost certainly some relation to the evil Simon Beaumont.  Lewis was on his way to be consecrated as Bishop of Durham.  (A bad place to be in those days, given the ongoing Scottish raids, but hey, I’m sure he knew what he was getting into.)  Riding with him were his brother, Henry, and two Italian cardinals they were escorting.

The cardinals were Luca Fieschi, Italian nobleman and distant relative of Edward II. (Now is that any big surprise to any student of medieval history?  Who was not related to Who in those days?) and Gaecline D’Eauze (or Deuse).  They had arrived in England in June of 1317 to try to establish peace between Bruce and Edward II.


It seems, on reading various accounts, that the real crime was attacking cardinals, moreso than attacking bishops.  The cardinals were quickly released, but the Beaumont Brothers remained as unwilling guests at Mitford Castle (which, side note, was razed not much later by James Douglas) until mid-October or December depending which source we believe.

medieval knights, medieval bishops, medieval clerics, sir gilbert middleton

And finally, the big question: Whodunnit?  All I read had hinted it was the Bruce’s doing, to acquire money and any papers they might have that might be of interest to him.  (Remembering, I have had little cause to dig deep into the incident.)  Pope John XXII blamed it on those pesky Scots, informing Ed 2.0 that Robert the Bruce had committed outrages on the cardinals (so far, I have not found the nature of those outrages) and seized and carried off the bishop.  He told the cardinals themselves that Bruce had torn up the Pope’s letters to ‘him,’ the him presumably being the bishop and also ‘laid violent hands on’ the bishop of Carlisle (which is across the country from Durham.

We now know (or should I say, I now know…) it was one Sir Gilbert Middleton who did the dastardly deed.  This was news to me!  (Please…remember I’ve never really looked into this particular incident.  Cause like…I’m totally sure all of you knew it was totally Sir Gilbert Middleton!  Like, who didn’t know that!)

Anyway, like the old mantra, the devil made me do it, for Pope John XXII, at least when it came to attacks on bishops and cardinals, the mantra was, the Scots made him do it!  But in fact, Sir Gilbert was a knight of Edward II’s own household–and who was, to all appearances, on reasonably good terms with Edward at least until January of 1317, at which point one Adam Shirlock, Messenger, was carrying messages between them.

Furthermore, it seems that Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, cousin and enemy of King Edward, was an ally of Sir Gilbert.  In addition, he had promoted a different candidate for bishop–and his candidate lost to Beaumont.  An axe to grind, perhaps?  Of course, in the days we’re talking about, grinding axes was much more literal than it is today.  So I need to be careful of my idioms.

It is possible Middleton himself was simply fed up with Edward.  There was growing discontent by this point over Edward’s favoritism toward Hugh Audley and Roger Damory–who had taken the place in his affections of the deceased and reviled Piers Gaveston.

Scalacronica tells us Sir Gilbert was angry with Edward for the arrest of his cousin Adam Swinburn–and that arrest ties into the other growing grievance among Edward’s nobles and knights.  He completely failed to protect his subjects in the north from the ongoing raids of the Scots.  Adam Swinburn, it seems, had been a little bit too blunt in his words to Edward.  (Another interesting post–just what did Adam say?)

In June of 1317–two to three months before the September 1 attack–several knights had staged a protest, at Westminster, of Edward’s shows of favoritism.

In short, there were many grievances against Edward, personal and political, from many people.  It’s like one of those stories where everyone wishes they’d committed the murder, the victim is so thoroughly hated by all!  It may have been Lancaster, it may have been Bruce, it may have been Middleton’s own idea.

And in fact, we don’t stop there.  Also accused were Sir John Eure and others who were likely Lancaster’s retainers (thus slanting the blame back toward him), John Middleton (Gilbert’s brother), and Marmaduke Basset along with a full 61 other men all of whom were “going to the Court of Rome [which was actually in Avignon at the time] on account of acts perpetrated in the Marches of Scotland, whereby they feel their consciences wounded.”

[Marmaduke came back without Proof of Absolution and had to go a second time.  And in another interesting historical morsel, it seems Marmaduke continued to have issues with the Bishop(s) of Durham.  In a record at the National Archives, dated between 1328 and 1340 we learn:

"Marmaduke Basset requests remedy because Wessington gave the manor of Offerton to his grandfather and the heirs of his body, but after his death William Basset entered as son and heir and alienated the estate, depriving him of his inheritance. The petitioner has often sued to the bishop of Durham for a writ of formedon."

Given that Lewis Beaumont died in 1333--on the same day Dr. Seuss would die many centuries later, which ought to be of vast interest to all and highly suggests a conspiracy--we don't know if the grievance was with the same Bishop of Durham who was abducted, or his successor.  But I find it an interesting connection that a man who appears to have played a role continued to be at odds with the man or the office.]


Regardless of who put him up to it, it was Gilbert who paid the price, when he was condemned on January 26, 1318, (January 24 according to another site) to be ‘hanged and drawn on the site on the site of the cardinals which he robbed.’  My secret source says the execution was likely carried out immediately.  Alas, poor Sir Gilbert (who we hardly knew)–it is you who will be drawn and hanged, not the Scots, not Lancaster, not Marmaduke or any of the 61 others.

This, to me, is the interesting question: with so many people involved in this attack, why was it only Gilbert who was executed?



  • June 18, 10 am: Books and Brews with Scott, owner of Eat My Words Bookstore
  • June 24, 2017, 3 to 5 pm: Reading at Eat My Words Books with Michael Agnew
  • October 2017: Author Talk and Book Festival in Appleton, Wisconsin
  • January 9, 2018: Talk with the Osseo Book Club
~ ~ ~
To learn more about my books, click on the images below
If you would like to follow this blog, sign up HERE
If you like an author’s posts, please click like and share
It helps us continue to do what we do

If you liked this post you might also like:
The Vampire of Melrose Abbey
The Green Lady of Stirling Castle
or other posts filed under

It was not Adam Newton’s day.  He must have wondered, when he heard that he would be the next messenger to Robert the Bruce, what he had done to anger the clerics above him. 

The previous messengers, sent by the cardinals Luke and Jocelin, probably in early September 1317, had been pleasantly but firmly sent packing by Bruce and his barons.  While Bruce camped near the town of Berwick, preparing to besiege it and take it back from the English, they had arrived with a letter addressed to Robert Bruce governing Scotland.  Bruce smilingly told them that there were many men in his realm by the name of Robert Bruce, some of whom were indeed involved in governing the realm.  He himself, was Robert Bruce King of Scots, he told them, and would gladly accept a letter addressed to himself as such, so as to be sure he wasn’t opening another man’s mail.

Bruce was a man known for his mercy.  Yet he was also quite capable of being firm when the occasion warranted.  The English town of Hartlepool, for instance, felt Bruce’s wrath, watching from the safety of their boats at sea as James Douglas sacked their town, rather than allow them to pay for peace, as Bruce allowed so many other English towns.  Different reasons are put forth as to why Hartlepool was treated so harshly, but ultimately, what mattered to Adam Newton was the lesson of Hartlepool: Bruce was not a man with whom to tangle.  And Adam must certainly have known of his predecessors and Bruce’s gentle warning to them: 

“Had you presumed to present letters with such an address to any other sovereign Prince, you might perhaps have been answered in a harsher style. But I reverence you as the messengers of the Holy See.”


It is easy to believe that the unfortunate Adam Newton hoped Bruce would continue to have reverence for messengers of the Holy See.  Adam was the guardian of the Friars Minorite at Berwick, held by the English since Edward I’s infamous sacking and murdering of its inhabitants in 1296.  He would have been well aware of the background of his mission. Edward II, having failed militarily to deal with Bruce and the Scots, yet unwillingly to accede to Bruce’s very mild terms for peace, called in the big guns: Holy Mother Church. 

Pope John XXII issued a bull demanding a two year truce.  Lacking facebook or e-mail in 1317, the Pope entrusted the delivery of this message, along with personal, sealed messages, to Edward and Bruce, the respective kings of England and Scotland.  Arriving in England, the cardinals Jocelin and Luke, sent two nuncios to do their work.  One was the bishop of Corbeil, and the other was a priest named Aumori.  In a side story that must have added to Adam Newton’s fears, the two nuncios traveled north with Lewis de Beaumont, the Bishop-elect of Durham, and were, on the course of their journey, attacked by bandits who allowed them to continue to Scotland (after taking their money of course), but took the bishop-elect hostage.

The bishop of Corbeil and Father Aumori made their way to Bruce probably in early September of 1317.  He was at the time preparing for his latest siege on Berwick.  He listened respectfully as they read the open letters, but refused to open the letter improperly addressed to Robert Bruce governing Scotland.

The cardinals, being told of the nuncios’ failure, corralled Adam Newton into the second attempt. 

Father Newton, anticipating a less than warm welcome, left his Very Important Papers at Berwick for safe-keeping before heading off in search of Bruce.  It was the middle of December when he found the king of Scots camping in the woods of Old Cambus, some twelve miles from Berwick, in the thick of building siege equipment.  Lord Alexander Seton, seneschal of the king, granted Newton safe-conduct, and the man made the 24 mile round trip trek back to Berwick for those papers, and back to Old Cambus to deliver them to Bruce.

I can guarantee that a 24 mile journey in Scotland in December was not a pleasant one.  On his return to Old Cambus, Seton informed him he would not be admitted to the king’s presence, but that he must hand over the papers to be taken to Bruce for his inspection.

Bruce’s patience, by this time, had been strained.  He repeated, with less tolerance than on the previous attempt, one infers from reports, his stance that he would not accept improperly any communication which withheld his royal title, and that, furthermore, he would take Berwick back for Scotland.

Adam Newton, being either a man of courage and duty, or completely foolhardy, determined to deliver his message, anyway, and publicly announced the Pope’s two-year truce between England and Scotland, to the gathered barons and spectators.  Tytler’s History of Scotland tells us the result:

…his pro­clamation was treated with such open marks of insolence and contempt, that he began to tremble for the safety of his person, and earnestly implored them to permit him to pass forward into Scotland to the presence of those prelates with whom he was com­manded to confer, or, at least, to have a safe-conduct back again to Berwick.

Bruce sent Father Newton away, refusing to give him safe conduct papers for his return trip.  One can imagine how Father Newton might have felt, traveling through what was essentially enemy territory, with the displeasure of the king at his back.

So it is not surprising, given both Bruce’s displeasure and his merciful nature, that Father Newton was accosted by four bandits, stripped of his documents, and, according to some sources, all his clothing, but left essentially unhurt and allowed to go his way.  (And we’ll hope that in December he found himself clothes rather quickly!)

Newton later sent a letter to the two cardinals stating: “It is rumoured that the Lord Robert and his accomplices, who instigated this out­rage, are now in possession of the letters intrusted to me.”

No doubt they were.