Richards Castle

 The Honour of Richards Castle




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Richards Castle is situated on the border of Herefordshire and Shropshire, about 5 miles from Ludlow, and close to the Welsh border. It was built about 1050 by Richard Scrope as a part of the English border defence works against persistent Welsh attacks.

There is no record of Richards Castle ever being attacked by the Welsh, and it lost its military importance early in the 12th century as Anglo-Norman counter attacks forced the line of battle westward into Wales. The castle still exists as a ruin, overgrown with weeds and difficult to access.

By 1086 the Honour of Richards Castle comprised over 150 manors in the border counties and elsewhere.  The descendants of Richard Scrope held the castle and honour of Richards Castle for 145 years, the last representative of the line dying in battle against the Welsh at Radnor in 1196. 


The Genealogy of Richard Scrope


Richard Scrope

Prince Edward (the Confessor) was a refugee in Normandy when he was invited to return to England in 1041, as the heir to the English throne. Richard Scrope accompanied him and became a member of the king's housecarls or bodyguard.

Richard Scrope was, it seems, excessively overweight. The name 'Scrope' is an Old English nickname which was derived from 'scrub' or 'shrub' and  which implied that he was shaped like a bush. In Leicestershire he was called Richard Frail which is an example of Norman humour. It gives a picture of a man who would otherwise be no more than a name.

The Scropes were descended from the counts of Anjou. Despite much research the origins of the family of Anjou is confused. Several theories are current, none of them supported by sufficient facts to make them convincing.

The Mary Magdalene Legend

One of the most interesting claims is that the House of Anjou is descended from Mary Magdalene. The Angevin origin from the Holy Family appears in literature about the Holy Grail. According to this story Mary Magdalene brought the Holy Grail to France, and the House of Anjou were the hereditary keepers of the Grail. 

However the Grail story-tellers give conflicting and confusing accounts of the nature of the Grail. In one case it is a cup or dish associated with Jesus and which possessed extraordinary powers. The cup is variously described as used in the Last Supper, and used to hold the blood of Jesus at the Crucifixion.

In another version it was a matter of bloodline. The story is that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married at Cana. The wedding is recorded in the New Testament but does not say who was married, althogh Jesus and Mary, his mother, seem to have played prominent roles in its celebration.

 The Grail was the bloodline of Jesus, carried by the son of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, who was, it is said, the ancestor of the Angevins. 

Alternatively, it is the inheritance of mankind given by God, to be won by spiritual struggle. The Grail is a means of concealing something of immense importance and the house of Anjou is in some way of paramount consequence.

The most famous and significant of the Grail stories is Parzival, written between 1195 and 1216 by Wolfram von Eschenbach, a knight of Bavarian origins. Wolfram obtained the story from Kyot de Provence who received it in turn from Flegetanis of Toledo, a descendant of Solomon. Kyot is identified as Guiot de Provins, a troubadour, monk, and spokesman for the Templars of Provence. 

Parzival, the hero of Wolfram von Eschenbach's tale, was both the descendant of the original keepers of the Grail, and a member of the family of Anjou. According to Wolfram , Kyot found an account of the Grail story in the annals of the House of Anjou.  

The connection between the Grail, the Grail family and the Templars.

The medieval house of Anjou was closely associated with both the Templars and the Holy Land. An early lord of Richards Castle granted the Templars a manor called Turford in the vicinity of Richards Castle. A later member of the Scrope family was master of the Templars in England. In 1131 Count Fulk of Anjou married the legendary Princess Melusine and became king of Jerusalem. Thereafter, the kingdom of Jerusalem was ruled by Angevins.

The kings of Jerusalem from the First Crusade and the capture of Jerusalem, seem to have been of  Judaic origin, being descendants of the princes of Septimania, a Jewish province in the south of France. They appear to have regarded the kingdom of  Jerusalem as their right by hereditary descent.   

By marrying the Princess Melusine to the Count of Anjou they appear to be confirming that the family of Anjou were also of the bloodline of the ancient kings of Jerusalem and descendants of the line of David. However, the kings of Jerusalem, including the Angevins, were Christians, being descended, in their view, from the Magdalene. They possibly saw no great difference between the two religions, regarding the Christians as a Jewish sect.

A branch of the Scropes adopted the name Lupus or le Lou, meaning the Wolf, as signifying their descent from Mary Magdalene. The Magdalene was of the tribe of Benjamin whose emblem was the wolf. The senior line, the Plantagenets, adopted the device of the Lion, presumably referring to the Lion of Judah. Jesus was of the tribe of Judah.

The implications of the story are that all direct descendants of the family of Anjou, including the Scropes, are also descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and they have a special status in relation to the Holy Grail. Some, or all, of our early ancestors believed it.

The Possibility of Genealogical Evidence

The early counts of Anjou in the 10th century, founded and maintained abbies in which the principal subject of study, after religion, was history. The counts of Anjou would have investigated their own pedigree and it is likely that a history in the form of Annals of the House of Anjou did in fact exist. The medieval Angevins would have had access to these Annals which may have confirmed or supported the story.  

Furthermore, the Jewish state of Septimania existed in the south of France at that time. The Jews of Septimania were descendants of Jewish refugees from Palestine in the first century of the Christian era, and their pedigrees would probably have been known to them. The monks of Anjou therefore had access to a lot of genealogical information which is not available to researchers today.

The truth of the matter is unknown, but, since Mary Magdalene is believed to have taken refuge in France, it is a possibility.

Descendants of the Devil

An interesting and contradictory variant of the above narrative is the claim by Gerald of Wales that the Angevins are descended from the Devil. According to Gerald 'From the Devil they came and to the Devil they will return." 

In Gerald's story an early count of Anjou returned from a journey with a woman, Melusine, famous for her beauty, whom he married. There were many strange things about her, the most shocking of which was that she was always absent from Mass at the consecration of the Host. Her true identity was discovered when her husband forced her to stay and see the body of Christ - a sight no evil spirit could contemplate. Melusine fled screaming out of the window and was never seen again. She left behind two sons from whom the later counts of Anjou were descended. Needless to say, they were thoroughly evil.

The true part of the story is that in 1131 Count Fulk of Anjou married Melusine, daughter of the king of Jerusalem.  After the death of Fulk, Queen Melusine became Regent of Jerusalem and was succeeded, after 9 years, by her son Baldwin. The descendants of Melusine had no connection with Anjou, and no counts of Anjou were descended from her.

Gerald's tale appears to be a fabrication. If the behaviour of later Angevins could be described as devilish, it has nothing to do with genealogy.

The Genealogy of the House of Anjou

It is the 12th century Gesta Consulum, which tells the history of the Angevin dynasty from the 9th century, and which furnishes some genealogical details. The first of the line in the genealogical record appears to be Tortulf, who is described as a semi-mythical figure. 

The records show a Tortulf son of Berswinde of the Franks in the early 7th century. Berswinde, a woman, was born in Metz, Lorraine, France, about 649, and married Adalric or Eticho in Alsace- Lorraine. The reason for the alternative names is not clear. A son, Adalbert, was born in Alsace in 675. Tortulf was, presumably, a younger son. 

The dukes of Lower Lorraine claimed an hereditary right to the throne of Jerusalem, seeing themselves as the legitimate successors to David and Solomon. Adalric and Tortulf may have been members of this family. In 1131 a count of Anjou, and descendant of Tortulf, became king of Jerusalem, possibly because of this heredity.

In the genealogy as given by the Gesta, Tertulle was the son of Tortulf, who was made royal forester at Limelle near Angers by Charles the Bald. He rose to favour with the king, and Tertulle became a 'clientela regis' at court, and received the benefice or fief of Chateau-Landon in the Gatinais. But he was not a count, only a 'miles' or knight. 

The king arranged his marriage to Petronilla, relative of Hugo the Abbot (d.886). Their son Ingelgar married the grand-daughter of the lord of Amboise, who was also the niece of Adalard Archbishop of Tours 875-91, and Raino of Angers 880-905. He served first as viscount of Orleans, then 'prefect of Tours', before becoming Count of Anjou. 

So goes the story. However the Gesta is probably not a reliable source for the 9th century, written, as it was, so far removed from the period it describes. There is some doubt whether Tertulle or Petronilla ever existed. Their names are unlikely for the 9th century. 

The Gesta uses 12th century forms and language which would not be the case if they were genuinely working from 9th century materials or sources. Moreover Ingelgar was never count of Anjou: his son Fulk I only took that title in 929. 

The Gesta seeks to legitimise the dynasty's ancestral control of Anjou and the Loire valley, by connecting it to Charles the Bald and earlier noble families. They claimed to have a Carolingian charter giving them the title of count and other rights.

However in ascribing a relationship with Hugo the abbot, it may preserve a tradition that the ancestors of Fulk I of Anjou served in the retinue of the 9th century Counts of Neustria; Robert the Strong (d.866), Hugo the Abbot (866-86), Odo (886-8), Robert II (886-922). As their deputy, Ingelgar may well have been viscount of Orleans and then Tours. 

In the sources of the second half of the ninth century, there are several Ingelgars but it is not yet possible to locate a Tortulf or a Tertulle  This may not be surprising if Tortulf lived in the late 7th century.

Some 10 generations separate Tortulf from the earliest recorded members of the family of Anjou. By the late 9th century the family was in possession of Anjou, and were calling themselves Counts of Anjou by the early 10th century. 

The Historical Backgound in Anjou and Normandy

From the 860s on, the Lotharingian aristocrat Robert the Strong, who was count of Neustria, Anjou, Touraine and Maine, had the task of containing Viking incursions in Neustria, the area now called Normandy. Robert the Strong died in 866. Robert the Strong's descendants controlled Anjou and Maine, as well as the unconquered area of Normandy.

In the late 9th century, Charles the Bald gave Robert's brother, Hugh, lay abbot of St.Denys, control over most of Austrasia, the Frankish kingdom on the northern bank of the Rhine. Tertulle, a claimed ancestor of the House of Anjou, married into his family and was therefore related by marriage to Robert the Strong and his descendants, then counts of Anjou.

Robert the Strong's son, Odo, count of Paris and heir of his uncle Hugh, was elected king of the West Franks in 888. The family renounced the monarchy on Odo's death in 898. 

In 910-11, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles the Simple, negotiated a treaty with the Viking chieftain Rollo which made Rollo count of Normandy. The counts of Anjou were originally also Counts of Neustria and lost that title and two thirds of their domain in Normandy due to the settlement between Charles the Simple and the Normans. The House of Anjou continued to have a major interest in Normandy. In 1030 Ralph Tesson, a descendant of the family of Anjou, and ancestor of the Scropes, held one third of Normandy in fee. 

Odo's brother, Robert I, ruled West Francia from 922 to 923, and Robert's son in law, Ralph from 923 to 936. Robert I 's son, Hugh the Great, helped the Carolingian Louis IV establish himself in 936 for which he was rewarded with the title 'Duke of the Franks' (or Duke of Francia).

In 987 Hugh the Great's son, Hugh Capet, assumed the title king of France, thus founding the Capetian dynasty. The Angevins were related to this dynasty by marriage.

The Martels

A number of counts of Anjou used the patronym 'Martel'. The most obvious inference was that they were, or thought they were, descended from Charles Martel, the victor of the battle of Poitiers in 732. The name 'Martel' means the 'Hammer', a reference to Charles Martel's many victories in battle. Charles Martel is regarded as the first of the Carolingian dynasty.

The claim to descent from Charles Martel could be explained by the fact that Charles Martel's daughter, Alda, married, in 768, the prince of Septimania, a Jewish province in southern France. The descendants of this dynasty eventually became kings of Jerusalem. The Angevins may be a collateral line of descent from Alda Martel.

The theory of descent from the Carolingians is reinforced by the claim of the counts of Anjou to be Mayors of the Palace to the kings of France, the equivalent of to-day's prime ministers. They obviously saw themselves as being in the same relationship to the kings of France as were the Pippinids, the ancestors of the Carolingians, to the Merovingian kings.

The possibility that the Angevins were related to Carolingians does not conflict with the claim to be descended from Tortulf, nor even with the idea that they were descended from Mary Magdalene. Twenty generations separate the Magdalene and Tortulf and a further ten generations lie between Tortulf and the counts of Anjou. Only the missing Annals of Anjou could tell the full story.


Richard Scrope in Normandy

Richard Scrope was a friend of Edward the Confessor in the days when the English prince was exiled in Normandy. They were of the same age and were related through the House of Flanders. The Confessor's sister married a Count of Flanders and Richard Scrope married a daughter of the House of Flanders.

Richard's history in Normandy has not been discovered in any detail. He was related to Hugh Lupus of Avranches, and later earl of Chester, and the historians of Chester have claimed a connection between this family and the family of Tesson or Tezzo. Richard's grandson, Hugh FitzOsbern, was a baron of the County Palatine of Chester. 

The family of Masci, or Massey, were also barons of Chester and share the same genealogy as the Scropes, and the Massey family's research into their history has proved invaluable to studies of Scrope antecedents. From this and other work it is found that the Scropes are descendants of the family of Tesson, who were descendants of the House of Anjou, and held a third of Normandy in fee.

The family of Richard Scrope appear to be connected with St.Lo and Wancy in the Lower Seine. Richard Scrope' wife was of the House of Flanders, and William the Conqueror married a daughter of the House of Flanders of the next generation, so there was a relationship between them. The descendants of Richard Scrope were described as cousins to the Conqueror's family.

The family of Flanders claimed descent from Charlemagne, who became Holy Roman Emperor in 800, and this descent, in the maternal line, appears in the Scrope pedigree.

Richard Scrope in England

When Edward the Confessor succeeded to the English throne in 1042 Richard Scrope accompanied him to England and settled there, serving initially as a member of the king's bodyguard.

The Family of Richard Scrope

Richard Scrope had at least four sons and two daughters.

The sons were, in order of age, Osbern, Thurstan, Richard, and William. Osbern succeeded to the Honour of Richards Castle. Thurstan is believed to be the progenitor of the family of Despencer, later called Spencer, and the ancestor of Winston Churchill and Princess Diana of Wales. Richard was the ancestor of the families of Neville and Butler, and the earls of Ormonde in Ireland. 

The descendants of William were more obscure. The family of Brun or Brown are descendants of William FitzRichard, and Henry le Scrope, a progenitor of the Seckington family, married a woman of this family, making William an ancestor in the maternal line.

The two daughters, whose names are unknown, married respectively Herbert the son of Ivo, and Geoffrey Alselin.

Richard Scrope, as a widower, appears to have married the widow of Alwin, the sheriff of Warwickshire, and had a son, another Richard, the ancestor of the Puer,or Power, and Child families.

Richard Scrope died in 1071 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Osbern FitzRichard.

The Honour of Richards Castle

In 1051 Richard Scrope was stationed on the Welsh border as part of the English defences against Welsh attack. There were other castellans in the area. Earl Ralf of Mantes had a castle at Hereford. Osbern Pentecost had his castle at Ewyas Harold in the Golden Valley. Hugh, another castellan, was also in the vicinity, although the whereabouts of his castle is not recorded. 

The Honour of Richards Castle comprised a large number of landholdings or manors, the profits of which were intended to support the soldiers defending the border and the castles.

The Military Implications of the Honour

From the structure of the defences it appears that Richard Scrope was charged with preventing any successful Welsh attack along the valley of the River Test aimed at Worcester.

As a part of his defence obligation Richard Scrope built a fortress or castle at a place now known as Richards Castle four miles south west of Ludlow. Richards Castle lies on the border between Herefordshire and Shropshire and is partly in both counties.  His forward defences were at Presteigne, ten miles farther west and closer to the Welsh border. Presteigne was later lost to the Welsh but not in Richard Scrope's time.

Richard Scrope also had a base castle, called Homme or Hamme Castle, some ten miles west of Worcester. In a Welsh attack this home castle would have been the last line of defence for Worcester, but it was never needed. 

The Political Strategy

Richard Scrope later appears to have served the crown as a sheriff and he was most closely associated with Shropshire. Sheriffs in that period were the lieutenants of the king, administering justice, collecting taxes, and organising defences. 

Shropshire tenants of the crown had the duty of defending their county border with Wales. This obligation was in lieu of general military service with the king's army whenever it assembled. The customary law stated that the men of Shropshire were obliged to accompany the sheriff whenever he organised a military expedition into Wales. 

The appointment of Richard Scrope as sheriff of Shropshire seems to have been a political tactic by the English government to gain military control of Shropshire. The supreme authority in Shropshire was, however, the Earl of Mercia and not the king. The earl was related by marriage to the Welsh king and there was a non-aggression pact between them. 

The heartland of the Welsh kings was in the North of Wales which was only accessible through Mercia. By denying the passage of the English army through Mercia the earl was shielding and protecting the Welsh invaders. The pact with the Welsh was regarded as treason by the English government.

No assistance was given by the earl to English military initiatives against the Welsh and there is no record of Richard Scrope ever leading an English army across the border. 

The English military situation deteriorated further when Osbern the son of Richard Scrope married Princess Nesta the daughter of the Welsh king. The marriage was probably very unwelome to the English government and possibly cost Richard Scrope the friendship of the English king, Edward the Confessor.

On the other hand, the border between Shropshire and Wales was stable compared to the marches farther south which faced devastating Welsh attacks over a long period.

The Township of Richards Castle

The population of Richards Castle has varied over the centuries. As early as 1086 51 persons were recorded within the castellaria, or castle lands, in addition to another 23 in the castle itself.

In the 12th century a small town developed adjacent to the castle. Although no trace of the borough charter survives an urban community flourished here for some three centuries. A document of 1304 records some 103 burgesses. However, Richards Castle went into a decline in the later Middle Ages. The reasons for its failure appear to be largely commercial. As Ludlow thrived in the later Middle Ages so the commercial fortunes of Richards Castle waned. 

Nowadays it is difficult to imagine there ever having been a town at Richards Castle, so rural is the environment.  The ancient town survives only through the church of St.Bartholomew, notable because of its detached tower. The outlines of the borough still survive in earthwork form, providing one of the best examples of such earthworks in the borderlands. The earthworks or town precinct bank served the same purpose as a town wall. The plan of the medieval borough shows the town precinct bank attached to the castle. Traces of the old marketplace and former property boundaries and roads can be seen within the compound.

The castle that Richard Scrope built still survives although now abandoned and overgrown with weeds and shrubs. It is merely one of hundreds that played a part in border warfare and lost their importance as the line of battle moved westwards. 

However Richards Castle's continuing importance lies in the fact that it was one of the first Marcher lordships and, as the only survivor of the Old English border defences of King Edward the Confessor, it was the oldest military lordship on the Welsh border.

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The Website Structure

The website is divided into separate databases. Click on any database name to get directly to the records.

1. The Descent of the Honour of Richards Castle

2. The History of Richards Castle

3. The Manors of Richards Castle as listed in the Domesday Book

4. The Documents referring to Richards Castle