Wednesday, 22 May 2013

A Crusader Knight

Nothing remains of Dieulacres Abbey, the medieval monastery just out side Leek. It was demolished after the suppression of the monasteries in the 16th century. The founder Ranulph de Blondeville 4th Earl of Chester's heart is buried in the Abbey .During the 13th century Ranulph was one of the most influential men in the country. He was a close supporter of King John, the much maligned medieval monarch who incidentally granted Leek its market charter in 1207. Ranulph was at the King's side during the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215 and on his death became executor of John's will. John's infant son Henry became King and immediately afterwards the country was plunged into a period of civil war. Prince Louis of France landed and supported by rebel lords undertook an invasion of England

De Blondeville placed his support behind Henry III and marched against the rebels in the North and Midlands stopping them from linking up with the French in the south . Louis sent a French force northwards and a battle was fought outside Lincoln. Ranulph linked up with his great political rival William Marshal and in the battle that followed they were victorious capturing many rebel barons.

The next chapter of his life is a fascinating one. He became a crusader. In 1218 Ranulph joined the 5th Crusade, perhaps honouring a dying wish of King John. He was part of a invasion force of around 30,000 that sailed for Egypt with the intention of attacking Cairo. An icy winter was followed by a intensely hot summer as the crusades laid siege to the port of Damietta at the mouth of the Nile. The ruling Sultan attempted to negotiate a deal with the high command of the Crusaders offering Jerusalem and Palestine as long as they gave up war in Egypt. Ranulph supported the offer but was over ruled by the Pope's representative Bishop Pelagius. Damietta eventually did fall but the Crusaders argued about strategy and Ranulph returned to England in the autumn of 1220.

In his later years he fulfilled the role of Elder Statesman. He continued to support the Magna Carta led a ill considered attack on France in 1230 and continued to enlarge his estates in Cheshire- he built Beeston Castle. On his death in October 1232 his remains were divided between Chester Cathedral and Dieulacres which he seemed to have a particular fondness for