Wednesday, 12 February 2014

An abduction in the Peak District

We live in an age where the thought of forced marriages and abductions fills people with horror and reports of such events in the British Asian communities are condemned. Each year according to a recent TV documentary over 10,000 young Muslim women are forced into such arrangements against their will.

 The picturesque Blore near Ilam seems a world away from such considerations although a dramatic episode involving a forced marriage took place at Blore Hall at the beginning of the 16th century.

Margaret Kebell was the daughter of Ralph Bassett and in 1502 was a newly widowed 25 years old. She had married 10 years before to an elderly Leicestershire lawyer on whose death the previous year had left his young bride a sizable inheritance. In short, Margaret was now a very attractive proposition to the gentry of the area as any wealth that she had would become the property of the husband.

At the end of January Margaret became engaged to Ralph Egerton of Wrinehill who was also a wealthy person as he stood to inherit lands in Cheshire, A party was organised to celebrate the event. However someone had other ideas.

On the 1st February 1502 an armed band led by Roger Vernon of Wirksworth, Derbyshire assisted by a local landowner Thomas Foljambe of Throwley Hall attacked Blore Hall. The brigands arrived at 6am. The band was about 100 strong and was well armed. The trembling guests and retainers were under siege by a group of determined men. Vernon’s band broke in and threatened the servants of Margaret Kebell brandishing swords to get them to reveal her presence. Margaret was found and forced onto a horse and the posse plunged over the River Dove back into Derbyshire. Quickly a compliant priest was found in Derby and the couple was married despite Margaret’s protests.

Margaret’s father was furious and sent out parties to rescue his daughter. Roger Vernon was aware of the threat and moved his new unwilling bride into Herefordshire until things quietened down. Margaret’s mother, Eleanor, accompanied by Eleanor's father and brother, set off in pursuit of the abductors. They were outnumbered and unable to rescue Margaret, but Margaret later managed to escape on her own and reach safety in London. Sir Henry Vernon of Haddon Hall, Margaret’s father in law, was protesting his son’s innocence at court to anyone who would hear that his daughter in law was just being difficult. But Margaret was determined to have her say and gained personal audience with Henry VII. The case ended up before the court of the Star Chamber, where changes and counter-charges kept the litigation active for many years. Vernon was fined, but in December 1509 all those involved in the abduction were pardoned by the new king Henry VIII. Margaret did eventually marry Ralph Egerton, who was knighted in 1515. However whether it was a happy marriage is debateable as Egerton was reputed to have fathered many illegitimate children.