I had originally intended this post to be about Gilbert de Middleton and his attack upon Louis de Beaumont (bishop elect of Durham) and two papal legates. However, the situation leading up to it is complicated and I have not as yet understood it enough to be able to write it in such a way that it is easy to understand by others. I also have a whole book to read through about the man first! So, instead of struggling and delaying a post any longer, I thought that I’d give you another ‘rogue’ instead:
Jack le Ireys (le Irish, le Irrais, le Irys)
Jack le Ireys is one of those shadowy figures who turns up from time to time in the records, usually when he had misbehaved, and yet we do not know much about him as a person.
A John le Ireys (he was also known as John) turns up in the Calendar of Patent Rolls in a record dated November 12th 1308. In it he is accused, along with others, of tying John de Asshelond to a table and then having ‘pierced his feet with a hot iron, burned his face to the bone in five places with the same iron’, until the victim finally relented and signed a bond for 100 pounds to one of the participants (not John). It most probably is the same John/Jack le Ireys as the one mentioned in this post, but it is hard to be 100% sure as there are no other details about him, and there must have been other men called John the Irishman in the country at that time.
Jack’s first definite appearance in the records was in August 1314 when he was mentioned in the Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland vol 3, number 384, (originally PRO, SC 1/33/32) as being in the company of Colle de Derby, a justice of the Royal Household at Alnwick when Colle was attacked by Northumbrian men led by John de Lilleburn. De Derby, along with two other justices, had been responsible for the trying and hanging of several men, including John de Apsley who had been accused of trying to betray Berwick to the Scots. This action enraged many of the Northumbrian lords who swore to kill anyone from Berwick from in Northumbria. Colle and le Ireys had been on their way to the king from Alnwick when they were set upon. They were only saved from certain death when Sir John Felton, the warden of Alnwick, rode to their rescue.
He was acknowledged as being a yeoman in the king’s service in a record of April 3rd 1315, where he was to receive wages of 100 pounds ‘for his wages and the wages of other men-at-arms, both horsemen and footmen, staying with him in the king’s service in the marches of Scotland.’ On June 19th, Edward issued orders to the justice and treasurer of Ireland, because, ‘The king has heard that 80 horsemen of the lineage and alliance of his yeoman John le Ireys who are coming to John to serve the king in the war of Scotland have long been disturbed at sea for lack of ships.’ Not that Edward was going to pay for their transport though – they had to fund themselves (or at least Jack would). But, in my mind, this deepens the puzzle of who Jack was: 80 horsemen is a large retinue for a non-knight to command. Who were these men, and how were they connected with Jack? I wish I could track Jack’s lineage back into Ireland: he must have been from a noble family, even if not of the highest order.
In August 1315, after the death of Guy de Beauchamp, le Ireys’s star was still on the rise, as Edward evidently thought enough of his abilities to award him custody of Barnard Castle because Beauchamp’s heir was underage. But it is at this point that he started to blot his copybook. In November of that year, he and a group of his men abducted the widowed Lady Maud de Clifford from where she was staying at Bowes and took her the five miles back to Barnard. There, it is claimed by the Scalacronica, le Ireys ‘ravished’ her. This is a very emotive term and while in both the modern and Anglo Norman sense it could mean rape, in Anglo Norman it could also mean ‘to abduct forcibly’. So while some caution has to maintain over its true meaning in this circumstance, it is still a fact that the lady Maud was in le Ireys’s control and that he most probably had the intention of marrying her by force (although for some reason this did not happen – luckily for Maud).
Maud, or Matilda, de Clifford had been married to Sir Robert de Clifford, a wealthy magnate with extensive estates in the north. Apart from rebelling over Gaveston, he had been loyal to the king, and was killed at Bannockburn just over a year before. Edward must have felt some sorrow at the loss of such a trusted lord for, three months after his death he ordered a tun of wine to be given to the executors of Robert’s will for arranging his burial. She also had other powerful connections, as she was the daughter of Thomas de Clare Lord of Thomond and therefore cousin to Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth de Clare. With such wealth and connections, such a marriage would have provided le Ireys with power and a place in society – not to mention money.
However, if le Ireys thought Edward was going to let him get away the Maud’s abduction, he was very much mistaken. Maud was no second-rate heiress and le Ireys was no Robert de Clifford. Edward was staying at Clipstone, with his wife and the court when he heard of the outrage. He immediately sent a rescue force under the command of one of his most trusted and closest friends, William de Montacute (who, short time later, would be made steward of Edward’s household) of three knights and 36 esquires. At the same time he gave a commission of Oyer and Terminer to Bartholomew de Badlesmere (Maud’s brother-in-law), John de Moubray (her cousin), Jone de Doncastre and Thomas de Sheffield to look into the matter.
There are no accounts of what happened next at Barnard Castle, but it was in the hands of John le Castro by the 3rd December and the rescue party returned Maud to the safety of king on the 6th. Montacute took temporary custody of the castle, but le Ireys appeared to have fled to Tynemouth. In January 1316, Montacute made arrangements with the sheriff of Northumberland and le Ireys was finally detained and brought to justice.
The king however, must have been in a forgiving mood, for now that the situation had been resolved, le Ireys suffered no further punishment apart from being placed in an inferior role at Bamburgh Castle. Not that he changed his character much: both he and the constable of Bamburgh were soon accused of oppression by their neighbours in the ward of Bamburgh, charging them for admission into the castle and robbing them of their provisions. In mitigation it must be said that at the time the country was in a grip of a terrible famine, and Edward had not been too forthcoming in keeping his northern forts supplied. So many of the garrisons were forced to plunder goods from the neighbouring people in order to survive. It was, of course, not at all fair on those who had been victimised, but the early fourteenth century was not a fair world.
He must have had some charm though for, even despite the things he had done, Edward still held him in high affection to the end of his life, in 1317. The dying le Ireys retired to the Gilbertine Priory of St Katherine in Lincoln, and it was there that Edward contributed six pounds towards his medicines and keep. Chroniclers and later historians have often described le Ireys as a lawless, violent man, which indeed was the case. But he was one among many in the often lawless area of the northern marches, and he had to be that way to survive. When you look at his record, although bad to a 21st century perspective, his actions were those of one trying to serve his king and also rise in society by whatever means possible. He was not in the same league as the thuggish Robert le Ewer, or even Gilbert de Middleton (who also had good reasons for his lawlessness), but even so, his name still has the taint of the same infamy, which is why I’ve put him into the rogue’s gallery.
And, just a last thought, one of pure speculation. If he hadn’t forced Maud de Clifford to marry him upon her abduction, could it also be possible that he had been a ‘gentleman’ enough not to lay a hand on her, hoping, perhaps to gain what he wanted by persuasion, either of her or of Edward? If so, that may explain Edward’s leniency towards him as surely any dishonouring of such a great and well-connected lady would have attracted far more censure. Whatever the case, the answer will never be known, just as, sadly, we will never know Jack’s true lineage or where he came from in Ireland.
 Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1307-1313, pps 168-169
 Calendar of Close Rolls, 1313-1318, p.165
 Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p.418
Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1307-1313
Calendar of Close Rolls, 1313-1318
Calendar of Chancery Warrants, 1244-1326
Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland, Vol 3: AD 1307-1357
The Scalacronica of Sir Thomas Gray
King, Andy, ‘Bandits, Robbers and Schavaldours: War and Disorder in Northumberland in the Reign of Edward III’, Thirteenth Century England IX, edited by Prestwich, Britnell & Frame, pps115-129
Middleton, Sir Arthur E., Sir Gilbert de Middleton And The Part He Took In The Rebellion In The North of England in 1317, Mawson Swan & Morgan Ltd, 1918