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Too often those who entertain ambition
THERE is occasionally to be met with in the page of history, especially in that department of it which enters into minute local inquiry, incidents as extraordinary and romantic as any which the power of imagination may have embodied for the purposes of fictitious narrative.
Of this description is a large portion of the records of the house of CLIFFORD of Craven, in the county of York, which, as not only highly interesting in point of personal character and adventure but as exhibiting much also of the manners and customs of periods of singular importance in the annals of our country, I feel strongly inclined to bring before my readers, in a form and manner better calculated for general perusal than has been hitherto attempted.
In fact, the volumes to which recourse has been
chiefly had for the circumstances detailed in this essay, and the subsequent papers on the same subject, are of a kind either so expensive or so voluminous, as to preclude access to many who enjoy not the convenience of a public library. Whilst on this topic, I cannot omit particularizing one production, as that to which I have been more peculiarly indebted, namely, Whitaker's History of Craven; a work that, to a depth and elaboration of research, which might satisfy the most rigid antiquary, has added, what is but too seldom found mingled with the labours of the topographer, the imagination of the poet and the painter, yet chastised by pure taste and correct judgment, and clothed in a style at once nervous, rich, and elegant. I can well remember the delight with which, two years after I had visited at Skipton the remains of the castle of the Cliffords, I first read, in 1807, this admirable though bulky quarto, an impression which time has little impaired, and which is yet indeed, notwithstanding such a length of intervening period, one of the principal inducements to the present undertaking.
The barony, or honour and fee of Skipton in Craven, had been, before the Norman conquest, the property of earl Edwin, son of Leofwine, and brother
of Leofric, earls of Mercia. On the establishment, however, of William on the throne of England, the estates of the Saxon chieftain, which were very considerable, became forfeited, and the lands which he held in Craven were granted by the conqueror to Robert de Romille, one of his adventurous followers, and who built the castle of Skipton. By marriage, this barony descended to the house of Albemarle, in whose possession it continued until, in the ninth year of Edward the First, John de Eshton, the heirat-law of the earldom of Albemarle, surrendered it, for a consideration, to the crown, in which it continued vested till the first of Edward the Second, who, almost immediately after his accession, bestowed it on his minion, Piers de Gaveston. The reign of this favourite however was very short; and the year 1311, the fourth of Edward the Second, saw it transferred, by the king's gift, to Robert de Clifford, whom he had previously created earl marshal of England.
ROBERT DE CLIFFORD, the descendant of an ancient and powerful family, which had long held considerable property in the marches of Wales, and in Westmoreland, was born, it is supposed, at Appleby castle, about the year 1274. Inheriting the mili
tary enthusiasm of his progenitors, he became, at an early age, so great a favourite with Edward the First, that, when not more than nineteen years of age, we are told, in the record of the plea of the fourteenth of that warlike monarch, stetit in servicio regis JUXTA LATUS SUUM.
After such a decisive proof of confidence, it was not long before Edward intrusted this aspiring young nobleman with employment suited to his enterprising disposition. In 1297 he appointed him governor of Carlisle, with the view of repressing the incursions of the Scots; and almost immediately afterwards, lord Robert, entering Annandale with what troops the garrison could supply, defeated the Scots near Annan Kirke, with considerable slaughter; a piece of service which was speedily followed by a grant from the king, to him and his heirs, of the castle of Carlavrock, in Scotland, together with all the estates of Robert Maxwell and William Douglas. Nor did the favour of Edward stop here. He nominated him chief justice of his forests beyond Trent; summoned him four times to parliament as one of the peers of the realm; and when, in 1301, he wrote to pope Boniface, claiming the seignory of Scotland, lord Clifford signed this
celebrated letter by the title of Chatellain of Appleby. It would appear indeed that the honours and possessions thus bestowed were amply recompensed to the English monarch, not only by what Clifford had already done, but by what he subsequently achieved; for we are told that in 1306, almost immediately after the coronation of Robert Bruce, he entered Scotland with the earl of Pembroke, and defeated the newly-created king at St. John's Town*.
We cannot but entertain, indeed, a high opinion of the character and conduct of Robert de Clifford, from beholding him thus patronised by one who has been not unjustly termed "the wisest of English kings +." Nor is he less entitled to admiration for his skill and prudence, when, under the subsequent turbulent reign of Edward of Caernarvon, we find him, though intrusted with the first offices of state, both military and civil, steering so cautiously and judiciously through the broils and dissensions which distracted his native country, that whilst he preserved the patronage of his sovereign, he lost not
* Holinshed, vol. i. p. 842.
+ Vide sir Matthew Hale's Memoirs of the Cliffords, as quoted by Whitaker, p. 241.