[From Manx Soc vol 16]
IN 1441 Eleanor Cobham, wife of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was condemned to be confined in the prison of Peel Castle, under the chancel of the cathedral, where she died after fourteen years imprisonment. She was accused of treason and sorcery, the charge against her being that with the aid of Roger Bolingbroke, one of the duke's chaplain", who was said to deal in the black arts, and Margery Jourdemain, the witch of Eye, she had made a waxen image of the king, to whom the duke was next heir, which was exposed to a gentle heat, for, according to the rules of magic, as it melted away the king's health and strength would decline. She owned to having directed Bolingbroke to calculate the duration of the kings life. The result was that Bolingbroke was found guilty of treason, and executed; the witch was burnt. The duchess, after being made to walk three several times through the city without a hood, and bearing a lighted taper, was assigned for life to the custody of Sir Thomas Stanley, in the Isle of Man
In Oliver's Monumenta (vol iii. p. 19, Manx Society) will be found the " Order to convey Elenor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester, to the Isle of Man," 24 Hen. VI. On the 26th October 1443 she was ordered to be conveyed from Chester Castle to Kenilworth, preparatory to being finally removed to the Isle of Man.
(see letter and comment 19 Jan 1441]
The duchess is referred to by Shakespeare in his play of Henry VI. part ii act ii. scene 3
King Henry. Stand forth dame Eleanor Cobham,
In sight of God and us, your guilt is great:
Receive the sentence of the law, for sins
Such as by God's book are adjudged to death.
You, madam, for you are more nobly born,
Despoiledl of your honor in your life,
Shall, after three days' open penance done,
Live in your country here, in banishment,
With Sir John Stanley, in the Isle of Man.
She was so turbulent and impatient under confinement, that a strict guard had to be kept over her, not only because there were daily attempts made to get her away, but also to prevent her from laying violent hands on her own life. It is traditionally affirmed that ever since her death, to this day, a person is heard to go up the stone stairs of the prison constantly every night as soon as the clock has struck twelve, and the general conjecture is, that it is no other than the troubled spirit of this lady, who died, as she had lived, dissatisfied and murmuring at her fate. The crypt under the chancel of the cathedral is a curious arched apartment, and it is said to be unlucky to those who come out of it without counting the number of ribs forming the roof. The beautiful lines on Peel Castle by Mr. Wood allude to this lady and the spectre hound, and the traditional tale of " Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester," written by a member of the Manx Society, describes most graphically the fate of this unfortunate lady. The old ballad of 1659, on the fall of the duchess, will also be found in another part of this volume.
[This anonymous piece has I suspect no historical basis in fact, being very much a Victorian romance- FPC]
One gloomy winter's evening shortly after the conclusion of the
war, while the country was still in an alarmed and unsettled state,
an armed band was seen slowly wending its way among the rugged hills
that surround the princely mansion of the Duke of Gloucester. They
marched with silence and with the greatest circumspection, bent
apparently on some secret and important enterprise. Proceeding in
this manner for some time, they at length reached the outskirts of
the duke's plantation, where, plunging into the thickest of the
shade, they encamped till night (so necessary to the success of their
project) should cast her sable mantle o'er the earth. Scarcely had
they reached their intended place of concealment 'when they were
surprised and delighted by receiving information that the fair
Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester,. accompanied by but three young
cavaliers and a few attendants, was returning from the amusement of
flying the falcon. Such an opportunity, so favourable and unexpected,
of accomplishing their design without difficulty, and almost without
danger, was not to be neglected; for they were the retainers of the
Duke of Suffolk, whom the envy of their lord had dispatched to carry
off the lady of his rival Gloucester, accused of associating with
wizards and witches to ascertain if her husband should ascend the
throne. Instantly starting from their concealment, they rushed forth
in a body, and, after cutting to pieces her attendants, bravely
attempting defence, secured the duchess, who during the affray had
fallen to the ground in a state of insensibility. Then, replacing her
on her horse, the whole party, apprehensive of pursuit, immediately
set out on its return.
Fortunately for the safe issue of their enterprise, the Duke of Gloucester was at this time engaged in a distant hunting expedition, so that they arrived at Coventry, the appointed rendezvous, without pursuit or molestation. There they were met by a messenger bringing letters from their lord, informing Radnor, the leader of the party, that the duke, aided by the interest of the Cardinal of Winchester, had succeeded in obtaining the condemnation of their prisoner to perpetual imprisonment in the Isle of Man.
Radnor-having received the warrant for the duchess's imprisonment, after perusing the duke's letters, in which he was directed immediately to proceed to Liverpool, where a vessel was waiting to convey them to the strong fortress of Peel-resolved to pass the night where he was, in order to recruit the spirits of his men, exhausted by the two preceding days' march. From this town he proceeded by rapid journies through Leicestershire, Staffordshire, and Cheshire, and on the evening of the third day arrived in Liverpool
Peel Castle, at the time, was the strongest fortress in Man, and is situated on an extensive and lofty rock, surrounded by the sea; and artillery being then unknown, its gloomy towers and lowering battlements must have bid defiance to the efforts of every foe. It was built by the Danes, during the short time they had possession of the island, in the latter part of the 9th century. The entrance is on the south side, where a flight of stone steps, now nearly demolished, though strongly cramped with iron, loads o'er the ragged rocks to the water's edge; you pass through a gateway in the side of a square tower into the castle.
The fortress, of a polygonal shape, extends over an area of about five acres. The walls, flanked at short intervals by towers of different forms, were constructed of coarse grey stone, quoined and faced in many parts with red sandstone of a bright vermillion, giving a rich and varied effect to the whole. This fortress was then under the command of Sir Thomas Stanley, and, from its insulated and almost impregnable situation, had been fixed upon as the future place of confinement of the Duchess of Gloucester, to the narrative of whose misfortunes we shall now return.
Radnor, finding the galley in readiness to convey himself and his charge to the Island, dismissed most of his men, and bringing the duchess on board, immediately weighed anchor.
A small room, or rather hole, near the stern was assigned the noble prisoner, and here she was left to think over her misfortunes, and reflect on the dreadful fate that awaited her. When her guards had retired, feeling the air close and oppressive, she approached the narrow opening in the vessel's side, serving as the only window to her miserable abode, to respire for- a while the cooling sea air. The mild rays of the sun, sinking in. the distant west, fell full on her face, and, dazzled by the unexpected glare, she involuntarily started; then casting her eyes o'er the broad expanse of waters, and recognising in the distant horizon the fading outlines of. her loved native land, she. thought on her husband, her children; her home, and, overpowered with emotion, sunk insensible on the floor.
When at length animation returned, the sun had long-set, and dark lowering clouds had spread themselves around the horizon, while the sea, no longer tranquil and glassy lashed with angry surges the sides of the little bark.
As the vessel rolled violently, she was induced to lie down, and grief, together with the fatigue she had undergone, soon brought on the most profound slumber. How long she had slept she could not conjecture, when she was suddenly roused by several tremendous peals of thunder, accompanied by the most vivid lightning The noise and bustle on, deck now attracted, her attention, and from the numerous orders she heard given, and the sawing and cutting almost directly overhead, it -was easy to perceive that they were cutting away the masts to ease the vessel, now labouring dreadfully in the heavy sea which had so suddenly risen; and her conjectures were soon verified by hearing it splash overboard. Hastening to her little window, the moon, which now shone brilliantly forth through an opening in the dark clouds that swept past, enabled her to discern that two sailors had been dragged by the falling ruin into the boiling cauldron of the sea, whom their companions were now earnestly endeavouring to recover 'by every means in their power. Thrice had she seen one of them, to whom her attention was chiefly directed, almost seize the rope which his mates had thrown out to him, but as often was it swept from his grasp by the merciless wave. Now spent with his superhuman efforts, she saw him cast one anxious glance towards his grieving messmates, as if to bid farewell to earth and hope, then relaxing his efforts, he fast began to sink ; but here the moon, as if in mercy to her feelings, veiled by a dark thunder cloud, withdrew her light, and all was shrouded in the most impenetrable gloom. Turning from the window in an agony, she resolved to lie down and endeavour to compose her aching heart ; but ere she could do so a lurch of the vessel threw her roughly on the floor, when to her horror she perceived that it was deeply covered with water The door was now hastily opened, and Radnor entering, ordered her to come on deck, as the vessel had sprung several leaks and was already almost a wreck.
At such tidings as this, and so harshly announced, any other than Eleanor of Gloucester would have sunk in a swoon; and perhaps under other circumstances even she might have acted thus ; but the misfortunes of the preceding days had steeled to all ordinary dangers the mind of a woman naturally bold and daring ; and therefore immediately obeying her keeper, she proceeded to the deck, where a sort of seat or an arm-chair had been prepared for her near the waist of the vessel, and to which she was securely lashed to prevent being washed overboard. A glance sufficed to tell the condition they were in; a sort of square sail stretched on the remains of the foremast was all that propelled the vessel. Two lamps placed near the stern, and serving to illuminate the binnacle, enabled her to perceive that the sea had washed away everything from the deck, and that the sailors, to prevent being swept away, had tied themselves to different parts of the vessel. In such a situation, and drenched by the waves, benumbed by the cold, and expecting every moment to be her last, did this hapless lady pass that dreadful night. Morning, so ardently wished for by all, at length arrived, and showed that they were approaching the land. The storm still raged with unabated violence, and the dreadful precipices on which they were fast hurrying, were recognised by their pilot to be that part of the Manx coast which lies between Spanish Head and the Calf of Man. This is the most dangerous part of, the shore around the whole Island. A chain of precipices from three to four hundred feet perpendicular height, extends in an almost continuous line from Rushen Bay to the Calf ; which, together with the numerous sunken rocks and shoals, render it almost impossible for a vessel to approach in safety even in the finest weather. As the wind had now veered a little towards the north, rigging a jury-mast as near the stem as possible, and putting the helm hard a port, they endeavoured to make the vessel wear round to the south, to get into the open sea ; but all in vain, still she drove headlong to certain destruction.
The sailors, now giving themselves up for lost, began, some earnestly to call on the virgin, and all the saints in the calendar for aid, some to curse and swear, while others in sullen silence calmly awaited their impending fate. They were now almost within a stone's cast of the rocks, expecting every moment the vessel to strike, when suddenly, changing her direction, she began to be hurried to the southward.
The crew, astonished at this sudden change, were at a loss to what cause to ascribe it. The master of the vessel loudly asserted that it was owing to the direct intervention of the virgin, to whom he had vowed a silver chalice; but her claims to the miracle were as stoutly denied by another of the crew who gave all the honour of it to the tutelary saint of Ireland. The dispute running high, they had nearly come to blows, when their debate was interrupted by the vessel dashing violently on a sunken rock and almost immediately going to pieces, and as their boats had been lost in .the storm, each seized a plank or whatever happened to float nearest him, and on it endeavoured to reach the shore.
It was now plain that the true cause of it was a dangerous current which sweeps along the southern coast of the Island, occasioned by the rapid run of the sea through the Calf Straits. The violence of the current, and the rugged nature of the rocks, soon shattered the lower part of the vessel; but the deck on which the Duchess was placed, and where, forgotten by the crew, and unable to extricate herself, she had ever since remained, was detached from the wreck, and, after floating about a few hours, came ashore near PortIron. There the natives, ignorant alike to her rank and situation, paid her every attention m their power
Radnor, who with the master of the vessel were the only survivors of all the crew, hearing that a lady had drifted in on a part of the wreck immediately proceeded to the cottage to which she had been conveyed by the kind natives. Finding her too weak for travelling on horseback, he placed her on a sort of sledge, which at that time was the only vehicle used in the Island, and conveyed her to Castle Rushen, distant about six miles. There she remained until she had partially recovered, when he had her again conveyed to Peel Castle. Sir Thomas Stanley having received direetions to treat her with the greatest rigour, she was immediately thrust into the ecclesiastical prison, a dungeon constructed .with all the severity of monkish times and feudal tyranny.
As it still exists, the traveller is induced to descend and examine a spot celebrated for the confinement of the Duchess of Gloucester, and Countess of Derby, and in more recent times for the cruel imprisonment of the Quakers and Nonconformists. The descent into the vault is by a flight of steps some twenty feet deep ; the roof is vaulted by thirteen ribs, forming pointed arches, and supported by as many pilasters only twenty-one inches above the ground, the bottom of which is extremely rough ; and in one corner is a well or spring, which must have tended greatly to the natural dampness of the place, and to which thereis no light or air but by a small window deeply set in the wall.
In this wretched place the Duchess had lain for seven years without any variation in her circumstances, when, one mormng early, she was gently awakened by one of the soldiers bidding her to get up and follow him in silence, and telling her at the same time to be careful of making any noise lest she should awaken the sentinel, who was asleep on his post. Leading her through the cathedral, he entered a long narrow passage which communicated with Sir Thomas Stanley's own apartment, and opening by a secret spring a door near the centre of it, carefully concealed by the tapestry, displayed a subterraneous passage which had been formed to favour the escape of the garrison if it should be overpowered. Entering this, it conducted them by various windings beneath the sea to a cave among the precipitous clilfs, which line the coast southward of Holme Town. Immediately they proceeded to a farm-house, where her conductor had provided disguises for them both. There they remained till dusk, when they proceeded in search of an old hermit whom they knew had a cell on the sea-shore, near a place called the Cloven Stones.
After wandering about these venerable remains for some time in search of him, they at length perceived at a short distance the glimmering of a light among the rocks, and proceeding towards it, found the venerable old man seated in his cave near a small fire, and busied in preparing his frugal repast of a few onions and some crusts of bread. They explained to him their situation, and requested concealment in his cave till such time as they could get on board some passing vessel. The hermit made them truly welcome to partake of all he possessed. "My children," said he, "you will find it hard to put up with the coarse fare I eat; I will therefore, for your sakes, go past my daily rule by adding some filberts and chestnuts; and as my abode is seldom visited by mankind, you can reside here in safety until an opportunity presents itself of getting on board some vessel." Having partaken of this coarse fare which hunger made sweet, they retired to rest on a bed of dried leaves which the old hermit had prepared for them
Next morning the soldier informed her that he was one of the retainers of her husband, and proceeded to give her an account of the means he had employed to effect her escape. "The Duke," he commenced, "hearing on his return from hunting that a party of armed men had carried you off after massacring your attendants, immediately armed his vassals and proceeded in pursuit of them to Liverpool. There he learned that you had been conveyed on board a vessel two days before his arrival, which immediately set sail for the Isle of Man. Well knowing in the dominions of the Stanleys you were quite out of his reach, and mistrusting his own safety in Liverpool, he then returned home, and resolved to accomplish by stratagem what he could not do by force. For two years he used all his influence to obtain the revocation of your sentence, and weaken the influence of Sulfolk at Court, but was completely unsuccessful. He then endeavoured to bribe some of Peel garrison to assist in an attempt to carry you off, but they were all so attached to Sir Thomas Stanley, that he could prevail with none. At length, when he began to despair of ever being able to restore you to liberty, I offered to enlist in the Manx army, and, if possible, get into Peel Castle as one of the garrison. I did so, and after four years' faithful service was appointed one of your guards, and had the duty entrusted me of locking up the cells at night. Of this I sent information to your husband, who is to send a vessel to cruise along the coast, and, if possible, to convey us to England; but our host says no vessel could come into Laxey Bay in safety with such a wind as has blown for some days past; if so, we must endeavour to conceal ourselves in this cave till we can find some means of getting out of Sir Thomas's reach, who will doubtless search the island carefully for us. Once in England, and we are safe; for his Majesty, though he does not openly oppose such a powerful man as Suffolk, who had a great hand in getting him to the throne again, would willingly"-" Have you gibbetted, as you deserve," said a trooper, rushing sword in hand into the cave, and followed by a dozen others. " Come on my lads--here are the two birds roosting quiet enough in old Father Antonio's cave; come, let us bag this gallant knight thavs so fond of riding over the country with ladies by moonlight. I warrant him he shan't lead us such a dance after him for nothing."But the old soldier had no intention of yielding so easily; therefore, drawing his sword, he stretched lifeless at a blow the foremost of his assailants, killed or disabled three more, when a lance thrown from a distance brought him bleeding. and helpless to the ground. As he was noted for his daring and skill in fencing, his former comrades had hitherto avoided as much as possible coming to close quarters; but the large reward set on his head stimulated their courage, and now being disabled, they rushed furiously on him, and, seizing him by the hair immediately cut off his head. The Duchess, whom seven long years of confinement and suffering had rendered callous to her fate, standing at the further end of the cave, had viewed in silence and almost unmoved the oonftt somommtous to her, and looked without a shriek on the mangled remains of her champion, which her brutal captors had stretched before her. The soldiers began now to boast of their exploit,, and dispute about the distribution of the reward, when suddenly remembering that they had violated the sanctity of the hermit's cave, sacred even to robbers and pirates, and dreading his anathema should he return, they secured the bleeding trophy of their victory, and halfdragging half-carrying the Duchess along with them, hastened to Laxey village with als much terror and confusion as if the destroying,angel was brandishing behind them the avenging sword of heaven. As soon as they reached the village they proceeded to the inn where they soon succeeded in drowning their rerligious scruples in plenteous draughts of wine, with which their host supplied them on the credit of the trooper's head; but to prevent any future qualms of conscience they resolved to devote one-foutth of the reward to procure masses for the souls of their,~ companions.
Their impataience to finger the gold not brooking delay, they set out for the castle the same evening and having conveyed their prisoner, who was unable to walk from fatigue, on horseback, reached it next day. Sir Thomas Stauley, resolved she should no more attempt to escape, replaced her in the dungeon, doubled the guard, and during the remainder of her long confinement her prison door never turned on its hinges but to replace her scanty daily allowance of bread and water.
Though many attempts were afterwards made to restore her to liberty, they all proved abortive; and, after a confinement of fourteen tedious years, deprived of society, of light, and almost of food, this unfortunate lady breathed her last, unwept and unfriended, in the dreary dungeon of Peel Castle, A.D. 1454. It is reported that ever since her death the troubled spirit of this lady continues to haunt the locality of her long imprisonment, and no one to this day is found bold enough to linger on the steps leading down to the dungeon at the "witching hour" of the day of her decease.
NOTE.-The Duchess of Gloucester was not the only state prisoner confined within the walls of Peel Castle, for we find that another illustrious nobleman was sent to this sea-girt prison in 1397, Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, afterwards set at liberty by Henry IV. This is recorded on his monument in St. Mary's Church, Warwick, with this inscription :-
D. O. M. et Aeteme Memoriae Sacrum qui Templum hoc frustra in
mausoleum, ipsasque, aras in Refugium habuit, E Somno quo Trecentos
amplius annos jacuit sepultus quenique non nisi Communi Rerum rogo
perturbatum in putarat, experrectus, Assurgit ecce, et adstat vir
ille inclytus pietate et bellica Viatute abque insignis Regem nune
Amor, nunc invidia, Regno semper delectus ; Fortunae aliquamdin
lusus, tandem Victor, blandi enti par novercante major ; heroum
nommis semper Gallim terribilis tantum non ultimo Thomas de
Bellocampo Comes Varvici, Insularum Guernsey, Serke et Aureney
Praefectas, ordinis, Periscelidis Eques, Edvardo III. Principi
Faelici, invicto, ob res egicegias Anglia et Gallia gestas in paucis
charus ; Richardo II. minorenni per conventum Regni Ordinum curator
admotus. Eodem rege sui aut suorum potius juris facto majestatis
damnatus, in Manniam deportatus, qa Henrico IV. ad Census et honores
postliminio revocat us ; Qui, cum satis Patriae, sibi, et Gloriae,
suae vixissit, una cum Margareta, Uxore sua hic loci contumulatus Amo
Dom. MCCCCI. Ne in Cineribus Aedis hujus
Collegiatae, quam ipse extruxerat, periret et monumentum. sepulchrate
fundatoris, Imagines hasce sacrileais ereptus Flammis, erigi curavit
nuns fidei commissariis ad Urbem et Edem bane Sacram raedificandas
senatus decreto constitutis, et memoriae tanti nominus aere et
marmore perennioris hoc quali quali elogio parentan, Anno Dom
Saced to the best and greatest God and to eternal memory, having had this temple in vain for his mausoleum, and its altar for its refuge, but awakened from that sleep in which he had lain buried more than 300 years, and which he thought would not be disturbed but by the general conflagration ; Lo! there now ariseth and standeth before you that famous man, equally renowned for his piety and valour; one while the love, another while the envy of kings ; always beloved by the kingdom! Sometimes the sport of fortune, at length her conqueror ; equal to her mires, greater than her frowns, almost the last of a name always terrible to France, Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, Governor of the Isles of Guernsey, Serke and Alderney, knight of the Order of the Garter; of some esteem with the fortunate invincible Prince Edward III. on account of his famous exploits performed in England and France ; promoted, by a convention of the orders of the realm, to be governor to Richard II during his minority. Condemned for high treason, when the same king was made master of himself, or rather of his subjects. Banished to the Isle of Man; recalled from banishment by Henry IV. to his estate and honour; who, when he had lived long enough for his country, himself, and his reputation, was, together with his wife Margaret, buried in this place, in the year of our Lord 1401. That the sepulchral monument of the founder might not perish in the ashes of this collegiate church, which he himself had built, these images snatched from the sacrilegious flames, were erected by the care of one of the commissioners appointed by Act of Parliament for the rebuilding of the town and this sacred church, and who offers this eulogium, such as it is, as a kind of funeral obsequy to the memory of so great a name, a name more durable then brass or marble -Anno Dom. 1706.
The particulars respecting the Earl of Warwicks imprisonment in Peel Castle, are recorded in Knight's Pictorial History of England, 1846, where it is stated that Richard II, suspecting that a conspiracy had been organised against him by his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, and other noblemen, in the month of July 1397, caused the Earls of Arundel and Warwick to be arrested as confederates with Gloucester on a charge of high treason. In a few days afterwards the Duke of Gloucester was seized, and was at once conveyed to Calais for safe custody. Subsequently the king summoned a Parliament to try the three traitors, as they were styled. On the 18th September 1397 the Earl of Arundel was tried ; he at first ofrered to prove his innocence by wager of battle, but he was condemned, and immediately beheaded on Tower Hill.
The Duke of Gloucester was reported to have died at Calais, but notwithstanding this, the Parliament proceeded with the trial of the dead Duke, who was declared a traitor, and his property was confiscateel to the king.
On the 28th September, Gloucester's friend, the Earl of Warwick, was brought to the bar of the House ; the Earl pleaded guilty, but his sentence was commuted into perpetual imprisonment in the Isle of Man.
From the records in the tower, it appears the king, Richard II., at the request of the Lords appellants and Commons, pardoned the execution; and the Earl was delivered to Sir William le Scroope and Sir Stephen his brother, to bring him to the said Isle, both of whom undertook body for body, safely to keep the said Earl in the said Isle without departing therefrom.
At this time the Isle of Man belonged to Sir William Scroope, who was chamberlain to Richard II., and was in 1397 created Earl of Wiltshire. It appears that his father, Sir Richard Scroope, took an active part in the impeachment of the alleged traitors in 1397, and this may account for the Isle of Man being chosen as the place of banishment of the Earl of Warwick.
On the 30th September 1399 Henry IV. ascended the throne; on the 13th October in that year he met his Parliament. Many of the obnoxious acts of the late reign were instantly repealed, and the attainders of the Earls of Arundel and Warwick reversed.
From the dates given, the Earl of Warwick's imprisonment in Peel Castle could not have exceeded two years or thereabouts. He was sentenced on the 28th September 1397, and it is probable his sentence was reversed on or immediately after the 13th October 1399.
The place of confinement of the Earl of Warwick was in the square building or prison standing at the north side of Peel Castle, and lying about midway between the two saliports. It was by no means so wretched a prison as that (under the cathedral) in which Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester, was subsequently confined.
In Oliver's Monumenta, vol i. and vol. ii., Manx Society, are several documents relating to the banishment of the Earl of Warwick, with an account of the expenses for his safe-conduct and support there, paid to William le Scroop, Earl of Wiltshire, by writ of privy seal, issued 3d May 1399, amounting to £1074:14 :5 (including the support of some Irish hostages), a considerable amount at that date.