Sticky ends

Here’s a list of my ancestors who met untimely ends in various ways - either executed, murdered, or killed in battle. Note that this style of demise peaked in the 14th and 15th centuries (thankfully). These are the ones I know about - I’m sure there are others, less famous, whose end was not natural! They are ordered by date of death.

William De Warenne (1055-1088) 1st Earl of Surrey and companion of William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings, William became one of Norman Britain’s wealthiest landowners. He built castles in Sussex (Lewes), Surrey (Reigate), Norfolk (Castle Acre) and Yorkshire (Conisbrough). He was killed during hostilities between William the Conqueror’s two sons, William “Rufus” and Robert “Curthose” - de Warenne was sympathetic to Rufus’ claims to the throne.

William II “Rufus” (1056-1100) Allegedly shot by Walter Tirel (Tyrell, Thurold) whilst out hunting in the New Forest. Whether this was an accident or something more sinister, has long been debated. Some sources claim that Walter was not even in the Forest at that time and so could not have shot his King, even accidentally. But William was a deeply unpopular character, so assassination is not out of the question.

Richard Fitzgilbert De Clare (1094-1136) was ambushed and killed by Welsh rebels protesting against Norman rule, near Abergavenny.

Richard De Camville (d 1191) was one of Richard The Lionheart’s senior commanders during the Third Crusade, and was killed during the Siege of Acre. Although the recapture of Acre was a significant victory for the Crusaders, it was marred by the somewhat gratuitous slaughter (by beheading) of about 2500 Saracen prisoners by Richard, matched in retaliation by the execution of all the Christian captives that Saladin had taken.

Erard De Brienne (1130-1191) was also killed at the Siege of Acre on 8 February 1191.

William De Braose (1204-1230) The De Braose family were powerful Marcher Lords who were often not popular with the Welsh Princes. William (known to the Welsh as “Black William”), having been captured by Llywelyn the Great, was ransomed for £2,000 (an enormous sum in those days), and had appeared to forge an alliance with his captor by agreeing to marry his daughter Isabella to Llywelyn’s son Dafydd. But it all came unstuck when William was found where he really shouldn’t have been - in bed with Llywelyn’s wife, Joan, daughter of King John. William was hanged for his folly.

Hugh Le Despenser (1223-1265) Killed at Battle of Evesham by Roger Mortimer (who incidentally was his 7th cousin twice removed) whilst fighting for Simon De Montfort. He had been (briefly) Justiciar of England and Constable of the Tower of London.

Sir Ralph Basset (1215-1265) was another who chose the wrong side in the struggle between Henry III (prosecuted militarily by his son Prince Edward, later Edward I) and Simon De Montfort, and was killed at Evesham.

Robert De Tregoz (1206-1265) was another killed at the Battle of Evesham. He had also sided, unwisely, with Simon De Montfort.

William De Warenne (1256-1286) Possibly ambushed and murdered by enemies at a tournament in Croydon (site of present day Duppas Hill Recreation Ground). Or he may have been killed during the tournament itself, although contests were arranged so that no harm befell combatants. Either way, someone had been out to get him, and they did!

Payne De Tibetot (1279-1314) was a casualty at the Battle of Bannockburn, where Scottish forces led by Robert the Bruce prevailed over Edward II’s army. Payne and Robert were 6th cousins, as were Robert and Edward.

John De Mowbray (1286-1321) was another of supporter of Thomas of Lancaster in his dispute with Edward II over control of the Welsh Marches and the undue influence of the Despenser family. He was captured at the Battle of Boroughbridge and hung in York. The normal quartering was spared him.

Bartholomew De Badlesmere (1275-1322) Bartholomew too fell foul of Edward II. He had been instrumental in bringing a peace (of sorts) between Edward and the rebellious Thomas of Lancaster, but switched sides because of the King’s behaviour in respect of the dubious Piers Gaveston. When Bartholomew’s wife, Margaret, refused entry to Leeds Castle to the Queen (Isabella), the King was enraged and captured the Castle. Bartholomew was later captured at the Battle of Boroughbridge, and was hanged at Blean, near Canterbury.

Edmund of Woodstock (1301-1330) was a half-brother of Edward II, and the first Earl of Kent. For his support of Edward he was accused of treason by followers of the rebellious Marcher Lords and Queen Isabella, who by then had fallen in with Roger Mortimer. Edmund was executed outside Winchester Castle - public hostility to the act was so great that only a convicted murderer was prepared to do the deed in exchange for a pardon.

Edmund Fitzalan De Arundel (1285-1326) Although disposed against Edward II because of the King’s favouritism of Piers Gaveston, Edmund remained loyal and thereby made an enemy of the Queen, Isabella and her accomplice Roger Mortimer (see below). Edmund was captured by Mortimer’s forces in Shropshire and executed at Hereford without trial.

Edward II (1284-1327) The death of Edward II has been the subject of much speculation, neatly summarized here. Whether he died from natural causes or, as is most popularly assumed, was murdered by supporters of Roger Mortimer, we may never know. However, given the rather common practice during this time of doing away with anyone who opposed your particular view, murder does seem most likely. And the manner of it, according to legend, was most unpleasant - a red-hot poker inserted into the anus. Ouch.

Roger Mortimer (1287-1330) was one of many nobles opposed to what they saw as inappropriate influence of Piers Gaveston and the Despensers in Edward II’s court. For refusing to attend a summons to the King Roger was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. He escaped by drugging the Constable and fled to France, where he was joined by the Queen, Isabella, who also had had enough of Edward’s behaviour. Together they mounted an invasion of England, and captured Edward in Wales (he too met an unfortunate end). Edward’s son, Edward III was crowned but Roger effectively ruled the country for 3 years. When Edward became old enough to exert power, he had Roger and Isabella arrested. Roger was summarily hanged at Tyburn for treason - his arranged murder of Edmund Fitzalan (half brother of Edward II) may have been the final straw. See here for Roger and Isabella’s story.

Thomas of Woodstock (1355-1397) was the youngest of Edward III’s 13 children and held a number of titles. He became the leader of a group of nobles (the Lords Appellant) opposed to Richard II, which led to a successful rebellion in 1388. But in 1397 Richard overcame the Lords Appellant and Thomas was imprisoned at Calais. Before he could be tried (presumably for treason), he was murdered by Nicholas Colfox. There is little dispute that Richard was behind this, and it led to his growing unpopularity in England.

Sir Richard Fitzalan (1346-1397) was a successful naval commander, but made the mistake of plotting against Richard II (with the Duke of Gloucester) and was tried for treason and executed in London.

Thomas De Holland (1374-1400) was executed at Cirencester for his part in the Epiphany Uprising (a failed attempt to restore Richard II to the throne in place of Henry IV).

Richard of Conisbrough (1375-1415) was one of the plotters against Henry V in the so-called Southampton Plot. Richard was the Earl of Cambridge and, with Henry Scrope and Sir Thomas Grey, potted to replace Henry with Edmund Mortimer (my 15G uncle). Curiously, Richard informed Henry of the plot himself, claiming he had only just become aware of it and was not involved. Henry was not taken in by this, and all three were executed on Southampton Green (Bargate). Henry then left for France, and glory at Agincourt. The episode forms an important part of Shakespeare’s Henry V.

Richard Plantagenet (1411-1460) Duke of York. A man who could have been King but either resisted the temptation or failed to seize his chance during the imbecilic reign of Henry VI, despite substantial support from the population. When Henry became totally incapable of governing, Richard was appointed Lord Protector, much to the annoyance of the Queen, Margaret of Anjou, who removed him from office when Henry’s son Edward was born. Discontent grew and Richard raised an army to challenge Margaret, eventually confronting the royal forces at Wakefield, where Richard was killed and the Yorkist cause defeated.

Sir Thomas De Ros (1427-1464) was a supporter of the House of Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses, but, like many in this list, he picked the wrong side. Edward IV had crushed the Lancastrian cause at the Battle of Towton in 1461, and after that the resistance by Lancaster was minor. Thomas was captured and beheaded at Newcastle on 17 May 1464.

Henry VI (1421-1471), the imbecilic King, died either at the hands of Richard of Gloucester or from grief over the death, at the Battle of Tewkesbury, of his son Edward. Murder seems more likely given the enmity between the houses of York and Lancaster, and the discovery of blood on the skull when exhumed in 1910.

Sir Thomas St Leger (1425-1483) Thomas had been a faithful servant of Edward IV, but Edward’s successor, Richard III did not hold him in such high regard and removed him from the offices he had enjoyed under Edward. Perhaps because of this, and perhaps also in frustration at the disappearance of Edward V (one of the Princes in the Tower), he joined with the Duke of Buckingham in rebellion against Richard. It was a fateful decision. Buckingham was captured and executed on 2 November 1483 - Thomas fought on, but was caught and executed on 13 November 1483 at Exeter Castle.

Edward V (1470-1484) and Richard Duke of York (1473-1484) The Princes in the Tower. Conspiracies abound to explain the disappearance (and almost certain murder) of these two. Richard III (then Duke of Gloucester) is heavily implicated, not least by Shakespeare, and there was even a confession (under torture mind) by Sir James Tyrell. The other main suspect is Henry VII who had an even shakier claim to the throne than Richard. Skeletons discovered under stairs in the Tower in 1674 were re-buried in Westminster Abbey in the belief that they were the lost Princes. Forensic examination of these remains in 1933 was inconclusive, but the coincidences are striking. In any event, it marked another sordid chapter in the struggle for power and government in England.

Lady Jane Grey (1536-1554) is a distant relative (4th cousin ten times removed), but her story is famous and poignant. She was executed for treason, with her husband Guilford Dudley, on 12 February 1554. A well-read and intelligent young woman, she was the victim of her parents’ greed and ambition. She was Queen for nine days, a role she did not seek but was forced into. She was 16 when she died.

Donald George Farr (1920-1944) was my uncle. The middle son of five, Don joined the Army at the start of WW2. He served in the 2/6th Battalion Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey). The following text is taken from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site.

On 3 September 1943 the Allies invaded the Italian mainland, the invasion coinciding with an armistice made with the Italians who then re-entered the war on the Allied side.  Following the fall of Rome to the Allies in June 1944, the German retreat became ordered and successive stands were made on a series of defensive lines. In the northern Apennine Mountains the last of these, the Gothic Line, was breached by the Allies during the Autumn campaign and the front inched forward as far as Ravenna in the Adriatic sector, but with divisions transferred to support the new offensive in France, and the Germans dug in to a number of key defensive positions, the advance stalled as winter set in.

Coriano Ridge was the last important ridge in the way of the Allied advance in the Adriatic sector in the autumn of 1944. Its capture was the key to Rimini and eventually to the River Po. German parachute and panzer troops, aided by bad weather, resisted all attacks on their positions between 4 and 12 September 1944. On the night of 12 September the Eighth Army reopened its attack on the Ridge, with the 1st British and 5th Canadian Armoured Divisions. This attack was successful in taking the Ridge, but marked the beginning of a week of the heaviest fighting experienced since Cassino in May, with daily losses for the Eighth Army of some 150 killed.

Donald died on the last day of fighting, and is buried in the Coriano Ridge Cemetery, 9 km south of Rimini.

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