Medieval Tales of Revenge and The Elland Feud


However distant it may be in the past, the lives and times of our ancestors become more fascinating once a relationship is established. For some time, I’ve known about the Elland Feud, but have only recently traced my own family to some of the main characters involved, so of course it piqued my interest even more. I decided to make a stab at researching and re-telling the events myself, giving a bit of context to the events where possible.


Pontefract Castle

After the Norman Conquest, King William 1st had divided up the country and handed out large parcels of land to his cronies, usurping the defeated Anglo-Saxon overlords. The Norman Baron-Warlords became immensely rich and powerful, building castles and reaping their profits at the expense of the peasants

The early 14th century was a time of famine, sickness, revolution, powerful and ambitious barons and a weak unpopular King. It isn’t difficult to image the enmity that could arise between individual barons, as they each attempted to gain power and control the King. These power struggles enveloped the country during and after the reign of Plantagenet King Edward II (1284-1327), into the early reign of his young son Edward III.

The Early Quarrels – Wakefield and Pontefract

Wakefield and Pontefract are about 10 miles apart “as the crow flies”. The Lords of Wakefield and Pontefract, both descended from the Plantagenet family, had their own power struggles and inevitably quarrelled, their enmity eventually involving their West Riding kin and men who owed them fealty.

On one side of the feud was Thomas Plantagenet, Earl of Lancaster, of the Honour and Castle of Pontefract. On the other side was the equally powerful Plantagenet-Warenne family of the Manor of Wakefield, and of Sandal and Conisborough Castles in Yorkshire. Their original feud subsequently spread among their followers and was to last more than 30 years, taking many lives.

Some of the protagonists of the original and subsequent feuds:

The Pontefract/Earl of Lancaster Side

Arms of Thomas Plantagenet Earl of Lancaster – By Rs-nourse, CC BY-SA 4.0,
  • Thomas (Plantagenet) 2nd Earl of Lancaster, Earl of Salisbury, Leicester, Derby and Lincoln (1278-1322), of the Honour and Castle of Pontefract. With five earldoms, he was one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in England, a grandson of Plantagenet King Henry III and cousin to King Edward II.  
    Lancaster is my 19th Great Grand Uncle. Thomas’s wife, Alice De Lacy (1282-1348), is my 1st cousin 23 generations removed through her father, the Earl of Lincoln and the Barons of Pontefract.
  • Sir Robert Beaumont (1290-1341), former Coroner for the County of York, descended from the powerful Beaumont family and the first Earls of Leicester. He lived at Crosland Lower Hall, south of Huddersfield, and owed his allegiance to the Earl of Lancaster. His father had supported Lancaster’s rebellion against the King, but had been pardoned. He is my 19th Great Grandfather ***, through the De Merfield family line.
  • Hugh de Quarmby, ally and possibly the brother in law of Robert Beaumont (He is my 19th GGF).
  • John de Lockwood  of Lockwood Hall, near Huddersfield, neighbour of Sir Robert De Beaumont.
  • A man named Richard Ecklesleye (Exley), said to be a kinsman of Robert Beaumont.
  • The De Lacy family of Cromwellbottom, near Elland, into which family Lancaster was married. I’m descended from the same De Lacy family via my De Thornhill ancestors.

The Wakefield/Earl of Surrey Side

Arms of John De Warenne Earl of Surrey
  • John de Warenne (1286-1347), 7th Earl of Surrey, Earl of Warenne, of Sussex and of Strathearn (of Plantagenet descendant from the Empress Maud and Geoffrey Plantagenet) held Sandal Castle near Wakefield and Conisborough Castle in South Yorkshire, in addition to Castle Acre in Norfolk and Lewes in Sussex. He had been appointed a Royal Ward of the King in his minority as both his grandfather and father died when he was a young child.
    He is my 1st cousin 20 generations removed.
  • Warenne’s wife Jeanne (Joan) de Bar-de-Duc, was a grand-daughter of King Edward I. Husband and wife were related, as both were descendants of Isabella of Angouleme…this was not uncommon as the noble families were frequently intermarried but it led to him seeking a divorce on the grounds of consanguinity when she didn’t bear him a child.
    Jeanne (Joan) is my 1st cousin 20 generations removed.
  • Sir John de Eland (1268-10th April 1351) was de Warrene’s Steward for the Manor of Wakefield and High Sherriff of Yorkshire  His descent is from a local Anglo-Saxon Theign.
    He is my 19th Great Grandfather via my Savile line.
  • His son, John de Eland (1310-April 1351) (so my 18th Great Grand Uncle).
***We all have more than 2 million 19th Great Grandfathers, so when you look at how many people were in the West Riding in the 1300s, these men are likely to be your relations too, if you have Yorkshire ancestry! These families were extensively inter-married and mathematics proves that we are all descended from Royalty.

Events Leading to the Elland Feud

Thomas Plantagenet, the Earl of Lancaster and John De Warenne, the Earl of Surrey, had already quarrelled about how to deal with Piers Gaveston, the King’s favourite. De Warenne wanted him spared (presumably to curry favour with the King) and Lancaster demanded his execution. (Gaveston was executed on 19th June 1312).

Then, in 1316, Lancaster persuaded the Bishop of Chichester to prosecute John de Warenne for adultery, which resulted in Warenne’s excommunication. This punishment barred the excommunicated person from the sacraments of the church and Christian burial and was intended to bring him to repentance. It was a feared punishment in the 14th Century, as it condemned the sinner to the devil and eternal damnation.

A 14th Century Woman

Lancaster also helped to block De Warenne’s subsequent divorce applications. Although Warenne had a number of illegitimate children with mistresses, Joan of Bar hadn’t born him a child. He desperately wanted a divorce so that he could pass on his wealth to an heir.

Lancaster was treading on thin ice there, as he is known to have had many mistresses himself, so his motive is not clear, unless it was to deliberately and spitefully prevent De Warenne from re-marrying to a wife who could bear him an heir. In fact, De Warenne and his wife never had children and he remained married to Joan for more than forty years. His lands and titles would go to a nephew after his death.

Thomas Plantagenet (AKA “Lancaster”) was married to Alice De Lacy, the heiress of the Honour and Castle of Pontefract. She was the daughter of the Earl of Lincoln and had been betrothed to Thomas when she was about twelve years old. Their marriage was also not a happy one and was also without children. Just like Warenne, Lancaster fathered illegitimate sons elsewhere, while his wife Alice spent much of her time away from him at Pickering Castle in North Yorkshire.

Now the quarrel escalated.

In 1317 Warenne had Alice De Lacy kidnapped in order to humiliate Lancaster. Warenne was a womaniser and it seems that the lady was compliant – after all she didn’t get on with her husband. But, despite her compliance in the abduction, the liaison between Alice De Lacy and John De Warenne came to nothing, except to confirm her husband as Warenne’s sworn enemy. Lancaster was to divorce Alice the next year and she married Eubolo Lestrange, with whom she had a daughter.

In retaliation for his wife’s abduction, Lancaster raised the stakes again and, with his private army, he seized two of Warenne’s castles, at Sandal and Conisborough, in Yorkshire…in a “your two castles for my wife” move! On 3rd November 1318, King Edward II had to issue a writ ordering Lancaster to stop attacking John de Warenne’s Yorkshire lands and the Chronicles of St Werburgh’s, Chester, recorded the devastation of the Warenne lands in the north.

By 1321, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster (who was the King’s cousin) was leading the Barons’ growing opposition to King Edward II. Lancaster’s army was defeated at the Battle of Boroughbridge, near York, in March 1322 and warrants for his arrest were issued.

John De Warenne was one of the nobles who condemned him to death and perhaps Warenne’s impartiality could be questioned, as Lancaster was not allowed to speak in his own defence, nor was he allowed to have anyone to speak for him. Although, in his defence, Warenne had lost two whole castles to his rival and hadn’t got them back. Lancaster was found guilty of treason and beheaded near Pontefract Castle. Without legitimate heirs, the Earldom of Lancaster went first to Thomas Plantagenet’s younger brother Henry and eventually to John of Gaunt, King Edward IIIs fourth son and father of King Henry IV.

In 1326, Warenne’s castles at Sandal and Conisborough were at last returned to him.

Elland Feud

Whether or not the events above had anything directly to do with the Elland Feud, over the next generation the enmity between the two factions spread, within West Yorkshire, to a number of prominent landowners, who owed allegiance to one side or the other.

By 1327, King Edward II had died in mysterious circumstances, believed murdered, at Berkeley Castle. His son, King Edward III had ended his mother’s joint rule of England with her lover, Roger Mortimer, by defeating them in battle and taking charge of his Kingdom at the age of 17. During this time, there was a great deal of unrest in England and old enmities were slow to be put aside.

What became known as the “Elland Feud” arose between families who were on either side of this great divide that the Warenne and Lancaster families had created (and as it happens, on either side of the present M62 road through Kirklees), the Warenne supporters north of this line and the Lancaster supporters south (see map).

By 1341, when the events of the Elland Feud unfolded, the Earldom of Lancaster had passed to the executed Earl’s nephew and the Lancastrian faction was still at Pontefract Castle.

John De Warenne, Earl of Surrey, was still living and would be about 56 years old. He was now godfather to King Edward III’s son, Edmund, the Yorkist Prince of Wales and 1st Duke of York.

Sir John De Eland was now one of John De Warenne’s chief allies in Yorkshire. De Eland was Sheriff of Yorkshire and was also Warenne’s Steward for the great Manor of Wakefield, which covered a vast area of 150 square miles. His neighbour, Sir Robert Beaumont of Crosland, about 8 miles away on the south side of Huddersfield, still bore allegiance to the Earls of Lancaster. A private war eventually erupted between Beaumont and De Eland, during which Beaumont’s supporter, Richard Ecklesleye (Exley), killed the nephew of John De Eland’s wife.

Richard Ecklesleye came from Exley near Elland. He had begged and had received a Royal Pardon for the killing, in consideration of service he had done fighting in the King’s campaign in Scotland. He had made compensation to the De Eland family by way of the transfer of a piece of land. The matter should have ended there, the “blood money” having discharged the debt. But it didn’t.

The Sheriff of Yorkshire, Sir John De Eland, was still looking for revenge. Richard Ecklesleye had taken refuge with the Beaumonts at Crosland Lower Hall, a fortified manor house situated at Lower Crosland near Huddersfield. Sir Robert Beaumont refused to give him up to the Sheriff.

Markenfield Hall - - 3233225
An example of a 12th Century Yorkshire Moated Manor House, which may have some similarity to Crosland Lower Hall, especially in the dimensions of its moat, its style and building materials.
[Markenfield Hall by John Sparshatt
CC BY-SA 2.0, ]

In a poem of 27 verses written afterwards, possibly in the 1500s, it was told that, one night in May 1341, Sir John De Eland and his entourage set off to the home of Sir Robert Beaumont at Crosland Lower Hall. They stopped off at Quarmby Hall and killed Sir Hugh de Quarmby, a relative of Beaumont’s by marriage, perhaps his brother-in-law (Robert Beaumont’s second wife was Agnes De Quarmby).

They then murdered another Beaumont ally, John De Lockwood, at Lockwood Hall. Where the Lockwoods are placed in the feud is unclear, but usually we will find a connection by marriage. According to the Wakefield Court Rolls, John De Lockwood had evicted a free tenant unlawfully and when the greave and bailiff came to take possession of the property on behalf of the Sheriff, he attempted to kill them, but whether or not this is why he became embroiled in the killings is unclear.

Sir John De Eland and his henchmen next rode to Crosland Lower Hall, where they found the drawbridge up. Crosland Lower Hall was a 12th Century Moated Hall. The moat was stone lined and about 9 metres wide and a large part of the construction of the moat is still visible today. The moat and drawbridge would prevent John de Eland from entering by night but, early in the morning, a servant opened the drawbridge, letting Eland and his armed men into the Hall. The poem tells us that Sir Robert Beaumont was dragged from his bed, and beheaded with a sword, in front of his wife. Another account states that Robert Beaumont’s brother William was also killed, as was Ecklesleye, the fugitive. No primary sources have been found to account for this.

Beaumont’s young sons were then invited to have breakfast with De Eland. Adam, aged about 22, who would probably have been the oldest of the sons still at home, bravely refused. It was said that Sir John vowed that he would “weed out the offspring of Beaumont’s blood”, though if he did say that, he was in the best position to do it then and there, so perhaps it was an empty threat. Surely those five deaths were revenge enough for the death of his wife’s nephew? The sons of Sir Robert were not culpable, whatever their father’s actions had been.

The widow of Sir Robert Beaumont, with her sons and the sons of John De Lockwood and Hugh De Quarmby, fled to Lancashire where they were taken in and supported by a branch of the De Lacy family.

However, it didn’t end there. Like all feuds, the children of the murdered men plotted their revenge, though it seems that it was some years in the plotting.

John De Warenne died in 1347 at Conisbrough Castle, without having taken any action against Sir John De Eland for the murders and De Eland was still a powerful man in the West Riding.

Elland Feud – Part Two – The Revenge

Adam Beaumont, the oldest of the Beaumont boys by Agnes De Quarmby, joined with the sons of Lockwood, Quarmby and others in a conspiracy to kill Sir John De Eland.

The young men trained and planned until an opportunity arose. It is thought they attempted to kill Sir John a number of times during 1350 and during March of that year, William, son of William Quarmby and William son of Thomas Lockwood were actually being held in custody in York Castle. Somehow they either obtained their release or escaped.

Realising his life was in danger, Sir John De Eland made his will during September. Sir John was ambushed at Brookfoot, on his journey through Cromwell-bottom to the “Shire-Reeves Tourn” (Sheriff’s Court) in Brighouse. At Cromwell-bottom Wood, the group of young men attacked and Adam Beaumont seized the bridle of De Eland’s horse, causing it to rear up on its haunches. Eland dismounted and drew his sword but was cut down and killed by the four younger men. Beaumont and his fellow conspirators fled back into the Furness Fells of Lancashire.

De Eland’s will had been written on Sept 8th 1350 and was proved on Nov 24th 1350, so he must have been killed between those dates.* The tourn date at Brighouse was on 26th October in 1350, so I suggest that was the date of the attack.

* Will: SIR JOHN DE ELAND, KNIGHT (Dodsworth MS. vol. 99).1350. Administration of the goods of Sir John de Eland Knight, granted to Dame Alice his wife on the feast of the Nativity of our Lady.

The catalyst for even further violence occurred when Sir John de Eland Junior petitioned the King to pursue his father’s killers. News of this must have reached the fugitives in Lancashire. Perhaps, feeling under increased threat, they decided that they must finish their vendetta, against the son, having already killed the father. On Palm Sunday 1351, April 10th, three men, sons of Quarmby, Beaumont and Lockwood, ambushed Sir John De Eland Junior and his young son, at Elland Mill on their way to church. The knight was killed by an arrow shot by Lockwood and his young son was severely wounded and died later. Quarmby was also killed, possibly in Ainley Wood as he tried to escape.

On July 6th 1351 Adam Beaumont, William de Lockwood, and many others were indicted of the crime. It was published in the Calendar of Patent Rolls, and required the surviving Lockwood, Beaumont and their accomplices to be arrested and brought to the Prison at York Castle:

Commission  to  William  de  Plumpton,  Brian  de  Thornhill,  William  de  Skarghill,  the  elder,  Nicholas  de  Wortelay,  Henry  de  Sothill,  John  de Calverlay,  Thomas  Flemmyng,  Robert  de  Staynton,  Adam  de  Hopton, John  Tours,  Aymer  Burdet,  William  de  Mirfeld,  John  de  Sheffeld, William  de  Lewenthorp,  William  de  Boston  and  Thomas  de  Fenton…

… reciting  that  Adam  Beaumund,  William  de  Lokwode  and  very  many other  felons  indicted  of  the  death  of  John  de  Eland,  one  of  the  king’s justices  appointed  to  hear  and  determine  trespasses  in  the  West  Riding, CO.  York,  gathering  to  themselves  a  very  great  number  of  felons  and  evil-doers have  killed John, son of  the  said  John,  because  he  was  suing  before the  king  to  punish  them  for  his  father’s  death,  and  many  others  of  the household  and  friendship  of  the  said  John  de  Eland,  and  have  committed various  assaults  on  the  king’s  justices  appointed  to  hear  and  determine such  homicides,  felonies,  trespasses  and  misdeeds,  and  killed  some  of their  men  and  servants,  and  now  strive  to  the  utmost  of  their  power  to hinder  those  who  indict  them,  the  justices,  the  sheriff  and  other  ministers of  the  king  from  executing  his  mandates  and  their  offices,  openly threatening  them,  and  so  to  hinder  if  they  can  the  king  from  ruling  and doing  justice  to  his  people ;  and  appointing  them  to  take  the  said  felons and  such  others  as  the  justices  shall  furnish  names  of  and  bring  them  to the  gaol  of  York.  Wherefore  the  king  commands them  on  pain  of  life  and limbs  and  all  that  they  can  forfeit  to  be  diligent  in  the  execution  of  the premises.

Calendar of Patent Rolls Edward III Vol 9: Page 156 – Membrane 21d 1351 July  6. 


William Lockwood is said to have sought refuge at Cannon Hall, where he was betrayed, captured and killed. Another account says he was killed at Emley Park near Huddersfield.

Adam Beaumont first took refuge at Crosland Lower Hall. Hunted as a criminal, he fled to Rhodes and joined the Knights Hospitallers, a Catholic military order charged with the care and defence of the Holy Land. He died fighting in Spain in 1367 (perhaps at the Battle of Nájera, which was fought on 3rd April 1367). Sir Robert Beaumont’s wives had borne him at least six more sons. The Beaumont family survived, their sons and daughters married into many of the local gentry and merchant families and there must be many thousands of their descendants around today, ordinary people like me.

John De Eland’s male line eventually died out completely and his family’s property passed to the Savile family when Isabel De Eland married Sir John Savile in 1353. In the end, what Sir John De Eland began had also destroyed his own family.

Sources (among many others)

  • “Tragedies of Elland, Quarmby, Lockwood etc” by J Horsfall Turner; Bingley: 1890
  • My Heritage Family History site for BMD data
  • The Wakefield Manor Court Rolls
  • Calendar of Patent Rolls for King Edward III
  • Huddersfield Exposed
  • Wikipedia (dates of Kings, biographies, ownership of castles etc, etc)
  • Wikimedia Commons CC and PD images
  • The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Vol XXVII