Robin the Devil’s Courtesy

Robin the Devil's Courtesy

While the vales of the North keep the Philipsons' fame,
Calgarth and Holm-Isle will exult at their name!
Ever true to the rights of the King, and his throne,—
Now hearken how Robin was true to his own!

"Ride, brother! ride stoutly, ride in from Carlisle!
For the Roundheads from Kendal beleaguer Holm-Isle.
On land and on mere I have fifty at bay;
And I speed on mine arrow this message away!"—

The arrow struck truly the henchman's far door;
And swift from the arrow that message he tore.
Then, booted and spurr'd, over mountain and plain
He rides as for life, and he rides not in vain.

He has reached the fair City, has sought through the crowd
The bold form of his master, and thus spoke aloud—
"The Roundheads beleaguer my lord in his Isle,
And he bids thee for life to ride in from Carlisle."—

He rode with his men, and he came to the Mere,
When a shout for the Philipsons burst on his ear;
And his errand sped well; for the Whigs to a man,
At the sight of his horsemen, all mounted and ran.

"Now listen, my Brother!—I stay'd by the Isle,
Whilst thou for the King wert array'd at Carlisle;
I have stood by thy treasure; I've guarded thy store;
I have kept our good name; and now this I'll do more!

"Yon braggart, that thief-like came on in the dark,
And thought to catch Robin—but miss'd his good mark!
I'll repay him his visit; and, by the great King!
I'll be straight with the varlet, and make his casque ring."—

With a half-score of horsemen, next Sunday at morn,
While the sound of the bells o'er the meadows was borne,
To the Kent he rode easily—on to the town—
And along the dull street—with clenched hand and dark frown.

"Is there none of this Boaster's fanatical crew
In all Kendal to give me the welcome that's due?
Not a blade of old Noll's, or in street or in porch?
By the Rood, then I'll look for such grace in the church!"

He spurr'd his wild horse through the open church door;
He spurr'd to the chancel, and scann'd it well o'er;
Then turned by the Altar, and glanced at each one
Of the Roundheads that leapt from their knees, and look'd on.

But their Leader, the trooper, his foe at the Mere,
His eye could not 'light on—"He cannot be here!"
So he rushed at the portal; but not ere arose
From the panic-loosed swordsmen harsh words and hard blows.

He dashed at the doorway, unstooping; a stroke
From the arch rent his helmet, his saddle-girths broke;
Half-stunn'd from the ground he strove up to his steed,
And ungirth'd has he mounted, and off with good speed.

With his men at his back, that stood keeping true ward
By each gate, when he entered alone the churchyard,
Soon left he the rebel rout straggling behind;
And was off to his Mere like a hawk on the wind.

And there with his half-score of horsemen once more
He cross'd to his calm little Isle, from the shore;
And then said bold Robin—"I've miss'd him, tis true;
But I paid back his visit—so much was his due!

"Had I caught but a glance of the low canting knave,
The next psalm that they sung had been over his grave!"—
And they guess'd through all Westmorland whose was the hand
That would dare such a deed with so feeble a band.

Saying—"Robin the Devil, who man never fear'd,
Would have dared to take Satan himself by the beard;
Then why not a troublesome Whig at his prayers!
—He'll not try to catch Robin again unawares."

Notes to "Robin the Devil's Courtesy."

Holm Isle, Belle Isle, or Curwen's Island, as it is sometimes called from the name of its present proprietor, formerly belonged to the Philipsons of Calgarth, an ancient family in Westmorland. It is the largest island in Windermere, lying obliquely across the lake, just above its narrowest part called the Straits, and opposite to Bowness. It is of an oblong shape, distant on one side from the shore about half a mile, on the other considerably less, while at its northern and southern points there is a large sheet of water extending four or five miles. It is about one mile and three-quarters in circumference, and contains nearly thirty acres of land. Its shores are irregular, occasionally retiring into bays, or breaking into creeks. A circular structure surmounted by a dome-shaped roof was erected upon it in 1776, which is so planned as to command a prospect of the whole lake. The plantations, consisting of Weymouth pines, ash and other trees, are disposed so as to afford a complete shelter to the house, without intercepting the view. The grounds are tastefully laid out; and the island is surrounded by a gravel walk, which strangers are permitted to use. In the middle are a few clumps of trees; and a neat boat-house has been erected contiguous to the place of landing.

When the ground underneath the site of the house was excavated, traces of an ancient building were discovered at a considerable depth below the surface; among which were a great number of old bricks, and a chimney-piece in its perfect state. Several pieces of old armour, weapons, and cannon balls were also found embedded in the soil. In levelling the ground on the north part of the building, a beautiful pavement formed of a small kind of pebbles, and several curious gravel walks were cut through. These were probably someremains of "the strong house on the island," in which Huddleston Philipson is said to have left the family treasure under the care of his brother "Robin," while he was absent in the Royal cause at the siege of Carlisle.

During the civil wars these two members of the Philipson family served the king. Huddleston, the elder, who was the proprietor of this island, commanded a regiment. Robert held a commission as major in the same service. He was a man of great spirit and enterprise; and for his many feats of personal valour, had obtained among the Oliverians of those parts the appellation of Robin the Devil.

After the war had subsided, and the more direful effects of public opposition had ceased, revenge and private malice long kept alive the animosities of individuals. Colonel Briggs, a distant kinsman of the Philipsons, of whom, notwithstanding, he was a bitter enemy, and a steady friend to the usurpation, resided at this time at Kendal; and under the double character of a leading magistrate and an active commander, held the county in awe. This person having heard that Major Philipson was at his brother's house, on the island in Windermere, resolved, if possible, to seize and punish a man who had made himself so particularly obnoxious. With this view he mustered a party which he thought sufficient, and went himself on the enterprise. How it was conducted the narrator does not inform us—whether he got together the navigation of the lake, and blockaded the place by sea, or whether he landed, and carried on his approach in form. It is probable, as he was reduced to severe privation, that Briggs had seized all the boats upon the lake, and stopped the supplies. Neither do we learn the strength of the garrison within, nor of the works without, though every gentleman's house was at that time in some degree a fortress. All we learn is, that Major Philipson endured a siege of eight or ten days with great gallantry; till his brother the Colonel, hearing of his distress, raised a party, and relieved him; or, as another account says, till his brother returned from Carlisle, after the siege of that city was raised.

It was now the Major's turn to make reprisals. He put himself therefore at the head of a little troop of horse, and rode to Kendal. Here being informed that Colonel Briggs was at prayers (for it was on a Sunday morning), he stationed his men properly in the avenues, and himself, armed, rode directly into the church. It is said he intended to seize the Colonel and carry him off; but as this seems to have been totally impracticable, it is rather probable that his intention was to kill him on the spot; and in the midst of the confusion, to escape. Whatever his intention was, it was frustrated, for Briggs happened to be elsewhere.

The congregation, as might be expected, was thrown into great confusion on seeing an armed man, on horseback, make his appearance amongst them; and the Major, taking advantage of their astonishment, turned his horse round, and walked quietly out. But having given an alarm, he was presently assaulted as he left the assembly; and, being seized, his girths were cut, and he was unhorsed.

Another account says, that having dashed forward down the principal aisle of the church, and having discovered that his principal object could not be effected, he was making his escape by another aisle, when his head came violently in contact with the arch of the doorway, which was much lower than that through which he had entered; that his helmet was struck off by the blow, his saddle girth gave way, and he himself, much stunned, was thrown to the ground.

At this instant his party made a furious attack on the assailants, who taking advantage of his mishap, attempted to detain him; and the Major killed with his own hand the man who had seized him, clapped the saddle, ungirthed as it was, upon the horse, and vaulting into it, rode full speed through the streets of Kendal, calling his men to follow him, and with his whole party made a safe retreat to his asylum on the lake, which he reached about two o'clock.

The action marked the man. Many knew him; and they who did not, knew as well from the exploit, that it could be nobody but Robin the Devil.

In the Bellingham Chapel, in Kendal Church, is suspended high over an ancient altar tomb, a battered helmet, through whose crust of whitewash the rust of ages is plainly to be discerned. Whether this antique casque belonged to Sir Roger Bellingham, who was interred A. D. 1557 in the tomb beneath, and was exalted as a token of the distinction he had received, when made a knight banneret by the hand of his sovereign on the field of battle, or was won by the puissant burgesses of Kendal from one of the Philipsons, and elevated to its present position as a trophy of their valour, it is, strangely enough, called the "Rebel's Cap," and forms the theme of the bold and sacreligious action recorded of Robert Philipson.

As for "Robin" (who has also, though unjustly, been calumniated and accused of having murdered the persons to whom the skulls at Calgarth belonged, and who figures, it is said, in many other desperate adventures), after the final defeat at Worcester had, by depressing for a time the hopes of the royalists, in some degree restored a sort of subdued quiet to the kingdom, finding a pacific life irksome to his restless spirit, he passed over into the sister country, and there fell in some nameless rencontre in the Irish wars, sealing by a warrior's fate a course of long tried and devoted attachment to his king; in his death, as in his life, affording a memorable illustration of the fine sentiment embodied in these proud lines—

"Master! lead on and I will follow thee
To the last gasp, with truth and loyalty."

During the Protectorate of Cromwell, Briggs ruled in the ascendancy; but on the accession of Charles the Second, he was obliged for a long period to hide in the wilds of Furness.

Two hundred years have rolled away, since the generation that saw those events has vanished from the earth, and every tangible memorial of the island hero has been thought to have perished with him. Nevertheless, time has spared one fragile, though little noticed relic; for in the library of that most interesting of our northern English fanes, the Parish Church of Cartmel, whose age-stricken walls, so rich in examples of each style of Gothic architecture, rise but a few miles from the foot of the lake, in the centre of a vale of much beauty of a monastic character, there is retained upon the shelves a small volume in Latin, entitled "Vincentii Lirinensis hæres, Oxoniæ, 1631," on one of the blank leaves of which is this inscription in MS., the signature to which has been partly torn off:—

"For Mr Rob. Philipson.
Inveniam, spero, quamvis Peregrinus, amicos:
Mite peto tecum cominus hospitium. R——"

It is pleasing to dwell on this enduring testimony of regard for a man, whose portrait, as limned on the historic canvas, has hitherto been looked upon as that only of a bold unnurtured ruffler in an age of strife. Seen under the effect of this touch by the hand of friendship, a gentler grace illumes the air of one, whose unwavering principles and firm temper well fitted him to encounter the troubles of a stormy epoch, while, as long as the island itself shall endure, his heroic shadow rising over its groves, will cast the enthralling interest of a romantic episode upon a scene so captivating by its natural loveliness.

That the individual so addressed, was our Robin of Satanic notoriety, there cannot reasonably be a doubt, as the pedigree of the Crook Hall Philipsons does not recognise any other member of the family of that name, living between the time of the publication of the book, and the death of their last male heir. Neither is the genealogical tree of the Calgarth branch enriched with the name between that and 1652, when Christopher Philipson (of the house of Calgarth) who, amid the bitter struggle of parties, seems to have been devoted to the cultivation of letters, and who is supposed to have presented the book, along with others, to the library at Cartmel, died. Therefore to the successful soldier, whose actions gave to himself and his cause so chivalrous a colouring, alone, must the inscription be applied, the evidence it affords furnishing another illustration of the saying that "the Devil is not always as black as he is painted." But whether it be questionable that it was directed to the royalist Robin, or not, the probability is sufficiently great to justify what has been said on the subject.

Recent research through public archives has ascertained that the family of the Philipsons was established in Westmorland at least as far back as the reign of Edward III., for in an inquisition relative to the possessions of the chantry on Saint Mary's Holme, taken in 1355, the name of John Philipson is recorded as tenant to certain lands belonging to that religious foundation.

This family owned not only Calgarth Hall and extensive domains which reached along the shores of Windermere, from Low Wood to Rayrigg, consisting of beautiful woods and rich pastures, but also Crook and Holling Halls, with much of the surrounding country, as well as the large island in the centre of the lake, opposite to Bowness, in documents of the 13th century especially designated "Le Holme," but the earliest name of which was Wynandermere Isle, afterwards changed to the "Long Holme," which latter word signifies, in the old vernacular, "an island or plain by the water side," and in which they had a mansion of the old fashioned Westmorland kind, strongly fortified, called the Holme House.

Their alliances having connected them with many of the chief families of the county, they fixed their principal dwelling places at Holling, and at Crook or Thwatterden Halls; which latter abode in the time of Queen Elizabeth again became the seat of a younger branch of the house at Calgarth.

With Sir Christopher Philipson, the last heir male of the family of Crook Hall, who, according to Mr. West, lived in the Holme in 1705, and who died in that year, the race was extinguished. Their mouldered dust lies beneath the pavement in Windermere Church, and their homes, for the most part but grey and naked ruins, know them no more.