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Sir Lancelot Threlkeld

Sir Lancelot Threlkeld

The widows were sitting in Threlkeld Hall;
The corn stood green on Midsummer-day;
Their little grand-children were tossing the ball;
And the farmers leaned over the garden wall;
And the widows were spinning the eve away.

They busily talk'd of the days long gone,
While the corn stood green on Midsummer-day;
How old Sir Lancelot's armour had shone
On the panels of oak by the broad hearthstone,
Where the widows sat spinning that eve away.

For, Threlkeld Hall of his mansions three—
Where the corn stood green on Midsummer-day—
Was his noblest house; and a stately tree
Was the good old Knight, and of high degree;
And a braver rode never in battle array.

Now peaceful farmers think of their corn—
The corn so green on Midsummer-day—
Where once, at the blast of Sir Lancelot's horn,
His horsemen all mustered, his banner was borne;
And he went like a Chief in his pride to the fray.

And there the good Clifford, the Shepherd-Lord,
When the corn stood green on Midsummer-day,
Sat, humbly clad, at Sir Lancelot's board;
And tended the flocks, while rusted his sword
In the hall where the widows were spinning away;

Till the new King called him back to his own—
When the corn stood green on Midsummer-day—
To his honours and name of high renown;
When Sir Lancelot old and feeble had grown;
From his rude shepherd-life called Lord Clifford away.

And sad was that morrow in Threlkeld Hall—
And the corn was green on that Midsummer-day—
When the Clifford stood ready to part from all;
And his shepherd's staff was hung up on the wall,
In that room where the widows sat spinning away.

And Sir Lancelot mounted, and called his men—
While the corn stood green on Midsummer-day—
And he gazed on Lord Clifford again and again;
And Sir Lancelot rode with him over the plain;
And at length with strong effort his silence gave way.

"I am old," Sir Lancelot said; "and I know—
When the corn stands green on Midsummer-day—
There will wars arise, and I shall be low,
Who ever was ready to arm and go!"—
For he loved the war tramp and the martial array.

"If ever a Knight might revisit this earth—
While the corn stands green on Midsummer-day"—
Said the Clifford—"When troubles and wars have birth,
Thou never shalt fail from Threlkeld's hearth!"
From that hearth where the widows were spinning away.

And so, along Souther Fell-side they press'd—
While the corn stood green on Midsummer-day,—
And then they parted—to east and to west—
And Sir Lancelot came and was laid to his rest.
Said the widows there spinning the eve away.

And the Shepherd had power in unwritten lore:
The corn stands green on Midsummer-day:
And although the Knight's coffin his banner hangs o'er,
Sir Lancelot yet can tread this floor;
Said the widows there spinning the eve away.—

Thus gossip'd the widows in Threlkeld Hall,
While the corn stood green on Midsummer-day:
When the sound of a footstep was heard to fall,
And an arm'd shadow pass'd over the wall—
Of a Knight with his plume and in martial array.

With a growl the fierce dogs slunk behind the huge chair,
While the corn stood green on that Midsummer-day;
And the widows stopt spinning; and each was aware
Of a tread to the porch, and Sir Lancelot there—
And a stir as of horsemen all riding away.

They turned their dim eyes to the lattice to gaze—
While the corn stood green on Midsummer-day—
But before their old limbs they could feebly raise,
The horsemen and horses were far on the ways—
From the Hall, where the widows were spinning away.

And far along Souter Fell-side they strode,
While the corn stood green on that Midsummer-day.
And the brave old Knight on his charger rode,
As he wont to ride from his old abode,
With his sword by his side and in martial array.

Like a chief he galloped before and behind—
While the corn stood green on Midsummer-day—
To the marshalled ranks he waved, and signed;
And his banner streamed out on the evening wind,
As they rode along Souter Fell-side away.

And to many an eye was revealed the sight,
While the corn stood green that Midsummer-day;
As Sir Lancelot Threlkeld the ancient Knight
With all his horsemen went over the height:
O'er the steep mountain summit went riding away.

And then as the twilight closed over the dell—
Where the corn stood green that Midsummer-day—
Came the farmers and peasants all flocking to tell
How Sir Lancelot's troop had gone over the fell!
And the widows sat listening, and spinning away.

And the widows looked mournfully round the old hall;
And the corn stood green on Midsummer-day;
"He is come at the good Lord Clifford's call!
He is up for the King, with his warriors all!"—
Said the widows there spinning the eve away.

"There is evil to happen, and war is at hand—
Where the corn stands green this Midsummer-day—
Or rebels are plotting to waste the land;
Or he never would come with his armed band"—
Said the widows there spinning the eve away.

"Our old men sleep in the grave. They cease:
While the corn stands green on Midsummer-day—
They rest, though troubles on earth increase;
And soon may Sir Lancelot's soul have peace!"
Sighed the widows while spinning the eve away.

"But this was the Promise the Shepherd-Lord—
When the corn stood green that Midsummer-day—
Gave, parting from Threlkeld's hearth and board,
To the brave old Knight—and he keeps his word!"
Said the widows all putting their spinning away.

Notes to "Sir Lancelot Threlkeld."

The little village of Threlkeld is situated at the foot of Blencathra about four miles from Keswick, on the highroad from that town to Penrith. The old hall has long been in a state of dilapidation, the only habitable part having been for years converted into a farm house. Some faint traces of the moat are said to be yet discernible. This was one of the residences of Sir Lancelot Threlkeld, a powerful knight in the reign of Henry the Seventh, step-father to the Shepherd Lord. His son, the last Sir Lancelot, was wont to say that he had "three noble houses—one for pleasure, Crosby in Westmorland, where he had a park full of deer; one for profit and warmth, wherein to reside during winter, namely, Yanwath, near Penrith; and the third, Threlkeld, on the edge of the vale of Keswick, well stocked with tenants to go with him to the wars." Sir Lancelot is said to have been a man of a kind and generous disposition, who had either taken the side of the White Rose in the great national quarrel, or at least had not compromised himself to a ruinous extent on the other side; and has long had the reputation of having afforded a retreat to the Shepherd Lord Clifford, on the utter ruin of his house, after the crushing of the Red Rose at Towton, when the Baron (his late father) was attained in parliament, and all his lands were seized by the crown.

The Cliffords, Lords of Westmorland, afterwards Earls of Cumberland, were a family of great power and princely possessions, who for many generations occupied a position in the North West of England, similar to that held by the Percies, Earls of Northumberland, in the north-east.

Their blood was perhaps the most illustrious in the land. Descended from Rollo first Duke of Normandy, by alliances in marriage it intermingled with that of William the Lion, King of Scotland, and with that of several of the Sovereigns of England.

Their territorial possessions corresponded with their illustrious birth. These comprised their most ancient stronghold, Clifford Castle, on the Wye, in Herefordshire; the lordship of the barony of Westmorland, including the seigniories and Castles of Brougham and Appleby; Skipton Castle in the West Riding of Yorkshire, with its numerous townships, and important forest and manorial rights, their most princely, and apparently favourite residence; and the Hall and estates of Lonsborrow in the same County.

The Cliffords are said to be sprung from an uncle of William the Conqueror. The father of William had a younger brother, whose third son, Richard Fitz-Pontz, married the daughter and heiress of Ralph de Toni, of Clifford Castle, in Herefordshire. Their second son, Walter, succeeding to his mother's estates, assumed the name of Clifford, and was the father of the Fair Rosamond, the famous mistress of King Henry the Second. He died in 1176. His great-grandson, Roger de Clifford acquired the inheritance of the Veteriponts or Viponts, Lords of Brougham Castle in Westmorland, by his marriage with one of the co-heiresses of Robert de Vipont, the last of that race. It was their son Robert who was first summoned to sit in parliament, by a writ dated the 29th of December, 1299, as the Lord Clifford.

The Cliffords were a warlike race, and engaged in all the contests of the time. For many generations the chiefs of their house figure as distinguished soldiers and captains; and most of them died on the field of battle.

Roger, the father of the first lord, was renowned in the wars of Henry III. and of Edward I., and was killed in a skirmish with the Welsh in the Isle of Anglesey, on St. Leonard's day, 1283.

His son Robert, the first Lord Clifford, a favourite and companion in arms of Edward I., was one of the guardians of Edward II. when a minor, and Lord High Admiral in that monarch's reign. He fell at the battle of Bannockburn, in 1314.

Roger, his son, the second lord, was engaged in the Earl of Lancaster's insurrection, and had done much to deserve political martyrdom in that rebellious age: but a feeling of humanity, such as is seldom read of in civil wars, and especially in those times, saved him from execution, when he was taken prisoner with Lancaster and the rest of his associates. He had received so many wounds in the battle (of Borough bridge), that he could not be brought before the judge for the summary trial, which would have sent him to the hurdle and the gallows. Being looked upon, therefore, as a dying man, he was respited from the course of law: time enough elapsed, while he continued in this state, for the heat of resentment to abate, and Edward of Carnarvon, who, though a weak and most misguided prince, was not a cruel one, spared his life; an act of mercy which was the more graceful, because Clifford had insulted the royal authority in a manner less likely to be forgiven than his braving it in arms. A pursuivant had served a writ upon him in the Barons' Chamber, and he made the man eat the wax wherewith the writ was signed, "in contempt, as it were, of the said King."

He was the first Lord Clifford that was attainted of treason. His lands and honours were restored in the first year of Edward III., but he survived the restoration only a few weeks, dying in the flower of his age, unmarried; but leaving "some base children behind him, whom he had by a mean woman who was called Julian of the Bower, for whom he built a little house hard by Whinfell, and called it Julian's Bower, the lower foundation of which standeth, and is yet to be seen," said the compiler of the family records, an hundred and fifty years ago, "though all the walls be down long since. And it is thought that the love which this Roger bore to this Julian kept him from marrying any other woman."

Roger de Clifford was succeeded in his titles and estates by his brother Robert, the third baron, who married Isabella de Berkeley, sister to Thomas, Lord Berkeley, of Berkeley Castle; in which Castle, two years after it had rung with "shrieks of death," when the tragedy of Edward II. was brought to its dreadful catastrophe there, the marriage was performed.

This Robert lived a country life, and "nothing is mentioned of him in the wars," except that he once accompanied an army into Scotland. It is, however, related of him, that when Edward Baliol was driven from Scotland, the exiled king was "right honourably received by him in Westmorland, and entertained in his Castles of Brougham, Appleby, and Pendragon;" in acknowledgement for which hospitality Baliol, if he might at any time recover the kingdom of Scotland out of his adversaries' hands, made him a grant of Douglas Dale, which had been granted to his grandfather who fell in Wales. The Hart's Horn Tree in Whinfell Park, well known in tradition, and in hunters' tales, owes its celebrity to this visit. He died in 1340.

Robert, his son, fourth lord, fought by the side of Edward the Black Prince at the memorable battles of Cressy and Poictiers.

Roger, his brother, the fifth lord, styled "one of the wisest and gallantest of the Cliffords," also served in the wars in France and Scotland, in the reign of Edward III.

Thomas, his son, sixth lord Clifford, one of the most chivalrous knights of his time, overcame, in a memorable passage of arms, the famous French knight, "le Sire de Burjisande," and, at the age of thirty, was killed in the battle at Spruce in Germany.

John, his son, the seventh lord, a Knight of the Garter, carried with him to the French wars three knights, forty-seven esquires, and one hundred and fifty archers. He fought under the banner of Henry V. at the battle of Agincourt, attended him at the sieges Harfleur and Cherbourg, and was eventually slain, at the age of thirty-three, at the siege of Meaux in France.

Thomas, his son, eighth lord Clifford, described as "a chief commander in France," was grandson on his mother's side to the celebrated Hotspur, Harry Percy, and gained renown by the daring and ingenious stratagem which he planned and successfully executed for taking the town of Pontoise, near Paris, in 1438. The English had lain for some time before the town, with little prospect of reducing it, when a heavy fall of snow suggested to Lord Clifford the means of effecting its capture. Arraying himself and his followers with white tunics over their armour, he concealed them during the night close to the walls of the town, which at daybreak he surprised and carried by storm. Two years afterwards he valiantly defended the town of Pontoise against the armies of France, headed by Charles VII. in person.

In the Wars of the Roses they were not less prominent. The last mentioned Thomas, though nearly allied by blood to the house of York, took part with his unfortunate sovereign, Henry VI., and fell on the 22nd of May, 1455, at the first battle of St. Albans, receiving his death-blow from the hands of Richard Duke of York, at the age of forty.

John, his son, the next and ninth lord, called from his complexion the Black-faced Clifford, thirsting to revenge the fate of his father, perpetrated that memorable act of cruelty, which for centuries has excited indignation and tears, the murder of the young Earl of Rutland, brother of Edward IV., in the pursuit after the battle of Wakefield, on the 30th December, 1460. The latter, whilst being withdrawn from the field by his attendant chaplain and schoolmaster, a priest, called Sir Robert Aspall, was espied by Lord Clifford; and being recognised by means of his apparel, "dismayed, had not a word to speak, but kneeled on his knees imploring mercy and desiring grace, both with holding up his hands and making dolorous countenance, for his speech was gone for fear. 'Save him,' said his chaplain, 'for he is a prince's son, and peradventure may do you good hereafter.' With that word, the Lord Clifford marked him and said, 'By God's blood, thy father slew mine, and so will I do thee and all thy kin;' and with that word stuck the earl to the heart with his dagger, and bade his chaplain bear the earl's mother and brother word what he had done and said."

The murder in cold blood of this unarmed boy, for he was only twelve or at most seventeen years old, while supplicating for his life, was not the only atrocity committed by Lord Clifford on that eventful day. "This cruel Clifford and deadly blood-supper," writes the old chronicler, "not content with this homicide or child-killing, came to the place where the dead corpse of the Duke of York lay, and caused his head to be stricken off, and set on it a crown of paper, and so fixed it on a pole and presented it to the queen, not lying far from the field, in great spite and much derision, saying, 'Madam, your war is done; here is your king's ransom;' at which present was much joy and great rejoicing."

Lord Clifford fought at the second battle of St. Albans, on the 17th of February, 1461. It was in his tent, after the Lancastrians had won the victory, that the unfortunate Henry VI. once more embraced his consort Margaret of Anjou, and their beloved child.

Lord Clifford is usually represented as having been slain at the battle of Towton. He fell, however, in a hard fought conflict which preceded that engagement by a few hours, at a spot called Dittingale, situated in a small valley between Towton and Scarthingwell, struck in the throat by a headless arrow, discharged from behind a hedge.

A small chapel on the banks of the Aire formerly marked the spot where lay the remains of John Lord Clifford, as well as those of his cousin, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, who perished later in the day upon Towton Field, on the 29th of March, 1461.

For nearly a quarter of a century from this time, the name of Clifford remained an attainted one; their castles and seigniories passed into the hands of strangers and enemies. The barony of Westmorland was conferred by Edward IV. upon his brother Richard Duke of Gloucester; the castle and manor of Skipton he bestowed, in the first instance, upon SirWilliam Stanley; but in the fifteenth year of his reign he transferred them to his "dear brother," which lordly appanage he retained till his death on Bosworth Field.[1]

The young widow left by the Black-faced Clifford, was Margaret daughter and sole heiress of Henry de Bromflete, Baron de Vesci. She had borne her husband three children, two sons and a daughter, now attainted by parliament, deprived of their honours and inheritance, and their persons and lives in hourly jeopardy from the strict search which was being made for them. The seat of her father at Lonsborrow in Yorkshire, surrounded by a wild district, offered a retreat from their enemies; and thither, as soon as the fate of her lord was communicated to her, driven from the stately halls of Skipton and Appleby, of which she had ceased to be mistress, flew the young widow with her hunted children, and saved them from the rage of the victorious party by concealment.

Henry, the elder son, at the period of their flight to Lonsborrow was only seven years old. He was there placed by his mother, in the neighbourhood where she lived, with a shepherd who had married one of her inferior servants, an attendant on his nurse, to be brought up in no better condition than the shepherd's own children. The strict inquiry which had been made after them, and the subsequent examination of their mother respecting them, at length led to the conclusion that they had been conveyed beyond the sea, whither in truth the younger boy had been sent, into the Netherlands, and not long after died there. The daughter grew up to womanhood, and became the wife of Sir Robert Aske, from whom descended the Askes of Yorkshire, and the Lord Fairfax of Denton in the same county.

When the high born shepherd boy was about his fourteenth year, his grandfather, Lord de Vesci being dead, and his mother having become the wife of Sir Lancelot Threlkeld, a rumour again arose and reached the court that the young Lord Clifford was alive; whereupon his mother, with the connivance and assistance of her husband, had the shepherd with whom she had placed her son, removed with his wife and family from Yorkshire to the more mountainous country of Cumberland. In that wild and remote region, the persecuted boy was "kept as a shepherd sometimes at Threlkeld amongst his step-father's kindred, and sometimes upon the borders of Scotland, where they took land purposely for those shepherds who had the custody of him, where many times his step-father came purposely to visit him, and sometimes his mother, though very secretly."

In this obscurity the heir of the Cliffords passed the remainder of his boyhood, all his youth, and his early manhood; haunting, in the pursuit of pastoral occupations, the lofty moorland wastes at the foot of Blencathra, or musing in the solitude of the stupendous heights of that "Peak of Witches;" at other times, ranging amid the lonesome glens of Skiddaw Forest, or on the bleak heath-clad hills of Caldbeck and Carrock.

Thus being of necessity nurtured much in solitude, and, habited in rustic garb, bred up to man's estate among the simple dalesmen, to whom, as well as to himself, his rank and station were unknown, he was reared in so great ignorance that he could neither read nor write; for his parents durst not have him instructed in any kind of learning, lest by it his birth should be discovered; and when subsequently he was restored to his title and estates, and took his place among his peers, he never attained to higher proficiency in the art of writing than barely enabled him to sign his name.

One of the first acts of Henry VII. was to restore the lowly Clifford to his birthright and to all that had been possessed by his noble ancestors. And his mother, who did not die till the year 1493, lived to see him thus suddenly exalted from a poor shepherd into a rich and powerful lord, at the age of one and thirty.

In his retirement he had acquired great astronomical knowledge, watching, like the Chaldeans of old time, the stars by night upon the mountains, as is current from tradition in the village and neighbourhood of Threlkeld at this day. And when, on his restoration to his estates and honours, he had become a great builder and repaired several of his castles, he resided chiefly at Barden Tower, in Yorkshire, to be near the Priory of Bolton; "to the end that he might have opportunity to converse with some of the canons of that house, as it is said, who were well versed in astronomy; unto which study having a singular affection (perhaps in regard to his solitary shepherd's life, which gave him time for contemplation,) he fitted himself with diverse instruments for use therein."

Whitaker, in like manner, represents the restored lord as having brought to his new position "the manners and education of a shepherd," and as being "at this time, almost, if not altogether, illiterate." But it is added that he was "far from deficient in natural understanding, and, what strongly marks an ingenuous mind in a state of recent elevation, depressed by a consciousness of his own deficiencies." If it was on this account, as we are also told, that he retired to the solitude of Barden, where he seems to have enlarged the tower out of a common keeper's lodge, he found in it a retreat equally favourable to taste, to instruction, and to devotion. The narrow limits of his residence show that he had learned to despise the pomp of greatness, and that a small train of servants could suffice him, who had lived to the age of thirty a servant himself.

Whitaker suspects Lord Clifford, however, "to have been sometimes occupied in a more visionary pursuit, and probably in the same company," namely, the canons of Bolton, from having found among the family evidences two manuscripts on the subject of Alchemy, which may almost certainly be referred to the age in which he lived. If these were originally deposited with the MSS. of the Cliffords, it might have been for the use of this nobleman. If they were brought from Bolton at the Dissolution, they must have been the work of those canons with whom he almost exclusively conversed.

In these peaceful employments Lord Clifford spent the whole reign of Henry VII., and the first years of that of his son. His descendant the Countess of Pembroke describes him as a plain man, who lived for the most part a country life, and came seldom either to court or London, excepting when called to Parliament, on which occasion he behaved himself like a wise and good English nobleman. But in the year 1513, when almost sixty years old, he was appointed to a principal command over the army which fought at Flodden, and showed that the military genius of the family had neither been chilled in him by age, nor extinguished by habits of peace.

He survived the battle of Flodden ten years, and died April 23rd, 1523, aged about 70; having by his last will appointed his body to be interred at Shap, if he died in Westmorland; or at Bolton, if he died in Yorkshire. "I shall endeavour," says Whitaker, "to appropriate to him a tomb, vault, and chantry, in the choir of the Church of Bolton, as I should be sorry to believe that he was deposited, when dead, at a distance from the place which in his life time he loved so well." There exists no memorial of his place of burial. The broken floors and desecrated vaults of Shap and Bolton afford no trace or record of his tomb. It is probable, however, that in one of these sanctuaries he was laid to rest among the ashes of his illustrious kindred.

The vault at Skipton Church was prepared for the remains of his immediate descendants. Thither, with three of their wives, and a youthful scion of their house, the boy Lord Francis, were borne in succession the five Earls of Cumberland of his name; when this their tomb finally closed over the line of Clifford: the lady Anne choosing rather to lie beside "her beloved mother," in the sepulchre which she had erected for herself at Appleby, than with her martial ancestors at Skipton.

Having thus been wonderfully preserved—says a writer whose words have often been quoted in these pages—and after twenty years of secretness and seclusion, having been restored in blood and honours, to his barony, his lands, and his castles; he, the Shepherd Lord, came forth upon the world with a mind in advance of the age, a spirit of knowledge, of goodness, and of light, such as was rarely seen in that time of ignorance and superstition; averse to courtly pomp, delighting himself chiefly in country pursuits, in repairing his castles, and in learned intercourse with such literate persons as he could find. He was the wisest of his race, and falling upon more peaceful times, was enabled to indulge in the studies and thoughtful dispositions which his early misfortunes had induced and cultured. Throughout a long life he remained one, whose precious example, though it had but few imitators, and even exposed him to be regarded with dread, as dealing in the occult sciences, and leagued with beings that mortal man ought not to know, was nevertheless so far appreciated by his less enlightened countrymen, that his image was always linked in their memories and affections with whatever was great and ennobling, and caused him to be recorded to this, our day, by the endearing appellation of the "Good Lord Clifford."

This nobleman was twice married,—first to Anne, daughter of Sir John St. John of Bletsoe, cousin-germain to King Henry the Seventh, by whom he had two sons and five daughters. Lady Clifford was a woman of great goodness and piety, who lived for the most part a country life in her husband's castles in the North, during the twenty-one years she remained his wife. His second wife was Florence, daughter of Henry Pudsey, of Bolton, in Yorkshire, Esquire, grandson of Sir Ralph Pudsey, the faithful protector of Henry the Sixth after the overthrow of the Lancastrian cause at Hexham. By her he had two or three sons, and one daughter, Dorothy, who became the wife of Sir Hugh Lowther, of Lowther, in Westmorland, and from whom the Earls of Lonsdale are descended.

It is said that, towards the end of the first Lady Clifford's life, her husband was unkind to her, and he had two or three base children by another woman.

Lord Clifford was unfortunate in having great unkindness and estrangement between himself and his oldest son Henry. Early habits of friendship, on the part of the latter, with King Henry VIII. and a strong passion for parade and greatness, seem to have robbed his heart of filial affection. The pure simplicity and unequivocal openness of his father's manners had long been an offence to his pride; but the old man's alliance with Florence Pudsey provoked his irreconcilable aversion. By his follies and vices, also, the latter years of his father were sorely disturbed. That wild and dissolute young nobleman, attaching himself to a troop of roystering followers, led a bandit's life, oppressed the lieges, harassed the religious houses, beat the tenants, and forced the inhabitants of whole villages to take sanctuary in their churches. He afterwards reformed, and was employed in all the armies sent into Scotland by Henry the Seventh and his successor, where he ever behaved himself nobly and valiantly; and subsequently became one of the most eminent men of his time, and within two years after his father's death, having been through life a personal friend and favourite of Henry the Eighth, was elevated by that partial monarch to the dignity of Earl of Cumberland, which title he held till his decease in 1542. It has been conjectured, but on no sufficient grounds, that he was the hero of the ballad of "The Nut-Brown Maid."

In addition to the members of this distinguished family who have already been enumerated as attaining to great personal distinction, may be named George, the third of the five Earls of Cumberland, the favourite of Queen Elizabeth, called the "Great Sea-faring Lord Clifford," an accomplished courtier as well as naval hero,[2] one of those to whom England is indebted for her proud title of "the Ocean Queen." And lastly, his daughter, the Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Dorset, Pembroke, and Montgomery, of famous memory, one of the most celebrated women of her time.

About three miles from Threlkeld, the ancient home of Sir Lancelot Threlkeld and his noble step-son, stands as the eastern barrier of the Blencathra group of mountains, that part of it which is known as Souter Fell; whose irregular and precipitous summit, everywhere difficult of access, rises to a height of about 2,500 feet. It is on the south of Bowscale Fell, leaning westward from the Hesketh and Carlisle road, by which its eastern base is skirted. This mountain is celebrated in local history as having several times been the scene of those singular aerial phenomena known as mirages. A tradition of a spectral army having been seen marching over these mountains had long been current in the neighbourhood, and this remarkable exhibition was actually witnessed in the years 1735, 1737, and 1745, by several independent parties of the dalesmen; and, as may well be supposed, excited much attention in the north of England, and long formed a subject of superstitious fear and wonder in the surrounding district. A sight so strange as that of the whole side of the mountain appearing covered with troops, both infantry and cavalry, who after going through regular military evolutions for more than an hour, defiled off in good order, and disappeared over a precipitous ridge on the summit, was sure to be the subject of much speculation and enquiry. Many persons at a distance hearing of the phenomenon, proceeded to the places where it was witnessed, purposely to examine the spectators who asserted the fact, and who continued positive in their assertions as to the appearances. Amongst others, one of the contributors to Hutchinson's History of Cumberland went to inquire into the subject; and the following is the account of the information he obtained, given in his own words.

"On Midsummer Eve 1735, William Lancaster's servant related that he saw the east side of Souter Fell, towards the top, covered with a regular marching army for above an hour together; he said they consisted of distinct bodies of troops, which appeared to proceed from an eminence in the north end, and marched over a nitch in the top, but as no other person in the neighbourhood had seen the like, he was discredited and laughed at.

"Two years after, on Midsummer Eve also, betwixt the hours of eight and nine, William Lancaster himself imagined that several gentlemen were following their horses at a distance, as if they had been hunting, and taking them for such, paid no regard to it, till about ten minutes after, again turning his head to the place, they appeared to be mounted, and a vast army following, five in rank, crowding over at the same place, where the servant said he saw them two years before. He then called his family, who all agreed in the same opinion; and what was most extraordinary, he frequently observed that some one of the five would quit the rank, and seem to stand in a fronting posture, as if he was observing and regulating the order of their march, or taking account of the numbers, and after some time appeared to return full gallop to the station he had left, which they never failed to do as often as they quitted their lines, and the figure that did so was one of the middlemost men in the rank. As it grew later they seemed more regardless of discipline, and rather had the appearance of people riding from a market, than an army, though they continued crowding on, and marching off, as long as they had light to see them.

"This phenomenon was no more seen till the Midsummer Eve, which preceded the rebellion, when they were determined to call more families to witness this sight, and accordingly went to Wiltonhill and Souther Fell-side, till they convened about twenty-six persons, who all affirm that they saw the same appearance, but not conducted with the usual regularity as the preceding ones, having the likeness of carriages interspersed; however it did not appear to be less real, for some of the company were so affected with it as in the morning to climb the mountain, through an idle expectation of finding horse shoes, after so numerous an army, but they saw not a vestige or print of a foot.

"William Lancaster, indeed, told me, that he never concluded they were real beings, because of the impracticability of a march over the precipices, where they seemed to come on; that the night was extremely serene; that horse and man, upon strict looking at, appeared to be but one being, rather than two distinct ones; that they were nothing like any clouds or vapours, which he had ever perceived elsewhere; that their number was incredible, for they filled lengthways near half a mile, and continued so in a swift march for above an hour, and much longer he thinks if night had kept off."

The writer adds,—"This whole story has so much the air of a romance, that it seemed fitter for Amadis de Gaul, or Glenvilles System of Witches, than the repository of the learned; but as the country was full of it, I only give it verbatim from the original relation of a people, that could have no end in imposing upon their fellow-creatures, and are of good repute in the place where they live."

Not less circumstantial is the account of this remarkable phenomenon gathered from the same sources by Mr. James Clarke, the intelligent author of the Survey of the Lakes; and which account, he says, "perhaps can scarcely be paralleled by history, or reconciled to probability; such, however, is the evidence we have of it," he continues, "that I cannot help relating it, and then my readers must judge for themselves. I shall give it nearly in the words of Mr. Lancaster of Blakehills, from whom I had the account; and whose veracity, even were it not supported by many concurrent testimonies, I could fully rely upon. The story is as follows:

"On the 23rd of June 1744 (Qu. 45?), his father's servant, Daniel Stricket (who now lives under Skiddaw, and is an auctioneer), about half past seven in the evening was walking a little above the house. Looking round him he saw a troop of men on horseback riding on Souther Fell-side, (a place so steep that an horse can scarcely travel on it at all,) in pretty close ranks and at a brisk walk. Stricket looked earnestly at them some time before he durst venture to acquaint any one with what he saw, as he had the year before made himself ridiculous by a visionary story, which I beg leave here also to relate: He was at that time servant to John Wren of Wiltonhill, the next house to Blakehills, and sitting one evening after supper at the door along with his master, they saw a man with a dog pursuing some horses along Souther Fell-side; and they seemed to run at an amazing pace, till they got out of sight at the low end of the Fell. This made them resolve to go next morning to the place to pick up the shoes which they thought these horses must have lost in galloping at such a furious rate; they expected likewise to see prodigious grazes from the feet of these horses on the steep side of the mountain, and to find the man lying dead, as they were sure he run so fast that he must kill himself. Accordingly they went, but, to their great surprise, found not a shoe, nor even a single vestige of any horse having been there, much less did they find the man lying dead as they had expected. This story they some time concealed; at length, however, they ventured to tell it, and were (as might be expected) heartily laughed at. Stricket, conscious of his former ridiculous error, observed these aerial troops some time before he ventured to mention what he saw; at length, fully satisfied that what he saw was real, he went into the house, and told Mr. Lancaster he had something curious to show him. Mr. Lancaster asked him what it was, adding, "I suppose some bonefire," (for it was then, and still is a custom, for the shepherds, on the evening before St. John's day, to light bonefires, and vie with each other in having the largest.) Stricket told him, if he would walk with him to the end of the house he would show him what it was. They then went together, and before Stricket spoke or pointed to the place, Mr. Lancaster himself discovered the phenomenon, and said to Stricket, "Is that what thou hast to show me?" "Yes, Master," replied Stricket: "Do you think you see as I do?" They found they did see alike, so they went and alarmed the family, who all came, and all saw this strange phenomenon.

"These visionary horsemen seemed to come from the lowest part of Souther Fell, and became visible first at a place called Knott : they then moved in regular troops along the side of the Fell, till they came opposite Blakehills, when they went over the mountain: thus they described a kind of curvilineal path upon the side of the Fell, and both their first and last appearance were bounded by the top of the mountain.

"Frequently the last, or last but one, in a troop, (always either the one or the other,) would leave his place, gallop to the front, and then take the same pace with the rest, a regular, swift walk : these changes happened to every troop, (for many troops appeared,) and oftener than once or twice, yet not at all times alike. The spectators saw, all alike, the same changes, and at the same time, as they discovered by asking each other questions as any change took place. Nor was this wonderful phenomenon seen at Blakehills only, it was seen by every  person at every cottage  within the distance of a mile; neither was it confined to a momentary view, for from the time that Stricket first observed it, the appearance must have lasted at least two hours and a half, viz. from half past seven, till the night coming on prevented the farther view; nor yet was the distance such as could impose rude resemblances on the eyes of credulity: Blakehills  lay not half a mile from the place where this astonishing appearance seemed  to be, and many other places where it was likewise seen are still nearer."

This account is attested by the signatures of William Lancaster and Daniel Stricket, and dated the 21st day of July 1785.

"Thus I have given," continues Mr. Clark, "the best account I can procure of this wonderful appearance; let others determine what it was. This country, like every other where cultivation has been lately introduced, abounds in the aniles fabellæ of fairies, ghosts, and apparitions; but these are never even fabled  to have been seen by more than one or two persons at a time, and the view is always said to be momentary. Speed tells of something indeed similar to this as preceding a dreadful intestine war. Can something of this nature have given rise to Ossian's grand and awful mythology? or, finally, Is there any impiety in supposing, as this happened immediately before that rebellion which was intended to subvert the liberty, the law, and the religion of England; that though immediate prophecies have ceased, these visionary beings might be directed to warn mankind of approaching tumults ? In short, it is difficult to say what it was, or what it was not."

Sir David Brewster, in his work on Natural Magic, after quoting this narrative from Mr. James Clark, which he describes as "one of the most interesting accounts of aerial spectres with which we are acquainted," continues—"These extraordinary sights were received not only with distrust, but with absolute incredulity. They were not even honoured with a place in the records of natural phenomena, and the philosophers of the day were neither in possession of analagous facts, nor were they acquainted with those principles of atmospherical refraction upon which they depend. The strange phenomena, indeed, of the Fata Morgana, or the Castles of the Fairy Mor-Morgana, had been long before observed, and had been described by Kircher, in the 17th century, but they presented nothing so mysterious as the aerial troopers of Souter Fell; and the general characters of the two phenomena were so unlike, that even a philosopher might have been excused for ascribing them to different causes."

The accepted explanation of this appearance now is, that on the evenings in question, the rebel Scotch troops were performing their military evolutions on the west coast of Scotland, and that by some peculiar refraction of the atmosphere their movements were reflected on this mountain. Phenomena similar to these were seen near Stockton-on-the-Forest, in Yorkshire, in 1792; in Harrogate, on June 28th, 1812; and near St. Neot's, in Huntingdonshire, in 1820. Tradition also records the tramp of armies over Helvellyn, on the eve of the battle of Marston Moor. To these may be added the appearance of the Spectre of the Brocken in the Hartz Mountains; and an instance mentioned by Hutchinson, that in the spring of the year 1707, early on a serene still morning, two persons who were walking from one village to another in Leicestershire, observed a like appearance of an army marching along, till, going behind a great hill, it disappeared. The forms of pikes and carbines were distinguishable, the march was not entirely in one direction, but was at first like the junction of two armies, and the meeting of generals.

Aerial phenomena of a like nature are recorded by Livy, Josephus, and Suetonius; and a passage in Sacred History seems to refer to a similar circumstance. See Judges ix. 36.

Many in this country considered these appearances as ominous of the great waste of blood spilt by Britain in her wars with America and France. Shakespeare says, in Julius Cæsar,

"When these prodigies
Do so conjointly meet, let not men say,
— — —they are natural;
For, I believe, they are portentous things
Unto the climate that they point upon."

[1]Whitaker gives the terms of this grant: "The king, in cons'on of ye laudable and commendable service of his dere b'r Richard Duke of Gloucester, as for the encouragement of piety and virtue  in the said duke, did give and grant, etc., the honor, castle, manors, and demesnes of Skipton, with the manor of Marton, etc., etc." Pat: Rolls, 15 Edw. IV.

[2]A notable example of the piety of our ancestors is recorded in a MS. Journal of a Voyage to India, still preserved in Skipton Castle, made under the auspices of this Earl of Cumberland. It gives an account of the proceedings of the Expedition on a Saturday and Sunday.

"Nov. 5. Our men went on shor and fet rys abord, and burnt the rest of the houses in the negers towne; and our bot went downe to the outermoste pointe of the ryver, and burnt a towne, and brout away all the rys that was in the towne. The 6th day we servyd God, being Sunday."

In what manner they served God on the Sunday, after plundering and burning two towns on the Saturday, the writer has not thought it necessary to relate.