Douglas 13th century manors in England

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An article by By Dr. Deborah Richmond Foulkes, FSA Scot



ln 1296 when William le Hardi pledged fealty to Edward King of England at Berwick Castle in August, heralds were dispatched to over six counties in Scotland that the Douglas had been restored. To the casual reader, it could be assumed that Lord Douglas held lands from sea to sea in Scotland. But that was not the true situation. ln 1289 William 'Le Hardi' Douglas married a wealthy widow, Eleanora Lovaine de Ferrers. Her mother-in-law was the late Margaret de Quincy, Lady de Ferrers. After Margaret's father died without issue male, she and her two sisters, Helen de la Zouche and Elizabeth de Comyn engaged in a huge court case involving Roger de Quincy's vast holdings in Scotland and England, as heirs to his estates. The lawsuits were not settled for nearly fourteen years after his death. Roger de Quincy was not only the Second Earl of Winchester but also he was the Constable of Scotland, heir to one-third of the Lordship of Galloway as well as other vast lands and manors in Fife, the Lothlans, and Ayrshire, just to name a few.

Stebbing Church
Eleanora Lovaine de Ferrers brought with her one-third of the lands awarded to Margaret de Quincy de Ferrers to her marriage with Lord Douglas. Her late husband, the elderly William de Ferrers was the sole heir of his mother and her de Quincy holdings. Two-thirds of those estates were given to his son and heir also known as William de Ferrers.

As the de Ferrers widow, Eleanora was entitled to a third of those same de Quincy estates. When she married William le Hardi, Lord Douglas, she brought with her those lands and the feudal obligations thereof. She fined for entrance into those English estates May 129L in the amount of f100 which is valued at approximately S250K today; the amount was equivalent to the annual income in most cases. The Scottish portion of the de Quiney-de Ferrers estates granted to Eleanora as Lady Douglas were estimated to be worth equally as much. The feudal rules mandated that as her husband, Lord Douglas entered into the properties, in chief in most cases. Those lands in Scotland were in six shires, Aryshire, Berwickshire, Fife, Wigtonshire, Haddington and the Lothians.

One interesting fact; normally those dower estates would have reverted to William de Ferrers the son upon the death of the widow (1328) but in 1315 young William became one of the 'disinherited', heirs to Scottish estates held by Englishmen who refused to pledge fealty to Robert Brus, King of Scots. He lost all his Scottish lands and manors for a generation; recorded as the biggest forfeit of inheritance during the reign of Robert the Brus, those estates were returned to the Crown.

There were two major de Quincy manors in England that were held in dower right by Eleanora, Lady Douglas and her husband William le Hardi, Lord Douglas, as of 1295. The dower portion of the entire estate that was given to Eleanora was designated as Stebbing Park and included the site of the original medieval manor house and moat- The Park was actually a major part of the extensive Iand holding described in charters as Stebbing.

I have stayed in a local B&B in the village of that medieval manor several times as it provided me with a central Essex
location from which to explore that and other nearby estates. There is still water that surrounds the manor house that is
believed to be part of an original moat system for defence. The ancient church in the village also dates to the 1200's. Of
note, about a mile from the Stebbing Park manor house are the medieval ruins of Little Dunmow Priory that includes
part of the original church; according to her will, it is where Eleanora Douglas was buried in 1328.

In October 1293, there are entries into the Rolls of the Pipe that William Lord Douglas, as feudal lord of Stebbing, approved the request of John Dalham a farmer with six bovates of land to provide daily presence at a ford at the bottom of his farm lands. Lord Douglas gave sasine to Dalham for an annual rent of 20s. William le Hardi's active presence in Essex kept him busy. ln fact, he was called to Court in England regarding feudal business for Parliament. On at least one occasion his appearance at English Court kept him from complying with his feudal responsibilities in Scotland as Lord Douglas. He was fined for the noncompliance on at least one of those occasions, though eventually Sir William was relieved from payment of the obligation for the obvious conflict of trying to please two kings.

Woodham Ferrers was another significant manor in Essex; one-third of the income was assigned to Eleanora and William in 1291. lt brought the couple approximately £16 annually which equates to at least $40K today. The original manor   house known today as Woodham Hall burned down in the 16th century according to village lore and was later rebuilt, located again inside the original moats for protection. A secret priests' passage from Woodham Hall to Bycknacre Priory that dated to the times of the Conqueror was referred to often in local stories. lt was rumoured that an earlier de Ferrers lord met his secret lover there at the medieval sanctuary.

The priory was originally called Wodeham Priory {spellings always vary); in earlier times it was part of the Woodham Ferrers estate; a common practice in the 11th century, The lord of the manor was required to provide protection to the priests and the church in return for a share of the revenue; in 1235 the priory became financially independent of the de Ferrers' estate and was renamed.

Other manors held by Sir William de Ferrers included Fairstead and Frating, both in Essex; Groby in Derbyshire and many more. The lack of records for any additional one-third shares of these and other significant de Ferrers' estates indicates the likelihood of a personal settlement between the widow and her stepson that would have provided Eleanora with more of her dower benefits to be settled with additional manors in Scotland. This agreement would make it easier to manage her inheritance because the estates were held under Scottish laws; more convenient to Lord Douglas for feudal business.

Deborah Richmond Foulkes writes:
ln a subsequent article I hope to explore the Scottish estates with some insights on how they were acquired along with some photographs to help the reader visualize the vastness of these Douglas medieval holdings, well before the extensive lands acquisitions the family made through the grants from King Robert the Brus to his trusted Lieutenant, the Good Sir James. As one of Scotland's oldest families the Douglases, through their support of the king, their strategic marriages and political alliances went on to acquire many lands throughout the country.
To read about these early Douglases I have included many stories on my website,

1.  Deborah records a different site for the former manor house of the de Ferrers medieval estates held in dower by Eleanora Lovaine Douglas, relic of de Ferrers.

See also:
•  Douglas castles in England
•  Deborah Richmond Foulkes



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    Last modified: Tuesday, 01 February 2022