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The family changed its surname with its estate, and thenceforward assumed that of De Wessyngton.7 The condition of military service attached to its manor will be found to have been often exacted, nor was the service in the grand hunt an idle form. Hunting came next to war in those days, as the occupation of the nobility and gentry. The clergy engaged in it equally with the laity. The hunting establishment of the Bishop of Durham was on a princely scale. He had his forests, chases, and parks, with their train of foresters, rangers, and park-keepers. A grand hunt was a splendid pageant, in which all his barons and knights attended him with horse and hound. The stipulations with the Seignior of Wessyngton show how strictly the rights of the chase were defined. All the game taken by him in going to the forest belonged to the bishop; all taken on returning belonged to himself.8
Hugh de Pusaz (or De Pudsay), during whose episcopate we meet with this first trace of the De Wessyngtons, was a nephew of King Stephen, and a prelate of great pretensions; fond of appearing with a train of ecclesiastics and an armed retinue. When Eichard Coeur de Lion put everything at pawn and sale to raise funds for a crusade to the Holy Land, the bishop resolved to accompany him. More wealthy than his sovereign, he made magnificent preparations. Besides ships to convey his troops and retinue, he
see held in demesne, or by tenants in villanage. The record was entered in a book called the Bolden Buke; the parish of Bolden occurring first in alphabetical arrangement. The document commences in the following manner: Incipit liber qui voeatur Bolden Book. Anno Dominicae Incarnationis, 1183, &c.
The following is the memorandum in question:
Willus de Herteburn habet Wessyngton (excepta ecclesia et terra ecclesie partinen) ad excamb. pro villa de Herteburn quam pro hac, quietam clamavit: Et reddit 4 L. Et vadit in marina caza cum 2 Leporar. Et quando commune auxilium venerit debet dare 1 Militem ad plus de auxilio, &c.—Collectanea Curiosa, vol. ii., p. 89.
The Bolden Buke is a small folio, deposited in the office of the bishop's auditor, at Durham.
7 The name is probably of Saxon origin. It existed in England prior to the Conquest. The village of Wassengtone is mentioned in a Saxon charter as granted by king Edgar in 973 to Thorney Abbey.— Collectanea Topographica, iv. 55.
8 Hutchinson's Durham, vol. ii., p. 489.
had a sumptuous galley for himself, fitted up with a throne or episcopal chair of silver, and all the household, and even culinary, utensils, were of the same costly material. In a word, had not the prelate been induced to stay at home, and aid the king with his treasures, by being made one of the regents of the kingdom, and Earl of Northumberland for life, the De Wessyngtons might have followed the banner of St. Cuthbert to the Holy Wars.
Nearly seventy years afterwards we find the family still retaining its manorial estate in the palatinate. The names of Bondo de Wessyngton and William, his son, appear on charters of land granted in 1257 to religious houses. Soon after occurred the wars of the barons, in which the throne of Henry III. was shaken by the De Mountforts. The chivalry of the palatinate rallied under the royal standard. On the list of loyal knights who fought for their sovereign in the disastrous battle of Lewes (1264), in which the king was taken prisoner, we find the name of William Weshington, of Weshington.9
During the splendid pontificate of Anthony Beke (or Beak), the knights of the palatinate had continually to be in the saddle, or buckled in armour. The prelate was so impatient of rest that he never took more than one sleep, saying it was unbecoming a man to turn from one side to another in bed. He was perpetually, when within his diocese, either riding from one manor to another, or hunting and hawking. Twice he assisted Edward I., with all his force, in invading Scotland. In the progress northward with the king, the bishop led the van, marching a day in advance of the main body, with a mercenary force, paid by himself, of one thousand foot and five hundred horse. Besides these, he had his feudatories of the palatinate; six bannerets and one hundred and sixty knights, not one of whom, says an old poem, but surpassed Arthur himself, though endowed with the charmed gifts of Merlin.10
* This list of knights was inserted in the Bolden Book as an additional entry. It is cited at full length by Hutchinson.—Hist. Durham, vol. L, p. 220.
10 Onques Artous pour touz ces charmes, Si beau prisent ne ot de Merlyn. Siege Op Kaklaverock; an old Poem in Norman French. We presume the De Wessyngtons were among those preux chovaliers, as the banner of St. Cuthbert had been taken from its shrine on the occasion, and of course all the armed force of the diocese was bound to follow. It was borne in front of the army by a monk of Durham. There were many rich caparisons, says the old poem, many beautiful pennons fluttering from lances, and much neighing of steeds. The hills and valleys were covered with sumpter horses and waggons laden with tents and provisions. The Bishop of Durham, in his warlike state, appeared, we are told, more like a powerful prince than a priest or prelate."
At the surrender of the crown of Scotland by John Baliol, which ended this invasion, the bishop negotiated on the part of England. As a trophy of the event, the chair of Scone, used on the inauguration of the Scottish monarchs, and containing the stone on which Jacob dreamed, the palladium of Scotland, was transferred to England and deposited in Westminster Abbey."
In the reign of Edward III. we find the De Wessyngtons still mingling in chivalrous scenes. The name of Sir Stephen de Wessyngton appears on a list of knights (nobles chevaliers) who were to tilt at a tournament at Dunstable in 1334. He bore for his device a golden rose on an azure field.18
11 Robert de Graystanes, Ang. Sac., p. 746, cited by Hutchinson, vol. i., p. 239.
18 An extract from an inedited poem, cited by Nicolas in his translation of the Siege of Carlavarock, gives a striking picture of the palatinate in theBe days of its pride and splendour:—
There valour bowed before the rood and book,
Yet little deigned he on such train to look,
There time has heard the peal rung out at night,
When the red bale-fire on yon western height
Has seen old Durham's lion banner float
O'er the proud bulwark, that, with giant pride
And feet deep plunged amidst the circling moat,
13 Collect. Topog. et Genealog., t. iv., p. 395.
He was soon called to exercise his arms in a sterner field. In 1346, Edward and his son, the Black Prince, being absent with the armies in France, King David of Scotland invaded Northumberland with a powerful army. Queen Philippa, who had remained in England as regent, immediately took the field, calling the northern prelates and nobles to join her standard. They all hastened to obey. Among the prelates was Hatfield, the Bishop of Durham. The sacred banner of St. Cuthbert was again displayed, and the chivalry of the palatinate assisted at the famous battle of Nevil's Cross, near Durham, in which the Scottish army was defeated and King David taken prisoner.
Queen Philippa hastened with a victorious train to cross the sea at Dover, and join King Edward in his camp before Calais. The prelate of Durham accompanied her. His military train consisted of three bannerets, forty-eight knights, one hundred and sixty-four esquires, and eighty archers, on horseback.14 They all arrived to witness the surrender of Calais (1346), on which occasion Queen Philippa distinguished herself by her noble interference in saving the lives of its patriot citizens.
Such were the warlike and stately scenes in which the De Wessyngtons were called to mingle by their feudal duties as knights of the palatinate. A few years after the last event (1350), William, at that time lord of the manor of Wessyngton, had license to settle it and the village upon himself, his wife, and "his own right heirs." He died in 1367, and his son and heir, William, succeeded to the estate. The latter is mentioned under the name of Sir William de Weschington, as one of the knights who sat in the privy council of the county during the episcopate of John Fordham.15 During this time the whole force of the palatinate was roused to pursue a foray of Scots, under Sir William Douglas, who, having ravaged the country, were returning laden with spoil. It was a fruit of the feud between the Douglases and the Percys. The marauders were overtaken by Hotspur Percy, and then took
» Collier's Eccles. Hist., Book VI., Cent. XIV.
place the battle of Otterbourne, in which Percy was taken prisoner and Douglas slain.18
For upwards of two hundred years the De Wessyngtons had now sat in the councils of the palatinate; had mingled with horse and hound in the stately hunts of its prelates, and followed the banner of St. Cuthbert to the field; but Sir William, just mentioned, was the last of the family that rendered this feudal service. He was the last male of the line to which the inheritance of the manor, by the license granted to his father, was confined. It passed away from the De Wessyngtons, after his death, by the marriage of his only daughter and heir, Dionisia, with Sir William of Temple Studley. By the year 1400 it had become the property of the Blaykestons.17
But though the name of De Wessyngton no longer figured on the chivalrous roll of the palatinate, it continued for a time to flourish in the cloisters. In the year 1416, John de Wessyngton was elected prior of the Benedictine convent, attached to* the cathedral. The monks of this convent had been licensed by Pope Gregory VII. to perform the solemn duties of the cathedral in place of secular clergy, and William the Conqueror had ordained that the priors of Durham should enjoy all the liberties, dignities, and honours of abbots; should hold their lands and churches in their own hands and free disposition, and have the abbot's seat on the left side of the choir—thus taking rank of every one but the bishop.18
In the course of three centuries and upwards, which had since elapsed, these honours and privileges had been subject to repeated dispute and encroachment, and the prior had nearly been elbowed out of the abbot's chair by the archdeacon. John de Wessyngton was not a man to submit tamely to such infringements of his rights. He forthwith set himself up as the champion of his priory, and in a learned tract, de Juribus et Possessionibus Eccksim JJimelmensis, established the validity of the long-controverted
15 Theare the Dowglas lost his life,
Forddn. Quoted by Surtees, Hist. Durham, vol. i.
17 Hutchinson's Durham, vol. ii., p. 489.
18 Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum. T. i.,p. 231. London ed. 1846.