A Medieval Knight at rest

I have another picture for you.

Medieval wooden effigy, St. Luke's, Ousby c. DMcIlmoyle

Medieval wooden effigy, Ousby c. D McIlmoyle

This wooden effigy of a knight is in St. Luke’s Church, Ousby, in eastern Cumbria. He’s lifesize, or at least life-length; he is of a very petite build by modern ideas and he’s lost a chunk of his left side. He is dressed in a medieval knight’s full get-up, ‘entirely clad in mail, except genouillieres or knee caps of plate or leather; his coif de mail covers his head and shoulders; he has hauberk and chausses of mail; under the hauberk he has a haqueton or gambeson; over all, a long sleeveless surcoat, slit up the front to above the knee; his spurs are gone, but the staps remain; a narrow guige is over his shoulder, but the shield it supported has gone; a narrow cingulum is around his waist, and a broader sword belt hangs below, but the sword is gone except the hilt’ (1).

St. Luke's, Ousby, Cumbria c. D McIlmoyle

St. Luke’s, Ousby, Cumbria c. D McIlmoyle

People would like the knight to be a Templar – Ousby is only a few miles from a known Templar property, Temple Sowerby – but it seems that his outfit and beard rule this out. Tullie House Museum in Carlisle (2) has confirmed that the date is around 1200-1250CE.

Nobody knows who he was. The story goes (3) that he was found in a nearby peat bog by a farmer. Doubtless the effigy was originally in the church, quite possibly marking the man’s grave, but was moved outside by zealous Cromwellian types in the 1640s who had no truck with earthly decoration in places of religion. We know that his missing parts are not, as originally thought, the result of the farmer’s plough hitting the effigy, as there are visible saw marks.

Medieval wooden effigy, St. Luke's, Ousby c. D McIlmoyle

Medieval wooden effigy, Ousby c. D McIlmoyle

Of course, that’s not stopped people theorising about him. Bishop Nicholson (4) said in the 18th century that he was an outlaw from Crewgarth (now a farm, which has ancient ruins, on the western edge of the village), who was killed whilst hunting on the fell above. Some places casually refer to him as ‘Rolf Ulversby’ (Ulversby being one of the many old spellings of Ousby), but I suspect locals just called him ‘Rolf’ out of politeness!

In the last decade or so, three serious contenders have been put forward. One is Sir Patrick de Ulvesby, a mid-13th century High Sheriff of Lancashire, and village landowner (5). Another, much supported, is Adam Armstrong – or his father, William Armstrong. The Armstrong Clan believe that the earliest Armstrongs came from hereabouts, and it’s a matter of record that they were related to, and were given land here by, Robert the Bruce. The remaining contender is Julian Falcard, who was certainly a principal landowner in the area at the right time.

In the late ’90s, the knight was re-assessed and securely encased in a protective glass case in the church. Hopefully this means that he’ll be kept in good condition so future generations can finally give him his name.

c. Diane McIlmoyle 09.05.12

1. Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian & Archaological Society, 1886.

2. Tullie House Museum, Carlisle www.tulliehouse.co.uk

3. History of Westmorland and Cumberland, Nicholson & Burn, 1777.

4. Ditto.

5. High Sheriffs of Lancashire, 1216-1261 by Colin Penny.

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11 thoughts on “A Medieval Knight at rest

    • Thank you for that research, Sharon – much appreciated! Your sources, and the ones I looked at, all seem to agree that we once thought that everyone in our knight’s pose must be a Templar (crossed legs) or crusader (dog), but now we’re not so sure. I guess these things come in fashions.

      The CWAAS report I read was reluctant to call him a Templar because he is wearing the wrong sort of over-garment, but then, who’s to say that the bloke who carved it knew about that?

      I have a feeling that we’ll never work out who he was. It’s just that bit too long ago, and in just too remote an area. Still, it’s nice to think that there was someone here 800 years ago who was up to something interesting, and presumably significant on a regional, if not national, scale.

      Thank you very much for coming over 🙂

    • It is, rather! Sadly I suspect we’ll never get to the bottom of it, but at least it’s visible proof that there were people living here before the extant buildings.

      Thanks for coming over!

  1. Fascinating! And I, too, love the cushion under his head! Diane, I’ve been meaning to tell my you that if this blog had existed in early 2003 and I’d found it, I would’ve bypassed London and spent those 6 days in your part of Cumbria instead. I probably would even have forgone the second week of my trip in the West Country and simply stayed “up north”. As it was, the only photos of Cumbria below the Fells I could access online at the time looked very much like the Flint Hills of Kansas near where I grew up, and had NO idea then what a fascinating place my Savages and Sowerbys came from!! (Obviously THEY didn’t find it all that fascinating, as they left it in the winter of 1882…) Thank you!

    • Ah well, this is the thing. It’s a world away from London up here. And we really do have interesting history because we’ve been difficult to get to and get around until the last 150 years or so – although that must sound very silly to someone from Kansas! And this part of Cumbria – the lower fellside or fell bottom of the Eden Valley – tends to be overlooked in popular Cumbria history because of the proximity to the Lake District. Glad you get something out of it, anyway 🙂

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