At St. Peters, York in 1316 seventy men, described as parishoners, were declared by the Dean and Chapter of St. Peter, York, to be excommunicated for stealing at Pickering Castle, North Yorkshire. Pickering is due west of the coastal town of Scarborough. Among those sentenced was one, William Robley.
Pickering castle, where the offences took place, is a motte and bailey castle on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. Founded by 'William the Bastard' during his harrying of the North, 1069 - 1070, it was originally a wooden structure. The inner ward and keep were reconstructed in stone in the reign of Henry second, 1207 - 1210.
Today the only surviving building is the chapel, begun in 1226 and from 1238 there was a Royal appointed Chaplain.
Following the battle of Bannockburn (1314), and despite the plague in both England and Scotland, there were considerable incursions by the Scots into northern England as far south as Richmond in north Yorkshire and Furness in Lancashire. Led by Robert the Bruce himself and Lord Douglas they utterly devastated the land. As a result of these very hard and uncertain times numerous bands of lawless men, bereft of alternate livelihoods, roamed the area.
Excommunication was the church's punishment for offences against it, and its teachings, and was commonly used in the north of England against these bands. It merely involved a declaration of excommunication and there was no associated form of trial or appeal. The offenders themselves did not have to appear to answer the charges. An example of this process is the 16th century 'Monition of Cursing' against all Border Reivers by the Archbishop of Glasgow.
While the actual circumstances leading to the mass excommunication of the Pickering men are not given, the location of the charge of stealing levelled against two of their number, Thomas and Richard Ferndale, in the vicinity of Pickering Castle,could suggest that the Royal Appointed Chaplain may have been involved.
The reason for the excommunications is described as 'contumacy and offence' i.e., stealing and scornful insolence. When, 40 days later, the band's predictable reaction was 'obdurate' (invincible hardening of the heart), the Dean and Chapter looked to the King for support.
It seems that 'obdurate' was a normal response by such groups to this, the worst punishment the church could administer. What support they could expect from the King was probably moral only, at that time, as he had only 2 years previous seen his army badly defeated at Bannockburn. He was probably somewhat reluctant to head north again to clean up local bands of outlaws and particularly when the Scots, under Robert the Bruce, seemed ever present.
So who were these men? Well at least 16 of them can be identified as coming from small settlements within a 20-mile radius to the west of Pickering. Seven more were probably local Pickering people and are identified by trade or occupation.
Some came from further afield in Yorkshire i.e. Bradford and Ripon as well as Cumberland and Westmoreland (Windermere and Westmoreland). The remainder are not known but I think it can be assumed they were mainly locals and the whole band were centered on an area to the west of and close to Pickering. They were almost certainly disposessed and desperate men having no other source of livelihood other than by raiding and stealing. We have no clue as to their eventual fate.
William Robley, a member of the band, represents the earliest reference to a Robley so far identified, and is of great interest in that it pushes back our knowledge of the presence of Robleys in the north of England for at least a further 2 hundred years.
It further adds strength to the theory that the Robleys were in the north, either in antiquity or else were a part of William Rufus scheme to repopulate the north with loyal subjects from the south who had farming skills. Whether William Robley was a 'local' or an import from Cumberland will remain a mystery.
Thomas and Richard of Ferndale excommunicated for stealing at Pickering Castle on 12 Aug 1316.
Sentence of Excommunication;
'To the Most Serene Prince, his Lord Edward by the Grace of God, King of England, illustrious Lord of Ireland and Duke of Aquitaine, his humble and devoted clerks, the Reverend Dean and Chapter of the Church of St Peter, York; custodians of the spiritualities of the Archbishopric while the See is vacant; Greetings to him to serve whom is to reign for ever. We make known to your Royal Excellency by these presents that John de Carter, William of Ellington, Adam of Killeburn, John Porter, Hugh Fullo, Peter Fullo, John of Halmby, Adam Playceman, John Foghill, Thomas Thoyman, Robert the Miller, Adam of the Kitchen, Richard Mereschall, John Gomodman, John Wallefrere, Alan Gage, Henry Cucte, Nicholas of the Stable, John the baker, Adam of Craven, John son of Imanye, Michael of Cokewald, Thomas of Morton, John of Westmerland, Thomas of Bradeford, Adam of Craven, John of Mittelhaue, John called Lamb, William Cowherd, Simon of Plabay, William the Oxherd, Henry of Rossedale, John of Carlton, Peter of Boldeby, Thomas of Redmere, Walter of Boys, William of Fairland, John of Skalton, John of Thufden, Henry the Shepherd's boy, John of Foxton, Thomas of Farndale, John of Ampleford, John Boost, Roger of Kerby, John of Stybbyng, William of Carlton, Richard of Kilburn, Adam Scot, Peter of Gilling, John of Skalton, Stephen of Skalton, Richard of Farndale, Richard of Malthous, John the Oxherd, Robert of Rypon, Walter of Fyssheburn, Adam of Oswadkyrke, William of Everley, Hugh of Salton, William Robley, William of Kilburn, Geoffrey the Gaythirde, John of the Loge, Robert of Faldington, Nicholas of Wasse, William of Eversley, Robert of Habym, John of Baggeby and William Boost, our Parishioners, by reason of their contumacy and offence were bound in our authority by sentence of greater excommunication, and in this have remained obdurate for 40 days and more, and have up to now continued in contempt of the authority of the Church. Wherefore we beseech your Royal Excellency, in order that the pride of these said rebels may be overcome, that it may please you to grant Letters, according to previous meritorious and pious custom of your Realm, so that the Mother Church may, in this matter, be supported by the power of Your Majesty. May God preserve you for His Church and people.'
Given at York 12 August 1316.