The following is a fictional retelling of the murder of Sir John le Spring, Lord of Houghton, who was killed in his own manor house in 1313, by Robert Lascelles, the husband of Sir Johnís lover!
Although this is factually based fiction, at the time of writing, very little is known about the murder, other than that it was brutal, and the purpose of the story is to help us to visualise what could have happened. Pray for the sowle of Sir John le Spring? When the black monks sing and the vesper bells ring, Pray for the sprite of a murdered knight, Pray for the sowle of Sir John le Spring. Judge not, sinner as thou art: Commune with thy sinful heart, And watch, for thou knowest not the hour, And to Jesus bright and Mary of might, Pray for the sowle of the murdered knight, That died in the moonlight bower.
We cast our minds back now, some 700 years, to the year 1313, when Houghton was a very different place to today.
The night of St ####. ##### 1313 and a rotten night, with a cold wind blowing down Houghton moors, across the Market Place and around the eaves of the domineering Houghton Manor House, home to the Lord of Houghton, Sir John le Spring.
The moon shone bright as darkness descended. The howling wind kept the clouds at bay, and a group of stonemasons downed their tools for the night. Another 12 hours of hard graft was over and the repairs to the west tower of St Michael & All Angels parish church were nearing completion. Because back then, there was no central tower as we have today Ė that would be built much, much later.
The masons scrambled down from their wooden gantries and scaffold poles, which still bore leaves from the freshly felled trees. But as they left for the warmth of the nearby cottages, a shadowy figure lurked in the darkness of the west side of the church, hidden from view, hidden from the moonlight.
The rector of Houghton, Rev Stephen de Manley, watched from the upper window of the embattled Rectory, across to the church and the departing stonemasons, mindful that they were leaving on time tonight Ė as the church bell tolled seven - unlike the previous night when they had scarpered off 3 minutes early. All the time he was watching, he was unaware of the prowler in his churchyard opposite.
The figure clambered up the scaffold to the tower above, as the rooks cawed and rustled with the disturbance of the bell tolls. Robert Lascelles, a noble man, seethed with rage and anger as he searched around the stonemasonsí belongings, until at last he found what he was looking for, and from the top of the tower he looked out across Houghton in the direction of Houghtonís Manor House.
At that very moment Robertís dear wife, Elizabeth, was being undressed by one of the many maids who serviced the Manor House, but the chamber was deep in the bowels of the house, and there was no way that Robert could see what his wife was up to from his vantage point at the tower top.
But none of that mattered. Robert already knew what his wife had been up to in Houghton Manor House.
And he knew with whom.
Sir John le Spring was a powerful man, and as Lord of Houghton he had control over the peasants, the nobility, the clergy, and anybody else who wished to live within the realms of his manor of Houghton.
This included the married wives. And one such wife was Elizabeth, who had no choice but to give in to Sir Johnís demands for fear of her husband loosing his peerage and their comfortable home.
The wind rattled the foggy windows of Sir Johnís bed chamber, as he lay on his four poster bed, awaiting Elizabeth. It was on more than one occasion that he had had to call on the services of his staff to help undress one of his conquests. Layers and layers of a ladyís undergarments were beyond the Lord of Houghton.
The door to the chamber creaked open, and Sir John seethed in anticipation at the thought of the beautiful Elizabeth. He closed his eyes, waiting for her to draw back the curtains of the four poster bed, and reveal herself to him.
A guard dog barked from within the grounds of the Manor House and Sir Johnís eyes flickered open just as a heavy stonemasonís hammer rained down on his face. Blood splattered up the chamber walls, but Robert was intent on removing the wicked smile from Sir Johnís face, and he continued to pummel and thrash away with the heavy hammer.
Sir Johnís teeth shattered and his skull caved in to a soggy mess. Robertís rage was such that the feathered pillow underneath his victim exploded and the room filled with bloody feathers, as he raced away from the scene of devastation.
Moments later his naked wife, Elizabeth, entered the chamber through a side door to be greeted with the carnage of her loverís bloodied body. Her scream pierced the heart of all who heard it in the Manor House that night.
Sir John le Springís ravaged corpse was interred in the floor of St Michaelís Church shortly afterwards, and a stone effigy of the murdered knight was placed upon his tomb top.
The cracked stone effigy can still be seen to this day, but despite the church authoritiesí best efforts at repairing it, the head refuses to stay on.
Next time youíre in church, please remember to: Pray for the sowle of Sir John le Spring? When the black monks sing and the vesper bells ring, Pray for the sprite of a murdered knight, Pray for the sowle of Sir John le Spring. Judge not, sinner as thou art: Commune with thy sinful heart, And watch, for thou knowest not the hour, And to Jesus bright and Mary of might, Pray for the sowle of the murdered knight, That died in the moonlight bower.
PLEASE NOTE The name of Robertís wife is currently unknown. I do not know her name, nor know how Robert actually killed Sir John.
Article coming soon!
Paul Lanagan, local historian
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