With a Royal Wedding so recently behind us, I thought I’d look at some of this area’s royal connections (with thanks to the Friends of Duffield Frith, and others).
Duke William of Normandy’s invasion of England in 1066 had considerable repercussions for the Duffield Frith, of which Belper was a part. Siward Barn was the Danish Earl who owned the Frith at the time of the invasion and he resisted the Normans strongly, but to no avail, and his lands were taken from him.
When William, now King William, had completed his conquest, he rewarded his followers handsomely. Few were so well rewarded as Henry de Ferrers, the principal of the six Baron Fossiers (iron-workers) of Normandy’s iron-producing district. It is likely he was armourer-general for the invading forces, and he was a favourite of William. Henry de Ferrers received a total of 210 manors, 114 of which formed an almost solid block in Derbyshire. One of these manors, or lordships, included Duffield and Belper, and he built a castle at Duffield, with some of the thickest walls of any Norman Castle. He brought with him iron-workers and nail-makers who honed the industry for which Belper was so well known for much of the millennium that followed.
The Norman and Plantagenet kings were occasional visitors to the Belper area in the centuries that followed, attracted by the good hunting to be found in the Frith. This provided many jobs for the villagers, protecting the land and the deer and other game which lived in the forest.
The last of the de Ferrers family to hold the Duffield and Belper lands was Robert, 8th Earl of Derby, who after two attempts at rebellion against Henry III, in 1263 and 1266, had his lands taken from him and given to Prince Edmund, Earl of Lancaster and second son of King Henry. King Edward I, elder brother of Prince Edmund, was the first King to hunt locally after the change in ownership, visiting several times between 1290 and 1293. His son Edward II spent a month here for the same purpose in 1323.
These lands remained with the Earls (later Dukes) of Lancaster, until Henry Duke of Lancaster became King Henry IV in 1399, after deposing Richard II. The lands then went to the crown, and the woodlands surrounding Belper became a royal forest. The Duchy of Lancaster has remained with the crown ever since, although the manors of Duffield and Belper were disposed of by Charles I in 1628.
Henry VIII’s break with the Church of Rome in August 1533 had repercussions in Belper. November 1534 saw acts of parliament put in place which made the King head of the English Church, and this move away from the old faith accelerated during the time of Henry’s son Edward VI.
During this ‘Reformation’ Belper’s Chapel was renamed. It was originally dedicated to St Thomas the Martyr, the Thomas Becket murdered by Henry II’s men less than a century before the chapel was built. Becket’s memory was not relished by the new heads of the English Church, and so the chapel was rededicated to John the Baptist, from whom it still takes its name today.
Next time I’ll be looking at more recent royal connections. If you’d like to know more about the history of Belper and the surrounding area, drop in to St John’s Chapel on the last Saturday of the month between 10am and 12.30pm when members of Belper Historical Society are on hand to answer questions and there are historic images to see and information to read.