Robert de Umfraville

Sir Robert Umfraville KG, Lord of Redesdale (c. 1363–1437) was a late medieval English knight who took part in the later stages of the Hundred Years War, especially in the Kingdom of Scotland. The Umfraville family had been an important one in the north of England for centuries, and held major estates in Yorkshire. Among his ancestors, he counted the mormaers of Angus, and more recently his family had married into that of the Percies, a powerful local marcher family, with whom Umfraville was to be closely associated. Much of Sir Robert's career continued on the same path as his ancestors, which was primarily focused on defending the border with Scotland, which was in a state of semi-permanent warfare and had been so since the late thirteenth century. Umfraville fought under three English kings. Firstly, under Richard II, he began his career, probably fighting at the Battle of Otterburn with Henry "Hotspur" Percy. After King Richard was deposed by Henry Bolingbroke in 1399, Umfraville loyally served the new Lancastrian regime as both a bulwark against Scottish incursions and at the forefront of English aggression, whichever was required. Where necessary, however, he could also play the role of an effective diplomat, taking part in many embassies to Scotland and negotiating treaties when events made them possible.

Umfraville's coat arms
Arms of Sir Robert Umfraville, KG

With the exception of Henry V's resumption of the Hundred Years' War in 1415–when Umfraville travelled with the King to France and took part in the Battle of Agincourt–all his martial activity was on the Scottish border. He was famed for his prowess; one contemporary chronicler, John Hardyng, who was also in Umfraville's service, praised him as the perfect knight. Umfraville's successes also attracted praise–and some reward–from the King. One campaign deep into Scottish territory resulted in his destroying Peebles and its market; he brought back so much booty that he was nicknamed "Robin Mendmarket." Umfraville, although he married, never had any children, and his closest relative–his nephew Gilbert–predeceased him, perishing at the Battle of Baugé in 1421. Although Umfraville remained in royal service almost to the last months of his life, it is uncertain how financially profitable this service was; most of his lands in the north would have been prone to frequent ravishing by marauding armies, so his Midlands estates may have been his main source of income. He carried out his last mission to Scotland in March 1436 and died early the next year.


Robert Ufraville was the youngest son of Sir Thomas Umfraville, who died in 1387, and his family had been an important one in Anglo-Scottish relations and on the border since the twelfth century, holding major estates in Northumberland and counting amongst their ancestors the Earls of Angus. They owned much land around the Redesdale area, consisting of the c. 138,000-acre (56,000 ha)[1] old Regality of Redesdale,[2] although both the Scottish wars and the growth of other, newer regional families, such as the Nevilles, had led to a decline in their status by the fifteenth century. Indeed, Sir Robert himself, still a minor at his father's death, served his wardship under the first Neville Earl of Westmorland.[3]


The Battle of Otterburn, 1388, from a fifteenth-century depiction; this was probably one of Umfraville's earliest military campaigns.

Robert Umfraville's career was predominantly a military one. The chronicler John Hardyng[4] (who entered Umfraville's service sometime between 1402 and 1403)[5] reports that Umfraville fought at the Battle of Otterburn in 1388, as part of the contingent of Henry Hotspur (the son of the Earl of Northumberland). This, says Hardyng, was followed by the first of many border raids Umfraville led into Scotland in 1390. These continued following the deposition of King Richard II, and he probably took part in the Battle of Homildon Hill in 1402.[4] In fact, notwithstanding the regime change of 1399, Umfraville's duties were very much unchanged, and the "old truths remained: royal service, local administration and the defence of the realm."[6] He was indentured to join Henry IV's invasion of Scotland in 1400,[7] which came to very little; Umfraville subsequently inflicted a defeat on a large Scots army at Fulhope Law[8] after an attempted a raid.[9] He continued in defence of the border through the next decade, and his expertise in local politics helped him advise the Warden of the Eastern March, the King's son, John, Duke of Lancaster. Umfraville probably acted in the capacity of 'sub-warden' to the duke, in the now largely defunct middle march. In 1407, with his young nephew Gilbert V de Umfraville, he attended, as a tenant–in–chief, the enthronement of the new Bishop of Durham, Thomas Langley.[10]

Umfraville's loyalty to the new regime was appreciated by King Henry IV, who retained him for life for an annuity of forty pounds. At some point he was also knighted by the King; historian Henry Summerson has said this helped "to ensure his loyalty against the Percys, his former lords"[4] who were growing increasingly dissatisfied with Henry. This paid off for the King, for, in 1405, when Archbishop Scrope rebelled, Umfraville joined the Earl of Westmorland in suppressing the uprising at Shipton Moor. Uncommonly for a younger son in the Middle Ages, and probably another reflection of the high standing in which he stood with the King, in 1408 Umfraville was elected to the Order of the Garter,[4] whereupon he took the stall of Edmund, Earl of Kent, who had died that year.[11] Umfraville's association with John Hardyng came about sometime after 1402, when Hardyng's previous patron, Hotspur, was killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury, and Hardyng joined Umfraville's service[12] after receiving a royal pardon to do so.[13]

In the 1390s that Umfraville began sitting on Royal Commissions in his home county of Northumberland and was appointed its Sheriff in 1401. Three years later, the Earl of Northumberland gave him the command of Berwick Castle, and Umfraville received the keeping of Warkworth Castle in 1405,[4] and appointed Hardyng his Constable there.[12] He was also granted the lordship of Langley the same year.[4] Following the Earl of Northumberland's defeat and death at the Battle of Bramham Moor in 1408[6] (which Umfraville had persuaded Westmorland to undertake)[14] and in acknowledgment of the role Sir Robert played in it, Westmorland re-appointed Umfraville to the keeping of Warkworth,[15] while Umfraville's diplomatic work with Scotland also increased as the result of the Percies' fall.[16] Umfraville was the only Percy retainer that King Henry IV made an effort to reconcile to the new Lancastrian regime; as a "border warlord with impeccable lineage." Umfraville earned great rewards from the crown while still commanding the respect of what remained of the Percy affinity in the north-west.[17]

Robert Umfraville had a close relationship with his nephew Gilbert, the son of Robert's elder brother Thomas, who had died in 1391. Through Gilbert, Robert also had a permanent connection to Ralph, Earl of Westmorland, as Gilbert married Ralph's daughter Anne. Robert was probably responsible for Gilbert's martial training, as the two spent the years of the late 1400s on the border; in 1408 they jointly-led a raid into Teviotdale: Harding describes how Robert was like an "olde dogge [that] hath grete joy to bayte his whelpe." The raids continued, with another soon after on Jedburgh. Robert's service for the King was not confined to the northern border, and neither was it confined to fighting on land. In 1410, he was appointed lieutenant to Sir Thomas Beaufort, the Admiral of the seas. In this capacity, following the burning of Roxburgh, Umfraville commanded a force of ten ships and 600 men and destroyed Scottish shipping sheltered in the Firth of Forth, capturing 13[18] or 14 of them.[19] This may well have been the documented occasion on which Umfraville utilised fire ships against them.[20] As a result of his successes, he was appointed Captain of Roxburgh in place of John Neville, the Earl of Westmorland's son.[21] Umfraville was owed £666 for his naval expedition,[22] and two years later, Bishop Langley paid Umfraville 100 marks to repair the walls of Berwick Castle, which by this time was in some disrepair.[23]

The 'Southampton Plot,' service in France and returnEdit

Part the remains of Roxburgh Castle (in 2007), the focus of so much of Umfraville's career.

In 1415 he was part of the Agincourt expedition with Henry V of England, fighting at that battle and at the Siege of Harfleur.[12] Henry confirmed him in his £40 annuity at this time. However, Henry Summerson has suggested that the reason for his presence in France rather than on the border was the result of the Southampton Plot against the King. The plot had been exposed to Henry just before the expedition sailed.[4] Umfraville had been summoned–"by name"–to the King in August 1415, due to his military importance.[6] This summons, says Summerson, was because Henry suspected Umfraville of "harbouring a residual loyalty to the Percys" and of "thus of being sympathetic to the Southampton plot of 1415, whose aims included a Percy restoration." In July 1411, Umfraville had been appointed Captain of Roxburgh Castle for a six-year term. However, he had been relieved of his appointment just prior to his summons to the King. Since Umfraville was indentured by the King to serve abroad in the following year's campaign, he presumably had cleared himself of suspicion in the King's eyes, and in any case, by 1417 he had returned to the Northumberland and the border. The Duke of Albany had launched a "foul raid"[4] on the county of Northumberland–which broke the existing truce–against Berwick that year. On 3 August Umfraville (as Chamberlain of Berwick and Captain of Roxburgh) was informed that Albany intended to invade England with an army of 60,000 and besiege Berwick.[24] E. F. Jacob has suggested that the leaders of the Southampton Plot had expected Umfraville's support, but that, in the end, if he did let the Scots over the border, it was ultimately "only to destroy them."[25] Sir Robert led a series of retaliatory raids against Scotland in revenge,[4] climaxing in 1419 with his assault upon the town of Peebles. As a result of his burning of the town on market day, Umfraville earned the moniker 'mendmarket.' John Hardyng's later verse proclaimed that Umfraville, being determined that not all the glory should be earned solely by those fighting the French, "made the warre on Scottes to have a name" for himself.[26] As Alexander Rose put it, while Henry V was "sacking Caen and advancing into undefended Bayeux and Lisieux... Sir Robert Umfraville, his most ruthless lieutenant [had] free rein to tear south-eastern Scotland savagely apart for two years,"[27] and John Hardying commented benevolently upon Umfraville's consequent winning of prisoners and booty.[20]

Later yearsEdit

Sir Robert had married a woman known only as Isabella by 1419, when he is also recorded as taking membership of the Durham confraternity.[4] He also appears to have been friends with the Prior of Durham, John Wessington (with whom he dined at Durham Priory on at least one occasion that we know of)[28] who had not only granted him his letters of confraternity, but had been entrusted by Umfraville with important family title deeds.[29] Umfraville had a degree of religious devotion; in 1428, he was licensed to grant his manor of Farnacres, near Newcastle upon Tyne[30] for the use of a chantry chapel, one of the few that was free-standing.[31] The chapel, Umfraville charged, should be devoted to the souls of himself, his wife, Kings Henry IV and V, and to each past, present and future member of the Order of the Garter.[4]

In 1421 Robert acted as his nephew's executor, following Gilbert's death in the disastrous English defeat at the Battle of Baugé.[32] From his nephew, Umfraville inherited the Redesdale[9] and Kyme estates; he had already lost his lordship of Langley in 1414 when the second Earl of Northumberland was restored to his patrimony. It was with this Henry Percy that Sir Robert spent much of the remainder of his military career in the north of England[4] (this included not only fighting but diplomatic duties–for instance in 1425, he was sent to King James to assist the ongoing negotiations, although the results of this particular embassy is unknown).[33] His duties also involved administrative work such as presiding over the Warden's Marcher Court,[34] negotiating temporary truces, attending peace conferences, and travelling on embassies. He also continued to keep the peace in his home county as well, for example helping to arbitrate the dispute between the Northumberland gentry families of Heron (of Ford Castle) and Manners between 1428 and 1431, although as a feoffee to Sir William Heron–and being one of "the two most powerful knights in the county"[35]–Sir Robert took the part of Heron's wife, Isabel, after Heron was killed by Manners.[36] This event, said James Raine, "abounds with incident, characterising, at the same time, the pugnacious state of the borders, the total absence of every thing in the shape of legal redress, and the omnipotence of the church."[37] In this arbitration, Prior Wessington acted as an umpire.[29] In Umfraville's own words, he wished to see "gude rest and pece to be had in the cuntre."[29] Eventually, through Wessington's and Langley's arbitration, Umfraville informed the former on 3 April 1428 that he would request Isabel's lawsuit in London be withdrawn if Manners would pay a surety of 400 marks to Heron's widow[36] and help Umfraville redeem the Heron estates from royal custody (for which he would attempt to get the amount of compensation demanded by the widow reduced).[38] On the 23rd of the month, Manners may have indentured himself to Umfraville's "lytill and esy tretye,"[39] as it was termed, to pay all Heron's debts and to establish chantries for those that died during the course of their dispute.[36] A tripartite Indenture was eventually agreed and delivered at Newcastle on 24 May 1431, which Umfraville attended, and at which he received the first instalment of the 250 marks compensation he–and Heron's widow–were now due from John Manners.[40]

Since Gilbert had been his closest relative, and Robert and Isabelle had had no children, his estates passed to a distant relative, Sir William Tailboys. How much these lands were actually worth, however, Summerson has queried: although his manors around Redesdale covered over 25,000 acres (10,000 ha), Scotland and England were in a state of war, and[9] he suggests it is likely that these estates had been greatly ravaged. Possibly the only lands of Umfraville's that were worth their full value at the time, Summerson says, were those in Lincolnshire, which could have been worth up to £400 per annum.[4]

Death and contemporary perceptionEdit

Historian Chris Given-Wilson has described Umfraville as one of "the most renowned warriors of their day."[41] This reflects the contemporary view of Robert Umfraville as something of a fifteenth-century hero: in 1426 the King's Council, on behalf of the then four-year old King Henry VI, had written to him, thanking him for his "great and notable services… to your most renowned honour and praise and to the advantage of us and our whole realm," whilst John Hardyng called Umfraville "a Jewell for a kynge, in wyse consayle and knyghtly dede of werre"[4] as well as a "vision of the ideal knight... brave and wise in war, generous and loyal to his followers, a lover of justice and protector of the common good."[42] Sir Robert received his last commission to organise a truce with Scotland in March 1436 and died on 27 January the following year. He was buried in Newminster Abbey, where his wife, who died less than two years later in 1438, was buried beside him.[4]


  1. ^ Lomas 1992, p. 85.
  2. ^ Lomas 2009, p. 481.
  3. ^ Dodd 2013, p. 94.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Summerson 2004.
  5. ^ MacDonald 2005, p. 31.
  6. ^ a b c Dodd 2013, p. 5.
  7. ^ Curry et al. 2010, p. 1386.
  8. ^ Jacob 1993, pp. 35–36.
  9. ^ a b c Hedley 1970, p. 215.
  10. ^ Storey 1961, p. 104.
  11. ^ Beltz 1841, p. clviii.
  12. ^ a b c Marchant 2014, p. 52 n.69.
  13. ^ Gransden 1996, p. 274.
  14. ^ Lomas 2007, p. 149.
  15. ^ Dodd 2013, pp. 94–95.
  16. ^ Given-Wilson 2016, p. 460.
  17. ^ Given-Wilson 2016, pp. 483–484.
  18. ^ Nicholson 1974, p. 231.
  19. ^ Given-Wilson 2016, pp. 324–325.
  20. ^ a b MacDonald 2005, p. 33.
  21. ^ Given-Wilson 2016, p. 324.
  22. ^ Given-Wilson 2016, p. 474 n.32.
  23. ^ Storey 1961, p. 146.
  24. ^ Storey 1961, p. 151.
  25. ^ Jacob 1993, p. 146.
  26. ^ Storey 1961, p. 153.
  27. ^ Rose 2002, pp. 447–448.
  28. ^ Dobson 1973, p. 106.
  29. ^ a b c Clark 2006, p. 56.
  30. ^ Storey 1961, p. 187.
  31. ^ Lomas 1992, pp. 120–121.
  32. ^ Milner 2006, p. 486.
  33. ^ Storey 1961, pp. 156–157.
  34. ^ Neville 1994, p. 21.
  35. ^ Dobson 1973, p. 197.
  36. ^ a b c Storey 1961, pp. 142–143.
  37. ^ Raine 1852, p. 209.
  38. ^ Dobson 1973, p. 198.
  39. ^ Dobson 1973, p. 199.
  40. ^ Dobson 1973, p. 201.
  41. ^ Given-Wilson 2016, p. 396.
  42. ^ MacDonald 2005, p. 32.


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Contemporary tracts and sourcesEdit

  • Chronicle of John Hardyng, ed Ellis, H., London 1812. [1]
  • Beltz, G. F. Memorials of the most noble Order of the Garter, from its foundation to the present time. London 1841. [2]
  • Chambers, W., A History of Peebleshire, Edinburgh 1861.
  • Denham Tracts, ed. Hardy Dr. J., London 1892.[3]