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Duffield Castle
Lecture by William Bland,
at the Temperance Hall, Wirksworth, on Tuesday, January 11th., 1887


  1. Henry de Ferrars, already referred to as the builder of Duffield Castle, and as the largest landowner in Derbyshire, had by his wife, Bertha, three sons - Eugenulph, William, and Robert. To Eugenulph he entrusted the charge of Duffield Castle, and there he resided until his death, which took place shortly before that of his father. The second son, William, also died in the lifetime of his father.
  2. Robert de Ferrars, the third son, succeeded to the estates in 1088. He took a large body of Derbyshire men northwards to assist King Stephen in repelling an invasion of the Scots. The engagement was called the Battle of the Standard, and was fought near North Allerton, on Aug. 22nd, 1138. Robert was mainly instrumental in securing the victory for his Sovereign, who for this and other important services created him Earl of Derby; but he had only enjoyed his additional honours for one year, when he died. His second son inherited his father's estates, and was usually known as
  3. Robert de Ferrars, the younger. He founded the Priory of Derby, afterwards removed to Darley, and the Abbot was granted by this Earl and some of his successes many privileges in Duffield Forest and Chase.
  4. William de Ferrars succeeded his father in 1162. He joined the King's sons in a rebellion against their father, Henry II., and was deprived of his Earldoms of Derby and Nottingham, but afterwards he made submission to the King, and was pardoned, but according to Dugdale," So little did the King trust him that he forthwith demolished those forts," i.e., the castles of Tutbury and Duffield. Dr. Cox says, "There is great reason for believing, that so far as Duffield Castle was concerned, the order of demolition by Henry II, if ever issued, was certainly never carried out, for it stood for another century." (see footnote) William seems to have afterwards regained the confidence of Henry II., and he showed his fidelity to the next Sovereign, (King Richard I.), by accompanying him in his expedition to the Holy Land, and taking part in the siege of Acre, where he was killed in 1190.
  5. William de Ferrars, the second, was the eldest son of the late Earl, and was a very clever and distinguished nobleman. His devotion to King Richard during his absence in the holy land led him to unite with the Earl of Chester in besieging Nottingham Castle, then held by the supporters of John, brother of the King, who was laying claim to the throne on a false report being circulated of Richard's death. On the accession of John after the death of his brother, in 1199, this powerful baron gave him his allegiance, and became a great favourite of the King, who restored to the Ferrars' family the title of Earl of Derby, and soon afterwards bestowed upon him the manors of Ashbourn and Wirksworth, with the whole of that wapentake, subject to a fee farm rent of £70 per annum. He was also one of the witnesses to the deed by which King John surrendered his kingdoms of England and Ireland to the Pope, and in the following year became one of the King's sureties for the performance of the engagements which his Sovereign had made with the Pope, with respect to the payment of a yearly tribute of 1,000 marks. In the same year, 1214, the King granted the Earl the royal castle of Harestan (Horsley), Derbyshire. When Henry III. became King, there was considerable discontent amongst the barons with reference to the royal violation of the Magna Carta, and the Earl was one of three counsellors recommended by the barons to bring their complaints before the King. As the Earl advanced in years he became a martyr to severe attacks of the gout, a disease which terminated his life in the year 1247. He was succeeded by his elder son,
  6. William de Ferrars the third. This nobleman had many favours granted to him King Henry III. One was the right of free warren in Beaurepair (Belper), Makeney, Winleigh (Windley), Holbrooke, Siward (Southwood near Coxbench), Heyhegh (Heage) Cortelegh (Corkley, in the parish of Muggington), Ravensdale, Holland (Hulland), and many other places, He was a martyr to the gout, which disease he had inherited from his father; and one day when he was passing over the bridge at St.Neot's, in Huntingdon, the carriage was upset by the carelessness of the drivers, and the Earl was thrown into water, and although he escaped immediate death, yet he never recovered from the effects of the accident. He died on April 5th, 1254, and was succeeded by his son.
  7. Robert de Ferrars, the third, who was the last Earl that enjoyed the extensive family estates. He was only 15 years old at the time of his father's death, and no sooner did he become of age that he exhibited every disposition to take a violent and reckless course. His extensive estates furnished him with many followers, and the first use he made of this force was to throw off all restraint, and break out into open rebellion against the King, forgetful of the fine examples of loyalty and fidelity to the Crown set by his father and grandfather. He collected his Derbyshire men and marched upon Worcester, sacking the city, destroying the unoffending Jews, plundering the religious and private houses, and damaging the fences and lands of the Royal parks in the neighbourhood. When the news of this unprovoked outrage reached London, the King sent a considerable army against him, under Prince Edward, his son, who marched into Derbyshire, demolished the Castle of Tutbury, and probably attacked the Castle of Duffield, which, however, he found too strong for him to take without recourse to a siege. Subsequently we find Robert de Ferrars joining Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, and other rebellious barons in their attacks on the Royal forces at Lewes, in 1264, and when the King (Henry) and his son (prince Edward) were taken prisoners Robert exulted over the captives. This determined hostility to the King could not be readily overlooked, and on his regaining his liberty the following year he confiscated the Earl's estates. Owing, however, to powerful intercession on his behalf, his estates were restored to him on his consenting to pay within twelve months a very heavy fine, and binding himself by an oath to pay total forfeiture of his estates and honours if he ever rebelled again. But after some proceedings in the Parliament held at Northampton, which were particularly obnoxious to the barons, he, in the spring of the ensuing year, 1266, assembled his followers round his castle at Duffield, which he had fortified, levied contributions from neighbourhood, and especially from the town of Derby, apparently hoping he might be attacked with Duffield Castle as his base. But prince Henry, nephew of Henry III., proceeded first to Tutbury, then advanced to the north of Wirksworth, thus avoiding Duffield Castle on his right, hoping to prevent a body of Yorkshire rebels, under a turbulent baron, named John d'Ayville, from effecting a junction with Earl Ferrars, who had been reinforced by a number of men from the marshes of Lincolnshire, under Baldwin de Wake, lord of Chesterfield. Robert was, therefore, compelled to withdraw his soldiers from the neighbourhood of Duffield, and push northwards. With much difficulty he crossed the river Amber, which was then flooded, and on reaching the neighbourhood of Chesterfield, May 15th, 1266, just as the king's troops were attacking the Yorkshire forces which had arrived there from Dronfield, he took part in this bloody battle, which lasted until the evening, and resulted in a complete victory for the Royalists. The remnant of the Yorkshire men fled across the country. Earl Ferrars, however, succeeded in getting possession of the town of Chesterfield, but had the mortification to learn the next morning that Baldwin de Wake had retreated with his Lincolnshire followers in the night, and left him to his fate.

    The supporters of the gallant but infatuated Robert de Ferrars were now easily overpowered, and the Earl himself sought concealment in the cloisters of the church, where some wool belonging to traders at the Whitsuntide fair had been deposited, as was not the unfrequent custom in those troublous times. The unfortunate nobleman was betrayed by a young woman whose lover had been killed in the battle. He had concealed himself amongst some bags of wool, and his hiding-place being discovered, he was dragged forth, and under a strong escort conveyed to London, and thence to Windsor Castle, there to await a formal trial for high treason. Within a few weeks, Robert de Ferrars was formally attainted of high treason, and though his life was spared, his lands were confiscated by the Crown, and bestowed by King Henry III. on his second son, Prince Edmund, who was shortly afterwards created Earl of Lancashire. The immense estates of the unfortunate Robert De Ferrars, after having been enjoyed by his family for 200 years, were thus lost forever to his descendants. Owing to the intercession of several of the most powerful of the barons, Robert De Ferrars was set free in 1269, and he died in 1278, leaving a son John, from whose issue were descended the Ferrars of Chartley who became extinct in the reign of Henry VI.

    Footnote: Webmaster's Note. From the later excavations by Manby in 1957, it appears that the original de Ferrars castle was built of wood. Perhaps it was this that was destroyed by Henry II, being later rebuilt in stone, which was then also sacked by Edward I.
    See also a later more detailed account

The Royal army, on their march back to London after this signal victory, would proceed by the great road to the south that passed so near Duffield, and a large contingent would turn aside to lay siege to the Castle. Probably the garrison would surrender to the King's troops as soon as they knew that their Lord had been taken prisoner, and the Royal forces would burn this stronghold to the ground.

The stones of these vast fortress-ruins were carted away from time to time to repair the church, a private house, or a wall, or to erect a new building. The smaller material was used to fill up the ruts and holes, and eventually to make even the top of the mound; the weeds that had grown upon it formed a vegetable mould in which grass could take root and thrive; and a few centuries afterwards the place where the castle had stood - or whether there had ever been a Castle in this place - became a matter of conjecture with some of the inhabitants of the neighbourhood.

In 1769, Mr Reynold, a very careful antiquarian, could detect no visible ruins of the Castle above the sod. He writes: "Duffield Castle stood upon an eminence of ground betwixt ye upper end of the town of Duffield and the River Derwent (partly over against Makeney), the scite whereof is still called The Castle Orchard, but no visible ruins are now left"

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First published 1887, Website copyright 2001 Jed Bland. 27.09.01