Ralph gets established as a local manor lord

Mitton Road, on the way to Mitton Church and Halls.

The new king, Henry I, the youngest son of the Conqueror granted the manors that had been forfeited from the banished Roger de Poitou to Robert de Lacy in 1102. It was important for Henry to have strong supporters like Robert de Lacy to counter his Norman rivals in England. During the first years after Henry became king of England, divided loyalties made for unstable political situations. At this specific time it benefited the de Lacys, due to Roger de Poitou’s disloyalty to Henry. But within a few years this same divided loyalty worked against Robert de Lacy and his son, Ilbert, and they too were then banished for some time after supporting Henry’s older brother Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy from whom they held their lands in Normandy. Some reference is the de Lacy`s were not banished until1114. The reasons for the banishment are unclear but the above seems the best conjecture. Henry ll later forgave any animosity regarding the de Lacy`s and the Plantagenets that may have occurred in the past.

Less than a year after Robert de Lacy was granted the land that previously belonged to Roger Poitou, he made a grant to Ralph the Red on Nov. 23, 1102. The 1102 grant also appears to be held in “demesne*” meaning it was not kept by the “overlord” Robert de Lacy. Ralph was free to use it as he wished without fee to the superior lord. The manors became “reputed manors” of Ralph the Red, in other words separate manors from the grantor’s or any one else. It was also called a “seisin” manor meaning Ralph the Red had possession of land without fee to the superior lord but he still owed “knights service” to that feudal lord. This arraignment is further suggestion that Ralph was a bloodline son of Robert de Lacy and regarded as a member of the family to be allowed this kind of separate or demesne manor holdings.

These grants came about within two years of the forfeiture of the lands by Roger de Poitou. This “feoffment” took place only 36 years after the Norman Conquest during a post Hastings fear of further Saxon rebellion and Scots invasions.

Ralph the Red was granted “demesne” meaning freehold land at Clitheroe and Mearley at the same time. Clitheroe castle was an important strategic fortification site and became an administrative seat of the de Lacy’ Barony. A stone castle was built to better defend the de Lacy lands by the end of the 12th century. At the time of Ralph the Red’s Clitheroe occupancy in 1102 it was probably a defensive “Motte and Bailey” castle with Ralph being granted land in and around the castle rock. But others say that the charter may suggest it was some type of stone fortification even then.The de Lacy family lived at Pontefract Castle but used Clitheroe as a pivotal strategic fortification and a seat of administration. It was one of about 1000 such castles that had been built all across England to subdue the Saxons in the Normans’ newly conquered kingdom.

*“Reputed manor” meant whenever “demesne” land became totally separate the manor became one in reputation and legally entitled the lord to the manorial estates.

** “Demesne land” (from the old French de-main) is held by a lord himself, rather than by his tenants and includes all land, not just the manor. It can be used for his personal benefit and is separate from the superior lord’s lands.

The Manor

Great Mitton Hall, looking across the Ribble towards Whalley.

The back of Great Mitton Hall.

The sub-infeuded manor was a common way to grant land in exchange for fidelity and military service if called upon by the superior lord. The Normans needed every man they could get. There were at best only about 10,000 in England after the Conquest. As such the Normans were a small minority of the population in the early years after 1066 and were ruthless as a result.

The church of All Hallows at Mitton was probably built in stone at the beginning of the 13th century. Ralph the Red was te first rector in 1103.

Ralph the Red was a Norman Lord of the manor and rector of Mitton church after 1103. He was a direct beneficiary of a grant from Robert de Lacy. However, Ralph is never named on any genealogy as a son of Robert. We can’t document any more than this so far, except that his mother was an unknown mistress of Robert de Lacy according to one source. The grants were confirmed in 1135 by Ilbert (2) who was the eldest son of Robert and who calls Ralph ‘his brother’.

Ralph the Reds senic view from the back of the Great Mitton Hall manor site looking out and beyond to Pendle Hill.

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Below is how a typical Norman village looked in the early 12th. century and  represents how “Mit-ton” may have looked located along the Ribble near where Great Mitton Hall is today.

Surnames were not common in the 12th century. Ralph “the Red” may not have needed to use one at the time of the 1102 charter. We know his descendant Jordon did on legal documents for the poll tax requirement around 1219. Jordon may have wanted to identify himself as “de Mitton” after one of his family’s chartered “magna” manors, much like his grandson Otto de Mitton (or Bailey) did. Otto received a manor at Bailey from his older brother Hugh de Mitton around 1200. However we still identify Ralph the Red as the first de Mitton from the grant to him Nov. 23, 1102 and as founder of All Hallows or Mytton church.This is another important clue to Ralph’s status as the churches were income producing for the Lord of the manor and separate from the superior feudal Lord.

Ilbert was called upon to identify Ralph in order for the charter to be valid. Especially on lands by right of primogenitor would have been his when his father Robert died. Ilbert stated these lands were to be directly granted to “Ralph the Red” including another manor abode at Clitheroe Castle site (next page). He later confirmed the first charter with a second restatement after 1135 in which he refers to Ralph as his brother. Early on the newly arrived Normans sub-feudal to immediate family members and practiced a kind of social apartheid toward the local Saxons which Ralph the Reds mother may have been.That may explain why Ralph was never identified as a de Lacy even thought his father was. Ralph became the founder of the church of All Hallows at Mitton, established here in 1103.

“Mitton and Aighton,” says Whitaker,” having been granted together, when a parish church was founded at the former place, the later, belonging to the same lord (Ralph the Red), was included in the parish”. – Centenary record,1894 – John Gerard.

The door to Mitton Church. It is a popular wedding venue. The stonework is of a very early Norman type and indicates that it was built in the early 13th century. Churches like this helped the Normans to establish themselves in England.

The stone building that presently surround the keep at Clitheroe Castle were built centuries after Ralph the Red’s time. He was granted a manor here in 1102.

Ralph’s  ‘oxgangs” grant at Clitheroe is also revealing. Clitheroe had been a site of fortification from the Saxon era (if not well before to Roman times). Clitheroe`s steep hill was already considered a strategic location by the Conqueror who came to this area of Yorkshire after Hastings with Ilbert (1). William the Conqueror had a reputation for recognizing such locations. A even more substantial stone castle had been built there by the end of 12th century and maybe some stone form well before beginning with Ralph the Reds arrival. The manor at Clitheroe was one many manor grants to “Ralph the Red” in 1102.

Ralph was more likely to have been born at Pontefract or near their about 1080 and may have lived with the de Lacy family prior to his own personal grants of 1102. His grant is the first mention of a Norman at Clitheroe. The Normans would have been concerned about Saxon resistance so it is likely that the Norman families all lived close together as much as possible in the early days of the Norman Conquest.

Interior of Mytton Church whose founder was Ralph the Red, primogenitor of the;            de Mitton, Bailey and Shireburne scion families. The Shireburne effigies are too the left of the knave on the other side of the screen.

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Ralph the Red gets “the call”

Ralph the Red became the rector of All Hallows in 1103. The rector-ship in Norman post conquest England often went to a younger or illegitimate son. (Peter de Cestria, the illegitimate son of John de Lacy became the rector of Whalley church in 1235). The passing of the rector position to a younger son became the tradition in the Mitton family until in 1215 when the Lateran Council forbade the clergy to marry. This brought to an end the close association of the parish with the lords of the manor but it took much longer to reach the remote parish of Mitton.

This ancient Saxon religious icon can be found in Mitton churchyard. The Saxons may have used this site for Christian worship from the 6th century.

It was not unusual for the Normans to take family surnames from identifiable locations, especially when it was a religious site as well.  It was important to establish the Norman dominance over the Saxons in every way early on after the Conquest. They did this through the churches. The Mytton Church rector family tradition went on into the next century to include four succeeding de Mitton descendants all named Ralph until William de Kirkham becomes rector first mentioned in 1241.

*The Historical Manuscripts Commission (HMC) defines the word manor in three ways: “a Residence”, “a unit of estate administration”, and “a piece of landed property with tenants over whom the landlord exercised rights of jurisdiction in a private court”. The HMC applies the third definition to the manorial documents register.  This definition also complies with the definition used within this gazetteer. A more detailed historical definition states this unit was contained within the medieval feudal system or the “hierarchy of property rights” which was created “by this process of subfeudation [and] is emphasized by the structure of Domesday Book which, for this reason, has sometimes been called ‘a blueprint for feudalism’ “(www.domesdaybook.net/hs1620.htm). These estates did not coincide with parish boundaries. They usually included a chapelry and an area could cover one or more parishes or exist within an extra-parochial area. Governed by a lord, or a Steward, and a private court, these units controlled tenancies, local customs, local laws and land use.

Mitton Road with Mitton church and Great Mitton Hall in the distance.