Bishop Irton: the Conclusion of the Haunting Tale

I started some background on the times of the Ghost of Linstock--one Bishop Ireton on Wednesday.  Thursday's post talked about Bishop Irton's early life, the contention with Edward I over his election as bishop of Carlisle, and the Grey Friars' dislike of him.

The Franciscans of Carlisle are believed by some to be the authors of the famous Chronicle of Lanercost--a valuable source in knowing the medieval history of England and Scotland.  From it (and presumably from other sources), we know that Bishop Irton loved to visit his clerics.  And these visits apparently invariably ended up costing them money they could scarce afford.  In October 1280--just months after his ordination in Rome on March 25--he claimed a tenth of the income of a diocesan council, and in addition, insisted on terms not to their liking: paying on real valuation, not traditional, and paying in the new money.

He extorted (such an ugly word and one I'm sure Bishop Irton himself did not use) money from the poverty-stricken anniversary priests, whose livelihood came from saying private masses.

The money, at least in part, went to improving the cathedral at Carlisle: a new roof, glass, and stall work.

In 1282, he caused further anger by claiming the church of Addingham and granting it to his cathedral prior, though in truth Christiana Bruce had already made this grant and he only confirmed it. 

[Is this Christiana Bruce the same Christina Bruce, sister of Robert the Bruce?  A quick glance turns up no other Christiana Bruce, but Robert's sister would have been approximately 4 years old in 1282 and therefore was unlikely to be granting anything to anyone.  A private user on Geni lists Christiana/Christian de Brus, born 1246, as the daughter of Robert de Brus, 5th Lord of Annandale and Isabel de Clare, although more basic sources fail to mention more than two sons for him. 

Given that this Christiana died in 1275, that in those days many Scottish nobles also owned lands in England, and that Geni lists her father's 'occupation' as [ahem...sound the trumpets please!]
  • Lord of Ireby,
  • Constable of Carlisle Castle,
  • Sheriff of Cumberland,
  • 5th Lord of Annandale,
  • (trumpet player, quick breath and another flourish please!)
  • 5th Lord of Annadale de Bruce,
  • Regent of Scotland,
  • Governor of Carlisle Castle and last but not least (well, maybe it is).....
  • Sheriff of Cumberland

....well, seeing the family connection to Carlisle (which in all my research I have only just now found) it seems this Christiana Bruce may well have been granting lands to and fro in that area.]

And (back to our story) poor Bishop Irton got the blame for it.  Of course, given his reputation for wringing money out of poor clergy, he apparently wasn't that poor.

Not content with getting the blame for confirming her grant, he went on in 1287 to confirm another grant, this time of Bride Kirk, to Gisburne.  He regained Dalston manor and church both from Sir Michael Harclay.  At the risk of getting sucked down another rabbit hole, I'll give a link to more information on Michael Harclay and just say at the moment, he was the father of Andrew Harclay, who later held Carlisle, and whom Shawn encounters in The Water is Wide--who could forget The Lasses in Andrew's Orchard!  (Hey, Judd, there's another song for you to write!)

But I digress.  (Oh, and the trumpet player, you can stop now.) 

Also among Bishop Irton's financial activities were his attempts to requisition the tithes of Inglewood Forest for his chapter.  He failed.

With scanty information on Bishop Irton, I do think it's fair to point out that his reputation includes foresight and wisdom--along with greed.  Given the running of a large diocese and many parishes, he likely felt a great need for the money to make many things happen--such as repairing a roof, which is typically a costly endeavor.  Yet it is easy to see how it felt from the other side--those who contributed to all these projects and causes.

Like many bishops of the time, Irton was politically active.  He went with Bishop Anthony Bek to negotiate the marriage between Edward II and Margaret, the Maid of Norway--who did not survive the journey to Scotland.  The Treaty of Birgham was signed on July 18, 1290.

In 1291, there was a series of meetings between Edward I and the Guardians of Scotland--at least one in Norham and thirteen of these at Berwick from May to August.  Bishop Irton was present and must certainly have crossed paths with both William Wallace and Robert de Brus, Bruce's father, if not Bruce himself.

These are the details of history that make writing fascinating.  Irton would likely have been in his late 50s by now, possibly quite a bit older, while Robert the Bruce would have had his 17th birthday in the midst of these meetings.

Also in 1291, Irton was assigned the duty, along with the Bishop of Caithness, of collecting the crusading tenth in Scotland.  One can only imagine that may have been a strenuous job for a man who was getting quite old by the standards of the time.  By January 1292, he had traveled to London for a parliament, returning to Linstock (yes, we're finally getting around to Linstock!), the manor home of the Bishops of Carlisle, in late February.

He died suddenly there of a burst vein, on March 1.  One source says possibly February 28.  Presumably he died in the night and no one really knows which side of midnight he made that great crossing.  It does make one think how much we value dates, however, when in truth it doesn't really matter if he died a few hours before or after the day changed. 

He has come down in history as a man of foresight, wisdom...and greed.  He was buried at Carlisle Cathedral and just months later, on May 25, a great fire destroyed much of his new work and also his very tomb.

It was said that this was God's judgment for his years of extorting money from poor clerics.

And his ghost is now said to appear at Linstock Castle every year on the anniversary of his death.

The story raises questions--as does every ghost story.  What are people really seeing at Linstock?  Why do they believe it's Bishop Irton?  Was he as avaricious as reputed or merely trying to get a job done and not realizing the impact of his demands on others?  Would a man be condemned to haunt his death place for centuries for this?  Why then aren't there a great many more ghosts, since he's certainly not alone in that sin?

As a writer, I'm curious if the stories of his haunting had arisen by 1317--25 years after his death--as Niall, Hugh, and Conal look on.  My guess, if people immediately claimed the fire and destruction of his tomb, just months after his death, as divine retribution, is that yes, there were rumors of his annual presence long before 1317.

How might MacDougall feel, staying in a place where he can expect a ghostly visit on March 1?  More intriguing still--at least to me--is the fact that Alexander MacDougall, having been a young Scottish lord during those meetings at Norham and Berwick, would have met Bishop Irton.  Does he view the prospect of a haunting from one he knew differently than from a nameless, unknown wraith?

Also, as a writer, I have to ask myself: would the ghost of Bishop Irton even have any place in this story?  We can't put information into a book just because it's interesting.  It has to fit with the events and the characters.  And I'm thinking there is one man who will be at Linstock who would have some thoughts about potentially meeting the spirit of one he knew in life.

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