Following our AGM on 31 May, AIM Chairman Andy Ford gave a talk on “Richard Cornwall, Lord of Marlow and King of the Romans”.
Andy explained that the origin of the talk was in the research that he has been conducting over the last few months into Warren Wood. As part of that he came across an entry in the medieval Close Roll document for 14 April 1233 which, roughly translated, reads as follows:
“Peter de Rivall is ordered to give eighteen fallow deer from the royal forest of Windsor as a gift from the king to Richard, Earl of Cornwall for the establishment of his park in Marlow”. Andy has therefore been exploring both the life of Richard of Cornwall and trying to identify the location of the deer park.
Andy explained that Richard was born in Winchester in January 1209 and was the second son of King John. He was only six years old when his father died and his elder brother Henry succeeded to the throne. Henry III spent much of his reign trying to assert his royal authority over the powerful barons, often through controversial means such as promoting outsiders and foreigners. His younger brother Richard was, by contrast, a far more able and sensitive politician who was known during his lifetime for his diplomacy and his strengths as a negotiator.
Although Richard was a member of the royal family and heir to the throne until 1239, he had to make his own way in the world and did so with remarkable success. He became reputedly the wealthiest man in England and one of the richest in Europe. He acquired much of that wealth through land granted to him by Henry III, including the Earldom of Cornwall in 1231. Many of the subsequent grants were made after the brothers had quarrelled and were often, in effect, a bribe to keep Richard from siding with the barons. During the course of his life, Richard built up an extensive portfolio of estates in Cornwall, the Thames Valley and Buckinghamshire, Middlesex, Suffolk, the East Midlands and Yorkshire, as well as enjoying wealth from tin mines in Cornwall and Devon, and presiding over a highly lucrative recoinage across the country.
Once he had secured his position both financially and politically at home, Richard became increasingly active overseas, for example joining the Sixth Crusade between 1240 and 1242. The success of his contribution to the Crusade and the increasingly close links with leading European families fuelled Richard’s ambitions and he became heavily involved in European politics. This culminated in his being elected King of the Romans in 1256, although in truth this meant that he became effectively not much more than overlord to a number of German states concentrated around the Rhine. Richard spent a considerable proportion of his wealth to acquire the title and visited his new kingdom on four occasions during his fifteen year reign, albeit spending less than four years in total there.
Richard’s focus on his overseas ambitions coincided with increasing unrest at home. Marginalised barons, frustrated by Henry III’s increasingly autocratic and aloof kingship, found an effective champion in the form of Simon de Montfort who led them in open revolt in 1263. In May of the following year, his army comprehensively defeated the royal forces at the Battle of Lewes where both Henry III and Richard were taken prisoner. The situation was reversed in August 1265 when royalist forces under Henry III’s son defeated the rebels at Evesham and restored Henry’s position as king. Richard played a key role in re-establishing peace in England after the rebellion and remained a central figure at court until he died in April 1272. He was buried in Hailes Abbey (Gloucestershire), which he had founded after surviving a shipwreck in 1243.
There is no evidence of Richard of Cornwall having any association with Marlow until 1231 when two separate events established firm links with the town and the area. The first was his marriage in Fawley in March 1231 to Isabel Marshal who was a member of one of the leading baronial families of the time. Isabel already had connections with Marlow through her former husband, the Earl of Gloucester who had died in the autumn of 1230.
It seems the new family spent quite some time in Marlow in the first years after the wedding. Isabel gave birth to four children during her marriage to Richard. Their first, John, died in Marlow in September 1233 and may have been born in the town in the preceding year. He was buried in Reading Abbey, as was the second child, Isabel, who was born in 1233 and died in the following year. It is possible that Isabel also was born and died in Marlow. Coupled with the establishment of a deer park by Richard in Marlow in 1233, these births and deaths suggest a close association by the family with the area over a short but intense period. Unfortunately, we can’t say for sure where the family were resident when they stayed in Marlow.
What is also notable is that Richard did not gain control of the estates of the former Earl of Gloucester including Marlow, except perhaps for temporary custody of them during the period 1239-43. Instead, Richard did acquire land in Little Marlow, also in 1231. In that year, one of a series of royal charters granted him the honour of Wallingford that brought with it an estate in Little Marlow. Given this, it is highly likely that the location of Richard of Cornwall’s deer park is to be found in Little Marlow rather than Great Marlow.
Deer parks were a common feature of the landscape during the medieval period. It is possible that over 3,000 existed at various points during the period and 50 have been identified to date in Buckinghamshire alone. These were typically enclosed areas of land preserved for the purpose of the local lord being able to hunt deer, both for food and for sport.
Andy suggested that Warren Wood, which is located in Little Marlow, may be the site for the deer park for a number of reasons. Firstly, it shares many of the characteristics of other known deer parks in terms of both location and features, in that it is a sloping, wooded site some distance from the main village settlement, on the edge of the parish/manor boundary and on a site that would have been difficult to cultivate.
In addition, the various finds from our investigations to date on the site suggest that it was highly likely that there was a medieval dwelling at Warren Wood, the dating of which is consistent with the establishment of Richard’s deer park in1233. Dwellings of this type for a park-keeper would have been common in deer parks at this time to help with maintenance and security.
A further clue is offered by the name of the site. For some time, it has been assumed that the name of the wood derived from the local Borlase Warren family who were prominent local landowners during the eighteenth century. However, the first record of a map for the wood identifies it as “The Warren”. Andy explained that the term “warren” had a number of different meanings during the medieval period, but all in some way were associated with the hunting or rearing of animals.
Andy explained that there were some challenges with this interpretation, for example the lack of evidence of a boundary around the Warren Wood site which would have been necessary for keeping the deer in the park. It is also possible that the name refers to the prior existence of a rabbit warren. In the early medieval period, rabbits were extremely rare and highly prized, both for their meat and their fur. They were farmed in specially developed “coneygarths”. There is documentary evidence showing that Richard maintained rabbit warrens at his other estates so it is possible that Warren Wood also served that purpose. Interestingly, rabbit warrens were elsewhere maintained alongside deer parks.
There are no further records relating to the deer park in Marlow after Richard’s death. By the turn of the next century, the number of parks across the country was at its peak and for various reasons it declined after that. Due largely to the effects of the Black Death and the subsequent labour shortage, it became more and more difficult to maintain the hunting parks and many gradually fell into disuse and were leased out.