A recent archaeological survey has shown that the central Great Hall section of the house is older than the other buildings around the Courtyard, probably dating from 1280, and would originally have been freestanding. Thirty years later Canon John de Markenfield had incorporated it in to the larger complex of buildings around the central Courtyard, and was granted the Licence to Crenellate by King Edward II on 28th February 1310, when the present house began to take shape.
John de Markenfield held high office under Edward II, and his family intermarried with the greatest ruling families of the north. They fought for the King at Agincourt, Bosworth and Flodden; but this rich and powerful family was brought to its knees by their leadership of the Rising of the North.
Following a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, young, passionate Sir Thomas Markenfield became a central figure in the Rising – the Catholic rising against Queen Elizabeth I and Protestantism in an attempt to restore freedom of worship for Catholics. A large contingent of the Rising gathered in the Courtyard at the Hall on 20 November 1569, under the banner of the five wounds of Christ. After the leaders had heard mass for the last time in the Chapel, they rode out towards Ripon before heading towards London.
The Rising was routed – the lucky ones got away, but over 200 were caught and hideously executed. After some months in Scotland, and with the net closing around them, Sir Thomas and his Uncle Sir Richard Norton fled to the Low Countries where they somehow survived – in ever increasing poverty. Eventually, in 1592, a papal correspondent wrote: “Sir Thomas Markenfield has been found dead, lying on the bare floor of his chamber, no creature being present at his death… [he was] in very extreme want and in a most miserable cottage.”
Shortly after the Rising, two Commissioners visited Markenfield to carry out a survey on behalf of Sir Robert Cecil, Secretary of State to Queen Elizabeth, for the house and land had been confiscated for High Treason.
The Hall then began a new phase in its history – that of a tenanted farmhouse with an absentee landlord.
The Markenfields of Markenfield Hall
Historian and Archivist Janet Senior has described how, “from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries, the influence of the family of Markenfield in the north of England enhanced by marriage into many wealthy and powerful families. Markenfield men and their retainers were involved in most of the major national and international events that influenced the history of this country. They were the confidants of kings, bishops, clerics, soldiers and courtesans.” Their steady rise to wealth, power and influence however was sadly matched by their descent into obscurity.
No portraits remain of the Markenfields, indeed no archive of documentation remains, and so their story has been pieced together by a small number of highly dedicated researchers over the years; continuing today with the Hall’s Archive & Research group. It can perhaps best be told by the two ‘bookends’ of the family…
As acknowledged by Prof. Andor Gomme, 1310 is the date most-associated with the Hall – the year that Canon John de Markenfield was granted the Licence to Crenellate.
"Licence to John de Merkyngfeld, king's clerk, to crenellate his dwelling house
at Merkyngfeld co. York. 2 Feb. 1310"
John de Markenfield, a Clerk to Edward I, used family connections to advance his way through the ranks; and by 1310 he was Chancellor of the Exchequer to Edward II. This role – as debt collector to the king – made John an unpopular character, and despite his pious nature he faced some serious allegations in his lifetime.
"Pardon to John de Merkyngfeld, canon of the church of St Peter York, for the rape of Sybyl, late the wife of John de Metham, knight, whereof he was indicted."
de Markenfield was finally excommunicated, after forcibly holding a Clerk of the cloth prisoner in a dispute over religious orders, when he was summoned to appear in front of Pope Clement V in 1314. It is hard to believe that a man of such contrasts could be responsible for the beautiful building that stands before us today. Thankfully not all Markenfields were of so dubious a character.
In complete contrast, Thomas Markenfield V – the last of the Markenfields to live at the Hall – was a man of intense religious belief.