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, and it was this belief that was to be the family’s downfall. Thomas V was born in 1532, and was a young boy when his father took part in the Pilgrimage of Grace. Publically the family followed the new faith, but clung secretly to their Catholic beliefs.
Medieval Pilgrimage to the Holy Land was perilous, and the Mediterranean Sea impassable, meaning Thomas had to sail from Venice to Jaffa. Safe passage to Jerusalem then had to be secured. We are fortunate to have a long list of the places Thomas visited on his Pilgrimage – including Bethany, Damascus, Sea of Galilee, Cana, Nazareth and Samaria.. At each place prayers were said, and often a Mass celebrated.
At the end of his Pilgrimage, on 14 June 1566, Thomas V was admitted into the Order of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Lately to the most sacred Holy Land there came on pilgrimage with sincere devotion the Noble and Gentle Thomas Markynfeld of the English Nation and born of noble blood Lord of M[arkenfield]
To become a Member of the Order was considered, by those of the Catholic faith, an honor of greater worth than any knighthood conferred by their own sovereign. The evening before the ceremony Thomas V made his confession. The next day he heard the Mass of St George, before a gold belt and sword were placed upon his waist. Thomas then swore to defend his faith – a promise that would cost him dear.
Janet Senior’s book, The Markenfields of Markenfield Hall, from which these extracts were taken is available to purchase below.