One of Thomas à Beckett’s assassins lived in Appleby (Background)
Hugh de Morville, Lord of Westmorland, with three other knights, murdered Thomas à Beckett on 29 December 1170. They afterwards fled to Scotland, and then to Jerusalem.
Not much is known about Sir Hugh de Morville, except that his father was another Hugh de Morville, born in Northern France, who was in service to David, Prince of the Cumbrians, later King David I of Scotland. He was made Constable of Scotland, and was granted the lordship of Appleby, with its castle, after David’s conquest of northern England in 1136. Hugh (the son) first appears in the record in 1158 in the service of King Henry. He held the titles of Lord of Westmorland and Knaresborough, and had his castle at Appleby – plus another at Pendragon.
In 1170, Hugh, together with Reginald Fitzurse, William de Tracy and Richard le Breton plotted the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas à Beckett, who had upset Henry II over his refusal to yield on the matter of the rights and privileges of the Church. Whether or not Henry wanted Thomas dead is unclear – but the four knights interpreted his words that way, and on 29 December 1170 they killed him, in Canterbury Cathedral. Henry advised them to flee to Scotland. They then went to Rome to ask for forgiveness from the Pope, who had excommunicated them in 1171: but before they set out for Rome, Hugh and Fitzurse took part in an abortive rebellion (The Great Revolt) against King Henry in 1173-4. When they finally got to Rome, the Pope decreed they should be exiled for fourteen years as Knight Templars in Jerusalem. It is not clear whether Hugh ever got there – he seems to have died around 1174, and the lordship of Westmorland passed to his sister.
13th cent depiction of the assassination – Hugh de Morville is one of the four knights shown. British Library: Harley MS 5102, f. 32 (public domain)
Text by Bill Shannon