Alice De Rouclif: an Eventful Childhood

  • Jeremy Goldberg
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul fell on a Sunday in 1365. Medieval folk were adept at combining worship and recreation. Such a major festival would have been a day of rest and of devotion throughout the realm, but especially within the diocese of York, whose cathedral church was dedicated to St Peter. For the residents of the Yorkshire Wolds’ hamlet of Kennythorpe, the day must have been focused around parish mass at the neighboring village church of Langton, a mile or so across the fields.19 It was high summer, a time when the daylight extended from early morning until late in the evening. We do not know at what time of day Sir Brian Rouclif’s men made their own way across the fields to the home of Stephen Wascelyne, but the likelihood is that they took advantage of the light to approach either soon after dawn or in the late evening before or after the household was up and about.20 The men were no doubt armed, but the house would have at best been lightly defended and the household staff would be more used to making beds or tending livestock than fighting. Their objective would have been quickly achieved. Whether the young girl they carried away from the Wascelyne house and its orchard that had been her home for only a matter of months cried out or resisted her abductors or what she may have said to them or they to her, we do not know.


Parish Church High Social Rank Dowry Payment Verbal Contract Benedictine Monastery 
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    No separate population figure survives for Kennythorpe from the poll tax of 1377, but together with the neighboring hamlet of Thornthorpe a total of only forty-five taxpayers are recorded. The much less satisfactory 1381 returns record fifteen taxpayers for Kennythorpe as against fourteen for Thornthorpe, a total of only twenty-nine. Kennythorpe was assessed to pay 12s., but Thornthorpe only 10s. toward the subsidy of 1334, so a crude estimate might suggest a total population of less than fifty: The Lay Subsidy of 1334, ed. Robin E. Glasscock, Records of Social and Economic History, New Series, 2 (Oxford: British Academy, 1975), p. 365; TNA, E179/202/61/7; The Poll Taxes of 1377, 1379 and 1381, ed. Fenwick, 3:160, 210, 212.Google Scholar
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    The house was excavated by the York Archaeological Trust in the course of a series of small-scale digs during the first part of the 1990s prior to the development of formerly agricultural land for housing. The final report of these excavations is still awaited. The house, located to the east of a more prominent moated site apparently abandoned in the thirteenth century, was itself first occupied around the middle of the same century. It can be tied to the de Rouclif family from the discovery of the seal matrix of Thomas de Rouclif. Gervase was Thomas’s grandson, but he had an older brother, Thomas, who leased the house to one Philip de Gillyng for twelve years in 1332. Since this appears to be the last record of Thomas, it is possible that he died unmarried or childless in or before the Black Death and hence his property would have passed to Gervase. Certainly this would help explain Gervase’s possibly advantageous marriage to the widow Ellen shortly after the Black Death and indeed how Alice came to be an heiress with land and tenants to her name. The house appears to have been used until the mid-sixteenth century. The hearth excavated within the hall below the most recent hearth was in use in the period c. 1340–80: K. Hunter-Man, “Rawcliffe the 5th,” Interim 17, 3 (1992): 2 [2–6]; idem, “Rawcliffe: Hall’s Well that Ends Well,” Interim 19, 2 (1994): 4–7 [4–9]; Nicky Rogers, “Signed, Sealed and Deciphered,” Interim 19, 2 (1994):10–12; Chris Daniel, “The Family Seal,” Interim 19, 2 (1994): 13–17. It should be noted that the excavated structure as reported does not immediately tally with the “basement room [camera bassa subterraneana]”referred to in Ellen Taliour’s account of Alice’s birth. For a reconstruction of the de Rouclif genealogy see fig. 1.Google Scholar
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© Jeremy Goldberg 2008

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  • Jeremy Goldberg

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