Alice de Lisle's family

This is a first attempt at reconstructing Alice de Lisle's family tree and to examine her historical context. Alice was Lord of the Manor of Alverton, Penzance's economic centre in the Middle Ages, from 1327 until her death in 1347, and petitioned for the town's first permanent market and fairs in 1332. This grant also permitted a permanent fair in Mousehole. Download Alice de Lisle's Family Tree (showing Lords of the Manor of Alverton, Penzance) (PDF, 565KB)

The Tyeys

Alice came from the Tyeys family whose Cornish roots began with her great-grandfather Henry de Tyeys who was born in the estate/manor of Tywarnhaile (Tywarnhayle), on the north coast near Perranporth, around 1205. It seems, however, that Henry Tyeys was awarded the lordship of Tywarnhaile at some point around 1221 (yet to be cross-checked). He is documented to have accompanied Richard of Cornwall to Gascony in 1225. The Tyeys' previous roots were in Norfolk.

He and his wife Isabel had a son, also Henry (c.1235-c.1282). It is this Henry de Tyeys that connects the Tyeys to the manor/estate of Alverton.

It seems Henry of Tywarnhaile (c.1205-c.1240) was in the king's service as a mercenary (King John, famous for Magna Carta, then King Henry III--brother of Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall) and was awarded various estates to sustain him and his household and retinue. He and his wife Isabel had a son, also Henry (c.1235-c.1282). It is this Henry de Tyeys that connects the Tyeys to the manor/estate of Alverton. Henry Tyeys was apparently born in Alverton and was part of Richard, Earl of Cornwall's expedition to Germany in 1262. He married Joan Foliot of Fritwell, Oxfordshire which brought in a new estate to the family. He died around 1282 in Wales.

Their son was a third Henry de Tyeys (c.1263-c.1307), Alice's father, who inherited the family estates in Cornwall, Oxfordshire and elsewhere in 1284. Like his forebears he worked closely with Richard, Earl of Cornwall, in the king's service at home and abroad and is documented to have served in Wales in 1287 and 1292, Flanders in 1297 and against the Scots in 1299-1306. He fought at the battle of Falkirk on 22 July 1298, and was present at the siege of Carlaverock in July 1300. In 1307 he was made a baron and took the title 1st Baron Tyeys. He was  married in 1285, to Hawise de Neville (c.1265-1332) who came from Laceby in Lincolnshire.

Alice was born in Fritwell, Oxfordshire, an estate inherited from Alice's grandmother, Joan.

Henry and Hawise had two children, Henry, 2nd Baron Tyeys (1285-1322) and Alice de Tyeys (c.1297-1347). Henry was born at a family estate in Chilton Foliot (or Foliat) in Wiltshire and Alice was born at another in Fritwell, Oxfordshire (an estate inherited from Alice's grandmother, Joan). Around 1316 Henry married Margaret de Thiebot (c.1303-1349) who came from Salisbury, Wiltshire. They had no (surviving) children.

He was hung, drawn and quartered at the Tower of London and his family's estates, including Alverton, were forfeited.

Henry, 2nd Baron Tyeys, continued the family tradition of working in the king's service but became embroiled in baronial factions during the reign of King Edward II (1284-1327) and the political instability caused by the so-called Reign of the Despensers (a family that the longer-standing barons resented because of their undue influence and rewards from the king). He also sat in Parliament and was also made Controller of the Isle of Wight. But Henry's story is for someone else to write. Henry met a sticky end on 3 April 1322 along with many other barons who ended up on the wrong side of the power vacuum caused by the Despenser controversy. He was hung, drawn and quartered at the Tower of London and his family's estates, including Alverton, were forfeited. He was buried in the church of the Carmelites in London. That was the end of the Tyeys.

The Lisles

Warin de Lisle was executed (hanged) at Pontefract, Yorkshire in March 1322.

The Despenser war of 1321-22 was to deal a double blow to Alice. Alice married into the de Lisle family in about 1310/11 at the de Lisle or L'isle (Latin de Insula = of the Island) family estate in Kingston Lisle, near Sparsholt in Berkshire. Her husband was called Warin de Lisle (c. 1276-1322). Between around 1305 (when Alice was about 18 years old) and around 1314 they had five children, Henry, Gerard (later 1st Baron de Lisle) Mary, Alice, Warin and Margery.

Warin fought in wars in Scotland during the reign of King Edward I and was later made Governor of Windsor Castle and Warden of the Forest. In 1320-1 he joined the forces of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster against the Despensers. It is likely that Alice spent most of her time at Kingston Lisle during this time. Along with his rebel leader Earl of Lancaster, Warin de Lisle was executed (hanged) at Pontefract, Yorkshire in March 1322. His estates, including Kingston Lisle, were also forfeited.

1322-1327: The mystery years and the inspiration of Isabella

Could Alice's extraordinary achievement in regaining the Tyeys and de Lisle family estates in 1327... have in any way been inspired by the strength of character shown by Isabella of France?

14th-century manuscript illustration depicting Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella in the foreground (credit: British Library/Wikimedia Foundation)

So Alice, mother of five, multiple estate manager in lieu of her brother and husband, was left theoretically homeless, without an income by the spring of 1322. And what of all the inhabitants of Alverton, Penzance? We don't really know much of what became of disenfranchised widows in such a situation. No doubt Alice's ties with extended family may have come to her aid. This period needs more research from a Cornish perspective.

Edward II's favourite Piers Gaveston had got his hands on the earldom of Cornwall in 1307 shortly after the king's succession, a title and privilege usually reserved for the monarch's male heirs (even before the creation of the Duchy in 1337). He was executed following a dubious trial orchestrated by various barons in 1312. It is possible that the Tyeys withdrew support from the earl of Cornwall at this time and joined the growing discontent against him and Edward II. In 1316 the earldom was restored to the monarchy and the title Earl of Cornwall given to John of Eltham, Edward II and Isabella of France's second son in 1316 (until 1330). By this time both the Tyeys and de Lisles, having taken sides against supporters of Edward II, may have fallen out of favour with John as well.

Isabella reached the end of her tether when Hugh Despenser took Gaveston's place as the king's favourite after 1312, at which point baronial discontent bubbled up into out-and-out war.

But perhaps we might take a lead from another strand in the turbulence of political life in the 1320s. Isabella of France was colloquially known as the She-wolf. Having tolerated her husband's machinations with Piers Gaveston she reached the end of her tether when Hugh Despenser took Gaveston's place as the king's favourite after 1312, at which point baronial discontent bubbled up into out-and-out war.

So the story goes that Isabella returned to France and started an affair with Roger Mortimer in 1325 who had been exiled in France while the Despenser controversy carried on. He promised to return to England with a small mercenary army to depose Edward II. The king was duly ousted in 1326 and Isabella became Regent on behalf of her young son Edward III.

 

Berkeley Castle has another significance in the story of Alice de Lisle as her great-grand daughter Margaret de Lisle was to become the next female Lord of Alverton, her husband being Thomas "The Magnificent" de Berkeley

It is alleged that Edward II was imprisoned in Berkeley Castle and murdered by agents of Isabella and Roger Mortimer in October 1327. Berkeley Castle has another significance in the story of Alice de Lisle as her great-grand daughter Margaret de Lisle was to become the next female Lord of Alverton, her husband being Thomas "The Magnificent" de Berkeley, of which more in a future post. Indeed, several archives which may give us more clues to Alice's life are kept in the Berkeley Castle muniments.

...in Edward III's first parliament in 1327 all proceedings against Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, and his followers were annulled, paving the way for the disenfranchised Alice (amongst others) to restore their estates.

Isabella retained a close role in the management of England in Edward III's early years. Isabella's own influence was apparently unpopular, particularly peace-making in Scotland (which meant a good excuse for profit-making war was lost for many of the old barons). Nevertheless the young king's reign saw the beginnings of a series of reforms, legislation and stability in the English parliament in which Cornish aristocrats also took part. And in Edward III's first parliament in 1327 all proceedings against Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, and his followers were annulled, paving the way for the disenfranchised Alice (amongst others) to restore their estates.

Could Alice's extraordinary achievement in regaining the Tyeys and de Lisle family estates in 1327, petitioning and receiving a charter for markets and fairs in Penzance and Mousehole in 1332, restoring her husband's body to the family chantries in Wiltshire (in 1334), and much more besides, have in any way been inspired by the strength of character shown by Isabella of France?

In my next post I will discuss the Return of Alice de Lisle and follow the trail of her achievements after 1327 in more detail.

...to be continued.

Votes for women in Cornwall

Poster promoting WSPU (Women's Social and Political Union) Suffrage meeting at St John's Hall, Penzance on 2 June 1909

Poster promoting WSPU (Women's Social and Political Union) Suffrage meeting at St John's Hall, Penzance on 2 June 1909

To join the commemoration and celebration of the Women's Suffrage movement, particularly the centenary of the Great Suffrage Pilgrimage of 1913, we are publishing a series of articles on the women's suffrage movement in Cornwall.

Starting with this retrospective, based on The Cornishman newspaper's archives, we will then be hosting guest posts from historians about the impact of this movement on Cornish politics and culture.

By 1913 there was a clear difference between the tactics of the Suffragettes, led by Pankhurst (Women’s Social and Political Union) who favoured direct action to force the issue of votes for women, and the Suffragists (National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies) who championed the continuation of non-violent protests and petitions which had started in the 1870s.

This is a slightly extended version of an article I wrote for The Cornishman which came out today [Errata: The Cornishman mis-edited my original article suggesting that the Suffrage Pilgrimage as being organised by the Suffragettes. Correction sought. Ed.] It also highlights the work of other projects, notably Dreadnought South West's play, Oxygen and the forthcoming social history exhibition at Penlee House, which are marking this momentous event which changed the lives of tens of thousands of women.

The first thing to note is that although the Suffragettes have remained in popular consciousness as the face of Votes for Women, there were in fact two movements campaigning for broadening the franchise (i.e. reforming the law so all women could have the vote) and other issues of social justice such as child poverty, poor working conditions and bonded white labour (slavery).

The Great Suffrage Pilgrimage was initiated by the Suffragists who prided themselves on their peaceful tactics: rallies, marches and petitions. Millicent Fawcett was the face of the Suffragists and their colours were red, green and white.

The Suffragettes who came to be known through names such as Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison (who died tragically at on Derby Day 1913) took direct action. Their cause was to  use drastic measures to draw attention to the appalling injustice that allowed the law to be based on the decisions of men only. Their colours were purple, green and white.

Postcard showing Lands End to London Great Suffrage Pilgrimage march. Reproduced with permission from Jill Morison.

Postcard showing Lands End to London Great Suffrage Pilgrimage march. Reproduced with permission from Jill Morison.

In the 19 June 1913 edition of The Cornishman, sandwiched between a report on the output of black tin from Botallack Stamps and a physician’s advice about curing indigestion, was a short notice headlined MRS. PANKHURST RELEASED.

Emmeline Pankhurst was a Suffragette leader and had been on hunger strike, enduring the torture of force-feeding, while incarcerated at Holloway Prison for conspiracy to commit property damage. Emily Davison had also tragically lost her life while trying to pin Suffragette colours to the King’s horse at the Epson Derby barely a week before.

By 1913 there was a clear difference between the tactics of the Suffragettes, led by Pankhurst (Women’s Social and Political Union) who favoured direct action to force the issue of votes for women, and the Suffragists (National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies) who championed the continuation of non-violent protests and petitions which had started in the 1870s. Cornish activists enjoyed widespread support, from the dominant Liberal political class and influential religious groups such as Quakers headed by families such as the Foxes of Falmouth.

“There is a rumour that at Camborne they may be pelted with stale eggs"

Newspaper extract from  The Cornishman,  21 June 1913.

Newspaper extract from The Cornishman, 21 June 1913.

The tragedies of Pankhurst’s treatment and Davison’s death rallied peaceful Suffragists into action and on Thursday 19 June an amazing thing happened. Seven women gathered at Land’s End to start the Suffrage Pilgrimage, a gruelling march through Cornwall and up country to London. The Cornishman reported:

“There is a rumour that at Camborne they may be pelted with stale eggs; but surely, when it is realised that not one of the marchers has been guilty of breaking the law or inciting others to break the law, they will be treated with as much respect as would be a procession of Oddfellows or Freemasons.”

Scenes at Penzance

“This little band of zealots comprised Miss Misick (organising secretary), Mrs. Ramsay (Plymouth), Miss Raby (Exeter), and Miss Helen Fraser (London). Mrs. Robins Bolitho, who is actively interested in the non-militant movement, gave the party a hearty send-off, whilst a number of men who had assembled raised a cheer. Along the route to Penzance literature was left at the houses, and the idea of the movement explained.”

NUWSS van on Market Jew Street en route through Penzance, 19 June 1913 taken by E. Thomas. Image courtesy of Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance.

NUWSS van on Market Jew Street en route through Penzance, 19 June 1913 taken by E. Thomas. Image courtesy of Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance.

The march came to Penzance and paused at Trereife crossroads. The report continued, “Quite a crowd of people had assembled to witness the junction, and the numbers were constantly added to as the procession neared Penzance. Being market day, the processionists did not parade the main streets, but simply marched up Clarence-street and dispersed at the Pig Market.”

A rally led by Fraser took place on a makeshift stage in the Pig Market where a large crowd gathered, including the “hobble-de-hoy.” Fraser’s eloquence was complemented by the reporter, “few orators of the masculine gender could have held and swayed an audience in the open air as did Miss Fraser.” A scuffle broke out after her rousing speech as she had apparently been kicked in the ankle. The leaders had to be escorted by police to a safe-house on Clarence Street.

“…and if anything like the same success can be achieved in the various towns en route, they will have materially helped their cause to victory ere—like the “twenty thousand Cornishmen” of Trewlany’s spirited days—they summon London town to surrender.”

The march resumed on the Friday morning from Clarence Street, “up Alverton, through the Green Market, and on their way to the station, on the second stage of their long, self-imposed tramp to London.”

Suffragist marchers in Penzance, 19 June 1913 taken by E. Thomas. Image courtesy of Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance. 

Suffragist marchers in Penzance, 19 June 1913 taken by E. Thomas. Image courtesy of Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance. 

Invoking the last great march of Cornish people to London in 1497, the report ends, “…and if anything like the same success can be achieved in the various towns en route, they will have materially helped their cause to victory ere—like the “twenty thousand Cornishmen” of Trewlany’s spirited days—they summon London town to surrender.”

It took a further ten years for universal franchise to be granted to all women in 1928.

A small number of women were finally given the vote after World War 1 in 1918 as part of the Representation of the People Act. About 8.4 million enfranchised women (related to status and property holding) over the age of 30 voted.

It took a further ten years for universal franchise to be granted to all women over the age of 21 in 1928. That was a full 15 years after the Great Suffrage Pilgrimage and the height of Suffragette action.

Further reading

Katherine Bradley, Friends and Visitors: a History of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Cornwall 1870-1914 (2000, The Hypatia Trust). Available from the Hypatia Trust Online Bookstore. £5.

The intriguing photograph albums of Elizabeth Ann Armstrong

Woman in her parlour (at Nancealverne?)
Woman in her parlour (at Nancealverne?)

The Elizabeth Treffry Collection contains a small number of original archival items. Amongst these are some photograph albums. Two of them belonged to Elizabeth Ann Armstrong, related to the Scobell family of Nancealverne near Penzance.

They are dated to the last two decades of the nineteenth century. One containing various anonymous portraits is dated 1883 and inscribed to 'Agnes'. The other contains a mixture of topography (both in Cornwall and elsewhere, including Somerset) as well as interior scenes. They seem to relate to places to which the Scobell and Armstrong families were connected.

Myrtles playday

More news from Mesdames Myrtles rug hookers, History 51 contributors.

Our 'playday' on Friday was really fruitful.

Talking, using different media, letting ideas flow freely, drinking tea and eating cake allowed us to finally make a decision on our communal project, which is great.

It will be fairly large hooked pieces, possibly with some embroidery, depicting Cornish women's occupations, starting with Alice De Lisle [Yes, yes, yes! Ed].

Our individual projects seemed to come together too...more about these at a later date, but one of them involves eggs, dressing up,and following in someone's footsteps...!

Mesdames Myrtles rug hooking group of Penzance discuss representing Cornish women's history (credit: Diane Cox)

 

Inspired by Cornish women's history (credit: Diane Cox)

Mesdames Myrtles, Penzance (rug) hookers

An example of Myrtles rughooking work (credit: Diane Cox)

Guest blog post by rug hooker, Diane Cox, History 51 Contributor

The Mesdames Myrtles hooking group has been together for many years in different hooking groups, but formed 2 years ago as a small group who wanted to stretch ourselves creatively and have unusual projects on the go! We spent an afternoon throwing names around and the Myrtles just seemed to fit! We are all in the Penzance area.

After the initial meeting at the Hypatia Trust we met to discuss how we would approach a visual response to acknowledging unsung Cornish women.We had a great afternoon chatting,but it became obvious that we all had differing ideas,and so the decisions made afterwards were...to visit Helston museum to get a feeling and a sense of ordinary women's lives,and that the whole subject was so enormous that the project wouldn't be as easy as we initially thought !

Yesterday we had our visit,and were so impressed by the museum..a real gem!

Over lunch we threw ideas about,and it seems right that we do one communal project,with the option of each of us,should we wish,responding with other more personal pieces.

We all agreed on 2 things...we wanted to emphasise the hard work and sometimes sheer drudgery of domestic work over the centuries,with the aim of showing how women have held everything together,and that we need to simplify our ideas for them to be effective in a textile work.

Work by Diane Cox

We realised that a written piece and a piece that is purely an image have to be approached totally differently!

So,we are having a creative day next week to play with ideas and hopefully end the day with the beginnings of our communal piece!

View a gallery of Diane's rug hooking work

[Thank you Diane and Mesdames Myrtles for your guest post, we can't wait to hear more about your progress! Ed]

Nuns, war, songs and International Women's Day

... it is clear to see why any attempt to highlight poor female representation both in history and today needs to be made, and to be taken seriously as a mainstream, rather than a niche, problem.

International Women's Day logoThis week we have discussed, debated and explored a variety of topics from 'where did Cornish women go to be nuns' (there were no nunneries in medieval Cornwall) to what shall we do for International Women's Day on 8 March.

A recent analysis of women's roles in British society by Unlock Democracy showed that in spite of making up 51% of the population women don't even make up one-quarter of British MPs:

Read Gender Balance. The canary in the mineshaft

Here in Cornwall and Scilly, the figures for political representation are in fact slightly better. Women make up nearly 27% of the Cornwall Council membership (33/123).

I had been in error before thinking the Cornish figures to be worse than central government representation. That said, there are daily changes reported by the media with resignations and many changes of colour. We will revisit these figures following the next Cornish elections in May.

Cornish Women's Year?

Do you want to be part of something special and really help make Cornish women's history count?

Against this backdrop it is clear to see why any attempt to highlight poor female representation both in history and today needs to be made, and to be taken seriously as a mainstream, rather than a niche, problem.

We have been thinking about ways to use International Women's Day to start something public and different until 8 March next year when we intend to do something much more high profile.

Our strength is in highlighting and sharing information about women's heritage so what can we do to help contribute positive female role models to young women and girls in Cornwall and Scilly in particular. So a few ideas are:

  1. Launching a survey on attitudes to women in Cornwall, and archiving the responses so we may repeat the survey in 5 or 10 years time and chronicle any change.
  2. Finding stories about women from the local papers 100 years ago and publishing them on our website and promoting them online and in the local media on a weekly basis.
  3. Launch a campaign to publicise one fact a day until International Women's Day 2014 on any aspect of women's heritage and women's lives today in Cornwall.
  4. Start planning for a big event next year (2014), but what should that be?

Do you want to be part of something special and really help make Cornish women's history count? Why not leave a comment and give us your ideas?

Cornish nuns

Susan Hoyle posed a really interesting question on our Facebook page:

"I believe that there was never a nunnery in Cornwall; there were very few monasteries, but nary a convent. It is said that the low take-up for monasticism in Cornwall is because of the Celtic influence. Whatever the truth of that, convents fulfilled various functions for women and their families in the middle ages: it was a safe place for women on their own -- single women, widows, orphans -- and also for women who were a problem for other reasons. It was also a place where inconvenient women could be locked away. My question is, what institution(s) performed these functions in Cornwall? What happened to women who needed protection? What happened to women who felt the religious vocation? Anyone know?"

We referred it to medieval historian Oliver Padel, also an expert on Cornish history and topography. He confirmed that there were indeed no female monasteries in Cornwall in the Middle Ages. Here is part of his reply:

"There were no female monastic communities in Cornwall. The matter is easy to check now, because Victoria County History of Cornwall, vol. II, Religious History to 1560 (2010) gives a definitive list of monastic communities in the county.

This might not have been seen as a significant lack. Cornwall generally had fairly small religious houses (no abbey, though two just in Devon, at Tavistock and Hartland). Anyone entering a religious community expected to give up their family ties anyway, so going to another county would probably not have seemed exceptional. A bit analogous with people leaving home and going elsewhere to study at university, usually to another part of the country (although admittedly that is temporary, not permanent).

I know of one example of a woman of a Cornish family who went to Devon to become a nun -- Joan daughter of John Arundell of Lanherne (who died in 1435) apparently became abbess of Canonsleigh Abbey in Devon (I don't know at what date, or when she died, though that is probably known): Cornish Wills, 1342-1540, ed. Nicholas Orme (Devon & Cornwall Record Society, 2007), p. 67."

So that left the question, where did women in Cornwall or Scilly who wanted to be nuns go? Susan wondered if the linguistic closeness of Cornish and Breton might have persuaded women to head south to Brittany, or whether they tended to journey into England and beyond? Considering the journey, the need to travel safely and have enough money to be accepted into a religious house, was the religious life the preserve of the more well-off women in the Middle Ages? We hope that Susan carries on her quest and finds those Cornish nuns, wherever they may have gone.

Cornish women at war and women in war in Cornwall

This winter Liskeard Museum is mounting an exhibition on Emily Hobhouse, a Cornish woman speaking out against the South African war and British concentration camps there. We will also be hosting one of our History 51 workshops here on the theme of Women in War (and Peace).

We need your help.

Are you interested in being our War Correspondent? We know there are many other themes related to women and war that we could also explore as part of a workshop, e.g. the role of women in war, for good or bad, their historical role in armed forces, their work on the home fronts, their role in recording, documenting and preserving stories of war and of course women's roles in peace and anti-war movements.

Remember we will provide support in the form of training and resources to all those leading or helping to co-ordinate History 51 workshops. Please contact us with any and all suggestions or leave a comment here.

Alice De Lisle in word and song

 ...performing, dancing, role-playing publicly so that Alice slowly seeps back into our community's imagination.

Do you know Alice De Lisle? She was the Patroness of Penzance. History 51 is campaigning to get her officially recognised as part of Penzance's 400th anniversary charter celebrations in 2014. In fact it is 1332 that we should be celebrating as without Alice's charter there would be no 1614 Charter of Incorporation.

A pair of local folk musicians had already heard of Alice De Lisle before we launched our campaign. Thanks to the power of social media, one of our followers alerted us to two songs that had been written using Alice as an inspiration. One was a love song, 'Alice of the Island' - a play on her name and the other was the story of Alice's achievement for Penzance.

They came and demoed the songs to us at the Hypatia Trust yesterday. We were transfixed! They also then sung part of Alice's market charter to us to the tune of the love song. We were delighted when they agreed to look into recorded these songs and to also think of something we could all do for the charter celebrations next year: performing, dancing, role-playing publicly so that Alice slowly seeps back into our community's imagination.

The songs will eventually be recorded and we may even think about a whole album dedicated to stories of Cornish women!

Coincidently one of our contributors, Anna McClary, local Penzance tour guide, was also at Trevelyan House to talk through ideas about creating a school resource back about Penzance history, using Alice De Lisle as a central figure. We talked about activities from colouring in images of the market cross to enacting a play between Alice and King Edward III and then when we heard the songs we thought it logical to include one or more or these as a song children could sing in assembly.

We hope to bring you a recording of Alice De Lisle soon!

Penzance should honour Lady Alice De Lisle

Penzance Harbour with the town in the background today

2014 Year of Penzance

2014 is the Year of Penzance. Next year the town will be celebrating 400 years since it received its Charter of Incorporation (town charter) from King James I which granted it rights to govern its own affairs and hold its own courts. It will also be 200 years since the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall was founded in Penzance, then a leading centre for scientific and intellectual endeavour.

A quick look at Penzance Town Council's website suggests that the town’s origins are to be found in the fifteenth century with the grant of a market in 1404.

However this could not be further from the case.

Alice was the Mary Portas of her day

Over 80 years earlier, Lady Alice De Lisle, became Lord of the Manor of Alverton, the economic centre of Pensans (Cornish for 'holy head/headland). She inherited the manor from her rebel brother, Baron Henry Le Teys, who was executed by King Edward II in 1321.

As lord of the manor, gender was irrelevant. Alice would have had to make decisions on behalf of the entire Manor, which directly or indirectly employed much of the working population of the area. She was the head of the Chamber of Commerce and Mayor rolled into one.

She was a Mary Portas of her day.

Penzance Market Cross, a carved cross originally thought to date to the 11th century and later used to mark Penzance's market centre in Greenmarket, now outside Penlee House (credit: Tom Goskar)

Why were medieval markets important?

Medieval markets were not like the farmer’s markets of today. They were the high streets, town centres and retail parks rolled into one. They were where profits and losses were made and deals were struck. It was a chance for traders to check out the competition and measure their prosperity.

Villages and towns that wanted or needed a permanent market had to get permission from the monarch in the form of a grant. This grant, if accepted, was written up into a charter.

In ten years, Alice oversaw the growth of Penzance from a manor and small fishing village into a major urban centre with a commercially viable port that now needed a permanent market. In 1876, antiquarian and historian George Bown Millett said:

…let all Penzance do honour to her memory, for she was our lady patroness, and used her influence successfully in behalf of the town, at an early period of its history.

In 1332 Alice De Lisle changed the course of Penzance’s history forever.

Alice's petition to the King, 1332

Alice petitioned King Edward III for a permanent weekly market to be held on a Wednesday and an annual seven-day fair starting on the festival of St. Peter in Chains (1 August).

Alice was granted her petition and a charter was awarded.

Penzance's first market charter 

The document is now held by the National Archives in London (TNA C53/119), formerly the Public Record Office. It is dated 25 April 1332 and was written in Latin. It was granted by King Edward III while he held court in Nottingham.

“Know that we of our special grace have given and have confirmed by this our Charter to our beloved Alice who was wife of Warin de Insula [de Lisle] that she and her heirs may have for ever one market every week on Wednesday at her manor of Pensans in the County of Cornwall and one fair there every year lasting for seven days namely on the Eve and Day of St. Peter ad Vincula and for five days next following.” (reproduced from P.A.S. Pool's History of Penzance, p. 211)

This is really Penzance’s earliest notable historic document and it is this award that Penzance should be celebrating.

Penzance in its heyday in the 19th century (from Rev. Lach-Szyrma's History of Penzance, 1878)

The importance of Alice's market charter

Without Alice’s petition, the 1404 grant, which just confirmed Alice’s charter of 1332, would not have been made. Still less would we have been granted the 1614 town charter. And without that Penzance would not have become one of Cornwall’s major coinage towns in 1663.

Penzance’s later fame as a major centre of industry, commerce and banking, and as an intellectual and scientific centre, could never have happened.

In fact, Penzance as we know it may not have existed at all.

It is sad that the Town Council has not even mentioned Alice in their history of the Town Charter.

How should we honour Alice?

We don't know much about Alice herself, nor what she looked like. We have to use our imagination for that.

What we do know about her deeds in Penzance is pieced together from medieval documents on the Manor of Alverton, some of which are held in Cornwall while others are held elsewhere such as at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire. There is a small amount of evidence about the Teys family into which she was born, and about the De Lisles. Her descendants continued as lords of Alverton until the fifteenth century.

We think the centre of the manor was situated on Alverton Farm, now where the Lariggan stream crosses the road to Land's End.

Perhaps this was where Penzance's Market Cross, now in Penlee Park, once stood, before it was moved to Greenmarket on Alverton Street?

We would like to see Alice De Lisle honoured and her role as the patroness of Penzance officially recognised by the town authorities. We should celebrate her achievement during the 2014 Charter celebrations.

Should it be a statue? Should we make a commemorative tapestry? A plaque on St John's Hall, perhaps? Or rename a street, a pub? Maybe a local school or college could name a classroom after her? Should we institute a Penzance Alice Day during Golowan or Penzance Literary Festival?

Could readers suggest what form this could take?

We will be formally writing to all Penzance town councillors and Cornwall councillors to support our campaign to discuss the most appropriate ways we may honour Alice De Lisle. We believe she would be a great focus for the town in a time when there is strong feeling that Penzance is not living up to its full economic potential.

Vote for Alice!

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Support our campaign to honour Alice De Lisle.

You can also Vote in our Facebook Poll (Elizabeth Treffry Collection), or leave a comment here.

This campaign is part of the Hypatia Trust's Heritage Lottery Funded project History 51 which is documenting and sharing information on the lives of historical women in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

What's in Hypatia's handbag?

Handbag Tirggers Memory of Hero of My Youth by Andrea Garrihy

A handbag?

An Interactive Exhibition celebrating and exploring the ‘mysteries’ and capacities of the handbag, opens on Sunday, 22 July 2012 for one week at Trevelyan House, 16 Chapel Street, Penzance.

Curated by artist and exhibitor Andrea Garrihy for the benefit of the Hypatia Trust’s Elizabeth Treffry Collection on Women in Cornwall and Scilly, the exhibitors invite visitors to discover different aspects of our handbag culture.

Download, share, print and display the posters

Hypatia's Handbag 1 (PDF, 51KB) Hypatia's Handbag 2 (PDF, 42KB)

Fuschia by Andrea Garrihy

‘What’s in your handbag?’ will be the big question

Delving into the handbag through art, literature, music, drama, news and fashion can reveal unique insights into our day to day lives and our individual personalities. In addition to Andrea’s handbag sculptures, writers, craftworkers and visual artists are opening their bags to reveal all manner of handbaggery!

Exhibitors include Jess Allen, John Garrihy, Jenny George, Laura Holliday, Susan Hoyle, David Kemp, Andrew Lanyon, Amanda Lorens, and Charlie Roff.

Handbags for sale for women in Cornwall collection

Handmade handbags will be on sale from local makers including Smart Tart, Poppy Treffry, Maurice Pearson and Shabby Cow. Vintage and contemporary handbags donated by supporters and friends will be on sale throughout the exhibition.

Proceeds will benefit the campaign for a publically-accessible home for the Elizabeth Treffry Collection.

So what's in your handbag? Take part!

Party Time by Jess Allen

Artist Mary Fletcher to document Penzance’s handbag culture

Mary will hold drawing sessions on: Monday 23 June (11-1pm) Tuesday (11-1pm) Wednesday 25th July (1-3pm)

Every object tells a story

Visitors can open and investigate the contents from the depths of their own and other handbags. Every object tells a story and the top ten handbag contents will be exhibited, as will some of the more bizarre contents.

Hypatia’s Handbag, A Fable

Local history author, Susan Hoyle, has written an original legend for the exhibition, entitled Hypatia’s Handbag, A Fable, which is being printed and hand-bound in limited edition. Purchasers of bags to the value of £10 or more will receive a free book. Others may purchase copies of the tale.

Opening hours

The exhibition opens on Sunday 22 July from 3pm to 5pm at Trevelyan House, 16 Chapel Street, Penzance.

Opening hours 23-29 July: 11am to 5pm.

The exhibition runs in parallel with the Penzance Literary Festival.

For more information, please call the Hypatia Trust on 01736 366597.