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. 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. be continued.

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.

Could this be Cornwall's earliest image of a woman?

Carved head of a woman? Early medieval or Celtic, c.500-700 (credit: St Piran Trust) Since we launched History 51 we have received a steady stream of interest in the project and ideas for which women we should be championing. One of the more intriguing to date has been a question raised by the St Piran Trust (Sen Piran Dasserghi) that one of three enigmatic carved heads found at St Piran's Oratory in Perranzabuloe could be one of the earliest representations of a woman in Cornwall.

We invited St Piran Trust to write this guest blog post and tell us a bit more about the oratory and the carved heads:

Cornwall's national saint

St Piran’s Oratory is an historically significant and culturally iconic site for Cornwall, located on Gear Sands 2km to the east of Perranporth. It is an early Christian chapel and cemetery, which tradition claims was built by St Piran (considered by many to be Cornwall’s national saint) sometime in the fifth or sixth century.

For centuries, the site served as a place for worship, commemoration of the dead and as a focus for pilgrimage, where the relics of St Piran would be venerated. It is thought that the remains of the Oratory were finally lost under windblown sand sometime in the early nineteenth century.

the oldest four-walled Christian edifice on mainland in Britain.

Early archaeological excavations

Later in the nineteenth century shifting sands uncovered the building and excavations in 1835 and 1843 completed the ‘rediscovery’ of what is thought to be the oldest four-walled Christian edifice on mainland in Britain.

A concrete block shell was constructed around the remains of the building in 1910 in an ultimately futile effort to protect it from flooding. In 1980, both the remains and the concrete shell were purposely reburied with sand in an effort to conserve them.

Whilst that action may have offered some short‐term conservation benefits, it is now believed that the sand is holding water which is deteriorating the remaining historic fabric of the Oratory. The structures are now included on the 'Heritage At Risk' register. At the 1980 reburial no interpretation was provided to explain the building and its significance to the history of Cornwall and Christianity in Britain.

Replicas of the St Piran Oratory carved heads on display at the Royal Cornwall Museum (women on left, man on the right) (credit: Tom Goskar, reproduced by kind permission of the Royal Cornwall Museum)

The carved heads

The carved heads currently reside in the Royal Cornwall Museum (replicas are on display there). They were rediscovered when the Oratory was 'excavated' in 1835 by William Mitchell of Truro. He mentions the head of the tiger, but not the other heads: "The key stone of the arch projects 8 inches, on which is rudely sculptured a tyger's head."

...the head of a man and that of a woman rudely sculptured of stone most assuredly of very remote antiquity.

Later, in 1905, Thurstan C. Peter wrote that the Oratory was found "in a good state of preservation, ornamented with pretty tracery, the arch itself having on its key stone the head of a tiger, and [at] the points of the curve the head of a man and that of a woman rudely sculptured of stone most assuredly of very remote antiquity."

Oratory historian Eileen Carter, author of In the Shadow of Saint Piran firmly believes the heads to be from the Celtic/early medieval period (500 - 700 CE) and says they bear a remarkable similarity to carved heads at Clonmacnoise in Ireland (St Piran supposedly came from Ireland to Cornwall in the sixth century). There are more local comparisons, however, and the Oratory heads have also been compared to those at the Holy Well in St Anne's Church, Whitstone, north Cornwall.

However, more work needs to be done to properly assess the Oratory's age and the age of the figures. Why a man, a woman and a tiger (if indeed it is a tiger!)? Legend holds that St Piran's first converts were a badger, a fox and a bear - no tiger there [but every possibility that one of his first disciples was a woman, ed].

The future of the Oratory

Throughout the twentieth century the iconic status of the site has increased. It attracts thousands of visitors, and each year hundreds of Cornish people gather at the site to mark St Piran’s Day (5th March).

In 2010 Cornwall Council's Historic Environment Service undertook a thorough evaluation of the Oratory. It comprised a survey of the Oratory mound and its surrounding landscape to test the archaeological potential of the site and gain a better understanding of the condition of the concrete block structure and the monument.

The St Piran Trust, a voluntary charity, is working tirelessly to uncover the Oratory and conserve and interpret it for Cornwall and her visitors. The Trust is in the middle of making a Heritage Lottery Fund application to enable essential archaeological and conservation work to take place.

Acknowledgements: We are very grateful to St Piran Trust for contributing this blog post to History 51, and we wish them all the success with their Heritage Lottery Fund application and the development project, and look forward to understanding more about the origins of these fascinating Cornish faces.

So, who is Elizabeth Treffry?

St Piran's Flag (Baner Peran) flying from a Fowey boat In July 1457 Elizabeth Treffry was left to defend her castle, Place House, and the major port town of Fowey on her own.  At this time the south coast was frequently raided by French and Breton marauders eager to disrupt the growing maritime trade of England and Cornwall (and to annoy the king, Henry VI who had been engaged in the last bit of the Hundred Years' War with France that had ended in 1453).

Her husband was absent at the King's Court during one of these raids so it was left to Elizabeth to rally local people and co-ordinate a six-week defence of Place and Fowey town and harbour. Allegedly, she came up with the idea of repelling those rascally French pirates by pouring hot molten lead all over them.

Or so the chroniclers say...

The Lady of Place

Elizabeth Treffry the legend was immortalised by Cornishman Henry Sewell Stokes in the poem The Lady of Place, published in The Voyage of Arundel and Other Rhymes From Cornwall (1884). The poem starts by setting the scene of the bravery of Fowey sailors (also pirate raiders) who become known as the Fowey Gallants, themselves the cause of much misery for the communities on the northern coasts of Normandy and Brittany. Although a few townsmen tried to repel the French who were raging through the town, Elizabeth Treffry found the defence a sorry state of affairs:

But she was there, that Lady, To play no woman’s part ; Though the great sufferings of her town Had pierced her gentle heart :

And into action she sprung:

Still calm look’d forth the Lady From her embattled wall ; Her presence was a power, her voice Thrill’d like a trumpet’s call.

The Fowey Gallants fought under her banner to rid the town of the French:

Three cheers, then, for the Fowey gallants ! For the Lady three times three ! And, if the French should come again, May our wives as fearless be !

Suggesting Elizabeth Treffry a good role model for the women of his day, Sewell Stokes ends the poem with a moral:

Changed is the world, much changed since then, Yet will they come once more ? Who knows – or cares – or fears ? who doubts We’ll serve them as before ? Grace Darling died but yesterday, And others of her race May yet be found to emulate That Lady brave of Place.

Elizabeth Treffry is now the figurehead of the Women in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Collection which is held by the Hypatia Trust. When the collection was formally launched in 1996 by her then direct living descendant David Treffry, Hypatia was looking for a female figure to create a strong image and inspiration for the collection. Elizabeth Treffry seemed to sum up everything that is good about women and the Cornish spirit.

The collection is currently based in Penzance, West Cornwall and is in the process of being professionally curated and catalogued. It comprises over 3000 books and archives documenting women's lives, work and achievements, including those who have shaped the Duchy's character and reputation. We are actively fundraising to ensure the collection becomes an essential part of Cornish and Scillonian heritage and move it to a new publicly-accessible home.