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Nicholas de Cantilupe

Lord of Ilkeston, Baron of Greasley

Arms of Nicholas de Cantilupe Nicholas de Cantilupe was born circa 1300, the second son of William de Cantilupe, 1st Baron of Greasley and Lord of Ilkeston. Unusually, he inherited the title of baron from his brother, when in 1321, his brother William (2nd Baron) signed over the lordship of the manors to his younger brother[1]. It is supposed that this was due to William's involvement in the death of Edward II's close friend Piers Gaviston a few years earlier, even though he was pardoned for his part in that business. William disappears from records not much later, so perhaps it was a good piece of foresight.

Nicholas was not knighted until 1326, after distinguishing himself in Edward II's Scottish wars. He had been eligible for knighthood since he was 21, but had paid scutage for a number of years to avoid the responsibility and expense. After his conduct in the war, however, it was difficult to refuse the honour, and perhaps by then, he had acquired some measure of fortune as well as fame.

But Nicholas' star really rose during the reign of Edward III. In 1330, England was under the stewardship of Mortimer and Isabella the queen mother, as the young king had not yet reached his majority. The final act came in Nottingham, when Edward and 30 or so local knights crept into Nottingham Castle, through the rock tunnel now known as Mortimer's Hole, and arrested Mortimer and Isabella.

Mortimer was tried and hanged, Isabella sent to a convent, and Edward rightfully ascended his throne at the age of 18. Was Nicholas part of this assault? We can only speculate. He was certainly local, a distinguished soldier, and fairly well off, and was already a trusted servant of the new king.[2]

During the next 30 years, until his death on 31st July 1355, Nicholas served his King in many ways. As a sheriff and justice, he held courts and investigated crimes in Lincolnshire and Rutland. He raised the levy of Derbyshire in Derby for the continuing war in Scotland. He was involved in diplomatic negotiations in Ghent, perhaps involving the forthcoming marriage contract of Edward to Philippa of Hainault. He went on a spying mission for the relief of Stirling Castle, disguised as one of seven penitent monks. He was, at one time, the governor of Berwick On Tweed (1336), the much disputed town on the 14th century border of England and Scotland. He was also present at Crecy (1346) where the Black Prince distinguished himself in battle at the age of 16, and the flower of French chivalry met its first disastrous defeat at the hands of the English and Welsh longbowmen.

But he was not just a soldier, diplomat and spy. He was also a very pious man, devoted to the Virgin Mary. His lasting legacy is the founding of the Carthusian Priory at Beauvale near Greasley, which still stands as a ruin today. He was in contact with successive Popes, and was granted licence to have a portable shrine, as he was too busy (killing Frenchmen) to be able to attend regular mass and confession. In his final years, he endowed a college of five priests to say mass and prayers for his soul after his death. This was a common practice in medieval times, as the prayers of the priests would help a soul into heaven, after the briefest possible residence in purgatory.

Greasley was the largest manorial holding in Nottinghamshire, at over 5,500 acres, incorporating the towns, villages and hamlets from Selston to Nuthall and Eastwood. The adjoining manor of Ilkeston in Derbyshire increased that holding to a huge swathe straddling the River Erewash.

The remains of his fortified manor house, Greasley Castle, survives only as a few earthworks and a single wall in a barn at Greasley farm.

Nicholas had two sons, but sadly, the line died with his last grandson in 1375. After his death, Johanna paid for more priests' prayers, and Nicholas' last resting place is in Lincoln Cathedral, in what is now known as the Cantilupe Chancel, where his much damaged effigy is still available to visit.

Nick Jackson,Team Falchion © 2004

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[1] Calendar of Patent Rolls, Edward III - Nov 2 1320, Enfeofment.

[2] Calendar of Patent Rolls, Edward III - May 18 1329, Commission of the Peace, of Nottinghamshire.


"History of Ilkeston" - Trueman and Marston, 1899
"Griseleia In Snotinghscire" - Rodolph Baron von Hube, 1901
"Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1300-1380