Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Ralph Stafford: Knight, Baron, Kidnapper, Earl, Warrior, Statesman, Plague Survivor

Copyright 2010 by Christy K Robinson

This man would not have been my ancestor if he hadn't been a kidnapper. People joke that their ancestors may include horse thieves, but this man stole a human being. A teenage girl.

The author, Christy K Robinson, with a wooden
statue of Ralph Stafford, at the Stafford
Castle visitor center.
Ralph de Stafford’s genealogy is known back to about 945 in Normandy, and from Ralph to me there are 23 generations. His family owned many estates in Staffordshire after the Conquest, and his sixth great-grandfather built the first Stafford Castle before his death in 1088.

Through his son and heir Hugh Stafford, Ralph is the grandfather of Margaret Stafford Neville, countess Westmoreland, first wife of Ralph Neville; Ralph de Stafford’s Neville great-grandchildren married Scrope, Ferrers, and Percy families, among others. Margaret’s son Ralph Neville was heir to Neville titles, although most of the lands and money went to his mother-in-law, Joan Beaufort, and her children by John of Gaunt.

But the way Ralph Stafford got his heir is the most interesting thing about him!

…1301-24 September, born in Stafford, to Edmund, First Baron Stafford and his wife Margaret Bassett.
…1308-Ralph succeeded his father as Lord Stafford. His mother Margaret remarried to Thomas Pype.
…1314-1321-The Great Famine strikes northwestern Europe, killing more than 10 percent of the population. Typhoid and anthrax plagues sweep Europe in the next decades.
…1315? Along with his brothers and stepfather, Ralph joined the retinue of Ralph, 2nd Lord Bassett (his mother’s brother.)
…1326/27-Ralph married Katherine Hastang, daughter of Sir John Hastang of Chebsey, Staffordshire & his wife Eve. Katherine Hastang is my “cousin” because she’s descended from Mortimer, de Braose, and Llewellyn. http://fabpedigree.com/s043/f662009.htm Presumably she died in childbirth, as I find no mention of annulment of their marriage, and Ralph literally “takes” a new wife less than 10 years later.
Ralph Stafford and Katherine Hastang had two daughters:
…….Margaret Stafford, married Sir John of Bramshall (or Wickham) de Stafford, Knt. (Margaret Stafford-Stafford?)
…….Joan Stafford, married Sir Nicholas de Beke, Knt.

…1327- Ralph supports plot to overthrow Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella’s regency of England. This gains support from Edward III. (Ralph and Roger will be co-grandparents in about 50 years!)
…1327- Ralph made Knight banneret, a higher rank than knight bachelor, and was fighting Scots shortly afterward.
Stafford Castle in 1100

…1332-Ralph was a commissioner of the peace in Staffordshire and had served abroad on royal business, accompanying Hugh d’Audley, ambassador to France. Four years to the Big Event.
…1332- Ralph commanded archers at the Battle of Dupplin Moor on 11 Aug 1332 and on three further Scottish campaigns.
…1336-Calendar of Patent Rolls 1334-1338, p. 283. “28 February 1336: Commission to Robert de Bousser and Adam de Everyngham to find by inquisition in the county of Essex what persons broke the close of Hugh de Audele at Thaxstede, carried away his goods and abducted Margaret his daughter; and to certify the king fully of the whole matter.”
Hugh d’Audley was not aware at that time who had abducted his daughter. It seems he didn’t find out until at least June of that year.
…1336- 6 July: Calendar of Patent Rolls 1334-1338, p. 98: The like [commission of oyer et terminer] to Richard de Wylughby, Thomas de Loveyne, Thomas Gobyon and Robert de Jedeworth, in the counties of Cambridge and Essex, on complaint by Hugh Daudele that Ralph de Stafford, Ralph son of Ralph Basset [cousin], William Corbet, John de Seyntper, Richard de Stafford [brother], John de Draycote, John de Stafford, Humphrey Hastang, James de Pype, Roger Mychel, James de Warden, Richard de Merton, Geoffrey Byroun, John Larcher, Simon de Boseworth, Robert de Rashale, Richard de Hastang, William de Hastang, John de Stafford, 'squier,' and others, broke his close at Thaxtede, carried away his goods, abducted Margaret his daughter and heir, then in his custody, and married her against his will.”
The Pypes were his step-brothers or half-brothers. Bassets were his mother’s relatives. Hastangs were his in-laws by his first wife. This raid must have been carefully planned to include more than 20 people, and to succeed in objective! I wonder if there were other potential brides considered and rejected before Ralph settled on Margaret d’Audley. Margaret had a large inheritance, and was the great-granddaughter of Edward I through her mother, Margaret de Clare (Gaveston).

…1336- Ralph married “against [her father's] will” (but what was her will?) the heiress Margaret d’Audley, aged between 14 and 18, but probably about 14 or 15 at the time of her abduction. Ralph was 34 years old, 20 years older than his kidnapped bride, and 11 years younger than his new father-in-law, Hugh d’Audley. Hugh and Margaret protested the kidnapping and marriage, but Edward III allowed it to stand, and created Hugh first Earl of Gloucester as appeasement to Hugh’s “wrath,” as some writers have called it. It seemed to be Hugh’s lifetime ambition to get his wife’s de Clare inheritance brought back to his holdings, and this was his way in. It also meant he got back what Hugh Dispenser the Younger had usurped about 15 years before.
Since Margaret d’Audley, an heiress, was so “old” to be still single, I wonder if Ralph Stafford had made an offer for Hugh’s daughter and been refused because Ralph wasn’t offering a Gloucester property in the deal, or if Ralph just swooped in when he found an opportunity. Hmmm…
…1336-November. First of five (or six or nine) children with Margaret is born, Joan Stafford (1336-1397). Oddly, Ralph named two daughters Joan! Apparently, Ralph wasted no time or opportunity to consummate the forced marriage and get his bride pregnant, because she was already four or five months gone when the complaint was issued in early July. Joan Stafford married 1: John Cherleton (B. Powis); married 2: Gilbert Talbot (3° B. Talbot) before 16 Nov 1379.
…1337-their son Ralph born (1337-1347). As a child, Ralph was contracted to marry the daughter of Henry of Grosmont, but Ralph Jr. died at about age 10.
…1337- summoned to Parliament by Writ as the 2nd Baron Stafford from 1337 to 1350.
…1338-Daughter Katherine born (1338-1361), married Sir John de Sutton, Knt., Baron of Dudley, Staffs.
…1338-Ralph accompanied Edward III to France in 1338 as an advisor.
…1340-Daughter Beatrice born (1340-1415), Married 1: Maurice Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald (2° E. Desmond) 1350; Married 2: Thomas De Ros (5º B. Ros of Hamlake) 1 Jan 1357/58.
…1341-Ralph appointed Steward of the Royal Household.
…1344-Son Hugh Stafford born (1344-1386), married Philippa Beauchamp, daughter of Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, and Katherine Mortimer.
Philippa Beauchamp was granddaughter of Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, who her father-in-law Ralph Stafford helped to overthrow from regency, and was eventually executed horribly for treason. Hugh and Philippa's child was Margaret Stafford, who married Ralph Neville, 1st earl Westmorland. Margaret Stafford and Ralph Neville were second cousins, as both were descended from siblings Hugh d'Audley and Alice d'Audley.
…1345-Ralph resigned as Steward of the Royal Household, and became Seneschal of Aquitaine.
…1346-Ralph participated in the English victory at the Battle of Crecy. Further battles included the battle of Auberoche, the siege of Aiguillon, from where he escaped prior to its lifting, a raid on Barfleur and the English victory at the Battle of Crecy, on 26 August 1346.
…1347, November-Hugh d’Audley, earl of Gloucester, Ralph’s father-in-law, dies, dramatically increasing Stafford’s considerable wealth from his existing lands and war prizes and ransoms.
…1348-Ralph de Stafford invested as Knight of the Garter, founding member.
…1348-1350-Bubonic plague pandemic kills half to three-quarters of the population of England, alters economy forever.
…1350-5 March, Ralph created Earl of Stafford. Becomes the king's lieutenant in Gascony.
…1350 or 1351-Margaret d’Audley, Baroness Audley, Countess Stafford, dies, probably from childbirth, aged about 32 or 33; is buried with her parents at Tonbridge Priory in Essex.
“Radulphus comes Stafford et dominus de Tonebrugge” donated property to Cold Norton Priory, for the soul of “Margaretæ uxoris nostræ” [Margaret his wife], by undated charter witnessed by “Hugone de Stafford filioet hærede nostro [son and heir], Ricardo de Stafford fratre nostro [brother], Johanne de Peyto consanguineo nostro…” http://bit.ly/jAEW4a
…1361- Stafford continued to command troops and act as a royal envoy, both in France and in Ireland in 1361, accompanying Lionel of Antwerp to try and restore English control.
…1372-31 August, Ralph died at Tunbridge Castle, buried at nearby Tonbridge Priory.


If you enjoy life sketches, anecdotes, and historical details like these, you can find them in the book Effigy Hunter, by Christy K Robinson.

Christy K Robinson is the author of five-star nonfiction and fiction historical books, as well as author of Discovering Love, Rooting for Ancestors and William and Mary Barrett Dyer websites. You will find her books at http://bit.ly/RobinsonAuthor.

·          We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother (2018)



  1. Please forgive the formatting errors. I'm attempting to normalize the appearance of fonts and colors. BLOGGER CAN BE SO ANNOYING!

  2. Blogger really is annoying sometimes, and I usually have problems formatting photo posts. :(

    I wish we knew more about Ralph's abduction of Margaret (and it's always puzzled me why such a great heiress was still unmarried). The couple certainly have lots of illustrious descendants.

  3. I'd like to know something about Margaret's life, and what the relationship with her parents was, once they (IF they) reconciled themselves to the situation. Were the d'Audleys involved with their grandchildren? Did the d'Audleys and Staffords get along well? Did Ralph and Hugh conduct business or work on government assignments? Did Margaret enjoy her life, or was she always a victim? I have so many more questions.

  4. Ralph Stafford is quite an interesting character, although his deeds weren't always heroic - such as the abduction. I think the whole thing would make a great storyline for a novel.....

    Funny that Sir Ralph Bassett has made an appearance in your post as well as mine! Maybe he's on a promotional blog tour!

  5. Amy Stone [Christy's second cousin] said:
    Christy, just finished reading your blog on the family kidnapper. Wow!! What a punk!

  6. @Kathryn, Regarding your comment's last two words: thank you for the compliment. We Illustrious Ones do make an occasional attempt. :)

    @Jules, Yes, Sir Ralph Basset, my uncle if you're a Tardis passenger, managed to whisper his existence to both of us at the same time. Eerie.

  7. Nice lot of research, cuz! Can I be illustrious, too?

    Sometimes the only thing you can do with Blogger and its ideosyncracies is to clean your text by putting it through Notepad first. Especially if Word has been anywhere near a piece of work, Blogger will chuck a hissy fit!


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