A Nunney knight at Bannockburn

Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford
This is one of two effigies in Hereford Cathedral said to depict Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford.

A knight who owned Nunney fought at the battle of Bannockburn and came to a sticky end in a rebellion against the king.

19th century drawing of effigy of Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford, Hereford Cathedral
Nunney was once part of the vast estate of Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford and 3rd Earl of Essex (1276-1322), who fought at the battle of Bannockburn.

At the time of Domesday Book (1086) Nunney was owned by William de Mohun, who swapped half of it for land closer to his home at Dunster Castle. The other half – worth half a knight’s fee (or half enough land to support a knight and his household) was given to the De Bohun family, who were Earls of Hereford.

The De la Mere family initially rented Nunney from him, although they later came to own it and built the castle.

The other half fee was held by the Earls of Gloucester, whose sub-tenants were the De Montfort family. It was Henry de Montfort who obtained a royal charter for a weekly market and annual fair in 1260.

Robert the Bruce

The first mention of a connection between the De la Meres and Nunney is in 1273. The manor of Nunney was still held by the powerful De Bohun family at this point, who came over with William the Conqueror and were rewarded with large parts of Britain.

Statue of king Robert the Bruce in front of Marischal College.
Statue of king Robert the Bruce in front of Marischal College.
Humphrey de Bohun married to Elizabeth of Rhuddlan (Elizabeth Plantagenet), daughter of King Edward I of England and his first wife, Eleanor of Castile, on 14 November 1302.

He was closely associated with Robert the Bruce, King Robert I of Scotland, who moved back and forth from English allegiance to Scottish; after Robert the Bruce’s assets were confiscated by the King, most of the properties were given to Humphrey de Bohun.


Depiction of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 from the Holkham Bible
He played an important part in the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. His nephew Sir Henry de Bohun, grandson of Humphrey de Bohun, 2nd Earl of Hereford, was killed on the first day of the battle by Robert the Bruce.

Riding in the vanguard of heavy cavalry, de Bohun caught sight of the Scottish king who was mounted on a small palfrey, armed only with a battle axe. De Bohun lowered his lance and charged, but Bruce stood his ground.

At the last moment Bruce manoeuvred his mount nimbly to one side, stood up in his stirrups and hit De Bohun so hard with his axe that he split his helmet and head in two. Despite the great risk the King had taken, he merely expressed regret that he had broken the shaft of his favourite axe.

Humphrey himself was captured by the Scots and later exchanged for Robert de Bruce’s wife and daughter.

Robert the Bruce kills Sir Henry de Bohun on the first day of the battle of Bannockburn.
Robert the Bruce kills Sir Henry de Bohun on the first day of the battle of Bannockburn.
The De Bohun had for generations been at the forefront of the struggle to force the king of England to obey Magna Carta and other baronially-established safeguards against monarchic tyranny. Humphrey became one of the Ordainers appointed to make sure that King Edward II and his favourites did not gain too much power.

In 1321 civil war broke out between the barons and the king, predominantly against the tyranny of the influential Despenser family. Edward II was particularly close to Hugh Despenser the Younger, whom one chronicler noted he “loved… dearly with all his heart and mind”.

The king had also persuaded the Pope to give him absolution from his oath to follow the guidance of the Ordinances and thus obey Magna Carta.

Humphrey joined a rebellion led by the Earl of Lancaster against the king and was killed at Boroughbridge in Yorkshire on 16 March 1322.

The bridge at Boroughbridge was originally made of wood
The bridge at Boroughbridge was originally made of wood
When Lancaster arrived at the town of Boroughbridge, the king’s troops were already in possession of the wooden bridge crossing the river. The rebel forces counted probably no more than 700 knights and men-at-arms, against the 4,000 or so soldiers in the royal army under Sir Andrew Harclay, a veteran from the Scottish wars.

Lancaster initially tried to negotiate, but Harclay could not be swayed. Since there was no realistic alternative place to cross the river, and with the royal forces in pursuit from the south, the rebels had no choice but to fight. The ensuing battle was short and one-sided.

Battle of Boroughbridge plaqueAs Humphrey de Bohun led a charge on foot across the wooden bridge against the king’s troops, he was skewered up the bum by a pikeman concealed under the bridge for that purpose.

According to reports at the time:

“[The 4th Earl of] Hereford led the fight on the bridge, but he and his men were caught in the arrow fire. Then one of de Harclay’s pikemen, concealed beneath the bridge, thrust upwards between the planks and skewered the Earl of Hereford through the anus, twisting the head of the iron pike into his intestines. His dying screams turned the advance into a panic.”

Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford
Effigy of Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford, 3rd Earl of Essex, in Hereford Cathedral.
He was buried in the Dominican Blackfriars Priory in York, although there is an effigy in Hereford Cathedral.

Lancaster negotiated a truce with Harclay, and withdrew to the town. During the night a great number of the rebels deserted, and the next day the sheriff of York arrived from the south with additional forces. Lancaster, now greatly outnumbered and with no chance of retreat, had no choice but to surrender to Harclay.

Special courts

king dining, walter milemete
The king dining alone, from Walter Milemete’s De Secretis Secretorum of 1326 or 1327
Edward and Hugh the Younger met the Earl of Lancaster at Pontefract, where, after a summary trial, the earl was found guilty of treason and beheaded.

Edward punished Lancaster’s supporters through a system of special courts across the country, with the judges instructed in advance how to sentence the accused, who were not allowed to speak in their own defence.

Many of these so-called “Contrariants” were simply executed, and others were imprisoned or fined, with their lands seized and their surviving relatives detained.

New campaign

Royal 20 A.II, f.10
Edward II is presented with the crown of England
The defeat of the rebellion meant that the king was able to cling on to power for another five years.

A parliament was held at York in March 1322 at which the Ordinances were formally revoked through the Statute of York, and fresh taxes agreed for a new campaign against the Scots.

The English campaign against Scotland was planned on a massive scale, with a force of around 23,350 men. Edward advanced through Lothian towards Edinburgh, but Robert the Bruce declined to meet him in battle, the plans to resupply the campaign by sea failed, and the large army rapidly ran out of food.

The king deposed

Arrest of Edward II
An 15th-century depiction of Isabella capturing Edward II
The King planned a fresh campaign, backed by a round of further taxes, but confidence in Edward’s Scottish policy was diminishing.

Andrew Harclay, recently made the Earl of Carlisle, independently negotiated a peace treaty with Robert the Bruce, proposing that Edward II would recognise Robert as the King of Scotland and that, in return, Robert would cease to interfere in England.

Edward was furious and immediately executed Harclay, but went on to agree to a thirteen-year truce with Robert.

His dependence on the Despensers subsequently grew only deeper, and their transgressions more severe. In 1327, his wife Isabella, together with her lover Roger Mortimer, staged a coup against the king. Edward II was deposed and his son, Edward III, succeeded in his place. Edward died in prison.

Nunney Castle

Richard Symonds sketch of Nunney Castle
Richard Symonds’ sketch of Nunney Castle (1645)
The De Bohun family’s association with Nunney ended in 1373, when Humphrey’s grandson – also called Humphrey – died. On his death on 16 January 1373, because he had no son, the estates of the Earls of Hereford should have passed to his cousin Gilbert De Bohun.

Due to the power of the Crown, his great estates were divided between his two surviving daughters, Eleanor and Mary. Mary married Henry Bolingbroke, the future King Henry IV of England.

It would seem that it was at this stage that the De la Mere family, who were so far sub-tenants of the De Bohuns, successfully obtained full ownership of the manor of Nunney. Sir John De la Mere was granted permission by King Edward III later in the same year, on 28 November 1373, to fortify his manor house in Nunney – which would become Nunney Castle.

At the same time, Sir John enlarged Nunney Church by adding both aisles. The wall-painting of St George over the newly-created arcade can be dated to the end of 1373.