Hutchins dedicates a section in Volume IV of his work The History And Antiquities of the County of Dorset titled ‘The Curse of Sherborne Castle from a MS. of Bishop More’.
Below is a summary of the report in Hutchins:
The castle was built by Roger, third Bishop of Salisbury, a favourite and minister of Henry I. It is supposedly built on the site of the Anglo-Saxon palace of the bishops of Sherborne. When the see was removed, William the Conqueror gave it to Osmund, Bishop of Sarum and Earl of Dorset. Osmund had been a Norman knight and served on campaigns with William. In his declining years he decided to withdraw into the religious life and was given the bishopric of Sarum and gifted Sherborne to the bishopric. He also placed the ‘Curse’ on the bishopric lands:[i]
That whosoever should take those lands from the bishopric, or diminish them in great or in small,
should be accursed not only in this world but also in the world to come,
unless in his life time he made restitution thereof[ii]
The lands continued peacefully in the possession of the bishops of Sarum until the reign of King Stephen.
The it seems that the series of unfortunate events happened after the castle was lost during the Anarchy (1135-53).
- Roger the Rich supported Maud and lost out to King Stephen.
Roger Niger (or Roger the Rich) was the bishop at the time of King Stephen and Empress Maud’s conflict. Roger took the side of Maud and was pursued by Stephen. The bishop took refuge in his castle at Devizes, where he was besieged. Stephen erected gallows at the castle gate and brought to it Roger’s nephew, whom he held as prisoner. He threatened to execute the nephew and Roger yielded up the castle. He also had to yield up his wealth – 40,000 marks in ready coin. Stephen also took the castle and barony of Sherborne from him.[iii]
2. King Stephens fortunes changed for the worst after Sherborne was handed over to him.
Stephen’s fortunes in the conflict then changed. The Empress Maud escaped from Wallingford in the snow, where she was held prisoner. Her followers came back with gusto and Stephen was forced to name Henry, Maud’s son as his successor. Stephen’s own son Eustace died, (some suspect by poison) and the king did not last long himself.[iv]
3. Sherborne passes to the Montagues – one was beheaded, another slain, an eldest son was accidently killed by his father and finally the male line became extinct.
Sherborne then passed to the Montagues (after Earls of Sarum) – It Hutchins words:
who whilst they held the same underwent many disasters, for one or other of them fell by misfortune, as by the hand of justice, one beheaded, another slain ; the father of one of them, teaching his son and heir to ride and run at tilt, the said so was by the hands of his father slain, to the father’s unspeakable grief; and finally, all the males of them became extinct, and the earldom received an end in their name, so ill was their success.[v]
4. Trial by battle as a bishop of Sarum attempted to reclaim Sherborne. The king (Edward III) takes up the matter in his favour.
Robert Wyvil, bishop of Sarum, during the reign of Edward III, brought a writ against William Monteacute to attest the lands were wrongfully held. The right was to be a trial by battle. Hutchins account is:
the day of the combat being come, and the champions of the earl and bishop being ready before the judges, armed with their coats of leather, and batons in their hands of equal length, it pleased the King (when those lands had been above 200 years out of the hands of the bishops) to take up the matter, who caused the earl to yield up the lands for 2,000 marks given by the bishop to the earl ; and in memory of this noble enterprize this bishop Rober lyeth buried in Sarum church with a castle over his head, and by his side the portraiture of a champion armed.[vi]
5. It seems the lands of Sherborne were at peace again. However, it did not go well for the Duke of Somerset in the mid-16th C, as he seemed to have picked up the curse whilst hunting there.
The lands of Sherborne continued in the church. However, one day the Duke of Somerset, at the time of Edward IV, was hunting in the park at Sherborne. He was at the time Protector for the king and was summoned to the king.[vii] Upon arriving in London he was hauled up in the Tower and subsequently executed.[viii]
6. Sir Walter Raleigh fell for Sherborne upon seeing it for the first time. But later his head fell.
Sherborne still belonged to the bishop of Sarum when Sir Walter Raleigh had designs upon it. The Queen acquired from the bishop and granted it to Raleigh in 1592. Under the reign of King James I, Raleigh was executed.[ix]
7. Sherborne was given to Prince Henry, who died not long after. Robert Carr was next and didn’t fare well in his fortune.
Sherborne then was given to Prince Henry, James’s son. Henry died on 6 November 1612. Afterward ownership changed to the Earl of Somerset (Robert Carr) who subsequently lost it with much of his fortune.[x]
8. The Earls of Bristol – had their share of misfortune.
It then passed to the Earl of Bristol. Hutchins remarks that even the Bristol-branch of the Digby family had their share of misfortune. ‘The first Earl died in exile; the second spent a great part off his life in civil commotions, and was unfortunate in his family ; and the third died without issue.’ The first Earl Digby[xi]alluded to the Curse in a poem upon Lewesdon Hill:
That envious ridge looks on
To Sherborne’s ancient towers and rich domains,
The noble Digby’s mansion; where he dwells
Inviolate, and fearless of thy Curse,
War-glutted Osmund, superstitious Lord!
Who with heaven’s justice for a bloody life
Madest thy presumptuous bargain, giving more
Than thy just having to redeem they guilt,
And darest bid th’ Almighty to become
The minister of thy Curse: but sure it fell,
So bigots fondly judged, full sure it fell
With cared vengeance pointed at the head
Of many a bold usurper, chief on thine,
(Favorite of fortune once, but last her thrall,)
Accomplish’d Raleigh! in that lawless day,
When, like a goodly hart, though wert beset,
With crafty blood-hounds, lurching for thy life,
While as they feign’d to chase thee fairly down;
And that vile Scot, the minion-kissing King,
Pursued with havoc in the tyrannous hunt.[xii]
Perhaps English Heritage need to heed the warning!
[i] John Hutchins, The History And Antiquities of the County of Dorset, 3rd edn: Corrected, Augmented, and Improved by William Shipp and James Whitworth Hodson, 4 vols (London: John Bowyer Nichols, 1870), IV, p. 265-273.
[ii] Hutchins, p. 273.
[iii] Hutchins, p. 273.
[iv] Hutchins, p. 273.
[v] Hutchins, p. 274.
[vi] Hutchins, p. 274.
[vii] circa 1549-51 – the Duke was executed in 1552.
[viii] Hutchins, p. 274.
[ix] Hutchins, p. 274.
[x] Hutchins, p. 274.
[xi] I presume Henry Digby, 1st Earl Digby (1731 to 1793).
[xii] Hutchins, p. 274.
Hutchins, John, The History And Antiquities of the County of Dorset, 3rd edn: Corrected, Augmented, and Improved by William Shipp and James Whitworth Hodson, 4 vols (London: John Bowyer Nichols, 1870), IV