Savile-Pilkington Dispute

A long-running 15th century dispute between the Savile family and their kinsmen, the Stansfields, on one side, versus the Pilkingtons on the other.

Some of the people involved came from outside Calderdale, but the dispute appears to have originated in Calderdale.

The incident which caused it to come to a head occurred in Elland in April 1478, and led to a battle on Skircoat Moor involving over 800 men.

The Pilkingtons of Skipton in Craven started attacking the Stansfields of Wadsworth in 1461. In 1466, on the orders of John Pilkington the home of Richard Stansfield at Shakilden was attacked. Money, cattle and a horse were stolen.

Also on John Pilkington's orders, Robert Pilkington (and others) captured Richard and took him to their castle at Skipton. Richard was held in the castle's dungeon and was released only when he agreed to pay 40 marks, which he obtained by selling some of his land. After that Robert Pilkington, the bastard son of John Pilkington, entered and occupied all the other lands of Richard Stansfeld. These lands were still being held by Robert Pilkington at the time of the Oyer & Terminer Commission in 1478.

In 1477, Alan Stansfeld was pursued and took refuge in a chapel, which was then set on fire. He escaped but was attacked and left for dead, and cattle, grain, household goods and money were stolen. A farm in Stansfield owned by his father, James Stansfeld was invaded and occupied on the same day, and James's cattle etc. stolen.

On 5 September 1478, a Commission of oyer and terminer was issued. There was a total of 200 Indictments before the Commission. These included 34 which related to the Savile-Pilkington dispute, with a further 11 committed by or against Savile or Pilkington supporters. There were another 60 indictments against the Pilkingtons.

The following is taken from some of the indictments :

On 12 April 1478, Sir John Pilkington of Skipton in Craven sought to oppose Sir John Savile and his grandson John Savile, esq, by taking in maintenance the latter's tenant Richard Elistones who complained that Savile had enclosed part of his tenement by raising a hedge on his manor at Elland.

Elistones enfeoffed Pilkington with the land so that he [Pilkington] would maintain him [Elistones] against Savile.

On Sir John Pilkington's instructions, his bastard son Robert [Pilkington], Leonard Bolling, Thomas Grenehow and Charles Hilton, (all gentlemen) with Richard Elistones, and others, levelled the hedge, and frightened other tenants of the Saviles from their holdings.

On 14 May 1478, the Saviles led by Sir John's son, Thomas Savile of Thornhill, esq, with a group of 100, attacked Richard Elistones and John Hole, yeomen, driving them out of their homes and erecting dykes on the king's common water course, diverting water over the land of John Hole. They threatened to kill or maim anyone who pulled down the dyke.

On 19 May 1478, Robert Pilkington, his uncles Robert and Edmund, the latter's bastard son Edward, Lawrence Townley, Richard Banaster, Adam Browne, Leonard Bolling, Thomas Grenehow and Charles Hilton, gentlemen, Lawrence Bentley, mercer, the Elistones, the Holes and 400 others, broke down the hedges and dykes, blowing their horns. They then marched to Elfletburgh, a Pilkington estate.

The next day, the Saviles, supported by the Stansfield family and between 300 and 500 followers, made up the hedge again and then went to Elfletburgh, as close as they could to John Savile junior's land, blowing their horns and shouting threats to Robert Pilkington. They then retired and dined at Halifax, but when they returned peacefully to Elland, they were attacked on Skircote Moor by Robert Pilkington and his 400 men who shot arrows at them and demanded that Thomas Savile should surrender or die. Battle was joined.

At least 8 men were killed: on the Pilkington side, the dead included Robert Wadsworth, Brownlow, and others; on the Savile side, the dead included Roger Clay, Richard Byrkynshawe, Andrew Sagar, George Hopwood, William Shyngylton, John Howley.

The dispute subsequently became more widespread, involving men from Nottinghamshire, Sandal, Wakefield and Holmfirth

Much of this material comes from an article by Dr Rosemary C. E. Hays : Ancient Indictments of the North of England, 1461-1509, in The North of England in the Age of Richard III, ed. A. J. Pollard (1996) 

These events may perhaps be looked at from a different perspective – see Land Seizures in Calderdale

© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 15:58 / 28th May 2021 / 8332

Page Ref: MMS3140

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