Robert de Styveton has a fine carved effigy – but, sadly, the Victorian inscription is very probably wrong!
The Victorians who set the effigy on its stone plinth in 1854 firmly labelled this as the Robert who died in 1307. The trouble is that the man-at-arms depicted is wearing armour that dates him to the middle of the 14th century – of the time of the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War, and the conflict with France.
For more about the development of armour across Europe, see this comprehensive page.
For a shorter and less scholarly description, scroll to the bottom of this page.
There was a huge funeral feast in Bolton Abbey for that Robert. This is probably his grandson who died 1n 1353.
The first part of the 14th century
The years from 1300 – 1350 were turbulent. There had been steady global warming in the 13th century. Crops and areas under cultivation grew and with this increased productivity, so the sustainable population built up. It was not to last. Poor weather and lowered temperatures brought catastrophic famine and floods that swept away the important Kildwick Bridge. In the years 1314-1316, people starved and there are tales of the eating of wild animals, dogs and even children who had starved to death.
This would be catastrophic on its own but, on 23 and 24 June 1314, Robert the Bruce heavily defeated the English army at Bannockburn. Among those killed in the battle was Skipton’s lord, Sir Henry Clifford. Following this victory, the Scots rampaged south and ravaged both Airedale and Wharfedale. Kildwick was reported to be “wasted”. Records are silent about what happened to the church. There is speculation that the dedication to the Scottish St Andrew may have saved it from destruction.
In a third “whammy”, hard on the heels of disaster came the Plague with, in places, a 30%-50% mortality rate.
On reflection, I’m quite pleased I didn’t live in the early 14th century.
What does this mean for the church?
We know that Kildwick Bridge was rebuilt by the monks of Bolton Priory during this time. Despite being strapped for cash, the bridge was vital for them to be able to get their tithes of corn across the river to their corn mill. This rebuilding shows in the Abbey accounts, but there is no mention of any rebuilding of St Andrew’s. Yet St Andrew’s was rebuilt round about this time – and there are elements of architecture (the chamfered ribs of the arches) that look identical to those under the bridge. Who built it?
In the hard Medieval times, when there was no instant cure offered by medicine, there was a significant reliance on God. Life in this world was uncertain and so assuring your eternal life in the world to come became hugely important. You would do what you could. A villein (little more than a slave) could do little, but a lord of the manor such as Robert de Styveton could make a bigger showing. A great deal of church building took place in these impoverished times and, though there is little or no written evidence, it is far from the realms of possibility that this section of St Andrew’s (the tower and the western four bays) was built as a form of insurance policy by Robertus de Styveton the Younger, neatly explaining why his effigy is here, rather than at the grander Bolton Priory alongside, we assume, other members of his family.
The tradition is that crossed legs mean that he went on the Crusades. The Crusades that we generally think of took place from 1095 till the end of regular English involvement in 1192. There were further battles, up to around 1270. There are no records that either Robert fought in the Crusades and the dates make it highly unlikely that either Robert could have joined the fighting. Crossed legs on a monument are intended to depict vigour and strength. They say nothing about the crusades.
Mail, or chainmail, made of interlocking iron rings, was invented around 500 BC. Gradually technology developed so that plates of ever-increasing size and complexity could be added to the mail to protect vulnerable areas. English effigies from around 1300, both in carved stone and etched on flat brass plates, show soldiers clad in mail, the only plate added was generally a simple “bascinet”, a metal helmet to protect the vulnerable head. As the 14th century progressed, so the mail covering the legs was covered or replaced by solid metal “greaves” as we see on this monument.
An opinion from the Royal Armouries
Keith Dowen of the Royal Armouries was asked about the effigy. He says:
Thank you for your email regarding the effigy at Kildwick. As it so happens I’ve visited the church a number of times to take pictures of this particular effigy.
You are absolutely correct in thinking the armour looks much later than c.1307, it can in fact be dated to the 1340s/50s based on the tall bascinet (helmet) and the style of armour for the limbs. Whereas it’s not that unusual for some tombs to postdate the death of the individual commemorated – sometimes by a number of decades – there is no reason in this instance to believe this is the case. Indeed, the latest literature on the subject (Gittos, B and Gittos, M. 2019. Interpreting Medieval Effigies. The Evidence from Yorkshire to 1400. Oxbow Books (online Appendix 1 pp.99) dates the tomb to c.1345 but does not offer an opinion on the identity of the knight. this accords with Mark Downing, but he identifies the individual as ‘Robert Stiveton’ ob. c. 1343 (Downing, M. 2015. Military Effigies of England & Wales. Volume 8 p.73).
Based on the available evidence, I think Downing’s identification and yours is most likely right; that the knight is Robert de Stiverton, son of John de Stiverton (d.1319), who died sometime around 1353 and not the elder Robert (d.1307) or his other son also confusingly called Robert! There is certainly no doubt that the tomb dates to the mid-14th century.