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Saturday, 18 January 2014


Do you ever feel as if you always back the loser in any sporting fixture? Never pick the winner in the office sweepstake? Spare a thought for my unlucky Pilkington forebears. 

King Harold II (c1022-1066) died at the Battle of Hastings

With a bit of a push and a shove my 3x great uncle William Windle Pilkington (1839-1914) could trace his ancestors back to his (approximately) 15x great grandfather Leonard de Pilkington. Leonard, according to family tradition, fought on the side of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. Unlike Harold, he survived not only the fighting but the arrival of the new Norman ruling class. Remarkably he retained the lordship of the manor of Pilkington in Lancashire, midway between Bolton and Manchester, despite being on the wrong side at Hastings.

But over the next few centuries, a pattern emerged of poor choices in battle. In 1322, for example, Leonard’s great great grandson Sir Roger de Pilkington (d. 1347) joined the Earl of Lancaster who was leading rebellious opposition to the weak king Edward II. But rebel support evaporated as the two sides headed for confrontation at Boroughbridge, north of York; and in a one-sided battle there on the 16th March 4000 royal troops easily defeated 700 of the rebels.

King Edward II (1284-1327) won the battle of Boroughbridge

Sir Roger was captured at the battle; but he was later pardoned , thereby avoiding the fate of his rebel leader Lancaster, who was beheaded outside Pontefract Castle less than a week after his defeat.

150 yers later, Sir Roger’s great great grandsons were friends of Richard, Duke of Gloucester. One of them, Sir John Pilkington (1425-1478) entrusted the execution of his will to Richard. It was the time of the Wars of the Roses between rival claimants from the houses of York and Lancaster for the English throne; and perhaps the Pilkingtons thought they had learned the lesson of history by siding this time not with Lancaster but with Richard, a Yorkist. 

King Richard III (1452-1485) died at the Battle of Bosworth Field

When Richard assumed the throne of England in 1483 as Richard III, Sir John’s brother Sir Charles Pilkington (c1430-c1485) was given the great honour of being the new king’s swordbearer. But only two years later Richard’s reign came to a violent end. At the Battle of Bosworth Field, he was conclusively defeated by his challenger, Henry Tudor.

Richard was killed on the battlefield, and over the next two years his supporters were stripped of power and property. John and Charles Pilkington’s cousin Sir Thomas, who had fought for Richard at Bosworth Field, had to surrender his Lancashire estates, including that of Pilkington. Sir Thomas died in 1487 at the Battle of Stoke Field, a last unsuccessful attempt to unseat the new Tudor dynasty of Henry, now Henry VII.

King Henry VII (1457-1509) won the Battles of Bosworth Field and Stoke Field

Sir Thomas’s death was symbolic of the political upheaval of the time. On the larger political stage the Plantagenet dynasty, which had reigned in England since 1133, disappeared. The loss of the Pilkington estate which gave the family its name must have been a morale-sapping blow. The family regrouped around a minor branch which had retained lordship of the little manor of Rivington a few miles to the north.

For the next 150 years the family kept its head down; and at the start of the seventeenth century the Rivington estate was broken up – some say, through defaulting on a debt. But at the outbreak of the Civil War the Pilkingtons took sides once more, when Richard Pilkington (1634-1711) backed King Charles I against his opponent Oliver Cromwell.

King Charles I (1600-1649) was beheaded after the English Civil War

Another poor choice, another wrong king. Cromwell established the Commonwealth he was fighting for. Charles was beheaded. And Richard Pilkington (only 15 at the time) persisted for some years in his support of the monarchy and was therefore stripped of his remaining estates. He fled to Ireland to start afresh, and no further stances for or against a king by a Pilkington are recorded.

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