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From Castle to Cave - the story of wild Humphrey Kynaston
FROM CASTLE TO CAVE – THE STORY OF WILD HUMPHREY KYNASTON.
FROM CASTLE TO CAVE – THE STORY OF WILD HUMPHREY KYNASTON.
There are many ideas about where King Arthur came from, was it Shropshire, Powys, the south west peninsular of Devon and Cornwall, or as some say, the Scottish Borders, but there can be no such doubt about Humphrey Kynaston. Born in the 15th century Wild Humphrey as he became known was a Shropshire man born and bred. True, he had Welsh ancestry and was descended from the Princes of Powys, but he himself was a Salopian through and through.
Like his ancestors before him Humphrey tenanted Myddle castle from the le Strange family but, according to the historian Gough, he allowed the place to fall into ruin, a mute victim of his dissolute and riotous living. It is said by some that Humphrey killed a man at Church Stretton and it was this act of murder that led to him being outlawed, but Gough maintains that it was Kynaston’s lifestyle which proved his undoing and it was when he could not repay his massive debts that he was declared an outlaw. Nevertheless, according to the Rev C.H. Drinkwater who transcribed Humfrey Kynaston’s Pardon (1516) and Will (1534). Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological Society, the Indictment for murder is still held in the National Archives.
Now, being outlawed was nowhere near as romantic as some tales would have us believe. An outlaw was put, quite literally, outside the law which meant that you had no rights whatsoever. Any land and property was confiscated, and you were deprived of your livelihood. Being placed beyond the law meant that you were, in the eyes of society, as good as dead, so the outlaw was virtually forced into living by theft and worse. This was the unenviable situation Humphrey Kynaston found himself suffering in the year AD 1491.
He seems to have adapted to his new life quite coolly. Far from hiding away he took up residence in a cave at Nesscliffe and was, according to tradition at any rate, a frequent visitor to the Three Pigeons hostelry nearby. So regular a customer was he in fact that for years after his pardon the landlord would proudly point out the chair which had been the outlaw’s favourite. Strangely perhaps very few of his exploits have come down to us, though we are assured that Wild Humphrey lived quite well because of the love shown to him by the poor, and because of the fear which he inspired in the wealthy. These facts seem to hint strongly of a sort of Robin Hood mentality where the rich were relieved of some of their wealth which was then, in part at least apparently, shared with the poor.
However, we know there were occasional brushes with the law, such as that which took place on Montfort Bridge.
In those days the bridge was a simple structure consisting of a number of planks laid on top of stone piers. In an attempt to capture Wild Humphrey, who was approaching along the Shrewsbury side of Severn, the Under Sheriff and a posse of troops removed a number of planks from the bridge making a gap too large for a horse to jump across. Their trap set, the Under Sheriff and his men lay in wait to ambush the unsuspecting outlaw. But they had not reckoned with so wily an opponent nor his magnificent mount. Reaching the bridge Wild Humphrey immediately took in the situation and without a pause spurred his mount to a gallop across the remaining planks and sailing through the air in a magnificent leap landed safely on the other side.
It’s easy to imagine the cheery wave he must have given to the chagrined Under Sheriff and his men who now found themselves unable to pursue the outlaw because they could not cross the bridge they had themselves dismantled. This act of horsemanship and bravery was commemorated by the folk around who measured the distance jumped and marked its length on Knockin Heath by digging a large letter ‘H’ into the turf at one end and a ‘K’ at the other. Despite this ‘benchmark’ the exploits of Wild Humphrey and his horse, now christened ‘Beelzebub’ in the popular retellings, became the stuff of pure legend and included a nine mile leap from the top of Nesscliffe to Ellesmere. There is another Beelzebub story which has a ring of truth around it and this took place one day when Kynaston called at Aston Hall near Oswestry and asked for a tankard of ale. While he slaked his thirst the servants, at the behest of their masters, quietly closed and barred the gates intent upon capturing the outlaw. But Humphrey was not to be fooled, or hurried. Finishing his ale he quietly pocketed the silver tankard, urged his horse forward, cleared the gates easily, and rode into freedom once more.
Despite all his exploits there remains something even touchingly homely about Wild Humphrey, especially when we learn that, according to the tradition, his mother used to bring his Sunday dinner to the cave each week from her home in Ruyten.
There is an intriguing entry in the Visitation of Shropshire 1623 (Harleian Society, vol 29, p295) which states that Homffray Kynaston and Thomas Trentham from Shropshire entered France in the service of the King on 16th of June 1513 without a standard but leading 100 men. Might this be our Wild Humphrey? And if so does it go some way towards explaining his complete and fulsome pardon by King Henry VIII just three years later?
The newly pardoned Humphrey made his home on a small estate near Welshpool and there lived out the remainder of his life. He died in 1534 and was buried on the right hand side of the chancel in St Mary’s church, Welshpool. This fact, together with several bequests to the church, belies the idea that he had, as stated by his enemies, at some time made a pact with the Devil.