Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Calveley, Hugh

CALVELEY, Sir HUGH (d. 1393), a distinguished soldier, was the son of David de Calvelegh, and his first wife Joan, of Lea in Cheshire, and was the brother, it is thought, of Sir Robert Knolles. Both are celebrated in the pages of Froissart. Calveley was one of the soldiers of fortune engaged in the war of succession between the partisans of the widow of Jean de Montfort and the wife of Charles de Blois, which lasted with varying fortune from 1341 to 1364. In 1351 Robert de Beaumanoir sallied from his garrison at Château Josselin to attack the town and castle of Ploërmel, which was held for Montfort by Sir Robert Bamborough, who is sometimes identified with Sir Richard Greenacre of Merley. He is called Brembo in the Breton Chronicles, and it may be noticed that there is a Bromborough in Cheshire, to which county two, at least, of his knightly followers belonged. As the garrison did not care to leave their stronghold, Beaumanoir proposed a joust of two or three with swords and spears. To this Bamborough replied by suggesting that each side should select twenty or thirty champions who should fight in earnest on the open plain. The bargain having been made, sixty warriors repaired to a level tract near a midway oak, and there fought the famous Bataille de Mi-Voie, which has since been chronicled both in prose and verse. Thirty knights on each side, having dismounted, fought until both sides were exhausted and a rest was called, when four French and two English knights lay dead upon the field. The fight was renewed with great ferocity, and when Beaumanoir, grievously wounded, was leaving the field to quench his thirst, he was recalled by the fierce exclamation, ‘Beaumanoir, drink thy blood, and thy thirst will go off.’ Despairing of breaking the solid phalanx of the English combatants, one of the French knights mounted his horse, and spurred his steed with great impetuosity against their ranks, which were thus broken. Sir Robert Bamborough was slain with eight of his men, while the others, including Calveley and Sir Robert Knolles, were taken prisoners to Josselin. A memorial cross was erected, which is engraved in the ‘Archæologia’ (vol. vi.). In 1362 he is named with Peter of Bunbury and others in a warrant of pardon for felonies committed in Chester. This pardon had already been commanded on 18 Jan., 27 Edward III, and letters of pardon were accordingly granted, 35 Edward III. In 1364 was fought the decisive battle of Auray, which ended the struggle for the duchy of Brittany. When asked to take command of the rearguard, Calveley begged that another post might be assigned to him. Sir John Chandos protested with tears that no other man was equal to the post. Calveley accepted, and by his steadiness of discipline kept the army firm during a desperate charge of the foe. At the conclusion of the Breton war he and some of his freelances enlisted in the service of Henry of Trastamare in his struggle with Pedro the Cruel of Castille; but the Prince of Wales having joined the opposite party, feudal loyalty, it may be surmised, led Calveley to change sides, and he is honourably mentioned by Froissart as fighting under Sir John Chandos at the battle of Navarete on 3 April 1367. We next hear of him as the leader of two thousand freebooters, making disastrous war in the territories of the Earl of Armagnac. He became deputy of Calais in 1377, and one of his exploits was a foray to Boulogne, where he burnt some of the ships in the harbour, destroyed part of the town, and returned with a rich booty. He also recovered the castle of Marke on the same day it was lost, and soon after the Christmas of 1378 ‘spoiled the towne of Estaples the same day the fair was kept there. The sellers had quick utterance, for that that might be carried awaie the Englishmen laid hands upon.’ In the following year, when he, with Sir Thomas Percye, as admirals of England, conveyed the Duke of Brittany to a haven near St. Malo, the galleys laden with property were attacked by the French after the armed ships had entered; but Calveley, with his bowmen, forced the shipmaster to turn the vessel against his will to the rescue. ‘Through the manfull prowess of Sir Hugh the gallies were repelled, for, according to his wonted valiancie, he would not return till he saw all other in safetie.’ In July 1380 he was preparing to go abroad as part commander with Sir John Arundell of an expedition against Brittany. Twenty vessels, with Arundell and a thousand men, were lost in a storm. Calveley, with seven sailors only of his ship, was dashed upon the shore. He was now governor of Brest, and went with the Earl of Buckingham on his French expedition. The crusade undertaken against the adherents of Pope Clement did not commend itself to his judgment, but when his counsel was overruled, he fought vigorously for the policy adopted, and his successes lent it strength, until his troops were surprised in Bergues by the army of the French king in numbers so overpowering as to make resistance hopeless, and he withdrew. The dissatisfaction on the return to England at the failure of the expedition did not include any blame of Calveley. He had the patronage of the Duke of Lancaster, was governor of the Channel Islands, and had the enjoyment of the royal manor of Shotwick. The estate of Lea in Cheshire devolved upon him, 35 Edward III. His paternal estate, the profits of his various offices, and the booty produced by the kind of warfare in which he was long engaged, must have resulted in great wealth. He devoted a portion of his plunder to works of piety. In conjunction with his supposed brother, Sir Robert Knolles, and another famous freelance, Sir John Hawkwood, he is said to have founded a college at Rome in 1380. Six years later he obtained a royal license for appropriating the rectory of Bunbury, which he had purchased, for the foundation of a college with a master and six chaplains. The building was in progress in 1385, and was probably finished at the date of the founder's death on the feast of St. George in 1393. He was buried in the chancel of his college, and his effigy in complete armour may still be seen on one of the finest altar-tombs in his native county. It is engraved in Lysons and in Ormerod. A tablet is suspended against the north wall, opposite to the monument of Calveley, recording a bequest by Dame Mary Calveley of 100l., the interest to be given to poor people frequenting the church on the condition of their cleaning the monument and chancel. Fuller states that Calveley ‘married the queen of Arragon, which is most certain, her arms being quartered on his tomb.’ On this it is only necessary to remark that the arms of Arragon are not quartered on the tomb, and Lysons has shown that there was no queen of Arragon whom Calveley could well have married. ‘It is most probable,’ says Ormerod, ‘that he never did marry, and it is certain that he died issueless.’

[Ormerod's History of Cheshire (ed. Helsby), ii. 766–9, 263; Fuller's Worthies of England (Cheshire); Lysons's Magna Britannia (Cheshire), 446, 542; Froissart's Chronicles (ed. Johnes), i. 371, 651, 666, 694, 734; Archæologia, vi. 148; Holinshed's Chronicles; W. H. Ainsworth's Ballads contain a translation of a Breton lai on the fight of the thirty published by J. A. C. Buchon in his Collection des Chroniques. Buchon first published Froissart's narrative of the battle in 1824, and afterwards included it in his edition of Froissart.]

W. E. A. A.