The Percys in Cumbria
The fascinating history of Cockermouth's
oldest town house.
Percy House was first thought to have been built in 1598 by Henry Percy, the 9th Earl of
Northumberland, as a home for the Percy bailiff. In one of the rooms upstairs is a carved
plaster ceiling with the date 1598. The centre of the ceiling bears a Tudor rose and lover’s
knot with the initials AM. Also depicted are various hunting animals and birds. Above the
fireplace are the arms of the Earl surrounded by a garter with the Percy motto ‘Esperance en
Dieu’ (Hope in God).
However a study of tree rings by English Heritage researchers has shown the building to be
far earlier. Percy House now dated from 14th Century. Tests carried out on the roof timbers
reveal the earliest dating of Percy House timbers to be 1390.
In medieval times, timbers were used “green” and not seasoned, therefore it is possible,
using tree ring dating techniques to establish the age the tree was felled and used very
shortly afterwards in building construction.
At that time, the first floor and ceiling would be non-existent, the rooms being open to the
roof to show off the craftsmanship in the roof timbers and arched braced collar roof
trusses. This period of building is known as the “Open Hall” period.
A major re-vamping and make-over of the building took place in 1598 when the ornate plaster
ceiling and other features were installed to be in fashion with the period.
Cockermouth was brought to the Percy family by Maud, heiress of the Lucies and descendant of
Antony de Luci who received Cockermouth as his reward for capturing Sir Andrew de Harcla -
Earl of Carlisle in the 14th century. The estate was brought to her husband on condition of
his descendants quartering the arms of Lucy. (the 3 pike).
The Percy family were frequently in trouble with the Tudors because of their Catholic
sympathies -The 8th Earl being imprisoned in the Tower for his alleged part in plots
supporting Mary Stuart in 1585.
The Percy crest of arms over the fireplace
Born 1564, the 9th Earl was two years older than James V1. He owned massive estates in
northern England as well as the south. His main establishment being Petworth in
Sussex.Although his speech was incline to be slow and he was slightly deaf he was a highly
gifted man, his scientific experiments and library earning him the title of ‘Wizard Earl’.
At his own expense he equipped several vessels and personally helped in the destruction of
the Armada. He married Dorothy Devereux, sister of Essex and though the couple separated, a
brief reconciliation resulted in the birth of an heir in 1602.
Due to Northumberland's involvement with Thomas Percy, a distant relation, who he employed
as his go between with King James and the fact that he had acted as Catholic advocate in the
previous reign, he was subjected to intensive questioning by King James as to his
involvement in the
Northumberland denied any knowledge of the plot. Nothing was ever proved against him and non
of the plotters under torture confessed his name. The indictment charged Northumberland with
endeavouring to head the English Papists and procure them toleration.
At his trial Northumberland was fined £30,000 and sentenced to imprisonment at the king’s
pleasure. He was kept in the Martin Tower and had a study, library, great chamber with
drawing room and two dining rooms.
He remained in the tower until 1621 when his son in law Lord Hay, successfully pleaded for
his release. He returned to his estate at Petworth where he died in 1632.
Henry Percy - did he write
The Percy family
A list of the pages relating to the Percy
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