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The Arms of Armitage           Armytage of Kirklees

As the custodians of the Kirklees Priory site and reputed grave of Robin Hood, the Armytage family of  Kirklees Hall near Brighouse have had an important role to play in the furtherance of the legend of "Robin Hood".

THE FIRST ARMITAGE OWNERS OF KIRKLEES                                                                                                                                                                               During the time of Henry VIII's court [1509-1547] there was a renewed interest in the Robin Hood tales, particularly when Henry tried to claim that he was descended from both the Welsh [British] 'King Arthur' and the English 'Robin Hood'. The break-up of the monasteries was overseen by Leland, King Henry VIII's librarian and chief antiquarian. One of his tasks was to assist in the destruction, and in some cases the preservation of monastic records. It is very likely that Leland  was personally involved in the degradation of Kirklees Priory for apart from the fact that Leland asserted, without any evidence, that Robyn had been a nobleman, he also described Kirklees as being the site of Robin Hood's grave. Leland had the right to direct the huge amount of material held in monastic repositories, either to the fire, the King's library or eventually into the Royal College of Arms. The king's librarian made a huge collection of notes but much to his annoyance he never managed to produce a comprehensive book from them, the task being too great considering the information had been collected from all over England. It was left  until the 1700's for some of these notes to be published from 1542 in Collectanea.  

In his Chronicle of 1562 Richard Grafton , Edward VI's printer, also claimed, like John Major, that Robyn was an historical figure living in the reign of Richard I. Later, the playwright Anthony Munday [publishing 1599-1600] introduced  Robin Hood as the 'earl of Huntington', portraying the hero as one of the nobility. This led to the Robin Hood tales gaining a wider audience with the nobility and landed gentry claiming him as one of their own rather than that of the early ballad persona, a yeoman. Indeed it could be argued that this is the transformation of the Armytage family from yeomen to baronets with their own coat of arms.* Like many families who benefited from the  large amount of land coming onto the market after the 'dissolution of the monasteries', the Pilkingtons and their successors, the Armytages equipped themselves very  well indeed. See Lady Day Hearth Tax 1672 for John Armytage, first baronet of Kirklees * These identical arms were held by a predecessor, Sir Bryan Armytage of the manor of Rigbolt, Lincolnshire from 1145-1146 [Now Rigbolt farm house, 2km south of Gosberton Clough].
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             The earliest known Armitage member of the Kirklees line begins with John I Armytage [d. 1574] a yeoman, clothier and exporter from Farnley Tyas who married Elizabeth Kaye of Lockwood. This John was the son of William Armytage and Katherine Beaumont, daughter of Henry Beaumont of Crosland.6 John purchased the Kirklees estate in 1565  from Robert Pilkington and his wife Alice Savile, erecting a hall  on the site of the old priory, thus becoming the first Armitage of Kirklees. 

In 1562, three years before the sale of Kirklees to John I Armitage, the proximity  of "Robin Hood's Grave' to the  "Kings Highway" was  mentioned in Grafton's Chronicle:

       "The prioresse of the same place caused him to be buried by the highway-side
          where he used to rob and spoyle those that passed that way."

Grafton also stated:

       "And upon his grave the sayd prioresse did lay a very fayre stone, wherein
       the names of Robert Hood, William of Goldsborough and others were graven.
       And the cause why she buryed him there was for the common passengers and
       travailers knowing and seeying him there buryed might more safely and
       without fear take their jorneys that way, which they durst not do in the life of
       the sayd outlawes. And at eyther end of the sayd tombe was erected a crosse
       of stone, which is to be seene there at this present"

That is, the supposed grave of Robyn was already in existence before the Armitage family took possession of the estate. We might therefore conclude that the original construction was already in existence during the time of Robert Plkington and his wife Alice Savile, if not before. Somewhere between the dissolution of the priory in 1538 and the sale of the property in 1565, the local legend seems to have come into existence.

From the time of their aquisition of Kirklees, the Armitage family became associated with 'Robin Hood's grave' and the 'Kirkely' of the ballad, A Lytell Geste of Robyn Hode. This ballad details the story of Robin Hood and the prioress of Kirkely or Church Lees, supposedly identified as Kirklees. However, It seems that  John I Armitage of Farnley Tyas, who purchased Kirklees, wittingly or unwittingly continued to promote a folk tale or hoax from this tenuous literary link. His son John II Armytage of Kirklees [b. 1547] who married Emma Gregory of Hull died in 1606. In 1607, the very year that John III Armytage, the sheriff-to-be, inherited Kirklees from his father, Camden recorded in his Britannia that 'Robin Hood's tomb' was located in the grounds of the, by now, abandoned priory cemetery.  

Camden's Britannia, 1607 :

       "At Kirklees nunnery Robin Hood's tomb with a plain cross on a flat stone is
       shown in the cemetery. In the ground at a little distance by two grave stones,
       one which has the inscription for Elizabeth de Staynton, prioress there"

John III Armytage's son, Edward [d.v.p. Aug. 1643],  who was born at Keresforth, Yorkshire, moved the hall to its second site in 1610 then in 1614, John III Armytage de Kirklees, armiger [d. 1650], was appointed a  Sheriff for Yorkshire

Edward Armitage's [Dugdale says Gregory Armytage of Netherton's7] daughter, Elizabeth Armytage was married 6th September 1629 to Sir Thomas BEAMONT [Beaumont] at nearby Hartshead. The marriage was also called at Wath Upon Dearne, South Yorkshire. Thomas Beaumont married secondly, Mary Pilkington, relict [widow] of Richard Pilkington in August of 1656.

Edward's son, John VI Armytage was born 1610 at Keresforth and died in May 1664. In the following year, 1665, about 100 years after Grafton had recorded  his comments, Dr. Nathaniel Johnston made a drawing at Kirklees in which the Robin Hood grave slab bore an inscription, much weathered by the doctor's time:

           "Here lie roberd hude, Willm Gold burgh*, Thoms..."

                * Some have speculated this to be Will Scarlet's real name

The gravestone which was sketched by Dr Nathaniel Johnston, located much further from the priory cemetery, seems to have taken on a mantle of apparent factual respectability by this time. Yet again, three years after this work was published, Sir John Armitage bt. was appointed sheriff of Yorkshire. This recurring pattern seems somewhat repeated when in 1715, Thoresby recorded the gravestone again and later Sir Samuel Armitage 1st baronet of Kirklees and  Sir George Armitage, bt.  were appointed sheriffs for Yorkshire in 1740 and 1791 respectively. There seems to have been a strong tradition and belief within the Armitage family, beginning with John I Armytage [d. 1574] who purchased the estate, to promote the idea that Kirklees was the site of Robyn Hode's burial. This tradition may have already been in existence within the Pilkington and Savile families associating the Geste's virtual 'Kirkely' with the real Kirklees. However, there is no primary documentary evidence that the real life character who modelled for the ballad hero was buried here, for the person I have identified as the inspiration for the ballad character was buried far away in another English county.

John IV's son George b. 1661 at Keresforth found Elizabeth de Staynton's [a prioress of Kirklees] grave in 1706 within the priory cemetery. George married Magdalen Usher of Barnsley. Their son Samuel, later Sir Samuel Armytage, 1st baronet  was born at Kirklees Ch. 5th May 1695 Barnsley. He was made High Sheriff of Yorkshire for the year 1740.
He married Anne Griffith of Llangollen, Montgomeryshire, Wales about 1724 in England. Samuel d. 19th August 1747 bur. Hartshead 27th November 1747.

Map of Kirklees Park
                                                                                                                   'A' represents the "Gate House"

Samuel  Armytage was the first Baronet of Kirklees (1738) and as such is recorded as being  the second member of the family to be declared the Sheriff for Yorkshire in 1740. Previously some of the sheriffs for Nottinghamshire had also been the sheriffs for Yorkshire, again this may have prompted the family members to become curious about the legend of Robin Hood.
"In 1795* the late Sir Samuel Armytage, owner of the premises caused the ground to be dug a yard. He and a fellow digger were described as "well in their cups".  His wife had pre-deceased him in 1731 [bur. Hartshead Church 27th November]. * However, he was dead by 1747.

George Armytage later Sir George 2nd baronet was the son of Samuel 1st Bt. born 25th December 1734 at Kirklees. Sir George married Anna Maria Wentworth daughter of Godfrey Wentworth and Dorothy Pilkington. The Armytages became entrenched in the  well-known West Yorkshire Pilkington and Wentworth families by this union and as such would have secured greater wealth. Anna was born on the 9th June 1736 and christened at Woolley on 7th July 1736.
Between 1759 and 1770 Sir George and Lady Anna Armytage had changes made to Kirklees Hall, under the direction of John Carr, the Yorkshire architect. The hall was converted from a Tudor style to a more fashionable Jacobean style which was the vogue for Yorkshire gentry at this time.

In 1775 Sir George was declared Sheriff for Yorkshire, the third member of the family to be so called.
Sir George died on the 21st January 1783 and was buried at Hartshead  Churchyard on the 29th.

In 1786 the original "Robin Hood" grave slab with the large cross thereon was said to be "broken and much defaced". However Barbara Green believes a part of the original slab can be seen in the Hartshead churchyard where it has been cannibalised and tipped on its side to form  another grave stone. Lady Armytage died five after her husband's death on the 21st March 1788 and was buried at Hickleton, Yorkshire.

Their son, George Armytage, later Sir George 3rd Bt. of Kirklees, M.P. was born on the 11th June 1761 and christened at Hickleton on the same day! George married firstly, Mary Harbord on the 12th August 1783 at St. George, Hanover Sq. Westminster, Middlesex. However the marriage seems not to have lasted for in 1791 Mary Bowles had a marriage settlement and married Sir George. on 6th December 1791 at North Aston, Oxfordshire.

In 1790 a 72 foot iron bridge is recorded as being built over Nun Brook at Kirklees and in the same year Sir George bt. was declared the sheriff for Yorkshire, the fourth  member of the family to be so.  In the same year he married his second wife Mary Bowles.In 1794 the Huddersfield Fusilier Volunteers were raised, commanded by Sir George. There had been food riots in the industrial centres and those with vested interests gathered their forces.
In 1810 a Henry Armytage of Hartshead is recorded as dying on the 24th February  aged 11 years and 3 months, son of Jane Armytage. Sir George died on the 14th July 1836 at Kirklees and buried  at Hartshead.

John Armytage the son of Sir George later became the 4th baronet of Kirklees. He was born on the 7th October 1792 at Kirklees and christened at Hartshead church on the 3rd November in the same year. He appears to have had an older brother, George born 2nd August 1788 at Kirklees who may have died young. John married Mary Assheton [Ashton?] on 2nd October 1818 at Downham, Lancashire.  John is not recorded as having made any impression upon the records of the time and died on the 24th May 1836 [dvp], buried at Harthead 1st June 1836.
Henrietta ARMYTAGE ,born 28 Feb 1801 in Kirklees, daughter of John the 4th baronet.
She married Charles Brandling on 2 Nov 1824 in Thorpe, Rothwell, Yorkshire, England.

His son, George Armytage later 5th baronet was born on the 3rd August 1819 Pulteney St., Bath , Somerset, christened at Hartshead Church on 27th April 1820. He married Eliza Matilda  Mary Radcliffe on the 1st of June 1841 at Spofforth, Yorkshire. Again the 5th baronet failed to make any great impression on the records. He died on the 9th March 1899 at Kirklees and was buried at Hartshead churchyard on the 14th March in the same year.

The 6th baronet of Kirklees was George John Armytage who was born on the 26th April 1842 and christened at Hartshead Church on the 30th June in the same year. George John married firstly Ellen Fawkes the daughter of  the Reverend Ayscough Fawkes. Ellen was born on the 28th March 1841 at Farnley Hall, Farnley, Yorkshire. They were married on the 11th May 1871 at St. John, Paddington, Middlesex. Ellen died in 1890 at Elvaston Place, Kensington, London and was buried at Hartshead Churchyard on the 8th July. In 1846 an inscription in Hartshead churchyard describes an Edward Thomas Armytage as having died on January 21st aged 5 years and 10 months and James and Mary Ann who died in their infancy. Also Albert son of Isaac and Hannah Armytage who died October 7th 1865 aged 3 months. These may have been branch members of the Kirklees family.

After Lady Ellen Armytage's death George John remarried to Mary Georgina Littledale at St. Peter, Canley, Kensington, London on the 6th April 1893. George became a Civil Engineer and in the 1881 census is described as a  F.S.A. Railway director.  He became chairman of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway for 31 years and was central to their success. A book on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway states that he was knighted in 1899 however this is not confirmed.8 He died on the 8th November 1918 at Kirklees Park, near Brighouse and was buried in Hartshead Churchyard on the 13th November.

The first marriage produced two children at least two are mentioned in the 1881 census.
George Ayscough Armytage [later Sir George, 7th baronet of Kirklees] aged 9 at the time and  John Hawkesworth Armytage aged seven at he time, they were both living at Clifton Woodhead, Clifton in 1881 while their parents were in Middlesex, apparently visiting Ellen's parents:

 Dwelling: Clifton Woodhead
 Census Place: Clifton In Halifax, York, England
 Source: FHL Film 1342050     PRO Ref RG11    Piece 4396    Folio 68    Page 22
 Marr Age Sex Birthplace
Geo. Ayscough ARMYTAGE   9  M London, Middlesex, England
 Rel: Son (Head)
 Occ: Scholar
John Hawkesworth ARMYTAGE   7  M Clifton, York, England
 Rel: Son (Bro)
 Occ: Scholar
Mary F. BRIGGS U 24  F Richmondworth, Hertford, England
 Rel: Governess
 Occ: Governess
Susan GLENDEMMON U 46  F Hilton, Durham, England
 Rel: Servant
 Occ: Cook (Domestic Servant)
Florence STOUT U 23  F Broughton, Lincoln, England
 Rel: Servant
 Occ: Parlour Maid (Domestic Servant)
Alice BRAMALD U 17  F New Miller Dam, York, England
 Rel: Servant
 Occ: House Maid (Domestic Servant)
Emma AMBLER U 18  F Wakefield, York, England
 Rel: Servant
 Occ: Kitchen Maid (Domestic Servant)

 Dwelling: 7 Elvaston Place
 Census Place: Kensington, London, Middlesex, England
 Source: FHL Film 1341005     PRO Ref RG11    Piece 0022    Folio 4    Page 2
 Marr Age Sex Birthplace
Ellen M. FAWKES W 71  F Spratton, Northampton, England
 Rel: Head
Mary S. FAWKES U 36  F Leathly, York, England
 Rel: Dau
Lena M. FAWKES U 30  F Leathly, York, England
 Rel: Dau
Ellen ARMYTAGE M 40  F Leathly, York, England
 Rel: Dau
George J. ARMYTAGE M 38  M Hickles Park, York, England
 Rel: Son In Law
 Occ: FSA Railway Director
Mary A. JACKSON U 50  F Yarm, York, England
 Rel: Serv
 Occ: Cook Dom Serv
Samuel HORSMAN U 26  M Stratford On Avon, Warwick, England
 Rel: Serv
 Occ: Butler Dom Serv
Elizabeth BROUGHTON U 18  F Doncaster, York, England
 Rel: Serv
 Occ: Lady's Maid Dom Serv
Eliza MARSHALL U 27  F Martin, Lincoln, England
 Rel: Serv
 Occ: Housemaid Dom Serv
Caroline WHITE U 20  F Burton Latimer, Northampton, England
 Rel: Serv
 Occ: Kitchenmaid Dom Serv
Edith B. ARMYTAGE U 3 m F Brighouse, York, England
 Rel: G Dau
Mary CLARKSON U 36  F Wraye, Lancashire, England
 Rel: Serv
 Occ: Nurse Dom Serv

George Ayscough was born on the 2nd of March 1872 at Queen Garden, Kensington, Middlesex and christened at St. Michael, Paddington, Middlesex on 2nd April 1872. He married Aimee Milbourne-Swinnerton-Pilkington at St. Pauls, Knightsbridge, Westminster on the 12th July 1899.
In 1902, Sir George, probably a keen amateur archaeologist, excavated and revealed the foundations of the main buildings of the priory.
Sir George Ayscough died in 1953.

Other local members of the Armytage family were present in the 1881 census viz:

 Dwelling: Robin Hood Inn
 Census Place: Mirfield, York, England
 Source: FHL Film 1342098     PRO Ref RG11    Piece 4556    Folio 112    Page 15
 Marr Age Sex Birthplace
Sam ARMITAGE M 33  M Hartshead, York, England
 Rel: Head
 Occ: Inn Keeper
Ann ARMITAGE M 33  F Wake, York, England
 Rel: Wife
 Occ: Inn Keeper Wife
Annie Jane ARMITAGE   7  F Hartshead, York, England
 Rel: Daur
 Occ: Scholar
Martha ARMITAGE   5  F Hartshead, York, England
 Rel: Daur
 Occ: Scholar
Frank ARMITAGE   4  M Mirfield, York, England
 Rel: Son
Eleanor ARMITAGE   2  F Mirfield, York, England
 Rel: Dau


Dwelling: 48 Thornhill Rd
 Census Place: Hipperholme Cum Brighouse, York, England
 Source: FHL Film 1342050     PRO Ref RG11    Piece 4396    Folio 28    Page 24
 Marr Age Sex Birthplace
Harriet ARMYTAGE W 64  F Mirfield, York, England
 Rel: Head
 Occ: Annuitant
Hannah E. WALLER U 24  F Brighouse, York, England
 Rel: Niece
 Occ: Annuitant

St. Peter's, Hartshead.

                                                                                                                             St. Peter's, Hartshead

George Ayscough Armytage was succeeded by his son, Capt. Sir John Armytage 8th baronet of Kirklees who was born in 1901. Sir John married firstly Evelyn Mary Jessamine in 1927, daughter of Edward Fox of Adbury Park, Hampshire. Sir John and Lady Evelyn Armytage had two children, John Martin Armytage, later Sir John 9th baronet, born 26th Feb. 1933   and Ann born in 1928.
However Sir John's marriage ended in divorce in 1947.
Sir John married secondly Maria Margarete Tenhaeff,  locally reputed to have been a former housekeeper for Sir John, and  German by birth. They were married in 1949.
Maria, the late Lady Armytage was the daughter of Paul Tenhaeff, farmer, of Bruenan, Niederheim, Westphalia, Germany. Their daughter Christina, Mary Armytage (now Cornish) was born in 1952.
Following Sir John's death in 1983, Kirklees Hall was sold for separate development and is listed as a grade one heritage building. Lady Maria Armytage moved into a new residence on the site of the old priory, with Elizabeth de Stainton's grave in the back garden.

At the time of Sir John's death  a volume inscribed 'Ancient rolls of arms'  KE/68  c.1905 were deposited in the name of Sir John Armytage of Kirklees Hall at the P.R.O. [now T.N.A.] under the title 'Armytage Family, Kirklees Hall, Clifton-cum-Hartshead'.5 These volumes were accessioned  on the 10th June and 1st October 1982. The volumes contained ' notes, transcripts, magazine articles, letters from Vicary Gibbs of London to Sir George Armytage enclosing an article 'The battle of Boroughbridge and the Boroughbridge roll'

The widow of the 8th baronet. Born Maria Margarete Tenhaeff, of Bruenen, Niederheim. Married 8th November,  1949. Maria was the second wife of Capt Sir John Armytage, 8th Baronet, who died  22nd June, 1983.1 Their daughter is Mrs Christina Mary Cornish, last listed as of Bradford-upon-Avon, Wiltshire. 

Sir John Martin succeeded to the baronetcy, unmarried. Heir: cousin, Captain David Armytage. Style: Sir Martin Armytage, Bt (Kirklees Park, Brighouse and 5 St James Place, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.)

Heir presumptive to the baronetcy of Kirklees presently held by his cousin Sir Martin.
Born 4th September, 1929, son of Rear-Admiral Reginald William Armytage, GC, CBE, and  Sylvia Beatrice Staveley-Staveley. Married 3rd April, 1954, Antonia Cosima, eldest daughter of Count Cosimo Diodono de Bosardi, of Cape Province, S Africa, and his wife Enid, only daughter of Lt. Col. Sir Peter Carlaw Walker, 2nd Bt: 2 sons, Hugh, b. 1955 & Charles, b.1962, &  1 dau., Davina, b. 1956 (Sharcott Manor, Pewsey, Wilts.)

The Kirklees estate was sold by the Armitage family in 2013

Home HOME                             

1. L.D.S. Search site
2. Census for England 1881
3. Green, Barbara., Secrets of the Grave, limited publication, Palmyra Press, 2001.
4. Landed Gentry of Yorkshire
5. The National Archives.

6. Dugdale, William. Visitation of Yorkshire.

7. Ibid. vol. III, 1917 ed.

8.Chris Stuart. Email comm. May 2014.  

Another if you can find it;
[1760] Armytage, G.  Account of the Excavations  at Kirklees Priory, Yorkshire. Proc. Soc. Antiq. 21, (1), 1905-1906. 14pp, 2b/w pls, 1 folding plan, £4.00

Copyright © Tim Midgley 2001, revised 19th October, 2021.

Robin Hood search for the Truth | Robin Hood Places | Hood surname statistics | Robin Hood of Wakefield | Robert Hood of Newton | The Pinder of Wakefield Marian | Friars | Loxley and 'Huntington' | Myriads of Robin Hoods | Ballads of Robin Hood | Kirklees | The Armytages of Kirklees | Little John | Roger De Doncaster | The Penurious Knyght | Our Comly King  | Shire Reeve | Priory of Kirklees | Wakefield Rolls | Saylis of the Geste- a new site | Robert III Butler of Skelbrooke | Barnsdale and the Geste | De Lacis of PontefractAlice De Laci and John of GauntBarnsdale Gallery | A suspected compiler of the Geste | Images of Robyn Hode