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,
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.
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].
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:
prioresse of the same place caused him to be buried by the highway-side
Grafton also stated:
upon his grave the sayd prioresse did lay a very fayre stone, wherein
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 :
Kirklees nunnery Robin Hood's tomb with a plain cross on a flat
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.
"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
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.
THE SECOND SHERIFF AND FIRST BARONET DE KIRKLEES.
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.
THE THIRD SHERIFF AND SECOND BARONET
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.
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.
THE FOURTH SHERIFF AND THIRD BARONET
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
THE FOURTH BARONET DE KIRKLEES
THE FIFTH BARONET OF KIRKLEES
THE SIXTH BARONET OF KIRKLEES
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 SEVENTH BARONET OF KIRKLEES
Dwelling: Clifton Woodhead
Dwelling: 7 Elvaston Place
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.
Other local members of the Armytage family were present in the 1881 census viz:
Dwelling: Robin Hood Inn
Dwelling: 48 Thornhill Rd
St. Peter's, Hartshead
THE EIGTH BARONET OF KIRKLEES
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 NINTH BARONET OF KIRKLEES
CAPT. DAVID GEORGE ARMYTAGE CBE:
The Kirklees estate was sold by the Armitage family in 2013
Copyright © Tim Midgley 2001, revised 19th October, 2021.