Agnes Ormerod & Barnard Towneley - the Abduction of an Heiress


Agnes inherited the estate of her brother, John, on his death, aged 7. She was aged less than 9 at this time, and was taken into the custody of her uncles Roger, Richard and Oliver Ormerod.

Ottewell Hindle entered a plea to the Duchy Court of Lancaster in 1547/48 asking that she be given up by her uncles, as they had previously been ordered by the King's steward of the Manor of Accrington to do this, but had refused to do so.

The plea to the Duchy Court  was as follows:

"Ottewell Hyndle v. Richard Ormerodde, Richard Banester and others re the abduction of an Heiress at Blackburn and Accrington (1547-48)

Ottewell Hyndle of Oswoldewyssyll, Co. Lancs., yeoman complaineth that whereas John Ormerodde of Wolfendenbooth, within the Wapentake of Blackburn was seized of a messuage and certain lands
And tenements thereto belonging within the said Wapentake and parcel of the King's Manor of Accrington, which said premises John Ormerodde held to him and his heirs by copy of Court Roll according to the custom of the manor and at the will of his Majesty.
After the death of the said John the premises descended to Agnes Ormerodde as sister and next heir to the said John she being then under the age of nine years by reason whereof the custody of the said Agnes and the said land belonging to the plaintiff as guardian in socage because the plaintiff is cousin and next of kin on her mother's side, i.e. brother of Lettys Hyndell, mother of Agnes. Now so it is that Roger Ormerodde, Richard Ormerodde and Oliver Ormerodde uncles and next heirs of the said Agnes on her father's side to whom the said premises may descend have now by commandment of Richard Banester of Altham Esq. And Roger Cowenppe seized the body of the said Agnes unto their custody contrary to the custom of the said manor and the great peril of the said Agnes.
Although the plaintiff has complained to the King's steward of the said Manor of Accrington who commanded the said persons to deliver the said agnes to him yet they refuse to do so. Therefore he prays that letters of Privy Seal may be directed to the said Richard Ormerodde and others commanding them to give up the said agnes and her goods at once to Richard Greneaker gent. deputy steward of the said Manor who will take further order in the matter. (Make an injunction according to the tenor thereof)."

Following this successful petition Agnes was lodged on neutral ground at the house of Richard Banester, a Justice of the Peace.

In 1550/51 another plea was entered to the Duchy Court by Simon Haddock and his wife, Jane.

They claimed to have been the wards of John Ormerod, and subsequently Agnes, and complained that Barnard Townley seized Agnes on 20 July 1550, backed up by the armed retainers of Sir Richard Townley Kt., and then married her.

They claimed that Ottewell Hindle and Richard Banester were also involved in this abduction, as follows:

"Simon Haddock and Jane his wife v. Richard Towneley re the Abduction of an Heiress at Hurstwood in Burnley

"To the Rt. Hon. Sir John Gateys Kt. Simon Haddok and Jane his wife complain that whereas one George Ormerodde was seized in his demesne as of fee of one messuage and thirty acres of land with the appurtenances in Hurstwood and the Parish of Burnley and held the same of the plaintiffs by homage fealty and escutage and 3/1d of rent in the right of the said Johanne of which said services and rent the plaintifss were seized by the hand of the said George Ormerodde as by the hand of his "verye tenent" that is to say of the homage fealty and escutrage as by fee and right and of the said rent in his demesne as of fee in the time of pays in the time of King Henry VIII. After the death of the said George Ormerodde the said premises descended to John Ormerodde who was then aged about twelve years [sic] the body of which John the plaintiffs did seize and has in their custody as a ward. The said John died whilst in their wardship and the said premises descended to Agnes Ormerodde as sister and heir of the said John Ormerodde who was within age, that is to say about twelve years old [sic]. Now so it is that Barnard Towneley on the 20th day of July 1550 (4 Ed. IV) seized the body of the said Agnes at Altham and by the maintenance and bearing of Sir Richard Towneley Kt. took her out of the plaintiff's possession and then married her although she was only about ten years old contrary to the laws and to the plaintiff's great loss.
As the said Sir Richard Towneley, Banester and Hyndell are men of great power having many kinsmen and friends in the said county and the plaintiffs are but mean persons having small frynds they pray that letters of Privy Seal may be directed to the said Sir Richard Towneley, Richard Banester and Ottewell Hyndll commanding them to deliver up the body of the said Agnes immediately or shew cause why they will not do so."

This plea to have Agnes given up was unsuccessful.

Agnes and Barnard Townley lived together at Hurstwood Hall, and the inscription over the main door of this building reads: "BARNARDUS TOWNLEY ET AGNES UXOR EIUS".

Agnes became the ancestress of the Towneleys of Hurstwood.

She and her husband were also confirmed in land at Gambleside called Dunnockshaw in 1562.

Hurstwood Hall remained in the hands of the Towneley Family until the late seventeenth century, when it passed back into the Ormerod Family with the marriage of Lawrence Ormerod (1654-1742) to Mary Halstead.

The story of The Fighting Cocks Inn has been said to relate to this land passing back to the Ormerods.