Early Medieval (1154-1272)

The Crusades. In 638 Christian Jerusalem fell to the advancing Islamic empire. By 750 Islam reached from Spain in the west, across North Africa to Persia in the east, and the advance was poised to threaten the Orthodox Church in Byzantine Greece and east Europe as well as the Roman Catholic Christian countries of France and Italy. By the late 11th century the Pope had declared that the recapture of Jerusalem was a Holy War and that knights who died n the crusades went straight to heaven. This led to wholesale slaughter by the crusader knights not only of Muslim soldiers, but of civilian men, women and children of all faiths, including Jews, Orthodox Christians and Christian splinter groups such as the Cathars. The ‘ethnic cleansing’ that we shudder at now echo these earlier conflicts. The knights from Melton who went out on these crusades to Jerusalem included Roger de Mowbray, and later his son Nigel. The stories they brought back would have included the story of St. George and the dragon, which no doubt influenced the carving of St. Michael fighting Satan on the early 12th Century font of St. Mary the Virgin, Thorpe Arnold.

The church at Welby dates from the time of Roger de Mowbray and has a small window, called the leper’s window, discretely positioned halfway along the church wall, so that lepers could watch the service without offending the congregation. St Edgwin, Scalford also dates from this period.

1160. Roger de Mowbray was responsible for enlarging the leper hospital at Burton Lazars which was dedicated to St. Lazarus and
subject to the house of St. Lazarus in Jerusalem. A grant dated 1160 uses the phrase friends, French and English, showing the lingering divide between the Meltonians of this period. The hospital at Burton Lazars was the head of all the Spittal houses in England and was run by eight monks of the order of St. Augustine. The natural spring at Burton was thought to help in the care and healing of the victims of leprosy. Now all that remains of it is a pathway on the north-west side of the village, not far from the church, and some floor tiles. Nigel de Mowbray’s son William de Mowbray became a powerful force in this country. When King Richard Coeur de Lion was captured returning from the crusades by the Duke of Austria, William was one of the English nobles who raised the ransom money. King Richard had stayed at the castle in Melton and signed charters here, hence the name King Street.

1215. King John finally became king after his brother Richard’s death, having tried to take the crown during his brother’s long absence at the Crusades. He also stayed at Melton Castle and when the Barons finally forced him to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215, the seventh seal was that of William de Mowbray, the Lion Rampant. King John, never very popular even after death, was buried in various parts of the country and some of his organs were buried at Croxton Abbey.

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