Codnor is first mentioned in the doomsday book of 1086 and the manor of Codnor at that time was the property of William Peveril of Peveril Castle at Castleton. This was a long time before the stone castle we see today was built. At the time when William Peveril was lord of the lands of Codnor there would have most likely been a Norman wooden motte and bailey fortification on the site.
In 1086 a man we know as Warner held Codnor, Heanor, Langley, Smitecote, Shirland, Toton and Wollaton, all in the honour of Peveril, and Cotgrave. In around the year 1200 the manor of Codnor then became the property of Henry De Grey through his marriage to Isolda Bardolf, and it was Henry who started the construction of a new and much stronger stone castle that would be the seat of the Grey’s of Codnor for around 300 years.
Henry De Grey was a distinguished Baron and had served King Richard I of England abroad on crusade. A French genealogist has traced the Grey linage back to Rollo; he was Chamberlain to Rollo Duke of Normandy. Rollo was given the castle and manor of Croy in Picardy and he took the surname Croy, this later changed to Grey. On the roll list from the battle of Hastings is listed Gilbert De Grey from the same family. Henry was a very wealthy and powerful Baron holding lands in Thurrock Essex and lands in Derbyshire. Henry’s brother Walter De Grey was also very successful and very influential. Walter was Archbishop of York from 1215 to 1255, and he was present at the signing of Magna Charta with King John and all of the most powerful Barons in England in 1215. Walter De Grey was one of the longest ever standing Archbishop’s of York, today you can see his funeral effigy and tomb at York Minster.
Items removed from Walter’s tomb are now on display at York Minster
Magna carta document
Codnor Castle and it’s lands now pass to Henry’s son Richard. Richard De Grey was a special favourite of King John and in return for his services in the later years of King John’s life, Richard was awarded the ‘Right of Presentation’ to Heanor church and lands in Leicestershire. During the reign of Henry III, Richard was made Governor of the islands of Guernsey and Jersey in 1226. Then ten years later in 1236, he became Sheriff of Northumberland. Richard and his brother John were among the few Lords and nobles who supported Henry III’s plan to invade the Holy land in another crusade.
This earned them the gratitude of the King at a level not normally given to Barons their age and Richard was made Constable of Dover Castle and Warden of the Cinque Ports.
Richard was also made custodian of the castles at Bamburgh and Newcastle-on-Tyne. In 1238 he was made Constable of Kenilworth and in the following year Sheriff of Essex and Hertford and Constable of the Tower of London, where he was responsible for storing money and goods of the order of Cluny for the King. In 1238 Richard founded the Carmelite friary in Aylesford, Kent with friars he brought to England on his return from the Holy Land.
Richard died in 1255 and was succeeded by his son John. John De Grey served in France with the King in 1259. In the 1260s he was in charge of Hereford and its castle and went to Wales by order of the King during the war there. Some years passed and John’s retainers helped Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester fight against the King’s son Edward in the Civil war. John’s forces were taken prisoner by Edward’s horsemen while trying to join their allies. John’s estates were confiscated, but in the following year he was able to campaign for their return at Kenilworth castle. John died in 1271 leaving his son Henry as heir.
Henry De Grey took an active part in the Scottish wars of King Edward I and served in Prince Edwards force and later in the Earl of Pembroke’s force. In 1293 King Edward I visited Codnor Castle. The following year Henry was preparing to go to Gascony with Edmund, the king’s brother and made arrangements should he die in service while his son was a minor. He was in Gascony again in 1297. In 1300 Henry was to ensure that those in Essex and Hertford required for military service should attend the king at Carlisle for action against the Scots. Henry was at the siege of Caerlaverock castle and is among those listed at Berwick, 1306, whose wages were to be paid. Henry was given rewards from the king including custody of Burgham during the minority of the heir, and a pardon for £200 debts to the Exchequer in 1305. In the following year Henry was given a pardon for all debts, whether from himself or his ancestors, in consideration of his service in Scotland.
Henry died in 1308 and his son Richard inherited Codnor Castle.
John De Grey spent his life in the service of his king. Most notably he served in Flanders in 1330 and 1338, then in 1339 he is said to have played his part in commanding a naval fight at Sluys.
When the Scots invaded England, John was commanded to gather all the men in Derbyshire between the ages of 16 to 60 years. At the battle of Neville’s Cross it was mainly due to the strength of this retinue that England won the battle. John De Grey was involved in the Crecy expedition and he was with the king during the siege of Calais. John also took part in the battle of Crecy in 1346, where the English Army were heavily out numbered. The battle of Crecy was won by the English due to using their highly skilled archers, knights and men at arms on foot to devastating affect.
During 1356 to 1359 John served in the wars in France, which in time would be known as the 100 years war. John De grey for his services in the wars against the Scots and the wars in France was appointed Governor of Rochester town and castle for life. John was said to be so great in tournaments that his prowess led to royal gifts of accoutrements of Indian silk and a hood of white cloth embroidered with blue men dancing, buttoned with great pearls.
In 1415 Richard De Grey embarked to France with King Henry V. Richard took with him his own contingent from Codnor numbering 162 archers and 68 mounted lancers. When the English army landed in France King Henry first lay siege at the port of Harfleur.
The garrison at Harfleur held out far longer than the English had expected and food was running short. The English soldiers were forced to gather berries from the threes and eat shell fish from polluted harbours. As a result a massive dysentery epidemic broke out in the English army and around 2000 of King Henry’s men are said to have died within the first six weeks. Harfleur had held out for so long that King Henry’s plan to march on Paris was stopped in its tracks; this was because a massive French army outnumbering the English by at least 5 to 1 had blocked their path. King Henry’s only option was to march his army to the port of Calais which was in English hands.
While marching to Calais the English army were again cut off and now the only option for the English was to stand and fight. On the 25th October 1415 the English and French army’s met on a field we now know as Agincourt. Hugely outnumbered and under massive odds the English won the battle of Agincourt, mainly due to their use of highly skilled archers. It is an honour to know that Sir Richard De Grey of Codnor and many common men from the village of Codnor played their part in such an historic victory in England’s history.
We have now reached the last member of the widespread De Grey family who took up their residence at Codnor Castle. By the time Henry Grey became a man England was in turmoil over the struggle between the houses of York and Lancaster (War of the Roses), this unrest shattered both friendships and family ties. The Greys of Codnor supported Lancaster, while some of the neighbouring barons supported York. This made Codnor a very dangerous place to live and all those who couldn’t fight were sent away for their own safety. In 1467 Henry Grey’s men murdered Henry Vernon’s uncle who was one of the Vernon squires in Belper. This caused more fighting as Henry Vernon supported the house of York. A battle is said to have taken place at this time at Codnor Castle between the households of Grey and Vernon, both sides were ordered to pay £1000 to the Earl of Shrewsbury and leave each other in peace.
Henry Grey was heavily involved in the Wars of the Roses and was present at many of the great battles of this war including, Towton 1461, Barnet 1471, Tewkesbury 1471, Bosworth 1485 and Stoke 1487.
John Zouch had served as a captain in the vanguard of the king’s army in France and at the time of his death he owned 2000 acres of pasture land, 1000 acres of arable, 100 acres of meadow and 100 acres of woodland that surrounded the castle. This area of land is now the modern day Codnor Park. In 1539 Bess of Hardwick went into service in the household of Sir John and lady Zouch of Codnor castle; it is very likely that Bess spent some time at Codnor castle in her early years.
The Zouch family lived at Codnor Castle from 1496 to 1634 and they made many modifications and upgrades to the castle. The last member of the Zouch family to live at Codnor castle was Sir George Zouch. Sir George became bankrupt and emigrated with his family to America. Codnor castle and its lands were sold in 1634 by Sir George Zouch to Dr. Richard Neile, Archbishop of York. The castle was again sold in 1692 to Sir Streynsham Master. This was the last time the castle was occupied but the castle remained in the hands of the Master family until the beginning of the 19th Century.
Richard De Grey served in the Scottish wars of Edward II’s reign and in March 1322 King Edward II visited Codnor Castle. Richard De Grey held the office of Constable of Nottingham castle from 1325-1328. During the seventh year of King Edward III’s reign , Richard was summoned to Newcastle to march with Edward against the Scots. However due to old age Richard’s eldest son John went in his place. Richard De Grey died while John was fighting in the north and so John De Grey became the new lord of Codnor castle.
In 1371 John was given exemption for life from all offices and coming to parliament, this was because of his long service in war at home and in France. John continued to carryout much of his work and he was summoned to parliament again in 1372 and he continued to do so until his death in 1392. John de Grey’s grandson Richard became heir to Codnor castle as his son Henry had died before him.
Richard De Grey like his ancestors fought in the service of his king; in 1395 he led 50 men and 60 horses to Ireland in service of King Richard II. By 1402 he had become the King’s Admiral towards the North; this meant he was responsible for protecting the realm and dealing with maritime cases. In 1403 he was appointed Admiral towards the East and given the title ‘the King’s Kinsman; a rare title. Richard De Grey was a Knight of the Garter and Lord Treasurer of England; he held the office of Constable of Nottingham Castle and Chief Ranger of Sherwood Forest.
Richard de Grey lord of Cotenore, plaque displayed in a chapel at Eton College
After Richards death he was succeeded by his son John, who should have been with the king in Normandy in 1419 but was delayed in Wingfield. John made it to Normandy in 1421 and gave homage to King Henry V. In March 1427 he was appointed king’s lieutenant in Ireland for three years. Between 1422 and 1429 John served on commissions of peace for many counties. John Grey died in the same year as his own son and so John’s brother Henry became heir.
Henry Grey also served on commissions of peace in Derbyshire and nine other counties; he helped deal with rent and enclosure disputes. By 1433 Henry was involved in a rivalry with Sir Richard Vernon of Haddon Hall. Henry was accused of trying to hinder an election in Derby by bringing 200 men into the city and the next day Vernon was alleged to have brought 300 men. In July 1440 Henry was ordered to surrender himself to the guards at the Tower of London for his part in the fatal Foljambe-Pierrepont trouble. By August Henry was allowed to roam the city as long as he stayed within three miles of London, unless instructed by the king. In March 1441 he was pardoned for his crimes, when Henry died Codnor Castle passed to his son also called Henry who was only nine years old.
After the war Henry Grey was devoted to the study of chemistry and was given a license for the transmutation of metals, this meant that he had to fund the studies himself but if any profit was made he had to give some of it to King. Henry fought along side king Richard III at Bosworth but afterwards he was appointed as commissioner of his mines by King Henry VII, with permission to search for tin, lead copper, silver and gold. Henry Grey did marry but he died at Easter 1496 leaving no direct heir. Before his death he had made arrangements with his uncle, John Zouch to purchase Codnor Castle and other properties upon his death.
The king recognised the will and allowed Codnor Castle to pass to Sir John Zouch, grandson of John Zouch Esq. who had married Elizabeth Grey, daughter of Richard Grey.
Bess of Hardwick
Displayed courtesy of the Derbyshire Archaeological Society
Sir Streynsham Master
This picture is the earliest image we have of what Codnor castle looked like and even as we see it in this early engraving, the castle is in a very ruinous state. Soon after the castle was last occupied its stone was used to build no less than seven farm houses in the local area. This priceless piece of medieval architecture and history was nearly completely dismantled. In the beginning of the 19th Century the castle was again sold to Messrs Outram and Co, who we know as the Butterley company. The Butterley Company purchased the castle site so they could access and mine the minerals under the park. Codnor castle is now owned by UK Coal.