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The Ber Street Duel

Today, Peter Sargent's new book - 'A Place in History' - is published.

A follow up to 'A Moment in Time', 'A Place in History' walks us through 50 snapshots of East Anglia's past, that bring the region's history to life. Not only do we have an exclusive snippet for you here, but we also have a competition for you to WIN one of two copies of this fascinating book. Read on to find out how...

But first, a duel.

In October 1600 two men met in a deadly duel outside Norwich’s Ber Street gates. The result was a severed limb, and a scrap that went down in Norfolk legend.

The following extract is from 'A Place in History' by Peter Sargent:

"Sir Robert Mansel looked to make his mark on Norfolk politics, standing for parliament as county MP (knight of the shire). But he was seen as an interloper, and clashed with the Heydons. It’s possible the Heydons’ support for the Earl of Essex may have played a part in the argument. By the autumn of 1600, Essex was plotting against Elizabeth. Mansel and others, such as Sir John Townshend, of Raynham Hall, stayed loyal to the queen. It was therefore no coincidence that October when Christopher Heydon challenged Townshend to a duel, while brother John faced Mansel.


If the boys want to fight, you gotta let them. . .


In London the privy council took a hard line. They detained Christopher in London, and prevented his duel. The Lord Chief Justice wrote to the queen’s chief minister, Sir Robert Cecil, warning him to stop the Mansel-Heydon clash, since Norfolk was “already too much wrought into faction”. Too late. On October 9 the fight took place. It was a bad-tempered affair, without the usual polite formalities, and the seconds were banished out of sight. Mansel, impatient to be at it, fought with a rapier an inch shorter than Heydon’s rather than wait for another. Both were wounded quickly, Heydon more seriously. By Mansel’s account, Heydon cried for quarter, but then attacked him. . .”when he was up, without speaking any one word, he ran me into the breast again, and my thrust missed him. Then we fell to stabs with our daggers.” Mansel claimed Heydon, having been “mauled severely” eventually laid down his weapons. Heydon’s hand was severed, probably after the fight was over, and is now in a mummified state on display in Norwich Castle Museum. Mansel was also wounded, and his career briefly suffered, but he recovered. In February, 1601 Essex raised his followers in a chaotic rising in London. The Heydon brothers led troops through Ludgate. The rebellion quickly fizzled out, and Essex was executed; the Heydons were lucky to escape with their lives, but their public careers were over and they had huge fines to pay. Both Mansel and Townshend, significantly, took an active role in rounding up Essex’s followers.


A successful career?


Mansel’s role in the Norwich duel counted against him locally, and he was defeated in the 1601 county election, but was elected as King’s Lynn MP. His naval career continued, as he became Vice Admiral of the Narrow Seas in 1603 and Treasurer of the Navy the following year. His later exploits included chasing pirates from Algiers and financing an expedition to find the North-West Passage from North America to the Pacific Ocean; there is a Mansel Island in the Hudson Strait. He revolutionised glass manufacture, importing Venetian glassmakers and setting up a glass factory in Newcastle. He pioneered the use of sea coal rather than wood in the manufacturing process, and created a monopoly. This made him new enemies (as if he needed any more!) He was accused of dishonesty as an administrator, which led to brief imprisonment in 1618. In Norwich he lived in the Committee House in Bethel Street between 1596 and 1603, and died in London in 1656.


Anything else?


Sir John Townshend’s luck ran out in 1603 when he fought a duel on Hounslow Heath against Sir Matthew Browne. Browne died at the scene, while Townshend died the following day. On a happier note, the English soldiers and sailors who sacked Cadiz in 1596 came away with barrels of vino de Jerez, known to us as sherry. The enduring English taste for this fine fortified wine had begun!"

My thanks to Peter Mansel James, of Norwich, for information on his distant forebear.
Extract from 'A Place in History' by Peter Sargent.

A Place in History will be available at Jarrold Norwich, Jarrold Cromer, City Bookshop Norwich, Waterstones Norwich and Bury St Edmunds, Revelation Bookshop Norwich, Beccles Bookshop,The Holt Bookshop, Ceres Bookshop Swaffham, George Reeve Wymondham, the Maids Head Hotel Norwich, the Adam and Eve Norwich, Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden South Walsham, Amazon and .




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A Place in History
A Place in History