Please welcome the author of An Honourable Estate, Elizabeth Ashworth:
Mab’s Cross is an old wayside cross that is now placed outside a primary school in Wigan, in the north of England. Worn by the weather, it isn’t much to look at and you might pass it by without a second glance if you didn’t know the story that was attached to it. The legend tells that Lady Mabel de Haigh walked barefoot to this cross from her home at Haigh Hall as a penance for her adultery.
The story is well known locally and came to the attention of the novelist Sir Walter Scott. He writes about it in the introduction to his novel The Betrothed.
“The tradition, which the author knew very early in life, was told to him by the late Lady Balcarras. He was so much struck with it, that being at that time profuse of legendary lore, he inserted it in the shape of a note to Waverley, the first of his romantic offences. Had he then known, as he now does, the value of such a story, it is likely that, as directed in the inimitable receipt for making an epic poem, preserved in the Guardian, he would have kept it for some future opportunity.”
The original Haigh Hall was demolished in the early 1800s to make way for a new house that can be seen today. Canon Bridgeman in his History of Wigan Church and Manor says that the original hall had a gallery, which was said to be haunted by the ghost of Lady Mabel, as well as a chapel and a confessional.
In the 1930s, Rev. T.C. Porteus, who was a local clergyman and historian, wrote a booklet called New Light on the Mab’s Cross Legend and in it Porteus compares the legendary stories with the historical events of the time.
Sir William was a Member of Parliament for Lancashire in the 6th, 8th and 19th years of the reign of Edward II – before and after his long absence from home. He was, at first, a follower of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster and was named amongst the earl’s adherents in a pardon granted for the death of Piers Gaveston. But in 1315 he joined the Banastre Rebellion. Porteus points out that the seven years when William was absent from home coincide with the years from the failed rebellion of 1315 until the execution of the Earl of Lancaster as a traitor in 1322. An inquiry into the ownership of the lands at Haigh in June 1318, states that William Bradshaw had been outlawed.
In 1319 Lady Mabel stated that her husband was dead. She is said to have married a second husband, but there is no documentary evidence and the suggested identities of the man range from ‘a Welsh knight’, Sir Henry Teuther, Osmond Neville to Sir Peter Lymesey, who is mentioned in the 1318 enquiry when Mabel is described as ‘intruding’ on the lands – in other words refusing to give them up.
After the execution of Thomas of Lancaster, Sir William Bradshaw received a pardon from the king and returned home, taking up his seat in parliament once again in 1328. The matters of Lady Mabel’s bigamous marriage and her subsequent penance remain open to speculation. Whether she did walk barefoot to the stone cross, once, or even weekly, is not known for sure. But as Sir Walter Scott and I agree, it’s a wonderful story for a novelist.
*Elizabeth Ashworth’s novel An Honourable Estate, based on the legend of Mab’s Cross in now available as a paperback and an ebook from Amazon.