Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Espec, Walter

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ESPEC, WALTER (d. 1153), founder of Rievaulx Abbey, Yorkshire, was probably the son of William Spech, who in 1085 held Warden, Bedfordshire, where some fifty years later Walter Espec founded and endowed an Abbey (Domesday Book, i. 214 b, 215 a; Dugdale, v. 280). Espec's chief property was in Yorkshire, and he resided at Helmsley. Under Henry I he was justice of the forests and itinerant Justice in the northern counties. Under Stephen he actively resisted the Scotch invasion. On 10 Jan. 1138 FitzDuncan failed in a night attack on Espec's castle of Wark. Then King David and his son Henry came up and formed a regular siege for three weeks, after which the main body passed on to harry Northumberland. Three months later (c. 8 May) the garrison swooped down upon the Scotch king's commissariat, and had to submit to a second siege. The castle was stoutly defended by Walter's nephew, John de Bussey, but had to surrender about 11 Nov. Two months previously (22 Aug.) Espec was one of the leaders of the battle of the Standard. According to Ailred of Rievaulx, Espec was at the time regarded by the other barons of the north as their 'dux et pater' (De Bello Stand., ap. Twysden, pp. 346–7). He was already an aged man (ib. p. 337), and there is no reason for doubting the tradition which makes him withdraw in 1162 into the abbey of Kirkham, which he had founded in 1121, and where he is said to have died 7 March 1153 (Cotton MS. Vitell F. 4, quoted in Dugdale).

Ailred, abbot of Rievaulx [see Ethelred, 1109?–1166], describes his patron as a man of immense height and build, with black hair, full beard, broad features, and trumpet voice. Having no surviving children by his wife Adelina, he founded the Cistercian abbeys of Rievaulx, Yorkshire, and Warden, Bedfordshire, the former in 1131, and the latter in 1135, besides the priory for Augustinian canons at Kirkham, Yorkshire. According to tradition, Espec’s son and namesake fell from his horse and broke his neck about 1121 while still a young man. This led his father to found the abbey of Kirkham, over which he set his uncle, William Garton, as first prior (1132). The foundation charter mentions the name of William Rufus, from which it would appear that Espec at one time had been on friendly relations with his king. Archbishop Thurstan of York aided in his pious works, and the concession of the lands was sanctioned by Espec's heiresses, his three sisters, Hawisa Bussey, Albreda Traylye, Adelina Roos, together with their husbands and children.

It was from Espec that Lady Constance FitzGilbert, or her husband Ralph, borrowed the copy of Geoffrey of Monmouth which Geoffrey Gaimar used for his ‘Estoire des Engles.’ Espec procured it from Earl Robert of Gloucester (Geoffrey Gaimar, ap. Monumenta Historica Britannica, p. 829 a).

[Dugdale's Monasticon, ed. 1817, v. 280 ct seq., vi. 207 et seq., 369; Richard of Hexham; Chronicle of Melrose. Henry of Huntingdon, sub ann. 1132, 1138; Foss's Judges; and authorities cited above.]

T. A. A.