NORTHERN LIGHTS, The Story of Lord Derwentwater*

Ralph Arnold, published by Constable, 1959

The title of the book is taken from the phenomenal display of the Northern Lights or aurora borealis that took place on the night that the Earl of Derwentwater's coffin arrived in the North, so giving rise to a flood of legends and superstitions.

The tragic story of James, the young Earl, and the disastrous 1715 Rising is presented alongside an account of how the Radcliffes of Dilston Hall acquired their wealth through judicious marriage settlements, becoming, by the end of the seventeenth century, the richest Catholic family in the North-east of England.

It describes how their vast fortune, so cleverly nurtured throughout the difficult years of Catholic persecution, was lost after the Earl's attainder, when the Derwentwater Estates were forfeited to the crown. Ralph Arnold gives a detailed analysis of the complicated legalities and wrangles that took place when the family made various attempts to recover their lost estates. He remains sceptical about many of the legendary aspects of the Derwentwater story, but skilfully winds his way through a mass of intriguing fact and detail, building up a complete picture of the Earl's immediate family and the various Radcliffe descendants.

The final section of the book focuses on the story of the self-styled Lady Amelia Mary Tudor Radcliffe, the indomitable and dotty claimant who turned up at Dilston the following century with numerous dubious heirlooms and documents in a vain attempt to claim her supposed inheritance.