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The Mowbray Legacy - In Search of Sir Roger de Mowbray



(Sadly, at the time of updating this website in November 2013, Syria is in the throes civil war. Let us hope that this volatile yet beautiful part of the world will one day find the calm and peace its people deserve.)


It was recently my very good fortune to take a short holiday in Syria, with a couple of days in Lebanon at the end.

My journey proved to be one of the most rewarding I have ever undertaken, and I hope to be able return to Syria before too long. Yes, convoluted politics and exotic-sounding allegiances that confound and confuse most westerners can make this an anxious part of the world in which to find oneself, and, with the Iraq debacle showing little sign of sorting itself, we did wonder what sort of reception a small party of Britons (17) in Syria could expect, but the people were courteous, helpful and welcoming, and theft and muggings appear to be very rare. I had travelled to Egypt many years ago and expected Syria to be similar, that is, bulging with tourists, but the difference is refreshing; yes, the postcard salesmen and boys are around every corner, but the whole atmosphere is much more gentle; it is much easier to actually stop and converse with local people trying to sell you the stuff you don’t really want.  I shall never forget the droves of excited schoolchildren in Aleppo Museum who wanted to practise their English on real westerners; because there are still relatively few tourists, there is genuine interest in western visitors and a healthy curiosity about them.

Syria is a beautiful country with a string of mighty fortresses associated with the Crusaders,  and vast ancient sites like Ugarit, Ebla, Palmyra and Apamea, many of them World Heritage Sites, on a scale that cannot be comprehended from photographs. My own camera failed early on, and in a way I am glad it was not working, because I saw these wonderful places and friendly people exactly as they were, with my own two eyes, not through the lens as I was attempting to compose a picture, and I believe that my long-term memories will be the richer for it.


What an outrageous and daunting adventure it must have been in the twelfth century when knights such as Sir Roger de Mowbray set off for the Holy Land! Times were tough at home in England, with the Stephen and Matilda civil war dragging on, probably as tough as English people have ever faced, and Sir Roger had been in the thick of the action from his teenage years, but the hardships endured by long-distance travellers in the days before seasickness tablets and diarrhoea remedies must have been unmentionable, quite apart from the toll on the general health; and that’s before the fighting had even started!

Roger took part in the Second Crusade, heading east in 1147, and in Syria I found myself thinking about him often, and not just when we visited the great castle of Krak des Chevaliers near Homs, the Saladin Citadel near Latakia, the great Citadel of Aleppo or the castles looking down on the monumental remains of the vast Roman cities of Palmyra and Apamea. Madiq Citadel, overlooking the 1½-mile long remains of the colonnaded main street of Apamea is still occupied by local people who resolutely refuse to leave their village within the castle walls, its huddled rooftops complete with satellite dishes. Was Sir Roger de Mowbray ever here, in these exotic and majestic places?

I also thought about him as we made our way through the narrow streets of Old Damascus. Roger was a religious man who had founded or aided many English abbeys and who was much admired by the Knights Templar, to whom he was a benefactor.  Would he, I wondered, ever have ventured down Straight Street to the house of Ananias – still a tourist hot spot today – where St. Paul was taken after the incident on the road to Damascus two thousand years ago? I, from North Lincolnshire, ancient Mowbray territory, am as far removed in time from Roger as he was from St Paul, and yet he would not go very far away from my thoughts.

I am always on the look out for information on the Mowbray family, but most of all I would like to find information on the Saracen champion Roger is supposed to have defeated in single combat during the Second Crusade; any information would be much appreciated info@queens-haven.co.uk

Sir Roger must have been a tough sort of chap, a survivor who lived to be an old man in times when life expectation, even for an extremely wealthy man like him, was short. In the 1180’s, ten years after he rebelled against Henry II, for which some of his castles were destroyed, we find him in the Holy Land again, but this time further south. He was captured at the battle of Hittîn but soon ransomed by the Templars and is believed to have died near Tyre in present day Lebanon.

There is an alternative story that after his release he came home to Thirsk in Yorkshire, accompanied by a grateful lion he had met on the way back and had saved from certain death as it fought a terrible dragon. Some believe he is buried at Byland Abbey, which he had co-founded with his mother.

Marilyn Roberts

December 2005

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