Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling

Fry’s Island

Fry's Island
Fry's Island

Fry’s Island is also known as De Montfort Island following a famous duel on 8th April 1163 between Robert de Montfort and Henry Earl of Essex.

De Montfort had accused Essex of cowardice and treason. This followed a battle with the Welsh, where De Montfort alleged that Essex had dropped the Royal Standard and called out that the King was dead in an attempt to demoralise the English troops. Essex vigorously denied the charges and the two protagonists were always quarrelling. During the time that the Royal Court was in temporary residence at Reading, Henry II decided that he had suffered enough of the constant bickering and decreed that the dispute was to be settled by combat on the island in the middle of the Thames.

The duel was watched by thousands of spectators from the riverbank. No doubt that if they were around in those times Sky Sports would have given it some hyped-up title such as “Judgement Day” or “Fry’s Fight Friday” or something equally banal.

Robert de Montfort was the victor, or in all probability this would now be known as Essex Island. The King ordered that Essex’s body be transported to the local Abbey for burial. On arrival the monks discovered that Essex was not dead, but severely wounded. The monks tended to his injuries and in due time Essex achieved a recovery. However, because he had lost the combat he was considered to be guilty of his crime and was stripped of his lands. The King allowed Essex to live as a monk provided that he spent the rest of his days in exile at the Abbey.

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