De Harcla de Hartley

Have you ever heard of Hartley Castle, in Cumbria’s Eden Valley? Probably not. What was once a noble family’s stronghold is now a mere farm, though it retains the grandiose name. The man who lived there, Andrew de Harcla (or Hartley), was once promoted from mere knight to the high rank of Earl of Carlisle- only to be stripped of title and wealth ahead of his grim execution in 1323 by hanging, drawing and quartering, at Carlisle. His body parts were posted to various districts of the country until his sister petitioned for their return and burial at Kirkby Stephen, five years later.

De Harcla was buried in a side chapel at his local parish church. At his death, the estates and land were sold off and his chapel was occupied by another. Still, an old grave slab is still there, by the altar, which is presumed to be De Harcla of Hartley Castle.

So here is the tomb of a man who rose to dizzying heights, only to fall back down again, lower than before. Many on earth do well out of life, perhaps exceeding their parents’ achievements, enjoying a standard of living of which their forbears could only dream. God, in His common grace, gives them beautiful scenery to enjoy, tasty food to chew, enquiring and inquisitive minds to satisfy. Yet their falls are steeper than anything the late Earl suffered, for the Bible describes the very pit of hell:  

The pains of death surrounded me, And the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me; I found trouble and sorrow. Psalm 116:3

Thankfully, the Christian can add:

Then I called upon the name of the Lord:

“O Lord, I implore You, deliver my soul!”

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;

Yes, our God is merciful.

The Lord preserves the simple;

I was brought low, and He saved me.

Return to your rest, O my soul,

For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

Beware of climbing high; the fall proves all the steeper, and the more sudden the crash. De Harcla rose and fell; the Earl became a knave, the castle became a farm. Only Christ exalts the humble- and keeps them there.