FERRERS, George (c.1510-79), of Markyate and Flamstead, Herts.
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Family and Education
b. c.1510, 1st s. of Thomas Ferrers of St. Albans by Alice, da. of John Cockworthy of Cockworthy, Devon. educ. ?Camb. BCnL 1531; L. Inn, adm. 22 Nov. 1534. m. (1) by 10 Dec. 1541, Elizabeth, wid. of Humphrey Bourchier (d.1540) of Markyate; (2) lic. 5 Mar. 1546, Jane, da. of John Southcote of St. Albans, 1s.; (3) lic. 29 Nov. 1569, Margaret Preston, wid., of St. Albans, 1s at least 3 other s. and 2da.4
Servant of Cromwell by 1538; page, the chamber by 1542-47 or later; j.p. Herts. 1547-54; commr. relief 1550; master of the King’s pastimes at court Christmas 1551-2; escheator, Beds. and Bucks. 1562-3, Essex and Herts. 1566-7.5
George Ferrers had some connexion with Devon, but his paternal ancestors had lived in or near St. Albans for several generations. Both his father and grandfather had bought property in the town and his uncle Elizeus Ferrers, later abbot of Wymondham and archdeacon of Suffolk, was professed a monk at the abbey there.6
George Ferrers is said to have graduated as a bachelor of canon law at Cambridge before proceeding to Lincoln’s Inn. In 1534 he published his translation of Magna Carta and other statutes. According to Leland he was a skilful orator at the bar, but there is no other evidence that he followed a legal career for any length of time although he is known to have been a frequent litigant. He entered Cromwell’s household and, like many of his fellows, was taken into the King’s service on his master’s fall. He had been present at the reception of Anne of Cleves in 1539. Ferrets attended Henry VIII to France in 1544, and in 1547 he was a minor beneficiary under the royal will.7
Married to the widow of his friend Humphrey Bourchier, he secured in her right the lease of the site and lands of Markyate priory. Bourchier had been negotiating for an outright sale before his death but it was not until 29 July 1548 that Ferrers obtained the reversion and rent reserved on the property. During the Scottish campaign of 1547, in which he was a commissioner for transport, Ferrers was described as ‘a gentleman of my Lord Protector’s’, and the wording of the grant of Markyate points his favour with Somerset’s government. Yet he continued at court after Somerset’s fall, and at Christmas 1551 and again the following year he was appointed by Northumberland to devise the entertainments to amuse the King: such was the fame this brought him that a year later he could identify himself to the guard at Ludgate as ‘Ferrers, that was lord of misrule with King Edward’. In March 1552 he was rewarded by a grant of the manor of Flamstead.8
Although a Protestant, Ferrers seems to have remained at court during the first part of Mary’s reign. He was loyal to the Queen during Wyatt’s rebellion and had £100 reward for his services in that crisis. As late as 1555 he seems to have been carrying out duties for the crown and he may have been the ‘Ferys’ who in that year accused Dr. John Dee of witchcraft. From 1555 until the end of the reign there is little trace of him, although it was probably in this year that A myrroure for magistrates was first published. It may be that he took shelter from the Marian persecution on his estates or even abroad. He was not restored to the commission of the peace on Elizabeth’s accession nor is there any indication that he was at court.9
Through his mother Ferrers was a distant kinsman of the John Pollard who sat for Plymouth in 1529 and 1536, and perhaps of (Sir) John Chichester, recorder of Barnstaple, but in all probability neither connexion in itself was sufficient to account for his Devon constituencies. As a page of the chamber he presumably enjoyed official sponsorship, with Sir John Russell, Baron Russell and later 1st Earl of Bedford, the chief magnate in the south-west and a patron of Lincoln’s Inn men, acting as intermediary. In 1542 Plymouth was a comparatively poor constituency open to outside pressure, and it may have welcomed an approach on behalf of Ferrers who accepted a satin doublet worth 24s. in lieu of wages. His return for Cirencester five years later was almost certainly the work of Admiral Seymour, with Ferrers’s associate Thomas Sternhold, an annuitant of the admiral’s wife, perhaps taking a hand. His Membership for Brackley in the third and fourth Parliaments of Mary’s reign may have owed something to Sir Thomas Knyvet, who on the first occasion himself found a seat at Plymouth, possibly with Ferrers’s help.10
Towards the close of the first session of the Parliament of 1542 Ferrers was arrested while on his way to the House, for a debt of ‘200 marks or thereabouts’ incurred as surety for one White of Salisbury in a loan from one Weldon; he was put in the Compter in Bread Street. The serjeant at arms was sent to release Ferrers but only succeeded on his second visit, after the matter had been referred by a delegation headed by Speaker Moyle to Chancellor Audley in the Lords. When Weldon, the city sheriffs Rowland Hill and Henry Suckley, and others involved in Ferrers’s imprisonment appeared in the House to answer their breach of privilege on 28 Mar. 1542 (not, as often stated, 1543) they were committed to the Tower for two days. The invoking of privilege was believed to involve the loss of the creditor’s right and a bill to protect it passed the Commons but received only a single reading in the Lords before the prorogation on 1 Apr., when the matter was referred to the Council. The King interested himself in the affair and at a meeting with the chancellor, the law officers, the Speaker ‘and other of the gravest persons’ from the Commons he complained about the delay incurred and claimed privilege for himself ‘attending upon the business’ of Parliament and for all his servants ‘attending there upon him. So that if the said Ferrers had been no Burgess, but only his servant, yet in respect thereof he was to have the privilege as well as any other’. Of Ferrers’s part in other Parliaments all that is known is that he was absent when the House was called early in January 1555 and that for this dereliction he was informed against in the King’s bench: a writ of venire facias was sent to the sheriff, but no further process was taken.11
Apart from the episode, which, although he played only a passive role, has become well known in constitutional history as Ferrers’s Case, George Ferrers is known mainly as a writer and particularly as author of a number of poems in A myrroure for magistrates, in the planning of which his enthusiasm clearly played an important part. He is said to have written most of the account of Mary’s reign which appears in Grafton’s Chronicle. He almost certainly wrote a number of masques and plays for performance at court and elsewhere but these are lost, and the only other work certainly attributable to him, apart from his translation of Magna Carta, is one of the speeches made during the ‘Kenilworth pleasures’ of 1575. As a person he does not seem to have been very popular with neighbours or tenants, one of whom called him ‘a covetous man and ill to deal withall’. He died at Flamstead in January 1579, being buried there on 11 Jan.12
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: A. D.K. Hawkyard
- 1. Holinshed, Chron. iii. 824-6; Plymouth receiver’s acct. bk. 1541-2.
- 2. Hatfield 207.
- 3. OR gives Fenys.
- 4. Date of birth given in Clutterbuck, Herts. i. 359 citing Flamstead par. reg. DNB; Vis. Herts. (Harl. Soc. xxii), 141-2; Req. 2/1/67; PCC 16 Alenger, 45 Alen; Mar. Lic. Fac Off. (Harl. Soc. xxiv), 7; Mar. Lic. London (Harl. Soc. xxv), 44; Par. Regs. St. Albans Abbey, 129; St. Ch. 5/4/36; C142/186/2.
- 5. M. L. Robertson, ‘Cromwell’s servants’ (Univ. California Los Angeles Ph.D. thesis, 1975), 485-6; LP Hen. VIII<