HERON, George (by 1515-75), of Chipchase, Northumb.
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Family and Education
b. by 1515, 2nd s. of John Heron of Chipchase by Joan, da. of Sir Nicholas Ridley of Willimoteswyke. m. (1) Marion, da. of George Swinburne of Edlingham, 1s. 4da.; (2) Margaret, da. of Sir Thomas Forster of Adderstone, wid. of William Heron of Ford, 3s. 4da. suc. fa. or bro. by May 1548. Kntd. c.1570.1
Acting keeper, Tynedale and Redesdale Aug. 1542-3; keeper, Tynedale by Jan. 1551, Redesdale at d.; commr. food prices, Northumb. 1551, enclosure in middle marches 1553; sheriff, Northumb. 1555-6, 1566-7, Apr.-Nov. 1572; j.p. 1558/59-d.2
The Herons were an ancient and powerful Northumberland family whose estates were situated near the frontier and the troubled areas of Tynedale and Redesdale. Typical of the factious and violent gentry of the borders, they were frequently hounded by the law as criminals but were also important figures in county administration. George Heron’s father, despite his implication in the Pilgrimage of Grace and his disruption of order after its failure, was appointed keeper of Tynedale and Redesdale, an office which his son was also to hold. His activities evidently stretched his financial resources; in December 1546, shortly before his death, he was described as very poor, with most of his lands assigned to pay his debts.3
George Heron was early initiated into lawless behaviour, for both during and after the Pilgrimage he abetted his father’s treachery. In June 1537 the 3rd Duke of Norfolk reported to Cromwell that Heron and his kinsmen were implicated in the murder of Roger Fenwick, keeper of Tynedale. Heron appeared before the duke but was allowed to remain at large, although he was prevented from communicating with his father who was imprisoned in the Fleet as a suspected accomplice. Norfolk called Heron a ‘false harlot’ but after three months he had to admit to Cromwell that he could obtain no firm evidence: whether he carried out his intention of bringing Heron to London is not clear, but nothing further is heard of the case.4
Heron may have been the George Heron who, described with Miles Shafto (‘Staff’) as gentlemen of the north returning thither, was rewarded with £5 by the crown in May 1541. He was certainly in good standing with the government by 1542, for from August of that year he was acting keeper of Tynedale and Redesdale in place of his father, who had been captured by the Scots after the fiasco of Haddon Rig, and in November the Earl of Hertford sent him and his followers on a diversionary raid into West Teviotdale. By the following April, however, Heron and his father had again fallen foul of the government. This time the Privy Council was clearly determined to bring them to account; they were to be tried according to the law of the realm or of the border, whichever better suited the purpose, and if necessary additional evidence was to be procured. Baron Parr, the warden of the marches, bound over Heron and his father, and the Duke of Suffolk directed him to make them find surety in at least 1,000 marks. Although proceedings were again hampered by the reluctance of witnesses to declare against ‘gentlemen or men of great surname’, something appears to have been proved, for early in 1544 father and son were in prison at Newcastle and in December 1545 they were in the custody of (Sir) Robert Bowes at Alnwick. Bowes found them ‘men of wit and experience’ who were less culpable than was generally thought and had something to contribute to the government of the county. He allowed the younger Heron to go to the Privy Council to sue for freedom, with what immediate result is not known.5
By May 1548 both Heron’s father and his elder brother were dead, and he re-emerged as a figure of some importance. The keepership of Tynedale was granted to him before January 1551, and in the following month Lord Ogle, who as deputy warden of the middle march seems to have been in charge of Tynedale, was ordered by the Council to assist him in his office. Heron’s return to Parliament in 1555 as junior knight of the shire was a measure of his rehabilitation, as was his pricking as sheriff while he was a Member.6
The recovery was not maintained, for the next two years saw the climax of a feud in which Heron was a principal figure. It originated from a dispute concerning the ownership of the Ford estate. The survey of the borders made by Sir Robert Bowes in 1551 recorded that Heron claimed Ford by tail male and Thomas Carr by his marriage to Elizabeth Heron, heir of Sir William Heron, its former owner. According to the sheriff and certain justices of the peace in March 1557, Ford was attacked and the Carr occupants expelled by Heron’s partisans; when shortly afterwards one of these was murdered, the sheriff and justices were moved to declare that ‘this hundred year never happened there so piteous a state of dissension and hatred to be seen in this country’. In May 1557 Heron, Carr and Ralph Collingwood appeared before the Privy Council, but within eight months Carr himself was murdered. The Council then passed the investigation over to the Earls of Northumberland and Westmorland. Heron was quickly brought under suspicion, but when Northumberland issued a proclamation against him and one Robert Lisle he was rebuked for his forwardness, while Westmorland was likewise reproved for seizing their property. In June 1558 Heron was bound by recognizance to keep the peace, to attend upon the Queen’s commissioners in the north and to appear before the Council. By August the commissioners reported that the two parties had been brought to agreement. The feud nevertheless rumbled on: Heron forbade his granddaughter to marry a Carr, and 20 years later a principal reason given for disorder in Northumberland was ‘the private quarrels between the Herons and the Carrs, involving other houses who would rather overthrow each other than face the enemy’.7
His record notwithstanding, Heron came to be accepted by the Elizabethan government as a valuable figure in the region. He probably held the keepership of Tynedale (save for a temporary dismissal) until his death and added to it that of Redesdale. Recommended by Sir John Forster, warden of the middle marches, as ‘meet’ to be a justice and ‘used in service’, he was put on the bench and served twice more as sheriff. He seems to have been generally on good terms with the important Forster family, noted for its service to the crown, for besides marrying into it he was a supervisor of the will of Reginald Forster of Capheaton. He was one of the seven Northumbrians recommended for membership of the council in the north but is not known to have been appointed. The date of his knighthood is not certain; he received it from the 3rd Earl of Sussex, probably during the earl’s lieutenancy in the north and presidency of the council there between 1568 and 1572, and it may have been a reward for his conduct during the rebellion of 1569.8
Tamed as he may have appeared to be in his later years, Heron met with a violent end on 7 July 1575. Temporarily dismissed from his keepership, probably because he handed over a murderer to the deputy keeper of Liddesdale, he was one of the victims of the resulting feud. Unlike his father, he left substantial lands, livestock and goods to his son John.9
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: M. J. Taylor
- 1. Date of birth estimated from first reference. Arch. Ael. (ser. 4), xxxv. 138-9.
- 2. LP Hen. VIII, xvii; APC, iii. 460; Hodgson, Northumb. i. 360; ii(1), 157-8; CPR, 1550-3, p. 141; 1563-6, p. 25.
- 3. M. E. James, A Tudor Magnate and the Tudor State (Borthwick Pprs. xxx), 28-29; Northumb. Co. Hist. iv. 340; M. H. and R. Dodds, Pilgrimage of Grace, i. 195-7; LP Hen. VIII