LYTTELTON, Gilbert (c.1540-99), of Frankley, Worcs. and Prestwood, Staffs.
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Family and Education
J.p. Worcs. from 1577, sheriff 1584-5.
Although in the mid-1580s Bishop Freake described Lyttelton as ‘a gentleman well-conditioned’, the quarrels which constitute all that is known of his career beyond the formal outline of a local magnate’s offices and duties leave a different impression. His father, ‘notwithstanding many great and grievous troubles and losses to him in his lifetime, had with great care, travail and industry sought to continue and increase’ his estates, but Lyttelton himself, even before he succeeded, engaged in litigation, ran into debt, and obliged his father to settle his affairs. He took his place in the county while his father was still active, and twice represented Worcestershire in Parliament, being described on the 1571 Browne Willis list and on the 1572 return as ‘junior’, to distinguish him from his uncle and namesake.3
During Sir John Lyttelton’s lifetime Lord Edward Dudley had been in possession of his manor of Prestwood. Lyttelton now sought and obtained his expulsion. The dispute became violent: Dudley forcibly ejected Lyttelton, and sought other ways of embarrassing him. Claims of debt against him were not difficult to find—or fabricate—and although Lyttelton paid to avoid worse trouble, Dudley, on the pretext that he had the right to outlaws’ goods on these estates, gathered together his supporters and drove off Lyttelton’s sheep and cattle. Later Dudley made a similar claim to a coal mine and re-opened the battle, arresting the workmen, seizing the coal and setting the pit on fire. Lyttelton was thus obliged to engage in further lawsuits. The Privy Council attempted to reason with Dudley, and the case dragged on for some years. By October 1595, Dudley was appealing to Robert Cecil for protection and help, and the ultimate settlement was almost wholly in Lyttelton’s favour.4
Other disputes concerned Lyttelton’s own family. Even his usually faithful brother George, a few months after his father’s death, complained to the Privy Council that Gilbert was withholding lands from him. At the same time Gilbert’s wife exhibited a petition, claiming that he had not supported her or her sons for nine years. Although Gilbert was soon reconciled to his brother, he never did provide for his wife and children, despite a summons to attend on the Council. In fact he ‘did publish that he would give away that he had, or spend the same’, rather than support the family, which he did by ‘extraordinary or inordinate expense’. Early in 1596 his children resolved to resort to violence in order to obtain a reasonable settlement of the estates. His eldest son John made one last plea, and when this was rejected his wife and his younger sons, supported by most of their cousins of their own generation, forced their way into the house and locked Gilbert up in his room, swearing that he would not be freed until he agreed to their demands. The Privy Council, scandalized, sent instructions to the Staffordshire justices to bring the disgraceful situation to an end. Lyttelton was obliged to sign a deed, leaving all his lands to his eldest son and making proper provision for the rest of the family. Once set at liberty, however, he could reverse the situation. His younger sons and nephews were indicted at the Staffordshire assizes, outlawed, and one at least imprisoned. After a Star Chamber case, John too was outlawed, and the deed nullified. An unnamed kinsman, who came to the aid of his family, sent Lyttelton a letter of rebuke for his harsh dealings, laying the blame for his children’s aberrations entirely on his shoulders.