EGERTON, Sir John (c.1551-1614), of Egerton and Oulton, Cheshire, Wrinehill, Staffs., Talacre, Flints. and Bassinghall, London
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Family and Education
b. c.1551,1 1st s. of John Egerton of Egerton and Oulton and Jane, da. of Piers Mostyn of Talacre, Flints. educ. L. Inn 1602. m. (1) by 1573, Margaret (bur. 12 Feb. 1597), da. of Sir Roland Stanley of Hooton and Storeton, Cheshire, 5s. (3 d.v.p.) 6da. (2 d.v.p.); (2) 23 Dec. 1602, Anne (d. 11 Dec. 1619), da. and h. of Robert Byrnand of Knaresborough, Yorks., wid. of Francis Trappes (will pr. 9 June 1574), Goldsmith of London and William Blount (bur. 15 Mar. 1597), Clothworker of St. Michael Bassishaw, London, s.p.2 suc. fa. 1591;3 kntd. 8 Apr. 1599.4 d. 28 Apr. 1614.5 sig. Jo[hn] Egerton.
J.p. Cheshire by 1587-d. (custos rot. 1601-d.), Staffs. 1599-d., Flints. 1605-d., Lichfield, Staffs. by 1606-?d.;6 commr. musters, Staffs. 1601;7 high steward, Tamworth, Staffs. 1602;8 commr. subsidy, Staffs. and Lichfield 1608.9
Recorder, Lichfield by 1606.10
Members of the Egerton family were settled in Cheshire from the end of the eleventh century.11 The lands belonging to John Egerton, this Member’s father, comprised around 1,500 acres and were worth perhaps £300 per annum.12 Concentrated mainly in south-west Cheshire, at Egerton, in the parish of Malpas, they included the more centrally located manor of Oulton, in Little Budworth.
Egerton should not be confused with his kinsman Sir John Egerton, KB, the future 1st earl of Bridgewater and the second but first surviving son of lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton I†). Little is known of Egerton until 1573, by which time he had married into a prominent Catholic family, the Stanleys of Hooton and Storeton. His links with the family were subsequently strengthened as his sister married his wife’s half-brother, the soldier Sir William Stanley.13 In January 1587 Stanley betrayed Deventer to Spanish forces, but Egerton, being a kinsman of Thomas Egerton, then solicitor general, did not suffer for his brother-in-law’s treason. On the contrary, despite his marriage he was regarded as sound in matters of religion, and was soon afterwards appointed to the Cheshire bench.14 His attachment to Protestantism was subsequently demonstrated when, in 1595, he attempted to prevent the celebration of St. Peter’s day on Budworth Heath, an act that so enraged one neighbour that he was almost murdered.15
In 1589 Egerton purchased Rushton manor, near Oulton. Worth about £100 p.a.,16 this property undoubtedly formed a useful addition to his patrimony, which he inherited two years later. However, the major alteration in Egerton’s landed fortunes occurred in the mid-1590s, when he assumed control of the estate of his unmarried friend and younger cousin, Edward Egerton. Straddling the Cheshire/Staffordshire border, and amounting in the whole to around 23,000 acres, Edward’s lands were worth approximately £1,500 p.a. At their heart lay Wrinehill, Edward’s seat in the parish of Madeley,17 where Edward himself continued to live. Control of the Wrinehill estate transformed Egerton’s social standing. Previously a moderately well-to-do country gentleman, he now became a figure of county status, not only in Cheshire, but also in Staffordshire, where he was returned as a knight of the shire in 1601. Control of Wrinehill and its rents also enabled Egerton to expand his own patrimony. He purchased numerous additional properties, mainly in Cheshire and Staffordshire, but also in Flintshire and Middlesex, thereby adding a further £300 to his annual income.18 On one occasion, however, his attempts to expand his holdings ran into difficulty. In 1596 he offered to purchase the lease of Bidston Park, in western Cheshire, for which he gave £300 as a down-payment. However, the vendor, the 6th earl of Derby, subsequently conferred the lease on another applicant and refused to refund the deposit, whereupon Egerton commenced legal proceedings that continued until at least 1608.19
Egerton was knighted in Dublin in April 1599, having presumably crossed the Irish Sea with his kinsman, Sir Thomas Egerton, the eldest son of Thomas Egerton, now lord keeper. Not long afterwards, Sir Thomas was killed campaigning against the Irish rebels, whereupon Egerton returned home, attending Sir Thomas’ funeral in Chester Cathedral on 26 September.20 In July 1601 Egerton was appointed chairman of the Cheshire bench, and later that year he made his parliamentary debut. On 21 Apr. 1602 he obtained from lord treasurer Buckhurst a grant of the high stewardship of Tamworth, but in so doing he angered Sir Humphrey Ferrers of Tamworth Castle, who had received a grant from the corporation and claimed the stewardship by hereditary right.21 Ferrers protested to Buckhurst,22 who confessed that, had he been aware of Ferrers’ claim, he would never have bestowed the stewardship on Egerton, whom he now asked to relinquish his claim. Egerton was initially unwilling to oblige as the matter remained unresolved in July 1603.23 However, litigation seems to have been avoided. Either an amicable solution was eventually reached or, more likely, the claims of the young 3rd earl of Essex, son of the previous high steward, ultimately prevailed over those of Egerton and Ferrers.
Egerton became a widower in 1597 but remarried in December 1602. His second wife, Anne Blount, had herself been twice widowed, her former husbands having both been prosperous London citizens. She brought to their marriage lands worth (as she later claimed) £500 p.a.,24 together with a house in Bassinghall, which served as Egerton’s London address for the rest of his life. It was presumably during his courtship of Anne that Egerton encountered his future wife’s son-in-law, the Lincoln’s Inn bencher Lewis Prowde*. It was probably to Prowde rather lord keeper Egerton, a former treasurer of the Inn, that Egerton owed his honorary admission to Lincoln’s Inn in August 1602.
In July 1603 Egerton met the new king at Windsor, where he presented for knighthood his step-son, Francis Trappes, and received assurances from James which ultimately proved hollow regarding the prosecution of his suit concerning Bidston Park.25 By the following year he and his maternal grandfather, Piers Mostyn of Talacre, in Flintshire, were being prosecuted for mining coal in the township of Mostyn by the Crown’s farmers, Sir Thomas Mostyn† and his son (Sir) Roger*.26 This dispute appears to have ended with Piers’ death in January 1606, whereupon it was replaced by a quarrel over the ownership of Talacre, which Piers had settled on Egerton, to the chagrin of two other members of the Mostyn family.27
There is no evidence that Egerton sought election as a knight of the shire for Staffordshire in 1604. However, in 1607, following the death of one of the county’s knights, Sir Robert Stanford, he was returned to Parliament, which then stood prorogued. When it reassembled in February 1610 he played only a modest role in its proceedings, making no known speeches, although he was appointed to 18 bill committees. Several of these reflected his status as a leading j.p., namely those concerned with suits against magistrates (28 Mar.), the 1604 Highways’ Act (30 Mar.), elopement (8 May), bastardy (16 May) and collections for the poor (25 May).28 Two other appointments, to consider measures concerning legal copies (13 Mar.) and delays of execution (25 May),29 perhaps reflected the fact that Egerton was no stranger to litigation. An interest in hawks, which he kept at Talacre, probably explains Egerton’s inclusion on two committees concerned with hawking (29 Mar. and 17 April).30 His membership of the committee to prevent clergy from making leases (25 Apr.) perhaps also suggests a personal interest, as Egerton was co-lessee of the tithes of several Cheshire parishes from the dean and chapter of Christchurch, Oxford.31 As a Cheshireman, Egerton was naturally included on the committee concerning the lands of Sir George Booth of Dunham Massey (24 Mar.), and his appointment to consider moor-burning (also 24 Mar.) reflects the fact that the bill particularly interested Members from the north of England and Wales.32 On 11 July Egerton acted as a teller for the noes when the House voted against a motion to allow the king two fifteenths rather than one in the grant of subsidy.33 Egerton is not known to have taken part in the fifth, and poorly reported, final session of the Parliament.
Egerton’s time at Westminster was marred by personal tragedy. On 21 Apr. 1610 one of his younger sons, John, was slain in a duel at Highgate by Edward Morgan, whose father, a wealthy lawyer, lived next-door to Talacre. The elder Morgan was engaged in an unspecified legal battle with Sir John Egerton,34 and the duel was the culmination of a quarrel that had lasted at least four years. In June 1606 the younger Morgan had attempted to stab Egerton and his son John in church. Two years later, in August 1608, he had challenged the Egertons to meet him ‘in any place of Christendom’, describing Sir John as ‘a filthy black knight’ and his whole family as ‘vipers’.35 These provocations were initially ignored, but when Morgan refused to return a hawk belonging to the Egertons which had landed on his property and abused the falconer with ‘reproachful speeches’, John Egerton had issued his own challenge, only to be forbidden from taking the field by his father.36 John would not let the matter rest, however, and on 19 Apr. 1610, after encountering Morgan at Prince Henry’s Court, he again challenged Morgan, who not only accepted but described John’s father as ‘the greatest oppressor this day in England’.37 Following John’s death, Morgan was committed to Newgate. However, he had powerful friends at Court in the shape of the Howard clan, whose members and dependents were determined to secure his release. An attempt was made to transfer him from Newgate to the Verge, ‘hoping of favour there’, and when this tactic failed a jury was ‘strangely collected for his trial, some of them being Parliament men, others having offices’, which should have meant they were exempt from serving, and ‘others returned that were not in the sheriff’s book’. Among the jurors were the Howard clients John Bingley*, described as ‘very near of kin to Morgan’, Arthur Ingram*, Sir Thomas Thynne* and Sir John Kay*. Those jurors unconnected to the Howards were allegedly offered bribes.38
Behind these sharp practices lay the head of the Howard faction, lord chamberlain Suffolk and his eldest son, Lord Howard de Walden (Theophilus Howard*).39 On Thursday 7 Feb. 1611 Suffolk notified the judges of the king’s desire to have Morgan tried on the following Monday, ‘whether any did prosecute or no’.40 In fact James had issued no such order; Suffolk was merely attempting to wrong-foot Sir John Egerton, who was then sick and whose witnesses were not ready.41 These irregular proceedings were brought to the attention of the king by Egerton’s kinsman, lord chancellor Ellesmere, and although the date of the trial was not altered, Morgan was subsequently convicted of murder. However, it soon became clear that the king would not permit Morgan to hang, much to the annoyance of Egerton, who asked Ellesmere to point out that, while Morgan lived, Egerton’s own life was in danger, ‘which was the ground of this quarrel’.42 However, Egerton’s petition had no effect. Further charges against Morgan were levelled later that year by Egerton’s eldest son, (Sir) Roland*, but this time the defendant escaped conviction ‘by skill in law’.43
In 1614 Egerton was elected to Parliament for Lichfield, where he was (or had been) the borough’s recorder. He took little or no part in the Commons’ proceedings, however, as on 16 Apr. he fell ill with ‘a pestilent and burning fever’. On taking to his bed in an upper chamber of his house in Bassinghall he was examined by the physicians Sir William Paddy* (who, coincidentally, had been admitted to Lincoln’s Inn on the same day as Egerton himself) and Dr. Friar, both of whom diagnosed that he was suffering from ‘an exulceration of the kidneys’.44 On the 25th Egerton sent for his attorney, Francis Kemp, whose house lay nearby at Temple Bar. Kemp had drafted Egerton’s will in July 1613, and now Egerton sent him fresh instructions for its alteration. Early the next morning, at 6 o’clock, Kemp called round with the new version of the will, attended by a servant and a couple of witnesses, all of whom later testified that Egerton called for pen, ink and his spectacles, which were kept on a window-sill on one side of the chamber.45 On the following morning, the will having been signed and witnessed, Egerton was bled on the advice of his doctors. The next day, at around 11a.m. or noon, he died,46 assured that his sins were forgiven and his ‘election sealed up’.47 He was buried in the parish church at Madeley, on the Wrinehill estate, on 27 May.48
Egerton died seised of goods worth at least £10,000,49 and left behind him lands worth £2,000 or £3,000 p.a.50 Many of these had, however, already been conveyed to Egerton’s eldest son, Roland, on the latter’s marriage in December 1608. In addition to three manors which formed part of his patrimony (Egerton, Oulton and Bickerton), Egerton had surrendered the manors of Rushton and Eaton, which he had bought, as well as Wrinehill and Heywood Barnes, which he had acquired from Edward Egerton. Roland naturally expected that his father’s will would confirm this settlement, but to his astonishment it settled the entire estate, apart from a house and garden in St. Giles, Cripplegate, which was bestowed upon his step-mother for her lifetime, upon Edward Egerton. Convinced that the amended will was a forgery, Roland subsequently seized the main house at Wrinehall, while Edward occupied the garden and the out-houses.51 Meanwhile, two of Egerton’s daughters obtained letters of administration, from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury and from the bishop of Chester.52 Litigation swiftly followed. Roland declared that the amended will had been concocted at the behest of Edward Egerton in the house of Francis Kemp. He pointed out that by 26 Apr. 1614 his father had been so unwell that he had been in no fit condition to redraft his will, which had only been signed after a pen had been thrust into his hand.53 Edward Egerton naturally denied these allegations, and maintained that Sir John had been mentally alert until the morning of 27th Apr., when he had been bled. Furthermore, he argued that Wrinehill and Heyward Barnes, two of the manors included in the marriage settlement of 1608, were rightfully his. Although he had conveyed his entire estate to Egerton in the 1590s, this, he said, had been merely a legal fiction, designed not to pass ownership to Egerton but to allow him and his heirs male to succeed to the Wrinehill estate in due course. Put simply, it was his contention that Sir John had acted fraudulently by including Wrinehill and Heywood Barnes in Roland’s marriage settlement, as these had never been his to give away.54
Roland failed to persuade Star Chamber that his father’s will was forged, and consequently it was proved in July 1618.55 However, he ultimately triumphed over Edward, whose legal right to the Wrinehill estate was decidedly suspect. If Sir John Egerton had never been lawfully seised of the Wrinehill lands, why, he demanded, had he been permitted not only to collect its rents but to spend them on purchasing new properties for himself? In reply Edward could only say that, out of ‘special affection’ to Sir John, he had allowed his cousin to handle his affairs for him, and that consequently the £20,000 laid out by Sir John in buying up property was a debt owed to him.56 This explanation was so weak that Chancery not surprisingly failed to take it seriously. Perhaps the most damaging evidence against Edward emerged in October 1618, when he submitted for inspection the conveyances which had transferred the Wrinehill estate to Sir John Egerton. He claimed that these contained clauses which had enabled him to revoke the conveyances, but after examining these documents, lord chancellor (Sir Francis) Bacon* and Chief Justice Sir Henry Hobart* could find ‘no power of revocation remaining in the said Edward Egerton by reason of the said conveyances or any limitation of uses therein contained’.57 Edward nevertheless refused to accept defeat, and took his fight to Parliament, thereby inducing Roland to seek election in 1624.
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Andrew Thrush
- 1. STAC 8/129/6, ff. 22, 62, depositions by Edward and Roland Egerton. The inquisition post mortem relating to Egerton’s father suggests 1554/5: CHES 3/82/18.
- 2. G. Ormerod, Cheshire, ii. 629; Vis. Northants. (Harl. Soc. lxxxvii), 68; P.H. Lawson, ‘Fam. Memoranda of the Stanleys of Alderley’, Chester Arch. Soc. Jnl. n.s. xxiv. pt. 2, p. 84; St. Michael Bassishaw (Harl. Soc. Reg. lxxii), 121; L. Inn Admiss.; PROB 11/56, f. 216; 89, f. 150. He did not, as has been claimed, father a large family of bastards: J.C. Wedgwood, Parliamentary Hist. of Staffs. i. (Wm. Salt. Arch. Soc.), 408.
- 3. CHES 3/82/18.
- 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 95.
- 5. C142/401/104.
- 6. E163/14/8; C231/1, ff. 71v, 117v; 181/2, ff. 21, 151; C66/1988; JPs in Wales and Monm. ed. Phillips, 101-2.
- 7. APC, 1600-1, p. 147.
- 8. E315/309, f. 142.
- 9. SP14/31/1.
- 10. C181/2, f. 21.
- 11. Ormerod, ii. 628.
- 12. The size of the estate is calculated from CHES 3/82/18 and Cheshire IPMs, 1603-60, II ed. R. Stewart-Brown (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. lxxxvi), 3. The suggested value of the Egerton patrimony is the one given by Edward Egerton in 1623: STAC 8/128/10, f. 12.
- 13. Ormerod, ii. 416; Vis. Cheshire (Harl. Soc. xviii), 97.
- 14. Lansd. 53, f. 180. His name on this list is marked with the letter ‘D’, which ‘signifieth such as be both of good religion and discretion ...’ (f. 169).
- 15. STAC 7/2/24.
- 16. 39th DKR, 101; STAC 8/128/10, f. 12.
- 17. Staffs. Hist. Colls. (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc.), xvi. 133-4, 159.
- 18. STAC 8/128/10, f. 12.
- 19. C3/268/30; CSP Dom. Addenda 1580-1625, p. 480; Lansd. 163, f. 54r-v.
- 20. Topographer, i. 127.
- 21. Lichfield RO, B/A/27.
- 22. C.F. Palmer, Hist. of Tamworth, appendix, pp.xiv-xv. He also complained to Robert Cecil†: HMC Hatfield, xii. 441.
- 23. Stowe 150, ff. 168, 190; R. Palmer, ‘Hist. of Tamworth Castle’ (unpublished, Woodchester 1860), pp. 287-8 (in Soc. Gen.).
- 24. C2/Jas.I/E6/58, f. 1.
- 25. Lansd. 161, f. 176; Shaw, ii. 113.
- 26. Exchequer Procs. Concerning Wales in Tempore Jas. I comp. T.I. Jeffreys (Univ. of Wales, Bd. of Celtic Studies, Hist. and Law ser. xv), 197-8; E124/1, ff. 143, 159r-v; E123/29, f. 316v.
- 27. WARD 2/18/69B; E44/275; C2/Jas.I/E5/76.
- 28. CJ, i. 415b, 418a, 426a, 429a, 432b.
- 29. Ibid. 410a, 432b.
- 30. Ibid. 416b, 418b; SP46/174, f. 57.
- 31. Ibid. 421a; Cal. Ancient Deeds, iii. 204.
- 32. CJ, i. 414a, 415a.
- 33. Ibid. 448b.
- 34. SP46/75, f. 79; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 298.
- 35. SP46/75, f. 228; 46/174, f. 21.
- 36. SP46/174, f. 57.
- 37. SP46/75, f. 228; 46/174, f. 27.
- 38. SP46/75, f. 273; 46/174, ff. 115r-v, 117, 123.
- 39. For Theophilus Howard’s interest in the case, see SP46/174, f. 90.
- 40. SP46/75, f. 273.
- 41. Ibid. f. 271; SP46/66, f. 127, undated letter to Sir John Egerton, which appears to be the apology of a witness who was unable to attend the trial.
- 42. SP46/174, f. 123.
- 43. SP46/75, ff. 270, 282-3; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 321.
- 44. STAC 8/129/6, ff. 21r-v, 62.
- 45. Ibid. ff. 59-60.