FERNE, John (c.1553-1609), of Temple Belwood, Lincs. and the King's Manor, York

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



1604 - 20 June 1609

Family and Education

b. c.1553, 1st s. of William Ferne of Doncaster, Yorks. and Temple Belwood and Anne, da. of Robert Sheffield of Beltoft, Lincs.1 educ. St. John’s, Camb. 1572; Clement’s Inn; I. Temple 1576, called 1587.2 m. by 1583, Elizabeth, da. of John Nedham of Wymondley Priory, Herts., 10s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da.3 suc. fa. 1592; kntd. 30 May 1604;4 d. 20 June 1609.5 sig. Jo[hn] Ferne.

Offices Held

Recorder, Doncaster 1588-92, 1603-d.;6 steward, reader’s dinner, I. Temple 1600.7

Member, Council in the North, 1595-d., dep. sec. 1595-1604, sec. and kpr. of the signet (jt.) 1604-d.;8 j.p. Cumb., co. Dur. Northumb. Westmld. and Yorks. by 1601-d., Ripon liberty, Yorks. by 1601-d., Cawood and Otley liberties, Yorks. by 1601-d. (custos rot. 1606-d.), Southwell liberty, Notts. 1604-d. (custos rot. 1606-d.);9 commr. oyer and terminer, Northern circ. by 1601-d., member, High Commission, York prov. 1603-d.; commr. sewers, W. Riding 1603, E. Riding 1604, survey, R. Ouse 1604, swans, Yorks. 1605.10


Ferne’s father, of humble Derbyshire origin, joined the Doncaster corporation, acquired property in the Isle of Axholme and married a distant kinswoman of the earl of Leicester; he was also granted arms in 1580. Ferne himself should be distinguished from a cousin, knighted in 1603, who was an associate of Arthur Ingram* in the ordnance export trade. The MP received a gentleman’s education at Cambridge and the Inner Temple, where he constructed a questionable pedigree for a Polish adventurer hoping to prove his affinity to the Lacy earls of Lincoln. Stung (as he claimed) by criticism of his efforts, in 1586 Ferne published the Blazon of Gentry, which he dedicated to his mother’s relative Lord Sheffield, as ‘a moral advertisement of gentry to the practice and action of virtue, without which none can be cleped a perfect gentleman’. His work discussed the relative merits of lineage and talent, starting from a conservative position: ‘a gentleman of blood, endued with virtues is to be preferred before all others in the receiving of a dignity, offices or rule in the commonweal’. However, he conceded that doctors of Civil Law and divinity could claim gentility by service, as could any ‘licentiated pleader in the law and customs of our own country’; it was perhaps not a coincidence that he was called to the bar in the following year.11

In 1588 Ferne’s father, then mayor of Doncaster, secured his election as borough recorder, apparently as part of a municipal power struggle: the differences within the corporation were referred to the assize judges and Gilbert Talbot†, 7th earl of Shrewsbury for arbitration. The earl’s subsequent nomination of his client Edward Stanhope† as recorder was hotly contested by Ferne’s supporters, but after a spell in the Marshalsea prison and an unsuccessful appeal to the 1st Lord Hunsdon, he eventually relinquished the recordership in 1592.12 Three years later, perhaps as a consolation for this upset, Lord Burghley (William Cecil†) arranged for Ferne to deputize for the absentee Robert Beale† (clerk of the Privy Council) as secretary to the Council in the North. A zealous Protestant who considered the north ‘over-pestered with popery and not with puritanism’, Ferne joined an unofficial clique of Council members which included John Thornborough, dean of York, justice (Sir) Thomas Hesketh* and Sir Thomas Hoby*, who aimed to impose a far stricter enforcement of the penal laws against Catholics than official government policy warranted. The high point of his efforts came in June 1599, when he secured the assistance of Edmund, 3rd Lord Sheffield in an unsuccessful raid on Grosmont Abbey, a notorious refuge for Catholic priests near Whitby.13

The new reign saw the appointment of Sheffield as lord president. He made Ferne joint secretary of the Council (with William Gee*), and found him a parliamentary seat at Boroughbridge in 1604. Ferne left little trace on the Commons’ proceedings, but was named to attend the conference of 20 Apr. 1604 at which the king explained his intentions over the Union with Scotland, and to committees for bills to restrict the jurisdiction of the Council in the Marches (21 Feb. 1606) and to abolish alnage on Welsh cottons (10 Mar. 1606). Ferne played an active part in suppressing the Gunpowder Plot, which he blamed on ‘abuse of His Majesty’s mercy and the supine negligence of many ecclesiastical governors’. From September 1606 he and Gee were preoccupied with resisting the courtier John Lepton’s patent for engrossing bills before the Council in the North, which threatened their most lucrative fees, worth nearly £700 a year. Lepton was eventually forced to compound with the secretaries for the exercise of his patent during their lifetime.14

Ferne died on 20 June 1609. His youngest son was briefly bishop of Chester after the Restoration. The next member of the family to sit in the Commons was Robert Ferne, returned for Ludgershall in 1713.15

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. STAC 5/H22/21; Staffs. Hist. Colls. iii (pt. 2), p. 71; Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. l), 350-1.
  • 2. Al. Cant.; I. Temple database of admiss.
  • 3. Lincs. Peds. 350-1; York Wills (Yorks. Arch. Soc. rec. ser. xxii), 169.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 132.
  • 5. C142/313/69.
  • 6. Doncaster Bor. Courtier ed. A. Brent, i. 22, 118, 195, 233.
  • 7. CITR, i. 431.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 93; R. Reid, Council in the North, 489, 496.
  • 9. C181/1, ff. 7v, 8v, 80; 181/2, f. 14.
  • 10. HMC Hatfield, xv. 394; C181/1, ff. 1, 98v, 106, 117, 209.
  • 11. Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi). 87; J. Hunter, S. Yorks. i. 31; J. Ferne, Blazon of Gentrie, sig. A2, pp. 22-3, 32-44. For the intellectual context of Ferne’s work, see T. Smith, De Republica Anglorum ed. M. Dewar; J.P. Cooper, Land, Men and Beliefs ed. G.E. Aylmer and J.S. Morrill, 43-77.
  • 12. Doncaster Bor. Courtier, i. 22-3, 109, 111, 113, 118, 232; APC, 1590-1, pp. 18-20; LPL, mss 698, ff. 56-9; 701, ff. 21-3, 31-3; 3198, f. 547; 3200, ff. 53, 90.
  • 13. HMC Hatfield, ix. 228-9; CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 93; 1598-1601, pp. 231-3; M.C. Questier, ‘Practical Anti-Papistry during the reign of Elizabeth I’, JBS, xxxvi. 371-96.
  • 14. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 495-6, 503-4; xviii. 21; xix. 203, 234, 239, 277-8; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 250; 1619-23, p. 353; Reid, 384-5.
  • 15. C142/313/69.