Tales and Traditions of the High Peak

By William Wood (1862)

Transcription by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2001

Madame Stafford


“What! crave ye wine, and have Nilus to drink of?”
(Old Translation.)

THE above motto is not selected as having any particular application to the following tradition, or tale, nor to any other in a singular sense; but rather to the whole, as meaning to imply, - “why need the inhabitants of the Peak's blue hills crave after tales and traditions of other localities, when they have so many of their own?” - and it may be further stated, that the following are only a very few chapters in the musty volume of the legendary lore of the Peak.

In the early part of the sixteenth century, there dwelled at the celebrated village of Eyam, in the Peak [Page 2] of Derbyshire, a gentleman of great wealth, named Humphrey Stafford, the last male heir of the Staffords, a family who had inherited extensive possessions in and around Eyam, from the time of King John, which possessions (it is said) were granted to the first of the Staffords of Eyam, by that Monarch, when Earl of Montaine, on certain specific conditions. There is, however, some authority to believe that the Staffords did not become possessed if their lands at Eyam through the munificence of King John, but by a marriage with the Furnivals, Lords of the Manor of Eyam, soon after the reign of that Monarch; neverthelesss, on the tenure and express conditions hereafter alluded to. The latter supposition is somewhat corroborated by a reference to the respective arms of the Furnivals and Staffords. This supposed consanguinity of the Staffords and Furnivals through marriage, would connect the former in blood to some of the most ancient of the English nobility.

Stafford Hall, the residence of the Staffords, stood on the north-west verge of the village - Eyam. It was erected in the reign of Henry the Sixth; a spacious and massive building, the greatest proportions, however, being in length. In the interior the rooms were all floored with black oak, which, although of a mirror-like brightness, contributed on the whole to give them that sombre and gloomy appearance which was principally caused by the narrow windows, still to be seen in the buildings of the time of the Plantagenets. From the [Page 3] middle of the principal or southern front of the exterior of the mansion, there projected to some distance a large circular stone, on the outward surface of which were carved in the most prominent relievo, the family arms of the Staffords - a chevron between three martlets. To be brief, Stafford Hall, of which only a few traces now remain, was correspondent in its magnitude, architectural embelishments, and ornamental appendages, to the rank and station of its possessors, a family who had then few equals, in point of wealth, in the mountaneous region of the Peak.

Humphrey, at the time which has been selected for the commencement of this tale, was a widower with five comely daughters - Margaret (who is now known as the much celebrated Madame Stafford), Alice, Gertrude, Ann, and Katherine, all approaching to womanhood, and of dispositions and qualities of mind the most engaging and captivating. Besides these daughters, there were two sons, Humphrey and Roland, who died in their youth.[1] The mother, some time after the birth of her youngest child, was hurried to her grave, after a brief but severe illness; and the stroke fell on her devoted husband, with all the poignancy of inconsolable grief. In the death of his beloved partner, Humphrey saw with the deepest sorrow, his fondly cherished hope of having a male heir, indefinitely protracted, or with greater probability never to be realised. The strict injunction he had received from his aged father, who, [Page 4] when on his deathbed, and the worldly scenes were about to be closed from his vision for ever, raised himself from his pillow, and in a voice, as it were from the grave, at intervals said: “Humphrey, my son, my beloved son! hear me before I die! I am now but a shred of mortality, my son, give me thy hand. Next to eternal happiness, my most fervent hope is, my beloved and only son, that thou wilt endeavour, should Providence permit, to perpetuate my race and name by the fruit of thy loins - remember the lamp of St. Helen - may heaven grant thee male issue, my son! And may the name of Stafford go down to posterity as I now bequeath it thee - unstained by uncharitableness, ambition, tyranny, or avarice!”

Humphrey, for some years after the death of his wife, almost entirely secluded himself from society; he deeply indulged in thoughtful moods; a sombre melancholy preyed on his spirits; and his eyes lost their former sparkling look of happiness and ease. During this period he rarely appeared on the village green, watching with pleasing interest the gambols and rural sports of the rustic villagers, in whom the presence of “good Master Stafford” always excited a spirit of harmless emulation. Notwithstanding this depression of spirits, he did not omit a duty which he and his worthy forefathers had imposed on themselves, or rather a duty which Providence, in endowing them with their worldly riches, had enjoined them to discharge - an attention to the wants and comforts of the poor and unfortunate, [Page 5]] and particularly those of his own village, over which he had the power and dominion of a rural sovereign. The happy influence which his unstinted and impartial benevolence necessarily created, was exercised by him, as it was by his honoured ancestors, in suppressing petty feuds, in eradicating all jealousies, bickerings, and backbitings, among the humble villagers; and for this he had the double rewards of the villagers' gratitude and an approving conscience. To those individuals who for a sop would destroy a neighbour's character, Humphrey had the most unqualified contempt: the upright spirit, - the natural and dignified honesty of the Staffords disdained to pander to the worst principles and passions of human nature. He knew well that to lend an ear to the favour-seeker was to intromit into the mind a pestilent ingredient that would arouse and generate all that is impious, anti-christian, and corruptible. And here, let it be asked, does not this one inestimable, prominent and holy characteristic of the Staffords, confer immortal honour on their memories?

A short distance from Stafford Hall was the village church; an ancient, but very small fabric. It had then a very small tower at the west end, adorned (or rather disfigured) with gargouilles, or human forms in ludicrous postures. This tower contained only one small bell, which called to mass by its tinkling the ancient forefathers of the village. The other part of the sacred edifice consisted of chancel, nave, and north and south aisles.

[Page 6] Faithful as the Sabbath was Humphrey Stafford and his daughters in their attendance at the church. There, in a pew contiguous to the north aisle, and only distinguished from the others by its being larger and more commodious, Stafford and his lovely daughters lifted up their hearts to God, in common with the most impoverished of the villagers. The church had no galleries at all. It was enough then to know and feel that in the presence of the great “I Am” no distinction of persons was marked and acknowledged, save the upright in heart. Strange, indeed, that the children of the present and of the last generation, should have departed so far from the pleasing simplicity and rectitude of judgment which so justly characterised our forefathers in the mode and manner of congregating together to worship their Maker. Such as the present was not the mode of assembling together in the village sanctuaries then: in the days of the last of the Staffords, all knelt in common, on the bosom of the earth, in the awful presence of their Creator.

The peculiar tenure by which the Staffords of Eyam held their land, not only caused them to reside permanently at Eyam, but also to be unremitting in their attendance at church: the tenure states that the Staffords shall hold such lands on the express condition “of keeping a lamp perpetually burning on the altar of St. Helen, in the parish church of Eyam”. And another item states “that the lamp shall be superintended by the actual male possessor, or in default of male issue, by [Page 7] female issue during her life on condition of her utterly abstaining from entering into a marriage state or marriage contract. The lands to pass from the family at her death or marriage”. In the subsequent pages we shall see, that after the death of Humphrey Stafford, his eldest daughter Margaret (or Madame Stafford) superintended the lamp during a long periopd, which to her was chequered with dark, heart-rending trails.

Notwithstanding Stafford's implicit faith in the wisdom of the inscruitable workings of Providence, still there were intervals when his mind seemed to sink under a weight of sombre despondency. He was mortal: and he had the cravings - the desires of frail mortality. To have left behind him, at his demise, a son, as a representative of his ancient, revered, and time-honoured family, had been the most paramount of his earthly desires; but this fondly-cherished hope was utterly banished from his bosom when the grave closed over the loved remains of his fond, devoted wife. Hence, he saw in imagination the lamp no longer diffusing its rays around the altar of St. Helen; he heard the footsteps of haughty strangers pacing the mansion of his long line of ancestors; he saw the downcast, murmuring looks of the villagers of his beloved Eyam, on whom were bestowed, by the fancied new occupant of Stafford Hall, all the bitter taunts and malignant vexations of bitter tyranny; these, although the creations of fancy, had a visible and painful effect on the kind, benevolent heart of Humphrey Stafford.

[Page 8] To enter into a marriage state again was more than improbable: for that mortal rectitude of thinking and acting, that nobleness of soul which had ever been the dignified characteristics of the Staffords, wholly debarred the last male representative of the family from enterying into a matrimonial union through the influence of any consideration besides that by which marriage - the happiest ordinance of Heaven - is sanctioned: affection ardent and unalloyed. The consideratet and enlightened mind of Stafford was deeply impressed with the conviction, that love alone is the only cord by whic hearts can be indissolubly bound together; that love in its purity is an intangible emanation of the spirit's essence; and that it may be happily compared to a spiritualized electric chain connecting two hearts, making them both one by an exhaustless interchange of sympathetic thoughts, delicious sensations, and blissful emotions: hence, Stafford, with a moral heroism not often exhibited, chose the alternative of suffering the possessions of his forefathers to pass into other hands, if not otherwise avoidable, rather than make a sacrifice of the dictates and feelings of nature, and thus violate the laws of God.

Many years of Stafford's widowhood were somewhat cheered by his daughters - Margaret, Alice, Gertrude, Ann, and Katherine, vieing with each other in their attentions to his even half-suggested wishes. They were in the pride of their youth and beauty; exhibiting in mind much of that strange combination of frankness [Page 9] and reserve, for which their paternal ancestors had been so markedly distinguished among their limited circle of friends and acquaintances. The reputed wealth of Stafford, the beauty, the sweetness of disposition, the fascinating and accomplished minds of his daughters, brought many competitors for their hands and hearts. To be brief, Katherine's were obtained by Rowland Morewood, Esq., of Bradford[2], Yorkshire; Gertrude's by a lineal ancestor of the late highly and deservedly honoured Earl of Newburgh, Hassop; Alice's by John Savage, of Castleton; and Ann's by Francis Bradshaw, Esq., of the family of the notorious Judge Bradshaw; thus leaving Stafford and his eldest daughter for a short time (besides domestics) the only residents of Stafford Hall.

Before the marriage of her sisters, Margaret Stafford had in succession many ardent and deeply impassioned suitors; but a speedy, yet polite repulse met their advances respectively. Indeed, it were impossible to look on the fair form of Miss Stafford, and not feel a thrilling and pleasing, or rather painful sense of absolute captivation. She was in stature a little above the ordinary height of the female sex, possessing the most graceful proportions imaginable. She had the majestic profile of the Staffords (now classed with the antique), sable eye-brows and eye-lashes.

“to whose silk shadow lies
Deepest attraction.”

Her eyes were full of soul; their hue “black as death”; [Page 10] possessing an indescribable fascination. With perfect grace and symmetry of form, she had a complexion of the most exquisite quality; indeed, she had all those enviable qualities which constitute what is acknowledged to the the beau ideal of female beauty. Her hair was of the richest auburn, and was invariably arranged to conform and correspond with the simplicity of her dress, in which modesty and unaffected plainess were alone conspicious; in short, her whole exterior was strikingly indicative, or rather the mirror of her highly and properly cultivated mind. To these admirable qualities of person and mind, she had imposed upon herself, what but few indeed of her sex have sufficient energy of purpose to accomplish, the observance of the maxim, “parlez peu et penses bien”, which all men will affirm, is “an excellent thing in a woman!” Still, she had conversational powers much above the generality of her sex: in urging some favourite subject or topic, she was naturally eloquent: seldom omitting to impress the minds of her hearers with solemn conviction. In a word, there were concentrated in Miss Stafford a great many of the noble and striking characteristics of the successive patriarchs of her distinguished, honoured, and ancient lineage.

Probably some, who may have had patience to read thus far in this meagre tale, will have asked themselves whether the heroine of this story is to be exhibited throughout voidless of any manifestations of the “tender passion?” True indeed it is, that to the twenty-seventh [Page 11] year of her age, Miss Stafford had, with an energetic disposition, peremptorily refused every solicitation for her hand. Too well she knew the cause of her good old father's dejection of spirit; the more than probability of their mansion and lands passing eventually into the possession of others, through default of male heir, and a bitterly impressive effect on the minds of Stafford and his daughter. Hence, as her two young brothers were dead, and her sisters married, she had for some time formed the resolution never, for even a moment, to indulge in the idea of a matrimonial alliance; but to continue the possessions of her forefathers - by superintending the lamp of St. Helen herself, agreeably in the tenure - in her family until her death. This resolve, which was tinctured with magnanimity, she often reminded her father of, by way of solace, during his moments of despondency. To this, however, he seldom replied: for too well he knew the weakness and fraility of human nature; besides, should there be no infraction of his daughter's self-imposed determination, it would only protract what he wished to be wholly averted.

Already Miss Stafford had commenced the task of attending to the lamp which burned day and night on the altar of St. Helen, in the humble sanctuary of the village. Sometimes for successive weeks she daily and alone replenished the lamp with her own hands; at other times a trusty and faithful domestic performed the duty; while Stafford himself would occasionally visit [Page 12] the sacred edifice for the same purpose. He, however, as he further advanced in years, was rarely seen in the village; a walk daily in the fields contiguous to his dwelling, comprised the whole of his corporeal exercise. Frequently was he visited by the rector of the village, the Rev. Robert Talbot, a relation of the then Earl of Shrewsbury - a family who had held the Manor of Eyam from the time of the last of the Furnivals, Lords of the Manors of Sheffield, Worksop, Eyam, and a many other places. Talbot, the village priest, - the intimate and social friend of Stafford - was, in physical proportions, much above the average of mankind in general. In his person there was, however, one very conspicuous deficiency - the almost absolute want of muscular development: a peculiarity of body consequent on a life spent principally in devotion. His demeanour was of the most affable and pleasing kind conceivable; indeed, he stood high in the estimation of the simple, uneducated villagers. His countenance had not the least shade of that hermit-like gravity, which is so often described as the prevailing charateristic of the ascetic and priest. To the mountain village where Providence had placed him to watch over the flock committed to his charge, he became increasingly devoted. It was the abode of health; and, doubtlessly he often enthusiastically exclaimed with the poet-

“Oh! there is sweetness in the mountain air,
And life, that sluggard Ease can never hope to share.”

Frequent, as before observed, were his visits to Stafford [Page 13] Hall. There, in a large central room, wainscoted and embellished with the arms of the Staffords, would he and Stafford converse for hours several times weekly, on the topics which their locality furnished.

One evening, just at sunset, Talbot had been observed to repair to Stafford's with more than usual speed. The villagers had noticed this through their latticed windows, which opened on each side the village street, and which were beautifully and fantastically adorned with ivy - “the garland of eternity”. A hundred times over the cottage dames respectively interrogated themselves thus: “What's i' th' wind now?” “Lackins on me, Mr. Talbot moves his shanks to-neet, by th' mas!” “Hope he's sommat in his pate at 'l cheer th' owd soul a th' aw!”

Talbot had ushered himself into the room where Stafford sat alone, buried in cogitation, ere the simple villagers had half recovered from their astonishment at this having proceeded to the hall, at such an unusual rate.

“Well, Mr. Stafford”, said Talbot, in a hurried and rather perturbated manner, “intelligence has just reached me that the unfortunate Mary, Scotland's Queen, has just arrived at Chatsworth, where it is intended her stay will be for a few months at least. Long, long time since our locality was honoured by the presence of royalty!”

“Alas!” replied Stafford, “I fear that this unhappy woman is doomed to fall a sacrifice to uncontrollable circumstances; - that, ultimately, the machinations of her [Page 14] invidious enemies will be satisfied with nothing less than her life”.

“Let us hope not”, rejoined Talbot, “most assuredly our virgin Queen will never leave such an ineffaceable blot in the annals of her reign. What will be the judgement of posterity should your fears on that head be realized?”

“Why”, answered Stafford, “there have been a many in every age of the world, who are alike callous to the dictates of conscience and the unerring judgement of future ages! However, it is as manifest as consolatory that there cannot be the least infraction of the unchanging laws of God, as written on the mental tablets in the consciences of his creatures respectively, without its certain, necessary, and just consequences! Nay, let no one dream of violating his conscience with impunity! The very inanimate things of the world - the everlasting mountain, the mighty cataract, the ever-rolling river, the battling storm, the winds, the woods, the flowers, yes! the very sods on which we tread, - all find a tongue to accuse the detestable and perfidious violator of the first grand primal law, on the observance of which alone is based the glorious and distinctive majesty of manhood! I frankly confess, reverent sir, that I am under the painful conviction that the imprisonment of the Queen of Scotland is, in all probability, the forerunner of a dark tragedy, originating in those who have long ceased to listen to the voice of the Deity - the conscience!”

[Page 15] “In much of what you have advanced”, said Talbot, “our sentiments are in perfect union: indeed they are fully borne out by holy writ” 'I will punish', says the Almighty, 'the fruit of the stout heart of the King of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks', and this for criminality of intention in a matter of obeying God's command.

Just as Talbot was finishing his reply, Miss Stafford entered the room, and Talbot was about to inform her of the information which had induced him to repair to Stafford Hall on that occasion, when she courteously observed, by way of anticipation, - “I suppose, Mr. Talbot, the circumstances of Chatsworth being now the temporary residence of royalty, in captivity, will induce numbers to congregate daily in the park of that superb mansion, with a view to having even a brief glimpse at Misfortune's favourite”.

“Undoubtedly! undoubtedly!” replied Talbot, “sympathetic is one of the principal constituents of hearts, susceptible of receieving the happy impressions which emanate from the Divine fountain of justice and truth”.

“I presume papa has informed you that we have, just prior to your present visit, received a most polite invitation from my Lord Shrewsbury, to pay him a visit while at Chatsworth, with his royal captive; and that we have positively arranged to set out thereto, early tomorrow”.

“No! no!” interrupted Stafford, “I was about to say to Mr. Talbot, when you, my dear daughter, entered [Page 16] this room, what you have just stated, in addition to our conversations before on Chatsworth's royal captive”.

“Excuse me, dear papa, for thus anticipating you!” answered the beautiful daughter of Stafford, as she turned to the door of the room, holding in her hand a vessel, with the contents of which she was about to replenish the lamp of St. Helen.

While Miss Stafford wandered down the serpentine street of the lovely village, to the altar of the parochial sanctuary, Stafford and Talbot resumed their subject, which was uninterruptedly continued until the

“- hour o' night's black arch the key-stone”.

On the morning of the following day, Stafford and his daughter rose early to proceed to Chatsworth. It was a beautiful morning: the sun poured his glories through the eastern window of the village church; the smoke rose in spiral columns from the ivy-mantled chimneys of the cottages; and peace reigned over the village with undivided sway. Mounted on two beautiful coursers, they soon reached the now justly styled gorgeous Palace of the Peak, where the lovely, the unfortunate Mary was then abiding.

To their respective guests, from the Manor-house of Eyam, the Earl and Countess paid the most polite attention. They were handed into a room distinguished for its elegance: indeed, Chatsworth was then celebrated as a most splendid and superb mansion. Miss Stafford and her honoured father were courteously saluted by the whole of the other guests them at Chatsworth; [Page 17] they were, however, greeted with the greatest affection and cordiality by the noble Earl, to whom Stafford was related in blood. Stafford was also the Earl's representative as Lord of the Manor of Eyam, and a contiguous village; and in whom the Earl had a strictly just guardian of his many interests; and as such was he regarded by the noble proprietor of the immense estates of the renowned family of Talbot.

In a few hours after their arrival at Chatsworth, Stafford and his lovely daughter had an opportunity of seeing, at a little distance, the unfortunate royal captive. She, with a few attendants, were walking in the garden in front of the mansion, where they might be seen to advantage by Stafford and his daughter from the room in which they had been placed for that especial purpose.

As the once beautiful Queen passed the window, Stafford glanced at her still majestic form with an exIment which became painfully interesting. He saw in her pallid and fast-wasting features, unequivocal evidences of a mind sinking rapidly under a weight of tyranny; he visibly beheld the pitiable woman who contained within her fast heaving bosom, a heart throbbing and consuming with an increasing agony, and his virutous soul swelled with feelings of pity, mingled with those of burning indignation. But what were the sensations of his high-souled daughter? She looked sorrowfully on the remaining, but striking traces of that seraphic lovelinesss, which had once charmed the enraptured [Page 18] hearts of gazing thousands; she saw her with an intensity of emotion, conflicting, torturing, and bitterly agonizing! She wept to behold before her eyes the darling child of relentless Misfortune. The Queen paced for some time backwards and forwards, on the same place, during which time Miss Stafford gazed upon her with painful interest.

After she retired to her apartments, Miss Stafford turned to a chair somewhat apart from the rest, and sat some time, buried in deep contemplation. In her mind she fervently wished to have an interview with Mary, before leaving Chatsworth; but she knew it could not be allowed, or she would have bathed with her fast-streaming tears the feet of the still lovely, pre-doomed, captive Queen.

Stafford and the noble Earl had now a protracted conversation, privately; partly on the captivity of Mary, but more in particular on matters connected with the affairs of Stafford himself.

“I shall, my dear honoured friend and kinsman”, said the Earl, in terminationg the conversation, “use every possible effort, immediately, to resign the royal prisoner, now in my keeping, into the charge of some other loyal person, as I have for some time apprehended a fast-approaching event, which I contemplate with some degree of horror; but, be assured that the object, which I shall endeavour to attain, will be a work of vigilance, and will be attended with some degree of danger or disapprobation, unless circumspection be used unsparingly.

[Page 19] And as respects the other topic of our conversation, let me positively assure you, that in case I should survive you, my dear friend and kinsman, I will use my most strenuous endeavours to avert the probable consequence which you very naturally expect to result from the exstinguishment of the lamp of St. Helen. On me, or my successor, as Lord of the Manor of Eyam, much will depend on subscribing the signature of the lineal representative of the first holder of the Manor of Eyam, connected with which originally was the Lamp of St. Helen. This, however, you know equally as well as myself; and I may again add, that at the proper time my services shall be used in [sic] your behalf, in the matter of the tenure of your possessions.”

Stafford thanked the Earl kindly.

It was about an hour before sunset when Stafford and his daughter left Chatsworth. They rode side by side looking on the scenery around with eyes of delight. It was a beautiful summer evening; a calm repose resigned on the hills around; the shadows of evening began to shroud the dells; and the towering mountains of the Peak, that lay before them, mingled their heads together in the misty shade of delightful eve. Soon they reached the dell which leads to Eyam; they rode slowly up the steepy, narrow path, on each side of which rise high, massive limestone rocks - “the splendid monuments of the felicity of past ages”. As they came leisurely up the road, Miss Stafford, in a kind of exclamation, said: “O! father, I forgot this morning [Page 20] before we left home, to write the letter which you wished me to write for you to your young friend on the Continent - Mr. Babington”. - “Well, my dear, it is of no great matter for a day; his friend does not leave Dethick, to join him, until six days hence; and besides, you can give him some account of the Scottish Queen; your opinion of her person, her captivity, and its probable consequence”.

“Ah! dear father, I shall say something on that head, certainly; for I am mistaken, indeed, if to such elegant manners, quick imagination, much learning, and religious zeal, which Mr. Babington always exhibited, there is not also great sympathy of heart!”

“I should, my loev, be very happy to see him in England again; his stay is now much longer that he proposed it should be: I hope he will not get into evit company, for he was, on setting out, one of the most promising young gentlemen in the county”.

“Indeed he was, dear father! I will say, in the letter to-morrow, that there are some who wish him back to his native land”.

Miss Stafford had just finished speaking, when a servant from Stafford Hall met the horses close to their heds, and said, “Master, I was coming to meet you, to tell you a man's been waiting for a letter almost all day for a gentleman who is going behond England”.

“Enough, enough”, replied Stafford, “he shall have it to-morrow; - go back; - we shall be at home shortly”.

One beautiful evening, soon after Stafford's visit to [Page 21] Chatsworth, his daughter walked out to enjoy the sweets of an unusually delightful autumnal eve. A little south-east of Stafford Hall, and immediately contiguous to the village, there is a dell of incomparable beauty; known now by the name of “the DELF” - a corruption of dell or dingle. To this secluded retreat Miss Stafford had repaired a little before sunset. Notwithstanding the unsurpassing charms of the place - its pleasing verdure and rich fertility; its shading trees which covered every side; its little rill that issued from the cleft or a rock, and sang a song of peace while winding amidst flowers of very [sic] hue which adorned the bottom fo the dell; its ivy-crowned projections that overhang, in picturesque grandeur, the most contracted parts of the defile - still, on this occasion, an unwonted heaviness of heart, or peculiar depression of spirits, was most sensibly experienced by Miss Stafford. After pacing the dell for some time, oppressed with this inexplicable sensation of soul, she ascended the south-west declivity and seated herself a little inside the arch of that natural excavation of rock, now known as Cucklet Church - a place which, through its interesting associations, is far and widely celebrated, and much visited.

In this haunt of silence and solitude, Miss Stafford continued, until evening began to encircle the dell with deepening shades. She was wrapt in deep contemplation; she felt chained to the rocky ledge on which she sat; her head slightly drooped.

“Unto her breast
Fever'd, throbbing, and oppress'd.”
[Page 22]

After a little time had elapsed in this mood, she suddenly lifted up her head with a view to leave the place; but an instant tremor seized her whole frame on beholding the figure of a young female clothed in white approach her from the opposite entrance into the evacuation. The figure held in each hand a burning lamp; and stood face to face to Miss Stafford. The spectre lifted up the lights, and thus spoke in a soft but unearthly accent, still in a voice which seemed, to Miss Stafford, “the voice of her own soul”, speaking in the calm of thought:

“To-night, fair Lady, I come unto thee,
With tidings most sad - Fate's changeless decree -
Dark troubles await thee, Lady, alas!
I see them in future, coming to pass.
Of an ancient race - the last of the name,
O! Lady of sorrow, I was the same;
And many the perils I travell'd through,
O! daughter of Stafford, e'en so must thou.
O! dangers ere long, ah! thou must beware,
No sire with will thou have, thy suff'rings to share -
Nay! round him again, no more shall thou cling;
His spirit e'en now is fast on the wing.”

The image stoood still before Miss Stafford, whose blood froze in her veins. She saw with an indescribable fear that her fair counsellor was not of this world, for

“Her motionless lips lay still as death,
And her words came forth without her breath,
And there rose not a heave o'er her bosom's swell,
And there seemed not a pulse in her veins to dwell.
Though her eye shone out, yet the lids were fix'd,
And the glance that it gave was wild and unmix'd
With ought of change, as the eyse may seem
Of the restless who walk in a troubled dream.”

In a short time, after saying “beware” again, Miss Stafford's visitant vanished.[3] She arose and left the dell perplexed almost to distraction. On reaching the village it was nearly dark; but on entering the gate of her home, their issued forth from the Hall these exclamations in rapid succession, “He's dead! he's dead!” “my master! my good old master!” “Seek! haste! seek Miss Stafford!” On hearing this she sank in a swoon, and was carried into her room in a state of insensibility, from which she did not recover until the following morning. Her father, the venerable Humphrey Stafford, has been found dead in his chair while his daughter had been taking her accustomed walk in the evening. Soon the tidings shot through the village, in which, after the first burst of sorrow, the good works, the charitable deeds, the father-like affection of good Mr. Stafford, engrossed the whole thoughts and conversation of the inhabitants. A cloud of deep despondency overshadowed the rustic village!

The day arrived for the interment of the last male of the Staffords. In a large tapestried room of the Hall [Page 23] stood the coffin containing the corse. [sic] It was made of black oak, strong, and of a glossy brightness. On the top, or coffin-lid, which stood beside the corse, the initials “H.S.” only were inscribed, as was common then, with brass nails. At each end burned a large wax candle, and around sat the lich-walkers. On the corse was deposited bunches of flowers of every hue attainable; arranged to the most pleasing manner conceivable. Ah! then, even, the great and noble, adhered to the simple, yet pleasing and natural custom of adorning the dead with flowers. What can be more agreeable to the feelings of mortality? What more in unison with the simple dictates of nature? The author of Coningsby justly observes, that each great city of the past and present is in the minds of the contemplative a great idea. And is not the adornment of the dead with flowers a beautiful idea? Is it not poetry of the most exquisite kind and quality? To have his remains liberally bestrewed with flowers was that [sic] Humphrey Stafford had wished in his often-expressed approval of the pleasing custom.

The sun lingered on the shadowy summits of the Western Peak mountains, when the remains of Stafford were carried from the Hall of his fathers to be mingled with their dust beneath the northern aisle in the village church. The coffin was borne by six selected from among the villagers for their strength. From Stafford Hall to the church the streets were filled with men, women,

[Page 24] “And little children, walking hand in hand”,

all anxious to pay the last token of respect to the memory of their departed master. On arriving at the church-yard, there was one manifest expression of grief; the corse was carried once round the cross,[4] a custom which had been observed from time immemorial, and then into the holy edifice, into which there was one general rush of the villagers to see the last sad office performed over him whose beneficence they had so often witnessed. The Lamp of St. Helen was burning on the altar of stone, and Talbot, the priest and friend of Stafford, came forth to officiate on this - to him - sorrowful occasion. The reading of the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (the most sublime and consolatory of all compositions) was accomplished at intervals: tears flowed from the eyes of Talbot incessantly; and the last office connected with his cherished friend was performed in the midst of a conflict of duty and grief. After the impressive and sorrowful ceremony was over, and the mortal remains of Stafford were “gathered to his fathers”, the heart-sorrowing villagers lingered a long time in the green church-yard - where (Faith and Hope truly deny the assertion of the poet Gray) -

[Page 25]
“Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The Rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.”

Some few of the concourse of villagers who had attended the funeral of Stafford, went, after some time, from the church-yard to the Shrewsbury Arms, a small inn, at that time the only one in the village. It was a small house consisting of two rooms on the ground floor, and one chamber the whole length of the building, an arrangement deemed necessary to afford ample room for the rustic villagers to “trip the light fantastic toe”. Shrewsbury Arms stood at the east-end of the Eaver - a pool in the centre of the village, from which name is derived the word Eyam.[5] The sign-board contained on each side, a rudely painted large talbot (or dog), the martial crest of the arms of the Earls of Shrewsbury. The house was kept by Lawrence Decket, a blacksmith, whose convivial powers were the most captivating imaginable. There the few villagers alluded to were assembled, and, while the sparkling glass went round, [Page 26] they alternately recapitulated the following phrases: “I saw the dark earth fall on the coffin!” “I saw the stone laid over him!” expressing, in these simple ejaculations, a heartfelt, pure, unfeigned affection. Thus these simple children of nature indulged in sorrowful feelings. They knew not from their limited experience, that human sorrow no less than human happiness is short-lived; forgetfulness grows over it “like grass”. The world chokes it with the rank growth of trivial pleasures, vanities, troubles, cares. Time, heedless time, withers it. Life, busy life, with its eager and tumultuous stress, eddies round it, whirls it away, sinks it in secret depths of consciousness unsounded save by the plimmet of Death!

About two years after the death of Stafford, a large party were assembled at the Shrewsbury Arms on the occasion of the Wakes, then held about the middle of August. It was the Wake-Monday, the principal day of the week's festivity, and mine host, Mr. Decket, was amply employed in attending to his customers, who were chattering and singing alternately, at which he feigned full many a hearty laugh. Sometime towards evening a stranger, who appeared to have some business of imporatnce on hand, etnered the room where the company were lifting up their united voices in praise of Bacchus. The stranger was a tall young man; he appeared to be agitated, and he had no sooner crossed the threshold than he asked, in a rather perturbed manner, to speak with Mr. Decket. After a few minutes' conversation at [Page 27] the door, Decket and the stranger proceeded up the village to Stafford Hall, at a speed that surprised every one whom they met. Miss Stafford was just leaving the mansion to perform her daily task of attending to the Lamp of St. Helen, when the stranger, after being informed by Decket that she was Miss Stafford, walked up to her, and unfolded a paper, bidding her read it with the greatest despatch, as a few minutes' delay might be attended with serious consequences. Filled with surprise, Miss Stafford glanced over the contents of the paper; and then, with a face pale as death, exclaimed, “Where shall I fly?” “Into some place of concealment immediately”, said the stranger. “My good man”, then accosting Decket, “take her away into some wood or secret cavern this moment, or the next she may be arrested for high treason!” Decket, overwhelmed with consternation, said, “Come on, Miss Stafford, you shall hide in the Salt Pan[6] for the present”. Thither they went, and Decket took her up to the most secret part of the place, in which it was impossible that she could be discovered by persons unacquainted with the labyrinth.

In this place Decket left Miss Stafford, promising that he would contrive to have her conveyed away that night to some other place of safety. Before leaving Miss Stafford in this place of seclusion, Decket had learned [Page 28] from her, and form the perusal of the paper which the stranger had left with her, the particulars of the mysterious affair, which were in substance to the following effect:-

On the night of her visit to Chatsworth with her father, she had written a long letter to Anthony Babington, of Dethick, then at Paris, in which letter she had commented on the personal attractions, the unjust imprisonment of Mary Queen of Scots. She had dilated at great length on the wickedness of Mary's enemies, and had expressed a desire that the beautiful Queen might be liberated, and again ascend to the throne of her royal ancestors. To much on this subject she had appended the name of her father as well as her own. The letter reached Babington just when he was about being inveigled into the conspiracy against the life of Queen Elizabeth, in behalf of the Scottish Queen and the Catholic religion. The contents of the latter accorded well with the cause in which Babington was then blindly engaged: and he, in a moment of foolishness, sent the letter to the Scottish Queen, intimating thereby that she had friends of birth and quality in England. A little time prior to the apprehension of Babington and the other conspirators, this letter was found amongst the private papers which were seized in the possession of Mary, at Chertsey. It was inspected by Walsingham, who laid it before Elizabeth; and Miss Stafford and her father were ordered to be arrested.

A hint was received by Babington and his associates [Page 29] that their plot was discovered, and they fled in disguise into the mountains and woods. While wandering about in these haunts of solitude, Babington had reverted in mind to the letter of Miss Stafford; he had been informed of the seizure of Mary's papers, and he trembled for the fate of the Staffords if the letter of theirs had been preserved, of which he was almost more than certain. The day before Babington's apprehension, at Harrow, he wrote a letter to Miss Stafford, and with a purse of gold induced a friend to carry it to her at Eyam with the utmost despatch, after having informed him of the particulars. Babington's friend arrived at Eyam duly, and executed his mission as before mentioned.

Scarce an hour had elapsed, from the time of Decket leaving Miss Stafford concealed in the Salt Pan, than four armed men proceeded to his door mounted on horses. They were soon dismounted; ordered their horses to be stabled, and desired to be shown to Stafford Hall with speed. Arriving at the Hall, they asked, with an air of authority, in which apartment were Humphrey Stafford and his daughter Margaret. They were informed that Master Stafford had been dead some time, and that Miss Stafford was not within. Without another word they rushed from room to room, and their rage increased to madness. They ascertained that Humphrey Stafford was dead; but they threatened the domestics with instant death if they did not disclose to them where Miss Stafford was secreted. Hour after hour passed away; but the object of their search could [Page 30] not be found. Every room about the Hall was examined, and the following day all the houses in the village, yet Miss Stafford could not be discovered.

Decket, true to his appointment, repaired to the place of Miss Stafford's shelter, and, under the cover of darkness, conveyed her away to a cottage widely apart from any other habitation for miles. The cottage was situated at Gother-edge,[7] two miles from Eyam; - there she remained some time, while Stafford Hall was inhabited by the Queen's officers.

For a great many years this unhappy woman was concealed among the mountains northward of Eyam. In the woods and deep defiles by day; in solitary cottages by night. Decket and a few others were her guardians: always apprising her of the route her pursuers took; still she was numberless times in imminent danger; had hair-breadth escapes; oftentimes she saw them at a little distance from the place of her concealment. During these years of suffering, she, however, ventured a great number of times into the village; but it was always in the dead of night; and when she had previously ascertained that her pursuers were absent from the place. On these solitary occasions she never omitted to visit the Lamp of St. Helen. Up the silent aisle would she tremblingly walk to the altar; the lamp [Page 31] cast its dim light around the then small chancel, where on every side -

“The carved angels, ever eager-eyed,
Stared, with their wings put cross-wise on their breasts.
*               *               *               *               *
And where the sculptured dead did seem to freeze,
Emprisoned in black purgatorial rails;
Knights, ladies, praying in dumb orat'ries,
She passeth by; and her weak spirit fails
To think how they may ache in icy hoods and mails.”
Eve of St. Agnes.

It was not till the death of Queen Elizabeth that Miss Stafford was returned to the mansion of her fathers, wholly free from the apprehension of falling into the hands of those whom the Queen had deputed to arrest her at all peril. The villagers were intoxicated with joy; she was welcomed to her home with acclamations of delight. But, alas! years of sorrow and fear had robbed her of that beauty, that ruddy glow of health with which she had once been blessed. She was but the shadow of her former self,

“Her eyelashes were torn away with tears,
Her lips and cheeks were like things dead - so pale;
Her hands were thin, and through their wandering veins
And weak articulation might be seen
Day's ruddy light.”

The particulars of the sufferings of Miss Stafford, and also the cause, were soon made known to King James, by the successor of that Earl of Shrewsbury whom Miss [Page 32] Stafford and her father visited when the Scottish Queen was at Chatsworth. The monarch expressed much sympathy for Miss Stafford; anxiously enquired in what way she would wish to be recompensed for her long and severe trials. Then it was that she saw the opportunity of attaining what had so often engrossed the mind of her father: she humbly requested the annulment of the tenure by which her forefathers had held their lands at Eyam. This the monarch ordered to be done immediately - the burning of the Lamp of St. Helen to be abolished, and the lands of the Staffords to be inherited, in fee simple, by the co-heiresses of Humphrey Stafford, and their heirs, for ever.

When Miss Stafford had attained this long desired object, she resolved to spend the remainder of her days amid the consolations of religion. Besides innumerable acts of charity to the villagers, she ordered the then small tower of the Church to be taken down, and the present one to be erected for the reception of bells, which she liberally gave also. With the simpel villagers this one act - the erection of the new tower and the four bells - was deemed to be one of the greatest events “in the womb of time”.

The last years of the life of Miss Stafford were spent in dispensing blessings to all around; and her death, which took place at an advanced age, was an event of sorrow and lamentation to the whole village. She was interred beside her father, near the northern aisle of the humble village sanctuary. The Lamp of St. Helen, and [Page 33] the ornamental stone on which it had stood on the altar for centuries, were placed, by her dying request, at the foot of her coffin. The stone, however, which contains an indented Runic scroll, was taken up some years ago, and may now be seen placed in the interior side of the wall, beneath the window in the eastern end of the northern aisle, and contiguous to the confessional of ante Protestant times.


[1] Some existing documents only mention four surviving daughters; but tradition insists of a Madame Stafford, sister, if not positively daughter of the last of the Staffords.
[2] [Ed: C. E. B. Bowles says “Bradfield”. One assumes Bowles is correct, especially as the IGI shows several baptisms to father Rowland Morewood at Bradfield between 1578 and 1595.]
[3] A superstitious notion once prevailed in the Peak, that the last of a family, or the individual bearing the family name last, was subject to continual and inevitable misfortune.
[4] The carrying of the deceased round the cross, before internment, was done with the view of procuring a more speedy release of the soul from purgatory - a Popish custom, which, however, was long practised after the Reformation, and, even by Protestants. The cross in Eyam churchyard is considered to be the richest embellished cross, probably in all England. The figures, scrolls, and the interlacing, are without parallel in any other cross which has been described. The celebrated Nash, some twenty years since, took a tolerably correct sketch of Eyam Cross, which has been engraved, and much admired; but the most correct sketch of this beautiful specimen of antiquity was taken very recently by J. A. Warwick, Esq., which has been beautifully engraved, and is sold at Mr. R. Keene's Repository of Arts, Derby.
[5] Eaver, means ever-water; Eyam, water place.
[6] Salt Pan is the rather uncouth name of a long and deep chasm in a rock, very secluded, and contiguous to Eyam.
[7] Gother-edge is the name of an out-of-the-world house and farm on the verge of Eyam Moor. The word Gother is Celtic and means red, or red edge - quite descriptive of this place.

Editorial Note:
This is a ripping yarn, and was much more fun to transcribe than some of the other Stafford material, but there are several features which don't tie in with demonstrable historical fact. For instance, Wood himself, in The Rectors section of his History and Antiquities of Eyam quotes the Rectors for the period in question (1569 to 1604) as being Patrick Cheney (-1584) and Thomas Middleton (-1613). Robert Talbot, who the writer places as a contemporary of the heroine of this tale, followed Middleton in 1613, and his burial is recorded in 1630 in the first extant Eyam parish register. At best, he could have been Thomas Middleton's curate, but perhaps more tellingly, Humphrey Stafford, father of the four lovely daughters, “Alice, Gertrude, Ann, and Katherine, vieing with each other in their attentions to his even half-suggested wishes” was dead by 18 Oct 1556 according to his brother Roland's Will, and C.E.B. Bowles's interpretation. Whilst a fifth, elder daughter is a possibility, she is not mentioned in any original source documents.

Transcribed by Rosemary Lockie in July 2001 from photocopies.

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