Old Halls, Manors and Families of Derbyshire

by Joseph Tilley

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 1999-2008

Volume I, The High Peak Hundred
Haddon Hall

EVERY famous family of England has its romance, and the history of the House of Vernon is a series of romances. In the thirteenth century there was a Ralph Vernon, Rector of Hanwell, and Baron of Shipbroke,[1] who quietly set aside his vow of celibacy and made a match of it with Cecilia Crew (Lysons says there was no marriage certificate), and became the father of a son, who has given to the pedigree of the Shipbroke branch of his race that air of mystery and delicacy usually spoken of with incredulity and whisper. This son inherited the possessions of his father, and lived for one hundred and fifty years - all authorities so allow,[2] which is only the Curious part of the business. They allow, too, that he espoused Mary Dacre, and had legitimate issue; but it appears there was a buxom widow (Maud Grosvenor) by whom he also had issue, and this issue, on the death of the grandson of this venerable Baron, came in for the Barony, for there was a law suit by which they contested it and got it, for the legitimate line was adjudged Haslington. We will have a gossip of these matters perchance under Hazlebadge.

Many sweet tints of an exquisite little romance have obscured the memorabilia of Haddon Hall and prevented them being known; but a knowledge of them only tends to invest its precincts with still greater interest, and lends an additional beauty to her whose love has hallowed its threshold. We will glance at a few of them.

It was from the portals of this splendid old baronial residence that the Vernons, of Sudbury, Tong, Stokesay, and Hodnet went forth. We have before us the shield of this illustrious family, with its hundred quarterings, in which we recognise those of twenty-three Baronies, twenty-three Earldoms, one Dukedom, and one of Princely distinction. Their vast estates came to them by alliance with the heiresses of the Avenells, Camviles, Stackpoles, Pembruges, and Swynfens. We would correct an error made by many very learned authorities that Sir William Vernon, in the reign of Henry VI., married Margaret Pipe; this lady was Margaret Swynfen, heiress of the Pipes. Both Lysons and Burke are very clear on this fact, though we believe it tripped the celebrated Dugdale.

Was it not in keeping with the traditions of both their houses that the affection of Dorothy Vernon and John Manners should be given to one another? The splendour of the House of Manners rose from heiresses even then. Eleanor Roos had brought them the Baronies of Vaux, Trushbut, and Belvoir, with its glorious Castle, together with a coronet. Anne St Leger (niece of Edward IV.) gave them relationship with the Plantagenets; Royal augmentation to shield, afterwards enhanced by an Earldom; and so Dorothy piled on her Derbyshire estates, and her womanly heart. How the Earldom of Rutland devolved upon their grandson was an incident which partakes of the marvellous. He became heir-apparent when there was scarcely the remotest prospect of such an event. Briefly instanced the facts are these:- In the year 1613, the two sons of the Earl mysteriously died, leaving him childless. The doctors could assign no reason, but it was ultimately discovered (so say certain State papers) that the boys had met their death from witchcraft. How Margaret and Philippa Flowers confessed their guilt and were hanged at Lincoln; how their mother said if she was guilty she hoped she might die, and immediately fell dead; and how King James and the Parliament of England were so satisfied of these women's crime that they passed the memorable statute against such occult practices, is to be found in our law books.[3] Among the committee of the Lords who framed this most superstitious of statutes were twelve bishops, and among the members of the Commons who passed it were Sir Francis Bacon and Sir John Coke. There is another incident of the House of Manners, told by old Leland, which is as incredible, but which will serve to illustrate the fact that this patrician house has a pedigree back to the old Earls of Mercia, who were petty sovereigns before England was a kingdom or Normandy a dukedom. Alfred the Third (of Mercia) being on a visit to the castle of D'Albini (which stood, we believe, on the site of Belvoir), appeared so enamoured of his daughters as to excite a suspicion in their father that he had entertained designs against the virtue of one of them, though he was at a loss to discover which. However, he one morning entered the apartment of the King, leading his eldest daughter naked with one hand and holding a drawn sword in the other; he was followed by his wife, leading the second daughter, and his son the third, both in like manner naked. And D'Albini, having informed the King of his apprehensions, required him immediately to declare if they were well founded, in which case he was determined to put them all to death before his face. But if, on the contrary, his intentions were honourable, he required him to make choice of one of them for his wife. The King was so affected with the solemnity of this expostulation that, determining to quiet the apprehensions of D'Albini, he immediately declared his resolution to make the second daughter his Queen.[4]

Edmund Lodge, the Norray King at Arms, dug out from the Talbot Papers several letters of great interest relating to Derbyshire History, one of which we will transcribe, as it is signed by Roger Manners, the brother of Dorothy's John, and states the fact that one of the ladies of this illustrious family ran away with the gentlemen she was fond of, to the great displeasure of Queen Elizabeth. The letter is dated 20th September, 1594:-

“I most humbly thank your Lordship and my Lady for this fat stag, which is very well baked; but that the pasties be so great that I have no dish that will hold them Mr. Bucknall thanketh your Lordship for the stag's head, which he is contented shall be placed on his head whensoever he doth marry; in the meantime he will place it not in the stables, but upon the entry of his house instead of a porter, and so he saith it shall be monument.

“Touching the matter of my Lady Bridget's marriage, Her Majesty taketh it for a great offence, and so as I hear, she mindeth to punish, according to her pleasure, fiat. I am now not so discontented that my credit is no greater with the Countess (of Bedford), unless her Ladyship would be advised; she hath almost marred a good cause with evil handling, and truly she never vouchsafed to send to me in that cause, nor once to speak to me thereof when I was last with her Ladyship, so as I am ignorant of what course she holdeth therein; and yet my Lady Bridget, in her journey to my Lady of Bedford's, did vouchsafe a lodging in this poor cottage, where she was to me very welcome, and when it shall please them to command me I shall be ready to do them service. I thank your Lordship for your Irish news. I am so long a countryman as I am clean forgotten in Court, and, seldom hear hence, wherewith I am nothing displeased, and yet about a fortnight hence I mean to go towards London, and to go by my Lady of Bedford's to see my Lady Bridget. Thus recommending my duty to your Lordship and my honourable good Lady, I wish to both all honour and contentation.”

The beauty of Dorothy Vernon's love comes out splendidly when compared with the spurious fidelity of a lady who was mistress of Haddon exactly a century later. She was Anne Pierpont, daughter of the Marquis of Dorchester and wife of John Manners, ninth Earl of Rutland. Her children were pronounced by Act of Parliament, bearing date 8th February, 1667, to be illegitimate. Three years later there was another Act passed which allowed the Earl to marry again. How memorable this last Act was can only be thoroughly realised by the historical student, for the Canon Law of the Church prohibited a divorced man the solace of a second union, and this setting aside the Canon Law by legislation was only the second instance in the history of the nation.

The earliest document relating to Haddon is one written in the reign of Richard I., and signed by his brother John, which gave authority to Richard Vernon to fortify his house with a wall, a portion of which is still to be seen. This was almost seven centuries ago, and immediately after the death of Sir William Avenell, whose daughter and co-heiress, Avicia, Vernon had espoused. Her sister Elizabeth married Ralph Basset, feudal Lord of Sapcote. History is silent about the Avenells, excepting their bequests to the Church. They gave One Ash to Roche Abbey and Conksbury to the Monks at Leicester. They were probably mesne tenants under the Peverells, and afterwards tenants in chief of the Crown. The Vernons were Lords of Vernon in Normandy before the Conquest, and after the victory of Hastings they were made Barons of Shipbroke, in Cheshire. The motto was and is Vernon semper viret, and one of the family seems very likely to have verified it in himself, for, according to Edmondson and other heraldic authorities, he lived through five generations and then thought proper to die. This was in the reign of Edward II. Quaint old Fuller renders and punctuates the motto:- Ver non semper floret; and adds, “So ill it is to trust in the spring of human felicity”. Burke recounts there were fourteen generations of Vernons who were Lords of Haddon. Lysons shows fifteen, because Richard Vernon, the first holder, had only a daughter by Avicia Avenell, whose son by Gilbert le Franceys retained his mother's name. This fact Burke suppresses, but why should he do so?[5]

The Inq. Post Mort., 4 Edward I., shew a moiety of the Manor of Nether Haddon with Robert de Derley. We believe the de Derleys at the time were holding a moiety of the town of Nether Haddon, as we glean from the Quo Warranto Rolls; but without the de Derleys were tenants under the Bassets, which is improbable, the entry is difficult of explanation.

The Vernons were more distinguished as warriors than statesmen. During the Wars of the Roses they were staunch adherents to the House of York, which fact Shakespeare has immortalised in his description of the quarrel between the Earls of Somerset and Warwick. The scene is in the Temple Gardens, and the hostile nobles, who have plucked different coloured roses as future badges, Vernon thus addresses:

Stay, lords and gentlemen, and pluck no more
Till you conclude that he upon whose side
The fewest roses are cropp'd from the tree
Shall yield the other in the right opinion.

SOMERSET: Good Master Vernon, it is well objected;
If I have fewest, I subscribe in silence.

VERNON: Then, for the truth and plainness of the case,
I pluck this pale and maiden blossom here,
Giving my verdict on the white rose side.


SOMERSET: Prick not your finger as you pluck it off,
Lest, bleeding, you do paint the white rose red,
And fall on my side so, against your will.

VERNON: If I, my lord, for my opinion bleed,
Opinion shall be surgeon to my hurt
And keep me on the side where still I am.

- I HENRY VI., Act II., Scene 4.

When the battle of Bosworth utterly crushed the cause of the Yorkists, the Vernons were not disturbed in their possession of Haddon, but were actually (within a few years) made the governors of Prince Arthur.[6] The Plumptons, of Hassop, had poured out their blood for the House of Lancaster, yet the monarch they had helped to place upon the throne allowed his nefarious ministers, Empson and Dudley, to ruin them. The Bassets, of Bubnell and Blore (relatives of the Vernons), fought valiantly for Henry Tudor, but he did not give them back their Barony of Sapcote, for it remains in abeyance to this day These are facts that never extort a remark from the compilers of Derbyshire history.

In the south-west angle of the chancel of the Chapel at Haddon there is an ecclesiastical curiosity too frequently overlooked by even lovers of the place. We refer to the “Squint”. We know of no other in the Peak of Derbyshire. Some of out readers may not be aware that a squint allows a view of anyone in the building, and yet the beholder cannot he seen. How often may not John Manners have appeased the yearnings of his heart from here by a look at his Dorothy? We find from the Register of Chapel-en-le-Frith that the Vernons, of Hazlebadge, one of the branches of the Haddon family, were not extinct until the end of the seventeenth century. The present noble resident at Sudbury is not only the representative of the Vernons, of Haddon, but, says Forster, of a branch older, and moreover (which is extraordinary) of “three out of the eight Barons of the Palatine of Chester, created by Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester, viz., Venerables, Baron of Kinderton; Vernon, Baron of Shipbroke; and Warren, Baron of Stockport”.

There is a fact which illustrates the lovable character of Dorothy Vernon that her greatest admirers too often forget. Her husband was a squire simply, and remained so until twenty years after her decease.

Haddon, with its various styles of architecture, whether Norman, Early English, Decorative, Perpendicular, or Renaissance; with its gobelin tapestry and fixtures of the Middle Ages, makes us feel thankful that none of its noble owners have ever patronised the improver, and thankful, too, for their courtesy in allowing such an inestimable pleasure as a visit to its old baronial halls.

This building is of very great interest to the student of antiquity, from its state of preservation, illustrating so thoroughly the baronial mansion of the Middle Ages, with its Chapel, Banqueting Hall, and State Bed-chamber. Rayner, in his History and Antiquities of Haddon Hall, tells a rich story of old times (the story was told to Rayner by William Hage, the Guide, “a descendant of John Ward, who, in 1527, was deer-keeper to the Lord of Haddon” . . . “who was turned out of the family six times for drinking too much, and at length died drunk. His son, however, succeeded him in his office; and his posterity in the female line have continued in the service of the proprietors of Haddon Hall to the present time.” We, believe this guide is still alive, at a very advanced age, living at Clay Cross).

“A great butcher, who used to fit the family at Haddon with small meat, a fat man weighing eighteen stone, named John Taylor, from Darley Dale, came at Christmas time, when they were keeping open house; and the old Earl's wife would not let the butter go into the larder till she had seen it, so it remained in the old family hall (the Banqueting Hall) and stood there for some hours. The butlers (of whom there were two, one for the small-beer cellar and the other for the strong) had for several weeks before missed two pounds of butter every week, and they could not think what had become of it, or who had taken it, so they determined to watch, one butler spying through the little door, and the other through the great door, when presently the great butcher came as usual for orders for small meat; and after looking round he lays his fingers upon the butter, and pops one pound of butter within his coat on one side, and another pound on the other side. This was observed, and the butler from the strong beer cellar came up to the butcher saying, 'Jack, it is Christmas time - I have a famous jack of strong beer and you shall have it before you go. Sit you down by the kitchen fire.' He sat there awhile, when the butler, handing him the flagon, said, 'Don't be afraid of it, I will fetch some more.' And as he sat near the fire, the butter on one side melting with the heat, began to trickle down his breeches into his shoes. 'Why Jack,' said the butler, 'you seem a great deal fatter on one side than the other. Turn yourself round, you must be starved on one side.' He was obliged to comply, and presently the butter ran down that side also; and afterwards, as he walked up the Hall, the melted butter ran over the tops of his shoes. The Earl, says Hage, made a laughing-stock of it, but if such a thing was to be done in these days, the man would be turned out of the family”. This nobleman was the grandson of our Dorothy, and his lady was Elizabeth, daughter of Lord Montagu.

The old doorway yonder leads into the Court-yard, where the squires and the host of retainers wearing the livery of their lord were wont to congregate; where the neighbouring knights and ladies met before an hawking expedition. How it makes us want to know them as Pepys and Evelyn have made us familiar with the Cavaliers of the Stuarts; yet what a link with past ages is its masonry. It was standing when an English was spoken which would be unintelligible to us; when John of Gaunt was dangling after Elizabeth Swynford; when it was a crime to wear satin or damask, or silk, or chamlet, or taffeta, or velvet, or a coat with sleeves, or “any fur, whereof the like kind groweth not in England, Calais, Berwick, or the marshes of the same”.


[1] Woodnoth's “Collections”, and Lysons' “Cheshire”.
[2] Vide “Baronagium”, Vol V., p. 193; Lysons' “Cheshire”, p. 643.
[3] “State Trials”, and Nichol's “History of Leicestershire”.
[4] “Itinerary”, Vol. VIII., p. 70 b.
[5] Lysons “Mag. Brit.”, Vol. V., p. 55.
[6] See Article on Hazelbadge.

Extract from Old Halls, Manors and Families of Derbyshire, 1892.
Transcribed by Rosemary Lockie in April 1999.

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