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Shirley, who died in 1787, having been owner thereof.' This long continuance of ownership is mentioned by Dugdale, who says, in his Warwickshire, that 'Etington is the only place in the county which could glory in an uninterrupted succession of its owners for so long a space of time.' The above-mentioned Sewallus founded and endowed the Church of Nether Etington. He had large possessions; his estate in this place only amounting to seventeen hides of land, whence he must have been no less than a thane in the time of the Saxons, which was the same degree of honour among them as a baron or peer of England after the Norman Conquest.
Sir Thomas Shirley, Knt., M.P. for the county of Warwick, in the fourteenth year of Edward 111., is said to be the great founder of the family of Shirley, famous in his time for his valour, and for the many services he rendered to the Kings of England against the French.' His son and successor, Sir Hugh Shirley, Knt., was made grand falconer to Henry iv. in 1400. He was killed fighting on the side of the same monarch at the battle of Shrewsbury, being one of those who were habited as the king, and taken for him by the opposite party. Shakspeare, in the first part of King Henry iv. Act v. sc. 4, makes Douglas, when fighting and nearly worsting the king, thus accosted by Prince Henry :
* Hold up thy head, vile Scot! or thou art like
It is the Prince of Wales that threatens thee,
Sir Ralph Shirley, son and successor of Sir Thomas, was one of the chief commanders under Henry v. at Agincourt
By the marriage of Sir Henry Shirley, Bart., with the Lady Dorothy, youngest daughter and co-heir of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex and Lord Ferrers of Chartley (the favourite minister of Queen Elizabeth), the present Earl Ferrers enjoys Chartley and twelve other manors in the county of Stafford. By this alliance the Earls of Ferrers quarter the arms of France and England with their own; the Earl of Essex having descended maternally from Richard Plantagenet, Earl of Cambridge, grandson of Edward 11. (Burke).
Sir Robert Shirley, who founded the church at Staunton Harold in 1653, was the youngest son by the above marriage. He was a zealous royalist, who was committed to the Tower by the usurper Cromwell, May 4, 1650. He was condemned to close imprisonment; and having remained there for some months, but nothing being proved against him to warrant his detention, after several petitions he was set at liberty, that he might be able to furnish the thirteen horses and arms charged by the Parliament on his estate. Sir Robert's building of the church was in those fanatic times hypocritically made a fault; for Beck says: 'It being told the usurping power then reigning that Sir Robert Shirley had built a church, they directed
an order of council to him to fit out a ship, saying, he that could afford to build a church could no doubt afford to equip a man-of-war.' Sir Robert appears to have been altogether imprisoned in the Tower seven times, where he died November 6, 1656, in his twenty-eighth year, not without a suspicion of having been poisoned by his enemies. A funeral sermon was preached from Luke vii. 5, 'He loved our country much, and hath built us a synagogue.' In a book at Staunton, wherein are kept a number of official letters signed by Charles I. to one of his lordship’s ancestors, is a letter of condolence written by Charles 11. to Dame Catherine Shirley after the death of her husband. All that Charles, however, did for the family on his restoration, to recompense their losses sustained in the cause of his father, was to create the next heir Master of the Horse and Steward of the Household to his Queen Catherine of Spain ; and to make him a present of his own portrait (a small full length, highly finished), and five other pictures (King Charles's Beauties), being duplicates of ladies of his Court, by Sir Peter Lely. The last-mentioned nobleman was, September 13, 1711, advanced to the dignity of Viscount Tamworth and Earl Ferrers.
Some years after this, the annals of the family were stained by the records of a foul and brutal murder, committed by Laurence fourth Earl of Ferrers on the body of his aged land-steward, named Johnson, in January 1760. Lord Ferrers, who was a man of violent and ungovernable temper, and of whose brutality there are many instances on
record, had behaved to his wife with such cruelty as to oblige her to apply to Parliament for redress, when was passed an Act for allowing her a separate maintenance, to be raised out of his lordship's estates, and Johnson was appointed receiver of the rents. At this time he stood high in Lord Ferrers' opinion ; but he, suspecting that Johnson had combined with the trustees to disappoint him in a contract for coal mines, thenceforth spoke of him as a villain. He gave him warning to quit a farm which he held of his lordship; but finding that the trustees under the Act of Separation had already granted a lease of it, he was annoyed, and from that moment meditated cruel revenge.
However, the Earl so craftily dissembled, that Johnson imagined he was never on better terms with his master; and having arranged with him to come to Staunton on Friday, January 18, 1760, he went, and was admitted into the presence of the Earl, who had contrived to send all the persons from the house except three female servants. When the Earl and Johnson were together, his lordship ordered him to settle an account, and soon after presented him a paper purporting to be a confession of his villany, which he required him to sign. This Johnson refused ; and on expostulating with his lordship, the latter drew a pistol from his pocket, and bade him kneel down. He knelt on one knee, when Lord Ferrers cried out so loudly as to be heard by a servant at the kitchen-door, ‘Down on your other knee. Declare what you have acted against Lord Ferrers. Your time is come ; you must die!' And immediately firing the
pistol, the ball entered his body under the last rib. He did not fall; but expressing both by looks and words the sensations of a dying man, the Earl, though he had intended to shoot Johnson, felt involuntary remorse, and ordered the servants to assist him into bed. A surgeon was sent for ; but not arriving till the evening, the Earl had himself applied a pledget dipped in Arquebusade water. On the arrival of the surgeon, the Earl told him Johnson was a villain who deserved to die ; but as he had spared his life, he desired him to do all he could for him.
From this time, Lord Ferrers, who had been sober when he shot Johnson, continued to drink strong beer till he became drunk; and giving way to violent fits of rage, he came into the room where the dying man lay, and pulled him by the wig, calling him Villain,' and again threatening to shoot him, while he was with difficulty prevented tearing off the bedclothes to strike him. Nor would he consent to his being removed to his own house at Lount, declaring that he would keep him there to plague him. In the night, however, Johnson was removed to his own house, where he died at nine o'clock next morning. Horace Walpole relates the circumstances with some difference, telling
the Earl sent away all his servants but one, and, like that heroic murderess Queen Christina, carried the poor man through a gallery and several rooms, locking them after him, and then bade the man kneel down, for he was determined to kill him. The poor creature flung himself at his feet, but in vain, was shot, and lived twelve hours. Mad