Sheffield the Home of the Talbots
Having glanced at Hallamshire in the days of semi-savage life, of Roman occupation, of English mastery, of Norman conquest under the de Lovetots, and the de Furnival succession under the Plantagenet kings, a last personal chapter must tell how the Earls of Shrewsbury carried the lordship of Hallamshire through the York and Lancaster periods to Tudor times, when, with growing public liberties, the influence of even the most powerful families waned, and the story of Sheffield, ceasing to be personal, began almost entirely to concern the people as a whole.
John Talbot, the first Earl of Shrewsbury, was plain John Talbot when he married Maud de Nevil and by doing so inherited the Sheffield lordship and became eligible for Parliament. He was called to Parliament as Lord Furnival. It was not until 32 years later that he was created Earl of Shrewsbury; but in the meantime he had made the name of Talbot known throughout Europe.
Most doughty of hand, and fiercest in fight;
Most dread of all other with Frenchmen in war,
said one of the rhymes of the times, and not only did French mothers for generations keep their babies quiet by saying, "Talbot is coming," but to this day legends concerning him are retold in rural France.
Though he was lord of Hallamshire he had no extended acquaintance with his manor of Sheffield, for his life was spent in the King's service at home and abroad. Before joining in the French war that was notable for the campaign of Joan of Arc, he was Lord-Lieutenant and Lord-Justice of Ireland. His fiery valour soon made him the most prominent man in the army that was striving in vain to hold the English possessions in France, and he became its commander-in-chief; but at the battle of Patay, in 1429, he was surprised and captured by the French.
The story of his prowess on that occasion is told in the opening lines of Shakespeare's 1 Henry VI, I. i. The French asked such high terms for his ransom that he was not redeemed from captivity for three or four years, though subscriptions were started for the purpose in various parts of England by his admiring countrymen. It was during this period of Talbot's imprisonment that Joan of Arc was tried and burned by the English at Rouen, so his memory is free from the stain of that cruel deed.
On his release, Talbot immediately joined the English army and spread terror wherever he went, though his country, by the natural force of circumstances, was losing gradually its hold on French territory. The great Shrewsbury ended his life in a way that suited his career as the first soldier in Europe. In 1453, when he was old and grey in the King's service, he was surprised by the French at Chatillon, and in a desperate encounter with overwhelming numbers was slain with one of his sons. His body was found so covered with wounds as to be scarcely recognisable. According to tradition he had a faithful body-guard of Hallamshire men who, almost to the last man, perished with him.
His son John held the lordship of Hallamshire only seven years before he fell in the Wars of the Roses, fighting for the red rose of Lancaster at the battle of Northampton. He had been Lord Treasurer of England, and had served his King both in Ireland and France.
Another John, grandson of the great earl, succeeded to the lordship. When he died at the age of 26 he had already been knighted on the battlefield for bravery. These Talbots were a fighting family.
His son George, who was only five years old when his father died, held the Sheffield estate for 70 years, and became one of the most prominent men who in those far off days made Sheffield their home. As a child he was reared by a sister of Warwick, "the king-maker," and it was arranged that when he was grown up he should marry his foster-mother's daughter Ann. This he did, and then settled down to make Sheffield the chief home of his family, for before him they had regarded Shropshire as the county with which they were chiefly connected.
This George, the fourth Earl of Shrewsbury, had a family of twelve children, and the Castle near Lady's Bridge proved too small and cramped for them, though the gardens and orchards beyond the battlements, where the Castlefold market is now held, covered fourteen acres, so he built a handsome and convenient country house about two miles away on a hill in Sheffield Park, and called it the Manor House. Remnants of this mansion, which, with its out-buildings, occupied several acres, can be seen to this day. The Manor House, or Lodge, as it was sometimes called, was finely furnished, and became the home of the family in preference to the Castle, for that stronghold had not been built for comfort, but for safety.
Living at times in his frowning castle and at times in his pleasant country scat, the fourth Earl of Shrewsbury was one of the most splendid noblemen of his generation. He was Lord Steward of the King's household, and he kept order in the country from the Trent to Scotland, as Lieutenant-General of the North. Evidently he was a man of shrewd foresight, for he foresaw the suppression of the monasteries by Henry VIII, and the seizure by that King of the lands held by the Church. He was prudent enough to prepare for this coming change, and sufficiently grasping to profit by it.
Recognising that the burial place of the lords of Hallamshire, Worksop Priory, would not be available much longer, he built in the Sheffield Parish Church a chapel to serve as the last, resting place of himself, his family, and their descendants. There he laid the Countess Ann, the mother of eleven of his children, and prepared a tomb also for his second wife, Elizabeth; and there he was himself interred. Ever since, the Shrewsbury Chapel has been the most visited part of Sheffield Parish Church. Though it contains an effigy of the Earl's second wife, as well as of his first wife, the Countess Elizabeth is not buried there, as any one looking at the monument would suppose. She outlived her husband 18 years, and her grave is in Kent, the county from which she came.
Some of the earlier lords of Hallamshire, as has already been mentioned, endowed the abbeys in the district around Sheffield with farming estates, but George Talbot lived to see many of these lands confiscated by Henry VIII and given away to his friends, and Talbot was quite willing to have his share. Among the lands that were taken in this way from the religious houses and added to his great possessions were some that had belonged to Welbeck Abbey.
The Manor House, once the splendid family residence of the Shrewsburys, overlooking a noble park with its deer counted by the thousand, and connected with the castle below by a great avenue of walnut trees, is at the present time only a fragment of ruin, on a hillside scarred with coal-mines and crowded below with the dwellings of the poor; but it will always have a place in history because of two people who stayed in it. The first, who came during the lifetime of the fourth Earl, was Thomas Wolsey, the proud Cardinal who rose by winning the favour of Henry VIII till he became one of the most powerful men in Europe, and then fell through incurring the dislike of Anne Boleyn, the lady who became King Henry's second wife. The other was Mary, Queen of Scots. But each of these visitors must have a separate chapter in our story when we have followed the Shrewsbury family to the end of its association with Sheffield.
The fifth Earl, Francis by name, the son of George, was born in Sheffield Castle, died at the Manor, and was buried in the Parish Church in the vault prepared by his father. His funeral was one of the most gorgeous ceremonies ever seen in Sheffield. His lordship in Hallamshire extended from 1538 to 1560, and covered a most difficult period in English history. It included the last years of Henry VIII, the reigns of Edward VI and Mary, and the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth. During this time the religion of the country was wavering between the old Roman Catholicism and the new Protestantism. Henry VIII was a Catholic only as far as Catholicism allowed him to have his own way. He never was a Protestant. Edward was a Protestant, Mary a Catholic, and Elizabeth a Protestant. Francis, Earl of Shrewsbury, contrived to be friendly with each in succession. He accommodated himself to every change, and remained Lieutenant-General of the North as his father had been before him. Really he was a Catholic. Still, that did not prevent him from receiving the abbey-lands of Beauchief and other spoils of the Church.
In George, the son of Francis, the Shrewsbury family attained a prominence almost equal to that which it reached during the lifetime of the first earl, John Talbot. This sixth earl married first a lady of the Manners family, a daughter of the Earl of Rutland, and when she died, he became, "in an evil hour," as he afterwards said, the fourth husband of the remarkable woman known as "Bess of Hardwick."
This lady, Elizabeth Hardwick, had married first Mr. Robert Barlow, of Barlow, near Chesterfield; then she married Sir William Cavendish, the founder of the family of which the Duke of Devonshire is now the head; and next Sir William Saint-Loe, captain of Queen Elizabeth's guard. The passions of her life were, first, to marry her children (sons and daughters of Sir William Cavendish) into great families, and second, to build splendid mansions. She succeeded so well that she founded the ducal families of Devonshire and of Newcastle, and built mansions at Chatsworth, Bolsover, Hardwick, Worksop, and Oldcotes. One of her daughters, whom she married into the Stuart family, was the mother of Lady Arabella Stuart, on whose behalf a claim was afterwards advanced to the English crown, and who in consequence died imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Ambitious and unscrupulous, "Bess of Hardwick" saw clearly that the great Sheffielder, George, sixth Earl of Shrewsbury, was by birth, wealth, and character, the first nobleman of the realm. When the Earl proposed to marry her, she made it a condition of accepting him that their children should intermarry, the Earl's son, Gilbert Talbot, taking her daughter, Mary Cavendish, as his wife, and her son, Henry Cavendish, taking the Earl's daughter, Grace Talbot, as his wife. The Earl agreed to this, whereupon, in her fiftieth year, she married him. The children had also been married. What they thought of the arrangement we do not know.
The marriage with the scheming "Bess" was most unhappy after a few years had passed. As one of her biographers has said - "A woman of masculine understanding, proud, furious, selfish, and unfeeling, she was a builder, a buyer and seller of estates, a moneylender, a farmer, and a merchant of lead, coals, and timber; when disengaged from these employments she intrigued alternately with Elizabeth and with Mary Queen of Scots, always to the prejudice and terror of her husband." Once Queen Elizabeth committed her to the Tower for three months, and many times she deserved it. She outlived her last husband sixteen years. When she died she was enormously rich. Her continuous building is said to have been due to a superstitious belief that while she continued to build she would continue to live; and, curiously, she died during a hard frost when her builders could not continue the work upon which her heart was set.
Soon after the marriage of the sixth Earl of Shrewsbury to this remarkable woman, Queen Elizabeth committed to his care Mary, Queen of Scots, a rival for the throne, and he kept her in safe custody for nearly sixteen years, much of the time in Sheffield Manor. He was immensely relieved when he was allowed to pass her on to another custodian. Two and a half years later he presided at her execution. He had also presided at the trial of the Duke of Norfolk, who was beheaded for conspiring with Mary, Queen of Scots, against Queen Elizabeth.
After the death of Norfolk, Shrewsbury succeeded to the office of Earl Marshal. He was Lord-Lieutenant of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, and Staffordshire. A loyal and prudent man, he served Queen Elizabeth with unshaken fidelity. His relations with his Hallamshire tenantry were not very cordial in the early part of his life, as he held his tenants strictly to such feudal usages as paying towards his daughters' dowers. He died at Sheffield Manor, in November, 1590, and his funeral at the Parish Church is said to have been witnessed by 20,000 people. The Latin inscription on his monument in the Church, a monument erected by himself in his lifetime, was written by John Fox, the author of the Book of Martyrs.
Gilbert, the seventh Earl of Shrewsbury, and the last to be associated with Sheffield, succeeded his father. The quarrels in the family stirred up by Gilbert's mother-in-law, "Bess of Hardwick," were continued after the death of the sixth Earl, and Gilbert was also on such bad terms with his tenantry that the Queen herself intervened and suggested that he should "ease their hardships." He lived chiefly at Sheffield Castle - the last of his line to live there. When he died, in 1616, it was found that his will contained a bequest for the building of a hospital for twenty-four poor persons, but there.
was no money available for the purpose, and the hospital - now called the Shrewsbury Hospital - was not begun till 1665, when the earl's great-grandson redeemed the promise made in the will, and founded the hospital, not where the present hospital stands, but where the fruit market is, at the bottom of Dixon Lane, on a site which originally was in the Castle orchard. The Earl Gilbert was buried in the Parish Church, and as he had no son the property passed to his daughter, Alethea Talbot, who, ten years earlier, had married Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel and Surrey.
This nobleman was the grandson of the Duke of Norfolk who had been beheaded for plotting to place Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne. The Duke's property had been forfeited and his family titles abolished. When, however, James I, who was the son of Mary Queen of Scots, became King of England, he restored to the Howards the titles of Earls of Arundel and Surrey, with a small part of the property, and Thomas Howard became comparatively rich through his marriage with the Lady Alethea Talbot. The marriage, too, was a very happy one. The Earl, a man of high character and fine taste, lived much abroad and died in Italy. He was created Earl of Norfolk in 1644, and to his grandson was restored the Dukedom of Norfolk in the reign of Charles II. Since that time the manorial rights of Sheffield have followed the title of Duke of Norfolk, as it has passed through different branches of the Howard family.
From this point the story of Sheffield ceases to be so largely personal. The Dukes of Norfolk, while still holding rich estates, through the Talbots, Furnivals, and Lovetots, who received the estates as gifts from various kings, are no longer lords of Hallamshire, with large powers of control over the community. They are in the ranks of the citizens, where they retain much influence by a quick sense of public duty. Feudal usages vanished about the time when the Howards became associated with Sheffield, and the town began to organize its public life and its trade on independent lines.