Tancred, Christopher (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 55
Tancred, Christopher

by William Carr
1904 Errata appended.

TANCRED, CHRISTOPHER (1689–1754), benefactor, born on 11 Nov. 1689 at Whixley, was the second son of Christopher Tancred of Whixley, Yorkshire, by his second wife, Catherine, daughter of Sir John Armytage of Kirklees. His father was in 1685–6 high sheriff of Yorkshire, and was master of the harriers to William III (Hist. MSS. Comm. 14th Rep. vi. 166); his great-grandfather, Sir Richard Tancred, had as a royalist compounded for his estates under the Commonwealth, and was knighted by Charles II for his services and sufferings during the rebellion.

Christopher had some training as a lawyer (Essay for a General Regulation of the Law, pref.), but after his father's death, on 21 Nov. 1705, he spent most of his time at Whixley, performing the duties of a county justice (ib.) In 1727 he published an ‘Essay for a General Regulation of the Law and the more easy and speedy Advancement of Justice,’ addressed to the lord chancellor, Lord King, in which he elaborated a plan of reform more than a century in advance of his age. He called for the abolition of special bail in civil cases, the simplification of pleadings, the abolition of the more intricate forms of writs, the shortening of interlocutory orders in chancery, the payment of salaries to the judges, the relief of debtors from perpetual punishment, the simplification of conveyancing, the establishment of a general register recording real property securities and the encumbrances thereon, and the lessening of the fees and limiting of the numbers of ‘those upright dealers and worthy patriots called attorneys-at-law.’

With his character of law reformer Tancred combined that of racing-man and horse-dealer. He spent part of his time at Newmarket, where he possessed a small property, which he ultimately left to Christ's College, Cambridge, for the purpose of endowing an exhibition, and in 1734 he served the minister of the Duke of Mecklenburg then resident in London as ‘gentleman of the horse and domestick,’ and was employed to buy horses for the minister (orders of appointment by Gerhard Hoppman, minister, in the possession of the clerk to Tancred's charities).

Tancred died at Whixley, unmarried, on 21 Aug. 1754, leaving a curious instruction that his body should not be put under ground. This has been literally obeyed, as his coffin stood for some time in the hall of the house, then in the wine-cellar, and now is contained in a sarcophagus in the chapel attached to the house.

Tancred is said to have determined to disinherit his five sisters owing to some monetary disagreement with them. In 1721 he settled his property in trust, in default of male issue, to the use of the masters of Christ's and Gonville and Caius Colleges, Cambridge, the president of the College of Physicians, the treasurer of Lincoln's Inn, the master of the Charterhouse, and the governors of Chelsea Hospital and the Royal Hospital, Greenwich, and their successors, for the foundation of twelve Tancred studentships, for which purpose 50l. apiece was to be paid to twelve young persons of ‘such low abilities as not to be capable of obtaining the education.’ Four were to be educated in the study of divinity at Christ's College, four in the study of physic at Gonville and Caius, and four in the study of the common law at Lincoln's Inn. By a further trust 20l. apiece was to be paid to twelve decayed gentlemen, clergymen, commission land officers or sea officers of fifty years of age or more, and provision was made that these twelve persons should live in the manor-house, which should be called Tancred's Hospital, and its inmates Tancred's pensioners. In his will, dated 20 May 1746, this settlement was recited, and the trustees were further desired to uphold the stone wall round the park and the head of fallow deer therein. His carefully devised trust has, however, not escaped alteration. His death was followed by a lawsuit, in which the trustees succeeded in establishing the trust on 8 Nov. 1757. A private act of parliament (2 Geo. III, cap. 15) was subsequently passed by which the trustees were incorporated, and were authorised to make rules concerning the charity and to dispark Whixley and sell the deer. Complaints as to the administration of the fund were made in 1867, and the charity commissioners, on the application of the governors (13 Jan. 1872), approved and established the scheme under which the charity with regard to the pensioners is now worked. By this the hospital was closed after 1 June 1872, annuities were given to existing pensioners, and it was provided that 80l per annum should in the future be paid to out-pensioners of the same class.

A full-length portrait of Tancred, a photograph of which is contained in Hailstone's 'Yorkshire Worthies,' hangs in the manor-house, Whixley, which is now occupied by a bailiff on behalf of the governors.

[Foster's County Families of the West Hiding of Yorkshire; Hargreave's Hist. Knaresborough; information kindly afforded by G. E. Frere, esq., clerk to Tancred's Charities.]

W. C.-r.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.262
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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353 i 12 Tancred, Christopher: for Hargreave's read Hargrove's