Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ferrers, Robert (1240?-1279?)

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FERRERS, ROBERT, Earl of Derby or Ferrers (1240?–1279?), son of William Ferrers, earl of Derby, and of his wife Margaret, daughter and one of the coheiresses of Roger de Quincy, earl of Winchester, was born about 1240. When quite a child his father arranged with Henry III for his marriage with Isabella, one of the daughters of the eldest of the king's half-brothers, Hugh XI of Lusignan, count of La Marche (Vincent, Discoverie of Errours in Brooke's Catalogue of Nobility, p. 208, from Close Rolls of 33 H. III, i.e. 1248–9). On her early death her sister Mary, a girl of seven years of age, was married at Westminster to the bridegroom of nine during 1249 (Ann. de Burton. p. 285). This marriage was part of Henry's policy for providing for his needy Poitevin relatives. On 24 or 28 March (ib. p. 317; Matt. Paris, Hist. Major, v. 431) Robert's father died, and he became the king's ward. Henry granted the custody of his estates to a William de Wynton (Excerpta e Rot. Finium, ii. 183), but soon transferred the lucrative charge to his eldest son, Edward (Ann. Dunst. p. 194). In 1257, however, the queen and Peter of Savoy gave the king six thousand marks to obtain the custody of Ferrers's estates (Cal. Rot. Pat. 41 H. III, m. 9). In 1260 he performed homage and took possession of his lands (Burton. p. 491). He is then said to have ‘destroyed the priory of Tutbury’ (ib.), a family foundation at the chief residence of his house; but he ultimately issued charters confirming the grants of his predecessors to that church, and even made it an additional small grant of five marks of silver from his mills at Tutbury (Dugdale, Monasticon, iii. 388). He soon entered into public life as a champion of the baronial cause against Henry III. The king regarded with peculiar dislike his niece's husband, whose marriage connections should have brought him into the court party (Rishanger, p. 49, Rolls Ser.; Chron. de Melsa, ii. 132). On the outbreak of civil war in 1263 Ferrers took three castles from Edward, the king's son (Dunst. p. 224). On 19 Feb. he captured Worcester after a long siege and several attacks (Ann. Worcester, p. 448). He showed much violence to the conquered city, destroying the Jewry, spoiling religious and seculars alike, and devastating the king's parks (Rishanger, p. 13). By a subsequent march to Gloucester Ferrers saved the sons of Leicester from a formidable attack of Edward, captured Edward, and detained him in prison for a short time (Dunst. p. 228). In the spring of 1264 he was one of the confederate barons who refused to obey the king's writ of summons (Worcester, p. 450). He took arms and marched to Chester, where he gained a decided victory over a royalist army of Welsh and English (Dunst. p. 235); but his old opponent Edward mercilessly devastated his lands in Derbyshire and Staffordshire, and destroyed his castle of Tutbury. On 23 Aug. he was assigned with Leicester to treat of certain arduous business of state (Fœdera, i. 445), and he was one of the five earls who received summonses to the famous parliament of 20 Jan. 1265 (Liber de Ant. Leg. p. 71). He was here accused of violence and robbery after the peace, and attacked so violently by the king that Montfort to save his life shut him up in the Tower (Waverley, p. 358; Robert of Gloucester, ii. 550, ed. Hearne). It was, however, suspected by many that Ferrers had joined the Earl of Gloucester in his opposition to Montfort, and that his arrest was designed to weaken the aristocratic party that distrusted Montfort's ambition (Wykes, p. 160, holds strongly this view, which is, however, discredited by Henry's hostility). His lands were seized, he was brought to trial, and only avoided judicial condemnation by a complete submission (Cal. Rot. Pat. 49 H. III, mm. 18, 22). The fall of Montfort brought him no relief (Wykes, p. 175), and he does not seem to have been released from prison before the spring of 1266. He now, however, put himself at the head of the ‘disinherited’ whom the harsh treatment of the victors had driven into revolt, and gathered an army in his own district in Derbyshire. On 15 May he was with his troops at Chesterfield when he was surprised by Henry of Almayn, and, after a complete defeat, was himself taken prisoner as he lay helpless with gout, from which he suffered like his father and grandfather (Wykes, pp. 188–9; Cont. Flor. Wig. ii. 197; Lib. de Ant. Leg. p. 86; Robert of Gloucester, ii. 564; cf. Archæologia, ii. 276–85). He was loaded with chains and confined a prisoner in Windsor Castle. In the ‘Dictum de Kenilworth’ (29 Nov. 1266) he was, with the sons of Montfort, specially exempted from the general composition, and was required to redeem his lands by the exceptionally heavy fine of seven years' rent. On 5 Aug., however, Henry had granted his estates to his own son, Edmund of Lancaster (Cal. Rot. Pat. 50 H. III, m. 9). On 1 May 1269 Ferrers pledged himself in his prison at Chippenham to pay Edmund the enormous sum of 50,000l. on one day for his interest in his estates (Dugdale, i. 264; Knighton, c. 2438; Chron. de Melsa, ii. 132). This, however, he failed to do, so that the great mass of the Derby estates passed permanently to the house of Lancaster, as the suits which Ferrers and his widow after him brought against Earl Edmund failed to dislodge him from his possessions (see summary of the pleadings in Dugdale, Baronage, i. 264–5; and Abbreviatio Placitorum, p. 187). Ferrers took no further part in public life, though about June 1269 he was released from his prison at Wallingford by the forbearance of Edward (Dugdale, i. 264; cf. Cal. Rot. Pat. 53 H. III, m. 16) and received restitution of part of his property. His violence and want of settled policy had ruined his career, and he had long been equally distrusted by both sides (Rishanger, p. 13). Though still occasionally spoken of as earl (e.g. Cal. Genealog. p. 243 in the 4 E. I) he had practically lost that position, and his descendants were never able to win back the title now that the estates were gone to a more powerful house. He died before 20 Nov. 1279 (ib. p. 302). He directed his body to be buried at the priory of St. Thomas-by-Stafford, to the canons of which church he gave lands at Chartley and the advowson of Stow, near Chartley (Dugdale, Monasticon, vi. 472). By his second wife, Eleanor, said to have been daughter of Ralph, lord Basset (Vincent, p. 207), he left a son John, born in June 1271 at Cardiff, who succeeded to his grandmother Margaret's share of the Winchester estates (Cal. Genealogicum, pp. 464, 762), and, after joining Bohun and Bigod in the struggle for the charters, was summoned to parliament in 1299 and died in 1324. He was the ancestor of the Lords Ferrers of Chartley. A daughter of Robert Ferrers married as her second husband Davydd ab Gruffudd [q. v.]

[Annales Monastici, Rishanger's Chronicle, Chronicon de Melsa (all in Rolls Series); Liber de Antiquis Legibus, Rishanger de Bello (Camden Soc.); Continuation of Florence of Worcester (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Robert of Gloucester's Metrical Chronicle, ed. Hearne; Knighton in Twysden, Decem Scriptores; Rymer's Fœdera, vol. i.; Calendarium Rotulorum Patentium, Excerpta e Rotulis Finium, and Calendarium Genealogicum, ed. Record Commission; Dugdale's Baronage, i. 262–5; Doyle's Official Baronage, i. 549.]

T. F. T.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.122
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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387 ii 30 Ferrers, Robert, Earl of Derby: for brother read own son