Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ferne, John

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FERNE, Sir JOHN (d. 1609), writer on heraldry, was the son of William Ferne of Temple Belwood in the isle of Axholme, Lincolnshire, who came originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, by his wife Ann, daughter and heiress of John Sheffield of Beltoft, Lincolnshire. When about seventeen years of age he was sent to Oxford, and placed, as Wood conceives, either at St. Mary's Hall or at University College; but, leaving the university without a degree, he entered himself a student of the Inner Temple in November 1576 (Students admitted to the Inner Temple, 1547–1660, ed. W. H. Cooke, p. 82, where Ferne is described as of Uttoxeter, the ‘second son of Sir John Ferne of Temple Belwood’). In 1586 he published at London a learned work in quarto entitled ‘The Blazon of Gentrie: deuided into two parts. The first named, the Glorie of Generositie; the second, Lacye's Nobilitie. Comprehending Discourses of Armes and of Gentry; Wherein is treated of the Beginning, Parts, and Degrees of Gentlenesse, with her Lawes: Of the Bearing and Blazon of Cote-Armors, of the Lawes of Armes and of Combats. Compiled by John Ferne, Gentleman, for the Instruction of all Gentlemen bearers of Armes, whome and none other this worke concerneth.’ Although tedious and pedantic the treatise is full of curious information, and far above the level of the early heraldic writers. It is written in the form of a dialogue, alternately supported by six interlocutors, representing a herald, a knight, a divine, a lawyer, an antiquary, and a ploughman. The dialogue is not without dramatic spirit, particularly that assigned to Collumell, the ploughman, who speaks freely both the language and opinions of the yeomanry at that time on several points, but especially on the reformation; nor are the strong prejudices of Paradinus, the herald, and Torquatus, the knight, described with less force. The first part was written when Ferne was beginning his legal studies. His work lay by him in manuscript, and its publication arose out of a curious incident. In 1583 a foreigner, who called himself Albertus à Lasco, count-palatine of Syradia in Poland, came to England, was received with great honours at the court and university, and disappeared after four months, leaving his bills unpaid. Ferne, who made his acquaintance, told him (if he did not know it already) that a distinguished English family was named Lacy, and Lasco claimed to be descended from it. He engaged Ferne to write a treatise on the descent of the Lacys. When the imposture was discovered reports prejudicial to Ferne were circulated, and he thought it necessary to publish what he had communicated to à Lasco. If he delivered nothing to à Lasco but what appears in the second part of his book, he was not guilty of genealogical flattery. It is a very faithful investigation of the descent of that house, and fatal to à Lasco's claims. Many woodcuts of the arms, quarterings, and impalements of the Earls of Lincoln are introduced in this latter treatise. On 13 Aug. 1595 Ferne was appointed by the queen deputy-secretary of the council of the north at York, in succession to Ralph Rokeby, junior, deceased (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1595–7, p. 93). He proved himself a hard-working official, persecuted the Roman catholics with cheerful alacrity, and amassed considerable wealth. By 7 June 1604 he was knighted, and received from the king, along with Sir William Gee, the office of secretary and keeper of the signet in the north (ib. 1603–10, p. 118). He seems to have been dead ar the end of 1609 or beginning of 1610. It is, however, worth noting that a John Ferne, son of William Ferne, died 26 Aug. 1615, and was buried in Belton Church (Stonehouse, Hist. of the Isle of Axholme, p. 324), but he is not styled a knight. Ferne married Elizabeth, fourth daughter of John Nedham of Wymondley Priory, Hertfordshire (Clutterbuck, Hertfordshire, ii. 550). By this lady, who remarried Sir Thomas Smith, called Nevill, of Holt, Leicestershire (Le Neve, Knights, Harl. Soc. p. 375), he had several sons, of whom Henry Ferne [q. v.], the youngest, was afterwards bishop of Chester.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), ii. 85–6; Moule's Bibliotheca Heraldica, pp. 31–3; Chalmers's Biog. Dict. xiv. 211–12; Stonehouse's Hist. of the Isle of Axholme, pp. 345–51; Gent. Mag. vol. lxii.; Hunter's Doncaster, vol. i.; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1595–1610.]

G. G.

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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374 ii 8-10 Ferne, Sir John: for He seems to have been dead . . . that a John Feme read He was M.P. for Boroughbridge 1604-9, and died before 14 Dec. 1609, when his successor was elected. Another John Ferne