Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 18.djvu/389

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


iv. 164–5; Ritson's English Poets; Hunter's Chorus Vatum in Addit. MS. 24491, p. 376.]

S. L. L.

FERRERS, GEORGE (1500?–1579), poet and politician, was son of Thomas Ferrers of St. Albans, Hertfordshire, where he was born at the beginning of the sixteenth century. He took the degree of bachelor of canon law at Cambridge in 1531, and is said without authority to have studied at Oxford. In 1534 he published an English translation of the Magna Charta and of other important statutes. He became a member of Lincoln's Inn, and his oratory gained him a high reputation at the bar (Leland). Thomas Cromwell favourably noticed him, and obtained for him an office at court. In 1535 he was granted by the crown the manor of Flamstead, Hertfordshire, and in 1542 was elected M.P. for Plymouth. In March of the same year he was arrested on his way to the House of Commons by one White, and sent to the Compter in Bread Street. White had lent a man named Weldon of Salisbury two hundred marks, and Ferrers had become surety for its repayment. When the news of Ferrers's arrest reached the commons, they directed the sergeant-at-arms to demand his release. The sheriffs of London and their officers declined to accede to the sergeant's request. The commons laid the matter before the lords and the judges. The former offered, through the lord chancellor, to issue a writ of privilege for Ferrers's discharge, but the commons refused the offer on the ground that they had adequate authority to deal with the case. Finally, Ferrers was released, and the sheriffs of London, with their officers and White, were sent to the Tower on the charge of committing a breach of the privileges of parliament (28 March). They were released two days later, after making submission and paying 20l. costs (Wriothesley, Chron. i. 135). The king commended the action of the commons, but added, as if to check their confidence, that Ferrers held the office of page of his chamber, and was on that ground privileged from arrest. The story, which is related at length by Holinshed, is quoted as a precedent for parliamentary privilege by writers on constitutional history (Holinshed, Chron. pp. 955–6; Hatsell, Precedents, i. 53; Hallam, Constit. Hist. i. 261–89). Ferrers was re-elected M.P. for Plymouth early in 1545, and for a third time in 1553. In 1547 he negotiated for the purchase of the site and demesnes of the priory of Markgate, Bedfordshire, of the yearly value of 21l. 4s. 8d., with other property of the priory of the yearly value of 6l. 8s. 11½d. The king allowed an abatement of 5l. per annum when the amount of the purchase-money was determined, in consideration of Ferrers's good service. The grant was formally completed in 1549.

Ferrers is said to have served in the wars against Scotland and France. He most probably attended Henry VIII in some civil capacity in his military expeditions. Henry marked his attachment for him by leaving him one hundred marks by will. ‘As a gentleman of my lord protector's, and one of the commissioners of carriages in the army,’ he was in Scotland early in Edward VI's reign with the Duke of Somerset, and the contemporary historian of the expedition charges him with cruelly smothering some Scots who were hiding in a cave near Leith (Patten, Expedicion into Scotlande, 1548, p. 44). The original manuscript of another contemporary account of the war by Le Sieur Berteville (first printed by the Bannatyne Club in 1825) was presented by the author to Edward VI, and by the king to Ferrers. The manuscript, which is extant in Cottonian Library, Cleop. A. xi., is headed ‘Liber Georgii fferrers ex dono Regis Edouardi.’

At Christmas 1551 Ferrers was directed to prepare a series of pageants and pastimes on a very gorgeous scale to distract the young king, who was reported to be sorrowing over the execution of his uncle Somerset (GRAFTON). Instead of the ordinary title of lord of misrule borne by the director of the court festivities, Ferrers was given the superior designation of ‘master of the king's pastimes.’ The performances took place at Greenwich. Sir Thomas Cawarden, master of the revels, was directed to supply Ferrers with large sums of money and much rich apparel. A train of officers and servants was enrolled in his service. Among his eight councillors were Sir Robert Stafford and Sir Thomas Windsor. His ‘fool attendant’ was John Smyth, a player of the king's household. A masque entitled ‘The Triumph of Venus and Mars’ was devised by him, together with masques of apes, of the Greek worthies, and of ‘medyoxes … double-visaged, th' one syde lyke a man, th' other lyke death.’ For twelve days such devices were produced at frequent intervals, and on 18 March the Duke of Northumberland gave Ferrers 50l. with his own hands. While holding his office at court he was entertained with much solemnity by the lord mayor. Ferrers was reinstated in office at Christmas 1552, and William Baldwin [q. v.] assisted him in his preparations (see Baldwin, Beware the Cat, 1561). John Smyth was again his fool and ‘heir-apparent,’ and among his other ‘sons’ was one Elderton, perhaps William Elderton [q. v.] Mr. Windham was his admiral. Sir George Howard was the