General history: Historical events

Pages iii-xi

Magna Britannia: Volume 5, Derbyshire. Originally published by T Cadell and W Davies, London, 1817.

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Inhabitants and Government.

DERBYSHIRE, which took its name from the county town, was, in the time of the Britons, part of a large district inhabited by the Coritani, During the government of the Romans, it formed part of Britannia Prima. When England became divided, under the Saxon Monarchs, into seven kingdoms, called the Heptarchy, Derbyshire constituted part of Mercia, and Repton, then called Repandune, appears to have been a residence of the Mercian Kings.

The inhabitants of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire were called the North Mercians, as living for the most part north of the river Trent; and these two counties long continued to be so far connected in civil polity, that they had but one sheriff for both, till the year 1569. The assizes for both counties were held at Nottingham till the reign of Henry III. They were then held at Nottingham and Derby alternately, till 1569; since which time, the assizes for this county have been uniformly held at Derby, except in the year 1610, when on account of a commotion at Derby, they were, on that occasion, removed to Ashborne. The Epiphany, Easter, and Michaelmas sessions, are now held at Derby, and the Midsummer sessions, at Chesterfield. From the year 1618 till 1797, the Michaelmas sessions had been held at Chesterfield, and the summer sessions at Bakewell.

The Duchy of Lancaster court for the recovery of small debts, the punishment of trespasses, assaults, &c., which is held at Sudbury, extends its jurisdiction over the whole county, except the hundred of Morleston and Litchurch.

The Peverell court of the same nature (fn. n1), held at Basford in Nottinghamshire, extends its jurisdiction over many of the townships in the hundred of Scarsdale, the Peak, and the wapentake of Wirksworth.

The barmote courts for the regulation of the mineral concerns of Derbyshire, and determining all disputes relating to the working of the mines, are held at Monyash, in the Peak, and at Wirksworth. (fn. n2)

Philip Kinder, in the preface to his intended History of Derbyshire, written about the middle of the seventeenth century, has the following observations relating to the character and modes of living of the inhabitants of Derbyshire. " The common sort of people, out of a genuine reverence, not forced by feare or institution, doe observe those of larger fortunes, courteous and readie to show the waies and helpe a passenger : you may say they are lazie and idle in a better sense, for (except the grooves) they have not whereon to set themselves on worke, for all theire harvest and sede tyme is finished in six weeks; the rest of their tyme they spend in fothering yr cattle, mending their stone inclosures, and in sports.

"The countrie women here are chast and sober, very diligent in their huswifery; they hate idleness, love and obey their husbands, only in some of the great townes, many seeming sanctificators use to follow the presbyterian gang, and upon a lecture day, putt on theire best rayment, and hereby take occasion to goo a gossiping. Your merry wives of Bentley will sometymes look in ye glass, chirpe a cupp merrily, yet not indecently. In the Peake they are much given to dance after the baggpipes, almost every towne hath a baggpipe in it.

"Their exercises, for the greate part, is the Gymnopaidia, or naked boy, an ould recreation among the Greeks, with this in foote-races, you shall have in a winters day, the earth crusted over with ice, two agonists, stark naked, runn a foot race for 2 or 3 miles, with many hundred spectators, and the betts very small.

"They love their cards, The miners at Christmas tyme, will carry tenn or twenti pounds about them, game freely, returne home againe, all the yeare after good husbands.

"For diet, the gentrie, after the southern mode, have two state meales a day, with a bit in ye buttery to a morning draught; but your peasants exceed the Greeks, who had four meales a day, for the moorlanders add three more; ye bitt in the morning; ye anders meate, and the yenders meate, and so make up seaven; and for certaine ye great housekeeper doth allow his people especially in summer tyme, so many commessations.

"The common inhabitants doe prefer oates for delight and strength above any other graine : for here you may find jus nigrum, the Lacedæmonian pottage, to be a good dish, if you bring a Lacedæmonian stomach. It is observed, that they have for the most part, fair, long, broad teeth, which is caused by the mastication of their oat bread."

Speaking of persons of eminence connected with Derbyshire, Mr. Kinder calls it "the amphitheatre of renowned persons. The glorious Cavendish, of the illustrious family of the Cavendishes, who gave the world a girdle in two solar revolutions. (fn. n3) Anthonie Fitzherbert, of the family of Norbury, which gave life with law unto the common lawes of England, and in comparison, put the codes with digest into a bag. Bradford (fn. n4), the crowned martyr that cuft the triple crowne, and rent the Roman pale asunder. Ripley of Ripley; another Hermes, in his twelve gates, concerning the philosopher' s-stone, having suffer' d death for making a pear tree to fructifie in winter. Mr. Sentlow Cnyfton (fn. n5), of the family of Bradley, a renowned antiquarie, who left many MSS., but alas ! we must commend them like many of Tully's orations, with this unhappie elogie reliquce deside-rantur. They are all wanted and much desired, non extant. Mr. Dethick, King of armes pater patratus (fn. n6) father of the fatherhood, whose power delegate from the King, was greater than that of the natural father, who only can beget a man, but he can create a gentleman. Mr. Thomas (fn. n7) Bancroft, surnamed the small poet, by way of friendlie ironie; but worthie to be ranked amongst the best classicks and greater volumnes; he writ the Glutton's feast, concerning Dives and Lazarus, the Battle of (fn. n8) Letzphen, with other poems. Some there are living, whose names I will silence in few letters, taking my indication from the verse.

' Pascitur in vivis livor, post fata quiescit.'

Such as A. C. (fn. n9), the muse of the Peakish mountains, and in competition with Plautus, the tenth muse; C. C. (fn. n10), who from Homer and Horace hath extracted ye essence of lyric and epic poesie into an English elixir; and Mr. T. H. (fn. n11), Plato himself in his ideas and rich conceptions."

Notices of eminent literary and other characters, who have been natives or inhabitants of Derbyshire, will be found in the following work, under the parishes with which they were connected. We have not been able to discover the birth-places of two literary persons, who are known to have been natives of Derbyshire : Dr. William Outram, a learned divine of the 17th century, who wrote upon Sacrifices; and Samuel Richardson, author of Sir Charles Grandison, and other novels, which acquired so much celebrity in the reign of George II.

Historical Events.

We have no notices of the military transactions of the Romans in this county. The first historical event which we find on record relating to Derbyshire, is the invasion of the Danes in 874, when they expelled Burrhed from his kingdom, and fixed their head-quarters at Repandun (fn. n12) (now Repton), which had been the royal residence. The Danish army left Repton the next year, in two divisions; Healfden marching with a detachment into Northumberland; and Godrun, and the other generals, with the main body, into Cambridgeshire. (fn. n13)

In the year 917 (fn. n14), or, according to some writers,918 (fn. n15), the brave Ethelfleda.

Countess of Mercia, daughter of King Alfred, recovered Derbyshire from the Danes. The Danish army, which was quartered at Derby, not venturing to come out and oppose her in the field, she boldly attacked the castle, and after a severe struggle, in which four of her bravest and favourite (fn. n16) generals were killed at the entrance, she broke down the gate and walls, and took it by storm. (fn. n17) After this, Derby fell again into the hands of the Danes; for we are told that King Edmund took it from them, with four other towns (fn. n18), in 942. Some years before this (in 924), King Edward having marched with his army from Nottingham to Bakewell, commanded a fortress to be built in the neighbourhood of the latter place. (fn. n19)

It appears, that during the rebellion of Prince Henry against his father Henry II. the castle of Duffield, in this county, was held against the King, by Robert Earl Ferrars; for it is related, that, among others who came to make their submission to the victorious monarch, in the month of July, 1174, was that Earl, who then delivered into the King's hands, the castles of Tutbury and Duffield. (fn. n20)

During the civil war in King John's reign (in 1215), William Earl Ferrars, with an armed force, took Bolsover and Peak Castles, which were then in the possession of the rebellious barons. (fn. n21)

In the year 1264, King Henry III. sent his son, Prince Edward, into Derbyshire, to wreak vengeance upon Robert Earl of Derby, then one of the most active of the Barons in rebellion against him; with instructions to lay waste his manors with fire and sword. The Earl, having made his peace, by the promise of a large sum of money; and having taken fresh oaths of allegiance, broke both his oaths and his promise, and appeared in arms again in Derbyshire, in the year 1266, with Baldwin Wake, (Lord of Chesterfield), John D'Egville, and other Barons and Knights, and assembled a numerous force at Duffield-Frith, whence they marched to Chesterfield. Here they were surprised in their quarters by Henry, the King's nephew, and the greater part of them put to the sword. The Earl of Derby was taken prisoner, having been betrayed as it is said by a woman, who pointed out the place of his concealment in the church. (fn. n22) Wake, D'Egville, and the other Barons and Knights, made their escape. Some of the Knights, with their adherents, withdrew into the forest of the Peak, where they continued for two years, living a predatory life. (fn. n23) De Ferrars had his life spared, but was divested of the Earldom of Derby, with its large possessions, which were given to Edmund Earl of Lancaster, and eventually formed a considerable part of the revenues of the Duchy of Lancaster.

The only incidents deserving notice connected with Derbyshire, from this period till the commencement of the civil war in the 17th century, of which we have seen any mention, are, the imprisonment of John Duke of Bourbon for many years in Melbourne Castle, after the battle of Agincourt, and that of Mary Queen of Scots, who, during a captivity of 18 years, resided a considerable part of the time in this county, under the custody of the Earl of Shrewsbury. (fn. n24)

At the commencement of the civil war, immediately after King Charles had displayed his standard at Nottingham, his first march was to Derby. At this time (August, 1642), all Derbyshire, as Sir John Gell observes, declared for the King. He claims the merit of having been the first who appeared in arms in this county for the Parliament. Having before fought under the Earl of Essex, he went, in the month of October, 1642, to Hull, where he solicited and obtained the command of a regiment of foot, then consisting of 140 men, with which he marched into Derbyshire. Having on the 17th reached Chesterfield, he raised at that place 200 men by beat of drum; thence he marched to Derby, where he raised a regiment of horse, and garrisoned the town. At this time, Lord Clarendon observes, there was, in Derbyshire, no visible party for the King; the whole county being under the power of Sir John Gell. Winfield-manor was about this time made a garrison for the Parliament.

Most of the particulars in the following brief account are taken from a narrative of the services performed by Sir John Gell, written by himself (fn. n25), for the purpose of refuting, as it appears, certain charges brought against him after the Independents got into power. There is no doubt that Sir John Gell was an active useful officer in the service of the Parliament during almost the whole of the civil war: this Mrs. Hutchinson, in her Memoirs of her husband (a distinguished parliamentary officer of the Independent party), allows; although she accuses him of being a great boaster, and of having sometimes claimed for himself the merit of services which had been performed by others. She accuses Whitelock also of having given Sir John Gell more than his due share of praise.

The first service which Sir John Gell recounts in his Narrative, is the driving of Sir Francis Wortley and his forces from Wirksworth and the Peak, in November, 1642. Soon afterwards he took Bretby-house, which had been fortified by the Earl of Chesterfield. In the beginning of January following, he took Sir John Harpur's house at Swarkston, and Swarkston-bridge, where he defeated a party of Royalists, in a skirmish, which is called, in the parish-register of All-Saints, in Derby, the battle of Swarkston-bridge.

Early in this year (1643), the Earl of Newcastle, who was commander-in-chief of the King's forces in the northern and midland counties, placed a garrison in Bolsover Castle. In the month of April, Colonel Thomas Gell (brother of Sir John) took Sutton-house, which had been garrisoned by its owner, Lord Deincourt, after a short resistance. The Earl of Newcastle was with his army at Chesterfield, in May and in December, 1643 : at one of these periods, he is said to have been successful in an engagement with the Parliamentary forces.

In the course of this year, Sir John Gell mentions that Sir Thomas Fairfax, then commander-in-chief for the Parliament, came to Derby, and stayed there three days, for the purpose of procuring a supply of men from the Derbyshire garrisons : Sir John provided him with 400 from Chatsworth, Winfield, and Wingerworth. In the month of December, the Earl of Newcastle besieged Winfield manor-house, and took it in three days : the command was given to Colonel Molineux. Sir John Gell says, that after the Earl of Newcastle was gone, Colonel Milward quartered his regiment at Bakewell; Colonel Eyre at Chatsworth, and his own house (Hassop) in the Peak; Colonel Fitzherbert at South-Winfield and Tissingtonj and Colonel Frecheville at his own house (Staveley).

The Parliamentary forces, then at Ashborne, had a successful engagement close to that town, in the month of February 1644, with the Royalists, who in consequence evacuated Tissingtpn and Bakewell, and retired to Chatsworth, Winfield, Staveley and Bolsover. In the month of March, there was an engagement at Egginton-heath, between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. The latter were under the command of Captain Rodes and Major Molanus, Sir John Gell claims the victory for the Parliament, This seems to have been the same battle in which Heath says that the Royalists were victorious, relating the same circumstance which Sir John asserts of the Royalists, as having happened to the parliamentary forces; that they were driven across the Dove, in which many were drowned.

In the month of April, Sir John Gell and Lord Grey took the pass of Wime-ferry, and demolished the works constructed by the Royalists on the Leicestershire side of the river. Soon after this, he commenced the siege of Winfield manor-house, then commanded by Colonel Dalby, applying for assistance to Colonel Hutchinson, the governor of "Nottingham, who sent him 200 men. The King sent General Hastings to its relief, but his troops were beaten by Sir John Gell; and Major-General Crawford having arrived with reinforcements from the Earl of Manchester, they opened their batteries, and the garrison was taken after a bombardment of three hours. The governor was killed during the siege. Colonel Gell left two companies in the house, and marched to Derby. On his route to Winfield, General Crawford took JBolsover Castle and Staveley-house. In October, 1644, Colonel Gell garrisoned Barton-park, for the purpose of watching and annoying the King's garrison at Tutbury.

Whilst the King was moving about with his reduced army (3000 horse), after the battle of Naseby, by quick marches, he passed from Bewdley into Derbyshire, and defeated Sir John Gell in some skirmishes at Sudbury and Ashborne, about the middle of August, 1645. From Ashborne, he marched through the Peak to Doncaster.

About the latter end of September, 1645, the governor of Welbeck put a fresh garrison into Chatsworth, with 300 horse, under the command of Colonel Shallcross. Colonel Molanus being sent by Sir John Gell against the garrison, besieged it for fourteen days; but on hearing of the demo-lition of Welbeck, Bolsover, and Tickhill castles, was commanded by Colonel Gell to return to Derby.

In the month of January 1646, orders were given for supplies for the garrison at Derby; but that town and Winfield manor-house were dismantled not long afterwards. In 1659, there was an insurrection at Derby against Richard Cromwell.

In the year 1745, Charles James Stuart, commonly called the young pretender, having, in the prosecution of his rash enterprize, penetrated into the heart of the kingdom, entered Derby with his army on the fourth of December. His advanced guard secured the pass at Swarkston-bridffe but on the evening of the fifth he held a great council, at which after a warm debate, it was determined, in consequence of the little encouragement he had met with on his march, and the near approach of the Duke of Cumberland with a superior force, to retreat immediately towards the North, a resolution which was carried into effect at an early hour the next morning.


  • n1. Mrs. Hutchinson, in her memoirs of her husband, speaks of this as an obsolete court, lately revived, in the reign of Charles I. See p. 113,114. Under the grant to Lord Middleton, the jurisdiction of this court was extended to many places in Derbyshire, which never formed part of the honor of Peverell. See a list of the Derbyshire townships within this jurisdiction in the second volume of Pilkington's Derbyshire. Several erroneous names occur in this list, as they do, indeed, in the original charter.
  • n2. See the account of Lead-Mines, &c.
  • n3. Cavendish the circumnavigator had no connection with Derbyshire.
  • n4. We have not found how Bradford was connected with Derbyshire: he was a native of Manchester.
  • n5. Saintloe Kniveton.
  • n6. Sir Gilbert Dethick and Sir William Dethick, his son, were successively Garter Kings of Arms in the reigns of Edward VI. and Queen Elizabeth. Sir Gilbert was third son of Robert Dethick, of Derby, steward of Edmund De la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, and yeoman of the armoury to King Henry VIII., who was descended from a younger son of Sir William Dethick, Knight, of Dethick, in this county.
  • n7. Thomas Bancroft was a native of Swarkston, and lived at Bradley; his poems, which were chiefly satirical and epigrammatical, are very scarce.
  • n8. The battle of Lutzen, 1632, in which Gustavus, King of Sweden, lost his life.
  • n9. Sir Aston Cockaine.
  • n10. It is most probable that this was Charles Cotton; though he more properly belonged to Staffordshire. His poem, on the Wonders of the Peak, did not appear till after Kinder's MS. must have been written.
  • n11. Thomas Hobbes.
  • n12. Sax. Chron. and Roger Hoveden.
  • n13. Sax. Chron.
  • n14. Ralph Higden; Chron. Mailros.
  • n15. Sax. Chron. Simon Dunelm. Henry Huntingdon says, in the seventh year after the death of Ethelred, Earl of Mercia, whom he erroneously calls her father.
  • n16. Some of the Historians call them fortissimo. The Sax. Chron. adds, qui ei chariores Jucrunt
  • n17. Hen. Huntingdon.
  • n18. Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham, and Stamford.
  • n19. Sax. Chron.
  • n20. Jo. Bromton.
  • n21. Matth. West.
  • n22. Walter Hemingford.
  • n23. Chron. Dunst.
  • n24. She was some months at Winfield manor-house in 1569, and again in 1584. In 1570, she was for some months at Chatworth; and occasionally for a short time in succeeding years. She was allowed also to resort to Buxton four times, for her health, under the Earl's charge. By far the greatest part of her captivity was passed at Sheffield castle, a seat of the Earl of Shrewsbury.
  • n25. MS. in the possession of his descendant, Philip Gell, Esq., M.P., of Hopton-hall.