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Papers of the Ferrers Family of Tamworth Castle

Identifier: F47836

Scope and Content

This collection primarily contains the call numbers L.e.1-1200, plus a few individual items outside that call number range.

The collection consists of the archives and official papers of the Ferrers family of Tamworth Castle dating from the fourteenth to the early nineteenth century, with the bulk of the material dating from the mid-sixteenth century to mid-seventeenth century. Mostly on paper, the collection concerns the family's political, legal, financial, personal, and manorial affairs, primarily in Warwickshire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, and Essex. Because of the varied nature of these affairs, the documents in this collection cover a range of formats, including correspondence, tenancy admissions, surveys, court rolls, jury lists, inventories, leases, maps, obligations, militia and muster papers, rentals, bills, testamentary papers, petitions, and bonds and accounts. While spanning five centuries, the bulk of the collection relates to the period covered by three heads of the local family: Sir Humphrey Ferrers (d. 1608), Sir John Ferrers (d.1633), and John Ferrers (d. 1680).

The following lists the eleven arranged series of the collection.

Series 1: Manorial (L.e.1 - L.e.57) This series contains records relating to the manorial holdings of the family, primarily in Walton-on-Trent (Derbyshire) and Tettenhall (Staffordshire). In 1562, Sir Humphrey Ferrers married Anne Bradbourne and this union explains the presence of papers related to Bradbourne estates. Administrative in character, most of these records concern the organization of the common fields and meadows, tenants' service, the succession of land tenure, and the abatement of nuisances (e.g., defective hedges, blocking of paths, straying beasts, etc.). The documents are mostly derived from the proceedings of the court baron and view of frankpledge and include court rolls, records of admission, suit rolls, pains, presentments and estreat rolls. Also included is a small group of compotus rolls compiled by estate retainers in the fifteenth and sixteenth century; these records principally relate to properties in Derbyshire, Essex, and Shropshire.

Series 2: Rentals and Surveys (L.e.58 – L.e141)

This section is dominated by a large group of rentals for the estates in Derbyshire. About thirty rentals survive from the second half of the sixteenth century, a period when rentals were compiled four times a year (longer ones at Lady Day (March 25) and Michaelmas (September 29), and shorter ones for rents due at Midsummer (around June 25) and Martinmas (November 11)). The rentals mostly pertain to properties in following locations: Hulland, Biggin, Bradbourne, Lea Hall, Kniveton, Parwich; Roston, Boylestone, Hollington, Hognaston, Ridware, Atlow, Ashbourne, Bentley (also known as Fenny Bentley), Fauld, Wirksworth, Belper, Kirk Ireton, Alstonfield, and Taddington (both in Derbyshire and Herefordshire). The series also includes detailed late sixteenth-century terriers and surveys for Walton-on-Trent, including one that provides details of the number of bays in some of the dwellings and another that classifies the soil of the village: "the best earth," "the worst earth," etc.

Series 3: Estate (L.e.142 - L.e.169)

This series is composed of approximately twenty-five items that relate to the day-to-day management of the family's estates. Included are a sketch map of lands around Ashbourne, various notes and memoranda concerning the management of crops and livestock, information about tenures and holdings, agreements concerning enclosure, estate valuations, and a survey of swans on the River Trent. Also included is a small group of documents relating subdivision of estates in Nether and Over Whitacre (Warwickshire) between four lordships.

Series 4: Title (L.e.170 - L.e.296)

This series contains documents related to the ownership and transfer of property. Included are deeds (including crown land grants), lease agreements, quitclaims, agreements of sale, and letters of attorney. Many of these records were copied from crown records by William Ryley, keeper of the records in the Tower of London, and examined by Samuel Petyt, clerk of the Court of Common Pleas. Several of these documents have connections to seventeenth-century law suits. In particular, cases concerning property in Princes Risborough (Buckinghamshire) and to a lesser extent Newport (Essex) generated a considerable number of copies of public records. A small group of inquisitions post mortem (including several taken after the death of Sir Humphrey Ferrers in 1608) and of family settlements (including a 1670 draft of the marriage settlement between Edward Clinton, 5th Earl of Lincoln and Dorothy Ferrers) are also included in this series.

Series 5: Accounts (L.e.297 – L.e.436)

This series, comprised of varied documents of a financial nature, is divided into twelve sub-series: Merchant, Executors, Traveling and Lodging, Household, Farm, Mill, Rental, Cash, Bonds, Legal, Receipts (Financial), and Receipts (Rental). Of special note is a group of 154 receipts (L.e.434 (1-72) and L.e.435 (1-72)) concerning the vicarage at Icklington (Cambridgeshire).

Series 6: Family (L.e.437 – L.e.459)

This series is divided into four sub-series. Probate Records and Inventories contains a small group of materials, mostly related to the estates of Sir Thomas and Lady Dorothy Cockayne. Wardship and Inheritance is comprised of three documents: a writ concerning a knighthood, a receipt for writings concerning the wardship of Humphrey Peyto, and a grant of the wardship of Margerye Oughton. The third sub-series contains a small number of documents related to peerage concerns, including a ca. 1780 petition from George Townshend, 2nd Marquess Townshend and 16th Baron Ferrers of Chartley to George III concerning the quartering of the royal arms of England and France with those of the Ferrers family as descendants of Edward III. The fourth sub-series, Pedigrees, includes notes and memoranda concerning family descent, relationships, and heraldic achievements.

Series 7: Correspondence (L.e.460 – L.e.807)

The largest series of the collection, the Correspondence series is divided into nine sub-series based on the correspondents' identities: Early Ferrers family; Sir Humphrey Ferrers; Lady Anne Bradbourne; George Ferrers and John Ferrers; Sir Humphrey Ferrers; Lady Anne Ferrers; John Ferrers, Esq.; George Townshend, Lord Ferrers; and Miscellaneous. The majority of the letters are to and from Sir Humphrey Ferrers (d. 1608), Sir John Ferrers (d. 1633), and John Ferrers (d. 1680). In addition to immediate family members, their relations, friends, and retainers, the range of correspondents indicates the scope of the Ferrers' activities throughout England. Correspondents of note include Sir Francis Walsingham, Principal Secretary to Elizabeth I; Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester; Thomas Egerton, 1st Viscount Brackley, the Lord Chancellor; Sir John Puckering, the Lord Keeper; Gilbert Shrewsbury, 7th Earl of Shrewsbury; Sir Thomas Heneage, Vice Chamberlain of the Royal Household; Dudley Carleton, 1st Viscount Dorchester, the Secretary of State; and Sir John Popham, Lord Chief Justice. Letters without a Ferrers family member as correspondent (including unidentified) are at the end of each group and arranged by sender.

Series 8: Legal (L.e.808 – L.e.1059)

As with any prominent landed family of the period, the Ferrers family was involved in several cases and counter-cases. Sorted by plaintiff, many of the 250 items in this series are related to one another. The legal papers of Sir Humphrey Ferrers (d. 1608) mostly concern disputes over property and land rights. Despite the routine nature of these proceedings, many of these cases were pursued with vigor and bitterness (as correspondence confirms). A few cases, however, generated documents of less usual character. The 1583 case of Ferrers vs. Breton (L.e.894-L.e.911) involved an affray that ended in a death. In contrast to the serious nature of the case, the proceedings mostly generated informal notes of evidence, including an account given by Richard Buckland, who was in Tamworth at the time, "going to the spurrier's shop to buy some spurs."

Another case of note involved an inquiry into the "Relique Sunday affray" in 1537 (L.e814). Records indicate that some dramatic events involving the previous Sir Humphrey Ferrers had their roots in the previous Corpus Christi Sunday, during the town play when William Johnson, playing the part of the Satan, struck Sir Humphrey across the face with his iron chain. A dispute concerning property in Princes Risborough (Buckinghamshire) generated large amounts of documentation (L.e.977-L.e.990). (Copies of early crown records relating to the title of this manor are located in the Title series). Legal suits involving the Bradbourne family are almost as numerous as those of the Ferrers, and include a dispute concerning a vaccary at Wirksworth, Derbyshire and several bitter family quarrels.

Also of note are autograph legal opinions of the jurists Sir Matthew Hale and Sir Lawrence Tanfield.

Series 9: Official (L.e.1060 – L.e.1156)

This majority of documents in this series relates to the Forest of Needwood and the Honour of Tutbury (belonging to the Duchy of Lancaster), for which Sir Humphrey Ferrers and Sir John Ferrers were successively surveyors. Included are presentments and proceedings at a "woodmote" court, as well as notes of tree sales, wood removal, and warrants for wood to be provided from crown forests. Sir Humphrey Ferrers himself was accused of removing timber from the Forest of Needwood. The identified records of this case are included here rather than in the Legal series. This series also includes documents related to county affairs, including a small group of nominal lists; some of these refer to musters, others are of uncertain purpose. A small group of documents relates to subsidy assessments of 1621 for Warwickshire and the 1660s for Derbyshire.

Series 10: Foreign (L.e.1157-L.e.1162)

This series includes a Dutch land survey and a group of French and Dutch accounts, apparently relating to John Ferrers' travels to the Continent.

Series 11: Miscellaneous (L.e.1163-L.e.1200)

Manuscripts in this series have no specific, identified connection to the Ferrers family. The group includes notes on such matters as the duties of sheriffs, juries, and justices of the people; a small group of documents that relate to proceedings in Parliament, including bills concerning Catholic recusants; and notes on cosmography, geometry, ecclesiastical reform, Latin rhetoric, and unidentified poetic and oratorical works. There is also a curious list, apparently compiled following the 1601 rebellion of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex; this list is comprised of prisoners according to degree, indicating which prison held them.

Abstracted from N. W. Alcock, "The Ferrers of Tamworth Collection: Sorting and Listing," Archives, 19:86 (1991): 358-363; with permission.


  • 1371-1806 (bulk 16th - 17th century)
  • Majority of material found within 1500 - 1600

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English, French, Latin, and Dutch.


Collection is open for research.

Biographical/Historical Note

The Ferrers family descended from the Norman Henry de Ferrers (ca. 1036-1100, also known as Henri de Ferrières) 1st Earl of Ferrières and Lord of Longueville. Henry assumed the surname from a small town in Gastenois which abounded with iron-mines. In an allusion to these origins, the Ferrers arms have borne horseshoes or variations thereof. Henry took part in the conquest of England and is believed to have fought at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. After the conquest Henry became a major landholder. William I awarded him nearly two hundred manors and lordships throughout England and Wales—most of them in Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Staffordshire. Over the next eight centuries Henry's descendants, a colorful mix of rebels and royal favorites, accumulated and lost several titles and holdings including the earldoms of Derby and Nottingham and the baronies of Chartley, Groby, and Oversley.

Around 1417, Thomas Ferrers (d. 1458), second son of William de Ferrers, 6th Baron of Groby, married Elizabeth, daughter and co-heiress of Sir Baldwin Freville whose family owned Tamworth Castle on the border between Warwickshire and Staffordshire. Making their home there, Thomas and Elizabeth established the Tamworth line of the Ferrers family. By the later sixteenth century Sir Humphrey Ferrers (ca. 1550-1608) and his successors divided their time between Tamworth, Walton-on-Trent in Derbyshire, and London. Although a junior branch of the family, the Ferrers of Tamworth, through marriages into other prominent families—the Bradbournes, Clintons, Cokaynes, Carletons, and Puckerings among them—accumulated considerable influence, holdings, and wealth.

John Ferrers, the last of the male line of the Ferrers of Groby and Tamworth, died in 1680. His granddaughter Anne succeeded him in the possession of Tamworth Castle and its associated titles. These titles she conveyed in marriage to Robert Shirley in 1689, and they later passed to their daughter, Elizabeth, on Robert's death in 1717. Elizabeth (d. 1741) became Baroness Ferrers of Chartley in her own right. The viscountcy and earldom of the honor, limited to male heirs, passed to Elizabeth's uncle. This branch, in turn, became extinct in the male line with the death of George Townshend, 3rd Marquess Townshend, 17th Baron Ferrers of Chartley in 1855. Townshend had married Sarah, daughter and heiress of William Dunn Gardner in 1807. Two years later, without benefit of divorce or annulment, Sarah married brewer John Margetts. The two had several children who bore the Margetts name until 1823; afterward they bore the Townshend name. All children from this union were declared illegitimate by Act of Parliament in 1842. With no legitimate issue from the Townshend marriage, the barony of Ferrers of Chartley fell into abeyance.


1225.0 items (29 boxes)


Family and official papers of the Ferrers family of Tamworth Castle dating from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century (mostly mid-sixteenth century to mid-seventeenth century) concerning the family's political, legal, financial, personal, and manorial affairs mostly in Derbyshire, Essex, Leicestershire, Staffordshire, and Warwickshire.


The collection is arranged into eleven series. The first four series, Manorial, Rentals and Surveys, Estate, and Title, are ordered by place. Accounts and Family are ordered by subject. Correspondence is ordered by sender (grouping together copy out-letters and in-letters). Letters not involving Ferrers correspondents are at the end of the series and arranged by writer. Legal is ordered by plaintiff, with related cases grouped together. Official is ordered by subject. The final two series, Foreign and Miscellaneous are arranged in no particular order.


The papers of the Ferrers family of Tamworth Castle were acquired by Sir Thomas Phillipps at some point in the later nineteenth century. The Folger Shakespeare Library acquired the archive in 1977 (Sotheby's, 12 December 1977, lot 14). At that time the archive was comprised of approximately 3,400 paper sheets bound as seventy-five Phillipps MSS volumes (11013, 11016, 12175, 21592, 22395, 22696, 22932, 23121, 23837, 24126, 14457, 15052, 27382, 28655, 28675, 2875, 28678, 28679, 28683, 28686-28693, 28696-28699, 28702-28704, 28707, 28707, 28712-28717, 28720-28724, 28730, 28731, 28749-28751, 28755, 28757, 28759, 28762, 30293-30297, 20200, 303001, 303232, 30335, 30340, 35124). Additionally, there were some unnumbered manuscript not in boards and some volumes carried more than one MS number.

Related Material

The Folger Shakespeare Library holds a number of other manuscripts concerning the Ferrers family. Letters are represented by three addressed to Sir Humphrey Ferrers: two (MS. X.c.31 and MS X.c.86 (1)) are autographed and signed by Gilbert Talbot, 7th Earl Shrewsbury and dated 1594 and 1602 respectively; another (MS X.c.31) dated 1593 is autographed and signed by local magistrate Sir Thomas Lucy. Also included is a 1682 letter from John Ferrers to Thomas Parker (MS X.c.118). Legal documents include fragments (MS X.d.515 (2) and MS X.d.515 (26)), dated ca. 1300 – ca. 1700, removed from book bindings. The Folger also holds an eighteenth-century copy of a pedigree of the Ferrers family (MS Z.e.25).

The Folger Library also holds a group of mid-late eighteenth century documents concerning the property and circumstances of the Ellerker family of Yorkshire. In 1777 Charlotte Ellerker married George Ferrers Townshend, Earl of Leicester (later 2nd Marquis Townshend) and it is most likely that the administration of the Ellerker estates took place from either Tamworth or Walton. This small group includes documents relating to legal suits, estate affairs, and financial matters; a small group of correspondence is also present.

Two other sizeable collections of papers relating to the Ferrers family complement the Folger collections. Tamworth Castle Museum holds approximately 400 documents (shelf-mark: TAMCM 2000/6). These have been arranged by Dr. Dudley Fowkes in series broadly corresponding to those used in the present finding aid, although manorial, account, estate, and survey categories are combined under the single heading of Estate Papers. In addition, a smaller collection of approximately seventy-five documents are held at Raynham Hall, Norfolk. This collection has been sorted but not itemized. The Folger Shakespeare Library has the typescript finding aids for these two collections.


  • N. W. Alcock, "The Ferrers of Tamworth Collection: Sorting and Listing," Archives 19:86 (1991): 358-363.
  • George E. Cokayne, Complete Baronetage: [1611-1800] (Exeter: W. Pollard and Company, 1900-1909).
  • George E. Cokayne, The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom Extant, Extinct, or Dormant, 2nd edition, revised by Vicary Gibbs (London: The St. Catherine Press, 1910-1959).
  • Ian Lancashire, "The Corpus Christi Play of Tamworth," Notes and Queries 26:6 (1979): 508-512.
  • Lewis Christopher Lloyd, The Origins of Some Anglo-Norman Families, Publications of the Harleian Society, vol. 103 (Leeds, 1951).
  • Falconer Madan, "The Gresleys of Drakelowe," Collections for a History of Staffordshire, vol. 1 (n.s.), edited by The William Salt Archaeological Society (London: Harrison and Sons, 1898).
  • Charles Ferrers Palmer, The History of the Town and Castle of Tamworth, in the Counties of Stafford and Warwick (Tamworth: J. Thompson; London: J.B. and J.G. Nichols, 1845).
  • Laetitia Yeandle, "A School for Girls at Windsor," Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England, vol. 17, edited by John Pitcher and S.P. Cerasano (Cranbury, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2005), 272-280.

Information on description

Taking the form of letters, contracts, accounts, legal documents, deeds, surveys, etc., most of the documents are untitled and therefore have been given devised titles. Where possible, devised titles provide the following information, in this order: the form of document, creator, subject/content, place written and/or delivered. For correspondence, the following information is supplied in this order, when known: form, creator, place written, recipient, place received, and whether or not the document is autograph and/or signed by the correspondent. For legal documents, the following information, when known, is included: form, parties involved, whether or not the document is signed, jurisdiction, place written, and occasion.

When known, the stage of the manuscript in creation process (e.g., draft, revised draft, fair copy, etc.) has been noted. The state of completeness or intactness of the manuscript (e.g., fragment, incomplete, unfinished, etc.) has been noted as well. All dates are recorded as year, month, and day. Dates have been normalized: contracted years and months have been expanded; ordinal numbers have been converted to cardinal; Roman numerals have been converted to Arabic numerals; and dates based off of ecclesiastical feasts and regnal years have been converted according to the Gregorian calendar. When the year of creation is based on the year beginning on Lady Day (March 25), the date has been adjusted to reflect the year beginning on January 1. When important, dates have been transcribed in a note.

As the collection is comprised primarily of manuscripts on paper, item-level descriptions only make note of writing surfaces other than paper. Descriptions and identifications of watermarks according to their classification established in Briquet, Piccard, or other source have been included. When important, comments on the quality or condition, especially concerning damages, repairs, and textual losses, are included. In addition, when wax or papered seals are present, this information is included.

When possible, personal names have been modernized. Titles of nobility, address, honor, and distinction, when noted, have been included.

In addition, where possible, the former Phillipps MS numbers have been noted.

Papers of the Ferrers Family of Tamworth Castle Folger MS L.e.1-1200; X.d.685 (1-25)
Under Revision
Finding aid prepared by Nathaniel W. Alcock, 1989; heavily revised and expanded by Ambika Sankaran, Dever Powell, Kimberly McLean-Fiander, and Torrence Thomas, 2003-2010.
1989; revised 2010
Language of description
Script of description
Edition statement
Initially encoded by Ambika Sankaran, 2003.

Revision Statements

  • 2010: Initially processed by Nathaniel W. Alcock, 1989; heavily revised and expanded by Dever Powell, Kimberly McLean-Fiander, and Torrence Thomas, 2003-2010. March 23, 2004 "dfotamwo.sgm" converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).

Repository Details

Part of the Folger Shakespeare Library Repository

201 E. Capitol St. SE
Washington DC 20003 USA