The Vernons of Haddon Hall – “King of the Peak”

george vernon.jpgSir George Vernon was born around 1508 but his father, Richard, died in 1517 whilst he was still a child so the Vernon lands were subject to the rules about wardship- which always ran the risk of financial loss but in George’s case his guardians, who included Cardinal Wolsey, appear not to have drained his resources.  In fact by the time of his death in 1565 the peerage records the fact that he had possession of thirty manors.   Sir Henry Vernon, George’s grandfather pre-deceased his son by only two years.

George’s mother, Margaret,  was descended from the Dymoke family of Lincolnshire (hereditary champions of the monarch) married secondly Sir William Coffin (who died in 1538) and then for a third time into the Manners family – Sir Richard Manners.  As you know if you read the History Jar regularly I love the way that footnotes turn up in the strangest of places and in this particular instance it should be noted that Margaret’s claim to fame was that she was one of Anne Boleyn’s ladies whilst she awaited her trial and execution. At that time Margaret was still married to her second husband. Interestingly Ives notes that the Manners family were loyal to the Boleyn faction.  They gave Ann embroidered sleeves for her New Year’s Day gifts whilst Anne in her turn, as evidenced in the Rutland MSS, gave her ladies palfreys and saddles on her first Christmas as queen in 1533 (Ives: 258). Weir has more to say on the topic of Lady Margaret Coffin during Anne’s confinement in the Tower.  Margaret shared Anne’s bed chamber, sleeping on the pallet bed by her side – apparently Anne had never liked Margaret Coffin- so it probably wasn’t a comfortable experience, not least because Margaret and the other four women who served Anne were reporting to Sir William Kingston, Anne’s warder, who described Margaret as “good and honest.” Weir goes on to say that William Coffin was the queen’s Master of Horse being related to the Boleyns possibly resulted in the role but he was also a gentleman of the Privy Chamber and was one of the party who conspired against Anne at the beginning of May 1536. William would be knighted in 1537 and continue as Master of the Horse. His wife would go on to serve Jane Seymour – which just goes to show that even in Derbyshire the comings and goings of Henry’s queens were of political importance to leading families.

But back in April 1522 little George’s wardship was given jointly to Cardinal Wolsey and to Lady  Tailboys – which accounts for his marriage into the Tailboys family.  And as another aside it should be noted that Margaret Tailboys had a brother called Gilbert who married a woman in 1520 called Bessie Blount – meaning that George Vernon’s sister-in-law  was the woman who gave Henry VIII his only acknowledged illegitimate child. Margaret Tailboys died on March 25 1558 having produced two daughters; Margaret and Dorothy.  George would now marry Maud (or Matilda) Longford – the Longfords were a Derbyshire family.

Practically it was George’s uncle, John Vernon (who owned Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire), who ran the estate whilst George was a minor and it was John’s advice that saw George settled on a career path in the law after a stint at university.   By the time of the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 George had come into his own and was fulfilling the role of a member of the  gentry as JP and later as MP for Derbyshire in 1542 (he only served the once). By 1545 Sir George was extending and modernising Haddon Hall- not to mention ensuring that Henry VIII’s arms were on prominent display.  He was knighted at the coronation of Edward VI. The Parliamentary biography of George notes that he was on a list to be raised to the barony but it never happened nor did he become sheriff although he was nominated some nine times.  He appears to have blotted his copybooks with the powers that be! Certainly in 1557 he failed to yield £100 in a forced loan demanded by Queen Mary. His approach to law and order wasn’t necessarily terribly in keeping with the concept of innocent until proved guilty either – legend states that he hanged at least one man without trial.

In 1564 Bishop Bentham, who perhaps hadn’t heard about the summary justice that Vernon meted out, said of him ‘a great justice [in] religion as in all other things’, renowned ‘for his magnificence … for his kind reception of all good men, and his hospitality’. And George was noted for his extreme hospitality – hence the by-name of “King of the Peak.” The household accounts of 1564 reveal a host sparing no expense on his guests.  The earl of Worcester’s minstrel was paid the princely sum of 13s. 4d. The is also mention of a tun of wine, malmsey, muscadel and every assortment of meat and fish that the reader could imagine – though the 18 blackbirds presumably won’t be high in the modern list of Christmas must haves!.   The title of King of the Peak was one that Alan Cunningham couldn’t resist when he told the story of Dorothy Vernon’s elopement in 1822. And yes, I shan’t be resisting the temptation to explore the story of Dorothy Vernon in another HistoryJar post.

Sir George died on the 31 August 1565. His daughters Margaret and Dorothy inherited his lands.  Their husbands were the earl of Derby and and the second son of the earl of Rutland respectively. Sir George left clear instructions in his will about which of his manors were to be used to pay off his debts and pay for his funeral.  He and his two wives are buried in All Saints Church, Bakewell.

Ives, E.W. (1986).  Anne Boleyn. Oxford: Blackwells

Weir, A. (2009) The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn. London: Jonathan Cape

http://www.cheshirenow.co.uk/vernon_family.html

Sir George "King of the Peak" Vernon & wives

http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/vernon-george-1518-65

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