Yorkshire North Riding Collection

Historical Background


Yorkshire is one of only two English counties whose size merited a three-fold division into ‘ridings’ (from the Old Norse þriðjungr via Old English þriðing), the three ridings – North, East, and West – meeting at the city of York. The North Riding comprised a vast area to the north of the city, consisting of two regions of very different topography divided by the fertile Vale of York. Along the Vale runs the Great North Road following the Roman Dere Street, the primary route from London to the north of England and to Scotland. The critical importance of this road as the major north-south thoroughfare can be seen in William Harrison’s 1587 outline of its course from Berwick to London. A number of documents in this collection refer to payments to musicians and other performers encountered on journeys from Yorkshire to London, following Harrison’s route.

To the west of this arable land lie the Yorkshire dales, crisscrossed by limestone hills and small rivers, all draining eventually into the Humber. The thin topsoil of the dales makes the area unsuitable for large-scale crop farming and since the early Middle Ages their economy has been based on sheep farming and the production of wool. To the east of the Vale of York lies the difficult terrain of the Yorkshire moors where only exceptionally hardy breeds of sheep can be farmed and the principal vegetation is gorse and heather. As Edward Miller notes, ‘[t]he wild landscape was anything but completely tamed.’

The boundaries of the North Riding have changed significantly since the period covered by this collection, especially between the North and West Ridings, and John Speed’s map of 1610 will be taken as the principal guide to border placement. Unlike the modern post-1974 boundary, which in many places follows roads and other man-made features, the early boundary tended to follow, as far as possible, rivers and streams. Water courses could of course shift over time and in such cases boundaries tended to follow the rivers as their courses changed. Where such shifts have taken place Speed’s map will be used as the base.

The northern boundary of the riding was the most stable, following the River Tees from its estuary to the Westmorland border, then heading south along the watershed to follow the Rivers Wharfe and Nidd eastwards, finally joining the River Ure to the city of York. East of York, the boundary with the East Riding followed the Rivers Derwent and Hertford to reach the North Sea again south of Scarborough. The marshy Derwent was the least stable of the riding’s border markers and its shifting course produced frequent movement of the boundary with the East Riding. As is apparent on the map, many of the dales that now lie within the county of North Yorkshire were previously in the West Riding, including Airedale, Wharfedale, Nidderdale, and the eastern stretch of Wensleydale, where the boundary follows the River Ure from just south of Masham to York. The relationship of the old county demarcations to the major watersheds of the Ouse, Derwent, and Tees suggests that the North Riding distinctions between arable land and grazing land, between dale and moorland, tends to support Charles Phythian-Adams’ designation of the whole of Yorkshire as a ‘cultural province.’

Neither the dales nor the moors were conducive to the development of large urban centres and the North Riding had only two towns with royal or ancient borough charters: Richmond, on the River Swale in the northern reaches of the Vale of York, which held its ancient charter of Count Alan III, and Scarborough, the principal North Riding seaport, which held its royal charter of Henry II. Whitby held its privileges of the abbot of Whitby and several other towns (Helmsley, Kirkby Moorside, New Malton, Northallerton, Pickering, Skelton, Thirsk, and Yarm) enjoyed various levels of burghality. Harrison lists only the following North Riding towns as boroughs: Scarborough, Boroughbridge, Thirsk, and Aldborough.

Perhaps the most significant advantage to such status was permission to hold a regular market. The North Riding was well served with beast, corn, and wool markets; of the approximately fifty-four markets in Yorkshire as a whole, twenty-one were in the North Riding, including a major beast market for sheep and cattle at Northallerton. William Camden was impressed, describing it as ‘the throngest Beast-fair on St. Bartholemew’s-day that I ever saw.’ Many of the Yorkshire markets became highly specialized, and Henry Best in his 1641 farming handbook emphasized how important it was to send produce to the right market: ‘wee sende our dodd reade wheate and massledine usually to Malton markette; our barley to Beverley and Pocklington in winter time, and to Malton in summer.’ A second advantage to burghal status was permission to hold a fair, often on an annual basis, often linked to a patronal feast day or other local celebration. Both markets and fairs attracted performers, though unless they came into conflict with the law there is little evidence of them in the records. The presence of a substantial market did however guarantee the existence of a relatively well-travelled road, available to playing companies as well as for the transport of animals and goods.

Contemporary maps and road strips show that major highways served only a few of the towns and estates visited by travelling players, so that most of their routes lay along lesser roads and drovers’ tracks, as the maps of their tours show.

The North Riding was one of England’s largest administrative units, its 225 parishes almost entirely agrarian, with a limited population and sparse development. Vast fields of pasture were punctuated by gentry homes, virtually all of them involved in farming, though in the depths of the moors and dales even these were thin on the ground.


The Medieval North Riding

In the aftermath of the conquest of 1066 William I undertook an extensive redistribution of land to his followers and relatives, documenting the new land holdings in the Domesday Book of 1086. The territory of the North Riding was held predominately by three men, William's cousin Alan Rufus (d. 1093), count of Brittany, based at Richmond; Robert (d. 1095), count of Mortain, William’s half-brother, based in Launceston, Cornwall; and Hugh d’Avranches (d. 1101), first earl of Chester, based at Chester.

A series of rebellions in 1068–9 provoked William to travel north and to put down rebels savagely. The so-called ‘harrying of the North’ was so severe that the Domesday Book records many towns and villages as ‘waste.' As William consolidated his control over northern Yorkshire through land grants to loyal gentry, royal permission to build castles and fortify towns became an essential part of his defenses against Scottish invasion. For the most part these were motte and bailey constructs, initially of wood, but mostly through the Middle Ages replaced by stone buildings. Frequent incursions by the Scots culminated in 1314 with the disastrous rout of Edward II’s forces at Bannockburn, followed by Edward’s near capture at Byland in 1322 by Robert the Bruce. Penetration into the riding was severe, with raids inflicting major damage at Marske in Swaledale, near Richmond, and at Danby on the eastern moors. Salton, in the Vale of Pickering, just eighteen miles from York, was described in 1344 as ‘greatly destroyed and wretchedly cast down by the invasions and burnings of the Scots.’

A final battle at Neville’s Cross, just west of Durham, resulted in 1346 in the defeat and capture of the Scots king, David II. The depredation of the Scots was further complicated by natural crises, with severe crop failures in 1315, 1316, and 1321, a major outbreak of sheep murrain in 1313–17, and of cattle plague in 1319–21. These disasters led to extensive depopulation, with at least 171 villages deserted in the North Riding.

It was not military action that brought an end to the Scottish wars, but the arrival of bubonic plague in the North Riding in March of 1349, though the lack of large urban centres and the thinly spread population tended to protect the North Riding from the highest levels of mortality. Large monastic establishments were especially vulnerable, but many North Riding monasteries were smaller and housed fewer clergy. The North Riding deanery of Cleveland lost approximately twenty-one percent of its population, while the mortality rate in the deanery of Dickering, which was largely in the East Riding but included the city of Scarborough and its environs, was about sixty-one percent.

The dynastic battles which dominated the county through much of the fifteenth century were concerned primarily with the line of succession following the deaths of Edward III in 1377 and Richard II in 1400. The so-called Wars of the Roses were not a conflict between the counties of Lancashire and York, but a battle between aristocratic families for supremacy. Since both factions held extensive lands in both counties, geography was less important than power. So the Yorkist Nevilles, Mowbrays, and Scropes, and the Lancastrian Percys and Cliffords held lands both in the North Riding and elsewhere in the county. A final resolution to the dynastic struggles was not achieved until 1485, with the landing of Henry Tudor at Milford Haven and the subsequent battle of Bosworth.

Much of the country had seen a move towards economic recovery through the fifteenth century, but this was less pronounced in the North Riding than elsewhere; the improvement in taxable capacity since the lay subsidy of 1334 amounted to less than half the national average. By the end of the sixteenth century, the population of the shire as a whole rose to approximately 300,000.

Tudor and Stuart North Riding

The religious life of early Tudor Yorkshire was dominated by approximately seventy religious houses, ranging from small priories to England’s most splendid monastic houses: Whitby (Benedictine), Fountains, Rievaulx, and Jervaulx (Cistercian), and Mount Grace (Carthusian). Since many of these foundations were constructed explicitly to provide space removed from urban life, the moorlands of the North Riding became preferred sites. These sites also became a principal focus of Henry VIII’s plan to dissolve the wealthy monasteries in favour of the crown. Monastic lands were sold to Henry’s friends and supporters and monastic buildings became homes to many of the North Riding’s most prominent families. Local resistance to this attack on traditional religion was inevitable. In October of 1536 the movement known as the Pilgrimage of Grace began in Lincolnshire and quickly spread to Yorkshire. With the support of Yorkshire families like the Nevilles, Percys, and Scropes, the rebellion led by Robert Aske of Aughton in the East Riding came face-to-face with the government’s forces at Doncaster. Royal promises of a free pardon and a parliament at York convinced Aske and his rebels to disband. A further rebellion gave the royal forces an excuse for widespread arrests (though it is unlikely that Henry had any intention of keeping his promises) and Aske was executed along with many others. The Pilgrimage set the tone for much of the rest of the century, as the spread of Protestantism led to the destruction of church furnishings, wall paintings, rood screens, and other signs of traditional religion.

The Pilgrimage was less a coordinated rebellion than a series of local uprisings; for the North Riding, the centre of revolt was Richmond and the initial intent was to restore some of the smaller monastic establishments, like Easby Abbey just southeast of Richmond. To their demands for the restoration of monastic houses, the leaders of the Richmondshire revolts soon added complaints focusing on excessive taxation and tenants’ rights, presented as a series of letters from ‘Captain Poverty.’ After the suppression of the revolts, the North Riding remained a hotbed of recusancy, documented extensively in Cecil’s recusancy rolls and quarter sessions records of fines paid by non-churchgoers. Eamon Duffy documents the lengths to which parishes would go to hide and preserve the traditional artwork and decoration of their churches, including statues spirited away from the parish church of Osmotherley. The destruction of two chantries at Seamer, near Scarborough, provoked a mob of some 3,000 who dragged out and executed the local officials they held responsible.

The North Riding moors, difficult for both access and travel, not only remained a centre of recusancy but also became a principal route for Catholic missioners who, after study at continental sites like Valladolid and Douai, landed at Whitby and travelled overland the few miles to safe houses like the dissolved Grandmontine house of Grosmont, before moving on to postings with Catholic families around the country. An anonymous letter to Robert Cecil dated 29 May 1599 described the moors as ‘a Busshoppricke of papist{es}, and Growman Abbey the headhowse.' Grosmont’s stone foundations are now buried beneath a barn. A short walk from Grosmont leads to Egton, home of the country’s only documented company of recusant players.

The county became the focus of the only serious challenge to Elizabeth I’s reign when in October of 1569 the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland led a rebellion centred on County Durham and the North Riding. The earls issued a series of three proclamations defining their complaints and clarifying that the rebellion was both religious and political in character, demanding first the restoration of the old religion and second the dismissal of a host of new Protestant administrative appointments: 'forasmuch as diverse, disordered, and ill disposed persons about the Queen’s majesty have by their crafty and subtle dealing to advance themselves overthrown in this realm the true and catholic religion toward God, and by the same abuseth the Queen, disorder the realm, and now lastly seeketh to procure the destruction of these nobility.'

The second proclamation, issued a few days later, repeated the two principal complaints in more forceful language: '[w]hereas diverse new set up nobles about the Queen’s Majesty, have and do daily, not only go about to overthrow and put down the ancient nobility of this realm, but also have misused the Queen’s Majesty’s own person, and also have by the space of twelve years now past, set up and maintained a newfound religion and heresy, contrary to God’s word.' The third proclamation expanded the attack on the ‘new men’ in Elizabeth’s administration, carefully avoiding any attack on Elizabeth herself, but added the earls' concern over the succession to the throne in the new political climate, asking for ‘the reforming of certain disorders crept in by the abuse and malicious practice of sundry wicked and evil-disposed persons, to make known and understood to all manner of persons to whom of mere right the true succession of the Crown appertaineth.’ Although the initial impetus for the rebellion came from the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, it drew wide popular support; indeed, more than eighty percent of the rebels had no tenancy connection with the vast estates of the two earls.

The rebellion was put down swiftly and Elizabeth’s retaliation was severe, with the North Riding bearing the brunt of her anger. There is extensive evidence that the rebellion had widespread popular support; the wide distribution of the rebel's origins is strikingly clear when they are mapped. Sir George Bowes, a member of the Council of the North, wrote to the earl of Sussex that 'daylye the people flee from theys parts to th [sic] Earles; and [I] knowe not what shulde be done to staye [them,] for I have notefyed their unloyall and rebellious dealings, and with fayre speche and bestowinge of money, used those that came in the most gentle manner I coulde. But it avayleth nothing....' The accuracy of his complaint is indicated by the official reaction once the rising was put down: executions were ordered to correspond to between sixteen and thirty-nine percent of the number of rebels in each town: so the Ryedale village of Gilling East, with 225 rebels, saw thirty-seven executions; Gilling West, with 141, saw thirty; and Richmondshire, with 1241, saw 231.

The North Riding, especially the moorlands, remained a hotbed of recusancy until well beyond the end of our period. The last executions took place in York in the wake of ‘Popish plots’ scare on 6 August 1679; one of those executed on that occasion as a 'seminary priest' was Father Nicholas Postgate, who as a youth had been a member of the Simpsons’ company of players. Postgate was admitted to the seminary at Douai on 4 July 1621. He was ordained in 1628 and returned to England in 1630.

For the most part the Elizabethan settlement of 1559 was met with limited resistance, as the majority of those who remained Catholics lived as 'church papists,' attending the parish church regularly as required, while some continued to practice Catholic ritual in the privacy of their homes. As Hey points out, open practice of the Catholic faith was limited to the district of Richmondshire where half the gentry families were Catholic, and to the northern parts of the Vale of York. The peace that began Elizabeth's reign did not last long, however. Within a year of the settlement the earls of Northumberland, Cumberland, and Westmorland – that is, the prominent families of Percy, Neville, and Clifford – rebelled in Durham and the North Riding. The rebellion’s primary effect was to motivate Elizabeth's appointment of staunch Protestants to major offices in the North: Edmund Grindal to the archbishopric of York, and Henry Hastings, twentieth earl of Huntingdon, as lord president of the Council of the North. It also led Elizabeth to expand her secret service, a spy network led by Sir Francis Walsingham, her secretary of state, under the guidance of William Cecil, first Baron Burghley, who became lord treasurer in 1572. Burghley undertook a widespread documentation of recusancy, the results of which form a substantial part of the Cecil papers at Hatfield House.

Boroughs and Towns


Middleham occupies a strategically important position on the River Ure, in the centre of the Yorkshire dales, and was a significant part of northern defenses since Roman times. William the Conqueror granted the site to his cousin Alan Rufus, who built a wooden castle. This was replaced, beginning in 1190, by one of the largest and most splendid of the northern castles, which became the home of the Neville earls of Westmorland in the thirteenth century. Richard III spent several years of his childhood at Middleham and returned there, first as administrator of the North for Edward IV, and in 1472 with his bride, Anne Neville. Their son Edward was born in the castle and died there in 1484. Middleham’s political importance was recognized by 1389 with the grant of a weekly market and annual fair on the feast of St Alkelda (March 28). During the sixteenth century the castle fell into disrepair but in 1604 James granted it to Sir Henry Linley, who repaired the fabric and lived there until his death in 1610. The payments to Middleham’s waits that appear in the household accounts of the Danby family of Masham and the Carlisle civic accounts likely refer to household musicians of the Neville family, not civic performers, since Middleham, with an estimated population of 210 by 1563, would not have been large enough to support a band of waits.


The Honour of Richmond, consisting of extensive estates in several counties with its administrative hub in the North Riding, was granted in 1069 by William I to Alan Rufus, who quickly began the building of an extensive stone castle on the bluff overlooking the River Swale. Borough status was granted to the new town at some point between 1136 and 1145. Richmond’s strategic importance led to frequent raiding from Scotland and in 1312 Edward II granted the town murage in order to support the construction of a town wall. The murage grant was renewed in 1332, 1338, and 1399. A 1278 charter gave the town an annual four-day September fair on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, in addition to the pre-existing Saturday market. The 1301 lay subsidy roll suggests an urban population of about 600. This figure would certainly have decreased after the plague of 1348–50, but by the mid-sixteenth century had risen again to around 1710. Richmond’s charter placed its administration in the hands of four bailiffs, elected from among the burgesses who themselves were members of a number of guilds. These included religious confraternities dedicated to St Mary and St John as well as a number of craft guilds. In the sixteenth century these numbered thirteen but the medieval list is uncertain. A cohort of waits or civic musicians seems to have existed through the later fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, though they can be traced primarily through their touring activities rather than through civic accounting. They played in Londesborough in the East Riding before the earl of Cumberland in 1609, 1611, 1612, 1621, and 1630. Within the town their annual appearances as entertainment at a feast are noted in the accounts of the guild of Mercers, Grocers, and Haberdashers.


The North Sea port of Scarborough, whose massive headland had made it a major Roman signalling station, became by the eleventh century a prosperous Norse town and its burning by Harald Hardrada in 1066 is likely the reason for its absence from the Domesday Book. It took several generations to rebuild and the restored town was granted a charter as a royal borough (modelled on York) by Henry II in 1155, confirmed in 1163. Both the city’s castle, built early in Henry’s reign, and its harbour were of major strategic importance. Lacking an estuary like Hull or Whitby, however, Scarborough’s harbour depended on its wooden pier for both its fishing industry and its trade with the continent. The town’s charter was frequently updated, with the addition in 1253 of a six-week fair lasting from the feast of the Assumption to Michaelmas. A 1256 charter incorporating the manor of Falsgrave gave the town access to arable land and pasturage as well as to a source of fresh water. These were undoubted advantages but they also led to the increase in the town’s fee farm rental to a very substantial £91.

By 1467 the town had eighteen trade guilds, including masons, weavers, glovers, butchers, tailors, wrights, and smiths. Scarborough’s prosperity began to decline during the fourteenth century as the new town of Hull began to lure business away. The lay subsidy roll of 1334 documents the beginning of this decline, with Hull almost equal to Scarborough in population; by 1377, Scarborough was thirtieth in the country in population, while Hull had risen to twenty-fourth. By the end of the fourteenth century Scarborough’s population was about 2,500, but no figures are available for the Elizabethan period. Shipping was seriously affected by changes from wool shipping to the continent in favour of domestic cloth production, as well as a decrease in the fishing trade. In 1414–18 the town’s fishing boats numbered about forty. This declined to thirty in 1440 and to seventeen by 1546. Richard III spent the summer of 1484 in Scarborough with the intent of making the port his principal naval base in the Scottish wars, but his death the following year meant that these plans came to nothing. Scarborough’s harbour, as we have seen, was entirely dependent on its pier and when John Leland visited the town in 1544 he noted that ‘[t]he peere wherby socour is made for shippes is now sore decayid, and that almost yn the midle of it.’ Application was made to Henry VIII and later to Edward VI and in 1551 provision was made for the repair of the pier, but for reasons now unknown the warrant for this royal subsidy was lost and the lead was stripped from two of the town's churches, St Thomas's and Holy Sepulchre, and sold to pay for the repairs to the pier. Scarborough was included in the 1540 Act for urban renewal (32 Hen VIII, c.18). In 1555, when a storm blew the roof from two of the towers of Scarborough's large parish church of St Mary, described by Leland as 'very faire,' the towers were not repaired and the roofing leads were sold, with most of the profit going to repairs to the harbour. Expenditure on repairs to the wooden pier continued to the end of the century, but by 1613 the exportation of sea coal from Scarborough had become sufficiently lucrative that the privy council approved a levy on all ships trading along the coast between Newcastle and London, to provide for the construction of a stone pier.


Although an urban centre of considerable importance, Whitby never received a formal borough charter. From the earliest records, the town came under the governance of the Benedictine abbey of St Mary under an abbey charter of c 1128. Founded in 656, the abbey of Streoneshalh (the earlier name of Whitby) became famous as the site of the 664 Synod of Whitby, during which the Roman dating of Easter was adopted in preference to the Celtic mode. The town’s privileges were encapsulated in a charter of around 1128, drawn up by the abbot ‘with privileges similar to those conferred on other boroughs of the period. By this charter, the town was to be a free borough for ever....’ The charter was given royal confirmation, but objections from the abbey administration led to a request for the abrogation of the charter in favour of the abbey: ‘"That the burgesses of Whitebi should not be allowed to use the liberties granted them by the abbot and convent of Whitebi, and confirmed by the charter of our lord the king, till it was determined in the king’s court, whether the abbot and convent had power to give them those liberties...."’ The request went to the new king John, along with a gift of 100 marks, and early in 1200 the town’s charter was cancelled. Following the dissolution of the abbey in 1540, the town’s burgesses moved to obtain a charter of self-government, and although Henry VIII directed that letters patent be prepared, his directions were never implemented and the town remained without a charter until the nineteenth century.

Whitby town straddles the River Esk, while the abbey site is concentrated on the south side of the estuary. In 1540 the town had a population of around 200, with fishing its principal industry; it was cited by Leland in 1538 as 'a great fischar toune.'

Ecclesiastical Records

Diocesan Records

The survival of the records of ecclesiastical administrations is in inverse proportion to the fragmentation of the administrative unit. The centralization of diocesan records, primarily in the minster at York, provided a level of security not available to the records of smaller units. The records of visitations on the archidiaconal and archiepiscopal levels are extensive, though somewhat complicated by the changes in diocesan boundaries brought about by the Henrician reforms of 1540–2. Principal among these changes was the creation of the diocese of Chester, which conjoined the archdeaconries of Chester (diocese of Lichfield) and Richmond (diocese of York), placing the western half of the North Riding in the diocese of Chester. The new diocese, initially in the province of Canterbury, was moved in 1542 to York. These changes led to some fragmentation of diocesan records, with those documents held by the former archdeaconries tending to remain there. The changes in diocesan boundaries are documented on the diocesan layer of the REED Online map. The records of the county's religious houses did not for the most part survive the Dissolution and the religious uprisings that followed, like the 1536 Pilgrimage of Grace, with limited documents surviving from Whitby (North Riding), Fountains (West Riding), Bridlington (East Riding), and Ripon (West Riding).

Parish Records

The parishes of the North Riding were for the most part large and spread out, with limited connection to senior administrative units. Although considerable documentation survives outlining the attempts of the central administration (especially Elizabeth's principal advisor, William Cecil, first Baron Burghley) to track recusancy parish by parish throughout the county, administrative records of individual parishes are few and far between and churchwardens’ accounts, often the most useful local documents for REED purposes, are almost entirely lacking for the riding. The most extensive source for information on the parishes of the North Riding lies in the visitation records of the archbishop and the archdeacon, which survive virtually complete.


Bellasis of Newburgh Priory

Sir Henry Bellasis (1555–1624) inherited the former Augustinian priory of Newburgh which his great-uncle Anthony had been granted at the time of the Dissolution. Anthony had been ordained in 1533 and prospered at Henry VIII’s court, serving as his chaplain from 1540. His nephew and ward Sir William Bellasis (c 1524–1604) succeeded to the estate on Anthony’s death in 1552. He served as high sheriff for Yorkshire in 1574 and as commissioner for the peace in the North Riding in 1564. Henry’s mother, Margaret (d. in or after 1577), was the daughter of Sir Nicholas Fairfax of Gilling Castle; the union that produced Henry thus linked two of the riding’s wealthiest and most powerful families. Henry Bellasis served as MP for Thirsk in 1586, 1589, 1593, and 1601 as well as in 1597 for Aldborough. Questions about Bellasis’ religious orthodoxy may have kept him from appointment to several commissions of the peace and as high sheriff in 1603–4. He was knighted in 1603 and created baronet in 1611. Sir Henry’s son Thomas ascended to the baronetcy on his father’s death in 1624 and was created Lord Fauconberg of Yarm in 1627 and created Viscount Fauconberg in 1643.

The surviving priory buildings include a great hall in the wing to the left of the entrance porch. Pevsner notes that the hall may date from the Jacobean period.

Cholmeley/Cholmley of Brandsby and Whitby

The widespread Yorkshire family of Cholmeley/Cholmley derives from Sir Richard Cholmley (c 1516–83), who was granted the lease of Whitby Abbey and its estates on 2 March 1539/40 and purchased the freehold in 1555. Richard's family was large, with children by both his first wife, Margaret Conyers, and (after her death) his second wife, Catherine Clifford, daughter of Henry Clifford, first earl of Cumberland. The Whitby estate went to Francis, the eldest son of Richard’s first marriage. Between 1583 and 1593 Francis and his wife rebuilt the Abbey House, which lies to the south of the Abbey ruins and served as the family's living quarters, and is now the Abbey's visitor centre. A plan of the estate from about 1700 shows the 'New House' as a rectangular hall, 51 by 126 feet. On Francis' death in 1586 the estate passed to the son of Sir Richard's second marriage, Sir Henry Cholmley of Whitby.

The Brandsby branch of the family stems from the two younger sons of Sir Richard by his first wife, Roger and Richard. The Brandsby estate came into the family with Roger’s wife Jane, the daughter of Thomas de la River of Brandsby. Roger’s son Marmaduke succeeded to the estate on his father’s death in 1577 or 1578. Ursula, his wife, was left a widow. The estate then passed to Marmaduke’s brother Richard, who began keeping memoranda of its administration, noting expenses, legal problems, hiring of servants, and other matters. Richard married Mary Hungate of Saxton, near Tadcaster, on 1 March 1604/5. Both Richard and Mary were Catholics, so the marriage was recorded in the recusancy list of 1604. Richard’s sister-in-law Ursula continued to live at Brandsby until her death in 1614. Richard’s memorandum book includes frequent payments to musicians and players, especially at Christmas. On 10 April 1616 he was fined ten shillings for harbouring players, a payment which does not appear among his memoranda. The last entries in his book are dated in early 1623 and it is likely that he died that year. The Tudor Brandsby Hall was pulled down in 1745 for the construction of a new Italianate residence; nothing of the earlier building remains.

Sir Hugh Cholmley, eldest son of Sir Richard Cholmley (1580–1631) of the Whitby-based line, was born on the family estate of Roxby in 1600. Hugh began writing his memoirs in 1655 as a memorial to his wife Elizabeth, who had died in that year; during their composition over the course of the following year, the memoirs expanded into a detailed family history from about 1530, intended for his sons William and Hugh. Hugh senior undertook a military career, successfully treading a fine line between the royalists and the parliamentarians, changing his loyalties from parliament to the Crown in March of 1643. During much of the Civil War he was constable of Scarborough Castle. His memoirs (first published in 1787) give a broad picture of his family and childhood. He died in 1657.

Danby of Masham

From 1329 to 1517 the manor of Masham was the seat of the Scrope family. The death of Thomas, fifth Lord Scrope of Masham, in 1475 left the estate with three female coheirs, one of whom, Margaret Scrope, married Sir Christopher Danby of Thorpe Perrow. Their grandson, Sir Thomas Danby (c 1530–1590), consolidated his widespread lands and through careful purchasing amassed a large estate in the North Riding, centred on Masham. He was succeeded by his eight-year-old grandson Christopher (1582–1624), who on his father’s death became a ward of Thomas Cecil, Lord Burghley’s eldest son. Christopher’s wardship was transferred to his mother, a firm Catholic, and in 1607 he married Frances Parker, sister of Lord Monteagle; the couple appears regularly in the recusancy lists. Christopher’s tenure of the estate was marred by the machinations of a corrupt steward who came close to bankrupting the family. The case went to Star Chamber and Christopher was eventually outlawed for debt.

Gilling Castle, Great Hall, high end. Photo: David Klausner.

Fairfax of Gilling Castle

The fortified manor house of Gilling Castle was built in the fourteenth century by Thomas de Etton; the estate went to his wife's family, the Fairfaxes, after Thomas died without an heir. His grandson, Sir Nicholas (1498–1571), became a prominent member of the Council of the North, despite his involvement in the 1536 Pilgrimage of Grace, and he represented Scarborough in parliament in 1542 and Yorkshire in 1547 and 1563. His son, Sir William Fairfax (by 1531–97), began the rebuilding of the house in 1571, shortly after his father's death. His renovations included the construction of an exceptionally beautiful Great Hall, decorated with carved wainscoting, a fine chimneypiece, and a superb plaster drop ceiling. An extraordinary collection of stained glass windows presents the arms of Yorkshire gentry families; a frieze above the oak panelling shows a group of musicians, who may represent the family's resident ensemble or the family itself, play several viole da braccio, two lutes, and a cittern.

Gilling Castle frieze, left panel. Photo: David Klausner

Gilling Castle frieze, right panel. Photo: David Klausner

The hall survives in excellent condition today. William was elected to parliament for Yorkshire in 1597 in a disputed election but died shortly after the beginning of the session. He also served as county sheriff in 1577–78 and as a member of the Council of the North from 1577. Sir William's son, Sir Thomas Fairfax II (c 1575–1636) kept residences at both Gilling Castle and Walton. His household inventories list a number of musical instruments, including a 'base violin,' an orpharion, and a set of virginals.

Hoby of Hackness

Sir Thomas Posthumous Hoby (1566–1640) was the son of Sir Thomas Hoby (1530–66), ambassador to France during Mary’s reign. His mother Elizabeth married John, Lord Russell, after her first husband’s death. As Lady Elizabeth Russell she was one of the petitioners objecting to the reconstruction of the Blackfriars theatre in 1596, since as a staunch Puritan she disapproved of the crowds and the noise a nearby theatre would bring.

Her son Thomas was exceptionally well connected: he was first cousin to Robert Cecil and his mother was sister-in-law to Robert’s father, William Cecil, first Baron Burghley. In 1595 Hoby married Margaret Sidney (nÈe Dakins), who had already survived two husbands, Walter Devereux, younger brother of the earl of Essex, and Thomas Sidney, brother of Sir Philip Sidney. Margaret brought to the marriage the manor of Hackness, just inland from Scarborough. Hoby did not find easy acceptance in the life of the North Riding. A staunch and litigious Protestant in a region known for a high degree of recusancy, he exacerbated his differences with his neighbours by using his position as JP to enforce the laws on religion with a heavy hand. In 1597 he was elected MP for Yorkshire and Scarborough but was judged to be ineligible for Yorkshire. He retained his Scarborough seat in 1604 and was elected for Ripon regularly in the 1620s. He served as custos rotulorum for the North Riding from 1621 to 1626, and as a member of the Council of the North from 1603. He has been described as ‘[a] born busybody, humourless and immoderate in the discharge of what he conceived to be his duty, and quite indefatigable in the pursuit of recusants’ and a contemporary called him a ‘spindle-shanked ape.’ As Jack Binns explains, ‘[h]e was perceived as a contemptible, foreign southerner and carpet-bagger, deliberately and offensively planted in the North to spy on his neighbours.’

In 1600 Hoby brought legal action against William Eure, son of Lord Eure, and a number of Eure’s companions, alleging that under the pretext of being a hunting party they had entered his house, taken drink, played cards, ridiculed Puritanism, and threatened to ravish his wife. The case went to Star Chamber, where it continued for several years. The court’s decision in Hoby’s favour led to a fine of £100 imposed upon Eure.

It has been suggested that Hoby was the model for Shakespeare’s Malvolio in ‘Twelfth Night' and that Malvolio’s reaction to the drunken antics of Sir Toby and his crew derives from the Eure lawsuit. Hoby died on 30 December 1640. His wife Margaret died in 1633; the diary she kept between 1599 and 1605 gives a detailed picture of their life at Hackness.

Hutton of Marske

Sir Timothy Hutton (1569–1629) was the son of Matthew Hutton (1529?–1606), dean and later archbishop of York from 1595 until his death. Timothy purchased the manor of Marske Hall, Swaledale, in 1598. He served as sheriff of Yorkshire in 1605–6 but was fined £230 for neglect of duties. Timothy’s son, also named Matthew, corresponded extensively with family and friends during his studies at Cambridge, and many of his letters survive in the North Riding Record Office. Nothing of the Tudor hall remains; it was razed and rebuilt in the mid-eighteenth century.

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    • Because of the closure of the archives due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Danby of Masham household records are still awaiting on-site checks. Please stay tuned for a publication notice.
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