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The pastimes of George Ferrers: reconstructing the life and career of a Tudor Renaissance gentleman.

On 9 July 1575, Queen Elizabeth I arrived at Kenilworth Castle for a series of festivities that lasted nineteen days. (1) Her host was royal favorite Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, who, through allegory, spectacle, and numerous other diversions, launched his final campaign to convince the Queen to marry him, or, at the very least, to sell her on an ambitious Protestant foreign policy (Frye 47-53). Undoubtedly, Elizabeth was fully aware of the political implications at Kenilworth, as she entered the grounds to be met by a big strong buff Hercules, who, "dazzled by the rare beauty and princely countenance of her majesty," immediately surrendered custody of the castle into her charge. (2) As Elizabeth then walked through the gate into the base court, a lady and two attendants began to careen across a pool as if walking on water, conveyed either by a raft or a moveable island. It was the lady of the island, King Arthur's Lady of the Lake, and the words of her recitation had been written by the gentleman George Ferrers. (3) The lady's address was both poetry and history, as it described how she had persevered through Anglo-Saxons, Danes, Normans, and Plantagenets, concluding with the statement, "the lake, the lodge, the lord, are yours to command." Elizabeth immediately responded to the lady's oration, remarking, "We had thought indeed the lake had been ours, and do you call it yours now? Well, we will herein common more with you hereafter" (Gascoigne 3). While Elizabeth may not have been aware that Ferrers was the author of the Lady of the Lake's address, it can be said with much more certainty that she knew who he was, as his multi-faceted career brought him periodically into the limelight over the course of the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I.

George Ferrers (c.1510-79) was fleetingly famous for much of the sixteenth century in England, earning contemporary praise and notoriety primarily for diverse and momentary bursts of fame rather than for a body of sustained achievements within any specific context. Today, his historical shade is only visible within a fragmented assemblage of literary, documentary, and narrative sixteenth-century primary sources, which, collectively examined, reveals both the deficiencies and the limitations of current paradigms of early modern historical and literary research. For instance, cultural historians are quite familiar with Ferrers' momentous "reign" as "lord of misrule" over the final two Christmas courts held by the teenaged Tudor King Edward VI in 1551/52 and 1552/53. In contrast, sixteenth-century English literary scholars comprehend Ferrers as a substantial contributor to various editions of a volume published several times over the course of Elizabeth I's reign entitled The Mirror for Magistrates. But cultural historians and literary scholars are not necessarily concerned or aware that Ferrers translated the first English language version of Magna Carta three decades prior to Kenilworth, or that he provided the context for Henry VIII's famous pronouncement on the theoretical relationship between king and parliament in 1542.

Ferrers' modern obscurity is perhaps due to the fact that his career defies a conventional categorization; his resume was so variegated that his achievements have never been collectively celebrated. (4) Indeed, he has eluded the interest of scholars precisely because the various facets of his life and career are compartmentalized within a number of specific contexts, encompassing legal, military, and parliamentary histories, literary criticism, foreign affairs, and those brief, sometimes bizarre, mentions in narrative sources, state papers, and local archives. The most substantial secondary sources describing George Ferrers are brief biographical narratives in various editions of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and the History of Parliament series (Woudhuysen 427-27; Bindoff 129-31; Hasler 114-5). While these essays do a fine job of creating a timeline, they neither analyze nor speculate about the possible motivations behind the twists and turns of Ferrers' career. Indeed, the sheer diversity of George Ferrers' career renders his life a puzzle difficult to piece together; at various stages of his life he was a poet, a soldier, a historian, a lawyer, a courtier, and entertainer extraordinaire. From his vantage point at the royal courts of the Tudor monarchs Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary I, Ferrers possessed the uncanny ability to survive the falls of a succession of powerful patrons (Lewis 240-41).

Ferrers, in fact, was a textbook example of what Stephen Greenblatt has termed a Renaissance "self-fashioner," moving from the rural periphery of the middling ranks of the gentry to a coveted place at the epicenter of the Tudor royal court (Greenblatt 1-9). Where his life differs considerably from other, more celebrated Renaissance figures from Thomas More to Edmund Spenser was that, despite his abilities and opportunities, Ferrers, at critical junctures of his life, seemingly walked away from a number of opportunities that might have earned him a more sustained national reputation. Instead, Ferrers lived out much of his life as a scholar and a "big fish" in the smaller pond of Hertfordshire politics and society.

Ferrers started out his life, however, in a fashion very similar to contemporaries such as William Cecil and Nicholas Bacon, both of whom arose out of the ranks of the gentry to go on to brilliant administrative careers under Elizabeth I. Ferrers' father, Thomas Ferrers, was a property owner of St. Albans, Hertfordshire, who had married the Devonshire heiress Alice Cockworthy of Devonshire (C. Ferrers 1-16). Ferrers' path out of provincial obscurity began with his undergraduate studies at Cambridge, where in 1531 he received a bachelor's degree in Canon Law while still in his early twenties. His college days encompassed those momentous years of Henry VIII's reign when the "king's great matter," the quest for a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, transformed into the English Reformation, as young and ambitious lawyers clamored to fill the administrative ranks of what G.R. Elton famously termed the "Tudor Revolution in Government."

But Ferrers remained a scholar, in 1533 bearing the primary responsibility for editing and translating The Great Boke of Statutes, and the next year, the first published English translation of Magna Carta (G. Ferrers). In November 1534 Ferrers was admitted to Lincoln's Inn to practice law (Ireland 107-63). It may have been while in residence at Lincoln's Inn that Ferrers acquired experience as an entertainer during the various festivities that all the Inns of Courts staged for the numerous holidays of the Christian calendar (Elton 1-6; Raffield 2-26). But Ferrers also turned out to be a more than competent lawyer; the noted antiquarian John Leland considered him a particularly skillful orator and litigator (Leland).

Ferrers' legal prowess and obvious scholarly talents were attributes that could have easily lent themselves to a promising administrative career in royal government. Instead, Ferrers apparently craved the glitz and glitter of the courtier's life without any discernible desire for an office in royal government. By the mid-1530s Ferrers obtained the notice and goodwill of the best of all possible patrons for that particular moment in time, Thomas Cromwell, secretary to the King's Privy Council, who found him a place in his ministerial household, most likely because of his scholarly and legal achievements (Robertson 310). By 1538, Ferrers had risen high enough in Cromwell's esteem to be described as a gentleman "most mete to be daily waiters upon my said lord and allowed in his house" (Letters XIII: 494).

By the time of Cromwell's fall from power and execution in 1540, however, Ferrers had reached the pinnacle of mid-Tudor social and political achievement, catching the eye of Henry VIII himself, who apparently liked what he saw and heard from the man referred to as "Young Ferres," who entered the King's privy chamber in 1538 (Brigden 326-7). The next year, 1539, 'Young Ferres' was styled a 'squire' in the categories of personages slated to welcome Henry's fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, upon her arrival to England, and he later served as man of the spears, signifying his social status as a gentleman seemingly on the fast track to knighthood, a status Ferrers never obtained over the course of his long life (Letters XIV: 199-202).

Henry VIII greatly esteemed George Ferrers. It is likely that Ferrers captivated Henry, not only with his intellectual and legal talents, but also by his ability to listen to a war story enraptured, and perhaps spin a good one himself. As Ferrers' good friend and fellow literary collaborator William Baldwin later admitted, "I be unable to pen or speak the same so pleasantly as he coulde ..." (Baldwin 26). Given his later literary output, it is also quite possible that the king and Ferrers engaged in historical discussions as well. The 100 marks left to George in Henry's will are a measure of the king's high esteem (Rymer XV: 112-4). Fortunately for Ferrers, proximity to the royal person of the king translated into prestige as well as patronage. Ferrers had been friends with another gentleman of the privy chamber, Humphrey Bourchier. Bourchier's wife Elizabeth came from a long line of gentry in the Caddington region of Hertfordshire, specifically in the region close to what used to be Markyate priory, a nunnery situated on a prime parcel of real estate that had been dissolved in the late 1530s along with all the rest of the former monasteries and religious lands in England. Bourchier had a lease on the lordship of Markyate, but was having a hard time coming up with the cash for outright purchase when he died in 1540 (Page 193-201). In December of 1541, at the age of 31, Ferrers' married Bourchier's widow Elizabeth, the first of his three wives.

Ferrers' marriage and initial land acquisition coincided with the onset of his parliamentary career. In 1542, Ferrers was elected MP for the borough of Plymouth, accepting a satin doublet in lieu of wages, as he undoubtedly recognized the wisdom behind dressing for success while sitting in the Commons (Bindoff 130). Prior to the session, Ferrers had apparently offered surety for a loan of 200 marks that one White of Salisbury had obtained from a lender named Weldon. White, who was obviously experiencing a cash-flow problem, defaulted on the loan, so, as Ferrers was walking down the streets of London, he was apprehended and taken to the Compter, a jail on Bread Street. When the House of Commons was informed that an MP had been arrested for debt, they immediately sent the sergeant with his mace to the Compter to demand Ferrers' release, which turned into a scuffle as two London sheriffs turned up, during which the sergeant was constrained to use the mace as a weapon, breaking off the mace's crown in the process.

What emerged from this episode, besides black eyes and bruised limbs for all participants, was the recognition of immunity from arrest for sitting members of parliament. Henry VIII, in fact, took this episode very seriously and personally. The king, surrounded by his judges and a select group of notables from both houses, felt compelled by the incident to make his most famous statement on Tudor constitutional theory, as recounted more than half a century later by Raphael Holinshed:

we be informed by our judges, that at no time stand so highlie in our estate roiall, as in the time of parlement, wherein we as head and you as members, are conioined and knit together into one bodie politicke, so as what-soever offense or inurie (during that time) is offered to the meanest member of the house, is to be iudged as done against our person, and the whole court of parlement. (III.26)

This episode is sometimes considered Ferrers' most famous performance; the online encyclopedia Wikipedia article on George Ferrers only mentions this incident and nothing else about his life at all!

By the time Henry VIII died in January 1547, Ferrers had already ingratiated himself with Edward Somerset, Duke of Somerset, who dominated Edward Vi's minority regime as Lord Protector until his fall from power in October 1549, and Somerset's younger brother, Thomas Seymour, Lord Sudeley. Ferrers also made a positive impression upon the youthful king also. Although only nine years old upon his accession, Edward VI was a providential prodigy, intellectually and religiously, who also had a keen admiration for successful martial exploits conducted in the heat of battle. In particular, the young king paid careful attention to the Scottish policy of his uncle, Protector Somerset, the "Hammer of the Scots" (Beem 234). It is not surprising, then, that such a well-rounded figure like Ferrers would appeal to the young king; Ferrers was no stranger to the battlefield and had participated in Henry ViII's final continental military escapade in 1544, which resulted in the capture of Boulogne (Letters XIX, pt. 1: 164).

Ferrers was in Somerset's train during the 1547 Scottish campaign, as was William Cecil, who served as Somerset's secretary. A gentleman named William Patten wrote a first-hand account of this campaign, referring to Ferrers as "a gentleman of my lord Protector's and one of the commissioners of the cariages in this army" (Dvr). Although he was not knighted, as was his lifelong friend and literary collaborator Thomas Chaloner, Ferrers obviously distinguished himself sufficiently during the campaign for the king himself to present Ferrers with a copy of an account of the 1547 Scottish campaign written by one Le Sieur Berteville.

Following the 1547 Scottish campaign, Ferrers reaped a patronage windfall, obtaining a grant of the reversion of what had been a large chunk of Marykate priory, in Flamstead and Caddington in northwest Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, with a yearly value of 281 3s 71/2d (CPR I: 314-5). This patronage plum augmented Ferrers' initial acquisition of key lands in this region, begun by his marriage to Humphrey Bourchier's widow. For the rest of his life, Ferrers endeavored to increase his holdings in the regions of western Hertfordshire surrounding Marykate, including portions of the areas of Caddington and Flamstead.

As he consolidated his landholdings, Ferrers also returned as an MP to the House of Commons, perhaps aided by Sudeley, who apparently helped him obtain his seat for the borough of Cirencester in Edward's first parliament. By this time, George had married again, this time to Jane, daughter of John Southecote of St. Albans, following the untimely (or perhaps convenient) death of his first wife Elizabeth, who had provided Ferrers with his original interest in Markyate priory. Despite his presence at the epicenter of the Henrician and Edwardian royal courts, George always managed to marry a Hertfordshire heiress. His appointment as justice of the peace for Hertfordshire in 1547, a post he held until 1554, may very well have been the summit of George's social and political aspirations. In fact, it appears that, rather than seeking a post at the center of royal government, Ferrers sought the ultimate local post, which ostensibly represented the interests of the crown, yet still allowed such office holders wide latitude in the civil and criminal jurisdictions of their home counties.

Nevertheless, Ferrers' power and influence in the periphery of Hertfordshire was directly related to his connections at the metropole of the royal court. The Seymour connection could have been a serious liability by the end of 1549, as the reckless Thomas Seymour had been attainted for treason and beheaded the previous March, while Somerset was toppled from power in October by a coup led by John Dudley, later Duke of Northumberland, who dominated the governance of Edward's VI's minority government as a de facto regent for the remainder of the reign. As Ferrers made the leap from Cromwell to Henry VIII, he negotiated a similar transition from Somerset to Northumberland, as did his contemporary William Cecil (Alford 39-42). This time, however, it was a rockier road, but one that nonetheless demonstrated Ferrers' adaptability to changing political circumstances. In April 1550, George had been apprehended and put under house arrest in Northumberland's house in Greenwich on suspicion of writing inflammatory pamphlets in support of Somerset ("Letters" 127). However, a year and a half later, George found himself appointed to reign as "lord of misrule" over Edward's Christmas court of 1551/1552, while Edward's uncle, the newly convicted felon Somerset, was incarcerated in the Tower of London under a death sentence (Documents 56-82).

Ferrers' reign as "lord of misrule" constituted the pinnacle of his career as a courtier. The historian Richard Grafton later wrote during Elizabeth's reign that the Christmas festivities constituted a plot hatched by Northumberland and Ferrers designed to divert an allegedly heavyhearted King Edward from Somerset's impeding execution (Grafton 526-7). A number of scholars from Sydney Anglo to Scott Lucas have questioned Grafton's assertions, noting how improbable it would have been for Northumberland to have appointed Ferrers, who had been such a close adherent of Somerset's, as "lord of misrule" (Anglo 306; Lucas 19-46). It has been recently argued that it was King Edward's idea to appoint George as "lord of misrule," while Northumberland not only expedited the king's wishes, but outwardly reconciled himself to George, rewarding him personally with 50 [pounds sterling] from his own hands following the conclusion of the Christmas festivities of 1551/52 (Beem 235). Indeed, the letter from Northumberland to Thomas Cawarden, Master of the King's Revels, clearly stated that "the Kynges majesties plesser ys for his highness better recreation the tym of thies hollydayes to have a lord of misrule" (Folger 257). But despite Northumberland's outward show of affection, Ferrers never received a more permanent and lucrative court post, such as an appointment to Edward's privy chamber, which he had enjoyed under Henry VIII, nor did he gain any political office under Northumberland. (5)

This is not necessarily proof of any smoldering animosity on Northumberland's part; indeed Ferrers may not have even wanted a court post at all, which he had not obtained from Somerset, either. Indeed, Ferrers would later enjoy indirect patronage during Elizabeth's reign from Northumberland's son, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and royal favorite extraordinaire, who provided Ferrers with the venue for his final moment on the Tudor historical stage. By 1552, as the teenaged Edward VI was transitioning to his majority rule, Ferrets may have bypassed Northumberland completely when he was granted possession of Flamstead manor, probably by Edward himself, although a lease on the property still existed, which later developed into a legal dispute in Mary's reign (Page 125; CPR VI: 28).

At this stage in his life, when he had reached the culminating pinnacle of his land-acquisition objectives, Ferrers' appointment as "lord of misrule" provided him the ideal venue to unleash his intellectual and creative talents. In this sense, the scholarly Edward VI was a dream-cometrue patron; Ferrers' reign as "lord of misrule" became the first outlet for George's career as a literary artiste combining history and poetry in a dramatic setting. Historically, holiday "lords of misrule," a relic of classical paganism, were often boisterous characters whose behavior could easily lapse into the lewd and the profane, a particular form of holiday social inversion that was a long-standing tradition within the Inns of Court, where Ferrers undoubtedly gained the experience for his reign as a mock king (Billington 31-40). Indeed, Ferrers, a man who was conversant in both courtier and intellectual circles, was the perfect choice to devise the entertainments for such an exacting patron as the zealously Protestant Edward VI. Grafton observed that Ferrers was "a gentleman both wise and learned" whose entertainments displayed the breadth of Ferrers' Renaissance humanist education and reflected Edward VI's own anti-Catholic predilections (CSPS 444).

Ferrers was just as serious about producing his entertainments as he was about writing and performing them. Among the papers in the Loseley manuscripts are numerous letters from Ferrers to the Master of the King's Revels, Thomas Cawarden, impatiently and insistently requesting costumes and props. (6) Thirty years after the fact,John Stow provided proof positive of Ferrers' fame as "lord of misrule", as he bestowed a glowing review of his performance,

George Ferrers, Gentleman of Lincoln's Inn, being lord of the merry disports all the twelve days, who so pleasantly and wisely behaved himselfe, that the King had great delight in his pastimes. (Stow 1055)

Ferrers' success guaranteed him a return engagement as "lord of misrule" the following year, an extravaganza featuring a kaleidoscope of characters, including divines, philosophers, an astronomer, a poet, a physician, an apothecary, and various clowns, jugglers, and friars (Documents 95). For the remainder of Edward VI's reign, Ferrers and his collaborators, William Baldwin and the Chaloner brothers Thomas and Francis, continued to devise entertainments for the royal court (APC IV: 210).

Nevertheless, Ferrers' fame proved a double-edged sword following King Edward's untimely death (6 July 1553). During the reign of his half-sister and successor, the Catholic Mary I (1553-1558), Ferrers' activities acquired a decided murkiness in the historical record, as various Elizabethan editions of John Foxe's Acres and Monuments identified Ferrers as being arrested soon after Mary's accession in August 1553 and then attending her coronation in October, while more recent sources assert that Ferrers served as Lord of Misrule for her first Christmas court. (7) The next occasion when an individual appears in the historical record who was indisputably George Ferrers was during the Wyatt Revolt, which erupted at the end of January 1554, over Mary's determination to take her Catholic Hapsburg cousin, Prince Philip of Spain, as her husband. In Edward Underhill's account, Ferrers remained prestigious enough to be sent by Mary's Privy Council to Lord William Howard, who was in charge of the watch at London Bridge. After Ferrers joined Underhill's party, they approached Ludgate, which was locked. Of the three men in their party, George was the most well known, as he attempted to use his fame to get inside the city walls, telling the gatekeepers:

'I am Ferris, the lorde off misrule of kynge Edwarde, and am sent from the councell unto my lorde William, who hath the charge of the brige, as yow knowe, upon weyghtie affayres, so therefore lett us in, or else ye be nott the queens fryndes.' (Underhill 129-30)

Underhill's narrative also undercuts the notion that Ferrers served as Mary's Lord of Misrule, which he certainly would have also advertised if that had been the case. While Underhill identified Ferrers as a Protestant, which is also apparent from the tone of the Edwardian Christmas festivities, Ferrers nevertheless fought bravely for Mary, whose government later rewarded him with 100 [pounds sterling] for his pains ("Names", SP 11/3 n 6). George's religious convictions as a Protestant apparently co-existed with his adherence, as a devoted antiquarian, to the idea of an indefeasible hereditary monarchy, which explains his and many other Englishmen's loyalty to the Catholic Queen Mary at the most critical moment of her troubled five-year reign.

Nevertheless, it was George's other passion, as a dedicated humanist, that got him into trouble with Mary's regime. It seems more than ironic that Ferrers began contributing to the work, originally titled A memorial of suche Princes, that later became The Mirror For Magistrates, at the precise moment he stopped being a magistrate, when his tenure as Justice of the Peace for Hertfordshire was abruptly terminated in 1554. The impetus for this project came from Ferrets' friend and collaborator William Baldwin. Ostensibly a continuation of John Lydgate's fifteenth-century poetic history, The Fall of Princes, The Mirror For Magistrates included descriptions of historical figures from the late-fourteenth to the late-fifteenth centuries, whose moral failings were meant to serve as warnings to contemporary political figures (Budra 1-93). Indeed, the very first chapter of this work was Ferrers' poetic history of the career of Robert Tresilian, who flouted the law at the instigation of Richard II and was later executed by the Lords Appellant during the Merciless Parliament of 1388 (Ferrers, Mirror A3-B1). Not surprisingly, Mary's Lord Chancellor Stephen Gardiner censored A memorial of suche Princes just prior to publication. Given the fact that Ferrers had hitherto displayed conspicuous loyalty to Mary's regime, particularly during the Wyatt revolt, it seems likely that Ferrets' lost his Justice of the Peace commission because of his involvement in the abortive A memorial of suche Princes project, in which he seemingly traded his own magistracy to write about historical magistracies as cautionary tales for his own contemporaries.

For a man of Ferrers' apparent adaptability to changing political circumstances, his failure to enjoy favor under Mary I stands in stark contrast not only to his own previous experience under Henry VIII and Edward VI, but to the experience of individuals whose circumstances were not all that dissimilar to his. William Cecil, William Paget, and Ferrers' friend Thomas Chaloner all found employment in Mary's government in various capacities, as did the radically Protestant William Baldwin, who was among the founders of the Stationer's Company incorporated in 1556, the same year he produced a "highly elaborate spectacle" for Mary's 1556 Christmas court (Budra 8).

But perhaps the most glaring contrast to Ferrets is the remarkably adaptable career of Nicholas Udall, another "almost famous" humanist and dramatist, who was nearly Ferrets' exact contemporary. Born in 1504, Udall was educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he became friends with Fetters' admirer John Leland. Udall survived a 1528 heresy hunt at Oxford to later become headmaster of Eton in 1534, only to confess to an accusation of buggery in 1541, for which he was imprisoned in the Marshalsea for a season (Edgerton 15-67). During Edward VI's reign he wrote numerous works in defense of the Edwardian Reformation and testified for the crown in 1550 at the proceedings that ultimately deprived Stephen Gardiner of the bishopric of Winchester. Udall's reward was his appointment as canon of St. George's Chapel at Windsor in December 1551, while in the fall of 1552, Udall's play, Ralph Roister Doister, often considered the first English comedy, was performed before Edward VI at Windsor (Udall). Like Ferrers' loss of his justice of the peace commission, Udall lost his canonry in September 1553, but a year later, he was involved in staging "certen plaies made by Nicholas vdall" for Mary's 1554 Christmas, while the following year Stephen Gardiner left him thirty marks in his will, despite the fact that Udall had testified against him at his deprivation hearings! (Documents 159, 160, 166, 289-90)

Given the experience of Udall, Chaloner, and Baldwin, it appears reasonable to suppose that Ferrers could have accommodated himself to the Marian regime, which employed numbers of Protestants in a variety of capacities, if he had really wanted to. Nevertheless, it appears that once he lost his justice of the peace commission, Ferrers left the royal court for good, never to return, after a highly successful run under Henry VIII and Edward VI. Nevertheless, five months later, in May 1555, Ferrers again came to the attention of Mary's government, alleging that certain individuals, did calculate the king's and queen's [Philip and Mary] and my lady nativity; whereof one [John] Dee, and Car?', and Butler, and one other of my lady Elizabeth's are accused. And that they should have a familiar spirit; which is more the suspected, for that Ferys, one of the accusers, had, immediately upon the accusation, both his children striken, the one with present death, the other with blindness. (England 479)

After the accused were arrested and taken to Hampton Court, however, the Privy Council noted that as Ferrets had been sent out to apprehend one more conspirator, named Stanley, Ferrers then disappeared himself, so that Edwarde Chamberlain was ordered, if George did not reappear, to look for him in the "counties of Oxon, Stafford, Warwick and Wigorn"(APC V: 142). It is at this point that George drops from the historical record for the remainder of Mary's reign.

Considering the way in which Ferrets' accusation against Dee, a grudge he bore apparently to the end of his life, reflected upon Elizabeth at a critical moment in her life (as an imperiled heir to the throne, she was wrapping up a yearlong house arrest in Woodstock), his days as a courtier were over for good. George does not appear to have enjoyed any discernible favor directly from Elizabeth, but he suffered no ostensible retaliation either, and in fact he enjoyed the office of Escheator in Hertford and Essex in 1567. However, George's principle occupation during Elizabeth's reign was composing works of scholarship, writing poetry, most of it now lost, and contributing to various editions of A Memorial of suche Princes, rechristened The Mirror for Magistrates, which first appeared in 1559, and subsequently in 1563, 1574, and 1578. Ferrers' contributions to the Mirror were, in fact, the most durable of his literary accomplishments, a work much read over the entire duration of early modern English history, and one that has been frequently analyzed by literary scholars (Trench 71-88).

During the 1560s Ferrers shied away from Elizabeth I's royal court but continued to maintain his standing in local Hertfordshire society. In the 1570s, however, he returned for two decidedly different but memorable appearances upon the Elizabethan national stage. Despite his obvious devotion of letters, George once again donned the hat of national politician, elected to parliament in 1571 as MP for St. Albans. During the session, Ferrers was drawn into the web of John Lesley, the Scottish Roman Catholic Bishop of Ross, who had penned a work entitled A Defence of the Honor of Marie, Queene of Scotland (1569), supporting the claim of Mary Queen of Scots to the English throne. Resident in England, Lesley was Mary's chief advisor and in 1571 gave his consent to the plot hatched by the Catholic Florentine banker Roberto Ridolfi, which aimed to depose Elizabeth and replace her with the Queen of Scots. Elizabeth's government had been kept abreast however, and Lesley was arrested. In a deposition dated 26 October 1571, Lesley stated that a certain Talbott, a servant of Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, and a "Corrector to the Prynters" had consulted Fetters for his legal opinion on a number of writings, including Lesley's, concerning Elizabeth's title to the throne, and those of her would-be successors, including the by-then-deceased Catherine Grey and Mary Queen of Scots. According to Lesley, Ferrers showed Talbott, "A book he made in laten, of the deducing of the lyne from the Red Rose and the White, and so he thought to bring it to the End of the Scot's Quene's Title; but he had not yet brought it so far, and so amendid som thing in the Stories and other, and deliberid the Book again" (A Collection 30). What this passage reveals is George's continued use of his legal training by serving as a legal and historical consultant for various treatises touching the succession, which constituted a rather dangerous enterprise in 1571. But it also reveals Ferrets' antiquarian interest in the notion of an indefeasible hereditary monarchy, which perhaps explains both the robust aid offered to Mary I during the Wyatt Revolt, and the accusation against Dee, whose alleged attempts to forecast the date of Mary's death were within the scope of treason, and were offered well after Mary's government had deprived Ferrers of the only magistracy he ever really wanted. The work in question, no longer extant, was apparently only considering Mary Queen of Scot's claim as a hereditary descendant of Henry VII. Nevertheless, Ross also identified Ferrers in his deposition as one of his sources for information concerning the proceedings of the 1571 parliamentary session earlier that year (HMC Salisbury, 560 n. 1710).

Ferrets' activities as an informant for Lesley could have been political dynamite in the year of the Ridolfi Plot, but it appears that no harm came to him for his actions. This could have been due to a number of reasons: the Privy Council may have simply considered him a harmless crank, while his book on the succession may have simply fallen through the cracks of the Elizabethan censors, given Ferrers' relationship with Talbott. Another possible explanation is that Ferrers may have had a well-placed patron at the center of power in a position to cushion his fall. It was perhaps no coincidence that Ferrers soon found a place under the wide umbrella of the Earl of Leicester's patronage of humanist scholars and poets (Rosenberg 59-115). Although his connection to Leicester is shadowy, Ferrets was just the kind of man that Leicester tended to favor, for he lavished patronage on such scholars and artists as John Stow, Richard Grafton, George Gascoigne, and Thomas Chaloner (Wilson 88-161). Ferrers had remained in contact with the Chaloner brothers well into Elizabeth's reign; Thomas, who served as an ambassador to the Low Countries, enjoyed Leicester's patronage for the rest of his life, and may very well have been the crucial link between Ferrers and his patron (Calendar of State Papers; Lemon 255).

Other evidence provides tangential links between Ferrers and Leicester. Simon Adams has demonstrated that Leicester wielded considerable influence over the return of burgesses for the House of Commons, particularly in the years 1571, 1572, and 1584 (196-200). Leicester in fact approached St. Albans, ostensibly to make sure the returned MPs would support active intervention for the revolt of the Protestant Dutch against Philip II. J.E. Neale considered Leicester "the supreme patron" of Elizabethan borough elections (209-12). The St. Albans election may well have provided the context for Leicester, who undoubtedly witnessed the Edwardian Christmas celebrations, to become reacquainted with Ferrers. Ferrers' affinity with the poet George Gascoigne, who also enjoyed Leicester's patronage, may also have been a crucial link that made possible the opportunity for Ferrers' lofty poetry to reach the ears of Queen Elizabeth as she entered Kenilworth castle on the evening of 9 July 1575. Leicester undoubtedly had the final say on the cast of literary luminaries to compose the plays and allegories that lay at the heart of the festivities regaling the Queen at Kenilworth. Indeed, if Ferrers had any ambitions about enjoying the personal favor of Elizabeth as he had enjoyed from Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary, this event was as close as he came.

Ferrers lived only three and a half years beyond his ultimate Elizabethan moment. Another edition of the Mirror for Magistrates appeared in 1578, this time with essays on the fifteenth-century Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and his notorious wife Eleanor Cobham, an obvious allusion to John Dee, a grudge, perhaps acerbated by Dee's enjoyment of the kind of favor and patronage from the queen that Ferrers had never enjoyed, that he apparently carried with him to the grave (Campbell 141-55). The following January Ferrers died intestate, but presumably peacefully in his own bed.

The career of George Ferrers presents a provocative case of an historical actor demonstrating the art of the possible that the English Reformation and Renaissance provided, a serious scholar who loved fun, pageantry and entertainment, a lawyer who loved history, poetry and the arts of war, and a courtier who forsook the royal court to pursue his muse. As his highly individualized moments of fame dissipated and fragmented through time, his probable desires and motivations for pursuing a career that ricocheted between obscurity, fame, and notoriety leave us with the curious notion of a man seemingly indifferent to fame and fortune, periodically enjoying the spotlight only to return home to his history and his poetry, beholden to no one in his own seemingly self-imposed sublime obscurity.

Works Cited

Acts of the Privy Council in England. Ed. John Roche Dasent. 32 vols. London, 1890-1907. Print.

Adams, Simon. Leicester and the Court. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2002. Print.

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Notes

(1.) An earlier version of this essay was presented at the annual meeting of the Elizabeth I Society, in conjunction with the South Central Renaissance Conference, in March 2008, in Kansas City, Mo.

(2.) The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth, ed. John Nichols (London: Society of Antiquaries, 1788), 7.

(3.) John Nichols identified Ferrers as the author of the Lady of the Lake's oration. See The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth (3 vols.) ed. John Nichols (London, 1828), I, 491-2.

(4.) Ferrers' relative fame as a parliamentarian, literary scholar, and entertainer filtered down to the end of the sixteenth century to receive several mentions in the histories of John Stow and Raphael Holinshed, and in Francis Meres' Palladis Tamia, which says, "so these are the best for tragedie (tragicke poets) Lorde Buckhurst, maister Edward [George] Ferris, the author of The Mirror for Magistrates ..." (285). But by the middle of the seventeenth century his fame had dissipated to the point that he failed to receive a single mention in the chapter on Hertfordshire notables in Thomas Fuller's History of the Wor thies of England. In the 1917 edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Sidney Lee speculates that one explanation for Ferrets' obscurity is that late-sixteenth-century commentators such as George Puttenham and Francis Meres mistakenly identified Ferrers as Edward, instead of George (1247-8). Nevertheless, this only accounts for Ferrers' limited recognition as a writer, which was but one facet of his career.

(5.) Ferrets apparently had the foresight to request funding expenses prior to his 1552 "reign" as lord of misrule; a warrant dated 31 November 1552 directed Sir John Williams "to pay George Ferrys being appointed to be lorde of the pastimes in the kinges majesties howse this Christmas, the sum of jcIi towards necessary charges" (APC IV. 181).

(6.) W. R. Streitberger has argued that Ferrets appointment was a direct affront to Cawarden, "because Cawarden was not one of Northumberland's supporters in the factional struggles over the removal of Somerset" (194-204). What Streitberger did not realize was that Fetters also was hardly a supporter of Northumberland prior to the Christmas festivities.

(7.) According to the Online John Foxe Project, Ferrers is identified in several Elizabethan editions of Actes and Monuments as a "Feries" who was imprisoned in the Tower in Aug. 1553, perhaps in support of the Jane Grey plot to displace Edward VI's elder half-sister Mary in the royal succession, and a "Lord Feris" who was present at Mary I's coronation in October. While this identification may be correct, the DNB's assertion that Ferrets served as "Lord of Misrule" for Mary I's first Christmas is unfounded. According to E.K. Chambers, the notion that Ferrers had served as "Lord of Misrule" for Mary's 1553 Christmas court stems from a letter from Fetters to Cawarden (Folger 289) that was transcribed by A.J. Kemp as "this daye being Saynt John's Daye, ano 1553" which was 27 December (36-7, 52). Chambers states that the letter was actually written during the 1552 Christmas, as the hobby horses and garments requested are in the accounts for that year's Christmas celebrations. Chambers concludes that "neither Mary nor Elizabeth seems to have revived the appointment of a lord of misrule at court."(407 n. 4)
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Date:Jun 22, 2011
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