Staffordshire Collection

Performance Traditions


The history of Lichfield Cathedral’s destroyed documents underlines a difficulty of attempting to write a survey of ceremonial and entertainment activities in Staffordshire. ‘Car rien ne supplée aux documents: pas de documents, pas d’histoire.' The sheer scarcity of documentary sources is in marked contrast to neighbouring Shropshire, whose shire town (Shrewsbury), for example, preserves over 250 shelf-feet of Hollinger boxes, stuffed with documents from the mid-thirteenth century to 1642 and beyond. The reasons for this paucity in Staffordshire (where reasons can be found) are diverse. In any event two boroughs that one might expect to find under discussion, Tamworth and Wolverhampton, are missing here because of their complete (or almost complete) lack of surviving documents. In the latter case, only a churchwardens’ account survives.

The varied parishes, villages, and small towns scattered through the countryside enjoyed little organized local government, and so the records that survive illustrating rural life come from county quarter sessions, ecclesiastical court records (themselves not numerous, for Staffordshire), or rare prosecutions in the court of Star Chamber. The instances of riotous affray, libellous songs, dancing, minstrels, gaming, piping, and the like are so scattered over time and space that generalizations or pattern conclusions are impossible. Individual occurrences are often vivid and full of detail, such as the charivari at Burton upon Trent in 1616, or the continuing troubles with the scofflaw, Thomas Jacson, at Eccleshall in 1599–1604. A particular favourite is a protest at Kinver in 1620, where Richard Rice was cited ‘for fartinge & pissinge in the Church in sermon time & gingelinge of Morrice dauncers bells!' Was he protesting the requirement to attend church in sermon time? Or the quality of the sermon? Or the Kinver minister’s negative attitude to Morris dancing and merrymaking? One might be tempted to correlate cases like this one into a picture of anti-Puritan resistance, but this would be a dangerous generalization given the small number of scattered examples, which can be countered by other records that provide evidence of communities that were solidly and contentedly Puritan in sympathies. One is best advised to enjoy these glimpses of the quotidian lives of the people for themselves, on their own terms.


Boroughs and Parishes


As mentioned above, the dire straits of Lichfield’s struggles during the Civil Wars led to the almost utter destruction of its records and the waste of Lichfield Cathedral – what survive are some miscellaneous transcripts of letters, documents, and other materials (many of them dealing with matters concerning heraldry), made by Elias Ashmole after the Restoration, and preserved among the Ashmolean manuscripts in the Bodleian Library. No materials relevant to this collection have been found therein. One of the smallest cathedral cities, Lichfield was an ecclesiastical centre by the seventh century although, as noted above, its fortunes as a cathedral city were not assured until 1539, shortly before it received charters; ‘it was incorporated by royal charter in 1548, the corporation consisting of two bailiffs and twenty-four brethren.’ In 1553 Queen Mary issued a new charter ‘confirming the 1548 charter and in addition granting county status to the city with its own sheriff.’ Its triple spires gave Lichfield Cathedral a striking appearance, unique among English cathedrals.

A local ceremonial, the Greenhill Bower Procession, originates in the fifteenth century. The earliest description is by Stebbing Shaw in the 1790s, although it is mentioned earlier by other writers (Eustace Hustocke, bailiff of Lichfield from 25 March 1459 – 29 September 1459, refers to it in his accounts). It is still being held, on spring Bank Holiday Monday.

Perhaps because of its central location midway between London and the north, at the junction of Ryknild Street and Watling Street, Lichfield received royal visits on numerous occasions: beginning with Henry II in 1175–81, followed by John and Henry III in the next century, Edward II in 1309, 1323, and 1326, Edward III in 1328 and 1348, Richard II in 1386, 1397, and 1398–9 (on this occasion tournaments were held daily, and a banqueting house was built next to the bishop’s palace). Henry IV visited in 1403 and 1404, Edward IV in 1461 and 1473 (a visit lasting over two weeks), and Henry VII in 1485 (immediately following his victory at Bosworth). The visit that is of chief interest (because a copy of the accounts of expenses for the visit survives) is that of Queen Elizabeth in 1575. It is unfortunate that no descriptive account of the activities survives. The queen was on a progress which brought her from Kenilworth, Warwickshire, and which saw her go on to visit, successively, Chartley Manor, Stafford, Stafford Castle, and thence onward towards Worcester. (Further details about this progress are found under ‘Royal Visits’ below.)

Trades carried on within Lichfield in the period were, as elsewhere, local in scope, and hence the clothing, leather, and hospitality trades were predominant. Naming a dominant trade is difficult because of the lack of records. A list of men indicted for an affray c 1509 included ‘19 cappers, 11 tailors, 6 weavers, 4 shearmen, 3 glovers, 2 dyers, a corviser, and a skinner; 3 spurriers, 3 smiths, and 3 cutlers; 4 bakers and 4 butchers.’ This may indicate nothing more than the argumentative natures of the individuals involved, rather than providing a random sample. Lacking a long-form census, we can draw no conclusions. The Corvisers’ company, which appears to have been one of the minor guilds, is the only one for which we have surviving records, and these include an annual guild dinner, with a minstrel, from 1562–3 until 1598–9.

Scattered records from elsewhere provide fleeting glimpses of what may have been flourishing entertainment activities in Lichfield, but we cannot be sure. In 1488–9 a fiddler was listed as a member of St Mary's Guild. Lichfield ‘histriones’ entertained Sir William Vernon in 1449, and Lichfield waits entertained at Wollaton Hall, Nottinghamshire, in 1572. Robert Devereux, earl of Essex (1591–1646), held a lease for life of Lichfield manor, and the Lichfield waits wore his badge. While tantalizing, these scraps provide no more evidence than those prosecutions and citations mentioned above, relating to other localities from which no other evidence survives.


Located on the River Sow, at the geographical centre of Staffordshire twenty-four miles north-west of Birmingham, Stafford was founded in 913 by Æthelflæd, and Domesday records that the town had 128 occupied houses. It grew slowly to the end of our period, and was several times noted to be in economic difficulties. In 1540 Stafford was listed ‘among a number of towns where many houses were in a dangerous state of repair,’ and in 1575 Queen Elizabeth found on her visit that the fortunes of the town were parlous. In 1622, 384 households were enumerated with a population of approximately 1550, ‘whereof 390 are poor.’ To the end of our period it appears that repeated visitations of the plague were responsible for keeping population figures low, although details are difficult to ascertain. A concerted investigation into Stafford’s economic difficulties and slow growth has identified periods of crisis (when burials exceeded baptisms): 1596–8, 1603–4, 1611–16, 1635–6, and 1639–41. Persistent visitations of plague extended throughout our period, and a catastrophic plague in the 1640s meant that Stafford’s overall rate of population increase was lower than other Staffordshire boroughs. Stafford’s population, according to the 2011 census, still places it fourth among Staffordshire boroughs, behind Stoke upon Trent, Tamworth, and Newcastle under Lyme.

Lack of early borough records results in many early details of Stafford’s organization being shrouded in obscurity. The earliest charter appears to be from 1206, when the king granted a charter as a free borough with a borough court and view of frankpledge; apparently this charter was confirmed without changing its essential details in future years. By 1275 two bailiffs were the town's chief officers, and this continued until 1614, when a new charter changed the government to a single mayor, a change that was accomplished amidst much division.

When reading through Stafford borough records, one labours under the difficulty that the three sources of information available are all transcriptions or digests of sixteenth-century records, together with contemporary transcriptions of records from the seventeenth century. STRO: D 1323/E/1 presents further complexities because it gives, in its successive pages, accounts of bailiffs or the mayor, chamberlains, churchwardens, and schoolwardens (the latter minor officials apparently all reported to the bailiffs or mayor).

Our earliest record presents an attempt, by the seventeenth-century writer, to make some sense of a hobby-horse record from 1528–9. The hobby-horse dance was held annually, at the new year, and receipts from it were entered by the churchwardens of St Mary's, first recorded in 1528–9 (the first surviving set of accounts) and last mentioned in 1638. It was a festive way to raise money. Then we are catapulted forward to an (eyewitness?) account of Queen Elizabeth’s visit in 1575 (see ‘Royal Visits’ below), and thence to accounts for 1609–10, at which point the entries become contemporary. Easily the most verbose record in this series is the remarkable narrative of King James’s visit to Stafford in 1617, which is discussed separately, among ‘Royal Visits.’ From the outset of these annual accounts there are plentiful payments to touring professional entertainers, so there is no reason to doubt that there were numerous prior records, which are lost. One’s impression, surveying these records from 1609 to 1642, is continuity; the pattern of local customs, payments to professional entertainers, and the like is unchanging. The playing place used by visiting players is difficult to discern before 1617, since it is never mentioned and we can only assume that it was the town hall. As part of the preparations for King James’s royal visit in August 1617, the mayor and council decided to build a new stone town hall, in the marketplace, to afford a fit location for a royal banquet. The banquet did not take place, but the hall, a raised hall on pillars, doubtless provided a venue for players and other entertainers. Its covered ground floor could provide space for a market, and also probably for the ‘beare hole.’

One intriguing series of three payments, spaced over more than a decade, refer to this ‘beare hole.’ Of course, ‘beare’ could be ‘beer,’ as in a reward of ‘plentye of wyne and beare’ to the mayor’s train after King James departed in 1617. But the three records are particular about the accommodation afforded by this intriguing ‘beare hole.’ In 1620–1 we have a payment for ‘a house lock for the beare hole & key,’ in 1630–1 money is paid ‘for straw to laie in the beare hole,’ and in 1632 there are two payments, the first for ‘boardes nayles & workmanshippe of the hall ouer the Beare hole’ (which locates the beare hole, below the town hall), and the second ‘for hanginge the beare hole doore.’ Was this beare hole to provide accommodation for a travelling bear or bears, when they were in Stafford to perform? There are no payments for bearwards in the records, so one cannot be sure. However, a clue is afforded by a petition to the borough mayor, Matthew Cradock, in 1614. A townsman, William Rycrofte, was granted permission to keep one bear, on condition that he hand over the bear to the mayor when required. Rycrofte appears a number of times in the records in connection with entertainments but is not rewarded for bearbaitings; perhaps the phrasing meant that the mayor obtained entertainment from bearbaitings, at his request, without reward (the ‘beare hole,’ providing accommodation, being the payment). At least this record allows us to locate one bear in Stafford from 1614, and probably explains the expenditure of borough funds to maintain the bear hole.

Newcastle under Lyme

Situated in the extreme north-west part of Staffordshire near the headwaters of the Trent, Newcastle under Lyme takes part of its name from Lyme Brook, one of the Trent tributaries, and partly from the new castle, built in the late eleventh or early twelfth century (why it was called ‘new’ is unknown). Newcastle provides an example of a borough that was well-organized and governed – it was called a ‘borough’ in a Pipe Roll in 1172–3, and received a charter in 1590 that established, to the end of our period and beyond, a mayor, two bailiffs, and twenty-four capital burgesses. This was a closed oligarchy controlling all aspects of the town’s life. Newcastle possesses a comprehensive documentary history; a series of minute books called the ‘Red Books,’ beginning in 1369 and continuing (except for 1411–91) to the end of our period and beyond. Newcastle has very sparse records of entertainment activities, but the two orders that do survive show us a borough government extremely hostile to entertainments. Puritanism was evident in other council actions: ‘in 1628, for example, the council decreed that the church bells were not to be rung without the consent of the mayor or his deputy, except for prayers and burials, and that sparingly.’ One recalls the troublesome Puritan deacon, Ananias, in Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist, who interrupts Subtle’s use of the word ‘bell’ with his expostulation: ‘Bells are profane. A tune may be religious.’


The history of Tutbury is bound up with the history of Tutbury Castle, originally built in the eleventh century by Henry de Ferrers, but largely destroyed after the rebellion of Robert de Ferrers, 6th earl of Derby, in 1264. The castle and lands were given to Edmund Crouchback, son of King Henry III, as part of the earldom of Lancaster, which became in 1351 the duchy of Lancaster. A first payment to a ‘histrionum’ is recorded in 1314–15 and in 1380–1 begins the remarkable collection of records of the annual minstrels’ court and bull-running at Tutbury, that extend until 1637. The earliest reference to minstrels at Tutbury comes from 1313–15, when an agreement concerning pasturage of minstrels’ horses was recorded (this was repeated in 1558–9). Our first record of the minstrels’ court, from John of Gaunt’s Register Book on 22 August 1380, does not establish a new minstrels’ court but confirms an existing one, under the control of ‘nostre bein ame le Roy des Ministralx,’ and requires allegiance from all minstrels. Then we suffer a long silence in the records, which led Richard Rastall to suggest that the court had become defunct by 1449, when an order by Henry VI attempted to control minstrelsy throughout England, except Chester, but not excepting the honour of Tutbury from its provisions. Rastall also speculates that the bull-running was an innovation in the fifteenth century, ‘[an] encouragement to minstrels to support a dying institution.’ Whether or not a lack of records is evidence of a cessation of the minstrels’ court is impossible to tell (pas de documents, pas d’histoire), but in any case we cannot trace the court in any detail until the seventeenth century. The next reference to the minstrels’ court is a description of the customs of the court at its annual meeting and election of new officers; the document dates from 1617–30 but its narrative is from a much earlier, and uncertain, date – it refers to the abbey of Tutbury and its prior, which means that it must predate the Dissolution of the monasteries. It does delineate the extent of the court’s powers, over musicians ‘within the kinges Maiesties Honor of Tutburye, within the counteis of Stafforde Derbie/ Nottingham, Leicester, & warwicke.' The description is prescriptive and ceremonial in nature; it suggests, for example, that fines are to be levied upon offenders but does not specify the nature of an offence or the mechanism by which such offences were to be discovered. Nor do we gain an idea of the numbers of minstrels involved. (The writer is more interested in the details of the bull-running that followed the meeting of the court, about which more below, and the strange details about pasturage of the minstrels’ horses.) The next documents that shed light on the court are a set of orders made between 1618 and 1630 by the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. Their aim is to re-assert the king’s rights to the fines and other revenues from the court, and they detail the offences for which a minstrel might incur a penalty. They also afford protection to minstrels governed by the court, against competition from ‘foreign’ minstrels from outside the honour – hence the negative constraints on minstrels’ activities were counterpoised by this exclusive right to perform within the honour. The renewal and reiteration of these orders in 1630 are evidence of the Crown’s determination to receive income from this ancient minstrels' court of Tutbury.

One yearns for some of the actual records of the workings on this minstrel court, showing the manner in which offences were discovered, offenders brought to hearings, and fines gathered. Similarly lacking is any idea of the size of this minstrel court, although a clue may be gathered from the ceremony of the bull-running. How many minstrels can chase a single bull through the crowded streets of medieval Tutbury?

Let us turn next to the bull-running, of which a full description is given by the early witness and recorded in 1617–30. One is perhaps reminded of modern Pamplona, Spain; however, there the bulls, fully intact, chase the runners rather than, as in Tutbury, having a single crazed and maddened bull being pursued by a mob. The gleeful enjoyment afforded by this (as it must seem to us) barbaric spectacle can only be imagined; however, in mitigation we must remember that most boroughs had bull-rings and in some, such as Shrewsbury, killing a bull without baiting it first with dogs was a punishable offence. (Apparently it was believed to tenderize the meat.) Tutbury’s bull, if captured by the minstrels (signified by the cutting off of part of one ear), was baited at the end of the day and then sold. The last records of the bull-running also afford us a view of Charles I, who interfered with the custom (moving it to another day) so it would not interfere with his activities (see ‘Royal Visits’ below).


Walsall evolved after our period from a small borough with local industrial and market activity, chiefly in connection with horse transport, leather, and rope-making, into a thriving centre of the industrial revolution. By 1309 there had evolved some measure of local self-government, and in 1377 there were 367 persons who paid the poll-tax. Borough government evolved slowly, out of the divided jurisdiction of the manorial court and the borough, and such dates as the mayoral term of office (Michaelmas–Michaelmas) and the date for rendering the annual accounts (23 November, established in 1501–2) were established by the manor. A dispute over jurisdiction resulted in a Star Chamber case that gives us a glimpse into early borough government, and a local custom that was of long standing. In 1524–5 the lord of the king’s manor, Robert Acton, complained that some inhabitants of Walsall were flouting his authority, withholding fees due to him, cutting trees, hunting deer in his manor park, and other misdemeanours. They met his protests with a threat: ‘they would raise bayard of wallsall with his Thowsand colts. & set & appoint with the sayd bayard ^foure for hundred men to revenge their quarrells vpon him. And that they would ringe Bayards Bell….’ In the same complaint these items are explained: ‘because Bayard & this Thowsand colts being great clubbs & haue beene of long time set & hanged vpp on highe in the Towne hall of Wallsall, & there beene taken & reputed in as much honor & Worshipp as they were saincts in ye church; & bee at certaine times in the yeare solempnly borne about the Towne in great reverence.’ There cannot have been a thousand of these for a borough the size of Walsall at the time; one suspects a touch of hyperbole. The colts may be referred to in an entry in the borough accounts for 1629–30: ‘for gathering ye Clubbs at ye fayer,’ suggesting that they may have long been part of Walsall’s ceremonial life, whatever part they may have taken.

The town grew slowly but steadily through our period. The other main settlement in the parish was at Bloxwich, a name suggesting a pre-Conquest origin. Most of the parish lay within Cannock Forest, a fact which influenced its early agrarian development. Industrial activity was in progress by the 14th century when there is evidence of mining and iron-working. Leland c 1540 described Walsall as a little market town with a park, many smiths and bit-makers, and pits of coal, lime, and ironstone. Much of Walsall's industry developed out of the requirements of horse transport, the production of horse furniture being followed by leather-working and rope-making ... In 1563 there were said to be 290 households. In 1619 the number of recipients of Mollesley's Dole, by which everyone in Walsall on Twelfth Night received 1d. was 2,861 (1,622 of them in the borough) and in 1661 4,213 (2,241 in the borough); visitors, however, as well as inhabitants, were eligible.’

A fair was granted in 1220 to take place on St Matthew’s Day and its Eve (20–1 September), and a second fair was added in 1399 on the Nativity of St John the Baptist and its eve (23–4 June). In 1417 these dates were altered to the feast of St John before the Latin Gate (6 May) and Sts Simon and Jude’s Day (28 October). Finally, in the charter of 1627, these fairs were altered again to St Matthias’ Day (24 February) and the Tuesday before Michaelmas (that is, between 22 and 28 September).

The mayors’ accounts are preserved beginning in 1594 and continue in a broken series to 1642. The earliest of the four payments to players is the largest (7s to the queen’s players in 1611–12), and the last is found in 1624–5, hardly an avalanche of enthusiasm for travelling professional players. Possibly the infrequency of payments to travelling professionals is explained by Walsall’s physical position in an ‘out of the way’ part of Staffordshire, not served by good roads. A tradition of music on the fair days is found from 1629; although these records extend to 1641–2 even here one encounters evidence of dividedness. In 1636–7 the mayor ‘gaue a fellowe to goe to Dudley to warne ye Musitians they should not come to the fayer viij d.’ But in vain – the musicians came and were paid but only 2s (the lowest payment recorded). In 1639–40 the payment was at a normal level but the scribe made his opinion of such goings-on apparent, calling it ‘ye beggerly musicke at both ye fayres.’ Was this a critical comment on the quality of the music offered? Or was it simple opposition to music? A ‘tune may be religious,’ as Ben Jonson’s Puritan Ananias said, but maybe not.

Royal Visits

Some royal visits to Staffordshire took place but no records of any activities survive from them: James I to Tamworth and Tutbury in 1619, 1621, and 1624, and King Charles in 1634 and 1636. Four such visits to boroughs in Staffordshire between 1575 and 1637 have left us significant records: Lichfield 1575 (Queen Elizabeth); Stafford 1575 (Queen Elizabeth) and 1617 (King James I); and Tutbury 1637 (King Charles). The records for these four visits vary greatly in type and completeness. From Lichfield we have an antiquarian copy of the contemporary bailiffs’ accounts (with some editorial guesswork by John Nichols in his Progresses). From Stafford in 1575 we enjoy a narrated report without contemporary bailiffs’ accounts, and it is remarkable how the shape of the event is coloured by the selectivity of the narrator, who is unfamiliar with some important details such as the date, which is supplied by a later writer. Also it is unclear if the narration was written soon after the event or at a later time. From 1617 we enjoy both a lengthy and detailed narration along with a list of fees paid to the king’s servants.

The queen’s visits to Lichfield and Stafford in 1575 formed part of an elaborate progress through the Midlands (in fact, the most northerly travel the monarch ever undertook). For our purposes it began at Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire, where the princely pleasures, organized over a ten-day period by Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, were sumptuous and spectacular; the queen then proceeded north and west to enjoy more modest levels of entertainment. The charges recorded at Lichfield were for a visit of eight days, but the accounts do not give a narrative of the activities that took place. There also occurred, en route to Stafford, a stay (for which no records survive) of ten days at Chartley Manor, a manor also owned by the earl of Leicester (and which, interestingly, served as prison for Mary, Queen of Scots in 1585–6). We do know that at some time before her visit to Stafford the queen’s itinerary was changed to eliminate a visit to Shrewsbury, for which its townspeople were feverishly preparing (the royal change of plans deprived the queen of the experience of a ‘Shewe’ devised by Thomas Churchyard).

The visit to Stafford was very brief and seemed consciously designed as an occasion to display royal munificence, without excessive trappings. While one might wonder why this occasion lacked the usual accoutrements of a royal entry (no mention of music, for example), this may have been an oversight on the part of the person who recorded the event. It is unthinkable that the monarch, making a royal entrance into a borough, would not have her arrival announced by a trumpet fanfare. We may compare 1617 where the elaborate narrative of King James’s entry mentions trumpets only twice, briefly. The main point about 1575 is that a royal entry is ipso facto a ‘staged’ event giving an occasion for the monarch to shine. Nowadays we might use the deck of an aircraft carrier or a frigate, or a factory floor, to accompany the delivery of a desired political message. Queen Elizabeth came to offer relief to a town in economic difficulties.

The 1617 visit of King James to Stafford, for which the narration is richly detailed, is remarkable for the relatively minor part played by the monarch, in an action of civic strife, partisan rivalries, and local incompetence. The narrator refers several times to the town as ‘Israell,’ apparently to recall the twelve warring tribes. Unlike this narrative the financial accounts which survive give no hint of the rich comedy/drama that subsumed Stafford’s life for months before the event. The borough had achieved the grant of a new charter in 1614 that changed the town’s government greatly, bringing in a single mayor and restricting the franchise; the change had its supporters (including the writer of this narrative of the royal visit) and its detractors, whom the narrator calls ‘the vulgar sort’ and ‘flat caps.’ Since the writer is admittedly highly partisan (a class bias is evident), we have to filter the commentary carefully; however, examples multiply in which Stafford citizens refused to cooperate or actively undermined initiatives to prepare for the visit. Since we don’t have comparable ‘behind the scenes’ accounts of preparations in other localities, we can only wonder if boroughs commonly sent representatives to witness ceremonies in other towns, to gain insights about what should be done. It is not unlikely that an inexperienced borough would thus seek insight so that their royal welcome would proceed smoothly and meet royal approval. Probably unique to Stafford, however, was the failure of the council’s attempts to witness events in Preston, Lancashire (on James’s journey north) because Richard Dorington flatly refused to make the trip, and Francis Dorington demanded to have travelling expense money paid up front. Thwarted of his plan to gain experience of a royal welcome to this much larger centre, the mayor had to be content to send townsmen to Nantwich, a smaller town approximately thirty miles north-west, in Cheshire, to gather intelligence on the king’s return journey – which they gained from members of the royal entourage, who gave them detailed and valuable advice. Royal staff also preceded the monarch and conducted a ‘dress rehearsal’ in Stafford. The detailed work of preparation was aimed to ensure that everything would go off without a hitch and would, in fact, look spontaneous.

Particularly amusing were the preparations for the town’s oration of welcome. The town’s recorder absolutely refused to prepare and deliver this oration (in effect, he replied that this was ‘not in my job description…’); this led to plots to replace the recorder, and the recruitment of a substitute speaker whose attempt at a speech was rejected when he presented it the day before the visit because, among other things, it was ‘a little too tedious.’ So the speech had to be re-written the night before, to Thomas Worswicke’s specifications, containing the memorable opening line: ‘Most gracious soueraigne vnto the great Comaunder of all kinges, we bend the knees of our hartes….’

And on the great day misfortunes continued to plague the visit, particularly a drenching rain that forced the king to wait, in his coach, under the north gateway arch, for three hours. The usual ceremonies of welcome were performed after the rain – the royal entrance mounted on horseback, the delivery and return of the mace, the tedious oration (delivered on bended knees), and the delivery of the town’s gift. Throughout it all King James said hardly a word; he received the town’s gift, for example, but said not a word of thanks. The king’s procession out of town was cut short by another rainstorm, which forced the king to resume his coach under the town’s east gate, where he tendered his hand for the mayor to kiss. One’s impression is that the royal entry was not a success, partly because of the enmities in the town (which the narrator addresses once more, in his parting shot), and partly because of James’s reticence, bespeaking an unwillingness to participate.

The final royal ‘visit’ to Tutbury in 1637 by King Charles is reflected only in a royal proclamation, forbidding any events in connection with the minstrels’ court and the bull-running because of a planned royal visit to the castle, and fear of the plague. This command, delivered less than a month before the events, cannot have been welcome. One’s impression is of a monarch refusing to greet his people, a far cry from the people-handling skills shown by Queen Elizabeth.


Stafford is not endowed with numerous households, perhaps because of its early situation with half of the county being royal forests, subject to forest law with all its limitations on permitted activities. As well, it was not a rich shire and (like Shropshire) it was distant enough to be out of the London orbit. One family, the Wrottesleys of Wrottesley Hall, near Tettenhall, suffered misfortune in 1897 when their hall burned to the ground, leading to the loss of all their records (except for those previously catalogued and described by the Historical Manuscripts Commission). A number of aristocratic families owned properties in Staffordshire and, although no records survive for the residences in question, there is evidence from other county records of their entertainers on tour.

The many-times married Lettice Knollys, countess of Essex and Leicester, resided during the 1560s at Chartley Manor, with her first husband Walter Devereux, and from 1595 at her home, Drayton Basset, where she died in 1634. Her papers could not be located. Another notable noble with Staffordshire connections is John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, whose far-flung properties were legion. His register books, preserved in The National Archives, preserve many details of his activities. It is not really correct to depict him as ‘of Tutbury’ since he was a national and international military and political leader. We find him fairly constantly on the move within England, and between England and the continent (where his ambitions as king of Castile preoccupied him). Gaunt’s second wife, Constance of Castile, took up residence at Tutbury but Gaunt was not often there, and after his alliance with his mistress Katherine Swynford became open knowledge, Gaunt visited there no more.

Bagot of Blithfield

Walter Bagot (bap 1557, d. 1623) was holder of the Blithfield estate during this time. He was an influential member of the county gentry, a follower of the earl of Essex, and held various offices in the county. These included being MP for Tamworth in 1586, JP in 1597, and sheriff on two occasions. Blithfield Hall is still in the family, although much of the land of the estate was sold before 1953 to create a reservoir.

Paget of Burton upon Trent and Beaudesert

Thomas, 4th Baron Paget (c 1544–90), succeeded to the family estates on the death of his elder brother in 1568, and became the fourth holder of the Paget peerage in 1570, receiving a summons to parliament in 1571. He resided at the manor, Burton upon Trent, a house built by his father after 1545, using building stone from the dissolved abbey and built within the abbey precincts. He also partly rebuilt Beaudesert House between 1573 and 1583, where he latterly lived part of the time. Beaudesert was on the southern edge of Cannock forest, approximately 12 miles south of Stafford. It has been largely demolished in 1935, although some ruins remain including the south wall of the great hall. The records of the household illuminate family entertainment activities from 1579–81, but it is difficult to locate the venues for these entertainments as either Burton Manor or Beaudesert. A guest at meals (dinner and/or supper) named in the accounts between 2 August and 15 August 1580 was William Byrd, the composer and lutenist, whose association with Paget got him into trouble after 1583. In those same accounts visits at meals by ‘quier men’ from Lichfield are perhaps secular entertainers rather than cathedral choristers; in any case they were being fed rather than rewarded for performing. By 1580 Paget's Catholicism became more pronounced; he was associated with the Jesuit Edmund Campion after he landed in England. When the Throckmorton plot was uncovered in 1583 Paget fled abroad.

  • Footnotes
    • Charles-Victor Langlois and Charles Seignebos, Introduction aux études historiques (Paris, 1898), 29.
    • VCH: Staffordshire, vol 14, pp 14–15; p 102, n 89, refers to LRO: B/A/21/CC 124075, mb 4.
    • VCH: Staffordshire, vol 14, pp 102, 159–60.
    • VCH: Staffordshire, vol 14, pp 11–12, 14, 59.
    • VCH: Staffordshire, vol 14, pp 120–1.
    • VCH: Staffordshire, vol 14, pp 78, 164.
    • VCH: Staffordshire, vol 6, pp 185–6.
    • VCH: Staffordshire, vol 6, p 186, citing Ruth M. Kidson, ‘The Inhabitants of the Borough of Stafford, 1622,’ Transactions of the Old Stafford Society (1956–9), 16–28.
    • Ruth M. Kidson, ‘The Inhabitants of the Borough of Stafford, 1622,’ Transactions of the Old Stafford Society (1956–9), 16–28.
    • Adey, ‘Seventeenth-Century Stafford,’ pp 157, 159.
    • VCH: Staffordshire, vol 6, p 222.
    • Johnson, ‘Hobby-Horse,’ 60, 62–3.
    • VCH: Staffordshire, vol 8, pp 1, 11–12, 25–6; Collections for a History of Staffordshire, vol 1 (Birmingham, 1880), p 69.
    • VCH: Staffordshire, vol 8, pp 19, 25; Pape, Newcastle-under-Lyme, p 278.
    • Ben Jonson, The Alchemist (1610), in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson Online, David Gants et al (eds) (Cambridge, 2014), 3.2.61.
    • ODNB, ‘Ferrers, Robert de, sixth earl of Derby (c 1239-1279), magnate and rebel,’ by J.R. Maddicott, gives details of Ferrers’s rebellion during the Barons’ Wars, and the dispossession of his lands to Edmund Crouchback.
    • Rastall, Secular Musicians, pp 4–6.
    • An 'Honour' is defined as 'A domain or seigniory of several manors under one baron or lord paramount.' (OEDO, sv ‘honour,’ n, 6). As F.B. Stenton notes (The First Century of English Feudalism 1066–1166, 2nd ed (Oxford, 1961), 55–9) an honour might, as did Tutbury Honour, extend through several counties (as listed here in the document), but the manors contained within an honour need not be adjoining – by no means the whole of, say, Warwickshire was within the honour of Tutbury, whose manors were mainly located within Staffordshire and Derbyshire. The honour of Tutbury was not coterminous with the duchy of Lancaster.
    • Rastall, ‘Secular Musicians,’ pp 13–14, is apparently unaware of this 1617–30 description of the ceremonies of the court, or the orders of 1618 and 1630, but instead quotes from a much later description, from 1680, preserved in Robert Plot, The Natural History of Staffordshire (Oxford, 1686), 437; this presents much less detail than the account here given.
    • VCH: Staffordshire, vol 17, pp 145, 208–14.
    • VCH: Staffordshire, vol 17, p 214.
    • VCH: Staffordshire, vol 17, p 161.
    • VCH: Staffordshire, vol 17, p 180.
    • VCH: Staffordshire, vol 17, p 145.
    • VCH: Staffordshire, vol 17, p 145.
    • VCH: Staffordshire, vol 17, pp 187–8.
    • For Tutbury visits see VCH: Staffordshire, vol 10, p 18. For Tamworth (whose castle is in Warwickshire, not Staffordshire) see Palmer, Tamworth, pp 120–1. For the 1619 visit to Tamworth James was accompanied by Prince Charles, and the town bailiffs provided ‘entertainment’ (Shaw, Staffordshire, vol 1, p 421).
    • Nichols, Progresses, vol 1, pp 529–32. Nichols gives details (pp 417–599) about the queen’s entire progress in 1575.
    • J.A.B. Somerset (ed), Shropshire, vol 1, REED (Toronto, 1994), 220.
    • Historical Manuscripts Commission, Guide to the Location of Collections Described in the Reports and Calendars Series 1870-1980 (London, 1982), 68.
    • These residences include Bradwell and Keele, owned by Ralph Sneyd (1612–49/50); Chartley Manor, owned by the Devereux family; Lettice Knollys’ home at Drayton Basset; Dudley Castle, owned by John Dudley (1504–53), followed by Edward Sutton (1536–86) and his heir; Heleigh Castle, owned by John Tuchet (1425–90); Stafford Castle, owned by the Stafford family; Tutbury, home of George Plantagenet (1449–77/8) and later Henry Cavendish (1550–1616).