The Shrewsbury Papers at Lambeth concern the fortunes of the Earls of Shrewsbury from the 15th century to the death of Gilbert Talbot, the seventh Earl, in 1616, but they do not survive in quantity until the time of Francis Talbot, 5th Earl of Shrewsbury, who succeeded to the title in 1538. The dispersal of the papers and the disorder of their arrangement make it difficult to trace continuous and coherent themes in the affairs of the family.
For most of the period under review, the family of Talbot was in the ascendant. The main seat was centrally situated at Sheffield, and from here radiated their large estates in Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Shropshire and Herefordshire. Their estates expanded substantially through the accretion of monastic wealth, and a series of judicious marriages culminating in the alliance between George, sixth Earl of Shrewsbury, and Bess of Hardwick, who makes frequent appearances in the papers. As tenants or bailiffs of the estates, the rising class of gentry were prominent, and their relationship with the powerful Earls is well documented. Perhaps typical of them was Sir John Scudamore whom one correspondent in 1607 described as 'a very great man in our Cuntrye' (Ms.704, f.21). Their income from land was derived mainly from three sources - from rents, from the rich sheep lands of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire which were kept in hand, and from the increasing exploitation of mineral wealth in the form of lead, iron, steel and coal. George Talbot, sixth Earl of Shrewsbury (1528?-90), was the first of his family to develop the mineral wealth of his estates, and he and his successor were without doubt large capitalists in this first Industrial Revolution. The full extent of their capital investment in these operations is by no means clear. Frequently mineral rights were leased, and in 1589 we find the Earl in receipt of Lott and Copp, a royalty peculiar to Derbyshire (Ms.705, f.148), but many of the workings were in their own hands, and for these their vast woodlands provided an economical and convenient source of fuel. The accounts show expenditure on the repair of their mills in Padley and elsewhere and on the construction of new ironworks at Kimberworth, and the profitable steelworks at Goodrich in Herefordshire were managed directly by their agents. There is some evidence to suggest that the largest capital outlay occurred in marketing the produce of the mines. Invariably it was carried to Hull, where the Earl had his own ships, or in the case of steel from Goodrich to Bristol, and from these ports it was taken either to London or abroad. The sixth Earl in particular was active in exporting lead to the continent, importing on the homeward voyage either wine from Gascony or, on at least one occasion, weapons from Germany. In the financing of this export trade, the Earls acted in concert with London merchants, particularly Sir William Hewett and Sir Edward Osborne.
It is not possible to give exact information of the income of the Earls of Shrewsbury, but in 1607 Henry Butler, the steward, accounted for the sum of £45,446 7 3 received in a period of nine months (Ms.709, f.29). They lived as befitted their position in great state, progressing from one seat to another with large retinues of servants. Apart from their seat at Sheffield, they had houses in Broad Street and Chelsea in London, at Worksop, Shifnal and elsewhere, and the papers at Lambeth provide many details of life in these great households. Their tables were laden with delicacies, with oranges and lemons, for example, as early as 1574 (Ms.697, f.129), with nutmeg at 5 shillings the pound, and herons specially bred for the table. They imported wines from Gascony, and their perry was made from the best red pears which were grown at Churcham in Gloucestershire (Ms.707, f.130). Their brewer was so excellent that Peres Liegh of Lyme Hall in Cheshire asked to borrow him, 'a want of good ale, as I thinke, ys a greate occasion of my dayly infirmities' (Ms.705, f.71). On clothes and jewels their expenditure was great - on one occasion the Countess of Shrewsbury bought no less than 190 yards of silver lace (Ms.694, f.132). The interiors of their houses were magnificent. On the floors were carpets from Turkey (Ms.695, f.27), and the walls were hung with tapestries and, it would appear, wallpaper (Ms.702, f.73). In 1608, the Earl bought 24 stools with backs and leather seats from John Nevill, the upholsterer, and perhaps from Carter, the only bell-founder in London, a bell that could be heard three miles away (Ms.702, f.111). Clearly their expenditure must have been great, and there is some rather inconclusive evidence that they were in debt. Of particular interest in this connection is the correspondence with Sir Horatio Palavicino, the financier, from whom the Earl borrowed £3,000 in 1594. Palavicino's difficulties are well illustrated in a letter in which he describes an interview with the Queen. He was unable for the time being, he reports, to lend the Earl money because in his interview with the Queen, who was merrily disposed, she passed lightly over the question of the money she owed him. He adds that not wishing to appear too affluent he intended to keep his wife's portion in Germany (Ms.705, f.112). Any financial difficulty implied in this episode had, however, presumably passed by 1608 when the Earl paid £12,000 for an estate at Hathersage in Derbyshire.
By virtue of their great wealth and position, the Earls took a prominent part in public affairs. They were the local instruments of the Government in defence, public order and taxation, and in the performance of these duties their connections, often by marriage, with local families, such as Manners and Curzon in Derbyshire, and Savile in Yorkshire, were of immense value. An example of the way their influence was used may be seen in connection with elections to Parliament. In 1592, the Earl was active in Derbyshire on behalf of George Manners, who was elected a Knight of the Shire (Ms.705, f.21); in 1601 he was less successful in persuading the burgesses of Retford in Nottinghamshire to vote for another relative, Richard Perpoint (Ms.708, f. 155). In 1604, his agents reported on their canvass of free-holders to give their first vote in the election of Knights for the Shire to Francis Clifford and their second to Sir John Savile, the candidate of the President of the Council of the North (Ms.708, f.131). Clifford was elected.
The Earls were invariably appointed Privy Councillors and Lord Lieutenants, and some of them exercised other great offices as well. Francis Talbot, fifth Earl of Shrewsbury, was for many years President of the Council of the North, Lieutenant General in the North and Justice in Eyre of the King's forests beyond Trent. The Lambeth papers contain valuable information on his activities in all these offices, particularly in regard to the Scottish wars, and such northern strong-holds as Berwick, Hull and Ford. There are also returns of musters for this period, and for the western counties at the time of the Armada in the time of his son.
George Talbot, the sixth Earl, was necessarily less active in public affairs than his father because of his long custodianship of Mary Queen of Scots. The papers at Lambeth contain no new information of importance on this subject, but much detail of interest. There are continual complaints by the Earl about the non-payment of the 'Diet money' - the grant for subsistance from the Crown. At one time the Earl declared that his allowance, even when he got it, paid only half the cost (Ms.697, f. 123), and some idea of the extent of the burden may be seen from the account of the Queen of Scots' household at Tutbury and Wingfield (Ms.698, f.1). His charge involved the Earl in many other trials. There was, for example, the theft of the Queen of Scots' jewels in 1576 (Ms.701, f.153), and the unfounded accusation that she had borne him two children (Ms.698, f.39v). Although thus excluded to a large degree from public affairs, the Earl's correspondents kept him in touch with them. The Earl of Leicester, his friend at Court, wrote to him about affairs in the Low Countries in 1576 (Ms.697, f.29). Three years later, his son, Gilbert reported that the Earl of Leicester 'hathe ben excedyngly trobled of late,' and went on to describe the purchase of gold buttons and lace and a cloak of white fox fur after the fashion learnt from the Lord Casimir (Ms.697, f.53). In the same year a correspondent describing the alterations to the Earl of Shrewsbury's house in London, gave a vivid picture of the Queen who had been on the river three nights together, and had stopped opposite the house, her musicians playing (Ms.697, f.111).
Gilbert Talbot, the seventh Earl, was a member of the Privy Council of Elizabeth and James, and in this capacity attended the trial of the Earl of Essex. A stark comment on this episode is provided in a letter to the Earl informing him that the arraignment of the Earl of Essex was fixed for 18 February 1601, and that 'the execution, I heare, is also appoynted to be on Thursday next.' (Ms.702, f.5). Much of his life was taken up with violent lawsuits with tenants and relatives. On the particularly acrimonious dispute with the mutinous tenants at Glossop in Derbyshire, a quarrel inherited from his father, there is much material. In another dispute heard at Nottingham Assizes in 1601, the Earl's bailiff reported a case won through a favourable jury,' in wch decke I found Six suer Trumpes' (Ms.708, f.155). Although the Earl entertained Anne of Denmark at Worksop on her journey south in 1603, when it was noted that the Scots' love to be together' (Ms.703, f.70), he was never a favourite of James I, and his connection with Arabella Stuart and the papist procilivities of his wife were no doubt considerable embarrassments. He was, however, from youth a friend of Robert Cecil, though not, it would appear, of the latter's father, who is several times referred to as 'old William'. The degree of their intimacy is well shown in the letter which Cecil wrote to the Earl in 1590 in which, describing the difficulties of travelling to Worksop he says, 'in seeking for the fayrest Gallery in England, a man shall mee[t] neuer a cupp of good drink by the way but at Car[l]ton, and there indeed I saw a miracle for I found a notable vayne of bottle ale.' Going on to speak of Thomas Markham, he says of him that he was one 'who, we say at London, wold become a whyte staff well, alwaies with this prouision that he think not to jest us owt with his fine black Cloaks almost thredd bare, nor yet to make us sitt after an ill dynner to heare a tedious story of Bullen and Hadyngton' (Ms.700, f.101). In 1608/9, the Earl of Shrewsbury gave assistance in the erection of Hatfield by sending a cargo of 81 black touchstones from his quarry (Ms.702, f.153).
The Earl did not depend on his friends at Court nor on his own visits there for news, and the papers contain some information on a professional news reporter, Peter Proby. In 1592, Proby informed the Earl that for some years he had sent reliable newsletters to the Earls of Derby, Pembroke and Hertford. He said that he obtained news from Court from his old master, Mr. Secretary, but for foreign news he refers the Earl to Mr. Braconburye (Ms.705, f.25). In the same year he is found sending news to the Earl from France, Italy, the Low Countries and from Constantinople, the last when deciphered (Ms.705, f.37). The activities of the Government in distributing news through the medium of the newsletter is a subject perhaps worthy of further investigation.
For the student of ecclesiastical history, the Shrewsbury Papers are rewarding. Although it is necessary to look elsewhere to discover how far the family benefited from the dissolution of the monasteries, the papers show them eagerly grasping at the property of suppressed chantries. Monastic wealth, indeed, was useful not only to the Earls of Shrewsbury. In 1550, for example, the Earl of Warwick, later Duke of Northumberland, bought 3000 fothers of lead at £4 6 8 from the Court of Augmentations and assigned them, presumably for cash, to Thomas Lodge, a London grocer, and Ancelyn Salvago, the Genoese factor of Vivaldi. At the same time order was given to remove the remaining lead from the Abbey of St. Mary at York and from the monastery at Dunstable in order to complete a deal with Salvago, and it was ordered that the timber, iron, glass, wainscot, gravestones and brass were to be valued by six substantial persons and sold (Ms.707, f.161). In the same year Sir Thomas Gargrave was writing to the Earl of Shrewsbury telling him that Bishop Tunstall of Durham had preached earnestly concerning the sacraments, and had exhorted the people to continue steadfast and beware of heresy (Ms.696, f.53). There is in the papers, however, little about the reception of the Reformation in the north, though in 1559 the Earl reported to the Privy Council on the orderly acceptance of the English service-book in Yorkshire (Ms.696, f.37).
Although the Earls were stout Protestants, there were strains of recusancy in the family both among close relatives and more distant kinsmen. In Derbyshire the existence of pockets of recusancy is amply confirmed. In 1590, the notorious hunter of recusants, Richard Topcliffe, reported to the Earl that he had arrested 'malefactors and disobedient subiects' at a house in Derby. Going on to excuse himself for his inability to attend the Earl, he added, 'I am amonge suche mallyfactors reputed a Bugg or like a Skarrcrowe when I cume into an unwoonted place, Cuntree, or unto a man of your honorrs estayt. So woulde my waytinge upon your Lordship now for the delivery of this letter and to know your pleasour procure every tratorous preest and ther patrones to examyn ther owne estaits and daindger, and to flye their dennes and haunts. And my Experience teacheth mee that sutche men hathe straindge espyalls and intelligence in Coort, in Cuntree and about the greatest persons whosoever.' (Ms. 701, f.29). Almost certainly the same Richard Topcliffe appears in a different guise some years later as the author of an account of the breeding of herons (Ms.708, f.143). In 1595, one Thomas North was arrested in Derby on information that a seminary priest was in his house, though none was found (Ms.709, f.42). The family of Foljambe, like that of Talbot, contained its recusant element, and in 1589 John Coke, rector of North Wingfield, wrote asking the Earl to stay proceedings for the release of Lady Constance Foljambe of Tupton, because of the evil effect it would have on the many recusants he had converted in her absence (Ms.710, f.19). The prevalence of popery comes as no surprise if the behaviour of the clergy approached that of John Walton, Archdeacon of Derby, who was accused of adultery, simony, abusing ministers in his court, accepting bribes and imposing unlawful oaths on the apparitors of his court (Ms.708, f.5). And no great ornament of his cloth was Sir Hugh, the curate of nearby Armitage in Staffordshire, who was denounced in 1593 as a great stealer of the Queen's deer (Ms.700, f.95). There is, as may be expected, little in the Shrewsbury papers concerning Puritanism, apart from a well-known statement by Thomas Ellwes or Helwys, the Brownist, of the differences between 'our brethrene and us' (Ms.709, f.66), and a passing reference to the Marprelate Tracts (Ms.698, f.61).
The papers of the Earls of Shrewsbury passed, on the death of Gilbert Talbot, seventh Earl of Shrewsbury, in 1616, to the Howard family by the marriage of Alethea Talbot, daughter and eventually sole heiress of the seventh Earl, to Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, later (1644) Earl of Norfolk. In 1671, the Yorkshire antiquarian Nathaniel Johnston was given access to them at Sheffield manor, and used them extensively for his unpublished lives of the Earls of Shrewsbury completed between 1692 and 1694, now in Sheffield Central Library (Mss. 3-6). Under Johnston's direction, some 15 volumes were bound and presented to the College of Arms by the Duke of Norfolk, Earl Marshal, in about 1677, and a considerable portion of these was printed by Edmund Lodge in Illustrations of British History, 1791, and many more summarised in the appendix to the second edition published in 1838.
After the gift to the College of Arms, the remainder of the papers remained in the hands of Nathaniel Johnston, and it is probable that he brought them with him when he came to live in London in 1685. At some date after this event, a large part of the Shrewsbury Papers remaining in Johnston's possession was acquired by Lambeth Palace Library, where it is Mss. 694-710. Other papers of the Earls of Shrewsbury together with Johnston's own antiquarian collections continued in the hands of his descendants and were eventually sold to Richard Frank, Recorder of Pontefract, in 1755. The whole collection was finally dispersed is the Bacon Franks sale at Sotheby's in August 1942. Many Shrewsbury Papers were bought by dealers, and others are in the Bodleian Library and Sheffield Central Library.(I am indebted for this and other information about Nathaniel Johnston to Mrs. Janet Martin's unpublished thesis entitled, 'The Antiquarian Collections of Nathaniel Johnston' (B. Litt., Oxford).
Neither the date nor the circumstances in which so large a part of the Shrewsbury Papers was acquired by Lambeth are precisely known. In the account of Johnston's manuscripts in Bernard's Catalogus Manuscriptorum Angliae, 1697, there is no mention of the Shrewsbury Papers, but it is evident that those now at Lambeth were at that time in his possession, for three items listed by Bernard are in fact now bound with the collection (Ms. 703, ff. 1-63). The chronology of the accession of manuscripts in the Library at this time is obscure, but it is certain that the Shrewsbury Papers had been acquired at or before the death of Archbishop Tenison in 1715, for they are noted in a catalogue of manuscripts made by David Wilkins in 1720 (Library Records F.40), and are there stated to be 'Codices Mss. Tenisoniani.' Edmund Gibson, later Bishop of London, who was appointed Librarian in 1696, may well have taken some part in their acquisition, for he knew Johnston well and it was at his instigation that Johnston contributed to Bernard's Catalogus, and Johnston assisted Gibson with the latter's edition of Camden's Britannia in 1695. The Shrewsbury Papers do not, however, appear in Gibson's own catalogue of the Lambeth manuscripts (Library Records F.39), apparently made soon after his appointment.
The known facts of Johnston's life do little to define the date between 1697, when he is known to have had the Mss. in his possession, and 1715 when they were certainly at Lambeth. The probability is that Johnston, who died in 1705, did not part with the Mss. himself. Their omission from Bernard suggests that he did not regard them as his own property, and there is no evidence to show that he parted with any of his own collections, which appear to have remained intact to the time of his death. He died heavily in debt, though not, as has been suggested, bankrupt, and the London Gazette for 24-7 March 1707/8 recorded that a decree of Chancery had ordered the sale of his estate. His manuscript collections were not disposed of at this time. Mrs. Janet Martin has concluded that there was a sale of part of his collections at some date before 1755, and if the Lambeth Mss. were acquired at this sale it would appear to have taken place at some time between 1705 and 1715.
The manner in which Johnston treated the papers while they were in his possession can only be deplored. His habit of scribbling on them in a barely decipherable hand is the least of his sins. They were either found or collected by him into bundles without any order of chronology or subject, and indeed it would have required considerable ingenuity to have arranged them in any greater disorder. To each bundle he assigned a letter of the alphabet, but in many cases the same letter was used for more than one bundle. Within the bundles the documents were numbered separately, but again there is much duplication and omission. Some of the bundles contain cheek by jowl with the Shrewsbury Papers, family papers of Johnston himself, including letters from his son Cudworth and material relating to his medical practice, and also documents pertaining to his Yorkshire collections. A good example of this is to be found in Ms.706. Similar confusion is to be found in some of the Johnston Mss. in the Bodleian Library. It is perhaps possible to regard the inclusion of family and professional papers as some slight evidence that the collection was not acquired by Tenison during Johnston's lifetime, since it may be supposed that Johnston would not have wished to offer such papers to Tenison and that Tenison would not have wished to acquire them, but it seems more reasonable to suppose that the inclusion of material of this kind reflects nothing more than Johnston's unsystematic method of working. It is greatly to be regretted that when the papers arrived at Lambeth some effort was not made to arrange them in coherent order, but it is evident that by the time Wilkins composed his catalogue in 1720 the present shelfmarks in use at Lambeth had been allocated, and that the bundles, though perhaps not yet bound into volumes, were distributed under these shelfmarks in their present order without alteration to Johnston's arrangement. In making the present calendar it has not been possible to re-arrange the documents without destroying the volumes in which they are bound, which the Library could not afford to do, but many have been refoliated in order to clarify reference.
The Talbot Papers have been known to historians for many years through Lodge's Illustrations, but the Shrewsbury Papers at Lambeth, although known to the editors of the Calendars of State Papers Foreign and Domestic, have received less attention. They were briefly catalogued in H. J. Todd's Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Archiepiscopal Library, 1812.