The Tudor Society

11 January – A colourful Lord of Misrule

On this day in Tudor history, 11th January 1579, courtier, Member of Parliament, Lord of Misrule and poet, George Ferrers, was buried at Flamstead, Hertfordshire.

Ferrers was a rather colourful Tudor character. He caused a stir when he was arrested on his way to the House of Commons (the Ferrers' Case), he was Lord of Misrule on several occasions and led a huge procession into London, and he had a hand in the arrest of John Dee. And that's not all!

Find out all about George Ferrers in today's talk.

The account of Ferrers' arrest -

Also on this day in history, 11th January 1569, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the first recorded lottery was drawn at St Paul's Cathedral.

Also on this day in history:

  • 1503 - Birth of painter Francesco Mazzuoli Parmigiano in Parma, Italy.
  • 1564 – Death of Sir Richard Southwell, the Tudor administrator who had served Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I. He was buried in the chancel of Woodrising Church, Norfolk.
  • 1584 – The Execution of William Carter, printer. He was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn after being found guilty of treason, for printing a book which allegedly contained a passage inciting the assassination of Elizabeth I.
  • 1591 - Birth of Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex, son of Elizabeth I's favourite, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. His maternal grandfather was Sir Francis Walsingham. Devereux was Captain-General of the parliamentary forces in 1642, and Lord-General in 1643.


On this day in Tudor history, 11th January 1579, courtier, Member of Parliament, Lord of Misrule and poet, George Ferrers, was buried at Flamstead, Hertfordshire.

Ferrers is known for the Ferrer's Case, when Ferrers was arrested for debt and fought with the arresting officers. Ferrers also contributed works to “A Mirror for Magistrates”, which the British Library describes as “a collaborative collection of poems in which the ghosts of eminent statesmen recount their downfalls in first-person narratives called ‘tragedies’ or ‘complaints’ as an example for magistrates and others in positions of power”.

Here are some facts about this colourful character...
• George Ferrers was born in St Albans in around 1510.
• In the early 1530s, according to antiquary John Leland, he joined the service of Thomas Cromwell.
• In 1534, he was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn, an inn of the court in London, where, according to Leland, he gained a reputation for his oratory prowess at the bar.
• In 1534, Ferrers also published the first printed English translation of Magna Carta
• By 1541, he had married Elizabeth Bourchier, a widow
• From 1542-7, he was a page of the chamber for Henry VIII and attended the king on his campaign in France in 1544. His service saw him being rewarded in the King’s will on his death in 1547.
• In the 1540s, he was a member of Parliament and while on his way to the House of Commons in 1542, he was arrested for debt of 200 marks. He was taken to the Counter, a debtor’s prison. The House of Commons was sitting at the time and the UK Parliament website explains that Ferrers’ arrest interrupted the business of the House, so the Serjeant at Arms was commanded to have Ferrers released from prison. Trouble then broke out. According to William Cobbett, in his “The Parliamentary History of England”, “The serjeant went immediately to the counter, but the clerks and officers there were so far from delivering the prisoner, that they forcibly resisted him; broke the serjeant’s mace, and knocked down his servant.” The serjeant declared to the Speaker of the House of Commons “all the circumstances of his ill usage”, but the whole House would not sit without their fellow MP and so went to the House of Lords to air their grievance. To cut a rather long story short, Ferrers was released and the man to whom Ferrers owed the debt, along with the sheriffs, were charged with breach of parliamentary privilege for arresting and imprisoning an MP while the House was sitting. They ended up in the Tower of London for a couple of days.
• In 1546, Ferrers married his second wife, Jane Southcote, and the couple went on to have a son, Julius.
• In 1547, he served in the Scottish campaign.
• Ferrers was the Lord of Misrule for Christmas 1551/2 and 1552/3 in Edward VI’s reign. As Lord of Misrule, in January 1553, he entered London in a huge procession which mimicked that of a monarch – his large retinue included councillors, fools, jugglers, tumblers, a divine, a philosopher, an astronomer, a poet, a physician, an apothecary, a Master of Requests, a civilian, friars, two gentleman ushers and others. He also processed into the royal court at Greenwich palace under a canopy, like a royal canopy of estate. The revels he presided over included a tourney, a drunken mask, a mock joust with hobby horses, a mock Midsummer Night festival, a variety of other masks, plays, banquets, mock combats, and hunting and hawking. Wow!
• Ferrers also played Lord of Misrule for Mary I’s first Christmas.
• In 1555, Ferrers and John Prideeaux accused John Dee of conjuring, casting nativities and plotting against Mary I and her husband, Philip of Spain. These accusations led to Dee’s imprisonment. However, not long after, the privy council were looking for Ferrers, who lay low for a time.
• In 1569, he married his third wife, widow Margaret Preston, and they had at least five children together.
• In the 1570s, he is said to have supported Mary, Queen of Scots’ claim to the throne, and the Bishop of Ross, with whom he corresponded, was under the impression that Ferrers had written a work in Latin on Mary’s claim.
• Ferrers wrote the words for the recitation of King Arthur’s Lady of the Lake, for the entertainment for Queen Elizabeth’s famous visit to Kenilworth Castle in 1575.
• Ferrers was buried on this day in 1579 at Flamstead, Hertfordshire. He died intestate.

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11 January – A colourful Lord of Misrule