The Tudor Society

Walter Calverley (d. 1605), a murderous man!

The history of Walter Calverley is not a happy one, and he is best known today as being a man capable of infanticide.

Walter Calverley was the eldest son and heir of William Calverley, a writer, and his wife, Katherine. His family were landowners in the West Riding of Yorkshire, which is where he was probably born.

Whilst he was still a child, Walter's father died, and under his father's will, Walter became a ward of William Brooke, 10th Baron Cobham. Walter also inherited the family lands at Calverley, titles to manors at Pudsey and Burley in Wharfedale, and several other pieces of land in Yorkshire. On 5th May 1579, Walter enrolled at the University of Cambridge as a scholar of Clare College alongside his brother William. They both left Cambridge in the October of that year, and Walter left Cambridge without a degree and entered into a dubious lifestyle.

Walter was betrothed to the daughter of a local landowner; however, at his guardian's will, he married Philippa, the daughter of Sir Henry Brooke. The marriage was unhappy, and his contemporaries recorded that he spent his time rioting, playing dice, drinking, and 'other things.' (Whitaker 221,224). Walter was an excessive spender, and he had to mortgage his estates and spend his wife's dowry to pay off his debts. Despite their unhappy circumstances, the couple went on to have three sons together, William, Walter and Henry, all born between 1600-1605.

Walter's spending, however, had a detrimental and fatal effect on his life as it led to bankruptcy and creditors confiscated his lands. His brother, William, stood surety for his estate and was arrested as a result. On 23rd April 1605, Walter found out about his bankruptcy, and in a rage, he murdered two of his sons and attempted to kill his wife and his youngest son. All the children were below the age of five at the time of Walter's murderous rage.

Walter was arrested by Sir John Savile and Sir Thomas Blande and committed to Wakefield Gaol. He made a statement there to the effect that he had wanted to kill his children for the past two years, believing that they weren't his. He refused to plead his case to save his estate from forfeiture, and thus he was sentenced to death at York Castle on 5th August 1605. He was buried at St Mary's Church in York, and his estates managed to escape forfeiture. His widow, luckily escaping the marriage with her life, went on to marry Sir Thomas Burton.

Walter's social status and the fact he murdered his children made his case notorious, and it sparked a series of literary works. His story was published by a contemporary writer, Nathaniel Butter, in July of that year, and later that year, George Wilkins dramatized the events in his Miseries of Enforced Marriage. The tale was even associated with William Shakespeare in a work called 'A Yorkshire Tragedie: not so New as Lamentable and True' and is included in the 1664 and 1685 editions of Shakespeare's works.

Henry Calverley, the youngest son who survived the attack on his life, inherited his father's estates and the debt that came with them. He suffered during the Commonwealth as a royalist, and his estates were sequestrated. Henry was the last Calverley to live at the family home, although he had four children. He died on 1st January 1661.

by Georgia has just finished her masters in Classics at the University of Edinburgh. Academically, Georgia is interested in early Christianity, with her master's thesis focusing on "The Male Gaze and Self-Representation in Female Christian Narratives". In addition to her interest in ancient history, she has always been an avid lover of the Tudor era, drawn to the magnificence of the Tudor courts and the larger than life characters. She is particularly interested in The Reformation, Christianity and the shifting sands of ecclesiastical politics in this period and also has a keen interest in the lives of Tudor women. It is Georgia's ambition to become a writer, perhaps publishing her own Tudor novel one day.
Georgia also runs a history blog and instagram page called Historia Mundis.


  • J.Lowe (2004) Walter Calverley. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  • Lee, Sidney (1886) "Calverley, Walter" in Stephen, Leslie (ed.), Dictionary of National Biography. London.

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Walter Calverley (d. 1605), a murderous man!