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 John Wrightson 1520 of Eryholme

Information sourced from the book written by W.G. Wrightson 

"Memorials of The Family of Wrightson"  (Pages 78 to 85)


JOHN WRIGHTSON (3), the elder of these two sons of Richard, is one of the persons already
referred to (p. 72), as affording indirect evidence of the existence of otherwise unknown relatives.
During his father's lifetime he came into possession of, and in 1562 sold, nearly two hundred
acres of land in North cowton.1 That he did not acquire it by marriage is clear, for the warrant
on the sale is made out, not as against the heirs of his wife, but as against his own heirs: and, if he
had purchased it himself, the record of such a purchase could hardly have escaped my search.
His case is paralleled by that of his son Edmund, who came into possession of another North cow-
ton farm of more than a hundred acres. It is almost certain that these two properties were
derived from some dying-out branch of the Wrightson family connected with, or residing
in, North Cowton, a township which approaches : within a mile and a half of the Westfield of Eryholme. 

The particular John Wrightson, of whom, I am speaking, is the ancestor, w ho beyond all
others plunged his family in misfortune, but who is nevertheless an object of continuing interest.
His life was cast amidst most perilous and perplexing circumstances, and unfortunately he took a
wrong, though by no means a dishonourable course. 

 

We must remember that he was born before the first abolition of the Pope's authority
in England: and that he was a vigorous young man when the passions of Yorkshiremen were
roused by the destruction of their glorious monasteries. His life embraced the whole period
of the English Reformation; and every known circumstance concerning him goes to prove that
his sympathies were on the catholic side. As to the state of the church in Eryholme, the registers
show that until 1576 the parish priests retained the old pre-Reformation title of " Sir,"-for in
the days of chivalry the priest was fellow with the knight and ranked above the squire. And, when
we remember that the final rupture between the Pope and Queen did not take place till after the
Rising of the North ; and that, during the earlier part of Elizabeth's reign, the vast majority of
benefices were held by clergy ill-affected to the Reformation; I do not think we shall be wrong,
if we assume Sir Edward Smithson, the parish priest, to have been one of the old sort,-in secret
sympathy with the Markenfields and with all who wished for the restoration of the old church order .
I have already (p. 66) described how that in 1564 the cause of Mary Stuart began to be taken up
with extraordinary vigour by the leaders of the so-called catholic interest; and it was at this very
time, that I find old Richard Wrightson taking the likewise extraordinary step of settling by some
sort of lease the whole of his property for the next twenty years upon his younger son. The old man
~
was evidently preparing for some serious contingencies,-providing against some great danger to
the family property; and this danger was in some way connected with his eldest son, who was
nevertheless not to be disinherited. Seen in the light of after events, it seems to me as clear as
day that his eldest son (who was now in middle life) had become a dangerously active man among
the disaffected, and that the aged father was contriving means to save the property in case of the
failure of the plot. As the time for the great Rising of the North drew near, it seems as if the
face of young John Markenfield must have become familiar in Eryholme and at Westfield.
If it had not been so, I think it would have been difficult to gain, at a somewhat later time, even a
moderate credence for the manifestly absurd tale that he had held the property ,1 described in the
still earlier Homberston survey as Richard W rightson's copyhold. At this time John Markenfield
was indeed only a boy under twenty years of age; but, as brother of the lord of the manor and as
possessing a reversionary interest in the same, he would command an attention altogether dispro-
portionate to his years. From what I gather he was a gallant and impetuous youth; and I like
to think of him at Eryholme pointing (as I am sure he must have often done) to the long
flat back of that Pen-hill, which marked where Bolton castle lay. It is a lofty hill visible
from almost every district in the north of Yorkshire; and, as he pointed to its far blue outline,
I can imagine him rousing the enthusiasm of his hearers with such tales of the Royal
captive there, as he had gathered from his cousin Kit Norton and other romantic champions of the
Queen of Scots. Some such personal influences must have been used, for, when the Rebellion
took place, the Markenfields were joined by a group of brave, if misguided, men from Eryholme. 

Among these was our ancestor John Wrightson. The description I have already given
of the Rising of the North enables us fully to realize his surroundings at the time. We can
think of him amidst that exhilarating rush to reach the Queen of Scots, and amidst the de-
moralized retreat of the baffled host. F or a time we can only imagine his position; but in the
January of 1569-70 we come full upon him, in company with John Markenfield and many more,
as a prisoner in Durham gaol.1 They are all there in the hands of Sir George Bowes, the
terrible Provost Marshal of the North. But besides the list of these unhappy captives, there is a
second list preserved at Streatlam castle, which contains the names of many more, who ( rightly
or wrongly) were believed to have been in some way parties to the insurrec1:ion. In spite of all
old Richard Wrightson's neat arrangements for securing the family property, this second list
contains the name of his younger son Thomas, not as a prisoner, but as one who had been
, joined with the rebels at some time during the rebellion.'
One of the most repulsive features to be seen in the civil wars of former times is the fierce and even
wolf-like rush invariably made upon the posses- , sions of the vanquished. In respect of what had
belonged to the Markenfields, it is obvious that Sir George Bowes was eager to secure their Eryholme
property, either as an addition to his neighbouring estate in Cowton, or for his son-in-law at Sock-
burn. With such an object before his mind it was of course desirable to make out the area of
the land affected by the Markenfield attainder as large as possible; and the simple fact of our
Westfield property being (through the unfortunately directed caution of old Richard Wrightson)
a twenty years' leasehold, may at first have made Bowes honestly imagine it held by lease under
Markenfield, and therefore at the close of the lease bound to lapse into the Markenfield's for-
feited estate. When we remember that at this very time Bowes received an authority, which
placed the Jives of both Richard Wrightson's sons entirely at his mercy (p. 70) , we can conceive the
old man's paralysis of helpless terror on learning that the Provost Marshal was bent on taking
possession of his copyhold. What was the use of asserting his rights to the property, if thereby he
insured the execution of those he wished to leave it to ? In such an evil case, the Wrightsons
must have been absolutely helpless in the strong man's hands.

Treating the Wrightson copyhold, as if it were wholly and entirely part and parcel of the forfeited
Markenfield estate, Sir George Bowes made use of one of his servants or bailiffs, called Rowland Spence,
and so managed that this servant received from the Queen a twenty-one years' lease of the whole of
Westfield and much more. Spence was only the stalking-horse of his master; for, after the death
of that master, he ( to use his own words) declared that he held his lease simply " in trust for the
benefit of Sir George Bowes." It is important for us to notice that in the Wrightson family
itself there was an interest, which coincided with the wishes of Bowes; for Richard Wrightson's
younger son might actually be advantaged by the destruction of the copyhold tenure. He had only
the remainder of the twenty years' lease granted to him by his father; and, if a new owner could
only be induced to grant him a new and extended lease at the old rent, he would of course secure
the possession of the estate for a longer time. I must say I find no trace of Thomas Wrightson him-
self having acted in any underhand way; but this was the principle on which his wife seems to have
managed a nefarious business. According to the statement of Rowland Spence himself, the wife of
Thomas Wrightson got at Sir George Bowes, paid him m9ney, and secured an order by which
Spence was obliged to let her hold, occupy, and enjoy, the said Westfield property till the end of
his lease. By doing this she secured the property on terms, that added ten years to" her husband's
tenure; but at the same time she made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for his family
ever to reclaim it again. There is an obscure point of law, of which it is very unlikely any of
the Wrightsons of Eryholme ever heard. It is as follows, and has a bearing on the present case.
If the lord of a manor ( w ho was in this case the Queen) demised the freehold of a copyhold tenement 

for a term of years, and the lessee (in this case Rowland Spence) assigned the term to the
copyholder, the copyhold interest would be extinguished, and at the expiration of the term of
years what had been copyhold would be found to have merged in the freehold of the manor .1 In
this case old Richard Wrightson was really the copyholder; but, if he was cajoled or terrified
into being a party to the new lease granted to Thomas, I assume that such action would suffice to
extinguish his customary tenure: and to those, who were ignorant of the terrible danger of his two sons,
it would moreover appear incredible that he had ever possessed a customary or copyhold tenure on
what he allowed to be treated in such away. Sir George spared both the brothers. John lived
just long enough to become possessed of,-but hardly to enjoy ,-the freehold still belonging to
the family at Eryholme ; and Thomas left a will, which, if it had not unfortunately been lost,
might not only have thrown some new light on the few facts I have tried to interpret, but also
have shown whether he left any children. There , is one old relic of this time which I do not like to
leave unmentioned. It is the silver chalice at Eryholme church, which bears the London Hall-
mark for 157, and the same Maker's-mark as is seen on the chalice at Greatham, county Durham.
As I have held the Eryholme chalice in my hand and raised it to my lips, I have felt in touch with
my far distant ancestors, when, under the pains and penalties of recusancy, they were forced to
drink from that same cup,-for we may be sure that their religious proclivities had not greater
licence after participating in the abortive effort to set a Popish Queen upon the throne of Elizabeth
Tudor.