History: The Eyre Tradition

Extracts from an article by G. H. B. Ward, F. R. G. S, in the clarion handbook, 1930.
The Derbyshire Family of Eyres by G. H. B. W.

It is probable that, if old records and genealogies could be traced, many of the Eyres (farmers and others) who still reside in the upper Derwent, Ashop and Hope Valleys, and in the villages of Castleton, Eyam, Hathersage, etc, could claim descent from a branch of this celebrated and once powerful north-west Derbyshire family. Mr W. Bemrose, Junr, in an article on North Lees, Hathersage (“The Reliquary”, April, 1869), gives the family tradition which, he declares is copied from an old pedigree then preserved at Hassop.

“The first of the Eyres came with William the Conqueror, and his name was Truelove, but in the battle of Hastings (14/10/1066) this Truelove, seeing the King unhorsed, and his helmet beat so close to his face that he could not breathe, pulled off his helmet and horsed him again. The King said: ‘Thou shalt hereafter from Truelove be called Air or Eyre, because thou hast given me the air I breathe.’ After the battle the King called for him and being found with his thigh cut off, he ordered him to be taken care of, and being recovered, he gave him lands in the county of Derby in reward for his services, and the seat he lived in called Hope because he had Hope in the greatest extremity; and the King gave the leg and thigh cut off,in armour, for his crest, which is still the crest of the Eyres.”

Eyres of Hassop

Parts Taken from Highways and Byways in Derbyshire, by J.B. Firth

This Hassop estate belonged originally to the Foljambes and was then carried by marriage into the Plumpton family and, sold in 1498 to Catherine, widow of Stephen Eyre of Hassop, a younger son of the Eyres of Padley. It remained in the possession of the Eyres down to the death of the Countess of Newburgh in 1853. Much romance and mystery attach to the earldom of Newburgh, and much litigation has arisen out of the Hassop Estate. It would require a volume to tell the story in full; here we will be content with a few of the salient points.  The actual connection between Hassop and the Earldom of Newburgh did not begin until 1814, when Mr Francis Eyre of Hassop assumed the title as the sixth Earl of Newburgh, through his mother, Lady Mary Radclyffe. She was the younger daughter of the third Countess who had married Charles Radclyffe, second son of an Earl of Derwentwater. Ardent Jacobites, both father and son fought at the battle of Preston in 1715 and were taken prisoners. The father was executed, the son managed to escape to the continent, where in 1731, on the death of his nephew, he assumed the title, though it had been declared attainted. In 1745 he was caught in a ship off Dover while bound for Scotland – evidently to join Prince Charlie – and was executed in the Tower in 1746 on the death sentence which had been passed upon him in absence thirty years before. His son, the fourth Earl, saw all his estatesconfiscated in favour of Grenwich Hospital and the fifth Earl died without heir in 1814.

The Earldom of Newburgh reverted, therefore, to the descendants of Lady Ann Clifford, daughter of the third Countess by her first marriage. She was indisputably represented by an Italian, Prince Giustiniani, who, being an alien, could not assume the title. Consequently, it was taken for granted that the succession devolved upon the representatives of the daughter of the third Countess by her second marriage, that is to say, upon the sister of the fourth Earl. This was Lady Mary Radclyffe, who had married Francis Eyre of Hassop, and their son succeeded to the title and estates without challenge. He styled himself the sixth Earl and was succeeded by his son, the seventh Earl, who died in 1833. The eighth Earl, his younger brother, succeeded and died unmarried in 1852, and his sister then became Countess in her own right. She had married, in 1836, Colonel Charles Leslie, and died childless in 1853. This Colonel Leslie was an old Peninsular veteran, who carried to his grave a bullet in the leg which he got at the Battle of Albuera, and inherited under his wife’s will the whole of the Hassop Estates. To the Earldom, of course, he had no claim whatever. The will was made by the Countess when she was on her deathbed, when, in fact, she was almost moribund. A mounted messenger had been sent off in hot haste in the early hours of the morning to fetch the doctor from Baslow, and the Countess was sinking when he arrived. When they told him that a solicitor was on the way down from London to make the will, he warned them that if they waited, the Countess would probably be dead before he came. So the will was hurriedly drawn up – leaving the estate to her husband, with special remainder to her stepson and his strength to sign. It was a very close thing for Colonel Leslie!

The principal claimant to the Earldom of Newburgh was a Mr. Cadman, of Sheffield, who declared that he was descended from the Hon. Charlotte Radclyffe and a certain George Goodwin, whom she married at Hope in 1747. But the registers at Hope have been mutilated, and the pages containing the entries between September 1745 and August 1748 are missing. These registers, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, were in the custody of a parish clerk, who kept a public house, and was always ready to produce them for the inspection of any inquisitive stranger. It is practically certain that the registers were not tampered with until the line of the Newburgh’s looked like failing, and it is more than a curious coincidence that there are mutilations in the registers at Longstone, Hathersage, Eastwell, Banbury, Wirksworth, and Lichfield covering the years in which it is known that there were entries relating to the Eyres! Consequently, strong suspicions were current in Derbyshire half a century ago that someone had not been playing the game.

A second claimant – this time to the Hassop Estates, not to the earldom – was Mr. Gladwin Cloves Cave, who, in the early 1880’s, came over from Australia and flustered quiet little Hassop by taking forcible possession of the Hall. He claimed that the will made by Dorothy Leslie, Eyre, in 1853 was invalid, because her brother, the eighteenth Earl of Newburgh whom she had succeeded, had settled the estates in favour of his mother’s sisters, Gladwin, from whom Mr Cave was descended. But this deed of settlement was never forthcoming and judgement in the Courts went against the claimant, who was by special injunction restrained from further trespass on the Hassop estates. It has also been held that the assumption of the Earldom of Newburgh by Thomas Eyre and Francis Eyre between 1827 and 1852 was entirely without warrant. In 1857 Maria Bandini Giustiniani was naturalised in Great Britain,
and her claim to be Countess of Newburgh was allowed in 1858. At her death in 1877 she was succeeded by her son as eighth Earl, who was created Prince Giustiniani by Pio Nono.

We have spoken of the unfortunate Earls of Derwentwater who suffered in the Stuart cause; part of the red baize from the scaffold of the Second Earl is still preserved at Hassop Hal, and faded crimson stains tell of the purpose which it served. Not only the Radclyffes but also the Eyres were staunch for the Stuarts. The latter were up to the eyes in the rebellion of the ’45, and a century before in the Civil War Hassop Hall had been garrisoned for the King. Its owner, Colonel Thomas Eyre, raised a troop in 1642, fought in hand-to hand encounter with Cromwell at Edgehall, distinguished himself at Welbeck and the siege of Newark, and, after Naseby, was taken prisoner near Derby and thrown into Derby gaol, where he died in 1645 of wounds and neglect.