The Death of Colonel John Morris – 1649

Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, the son of Sir William Wentworth of Wentworth Wodehouse near Rotherham was a member of Parliament for Yorkshire and Pontefract, and later the Lord Deputy of Ireland. In 1639 he was recalled to England by King Charles I who made him one of the king’s principle advisors and later bestowed the title of Earl of Strafford upon him. By 1641 Thomas Wentworth’s tyranny in Ireland and other accusations led to him being interred in the Tower of London and his execution took place in May 1641, with King Charles, having assured Thomas on more than one occasion that his life would be preserved. King Charles was put under immense pressure to pass the attainder by Parliament for fear of the future of the monarchy. Thomas’ son and heir, William, born June 1626 at Wentworth Wodehouse, fled England following the execution of his father, until 1652. In 1661 the attainder against his father was reversed by Parliament and he was able to regain the title Earl of Strafford. According to Dugdale’s visitation The Wentworth family of “Emsall” can all trace their ancestry back to John Wentworth of “Emsall”, the first son of Thomas Wentworth of “Emsall”. The Wentworth family also create separate lineages in South Kirkby and later South Elmsall, via siblings of John Wentworth. More than once during their ancestry the Wentworth’s of North Elmsall (and subsequent branches in South Kirkby and South Elmsall) can claim a link to the throne of England, there is evidence for a remote linage to King Edward III, however there is a more direct royal link. John Wentworth was the father of Roger Wentworth Esq. of North Elmsall, died c. 1452, who in turn was the father of Sir Philip Wentworth, born c. 1424. Sir Philip was Usher of the King’s Chamber, amongst other title, and fought in the army of King Henry VI. He was captured and executed in 1464. Of his offspring was Sir Henry Wentworth, born c. 1448, who was the father of Margery Wentworth, born c. 1478. In turn, Margery was the mother of Queen Jane Seymour and grandmother to King Edward VI, providing a clear link between the Wentworth’s of North Elmsall and the English monarchy, that goes beyond the many other allegiances made in the generations later. Margery was also mother to Edward and Thomas Seymour. Edward, born c. 1500, was 1st Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector from 1547 to 1549, during the minority of his nephew King Edward VI, he had previously been in the household of Mary Tudor. He was often opposed during his time as Lord Protector by his younger brother Thomas, born c. 1508, 1st Baron Seymour of Dudley. Following the death of King Henry VIII Thomas married Queen Catherine Parr, god-daughter of Queen Catherine of Aragon. Through his marriage to Catherine Parr Thomas became step-father to the future Queen Elizabeth I, who was residing within the Parr household. In January 1549 Thomas was caught breaking into the apartments of his nephew, King Edward VI, with a gun. He was executed for treason in March 1549. Surviving the schemes of his younger brother, Thomas, did Edward not much good. In October 1549 his leadership was questioned and his position as Lord Protector was relinquished. In February 1550 he was succeeded by John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, and subsequently executed in January 1552 for his part in scheming to overthrow the regime of the Earl of Warwick. Convoluting matters more, Jane Seymour was notably a lady in waiting to Queen Anne Boleyn but was also her second cousin, through a common ancestor, Anne Say. Even more remarkably Jane Seymour was also second cousin to Queen Catherine Howard, through the same ancestry.

The link between Colonel John Morris and the Wentworth family appears to go beyond that of employer and employee. Colonel John Morris’ father, Mathias, was the son of Thomas Morris and Barbara Wentworth, with Barbara being the daughter of John Wentworth of “Emsall” Esq., making John the great-grandson of John Wentworth of “Emsall”. Dugdale’s visitation specifically states that the Morris family were of North Elmsall so references to “Emsall” can be assumed to be North Elmsall rather than South Elmsall. Herein lies a mystery though, as Dugdale’s visitation to the Wentworth’s of North Elmsall shows no Barbara, daughter of John Wentworth within this timeframe. The brother of Thomas Morris, Richard, was the Steward of the Earl of Strafford. Given that Richard Morris is recorded as having died c. 1645 this would mean that he was Steward to Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, who was executed in May 1641, or his son and heir William Wentworth. However, a tombstone dedicated to Richard “Marris”, a Steward of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, exists in Wentworth, though this states that he died c. 1635. It would appear that the two were the same man. John Morris, born either 1619 or 1620, was recorded within Dugdale’s visitation of Yorkshire as being the Governor of Pontefract Castle, for King Charles I. With the appointment of Thomas Wentworth as Lord Governor of Ireland c. 1632 John Morris relocated with the army of Thomas Wentworth to Ireland and made steady progress through the ranks. With civil war now ravaging England John Morris, now a Sergeant-Major in a regiment of foot commanded by Colonel Byron, returned home to fight for the king. Defeated at Liverpool by Parliamentarian forces John Morris was forced to resign under suspicion of allowing the surrender, something which he denied. Perhaps feeling bitter he turned coat to the Parliamentarian cause and, now at the rank of Colonel, his service with Parliamentary forces was a short lived affair before he resigned to his home at Hague Hall. The etymology of Hague or ‘haaga/hage’ perhaps suggests that Hague Hall was once on or near a Viking enclosure or settlement. Often referred to as Esthagh or East Hague (and other variants) due to the proximity of another Hague close to nearby Burntwood Hall to the west, the hall was located between South Kirkby and Hemsworth, falling within the Parish of South Kirkby, it was the manor house of the Parish. The earliest known reference to the hall was in 1218, when William Fitzwilliam and Alex de Nevill made an agreement over a third of a carucate of land at East Hague. Aside from the hall there would have been other buildings within the estate, leading to many references to families living there in the Parish register of South Kirkby church. In 1666 the hall was assessed to have ten hearths, showing that it was likely that the 17th century hall had been completed, replacing the much earlier medieval hall. Nathaniel Birkhead appears to have purchased the manor of South Kirkby c. 1620 and parish records show that Nathanial Birkhead Esq. of East Hague was buried in South Kirkby in either 1649 or 1650 with Edmund Watson, his son-in-law, inheriting the hall. If this is correct then it would appear that Colonel John Morris lived in another property on the estate and not in the manor house. The onset of coal mining to the area sadly caused the 17th century hall to collapse, with some furniture and fittings being rescued and incorporated into other local properties.

George Beaumont was the vicar of the Parish of South Kirkby. In June 1647 George Beaumont had a son, who he named Charles, possibly due to his staunch position as a Royalist. The Beaumont family were no stranger to conflict, with the cousin of George Beaumont being none other than the Governor of Sheffield Castle who, in 1645, replied to calls by the Earl of Manchester to surrender the castle with a volley of shot. In 1647 Cromwell’s troops took hold of Pontefract Castle, gaining the attentions of John Morris and George Beaumont. Despite Cromwell’s men being billeted in the tithe barn close to the Parish church in South Kirkby and the rectory home of George Beaumont the two men and accomplices plotted to take back Pontefract Castle. Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, wrote a detailed account of the English Civil Wars, including the role of John Morris. Edward Hyde wrote that “no friendship was as dear to him [John Morris] as that of the Governor of Pontefract Castle, who loved him above all men and delighted so much in his company, that he got him to be with him some times a week and more at a time in the castle, when they always lay together in bed”. Some modern interpretations of this take it at face value, that John Morris and Colonel Robert Overton (the Governor of Pontefract Castle) were lovers, though it appears clear from John Morris’ close collaboration with the vicar of South Kirkby in the plot to take Pontefract Castle that John Morris was a devout Anglican and Royalist and therefore would have unlikely entertained a homosexual relationship. More so it is probably the case that John Morris was simply a talented conspirator, who was earning the trust of the Governor of the castle and using the relationship to plan his attempt on the castle and ingratiate himself with the soldiers inside the castle. Furthermore the account of Edward Hyde of John Morris taking the time to “play and drink with them [the soldiers inside the castle]” and “lay there” with them appears to have simply enabled him to use his position of influence on the Governor to dismiss the soldiers who he thought would make his attempt on the castle problematic, “under pretence that he found him always asleep, or some other fault which was not to be examined” and to encourage the Governor to replace the dismissed soldiers with men that he believed could “be trusted and relied upon”. It appears, when using some common sense, that John Morris was conspiring to earn a position of power within the castle rather than be engaged in a homosexual relationship with Robert Overton and his soldiers. However, in November 1647 Robert Overton was replaced as Governor by Colonel Cotterell and the hard work undertaken by John Morris was undone. Parliamentary officer, Captain Adam Baynes, intercepted cyphers written by George Beaumont which led to the vicar being arrested, loaded with heavy chains and pressured to give up his accomplices, which he didn’t. He was tried for treason and executed and buried at the Parish church in South Kirkby. It is the account of Edward Hyde of the successful taking of the castle by John Morris and his conspirators which firmly ends the speculation that John Morris was in a homosexual relationship with Robert Overton. In his account Edward Hyde maintained that John Morris was in bed with Robert Overton at the time of the Royalist capture of the castle, something we know is simply not true, as Robert Overton had been replaced and sent to Hull prior to the coup. As news of John Morris’ successful taking and holding of the castle spread Parliamentarians, who we know had been billeted in the tithe barn in South Kirkby, plundered his home. In 1649 King Charles I was executed and John Morris and the Royalist men holding Pontefract Castle began to tentatively negotiate the surrender of the castle, as supplies dwindled and casualties mounted. Despite escaping the castle, upon it’s fall to the Parliamentarians, John Morris was captured. Even at his trial John Morris proved defiant and questioned the jurisdiction of the court to try him, just as King Charles I had done some months previously. Morris argued that as his act had been one of war, he should at most face a court martial and he refused to plead. The fact that John Morris had “an impressive knowledge of the law” as demonstrated at his trial may point to the fact that the Wentworth family gave him an education whilst in their service. As the trial continued on, with John Morris using his knowledge of English law to good effect, he remarkably found opportunity to escape York Castle with a fellow accused, but when his companion fell and broke a leg John Morris refused to abandon him and was recaptured and hanged on York’s Knavesmire, on the 23rd of August 1649.

John Morris had been married to Margery Dawson, the daughter of the Bishop of Clonfert and Kilmackdough in Ireland. It is likely that John and Margery met during John’s station there in the army of Thomas Wentworth. John and Margery had at least five children, most notably Robert of North Elmsall and Castilian, so named as he was born during a siege of Pontefract Castle. The Parish register from South Kirkby confirms that, around the time of his execution John Morris was living at East Hague, as his son, John, appears on the Parish burial register as a resident of East Hague, in May 1648. From the same Parish register there is further proof of residency, when the daughter of John Morris, Jane, was baptised in August 1646. Following the death of her husband Margery petitioned Parliament for relief, as lands leased by John Morris in “South Helme” (South Elmsall) had been requested. Margery then remarried, to Jonas Bulkeley or Buckley of South Elmsall and died in October 1665. The Parish registers from South Kirkby confirm that Margery married Jonas Buckley of South Elmsall and was buried at South Kirkby on the 29th of October 1665. Interestingly the Parish registers show that Morris Buckley, son of Jonas Buckley was baptised on the 28th of October 1665 and buried on the 25th of May 1670. If Morris, as it appears, was the son of Margery and Jonas Buckley then it can only be concluded that Margery died in childbirth or from complications arising from the birth, a day later. It is also worth noting that, despite John Morris being branded a traitor by Parliament Margery and her second husband, Jonas, named their son Morris. This appears to suggest that John Morris was still held in some regard by not just his widow but by other people in the local area of South Kirkby and both North Elmsall and South Elmsall. This also further pours cold water on any suggestions that John Morris and Robert Overton had been openly involved in a homosexual relationship, as Margery was clearly a devoted wife to John Morris, enough to name a child to her second husband after him. This is not the action of a wife who had been openly betrayed by a homosexual or bisexual husband.

The South Kirkby Parish registers also confirm that in October 1646 James Cromwell, son of Henry Cromwell, was buried at the Parish church in South Kirkby. This burial is of note for two reasons. Firstly, and prominently, there are no other Cromwells in the Parish register. Secondly, we know that during this period Oliver Cromwell was trying in vain to capture Pontefract Castle and had troops billeted in the tithe barn, near the Parish church. Oliver Cromwell most certainly had a son named Henry Cromwell, born 1628. In 1657 Henry Cromwell was made Lord Deputy of Ireland, a position previously held by Thomas Wentworth. It is known that during the English Civil Wars Henry served under his father, Oliver Cromwell. Henry had at least five sons and two daughters, though none appear to have been named James. Alternatively the Henry Cromwell in the South Kirkby Parish register could refer to Henry Cromwell, 2nd Baron Cromwell, died c. 1592, the grandson of Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex. Remarkably Henry Cromwell, 2nd Baron Cromwell, was the son of Elizabeth Seymour, sister of Queen Jane Seymour. More remarkable still is that Thomas Cromwell, his grandfather, served under King Henry VIII in many guises, one of which was Lord Privy Seal, an office he inherited from Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Worcester, the father of Queen Anne Boleyn. Thomas Cromwell played a pivotal role in the annulment of King Henry VIII’s marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon, enabling the king to marry Anne Boleyn. The fall of Queen Anne Boleyn from favour with the king and subsequent execution was also arguably (at least in part) down to Thomas Cromwell, enabling the king to marry Jane Seymour, the sister of Thomas Cromwell’s son Gregory’s wife, Elizabeth Seymour. Thomas Cromwell’s downfall and execution was brought about chiefly by his enemy, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, the uncle of both Queen Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Thomas Howard took the opportunity of the king’s displeasure at his marriage to Anne of Cleeves to bring down his foe, Thomas Cromwell. On the day that Thomas Cromwell was beheaded without trial King Henry VIII married Queen Catherine Howard. It is worth noting that Oliver Cromwell was the great-grandson of Richard Cromwell, Thomas Cromwell’s nephew. However, it appears that Henry Cromwell, 2nd Baron Cromwell, had no son named James. This then leaves one last potential alternative, in the guise of Sir Henry Williams (alias Cromwell), the grandfather of Oliver Cromwell., though again no son named James appears to fit the mystery. At present there appear to be no answers to this particular oddity, though a Cromwell buried during the English Civil Wars in a Royalist sympathising Parish, in the churchyard of a vicar caught up in the conflict must be far too big a coincidence to be simply that. Adding to the mystery is the fact that the Parish burial records from South Kirkby list just three soldiers buried there during the English Civil Wars. John Brigham, a trouper was buried in November 1643 and David Jones, a trouper was buried in April 1645. Thomas Lawrence “a soldier in ye King’s army” was buried in August 1645.

Please note; the above text is from ‘Notes on the Wentworth, Morris and Cromwell Families and their links to North Elmsall, South Kirkby and to the English Monarchy and during the English Civil Wars‘ by myself. This fuller version contains full bibliographic references and is available upon request.

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