Colonel Francis Thornhagh


Grave slab for Colonel Francis Thornagh

COLONEL FRANCIS THORNHAGH was, with the possible exception of Henry Ireton, the most brilliant soldier produced by Nottinghamshire during the civil war, and he was also High Sheriff of the county and a member of parliament for East Retford. As no attempt has hitherto been made to write a short biography of this local Cromwell, the following account of his family and life may be of some interest, and help to fill a gap in our knowledge of the civil war period.

The name Thornhagh1 can be traced back to the 13th century. A Petrus de Thornhawe sat in the parliament of 1295 for Lincoln city,2 and Thoroton records that about 1317 Geoffrey, son of Murield de Thornhaugh, gave a toft and a croft in Herdeby to the convent of Premonstratensian Canonesses at Broadholme, in the parish of Thorney.3 According to the notes appended to the MS. account of the family by Brampton Gurdon in 16834 John de Thornhaw, son of this Geoffrey, was living in 1323, and was perhaps the father of Thomas de Thornhaw who, as we know from Thoroton, was lord of the manor of Thornhaw in 1330.5 Lord Hawkesbury refers to a John Thornhagh, possibly the son of this Thomas, who was M.P. for Lincoln 1358-61,6 but there is no mention of him in the Parliaments of England, and Robert Thorney, a witness to a deed in Richard II. reign (before 1387), is the next name to appear in record.7 Thomas de Thornhagh (Robert's son ?) sat in parliament for Lincoln 1392-38 and was probably the same Thomas Thornhagh who witnessed an indenture made in the city of Lincoln in 1416.9 Another Robert, probably son of Thomas, was partner to a final concord in 1427, and probate on his will (in which he is described as of Askham) was granted May 9th, 1430.1

Whether these men were the direct ancestors of Colonel Thornhagh we do not know for certain, but we reach firmer ground when we come to John Thornhagh who was living in Henry VI. reign, and who is the first of that name to be described as residing at Fenton, the later seat of the family. Probably he was a scion of the family from Thorney, and acquired his lands in Fenton by marrying Catherine the daughter and heiress of Francis Paine of that place.11 He seems to have died in 1471,12 and was followed by his son or grandson Averey Thornhagh.13 The latter appears in 1506 as being, with others, seized of certain manors in the county for the use of Edward Stanhope, Knight: a fact which in itself attests his importance, for the Stanhopes were a powerful family even at that early date. He married Ellen, daughter of Thomas Ripers of Leversall or Loversall, Yorkshire, by whom he had two sons, Robert and Thomas, and he made his will December 2nd, 1511.14 The date of his death is unknown.
His elder son Robert lived until towards the close of Henry VIII's reign, and left two sons—Anthony and John. Anthony succeeded him and was living as late as 1558, when he made his will, in which four sons are mentioned—John, Richard, Robert and William. John —the heir—married Elizabeth, daughter of Brian Bailies, sometime before 1567 and he lived until March 23rd, 1613.15 In 1590-1, and again in 1607-8 he was High Sheriff of the county.16 In the Gurdon MS. he is spoken of as a kinsman of Roger, Earl of Rutland,17 and in the account book of Elizabeth, Countess of Rutland, February 19th, 1589-9018 there is an entry "given to my daughter Elizabeth to Marie Thornhaugh hir child at the christening £3," which would seem to point to a marriage link between the families, but I have been unable to trace it. John's son, Sir John Thornhagh, was certainly a frequent visitor at Belvoir. This Sir John, who succeeded his father, was born about 156719 and married Mary, the daughter of Francis Rodes, one of the judges of the court of Common Pleas, about the year 1587.20 He was knighted at Worksop by James I., April 23rd, 1603,21 and in the same year was returned as one of the members of parliament for East Retford.22 In 1617-8 he was Sheriff of the county; and he died sometime between August, 1627, and February, 1628,23 leaving as his heir a son named Francis.

Francis was born in 1593 and educated first at Bilsdon free school in Leicestershire and afterwards at Cambridge.24 He then travelled abroad, but he was knighted September 14th, 1615,25 and married before February, 1619, to Jane, daughter of Sir John Jackson, of Hickleton, Yorkshire. He was a Justice of the Peace 1626-37,26 and High Sheriff 1637-8.27 In this latter capacity it fell to him to collect the third levy of ship money in the county, and his official correspondence betrays no dislike of the impost or of the task. The arguments of the judges Sir George Croke and Sir Richard Hutton28 against ship money, he wrote to Edward Nicholas, had made men more backward than before in paying, and his own forbearance in collecting had only produced refractoriness, so he intended henceforth to proceed by the more drastic measure of distraining.29 But none the less he must have been a supporter of parliament, for when the civil war broke out he was at once appointed a member of the parliamentary committee for the shire (December 29th, 1642) and undertook to raise a regiment of horse to fight against the king.30 It was almost his last act for he died April 28th, 1643, leaving as his heir his eldest son Francis, the subject of this article.31 He was bom in 1617 and educated at the free school in Lincoln along with his future companion in arms, John Hutchinson.32 Then he matriculated at Magdalen College, Cambridge, May 8th, 1635 (aged 17), and was admitted a member of the Inner Temple, November, 1636.33 At school an old soldier who had served in the Low Countries had trained the lads in the use of arms and had perhaps fired the young Francis with the desire to fight the Spaniards, for when his education was finished he crossed to the Netherlands and campaigned for some time under the future parliamentarian general, the Earl of Essex.34 But he was back in England by 1640, and at the end of that year or early in the next one he married Elizabeth, second daughter and coheiress of John St. Andrew, of Gotham. He resided in the house which he purchased on St. Mary's Hill, Nottingham, and at Rushcliffe Hall, Gotham (his wife's property), for even when his father died his mother retained Fenton in dower and lived there until her death in January, 1661.35 He was made a Justice of the Peace in 1642,36 and it is clear that he was, along with Henry Ireton of Attenborough, one of the first in the shire actively to support the cause of parliament as the country drifted into civil war. In February, 1642, six months before the outbreak of war, he and Ireton carried up to London a petition from Nottinghamshire, the purport of which has not survived though it was obviously designed to support the two Houses, for they were called into the Commons and the Speaker thanked them for their "care of the Commonwealth" and their "respect to this House."37 After the outbreak of war Thornhagh was placed on the parliamentary committee for the county along with his father and when the latter undertook to raise a regiment of horse his son was appointed to be its lieutenant-colonel. A few weeks later the older man died, and the young Francis succeeded to the family estates in Fenton, Sturton, Littleborough and elsewhere, and to his father's colonelcy. He was thus launched upon the last act of his brief career in which he was to prove that he had in him the mettle of the great Gustavus, of Rupert, or of Cromwell, and that he needed only a wider field and a longer life to have established an enduring fame. Yet despite his untimely death he was in a sense fortunate in his generation, for the civil war, finding him in the full flow of his young manhood, gave him an admirable field on which to develop his martial nature, and, in the nobility and earnestness of purpose which distinguished the whole struggle, lent dignity and worth to his soldier's grave. The full length portrait in armour which survives at Osberton38 shows him to have been a man of height and impressive carriage. His tawny hair, unadorned byany art, falls to the shoulders and is matched by a moustache and a suspicion of an "Imperial" beard of the same yellowish hue. The face is inclined to be long and the expression serious, and although the features are not distinguished the general effect is one of dignity and hidden strength. Of the worth of his character we have Mrs. Hutchinson's striking testimony. Even her rather jaundiced and censorious pen could find little in him to criticise save a natural legerete of youth, and, dropping her customary gall, she painted a glowing portrait of the mettlesome young colonel. "He was a man" she wrote "of a most upright faithful heart to God and his people and to his country's true interest comprehended in the parliament's cause: a man of greater valour or more noble daring fought not for them, nor indeed ever drew sword in any cause. He was of a most excellent good nature to all men and zealous for his friend : he wanted counsel and deliberation and was sometimes too facile to flatterers, but had judgment enough to discern his errors when they were represented to him, and worth enough not to persist in an injurious mistake because he had once entertained it."39

(1) The most common spelling, though it was also written Thorney, Thornagh and Thornhaugh. Probably the name was derived from the village of Thorney (or Thorneshagh, Thornehawe, Thornhagh) in that eastern promontory of Notts, which stretches out to within a few miles of the City of Lincoln. Professor Weekley, the eminent etymologist, tells me that the word means a thornhedge.
(2) Parliaments of England, I., p. 1295.
(3) Thoroton, p. 195.
(4) Printed in the Reliquary, XVI., by Lord Hawkesbury. Brampton Gurdon was related to the family by marriage.
(5) Thoroton, p. 371.
(6) The Reliquary, XVI., p. 42.
(7) Ibid., p. 42.
(8) Parliaments of England, I., pp. 1,392-3.
(9) Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1416-22, p. 45.
(10) Dukery Records, p. 199 ; Wills in York Registry, 1389-1514, p. 168.
(11) The Reliquary, XVI., p. 42. In 1460 he is spoken of as " John Thornhawe of Fenton, Gentilman," Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1452-61, p. 540.
(12) Wills in York Registry, 1389-1514. John Thornhagh of Stretton (or Sturton). Will made August 9th, 1471. Probate October 11th, 1471.
(13) Gurdon thought he was the grandson, and that Leonard Thorn-hagh. Sheriff of Lines., 1472, was probably the son of John and father of Averey.
(14) Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1494-1509, p. 513 ; The Reliquary, XVI., pp. 43-4 ; Wills in York Registry, 1389-1514, p. 167.
(15) The Reliquary, XVI., pp. 103-6, 197. (16) List of Sheriffs, Public Record Office. (17) The Reliquary, XVI., p. 106.
(18) H. M. C. Rutland, IV., p. 395. John Thornhagh was Deputy and Lieutenant under Rutland who was Chief Justice of the Forest of Sherwood
(19) In an Inquisition of 1614 he is spoken of as being then 47 years old.
(20) H. M. C. Rutland. I., p. 212.
(21) Shaw :   Book of Knights, II.. p. 103.
(22) Piercy :   Hist, of Retford. p. 71.
(23) The Reliquary, XVI., p. 200.
(24) Ibid., p. 200.
(25) Shaw, II., p. 166.
(26) Notts. County Records, p. 9.
(27) List of Sheriffs, Public Record Office.
(28) These two judges, in the famous case of Sir John Hampden, had denied the king's right to levy ship money without consent of Parliament
(29) Cal. S. P. Dom., 1637-8, p. 443.
(30) Journals of the House of Commons, II., p. 909; Hutchinson Memoirs, p. 110.
(31) Captain E. W. S. Foljambe, J.P., of Osberton Hall, has kindly allowed me to see the pedigree of the Thornhagh family drawn up by Lord Hawkesbury from his researches. As it has never been printed, and as that given by Thoroton is only an inaccurate fragment, I append it at the end of this article.
(32) Hutchinson Memoirs, p. 42.
(33) Members of the Inner Temple, 1647-1660, p. 290.
(34) The Reliquary, XVI., p. 202.
(35) Ibid., p. 201-2. But Lady Thornhagh seems to have been driven out during the civil war—perhaps by the Newark garrison. A petition of hers to Parliament was on September 20th, 1645, referred to a committee to accommodate her with a house and furniture according to the desire of her petition. Journals of the House of Commons, IV., p. 281.
(36) Notts. CountyRecords, p. 9.
(37) Journals of House of Commons, II,p. 458. Among other things they protested against the obstructions put in the way of the petition by Sergeant Gilbert Boone (or Bohun) of Hockerton (afterwards Thoroton's father-in-law) and the House ordered him to be sent for as a delinquent and moved the Lord Keeper to put him out of the commission of the Peace. Boone's father, John, had given the site on which the old Shire Hall was built, c. 1618. Notts. CountyRecords, pp. 3-4.
(38) I am indebted to Capt. E. W. Foljambe, J.P., for kindly allowing me to see this picture.
(39) Hutchinson Memoirs, p. 109