The Tale of Richard Bertie Continues, Part III



Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk (Wikipedia)

Briefly, Richard Bertie (ca. 1517 – 9 April 1582) was an English landowner and religious evangelical. He was the second husband of Catherine Willoughby, 12th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby and Duchess Dowager of Suffolk. As his wife was a baroness in her own right, Bertie made claims to be styled as “baron.” The claim was denied, but it was appealed. In the opinion of Bertie and his wife, her right to her father’s Barony held no relevance to his claim to bear the title in her right, but was rather the cause of his claim being initiated. They based this appeal on the grounds that her right to the Barony had been upheld against her uncle’s claim against it. Moreover, her uncle’s son was refused the title of Willoughby of Eresby and assigned the title of Willoughby of Parham in 1547. Therefore, why could Bertie not bear the title of Lord Willoughby and Eresby?


William Cecil, Lord Burghley ~ via Wikipedia

Two years after the first ruling against them, Bertie was granted a second hearing to make his claim. In a letter dated 14 April 1572, Bertie writes to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Elizabeth I’s chief advisor throughout most of her reign. The draft of that letter is among Burghley’s papers. In the letter, Bertie included a list of other men who had made claim in right of their wives and who enjoyed the dignity of “baron” and who had been called to Parliament in every King’s government since the Conquest. 

That list included  one “John Talbot, a Norman, who came to England with William the Conqueror and married Matilda daughter of Richard, Lord Talbot of Longhope, in whose right the sayde John was Lord Talbot of Longhope, of whom the Earl of Shrewsbury is descended.” (Peerage and Pedigree, Study in Peerage Law and Family History)

The Domesday book states that during the time of William the Conqueror, Longhope belonged to William the son of Baderon. Longhope descended through William’s line, who were called the Lords of Monmouth. Eventually, the line ran out of male heirs. Some 200+ years after the Norman Conquest, Longhope passed into the hands of a Talbot. 

The list also included Josselyne (Jocelin), son of the duke of Brabant, who married Agnew, the daughter and heir to William Lord Percy. Josselyne was styled as Lord Percy. The earl of Northumberland descends from this line. (Collins, Arthur. The Peerage of England: Containing a Genealogical and Historical Account of All the Peers of That Kingdom. Vol. VI of VIII)

The complete list was sent to Burghley in April 1572. Bertie pressed for an agreement on two points: the right of an heiress to inherit a barony and to transmit said right to her heirs. The Berties won on this account. The the claim of Richard Bertie to hold his wife’s title and to be summoned to Parliament in her right had proven obsolescent, falling out of use and unable to be transferred from one situation to another. 

Many experts believe that Richard Bertie’s petition was ignored because it came at a time when people argued over the legality of such claims. How far was Bertie’s claim valid? It was determined that “the writ of summons to his son (in his own lifetime) on his mother’s death (1580) was, in this, an epoch-marking event, being absolutely fatal to the view that a barony could be held by ‘the curtesy of England.’

“The lawyers’ perplexity is seen in the report on Bertie’s claim by the Attorney General and Solicitor General, to whom Burghley had referred it:—

‘We have conferred with four of the judges that be now in London concerning Mr. Bertie’s case, and they be all of opinion that he cannot challenge to have the Barony and the Title thereof in right of his wife, or else as tenant by the courtesy after her decease. We did make doubt whether her Majesty might not do. But because the course if very rare, they desired to have conference with the rest of the judges, when they shall come to town, etc.” (Peerage and Pedigree, Study in Peerage Law and Family History)


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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