I have recently started work revising the catalogue of the records of the Harpur Crewe family of Calke Abbey. There is a lot of wonderful stuff in this wonderful collection, and I am hoping to give you a flavour of what is held every few weeks or so by selecting a document for you to look at.
The first document I have selected is something of a mystery. It is a draft letter, supposedly from a dying mother to her son. It has been dictated by her to a person who would seem to have been writing it down straight onto a page in a book. She evidently had enough strength to put her initials, JH. The page has, however, been torn out rather badly from the book, as can be seen from the left hand margin. Did the mother change her mind and decide not to send the letter? Was she dissatisfied with it? Was she the one to tear it out so badly? Did the mother actually die before it could be sent? Whatever happened, the sheet of paper was actually re-used, as on the other side are notes about an indenture of 1587 relating to properties in Alstonefield, Staffordshire, and was found loose in a court book of the manor of Alstonefield.
Here is a Transcript of the document, with an update in more modern English.
I would like to believe the mother in question is Jane Harpur, who died in 1597 and was the widow of Richard Harpur of Swarkestone, a renowned lawyer and judge. The son to whom she may have been writing may possibly have been John, who was knighted in 1603. There are few very certainties, only that it was written from Swarkestone, where one branch of the Harpur family lived, and that it was delivered by George Hoult. There is a tantalising reference to “that noble mann”, which may be the Earl of Derby (Derby is referred to further down in the letter, “darby was our frend”) or Gilbert, Earl of Shrewsbury (John Harpur was said to be his right hand man). There is also a surprising reference to her niece Bennett and her “bedferlowe on knowen”.
Even if we can’t know at this stage what is really going on, I would like to think it does actually show that people’s lives in the past were always more complicated than we tend to give them credit for.