BIRTH AND PARENTAGE. 1564—1577.
John Gerard was the second son of Sir Thomas Gerard, 1 of Bryn in Lancashire, knight, and of Elizabeth, daughter and co heiress of Sir John Port, of Etwall in Derbyshire, knight. When Father John Gerard had occasion, in his Narrative of the Powder Plot, to speak of his elder brother Thomas, who received knighthood from James I. on his accession, he says: 2 " That was to him no advancement whose ancestors had been so for sixteen or seventeen descents together." This Sir Thomas was made a baronet at the first creation of that dignity in 1611, and from him the present Lord Gerard of Bryn, the first baron and thirteenth baronet, is lineally descended.
John Gerard came of knightly families on his mother's side also, and their names show that they were of the races that are well known to have been faithful to the Catholic Church. His maternal great-grandfather 3 was John Port, Esq., who married Jane, the daughter of John Fitzherbert of Etwall in Derbyshire, widow of John Pole of Radburn in the same county; whilst his grandmother, Lady Port, was Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Gifford of Chillington in Staffordshire, and Dorothy his wife, daughter and co heiress of Sir John Montgomery. Elizabeth, the mother of John Gerard, was the eldest of the three daughters and co-heiresses of Sir John Port, and at her father's death in 1557, Etwall became her property and marriage portion. Sir John's second daughter, Dorothy, took Dale Abbey in Derbyshire to her husband George Hastings, fourth Earl of Huntingdon; and Margaret, the third daughter, by her marriage conveyed Cubley in the same county to Sir Thomas Stanhope, grandfather of the first Earl of Chesterfield.
Father Gerard had three sisters, Mary, wife of John Denison; Dorothy, wife of Edmund Peckham ; and Martha, wife of John [or Michael] Jenison. Documents still existing show us that one of them at least was a zealous Catholic, or, as the phrase ran, " a great recusant" during the persecution. There is a report in the British Museum, 4 dated June 16, 1595, from Edward Cokayne, evidently a Derbyshire magistrate, of assistance given by him to a well known pursuivant William Newall, in searches in that county. The following paragraph relates to Father Gerard's third sister. "The third house that we searched according to his direction was the house of one Mr. Jenison, that married one of my Lady Gerard's daughters, she being a great recusant, and not her husband ; howsoever, it is reported that there is great resort of strangers, but what they be we cannot learn, neither at this time did we find any there, but pictures in the chambers according to their profession. Only one West, that was a messenger between the seminaries, was fled six weeks before we came, and whither he is gone as yet we cannot learn." The magistrate had not seen the report of a spy, dated in the previous February, which doubtless was what procured for Mr. jenison the honour of a visit from a Queen messenger. It has survived among the State Papers, 5 and it contains the following information respecting the house of Father Gerard's brother-in-law.
"Item, at Mr. Genyson's house at Rowllsley, near Bakewell in the Peak, there is John Redford alias Tanfield, a seminary priest, who hath authority from the Pope to hallow all kind of church stuff, beads, and such like; and there his library is to be found, for he studieth there; and there also sojourn Mr. Lenton and his wife, notable recusants." It is plain that if John Jenison was not "a great recusant," as well as his wife, he would have been one if he had dared, and that he was what our fathers called "a schismatic," whose heart was with the old religion while he conformed exteriorly with the new. There were four sons and two daughters in this family, one of whom became a priest, and another son, if not two, entered the Society. In the next generation Michael Jenison, who also became a priest, claims four Jesuit Fathers as his paternal uncles. Amongst these he reckons our Father John Gerard, who was his great uncle. 6
John Gerard was born on the 4th of October, 1564, 7 and his probable birthplace was New Bryn, the second of the four seats which the family has inhabited within the township of Ashton and parish of Winwick, in West Derby Hundred in Lancashire. 8 The house was so called to distinguish it from Old Bryn, near Bryn wood, which was abandoned five centuries ago. The historian of the county of Lancaster quotes from "Mr. Barrett in his manuscript collections" the following account of all that remained a century ago of Father Gerard's home. " Bryn Hall is an ancient seat of the Gerards, and has been a good house, but it is now almost in ruins, the venerable ivy revelling without control on its mouldering walls. Within is a spacious courtyard, the approach to which is by means of a bridge over the moat which surrounds this fabric. The gatehouse is secured by very strong and large doors. Within the court is what has been a rich porch, the entrance into a spacious room called the hall, on the chimney-piece of which are the arms of England in the reign of James I. Across one side of the hall runs a railed gallery, on which persons might stand to see any entertainment below. This gallery is supported by double pillars in the front of pilasters, and forming arches betwixt each other, under which persons may pass from one room to another. On these carved pillars and arches is abundance of rich carved work, but rotten with age and moisture. Most part of the wainscot has been carried to Garswood Hall, the present seat 9 of Sir Thomas Gerard, in 1771."
If born in this baronial house when it was at its best, John Gerard did not live there long enough to become familiar with its grandeur. From the first sentences of his autobiography we learn that when he was a child, his father lived at Etwall as long as Queen Elizabeth allowed him to live in a house of his own at all. " I was born," he says, " of Catholic parents, who never concealed their profession, for which they suffered many inflictions from our heretic rulers ; so much so that, when a child of five years of age, I was forced, together with my brother who was also a child, to dwell among heretics under the roof of a stranger, for that my father, with two other gentlemen, had been cast into the Tower of London, for having conspired to restore the Scottish Queen to liberty and to her kingdom.
She was at that time confined in the county of Derby, at two miles distance from our house. Three years afterwards my father, having obtained his release by the payment of a large sum, brought us home, free however from any taint of heresy, as he had maintained a Catholic tutor over us."
Sir Thomas Gerard's two friends were Sir Thomas Stanley and Francis Rolston, and they were committed to the Tower in July, 1571. 10 When this occurred, John Gerard was therefore nearly seven years old. In the examination of the Bishop of Ross in the October following their committal, the only mention made of these three Catholic gentlemen in connection with the imprisoned Queen relates simply to their religion. " He saith the Queen of Scots told this examinate that she had understanding from Sir Thomas Stanley, Sir Thomas Gerard and Rolston that they were reconciled to the Pope according to the late Bull, and that so were many other in Lancashire and the North parts." 11
Father Gerard is wrong in placing " in the county of Derby " the house in which Mary Queen of Scots was then confined. Tutbury is in Staffordshire, but close to the borders of Derbyshire, and Etwall in that county, Sir Thomas Gerard's house, was not far off. Mary's first imprisonment at Tutbury, of which Father Gerard is speaking, was early in 1569 when he was not five years old. The captive Queen was confined there on that occasion less than three months, as she was brought from Bolton under the charge of the Earl of Shrewsbury and Sir Francis Knollys in February, and was transferred to Wingfield towards the end of April. When in January, 158I, Mary was taken back to Tutbury, she caught sight of Sir Thomas Gerard's house on the way. She must have known perfectly well that it was the house of a friend who had suffered greatly for her sake, and Sir Amias Poulet, her keeper, must have known that she knew it. There is therefore something amusing in the naivete with, which she proposed her removal to that house, and with which Sir Amias relates her proposal. " ' I remember,' quoth she, ' as I came hitherwards from Derby, I saw a fair house not far from hence which was said to belong to a knight called Gerard, and as I hear he lieth not in it.' I said I thought this house was too little for her use. She prayed me to cause it to be seen, which I promised to do." This occurs in a letter 12 to Sir Francis Walsingham, dated August 18, 1585 : and, further on in the same letter, speaking of another interview with his royal prisoner, Poulet says, " This Queen, having thus uttered her griefs and complaints with many words, asked me if I had sought to inform myself of the houses which she mentioned unto me. . . . Touching Sir Thomas Gerard's house, I told her that I had caused it to be viewed, and did find that the house is newly builded, and standeth as yet in two parts, and that the hall and kitchen are yet wanting which should tie those two parts together, besides many other imperfections."
The name of Sir Thomas Gerard and the Catholic character of the neighbourhood of Tutbury and Etwall were well known to Queen Mary's gaolers. Sir Ralph Sadler wrote 13 to Walsingham in the previous February, " Surely, sir, this is a perilous country, for both men and women of all degrees are almost all Papists. I need not tell you what an obstinate Papist Langford is, and Sir Thomas Gerard is ill as he, which both do lurk here in their houses, the furthest not past four miles from this castle. Neither of them both, their wives nor families come to the church, nor yet have our common prayers or service said in their houses, but do nourish certain massing priests which do haunt their houses, where it is thought they have masses secretly, but so closely and cunningly used as it will be hard to take them with the manner. These surely be dangerous persons, if they had power according to their will, and therefore would be looked unto. I would to God there were no more in this country, where I hear of very few good. It seemeth that the bishop of the diocese is not so diligent and careful of his charge as he ought to be, and therefore would be quickened and admonished from her Majesty to look better to his flock, so as they may be induced to come to the church according to the law, or else that they feel the smart of the same."
1 " William Gerard, son of William who died at Etonhall in 26 Edward III. , by his marriage with Joan, daughter and heiress of Sir Peter Bryn de Brynhill, convertible into Sir Peter Brynhill de Bryn, became possessed of Bryn, Ashton, and other estates, which have remained in the Gerards of Bryn ever since." Baines, History of Lancashire , 1836, vol. iii. p. 637.
2 The Condition of Catholics under James I. London, 1872, p. 27.
3 Wotton's Baronetage, 1741.
4 Harl. MSS. 6998, f. 197.
5 State Papers in the Public Record Office, Domestic, Elizabeth, vol. ccli. n. 14. See note at the end of this chapter.
6 Diary of the English College, Rome, edited by Henry Foley, S.J., pp- 334, 375.
7 Stonyhurst MSS., Father Nathaniel Southwell's Catalogus primorum patrum, p. 32.
8 Baines, History of Lancashire, vol. iii. p. 639.
9 "Garswood [was] taken down at the beginning of the present century,
[and the family removed to] the New Hall, built by the Launders about the
year 1692, and purchased by the Gerards forty years ago." Baines wrote in
10 Burghley's Notes, in Murdin's Collection of State Papers, London, 1759, p. 771.
11 Ibid. p. 35.
12 The Letter-Books of Sir Amias Poulet, p. 76.
13 State Papers of Sir R. Sadler, edited by Arthur Clifford, Esq. Edinburgh, 1809, vol. ii. p. 525.